Explore shady pasts, possibly your own family’s, in new book - The Evesham Observer

Explore shady pasts, possibly your own family’s, in new book

Evesham Editorial 28th Dec, 2019   0

ONE of the most explosive books ever written on wicked Worcestershire’s criminal past has revealed the names of 2,000 convicts whose lives and crimes are detailed in its 516 pages, as well as 2,500 more transported from the city and county to Australia.

“Not many Worcestershire family names are not represented, while some families might be in for a shock or two at their ancestors’ shady pasts” said author and ex-journalist Bob Blandford whose four previous books on the histories of 656 Worcester pubs and Worcester City police have all been local top-sellers.

‘Worcestershire Bird’, a no-holds-barred insight into Worcester City and County gaols, their inmates and their lives and crimes, launched this month, 100 years since the last execution at HM’s Castle Street Hotel, the pet name attached to the County Gaol by as many as 300,000 inmates in its 108-year history.

According to Bob, ‘bird’ is con-speak for ‘time’, derived from bird-lime with which gaolers coated prison walls to prevent the prisoners escaping.

He says that the book’s index alone – stretching to 18 pages and listing more than 4,500 Worcestershire bad ’uns – took more than a month to compile and format.

Smiths (32 gaoled and 47 transported) and Jones (31 gaoled and 58 transported) inevitably top the head-count, as do the predominantly Worcestershire names of Gittus, Etheridge, Dayus and Vale.

The full range of names stretches from Annie Abbotts, one of the last women to be admitted to the gaol before it became men-only in 1916, to Elizabeth Yoxall, sentenced to twelve months at Worcester for theft in 1797.

Also well represented with many more names than some families might feel comfortable with, are Andrews, Baker, Brown, Butler, Cox, Davis (and Davies), Harris and Harrison, Hughes, Knight, Lewis, a surprising number of Prices and Pritchards as well as Woods, Wilson and Willis.

Not surprisingly there’s only one Sylvanus Skeen, John de la Haye and the gorgeously-monickered Norman Lester Gervais Raoul d’Artois Montagu, sentenced to 18 months’ hard for bigamy in the city, his time served consecutive to an unrelated military punishment at Norton Barracks in 1918.

Also among them is Bob’s own great-grandfather Arthur John Blandford gaoled for a week for creating a ruckus in Diglis Road in June 1902.

Of the 2,500 Worcestershire men and women transported to Australia in the half-century to 1867 when the last convict ship, the Hougoumont left Britain carrying several known Worcestershire baddies, they’re among the names that gave rise to as much as a third of all today’s Australians owing their nationality to the British penal system.

“Not many of the better-researched local family trees these days won’t include one or more ancestors who did bird at Worcester and while it’d be a monumental task to list all 300,000 inmates over the years, the 4,500 included give a fair insight into life on the Inside at Worcester” says Bob, former Berrows journalist and editor of several regional newspapers in a 50-year press career.

Did an ancestor of yours do Worcestershire bird?

The comprehensive index to the up-coming book is viewable on YouTube, keyword Worcestershire Bird – 1.

Worcestershire Bird is available from Waterstones, TIC and other outlets as well as on Amazon and direct from the author at [email protected]

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