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Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Dark Side of Dimmingsdale.

 After mooring up below Swindon Lock we were soon on our and up through that one and Marsh lock close by.

On the left is the OS map from 1900 you can see that the tow path runs on the west side of the canal, right through the iron works and under the three canopies over it for sheltered cargo working. On the right is the OS map from 1921 with the works extended to the north and a tramway running along the old towpath that has been transferred to the east bank. The is a greater length for covered working too.

As soon as you are free of Marsh Lock I feel it is a little like the Leeds Liverpool Canal, but round the corner is the Botterham staircase Locks.

The Botterham Lock cottage has no real road access as the Smestow Brook is right behind it.

Helen is in the bottom of the two locks with the top lock looming above. They still have the original cast iron bridge at the foot of the lock. Not sure about the hand rail though!

Looking a little more like October in 2020 is the run up to Bumble Hole Lock with the sloping bridge just before it.

The next locks are the Bratch flight of three locks. Just at the foot of which is a lovely Victoria pumping house for the water works there, with towers gorbelling and coloured brick work effects. There was the inevitable short delay but we were soon been helped up the locks, that most people will know look like a staircase but there is a very short pound with side ponds between them.

The octagonal lock keepers house seems to be the star of the show, but there is another just down the cut at Stewpony and on the Smethwick pound in Birmingham. (Vandals burned it down as soon as it was rebuilt, so has gone to ruin last time I passed that way).

It was a lovely afternoon as we passed through Awbridge and Ebstree Locks and found a spot to moor up for the night just above Dimmingsdale Lock where there are a couple of berths on the off side.

It is a lovely spot with few comings and goings and we soon had the fire lit. and caught up with a few inside jobs.

Very close to where we were moored a boatman called Charles Stokes had just passed through the lock at on his way to Compton when at around 16:30 on Saturday 30th November he spied something odd at the mouth of the weir that led round the lock. Charles was the son of Henry and Annie who had been boat people themselves. In 1891 The three of them were in Chester aboard the ARENIG, Charles was one and Annie the only other crew. In the end Charles was the oldest of 5 all born in Wolverhampton except one born in Kinver (on a boat?).  He married Hannah Green and they had two lads. By the time of WWII they were ashore with Charles working as a carter for LMS and his sons working in the motor vehicle department for the same company. On the day in question we don't know what boat he was on but using his boat hook he soon realised that it was the body of a young girl floating face down. He left her there and hurried onward to Wightwick Lock where he alerted the Police.

The police hurried to the spot and recovered the body It turned out to be a young girl of between two and three with blond hair. She was wearing a saxe blue coat trimmed with grey fur with vest petticoat and liberty bodice and a strawberry coloured machine knitted dress with champagne or yellow coloured slippers with a pearl like button. So far very tragic but by no means uncommon as deaths in the canals by accident, suicide, or other, were not uncommon. What was not common that the body had been weighted down with a fire brick weighing around 6lbs that had been tied around her waist with a rope like a soldiers lanyard. The was she was dressed suggested that it was not the daughter of a boatman. The Police continued to drag the canal in case it was a double tragedy. Nothing else was found. No girls were reported missing.

The inquest was delayed several days to allow the Police enquiries to continue but eventually it was carried out. The pathologist stated the girl was well nourished and healthy and had been in the water for a week to a month. There were no signs of violence on the body and there were no distinguishing marks. He stated that it would not have been possible for her to tie the knots in the lanyard herself. Despite there been no water in the lungs or stomach he came the cause of death as probably drowning due to the cold water causing the lack of inhalation. The verdict was given as willful murder of a person unknown. On Friday 6th December the small body was buried at Tattenhall Church. Due to the kindness of a woman parishioner who took sympathy she was not buried in a paupers grave and a proper service took place. The casket was collected by by a hears drawn by two horses and escorted by members of the investigating police force. Superintendent Jeffery was also in attendance. There were several wreaths on the coffin and the plaque on the coffin stated 'Unknown child found drowned'.

The Police enquiries continued with them asking along the canal and taking the dead girls clothes in to schools along the canal to see if the children recognised them. Even more macabre was that they dressed a small girl in the same clothes and photographed her to post the pictures in several newspapers! However this tactic worked and the result was that the name of Elsie May Maiden, age 22, was put forward as the murderer. She was the youngest of three of John Maiden who was a shepherd on a farm near Shifnal. Her address was given as Manor Lodge Shifnal in Shropshire. The dead girl was said to be Beryl Gloria Maiden who was 2 and 7 months when she died. At her initial  arraignment at Wolverhampton on Monday 3rd February 1930 she was charged with the willful murder of Beryl between 26th October and 30th November. At the hearing there were large crowds outside the court and all available seats were taken as the case had received great publicity. Edith May was dressed in a blue coat edged with fur and a close fitting hat. She was accompanied by a prison Matron. She had been arrested by Superintendent Jeffery. She made no comment when charged. He father, brother and brother in law were present. Following information received Super. Jeffery and his wife went to an address, West Acre at Compton, to interview Elsie May. When questioned she stated that her daughter had been given to a couple in Walsall. When asked for the address she couldn't remember but told him that they had moved to London. She had put and advert out and had met them in a confectioners, but she had burned the letter. She also said that she had heard from them at Christmas and that the girl was fine. When shown a photograph of the girl she stated that it wasn't her daughter as she had dark hair, like herself. The policeman admitted at first he was inclined to believe her but when she admitted that she had taken her he told her that he was going to take her in for questioning she said; 'Oh I put her in myself, Oh, help me, what will they do to me, don't let them'. She was remanded to appear at the next Staffordshire assizes. The whole thing took eight minutes.

You can imagine if this had happened today, the mainstream and social media would have gone wild and the trial would be talked about everywhere, with many people having already made up their minds about the affair not knowing any facts.

The trial in Stafford took place on Tuesday 4th March and the story was revealed. The evidence of the police and pathologist was given and then new witnesses were called. It seems that Beryl was born 17th April 1927 and rejected straightaway by her mother, Elsie. The child's photograph was recognised by Rose Hope Symons who was a porter at Dudley Union Workhouse. She had been bought to the Workhouse by a Mrs. Beatrice Muriel Falkener of 2, Foundry Street, Princes End, Tipton. When questioned Mrs. Falkener stated she took her there as she was suffering from pneumonia and they could look after her better there. It seems that not long after Beryl's birth she had been given to the Falkener's as they has recently lost a baby son. She has stayed with them happily for about two years. Elsie May had occasionally sent along 10s to assist with the upkeep, but nothing regular. When she had been compelled to take Beryl to the Workhouse she had written to Elsie May but had received no reply. She wrote a second letter and indicated that she did not want the child, and never would. Eventually on 13th November 1929 Elsie May had gone to the Workhouse with her mother Edith Elizabeth Maiden to pick up the child. They then went to the home other other daughter, Mary Elizabeth Broxton at Shifnal where she lived for two to three weeks. The mother visited every day. One weekend Elsie May came along and said that she got upset every time she saw her daughter, and had found her another good home. The family went along with them to the station to see them off, but Beryl was never seen alive again. The proceedings were halted when Elsie May collapsed and had to be revived. She later gave evidence that she remembered getting off the the train at Wolverhampton and vaguely recalls taking a bus, but nothing else until she woke up in a hedge bottom near Dimmingsdale Bridge. The defense called a Doctor who stated that there was such a condition brought about by stress called masked or massed epilepsy that is manifested by mental rather than physical blackouts that could last from 3 to 4 hours to a day. Elsie May pleaded not guilty and following the Judge's summing up the jury retired. 80 minutes later the Foreman was asked by the Judge their findings and they admitted that they could not reach a verdict. The judge talked with them and after a further short deliberation the foreman stated that there was no chance that they would reach agreement. The Judge agreed and the jury was dismissed and a retrial at the Birmingham Assizes ordered. The press seemed to suggest that as there were two women on the jury there would never be agreement, and in those days a majority decision was not permissible.

Well what a roller coaster ride of emotions for the reader. First abhorrence at the abandoning of the child by her mother, then disgust at he being dumped at the workhouse. The hope that things would work out once Elsie May's mother and sister had got involved, and ultimate dread at the end result.

The retrial was heard at the Birmingham Court on Wednesday 19th March 1930. Elsie May was in the dock between two prison wardresses and looked extremely pale. The main body of evidence was rehashed and we learned that Elsie May had 'been company' with Laurence Tooth a couple of times a week and he had visited her in prison too. He was the same age and was the son of a baker in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton. Once again the jury withdrew and after a short time they reappeared. The Prison Doctor stood by Elsie May and supported her in the dock when the result was given.

There were great cheers when they found her not guilty. Her lawyer asked the judge for the formal dismissal of the case and once given she descended the steps of the dock into the courtroom and fainted into the arms of her mother. This was not the ending I had been anticipating when I started following this very sad case. I wanted to know the circumstances of the conception to know if that was the reason for the rejection. I wanted to know more about the ad hoc way that arrangements were made for children and I felt that Elsie May's fate would be sealed as a woman who was felt to have abandoned a child, never mind it resulting in that child's death. Throughout the trial Beryl was referred to as 'it', which sort of makes you realise where society was at the time.

I have looked to find Elsie May and it seems that she married a John Edward Elkes in 1933 at Shifnal. In 1939 he was a plumber and waterworks attendant living at the water works cottages at Stanton, Shifnal. He died in 1979 in Shifnal. Elsie May seems to have survived him and died at Shrewsbury in 1984. I can find no record of them having children.


Davidss said...

I just wanted to say I appreciate the additional effort you put in to research, and set out, the personal history you find for the areas you pass through.
I can't say I commit any of it to memory, but it adds interest to my breakfast blog reading.

Regards, David.

NB Holderness said...

Hi David, Thanks for reading, and many thanks for your comments. I suppose the time to carryout the extra research is a direct consequence of all the extra time I have had due to COVID. However, I really do enjoy the research and detective work required to find bits of the story. The biggest problem is that I don't seem to know when to stop digging, and what false tails to ignore as it is all fascinating to me.
I hope I can find some more good stories before we are able to get back on the water.

Cheers for now, Tony