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A Fight at Ivy House, Gnosall, 1837

To set the scene: Ivy House Farm is located on the left hand side on the A518 road towards Stafford, about half a mile from the mini roundabout junction with Manor Road. It’s up a private driveway. The 1841 census shows Sarah Rowley living on independent means in Gnosall somewhere near Selman Street. Spirited Elizabeth Bradbury was married to William Bradbury, the publican at the Red Lion on Stafford Road, which became the Romping Cat. “Amazonian Prowess”, Staffordshire Advertiser, 10th June 1837 COUNTY POLICE INTELLIGENCE Grand Jury Room, Shire Hall, Stafford – Saturday 3rd June 1837 Elizabeth Bradbury, a doughty heroine of rather high mettle, was summoned by a Mrs Sarah Rowley, who stated herself to be the widow of a British Officer of that name, to answer a grave and serious charge of assault. Mrs Rowley, who exhibited a fine specimen of cacoethes loquendi [compulsive talking], stood much on the hyper-etiquette of high life. She posted herself within the bar (as though she had obtained a patent of precedence) and prefaced the detail of her wrongs by certain gratuitous observations on her good breeding, her accomplished education, her honourable alliance, with some other dignified et ceteras, and with an air of self-assumed importance, in perfect keeping with the rest, she requested that she might not be annoyed by “that fellow”, as she designated Mr Barber, her antagonist’s solicitor. After having settled preliminaries, Mrs Rowley proceeded with a statement of the occurrences out of which the assault arose. It appeared that Mrs R had been, for some months, an inmate of “The Ivy House”, in the parish of Gnosall, occupied by a Mr Thomas Johnson, a widower, to whom she paid 15s per week for board and lodging, and for whom she discharged the responsible duties of housekeeper. On the day of the assault (viz. the 26th of ult.), she sent the defendant’s daughter, a little girl who lived as servant with Mr Johnson, to fetch some gin, to mix, as she alleged, with flour for the calves. A short time after she left the house, the defendant came in, and said she had brought what the girl had been sent for, and made some observations which were very offensive to the complainant, who ordered her instantly out of the house. Instead of obeying the haughty mandate of the complainant, she placed herself against the dresser and said she should wait until she had seen Mr Johnson, and accompanied the expression of that determination by certain insinuations, affecting the honour of Mrs Rowley. This produced an electric effect, and the complainant was about to eject the “vile” intruder, vi et armis [by force], when the little high-spirited plebeian, forgetting the illustrious rank, the accomplished education, and the honourable alliance of the Officer’s widow, seized her with rude and violent hands, tore her hair, broke her combs, ear-rings, etc., and attempted to put her head in a boiler containing hot water. Mrs Rowley made resistance as long as the chances were pretty evenly balanced, but finding that her antagonist carried too many guns, she demanded an armistice. At this perilous juncture Mr Johnson entered the house, having been informed of what was going on by a man servant, and rushing between the furious assailants, put an end of hostilities. The conflict thus ended, the contestants presented a grotesque appearance: Mrs Rowley’s hair was dishevelled, her dress deranged, her face scratched and bloody, and one of her ears torn; and her less dignified competitor exhibited the mark of a tremendous blow across the nose, from which the blood freely issued. This was the assault for which Mrs Rowley sought redress. At the close of her evidence, Mr Barber, who had occupied a postern station [somewhere near the back], commenced a long and disagreeable cross-examination of Mrs Rowley, in the course of which she frequently expressed her annoyance at his rude and uncourteous interrogations, and affected great astonishment that the magistrates did not interpose to protect a lady, who was matrimonially connected with the family of the late Sir William Rowley, from the unfeeling insults of a low attorney. [Mr Barber then questioned her about her residence with Mr Johnson] which occasionally raised her temperature to boiling heat, … to prove that the defendant’s daughter had been employed by Mrs Rowley sometimes to carry anonymous letters to Mr Johnson, under fictitious representations, and that she had witnessed scenes which were not proper to be witnessed by a girl of her years. [Two of Mr Johnson’s men servants were called as witnesses by Mrs Rowley, but it was hard to tell from what they said who was to more to blame. [Mr Johnson was cross-examined and said that Mrs Rowley had declared “she would have it out with her”, but that he had physically restrained her. [Mr Barber addressed the magistrates, saying he would leave them to draw their own inferences about the complainant who had “acted most violently”, tried to stop Mr Johnson hearing Mrs Bradbury’s complaints, sent the girl for gin, and used her to deliver anonymous letters.] The Magistrates, after a short consultation, dismissed the case, leaving the parties to pay their respective costs. Mrs Rowley appeared thunderstruck at the decision, and declared she would take the case to the Sessions. She ventured to express her dissatisfaction in a very high tone, and became so noisy that the officers were obliged to clear the room. Felicity Potter
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