An anonymous Cradley resident was "a peaping abowt" in 1833 and 1834. Here are the outrageous and sometimes hilarious letters which he sent to a Birmingham newspaper.
The Monthly Argus and Public Censor
There was once a newspaper in Birmingham - the Monthly Argus and Public Censor - which a Black Country writer has described1 as follows:
... the Anti-Whig (Monthly Argus and Public Censor) ... [was] published in Birmingham in 1823. It was against Popery; Attwood of the Unions and any Whig Reform, took little heed of libel laws and the press. Offices and type were sold in 1823 when the Editor, Halliday, was sent to prison for fines due for libel actions.
Perhaps it was because this newspaper had a history of being either courageous or cavalier to matters of libel that a mysterious Cradley resident of 180 years ago chose it as a forum in which to voice some forthright and unflattering opinions on a number of local identities.
The first letter: Peeping Tom of Cradley Town writes to the Argus
In March 1833, readers of the Monthly Argus and Public Censor found in the Correspondence page the first of a series of bizarre letters signed by "Peeping Tom of Cradley Town". It was published between two elegantly phrased letters, the first of which was concerned with a mascot of the Scots Greys Regiment, and the other a rather lame-footed but high-flown parody of Milton on the topic of "Popery, Socinianism (sic) and Infidelity".
Peeping Tom's letter was expressed in far plainer terms:
A VOICE FROM CRADLEY
Cradley, Feb. 24, 1833
Dear Sir, - Because every body now a days writes to Mr Argus, I will do so as well ; and tell you the news of our town, and I will pay the post like a gentleman and I knows you wont feel afronted though I be but a poor man.
The folks say as Mister Bloomer his going to put his own life and adventers in your book ; now I hope as he wont forget to put in the pranks as he played his own son Tom, and how he sarved him at "Worcester Sizes" last year. - it be also talked off, as Old Oliver is a going to print a book about building houses without back doars an his son Will is to tell the rason. Our Mikal Reding is a fine fellow when he be drunk, he be parish consta bull, and oversear and the devil an all beside; and hes a house sine painter as well.
And theres Mr. Attwoodsman, Edwards, as lives at Comum Ill, him as the lads sometimes call "black dick," because he have a black beard, and a lamentabel propensitie, as old Lindhurst say, to tell lyes - one year a good while ago, he sported and took out his Certificate, but he keep in the house since the trial, and makes himself scarce.
P.S. To enquire whether he have paid his costs yet.
And there's a many more - one Priestly, and Timothy Wood, and Daniel Mole and the chapel clerk, and old squire Pargeter - and the Methody Parson, and Dick Eton, as grinds in Ludley guttar, and bake loves, and a many moor of no note at all. No more at present from yours affectionately,
of Cradley Town.
There can be no doubt that "Peeping Tom" knew Cradley well. He names :
Mister Bloomer, who is "writing his own life and adventers" for The Argus;
Bloomer's son Tom, whom his father saved at Worcester Assizes last year;
Old Oliver, who builds houses which have no back doors;
Oliver's son William;
Mikal Reding, parish constable and overseer;
Mr. Attwood's man, Edwards, who lives at Colman Hill, and is named "Black Dick" because he has a black beard;
the chapel clerk;
old squire Pargeter;
the Methody Parson;
Dick Eton, "as grinds in Ludley guttar, and bake loves"
Many of the above persons can be found in contemporary directories, parish registers, and census records.
We cannot now know what secondary meanings those "in the know" would have read between the lines of Tom's first letter. But taking the text at face value, Tom firstly uses the device of claiming to have heard that Mister Bloomer intends to write of his life and adventures in the Argus, and is either aggrieved or bemused by it. Somewhat cruelly, he brings up the matter of Bloomer's son's problems at the Worcester Assizes in the previous year.
Tom then abruptly changes his sights to Oliver the builder, whom he says builds houses without back doors; and again Tom includes the son.
Tom next takes aim at Mikal Reding (Michael Pratt Reading), the "parish consta bull", whom he all but accuses of being a drunk.
"Mr. Attwoodsman, Edwards, as lives at Comum Ill" seems to be "Mr Attwood's man, Edwards", and Tom gives us his rendering of Coleman Hill as "Comum Ill". Edwards, he tells us, has a lamentable propensity to tell lies (the reference to "Old Lindhurst" is apparently a quotation), has been to trial, and has not yet paid his costs.
Peeping Tom's second letter
One month after his first letter, Peeping Tom penned a followup to The Argus :
A FEW MORE WORDS FROM CRADLEY
Cradley, March 25, 1833
I sends my best services unto you for printing my letter in your argus of last month.
my letter has made such a comotion in our town. theres master Mikael Reding the parish oficer, was particelar angered, and folks say as it were Tomas Blumer, son of the old gentleman with the large belley, as were the man to do it. but you am sure it not be so, because if he had been after doing of it, it could not have been me as did it, which it was. and if you will print this in your next argus, all the peopel will know it was not Tom, for we all know Tom is a considerable wag ; and so they thought it were Tom who did it. and I want to advise Mister Redin not to be angered without no cause, which he might if I had draw is pictur, and you had printed it in your book. and you know he is a old man now and ougt to think of bettir things, but I shal draw his pictur if we woant behave hisself. I doe not care for taylor wood, for I shall give him hartshorn spirit if he say one word.
And we have got a fine mill at the Nether-end, as only goes a Sundays and grinds crabs, and mister Preasley is one of them as minds the mill, and they make a great deal of varges there. and I shall not write much more this time, becase I shall not let my tongue be longer than my brains.
so no more from your afectonate servant,
I shall pay the post of this, and I hope you will print it, becase I dont care for nobody.
Tom's second letter starts by smugly reporting that the first has caused a commotion in Cradley. He says that "Mikael Reding the parish oficer, was particelar angered" - hardly surprising, given Tom's comments about him ! - and threatens that he may draw Reading's picture.
Tom then goes to some length to deny that he is really Thomas Bloomer.
Is Tom giving us a clue when he writes, mystifyingly, "I doe not care for taylor wood, for I shall give him hartshorn spirit if he say one word" ?
The taunting air of this letter is neatly encapsulated by his closing words, "I hope you will print it, becase I dont care for nobody"
PEEPING TOM OF CRADLEY, AGAIN!!
Cradley Town - valotine dai.
I havnt rote now a longful time but i have being a peaping abowt as usial an wil tel yo all the news. - I gett a peap one dai at dannels dai book for dannel kepes a diry in is dai boke, an i sees, wel wot did i sea, o deer. hit was the crismaist wick.
Monday December 23 - got dronk!
Tuesday ---- get dronk agen.
Wednesday ---- get verry drunk and was sic.
Thursday ---- eecupped all dai an got dronk at nite.
Fryday ---- get dronk and brok my piep.
Sataday ---- get dronk in mornin and get dronk agen at nite to finish thee wick.
deer sir, --- that were al I seed for he shutt up the boke.
Their as a grate hevent took plase at halse oen town, a new lawhier on mister wood, but aint no relation too our timoty off craidley hav set imself up, an sow poor old mister haze caint no moor sing lik robinsun cruser used too doe. but is sung must run this a ways,
"I beent monnock of all I servey
My rite Wood is come to despute,"
and soe on. &cc - timoty can say al the wole hym.
poor hold man --- it a sad pity as it appen in is hold age, and I fear it greave him mush but he must tink on the provverb as say,
Wat caint be coored, must be indoored."
an he better mak is mind eesey poor hold man.
Blak richard hav also been in tribbylashien, he were sarved wit a kind of papor from london, but noting hav cumed on it. it is a good wile sense now - and hold Jo aint get loos yit from gail, one would supose im was tired by now, one would tink as im would like to cum hom. an some pepel says as is sun tom am a going to turnover a noo leaf an be good an stiddy, for he haf been a randdam wag in is time, and many pepel tinks as hee rites thees letars as I rites an soe som pepel cal im peeping tom, which is not.
an soe no more at preasant from
your afectinate frend,
Febuariy 14, 1834.
Tom's third letter is perhaps the most interesting of the three.
The first item on Tom's agenda concerns the very drunken Christmas of one "Dannel".
Tom fails to tell us just who this Dannel is. Might it be Daniel Mole, whom he mentions in passing in his first letter?
Daniel Mole is listed in Bentley's 1840/1841 directory as "victualler & blacksmith, Colly Gate". The Moles' smithy, or part of it, became the "Colley Gate" public house at the corner with Maple Tree Lane, and is still there today. We believe it was the same Mole family that later had built a ships' tackle works along Maple Tree Lane. The works is still there but is now used for other purposes.
This letter is quoted in an abbreviated form in The History of the Black Country by J. Wilson-Jones on page 124 of an (undated) edition. There are several differences from that shown above, one of which is significant : where our text reads
deer sir, --- that were al I seed for he shutt up the boke.
Wilson-Jones gives it as
Dear Sir that was all I sid. for he come in and shut up the book and he poorhouse keeper and all.
We are at a loss to explain the extra words describing Dannel as poorhouse keeper, as our text is taken directly from the letters as published in the Argus; it is possible but unlikely there was a separate edition which Wilson-Jones used for his transcription.
However, there was indeed a poorhouse in Cradley at this time, and it fits Tom's mocking of authority figures that he should single out the keeper for attention. The poorhouse was in Oldnal Lane at High Park, and was abandoned upon Cradley joining the newly-formed Stourbridge Union in September 1836. It was lived in as a house for many years and then gradually fell derelict. Some of the ruined brickwork is still there if you know where to look.
Tom next moves on to tell us that there is a new lawyer in Halesowen named Wood, and so "poor old mister haze" is no longer "monarch of all he surveys". Tom is referring here to William Hayes, who was later a deputy coroner for Worcestershire.
He then returns to the legal tribulations of "Black Dick", whom he identified in his first letter as Mr Attwood's man Edwards, of Coleman Hill. Finally he speaks of old Jo, who is still in gaol, and denies that this is the real identity of Peeping Tom.
It is very noticeable that for this letter Tom suddenly switches to writing in an even more exaggerated form of dialect. For example, he now would have us believe that he is unable to spell even the first word of his letter : he writes "dear" as "dere", and a few lines later as "deer". Some phrases ring true (such as "crismaist wick"), but much seems deliberately tounge-in-cheek.
Tom gives us two quotations. The first ("I beent monnock of all I servey") is from William Cowper's "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk". Selkirk, who was shipwrecked, became the inspiration for Defoe's Robinson Crusoe - thus Tom's reference to "robinsun cruser".
I am monarch of all I survey;
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea
I am lord of the fowl and the brute
O Solitude! where are the charms
That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,
Than reign in this horrible place.
The second quotation, "Wat caint be coored, must be indoored" ("what can't be cured, must be endured") is by Robert Burton (1577-1640), from Anatomy of Melancholy, Part ii. Sect. 2, Memb. 3., and had attained the status of a proverb by Tom's time.
Clearly, Peeping Tom was not the illiterate village idiot that he pretended to be. His letters cocking an insolent snook at the high and mighty of Cradley must have caused outrage to a few, but merriment to most, in 1833 and 1834.
"Peeping Tom of Cradley Town" seems to have taken the secret of his true identity with him to the grave, although perhaps there are people still alive today with knowledge of certain family secrets. If so, Cradley Links would certainly like to hear from you!
1 J. Wilson-Jones, A.R. His.S., F.S.C. (Librarian, Rowley Regis, Staffs) The History of the Black Country, pub. by Cornish Brothers Ltd., Birmingham (undated), p. 92.
Two of Peeping Tom's letters appear in the article "Tummy Two Sticks And other local characters" by Kevin Powis, which appears on p. 37 of "Cradley Then & Now", and records that the author found them "hiding in an old book about the Black Country".
Further research brought to light The History of the Black Country by J. Wilson-Jones, cited above.
Cradley Links would like to thank Maria Twist of the Local Studies Library in Birmingham who kindly provided photostat copies of the letters of Peeping Tom as they originally appeared in the Birmingham " Monthly Argus and Public Censor".