John’s WWI blog: Juicy gossip replaces war news

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)
Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. (MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

February 22, 1916 – Drunken widow has a half-pint of gin, quarter bottle of brandy and a bottle of beer in her bag

A respectably dressed Little Bowden widow who was so drunk she was ‘incapable of walking straight’ was arrested by town police – at 6.50 in the morning.

Magistrates heard she was carrying a bag full of alcohol including a half-pint of gin, a quarter of brandy and a bottle of beer, according to the report in the February 22, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

The court report takes up nearly an entire column on page 8 probably because it seems it is all quiet on the Western Front – and elsewhere in the conflict – as the paper has no news of serving local men.

A number of dry and factual Press Bureau news is published but they are dwarfed by the sad story of Mrs Annie Essex.

In the absence of local information about the boys in uniform the Advertiser’s readers would no doubt lap up the juicy gossip included in the story. And there is plenty of it.

“She is a slave to drink,” says Mr H Linley, defending. “Once she and her husband kept a public house in Harborough but they had to leave in consequence of her excessive drinking.

“Afterwards they went to Lutterworth and took another public house. She was convicted of drunkenness there and had to leave.”

And the sorry story did not finish there. Mr Linley adds: “Some months ago whilst under the influence of drink, she threw herself in the Welland and attempted suicide.

“And a few weeks ago she lost her husband and whilst the poor man was lying ill and reasonably expecting every care, the defendant was saturated with drink.”

Mr Linley also tells the court that many of the town’s landlords have banned her and would not sell her drink either directly or indirectly.

The chairman of the magistrates tells her: “It was one of the worst cases that have come before me.”

However, they decided to put her on probation for two years and bound her over for the sum of £10 to be of good behaviour. She also had to pay costs of 5s 6d.

The probation officer Mr A k Kimpton told the court: “I will do what I can for her and will my best to bring other influences to be on her apart from my own.”

Town centre landlords were also urged to ensure the pub ban on Mrs Essex stayed in place.