By Sarah Upton
On 13 October 1849, the then landlord of the Robin Hood Inn, James Goldsmith, made a shocking discovery in the loft. He had ascended into the space under the coned roof via means of a trap door in the closet, (which was large enough to hold a bed) next to the principal bedroom, where he discovered the body of a child which had been there for some time. The matter was reported to the authorities and Constable George Jeffrey attended on 17 October, as he had been notified by post. There was considerable interest in the discovery as the case followed just a short time after the Geering poisonings in Guestling, with Mary Geering having only been executed in Lewes a few weeks prior in August 1849. With press attention focused on the area this story did make the national press.
An inquest was held at the Robin Hood, (the custom then was to hold inquests in nearby public houses) on 8 November 1849. The Coroner leading the inquiry was N.P.Kell, Coroner for Hastings. It was reported by the Sussex Advertiser & Surrey Gazette that the examination was a tedious one taking about 7 hours, by which we can probably assume they meant thorough! Mr Goldsmith reported that he had entered the loft space out of curiosity as he had not looked there since taking over the pub about a year before. Therein he discovered a hearth brush, an apron and a basket which contained the body of the child. The body had been wrapped in a piece of old carpet, which due to the decomposition of the body had mostly rotted away. However, it was possible to determine that the pattern of the carpet was the same of that in the room adjacent to the closet. The carpet had been laid at some point previous to Mr Goldsmith moving in. There was also a fragment of newspaper in the basket, which was undated, however the article detailed could be dated to 1844 as it had been a significant story at that time. The article related to Mr Joseph Capur of Tunstall who had recently been released from prison following a sentence for sedition. He was a bit of a hero of the working class and his story is worth a read, although it is highly unlikely it has any relation to the unidentified child.
The body was described as that of a fully developed male baby, measuring about 20 inches in length, with perfectly developed bones, appearing like a mummy but in a state of partial decomposition. There were a few small holes in the cranium, but it was not possible to say whether these had, or had not been caused by any act of violence. It appeared as though the child had died some three or four years previously. The medical examination was performed by Robert Coker Davies, Surgeon of Winchelsea who determined that it was a fully developed baby but was unable to ascertain whether it was born alive.
Mrs Sarah Goldsmith and a servant, Eliza Fisher, had been present with Mr Goldsmith at the time of his discovery and corroborated his version of events. As Mr Goldsmith had only recently taken over the Robin Hood, attentions were turned to the previous occupants.
Mr Christopher Hoad had been the previous resident license holder and he lived at the pub together with his wife, Maria, and family; they also employed a live-in servant, Dinah Cook. They were all called to give evidence at the Inquest. Christopher Hoad stated he had been the landlord for 9 years and he and his wife had slept in the main bedroom, and there was a sofa bed in the small room off the main bedroom through which access to the loft was gained. He denied any knowledge of the basket with the baby in. He appears to have been somewhat vague as to who slept on the sofa bed, saying he had, his wife had, may be the servant, however it definitely was not his daughter Charlotte. He stated that he thought his servant Dinah had been in the family way three years previously, but when he asked his washerwoman, Mrs Sarah Bates, she said it was not so (she subsequently confirmed this when she was called as a witness). Dinah Cook had left his service the following year and after that domestic duties were sometimes undertaken by his nieces.
John James Pocock, resident of Winchelsea. was the next witness to be sworn in and it would appear that he was a medical practitioner. He confirmed that he had been called to attend to Charlotte Hoad, three years ago for a rheumatic inflammation of the wrist but did not think that any individual in the house was in a state to bring forth a child. He stated that he did not recall attending a servant called Dinah Cook.
Mrs Maria Hoad was then called, who appeared to have a slightly different recollection of the sleeping arrangements in the small room to her husband, stating that she had occasionally slept there when her grandchildren were living in the house. Her daughters, nieces or servant had never slept there. She then strongly protested that she knew nothing of the articles produced. “I am innocent of everything on the table. I know no more than the child unborn. I never knew anything of any person in the house that could have given birth to a child. People have said that my daughters were in the family way, but a mother’s feelings are often wounded; I am sure that my daughters are innocent. I am not able to give the Jury any information with respect to the present affair.”
Police Constable Jeffrey then stated that this differed to the statement that the witness had given him the previous night, when she explained that when Mr Pocock attended her daughter, he was unable to do anything more for her because she was in the family way.
The Hoad’s other daughter, Mary Ann, was then called as a witness, where she is presented as Mrs John Wood. Mary Ann stated that she was now living with her father, as her husband was living abroad and she did not know where he is. She said that she had lived intermittently with her father at the Robin Hood. Her only knowledge of the current events is what other people had said to her and she had made no statements as to who the mother or the father of the baby could be. She recalled that the servant had slept in the room under the loft (third different version!) and that she had appeared very stout 3 and a half years ago which people had said was dropsy. She believed that the servant left the house in that state, although could not say so with certainty.
Dinah, wife of Charles Wood, was then called who confirmed that her maiden name was Cook. She stated that she had lived at the Robin Hood as a servant for three years but had left four years ago last March. She did not know anything about the basket and it’s contents. She said that she had been ill whilst living at the Robin Hood and had been attended by Mr Pocock and received medicine from Mr Bray.
Charlotte Hoad was then called, at the time living in Lewisham but confirmed she had previously lived at the pub with her father. She denied all knowledge of the present circumstances and did not know of anyone who had lived there who had given birth or been i
Helen Hoad was then called, and she confirmed that she had lived at the Robin Hood for about two years with her uncle & aunt and cousin Charlotte. She confirmed that her cousin had suffered rheumatic gout of the arm when she first lived there and had been ill from the October until the following spring. She denied any knowledge of anyone giving birth or being in the family way.
The coroner in summing up then directed the Jury that there really was no evidence before them by which they could be guided with any certainty to speak as to the circumstances of attending the depositing of the body in the loft in which it was found. It would be advisable therefore to record an open verdict in the event of any information connected with the mother coming to light, such a course would not interfere with any magisterial investigation. Verdict “Found Dead”.
REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE & SPOTLIGHT ON THE HOADS
It would appear that the Hoad family were not agreed in the evidence that they gave as to who used the room that had access to the loft. It would also appear that James Pocock seemed to suffer with memory problems as he had no recollection of Dinah Cook, but she said he attended her when she was unwell. However, when Charlotte was unwell according to the statement of her cousin Helen, and Dinah’s own statement Dinah was no longer employed at the pub.
Christopher Hoad and his wife Maria (nee Tutt) had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Only two of the sons survived until adulthood. Their eldest son Edwin died an infant, their second son Christopher suffered a tragic accident when he was 20 years old in January 1829. He had been shooting with his Uncle John Hoad in the Kitchen Wood behind Broomham Hall. John Hoad was reportedly carrying a cocked gun with his hand just behind the lock when it is conjectured that a bramble touched the trigger. The muzzle of the gun was just a few yards away from his nephew Christopher and the whole charge entered near to his left hip and he instantly fell to the ground. His uncle had not felt the shock from the gun and was completely astonished, but he immediately went to his nephew’s aid, gathering him up and rushing him to Sir William Ashburnham at Broomham Hall. Christopher was immediately transferred home by carriage and another carriage was sent for a surgeon from Hastings. The extent of his injury was detailed in the Sussex Advertiser and it seems that Christopher was very lucky that the inguinal artery was not hit. However, it may be that Christopher did not recover well from this injury as he died the following January, reportedly of consumption.
The family vacated the pub in September 1848 when Christopher Hoad was declared insolvent and all his property was transferred to Messrs Breeds of Hastings in payment for his debts. Mr Goldsmith stated that he brought the Robin Hood from Mr Hoad’s trustees at the Inquiry. Christopher was a lifelong resident in the Parish, although in 1851 is living at Rye Harbour, he was the son of Christopher Hoad and Hannah Hassel. Christopher died in 1856 and Maria in 1865 at the age of 85, thus she was past childbearing age at the time in question.
Mary-Ann was the youngest of the Hoad children and was 31 years old at the time of the inquest. Upon reviewing census, baptismal and marriage records following the time of the inquest it would appear that Mary-Ann lived with her father for some time, together with a growing brood of children. Her reported husband John Wood is quite a hard person to find in the records, but I did eventually find them living together in Icklesham (not far from the Robin Hood) in 1841 with a daughter Ann. John is listed as being an Ostler, but I cannot trace a marriage record and it appears that Ann did not survive. Frances (Fanny) was born in Icklesham in 1845, followed by a son Christopher in 1847 and another son Stephen born in February 1851, but he is listed on the census just a month later as a Hoad, as were all the children. Mary-Ann was living with her parents in Rye Harbour in 1851. Mary-Ann is shown in census reports as Mary-Ann Hoad and is only shown as Mary Ann Wood on Christopher’s baptism entry, no record of her marrying is found until she is shown as marrying Zebulon Fellows on 26 August 1866 when they were both 44 years of age. Census returns show that they had been living together locally before that and had several children together. Very interesting is the fact that they married in the Parish of St Leonard in Shoreditch and although the address on the marriage certificate is a Shoreditch address it is the only record that shows them living outside of our local area. Also of note is that she is listed as a spinster and Zebulon is listed as a Batchelor, neither being listed as divorced or widowed.
Zebulon is recorded as having been married in the Parish of Icklesham in 1845 to Maria Crockford. Zebulon and Maria were listed as living two doors away from the Hoad family in Rye Harbour in 1851. This marriage bore no children and Maria is recorded as being a housekeeper for widowed George Baker and his family in Icklesham for many years, then was listed as an inmate at Rye Workhouse and was noted to be a widow on the census following George Baker’s death. Zebulon was illiterate according to his marriage certificate and worked as an Agricultural Labourer so it is unlikely that he ever obtained a divorce, which was beyond all but the wealthy at that time. Mary-Ann died in 1903 and Zebulon in 1893.
Charlotte at the time of the inquest was 36 years old. There is no record of her marrying until the month after the inquiry when she married a miller, George Westrup, by license, in Deptford in December 1849. George was born in Ipswich and he was ten years Charlotte’s junior. Interestingly from this point on on census returns Charlotte appears to be about five years younger than on the returns before her marriage! He was listed as a Batchelor and she a spinster in the marriage records. Their son George junior was born on 26 April 1850 and they went on to have a further 3 children. For the time she married at a very late age indeed. I have found a note of a marriage between a Charlotte Hoad and William Gibbons at Icklesham in May 1836 but I cannot find any other information at all to confirm whether it is the same Charlotte, by 1841 Charlotte is listed as living with her parents.
In my opinion Charlotte is most likely to be mother of the child. She would have already been in her 30s and unmarried. Had she been abandoned or was she holding out for someone? Had she tried to force a marriage by becoming pregnant? A six month illness for rheumatic gout of the wrist seems most unlikely, but would be a good cover for an advanced pregnancy and a birth. Her father went out of his way at the inquest to say it definitely was not Charlotte. Her mother Maria probably shouted her denial of the baby just a little bit too loudly. At the time of the inquest Charlotte herself would have been pregnant, although this may not have been known and was due to marry the following month. This would finally take her “off the shelf” and no doubt neither she, nor her family, wanted to jeopardise that. Her sudden move to London after all those years may have also been an escape from local gossip, or reminders of things she had lost. Mary had already been a mother several times over by the time in question and would have had nothing to lose by declaring another baby, alive or otherwise. Although I suspect the local rumour mill run riot, the family seem to have had the loyalty of their former staff and their doctor in protecting Charlotte’s reputation.
By Sarah Upton