The Woman Who Cried ‘Murder’

First posted to Looking at Filey, 8 November 2011

The Scarborough Mercury of 2nd November 1894, reporting the ‘shocking murder’ of Maria Stonehouse in Filey, said that enquiries had ’revealed a history of domestic misery probably almost, if not wholly, without precedent or parallel in that interesting town’.

Maria was the fourth of eight children born to Thomas PROCTOR and Sarah EDMOND in Muston. Her father was a farm labourer but by the time of her death her widowed mother kept a lodging house on the Crescent in Filey and older brother Edmund had become a well-respected carriage proprietor in the town.

Maria, after giving birth to an illegitimate son in Scarborough about 1869, met Scalby man Samuel STONEHOUSE and married him in 1878.  They took a little farm at Lebberston before moving to the 72-acre Low Moor Farm, Hunmanby, which they rented from Mrs Dale of Scarborough.  They were there at the 1881Census with Thomas W. Proctor, now age 12, and two little Stonehouses, Ellen Elizabeth, 2, and Samuel Dixon, 5 months. Whatever their prospects were as a young farming family these were soon to be destroyed – and drink was their ruin.

At the 1891 Census, the family was in King Street, Filey. Samuel was working as a bricklayer and giving lodgings to George SNOODEN and Walter HEPINSTALL, also bricklayers and possibly working on developments associated with the building of the new sea wall. The household was completed by Samuel and Maria’s third child Sarah, aged seven. Thomas and Samuel were absent (and Ellen had died two years earlier) but the lodgers soon departed and young Samuel reappeared when the family moved a year or two later into one of two cottages at the end of Barnett’s Yard in Queen Street.

By this time the Stonehouse family was notorious, and the drink fueled arguments of Maria and Samuel legendary for their frequency and violence. The neighbours became used to hearing Maria scream ‘Murder’ as she took yet another battering. Early in 1894 one of these regular bouts turned nasty enough for the police to become involved and Samuel was jailed for six months.

After her death, Maria’s brother Edmund told reporters that she was a “clever woman” who had for some time competently managed their mother’s lodging house, but it was perhaps not very bright of her to welcome a violent husband home after his release. Battles re-commenced.

When he was sober Samuel Stonehouse was “a quiet and well-conducted man” and a hard worker. If he handed the larger part of his wages to Maria on a Saturday lunchtime, there would be little or nothing left by Sunday night. Maria would have drunk most of it. John BARNETT, their landlord, described her as “a scandalous woman”.

On the fateful Saturday Samuel completed his week’s labour on new buildings being erected next to the Spa Saloon and went to the Imperial in Hope Street around lunchtime with some workmates. The Landlord, Mr SIMPSON, allowed him to drink a relatively small amount before refusing him more and Samuel went off to another watering hole. Maria came looking for him to get money for her own beverages. Mr Simpson told a reporter, with perhaps unintentional irony, “I don’t know that I ever saw her looking better. She was a stiff-built and fresh-looking little woman.”

Samuel got somewhat the worse for wear at The Star and Maria went home to do some baking. At about four Samuel went home and began to quarrel with Maria. She ran, as she often did, to the little shop in Queen Street kept by Mrs Elizabeth Annie Burr, Samuel Stonehouse’s much younger sister. Elizabeth tried to persuade her not to go back home but Maria said she had to see to her pies. Meanwhile, Samuel had returned to The Star – where the barman refused to serve him. So he went back to his place of domestic misery for the final battle with Maria.

One neighbour said she heard the raised voices and the smashing of pots – but considered it normal for a Saturday night at the Stonehouses and thought nothing of it. Mrs Jane Scott, who lived next door, later claimed she never heard a thing but opined, “She was a very drunken woman and certainly the worst of the two.”

Sarah, ten years old, was out playing in the street but Samuel Dixon, 13 witnessed the brutal assault on his mother and ran to his Uncle Edmund for help. When that arrived in the shapes of Police Sergeant Clarkson, Dr Orr, Nurse Jenkinson and Elizabeth Burr it was too late. They watched Maria die of the injuries she had sustained. When arrested by Sgt. Clarkson on a charge of murder, Samuel Stonehouse said, “I didn’t do anything.”

Three days later, Samuel was in Hull Jail and the people of Filey gathered for Maria’s funeral. Whilst waiting for the coffin to leave the house a crowd gathered outside Fisher’s Studio nearby to look at a large photograph of the Sea Wall with Samuel Stonehouse prominent in the foreground. The reporter heard a number of people say, “Poor old Sam” and “I feel sorry for him.” Shortly after two, the procession left Barnett’s Yard, ten Filey women carrying Maria’s coffin to the church followed by “the two little ones Dickinson (Samuel Dixon) and Sarah, weeping bitterly as they were led along by the elder brother” and a large number of respectful mourners.

The location of Maria’s grave in St Oswald’s churchyard is possibly recorded somewhere but there may never have been a headstone. Samuel served his long sentence of hard labour and, it seems, returned to the area of his birth where he died aged about 72 in 1920 (Free BMD Scarborough Dec Q 9d 425). Immediately after the killing, the two youngest children were separated, Sarah going to Maria’s brother Edmund and “Dickinson” to Samuel’s sister Elizabeth Annie. I hope their lives became much, much better thereafter.

This is all I knew about Thomas. I feared for his life and was concerned for his mother, hoping Margaret had the support of family during her confinement. How would she cope if her infant died? That Thomas was baptised on his thirteenth day seemed a portent.

The boy was unlucky and didn’t get a life, dying before his first birthday. Margaret, I’m pleased to report, fared well. Pregnant with Thomas when the enumerator called at Garton on the Wolds Vicarage in 1881- she was in service as a cook to the Reverend Richard WRANGHAM – Margaret chose to have the child in Filey, twenty miles away. Her eldest sister, Ann, had married a Filey fisherman and was then living in Ship Inn Yard with her husband and their three children.

After the death of Thomas, Margaret went back to her home village and in 1886 married Francis Lowson TAYLOR, an agricultural labourer and relief post messenger. They had four children, one of whom died before 1911. Margaret’s death was registered in Bridlington in 1916, though she seems not to have strayed from Lowthorpe (Little Kelk) since going back home.

Both Margaret [MG6Q-XTQ] and Francis [GMVP-M5D] are on the Shared Tree but are yet to marry.

William James VARLEY was baptised at Filey St Oswald’s. He was 35 years old when he married Elizabeth Broadley BRACKENBURY in Scarborough, shortly before the Great War began. Their only child, Edna Elizabeth, was born about six weeks before the Armistice. William lost his wife in horrific circumstances.

In 1939, William was at The Shakespeare in St Helen’s Square. Edna was with him and John W. Brackenbury, age 48, was helping out in the Bar.

Google Street View

Row 3 | 1089 Coomer D37 | Granite

Treasured memories of my darling wife, DOROTHY COOMER, passed away 3rd November 1968, aged 65 years.

‘They rise who sleep immortal life to gain

Since Christ the first fruits slept and

Rose again’

Percy Coomer’s forebears don’t go further back on the Shared Tree than the early 19th century. Dorothy’s ancestors appear in the third century AD, though your mileage may extend even further.

FG&C tells us that John RICHARDSON was the landlord of T’Awd Ship for many years. He seems to have been a bachelor all his life and in 1851 his assistant was nephew John Richardson, son of Christopher and Mary née EDMOND.

T’Awd Ship next to The Foords Hotel in Queen Street (in 2018). The opening on the left leads to Ship Inn Yard, where Margaret Kirby’s sister Ann was living in 1881.

Path 183 · Carr Naze

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s