"There were men with no hats, and in their shirtsleeves ; women with no bonnets, and shawls over their head - in fact, a good portrait of a black country fight. There was altogether that lack of decorum which is noticeable in an English funeral" - "A Native of Cradley", writing in the Brierley Hill Advertiser, 1869
This is the bizarre but true tale of a particularly obnoxious sexton at St. Peter's, and of a Black Country man who, in the depths of grief, bravely stood up for his rights. We shall see how the ordinary people of Cradley in 1869 rid themselves of this turbulent sexton by serving up their own form of justice; and very rough justice it was ...
The Sexton William Henry Charlton's tenure as sexton at St. Peter's, which was destined to end in such dramatic circumstances, began in 1859 on a frosty note:
To the Editor of the Advertiser - Sir, - In common with most of the parishioners of Cradley, I have been somewhat surprised at the recent appointment of a stranger to the double office of beadle and sexton. Through the death of the late beadle and sexton the office became void. Two respectable parishioners were previously led to understand by an influential personage, who had the power of appointing a successor, that they were to be appointed to the vacancies. One of them had been temporarily employed during the interregnum as the future beadle or sexton but has been thrown overboard very suddenly to make room for an individual from Halesowen. I do not understand why the resident of a neighbouring parish should have the appointment in preference to a parishioner. My opinion is that such a step is unjustifiable, especially as two respectable parishioners had been promised the posts. If I am rightly informed, the appointment of the sextonship rests with the parishioners; if so, why not claim their rights as they ought! Hoping some one will solve the mystery, I am, yours truly, HORTONLEY.- Colley Gate, December, 1859.
The 33-year old Charlton (who was a Halesowen tailor by trade) and his wife Georgina added to their already growing family soon after arrival in Cradley. One child was christened Allen Hesselgrave Charlton at St. Peter's on 5 March 1865. The choice of middle name is significant, as it is also the middle name of the Rev. James Hesselgrave Thompson, "Tommy Two-Sticks", the incumbent at St Peter's from 1856-1889 (see The Wandering Vicar of Cradley).
Putting the corpse before the heart It seems that Charlton was never a popular character in Cradley. As the County Express of May 8th 1869 said of him:
One of the complaints against Mr. Charlton is that he demands the burial fees before the corpse is borne into the churchyard, and this frequently gives great offence to the mourners
Halesowen Town Crier Samuel Salt (of whom much more later) was far less inhibited. We should be careful before accepting his words at face value, as his bias is manifest and blatant. But even taken with a very large grain of Salt, the antipathy towards Charlton is clear:
Numerous parties have complained from time to time to the vicar of Cradley about the excessive burial fees which the late sexton charged for interments [...] The following case of a child, eleven months old, is another illustration of the tender mercies of the sexton and Co., of Cradley : - Elijah Addlington sometime ago took a child of his for interment. It was eleven months old and a few days. For the interment, the late grippling sexton demanded, and received, before the child was taken into the Church, nine and eightpence for a small grave of the usual depth for a child - or rather nine and tenpence, for he received ten shillings, and could only give twopence back, so he not only charged that enormous fee, but defrauded him of twopence in addition.
Salt was also scandalized by Charlton's activities on the Sabbath:
It was no uncommon thing to see on a Sunday the late sexton trotting up the street with a bag of horse corn on his shoulder while the Divine service was going on, yet he was brought into the parish as a pattern of religion for the Cradley people!
And even Tommy Twosticks is fair game for Salt's insinuations:
I am informed that his rev. master says he never knew him do anything wrong, except in one case. Has he never heard of his whitewashings in business - his failures - his passing the County Court - his dealings and dabblings with lawyers and mortgages - building houses and getting land at a very cheap rate - peeping and watching at his windows when the bailiffs were in search of him? Is it true, that the Incumbent of Cradley received a hundred pounds or so, a debt which the late sexton owed him, a day or two before he filed a bill in the Country Court to wind up his affairs, to swindle all his creditors with the exception of his favourite master?
William Walker In early 1869 William Walker1, a 38-year old of Light Green (today Lyde Green) suffered the death of an infant child, and arranged for a burial at St Peter's.
With his customary lack of tact and sensitivity, Charlton refused to let the child's coffin be brought into the churchyard unless the burial fees were paid on the spot, and before the burial. Walker later gave his version in a letter to the County Express :
The sexton met us a few yards from the church gates, and demanded of me the fees. I told him I would pay him as soon as the burial service was over. He then said he would take the coffin lid off if I did not pay him the fees then. I told him I should not till the burial service was over. He then attempted to close the churchyard gates, but no succeeding in that, he ran and closed the church doors against us. He thus kept us waiting on the church steps about twenty minutes, until the beadle came and opened the doors. They were no sooner opened than the sexton again closed them, and said we should not go into the church till I had paid the fees. I asked him what the fees were. He said, 11s. 8d., as the grave was seven feet deep ; but he afterwards admitted it was only six feet deep. I ultimately agreed to pay him 10s. 2d. He then ordered the grave to be filled up to five feet five inches. Now, I cannot understand the reason of such conduct, as I am not, not have ever been, indebted to him in any way whatever. I consider the charge enormous, as the child was only about four years of age.
Understandably aggrieved, after the burial Walker took the trouble to check the customs and practices of other local churches, and found that Charlton was the only sexton demanding such prior payment..
In early May Walker was again struck by tragedy, with the death of his 82-year old mother Elizabeth. His treatment at the hands of Charlton still rankled; he decided to take a stand, and made the journey to Halesowen to ask Archdeacon Richard Brindley Hone for a ruling on whether Charlton was entitled to refuse burials to take place before payment. Hone replied that Charlton had no such authority.
Barbarians at the gates On Sunday May 2nd 1869, the scene was set for battle. Walker arrived at St. Peter's accompanied not only by his mother's coffin and mourners, but with a policeman in tow.
At the churchyard gates, Charlton blocked the entry of the funeral procession and, true to form, demanded that the burial fees be paid immediately.
Walker, with the ruling from Archdeacon Hone fresh in his mind and the policeman at his side, stated his refusal to pay Charlton until after the burial.
Charlton then shut the gates.
The County Express of May 8th 1869 recorded
This had been expected and almost at once a number of roughs turned out to take part in the proceedings. Such a sight was never before seen in Cradley, and it was estimated that nearly 5000 persons were present, many without coat on and their shirt sleeves tucked up. Upon Mr. Charlton fastening the gates, the policeman stepped forward and demanded admittance. Mr. Charlton then rushed to the church door and tried to lock it, but this was prevented by Mr. J. Horton, the beadle, who informed Mr. Charlton that the church door should not be shut up during the hours of service, which was then going on.
This appeared to incense Mr. Charlton greatly, and on the corpse being brought up the steps to enter the church, he kicked at the coffin and broke two of the handles off.
It seems impossible that "5000 persons were present", as that would have required the presence of every man, woman and child in Cradley. Notice the name of the beadle: Mr. J. Horton. Might he be not entirely unrelated to the person who wrote the letter of 1859 complaining that an import from Halesowen had been preferred over local people, and who signed himself "HORTONLEY.- Colley Gate" ?
Inside the church Despite Charlton's attempt to block entry into the church, the mob, assisted by the beadle, forced their way through, propelling both the coffin and Charlton forward, right into the middle aisle.
The curate, Rev. D. Seddon, was at the time conducting Divine Service; perhaps his immediate superior, the Wandering Vicar (Rev. Thompson) was away on one of his frequent sojourns to Europe, indulging his interests in botany.
Seddon had only recently arrived in Cradley, and left the following year. Given the events of that mad day in May, he can hardly be blamed for seeking fresh fields and pastures new, as far away from Cradley as possible.
His sermon was rudely interrupted by the mob. No respecters of the concept of a church as sanctuary, they were baying for Charlton's blood; he, taking the view that discretion was by far the better part of valour, was attempting to hide in a convenient pew.
Seddon somehow managed to calm the mob and deliver a few hurried words over the coffin, and then found a reason to leave the immediate scene to perform other duties elsewhere at the church.
At the grave: Charlton's son arrives Seddon had indeed poured oil upon the troubled waters, and Elizabeth Walker was at last being laid to rest in her grave; the first few inches of dirt were being poured over her coffin.
But now Charlton's son arrived at the grave. With a sense of timing so abysmal that it could have only been hereditary, he took it upon himself to boast that "if he had been there he would not have allowed this to be done".
As if that were not enough, he then made what he thought was a joke involving a pantomime of ejecting Mrs. Walker from her grave. Salt records:
This so enraged the mob that they at once seized the young sexton and hurled him into the grave, and commenced covering him over with soil and turf. The old sexton now being informed of the frightful condition of his son, at once fled to the rescue of his unfortunate son and heir. When the old sexton approached the grave side, the infuriated mob surrounded him, and with a tiger-like clutch they seized him fast, and then banged him after his son into the yawning grave, and (being this time well provided with spades, shovels, and other implements) they then commenced to fill up the grave as fast as possible. At this juncture the police were called on to help rescue the two gravediggers from their perilous position ; and, after a desperate struggle with the mob, the succeeded in rising from the tomb and making their escape. And after the tyrannical and ferocious sexton and his son had made their escape, the infuriated mob would have massacred them both had they not concealed themselves. Oh, my dear friends, this has added another dark blot on the map of the "Black Country".
The County Express reported:
The event has caused the most intense excitement in the place and proceedings will shortly be taken. Since the occurrence above referred to we are given to understand that Mr. Charlton has resigned his position as Sexton, and that Mr. A. Bloomer, one of the church wardens, joiner and coffin maker, has been appointed by the vicar in his stead.
An eye-witness, identifying himself only as "A Native of Cradley" wrote to the Advertiser :
To the Editor of the Advertiser - Sir,
Allow me a small space in your valuable columns to give a brief outline of what (to my regret) I witnessed on Sunday last in Cradley churchyard. Hearing that a funeral was to take place in the afternoon, I went with the intention of hearing the beautiful burial service of the Church of England read, when, to my surprise, instead of witnessing the mournful ceremony pass off in the usual style, with respect and sympathy for the mourners, I found the churchyard more like Bedlam.
There were men with no hats, and in their shirtsleeves ; women with no bonnets, and shawls over their head - in fact, a good portrait of a black country fight. There was altogether that lack of decorum which is noticeable in an English funeral ; and the cause of all this discord was the sexton, Mr. Charlton, who has lately made a practice of demanding the burial fees previous to the interment of the corpse - a course adopted at no other church in the district, and totally inconsistent with common sense. When the funeral arrived he, of course, made his usual demand, which was obstinately refused by the person in charge of the funeral. Being thwarted in his efforts to eject the coffin from the churchyard, his next idea was to keep the funeral party out of the church, and in his endeavour to do this, a scene followed which it is difficult to describe. Divine service was being conducted at the time by the respected curate (the Rev. D. Sheddon); but the intrusion on this seemed to be a secondary consideration on the part of the sexton, whose only object seemed to be "my fees," regardless of the feelings of the officiating minister or the friends of the deceased, who by this time gained an entrance into the church. This conduct on the part of Charlton so exasperated the mob that, after allowing Mr. Seddon to go through the service at the grave in quietness, they threw Charlton's son into the grave, and he, coming to his son's assistance, was served in like manner; and I believe they would have buried him had it not been for the assistance of the police, who were quickly on the spot.
The descriptions I have given of this disgraceful affair I witnessed, and can vouch for its being the truth. I will conclude with earnestly hoping that Cradley Churchyard will never be the scene of such a disturbance by such an unseemly crowd as that which I saw last Sunday ; and I hope steps will be taken to do away with the system of demanding fees before interment, for until this is done Cradley Church will not be free from these barbarian riots.
Apologising for intruding on your space, and thanking you for the insertion of the above, I remain, yours respectfully,
A NATIVE OF CRADLEY.
Samuel Salt's Lecture on the Cradley Outrage Halesowen Town Crier Samuel Salt knew that he was on to a good thing with the story of the sexton and his son being half-buried alive - raw material that he could make into an even hotter item than his earlier "Lecture on the Evils of Intemperance Unmasked and a Peep into a Gin Shop, or Life among the Drunkards".
He therefore lost no time in printing an account "fully describing the Disgusting, Diabolical, Horrible, Melancholy, and most Disgraceful Scene and Outrage which took place at Cradley Church and Churchyard in Sunday May 2 1869".
Salt had no doubts about the quality of his work, and was not afraid to say so:
There never was such a wonderful, dumb-striking, and eye-opening lecture composed, delivered, printed or published as this
My beloved brethren and dear friends, I shall now commence my eloquent, truly splendid, most magnificent and utterly dumb-striking lecture. And my friends, I shall amuse you with one part of my important, most interesting, and eye-opening lecture in prose, and the other part in rhymed lines and verses ; and the texts which I have selected are appropriate, and applicable for this hyperbolical lecture, and also very suitable for Walker's case, are taken out of the Holy Scriptures
Unfortunately, he did indeed supply the promised "rhymed lines and verses", starting with an ode extolling his own virtues:
Salt is the man of Halesowen town,
A writer of poems of famous renown,
His works are well known for many miles round,
In the hall and the cottage they're sure to be found.
He has to toil hard to earn his own bread ;
And while carrying his pack he works with his head ;
And when he gets home he sits down to write
His lectures and poems till after midnight.
For a number of years this has been his plan -
To stick to his trade like a hard working man.
He's surrounded by enemies on every side,
And to bring him to ruin it would be their pride.
But the wolf and the eagle he always will fight,
For he hates what is wrong and does what is right.
S. Salt is undaunted, and heeds not his foes,
For he knows how to fight and win without blows.
Like a brave sturdy oak, Salt is still living on,
And his works will be read when he's dead and gone.
Salt is made of the right substantial good stuff,
And not like the hypocrite, with fungus and puff.
Salt's works they are good, and long will endure ;
They are built on a rock - his foundation is sure.
He fears not the storms nor the wrath of his foes ;
Salt is safe on his rock, and there will repose.
It is certain, my friends, the grass fadeth away,
And the flowers fade too, and the trees do decay.
But Salt's poems and works will endure for ever !
O yes, they'll stand the test in all sorts of weather.
The self-described "writer of poems of famous renown" produced this baleful effort :
Come listen, dear friends, and I will unfold
A tale to amuse the young and the old.
The subject is true; and here may be read
How the sexton of Cradley treated the dead.
At Halesowen town he used to reside,
A tailor by trade, well starched with pride ;
With his new-fashioned suit, and boots blacked bright,
And broad brimmed hat, that fit his head tight.
He strut there about till a parson, they say,
Who then lived at Cradley, sent for him one day,
And told him he thought he would do very well
To be the grave digger, and ring the church bell.
Now for a number of years this wicked sexton
Kept fleecing the public, and would longer have done
But a man of some pluck, who now lives at Light Green,
Kicked up such a towrow as never was seen.
A relation he took to be buried one day,
On a Sunday this year - on the second of May ;
But the sexton being primed with ginger, or gin,
Ran up and down raging, and a fight did begin.
He declared that the fees to him should be paid,
Or the corpse in the grave should never be laid.
Nor in the churchyard would he allow it to go,
Till he had his cash and certificate also.
Now the Walkers were firm, and they flatly refused,
And the warmer they got the more he abused;
The to the church gates made a hasty retreat ;
And the scenes which took place I will just now repeat.
And now the church gates he tried hard to close,
But a policeman was there, and he soon interpos'd,
Which made the poor sexton dart off like a row,
Up to the church doors to perform the next show.
Now pursued by the people p to the church door,
He there made a stand for a pitch'd battle once more;
And declaring aloud, let them do what they may,
His fees should be paid before the burial that day.
But the Walkers were plucky, being arm'd with the law,
And would not then pay as the sexton soon saw,
For it never was legal till the burial was o'er.
In a rage he then tried to close the church door.
The beadle now came as there was such a row,
But to stop the disturbance he did not then know how,
Though he open'd the door and let them all in,
Which made the poor sexton like a baboon to grin.
Then a struggle took place, and the shouts of the crowd
Were heard a long way, for the shouts were so loud !
The parson then preaching was compelled to desist,
And the sexton kept bawling and shaking his fist!
On a seat he then jumped, and, madden'd with rage,
Declared he would fight - but afraid to engage,
For the people were ready to take up the cause,
And to give him a taste of King Lynch's laws !
To the grave he then ran, and there was such a scene
Which never before in a churchyard had been,
Still loudly declaring he would then have the cash,
Or else he to pieces the coffin would dash.
So hot grew the fray he withdrew out of sight,
But his son then came up an renewed the fight,
And quickly he found, what before might have known,
That he in the grave would be very soon thrown.
And soon he was there, though he did not long stay,
But he got a nice daubing with bones, dirt and clay!
And he long will remember the treat in the grave,
And of being so anxious his father to save.
The sexton now came, that his son he might save,
But the crowd soon threw him to his son in the grave,
Some shouting, some laughing, and all thought it nice fun,
By covering with dirt both the sexton and son.
But at last they came out in a sad dirt plight,
And the people were amused to see such a sight;
For the sexton and his son were so thoroughly beat
That they never will again want such a treat.
But now it is time that I should bring to a close
My tale of the sexton and his valiant foes :
For his friend parson Pepper began to feel queer,
As the Bishop had told him to stop his career.
So now he has left us, let us bid him farewell ;
But where he is going I cannot you now tell.
He may take a ride on his goose to the moon,
And in case he does that he will not be back soon.
The Trial of the late Sexton of Cradley Salt has left us this unique report on the trial of Charlton. Although on the face of it a verbatim transcript, we should assume that some, most or all of it was manufactured by Salt; but it still makes fascinating reading, not the least for the Cradley names mentioned: some are real, some are disguised, and some are total fiction.
THE COURT HOUSE, CRADLEY, MAY 3rd, 1869
TRIAL OF THE LATE SEXTON OF CRADLEY.
Chairman: - THE REV. DR. PEPPER.
Great excitement was this morning manifest at the Public Office, Cradley, in consequence of the trial of the late sexton. A warrant having been issued for his apprehension for riotous conduct on Sunday in the public street, churchyard and church. He was accompained (sic) into church by his friends. He looked rather pale.
It appears from what our reporter was able to glean that yesterday (Sunday) a funeral was to take place in the Cradley churchyard. The name of the deceased woman was Elizabeth Walker. The Walkers, who are hard working and respectable people, live at a small village in the parish called Light Green.
It seems there has been for some time a great deal of ill-feeling manifested towards the late sexton of Cradley on account of his charging such unreasonable burial fees. The sexton, who does not appear to be a man of very good character, has made himself more disliked than he probably would have been, by his diabolical (sic) conduct to the parishioners generally by charging them almost double fees for interments! This has caused a great deal of unpleasantness and spleen, but yesterday, perhaps by orders from head quarters, and no doubt suffering from the effects of too much beer (which we are informed he indulges in rather to (sic) freely at times) on the previous evening, was rather out of sorts.
As the friends of the deceased woman were coming up the street leading to the church gates, the late sexton darted out of the church with the alacrity of the roe or deer to meet the funeral procession. He then in an insulting manner demanded of the Walkers the burial fees. This was the cause of a great disturbance, so much so, that many thought there would be a fight in the street. Such a scene, however, was never before witnessed in Cradley or elsewhere on a Sunday.
On Monday morning the churchwardens and Mr. Pepper thought it would be right to issue a warrant against the late sexton and bring him to trial, so that the matter might be thoroughly investigated. It was such a disgraceful and diabolical affair that could not be allowed any longer.
The Rev. Dr. Pepper occupied the chair. Mr. Sexton was undefended.
The Chairman, in the absence of the clerk, read over the warrant, and then asked Mr. Sexton whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty. Mr. Sexton pleaded "not guilty," in rather a feeble voice.
The first witness called was Mr. Norton, the beadle.
Chairman : Norton.
Norton : Yes sir.
Chairman : What do you know about this case?
Norton : Well, sir, yesterday I was in the church during the afternoon service, attending to my duties, and when our curate was in the cream of his sermon (about the middle, I think) I heard a great noise at the church doors. I arose from my seat very quietly and went to the church doors for the purpose of seeing what was the matter. When I got there I saw a great crown of people on the church steps and in the churchyard - some without hats, others without coats, and some without shoes or stockings; in fact, all the tagrag and bobtail company from High Town and other places of the parish. Women with no bonnets, and girls with children in their arms by scores ; in short, such a motley crew as was never seen in a churchyard before. Mr. Sexton was in the act of closing the church doors against the mob. I said to him, "Mr. Sexton, open the doors and let the funeral come in." I spoke in a very soothing tone of voice, because I was then in a very quiet thumb of mind. He said, "I shall not ; for they shall not come into church till I am paid the burial fees." I said again to him, "Open the doors, will you, Mr. Sexton." He said again , "I shall not." I then took hold of him by the collar of his coat and thrust him away with little force, but not force enough to hurt a goose. I then opened the church doors myself, and let the crowd come in. I think I could have thrown half-a-dozen such as him down the church steps, if I had been so disposed ; but I said I was in a very quiet thumb of mind at the time. It seems that Mr. Sexton had put the bier across the top of the church steps for the purpose of preventing the funeral and the mob coming into church ; and so tremendous was the rush of the mob towards the church doors that they drove the bier before them with such force and violence where Mr. Sexton stood, that had he not had the presence of mind to jump up like a cock at a gooseberry in a gooseberry bush I believe he would have been very seriously hurt, if not killed. It was lucky that Mr. Sexton had a couple of bow legs, for it was the means of saving his life. The bier went right between his legs as quick as my poor old grandmother rushed through my grandfather's [...] when the black ghost was running her for laying in the Red Sea the evil spirits of Hobgobblin Hall. [Here Mr. Norton jumped up to show the Court.]
Chairman : Norton, have you not had some ill feelings against Mr. Sexton?
Norton : No sir.
Chairman : Were you not rather warm and excited at the time you went to the church door?
Norton : No sir, I was never quieter in my life. I was very calm indeed.
Chairman : But at a time like that you might have been a little out of temper.
Norton : I have never been calmer, sir, in all my life. I had been listening very attentively to the sermon.
Chairman : When you took hold of Mr. Sexton by the collar of his coat do you mean to say you were not a little out of temper.
Norton : No sir ; I was not. I was cool as a cucumber in the hottest day of July.
Chairman : Were you not in the street before the crowd came into the churchyard?
Norton : No sir, I was never out of church during the whole of the afternoon service.
Chairman : What else did you see?
Norton : When the crowd rushed into the church threatening Mr. Sexton, he ran up the aisle of the church as nimbly as old Tommy Two-Sticks when he goes chasing the butterflies on Mount Blanc, in Switzerland.
Chairman : Well, but where did he go? I mean, did he get into the vestry and his himself amongst the wine bottles.
Norton : No sir; he stood by the pulpit, looking as white as one of my old grand-father's red turnips, chattering and shaking his fist at the mob. The noise was indescribable, sir, they were all so furious.
Chairman : What did you see besides?
Norton : The mob and Mr. Sexton made such a noise that the curate was compelled to close his sermon, and came down from the pulpit to calm the infuriated mob.
Chairman : What followed then?
Norton : Why, sir, the mob through the influence and persuasion of our good curate were soon a little quieter.
Chairman : Where was Mr. Sexton all the time?
Norton : Standing by the pulpit, sir, shaking his head and his fist at the mob.
Chairman : Can you recollect anything that Mr. Sexton said?
Norton : Yes sir. He said I was the cause of the row; but the curate told him it was untrue; and said it was very wicked to say so, for I had not been out of church during the whole of the afternoon service.
Chairman : What did the curate then do?
Norton : He then went on with the burial service.
Chairman : Let me again call your attention to what you saw at the church doors. Was there anything else that you can remember?
Norton : Well sir, in the melee at the church doors I saw several of the mob and Mr. Sexton striking at each other. Mr. Sexton kicked with his legs like a game cock with steel heels on, and fought bravely with his fists too, striking out right and left, grining (sic) and frothing at his mouth like a maniac.
Chairman : Did they hurt each other or do any damage?
Norton : The bier, sir, was broken very much in the row; but I do not think any one was hurt much.
Chairman : Did you see anything that happened in the churchyard?
Norton : Yes sir.
Chairman : What did you see? Did you go out with the crowd?
Norton ; No sir.
Chairman : How could you see what happened if you did not go out? I hope you will be careful what you say. Remember you are on your oath.
Norton : I saw it through the window, sir.
Chairman : Through the glass do you mean? You can't swear to what see though glass. That will not do.
Norton : I had the window open, sir.
Chairman : Oh! The window open had you. And what did you see?
Norton : I saw a very great disturbance at the grave. Mr. Sexton and his son were in the grave, and several men with spades and shovels were trying to cover them with clay and bones. Chairman : Bless my little soul! Trying to bury Mr. Sexton and his son alive! If they had been buried, who would have paid me my fees for them.
Norton : I don't know, sir. Perhaps you would not have troubled yourself about the burial fees.
Chairman : You had better be careful, or I shall be obliged to commit you for contempt of court.
Norton : I beg your pardon, sir.
Chairman : Did you see what happened when they came out of the grave?
Norton : Yes sir. I saw people lead them away out of the crowd. I think they were some of the Wesleyans. His prompters I believe.
Chairman : That will do. Sit down Norton. Let me see, the next witness is Mr. Putchings, the policeman. Putchings.
Putchings : Yes sir.
Chairman : Stand up, please. Did you see anything of this affair, yesterday, in the churchyard?
Putchings : Yes sir, I did.
Chairman : Come, stand up properly will you. Do you take ale?
Putchings : Yes, sir, I take pigtail. (A laugh)
Chairman : Pay attention to my question, or I shall be obliged to report you to the superintendent. Answer my question, sir; do you take ale?
Putchings : I do chew pigtail. (Loud laughter).
Chairman : Come, sir, answer my question, or I shall deem it my duty to commit you to prison for contempt of court.
Putchings : I am rather deaf, sir.
Chairman : Were you quite sober yesterday?
Putchings : Yes I was, sir; though my head felt a little muddled; for I had a glass or two at old Molly Dumpling's on Saturday evening!
Chairman : Were you on duty yesterday?
Putchings : I was on duty in the street when the funeral procession came towards the church gates.
Chairman : What do you know about the matter?
Putchings : Well, sir, I saw Mr. Sexton come to one of the Walkers in the street and demand the burial fees off him. Mr. Sexton said they should not go into the churchyard till he was paid.
Chairman : Did the Walkers pay him?
Putchings : No sir, they did not. It was illegal to do so.
Chairman : How do you know? Mind how you answer me, sir. What did Mr. Sexton then do?
Putchings : He ran to the church gates and tried to close them ; but I thought it my duty to open them.
Chairman : You did?
Putchings : I did, sir.
Chairman : Did the crowd then go into the churchyard, when the gates were opened?
Putchings : They did, sir, like a herd of wild buffaloes.
Chairman : Did you see the crowd at the church doors and in church?
Putchings : I did, sir; but I did not stay in church, as my duty is to keep order outside.
Chairman : Did you see how the crowd treated Mr. Sexton and his son?
Putchings : I saw some of it, sir, but I could not see it all as the crowd was so great that it was utterly impossible for me to see much of what took place.
Chairman : You saw the fight at the grave, I suppose?
Putchings : I did, sir, and had I not been there both Mr. Sexton and his son would have been buried alive!
Chairman : Shocking! To serve poor Mr. Sexton and his son so. I suppose you prevented any further breach of the peace?
Putchings : I did, sir; and kept good order afterwards.
Chairman : Very good. That will do, Putchings. The next witness is Timothy Bushby. Bushby, what do you know about this affair?
Bushby : I know a little, sir. It was a disgraceful affair!
Chairman : How do you know it was a disgraceful affair?
Bushby : It was an abominable affair! The most disgraceful scene I ever saw! It was a scandal to those that have the power to remove such a detestable fellow. He ought not to be kept in the parish an hour. It is a disgrace to the parish!
Chairman : Do you mean to insult me on the Bench? Be careful what you say, sir.
Bushby : I think Mr. Sexton is a very bad man; and it is a disgrace to the person who has the power to dismiss him.
Chairman : Recollect where you are. I shall not sit here and allow you to use such language. Answer my question, will you. Did you see what took place yesterday in the churchyard and church?
Bushby : I saw some of it, sir.
Chairman : Well, did the Walkers commence the disturbance?
Bushby : They did not. It was Mr. Sexton. He was the cause of all the row. I should like to have my will at him ; I would pull his goat's beard for him!
Chairman : Be careful what you say. How do you know that it was Mr. Sexton who began the row?
Bushby : Because it was, sir.
Chairman : Tell me how. You speak rather hard about him. Mind what you say. We have a place to put saucy fellows like you in.
Bushby : I am sorry if I have said anything to hurt your feelings. You are an honour to the Bench.
Chairman : I am told you are one of Mr. Pegg's party, whom I fear have been getting up this conspiracy against Mr. Sexton for the purpose of getting rid of him, on account of him being the means of driving Mr. Pegg away from Cradley.
Bushby : It is a falsehood, sir ; and a bigger lie was never hammered on old Satan's anvil since he took to Pandemonium to forge young Lucifers to tell lies for misers, money-grubbers, and covetous sextons!
Chairman : Putchings, take this insolent fellow into custody for contempt of court. Silas Borrest, where do you live?
Borrest : In Chatterbox Row, sir, next door to Mr. Shortweight, the Baptist deacon, who keeps a wobble shop, sells pop, suck, ginger-bread, farthing herrings for a penny, and all sorts of odd, little, funny, fancy, mouth-inviting tit-bits on Sunday morning, after prayer meeting is over at Dr. Pinchpoor's chapel.
Chairman : Bless me! Do you live by such a neighbour as that! It is quite time he was dipped again. But let me call your attention to the matter in hand. Did you see the outrage on Sunday, in the churchyard?
Borrest : I did, sir; and in the church too. It was a great disgrace to the person who appointed such a swindler to the office, and especially to bring a stranger into the parish to defraud the public!
Chairman : Be careful what you say. What did you see, I ask you.
Borrest : I saw Mr. Sexton come to the Walkers and demand the burial fees in the street, before they got to the church gates.
Chairman : You did. Were you with the funeral or a spectator?
Borrest : I was assisting to carry the deceased, and I felt so indignant that I said to my neighbour, Shampton, that I should like to have my will at him for a few minutes.
Chairman : What do you mean by that?
Borrest : I mean, sir, I would have hammered his goose head till it was as soft as a boiled cabbage. In fact, I was so indignant and excited that I asked my neighbour, Shampton, to go with me and to give him a right down sound thrashing. I felt so inspired that I could have fought as bravely as Tom Sayers.
Chairman : Oh! I see, you were trying to kick up a row!
Borrest : I did not strike, sir.
Chairman : But what did you see?
Borrest : I saw Mr. Sexton close the church yard gates, and the policeman open them ; and I saw Mr. Sexton rush up the churchyard to the church doors and try to close them ; but the beadle came and opened them for the people to go into the church.
Chairman : Well, I think we need not enter into all the details again of what took place, as we have heard most of the particulars from the other witnesses. You saw what took place in the churchyard and church, I suppose?
Borrest : I did, sir. It was a disgraceful affair. Mr. Sexton is a very base fellow. I heard a respectable gentleman shout out to the men and say, "Bury him, bury him alive," such a wretch.
Chairman : Who was that?
Borrest : Mr. Stones.
Chairman : Did Mr. Stones say that? Why, he was trying to get poor Mr. Sexton buried, and his son, too. What a shame!
Borrest : And I believe Mr. Sexton would have been buried alive, and his son, too, had not the policeman interfered in their behalf and kept off the mob, for they were so infuriated at his wicked and atrocious conduct, that it was next to a miracle he escaped with his life. He richly deserved what he got; and I hope it will be a warning to him as long as he lives.
At this stage of the proceedings the Chairman (Dr. Pepper) read a letter from the bishop, who had been informed of Mr. Sexton's conduct, which had a damping effect on the chairman. He presently recovered himself a little, however, and intimated to the churchwardens and the other witnesses present that it would be unnecessary to go farther into the case, as Mr. Sexton (for one reason) was taken suddenly ill ; and taking into account the fact of the witnesses being so much against him, and also so conclusive, it would be a mere waste of time to prolong the examination.
The Chairman proceeded to say : The bishop having intimated to me that Mr. Sexton must be discharged from his post for riotous conduct and overcharging for burial fees in Cradley churchyard. It is a very painful duty for me to inflict such a severe punishment on an old faithful servant of mine, and I may say, such an honest servant too. I cannot help what the witnesses have sworn on this important trial ; but I may say they have been very unanimous in their evidence. If they have cooked up this conspiracy for the purpose of driving poor Mr. Sexton from the parish it is very wicked indeed, and the charge will lie at their doors, and not at mine. My opinion is, that Mr. Sexton is not guilty of the charge brought against him in this case by the Cradley people, for I am in possession of facts which I can rely upon, that in cases of him charging the extra burial fees which have been brought against him, he has done so by orders from the proper authority ; and consequently, Mr. Sexton has not done anything wrong.
I discharge him, with deep regret for his many good qualities and his uniform conduct to me during the nine or ten years he has been in my service. I only wish I could find him a better situation. I now dismiss him from his office with deep feelings of genuine regret ; and I sincerely hope the people of Cradley will live to repent of their conduct in being the means of driving away from the parish of Cradley poor Mr. Sexton.
This then, is how the story of the Cradley Outrage of 1869 ends; with the wicked Charlton sacked and in disgrace, Walker triumphant over all the entrenched powers of the high and mighty, and everyone living Happily Ever After.
But this is history, and only history; and as Ernst Toller (1893-1939) wrote, "history is the propaganda of the victors."
Did Charlton receive a fair trial? It was, after all, he and not Walker who suffered the terror of being almost buried alive, with his son by his side, at the hands of a maddened mob. He later claimed that everything which he did was done on the instructions of his superiors - the "Nuremberg" defence of "I was only obeying orders".
Perhaps, had things turned out only a little differently, today we might be recording Charlton as the hero, and Walker as the villain, of that mad day at St. Peter's in May 1869.
1 The name William Walker appears in various Cradley directory entries across the years, thus:
1872 - Walker William, nail maker
1876 - Walker William, nail maker
1878 - Walker William, nail maker
1880 - Walker William, chain maker
1884 - Walker William, chain maker
1896 - Walker William, chain maker, Lyde green
1900 - Walker William, chain maker, Lyde green