Tuesday 25 April 2017

Criminal Conversation and a Tale of Banking

It's a pleasure to welcome back Alison Botterill, with a tale of 18th century adultery...
THE TIMES 25TH July 1789

Court of King’s Bench
Criminal Conversation

Thursday was tried before Lord Kenyon, and a special Jury, a cause wherein Mr. Hutchinson was the plaintiff and a Mr. Burford, defendant. The action was brought to recover satisfaction in damages for criminal conversation with the plaintiff’s wife.

Mr Erskine, counsel for the plaintiff, displayed his much admired abilities in opening the cause, which, he said, contained a case of gross seduction by a man whose age left him without the plea of juvenile passion; which, though no justification, was, under some circumstances, admitted in extenuation of the crime of adultery. His client, he said, had been married for several years; and before the defendant broke in upon his domestic peace, lived very happily with his wife; a lady distinguished for her personal beauty and polite accomplishments.

It appeared by the evidence, that the plaintiff’s wife was about 23 years of age, and the defendant forty; that the plaintiff’s family consisted of himself, his wife and child; that no improper behaviour was ever discovered from the plaintiff towards his wife, but that they lived together as happily as men and their wives commonly do; that the defendant having come to live next door to the plaintiff, soon found means to ingratiate himself into the favour of the lady, which he effected by making her several presents, and by conducting himself towards her with the most studied politeness; the love of admiration proved favourable to his purpose, and on the 28th of May, a criminal intercourse was discovered by a female servant of the plaintiff; the defendant afterwards took her away in a hackney coach, hired a lodging, in which they slept together two nights.

Mr. Bearcroft, on behalf of the defendant, commenced an able speech, by saying he had no witness to examine, but should deliver his client over to the mercy of the Jury.  He reminded them that there was no evidence of a seduction. He observed it was a little extraordinary, that though the scene of action lies in Middlesex, the cause should be tried in the city. Why the plaintiff should conceive that the grave and sober citizen were better judges in cases of adultery, than the people at the west end of the town, he was at a loss to discover. He made many pointed observations in mitigation of damages.

Lord Kenyon made a most excellent and solemn address to the Jury. His Lordship said, that although these causes were apt to produce a momentary smile upon the countenances of the audience, yet every many capable of reflection, must feel them to be of the highest importance to the welfare of the community. Adultery was one of the greatest injuries man could do to man; it raised the most distressing doubts relative to his children, and introduced into the cup of life the bitterest of all ingredients. No human tribunal could restore peace to the wounded mind. The Jury were to consider the present case, and apportion their damages accordingly.

The Jury found a verdict for the plaintiff – Damages two hundred pounds.


Continuing our genealogical research into our Burford family, my sister and I discovered another sorry tale, this time about Thomas Burford, a clerk at the Bank of England.   In 1789 he appeared as the defendant at the Court of the King’s Bench, in the Guildhall, London, before Lord Justice Kenyon for ‘a criminal connection’ with the wife of the plaintiff, John Hutchinson, a brewer’s clerk, from Mile End, who worked for Charrington & Co.   

Thomas was born in 1749 and we believe he was the son of the Reverend Samuel Burford, minister at the Strict Baptist Chapel in Little Prescott Street, Goodman’s Fields, Whitechapel.   Rev. Burford, who had been minister at Lyme Regis before being invited to London, died suddenly in 1768 leaving a wife and eleven young children, who were then supported by members of the congregation including one of the church’s deacons, Stephen Williams, of the Poultry in the City of London, a wealthy linen draper with businesses both in the City and in Stratford, Essex.   

In 1775 Thomas married a widow, Elizabeth Binley, who died only 5 years later.   There do not appear to have been any children of that marriage.   Two years after her death, Bank of England records [now available free online] show that Thomas joined the Bank as a clerk at an annual salary of £50.   The records also show that Stephen Williams, along with another wealthy London merchant, Andrew Jordaine, stood surety for Thomas, each for the sum of £500.  

Thomas’s misdemeanours first came to light while we were researching the Burford and Williams families’ connection with the Little Prescott Street chapel, and we read in one of the chapel’s original minute books, held at the Baptist Archive in Dunstable, that on 1st July 1789 it had become necessary to reprimand one of their number, Thomas Burford ‘of the Bank’, who had, ‘by his own confession, a criminal intercourse with a married woman’.   Further research led us to the press report which appeared in The Times on 25th July 1789.   

Then came a chance discovery of finding that Thomas’s story had been included in a recent book ‘Cheek by Jowl: A History of Neighbours’ by Emily Cockayne, who very kindly supplied me with a copy of the law report which went into far more detail than had appeared in The Times.   John Hutchinson’s wife, Mary, was born in 1767, the daughter of a nurseryman and seedman, John Hay, of Leytonstone. She married John Hutchinson at St Mary Le Bow in 1783 when still a ‘minor’ and was described in the law report as ‘a lady distinguished for her beauty and polite accomplishments’, and possessed of considerable property.   They had 3 children, but only one living, although the report mentions ‘his two other children’, so it’s possible he was married before despite being described as a bachelor when he married Mary. 

The report went on to say that any misconduct on her part was solely due to the ‘profligacy of the defendant’, who lived next door, ingratiating himself with her as often as he could during the day when her husband was at work.  He even followed the couple when they moved house.   It does not explain however, how, as a bank clerk, he was able to be away from work as much as he appeared to have been.  The servant’s testimony goes into great detail of what she saw and heard, including Burford ‘making free with her [mistress’s] petticoats’!   She confirmed that her master and mistress had lived together harmoniously until Thomas’s seduction of her mistress and their ‘elopement’, taking with them with several items of furniture belonging to her master.

The affair could not have lasted long.   After living with Thomas, who was almost twice her age, for a short while, Mary Hutchinson must have seen the error of her ways and threw herself upon the mercy of her father.   This clearly had some effect, as in John Hay’s will of 1792, written shortly before his death, and replacing an earlier one, Mary is named as sole executrix and the beneficiary of all of his property apart from £20 for her eldest brother.   While records show that her mother had died in 1790, it is not known if her other four siblings were still alive at this point.   Neither is it  known what became of Mary’s husband John, or of their child together. 

From Bank of England records, we discovered that Thomas left the Bank in 1800.   Clearly the court case would have had an enormous effect on him, both financially and in terms of notoriety.   £200 was an enormous sum to find when he was then earning only £70 per annum, and not only did he have to confess his ‘crime’ to fellow members of the chapel, many of whom were related to him, he had to suffer the indignity of reading about it in the national press, reports of which were syndicated the length and breadth of the country.   

However, things must have quietened down as in 1803, Thomas married Lydia Syle in Bloomsbury.  Perhaps with her encouragement or possibly even at her insistence, in 1804 he wrote to the Governor, Deputy Governor and Court of Directors of the Bank of England, begging for them to reinstate him at the Bank, explaining that he was now 55 and destitute, his reason for leaving the Bank in 1800 after 18 years’ service was that he was ‘afflicted with ill-health’ and had been deceived by his ward [we have been unable to discover who this was] who had promised him an annuity.    Amazingly, on receipt of this letter, the Committee of the Treasury agreed to re-elect him to the Bank ‘in consideration of [his] respectable character [!] and of his present unfortunate circumstances’, at the same salary which had risen to £110 per annum.   From correspondence with an academic who has written much on the history of the Bank, this was most unusual  -  perhaps Thomas had friends in high places, as Andrew Jordaine agreed to stand surety for him once again, as did John Williams, a linen draper of the Poultry (a relative of Stephen Williams, who had died in 1797).   

Thomas died in 1811, while still employed at the Bank and living in Princes Street, Red Lion Square.   In his will, he bequeathed to Lydia several annuities held at the Bank which would have provided her with a handsome pension.   There were no children of this marriage so at her death in 1832, she bequeathed the portraits of herself and Thomas to a nephew.   Sadly these are long-since lost.  It is to be regretted that we are not able to see what may have attracted Mary to Thomas – not only did he manage to charm an apparently happily married young woman,  he also persuaded the directors of the Bank of England to give him back his job!   While it is not known whether Mary’s husband ever forgave her, Thomas seems to have come through his ordeal in the end relatively unscathed.   It was ever thus! 

A postscript : I was recently working with someone with the surname Kenyon – it turned out he is a direct descendant of the judge.   It’s interesting to see how paths can cross many generations later!

About the Author

Alison and her sister began their research out of curiosity and have made some totally unexpected discoveries about the Burford line of their family. They just wish their grandmother and her mother were still alive to see what illustrious ancestors they had!

Written content of this post copyright © Alison Botterill, 2017.

1 comment:

Demetrius said...

As someone who has looked at a lot of Census Returns, it is fascinating to see those who are "living on private means" or often "Annuitants". Looking at the street they are in and who are their neighbours can give an idea of the level of society they can afford to be with. What we do not know so well are the numbers with a job but who are drawing on such investments. The practicalities of such day to day living has been sadly ignored by writers of fiction as well as social historians.