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Rev. Fearon Jenkinson’s Son in Trouble, 1829

Sillitoe v. The Rev. Fearon Jenkinson, Staffordshire Lent Assizes, Staffordshire Advertiser, 21 March 1829  Mr. C. Phillips opened the pleadings. The plaintiff is a grocer and ironmonger living in the town of Stafford and the defendant is a clergyman residing at Gnosall, in this county. This was an action upon a breach of covenant, committed by the plaintiff’s apprentice, the son of the defendant. Mr. Taunton stated the case to the Jury. It would disclose an instance of refinement, extraordinary even in this age of the “March of Intellect,” by this apprentice of Mr. Sillitoe, the plaintiff, who, although bound to learn the trade of an Ironmonger, could not think of soiling his fingers by cleaning the articles kept for sale in his master’s shop. In May 1827, the son of the defendant was apprenticed to Mr. Sillitoe, and he and his master lived together in harmony until August, 1828, when Mr. Sillitoe happening to order the boy to clean a grate which stood in the shop for sale, the latter refused to obey his master’s lawful command. Mr. Sillitoe insisted that the grate should be cleaned and the apprentice persisted in his refusal, and went home. His father, accompanied by Mr. C Flint, the attorney, brought the boy again to Mr. Sillitoe, and surrendered him in due form. Mr. Sillitoe again ordered him to clean the grate; but the boy continued obstinate. Mr. Sillitoe said he should have no breakfast until he had done it; and the boy again went off and returned with Mr. Flint, who, with all due solemnity. acted his professional part. “Mr. Sillitoe,” said Mr. Flint. “I demand a breakfast!” (Laughter) Mr. Sillitoe, however, would not submit, except on his own condition, and the boy afterwards left him. Mr. John Shaw proved that he was in Mr. Sillitoe’s shop in July last, and heard young Jenkinson refuse to clean a grate. Joseph Worthington, Mr. Sillitoe’s servant boy, proved that young Jenkinson last summer was ordered by his master to clean a grate, and that he refused saying “he would not clean the grate, nor do his rags neither.” Witness remembered the apprentice going away twice. Mr. Flint came with him the second time, and told Mr. Sillitoe that it was not his business to clean grates and that he should not do it. Young Jenkinson got four meals a day and dined at the same table as his master. He had left Mr. Sillitoe’s service about five months. On cross-examination, witness said that it was his duty and not the apprentice’s to clean the grates; that he was hired for the purpose. There were 30 or 40 grates to clean. By the JUDGE.- Jenkinson never was asked to clean the grates in rooms in the house used by the family. His Lordship said, every body must know that it was part of the work of an apprentice in an Ironmonger’s shop to clean the grates kept for sale, and he must do it. —Abberley, foreman to Mr. Sillitoe proved that young Jenkinson refused to clean a grate, when ordered by his master ; that he left the shop; and returned with Mr. Flint. who demanded a breakfast. Mr. Justice PARK.—For himself, or for the young man? (Laughter) For young Jenkinson. Abberley also corroborated the preceding witness as to the young man’s continued refusal to clean the grate. He also proved that he had the same kind of food as his master. Witness was engaged in consequence of this obstinacy of this boy, and his salary was 30l- a-year besides board and lodging. Mr. Kenderdine. Mr. Turnock and Mr. Cramer, gentlemen who had been or now are ironmongers, proved that it was part of the duty of apprentices to clean grates. T. M. Hubball Esq., Mayor of Stafford, also proved the same fact. In reply to a question by Mr. Justice PARK, Mr. Hubball said that he should conceive that a master would not be doing his duty to his apprentice if he did not instruct him how to keep articles for sale in a clean state. Mr. CAMPBELL, for the defendant, said that every case had two sides, and he should shew that in this instance, the master had been to blame and not the apprentice. He should be the last person to encourage insubordination: but when they had heard the evidence they would see that the conduct of the master had been tyrannical: that he had not ordered the grate to be cleaned with the view of instructing his apprentice, nor with any intention to benefit himself, but in consequence of a quarrel between them. He (the learned counsel) thought the action might well have been spared. Mr. Jenkinson was a clergyman with a small income and a large family, and had had some difficulty in raising the premium he had paid with his son to Mr. Sillitoe. Supposing the son to have acted improperly, it would have become Mr. Sillitoe to have spared the father. He would tell the Jury how the dispute first arose. Mr. Sillitoe ordered young Jenkinson to sort rags—now a Rag Merchant was not an Ironmonger—and the consequence was that the young man became completely covered with vermin: he remonstrated, and by way of revenge he was set to clean the grates, which had always before been done by the lad Worthington. The master had, in other respects, acted in a severe manner with him, as he should shew by witnesses. Sheppard Fearon Jenkinson, (the apprentice) the son of the defendant, aged 17, was then called. He stated that his father had eight children besides himself. He then related an account of his Master (Mr. Sillitoe) knocking him down on one occasion, and almost suffocating him on another, but Mr. Justice Park would not permit it to be gone into, in consequence of no plea of ill usage on the part of the master having been entered upon the record. He then deposed that his master had set him to sort filthy rags received of tinkers and nasty people, which occasioned his being covered with vermin. He spoke to his master about this, and was then ordered to clean the grates, which he declined. Worthington had always cleaned the grates before. Witness proceeded to say that he had very bad cheese for his supper, “skim dick” (laughter), and that he was obliged to buy better with his own money. On his cross-examination, witness said Mr. Sillitoe used him very ill; he had a many fleas on him. and was as bad as a beggar: he had not the same to eat and drink as his master. His master had better cheese for supper. He did not know whether it was Parmesan or Stilton—he did not know what that was. Witness went on to say that his master had good fresh meat but he had bad meat. Witness had sour or muddy beer to drink, and his master had ale. Witness had never told Mr. Swift and Mrs. Bailey that Mr. Sillitoe behaved well to him. Ann Bott, who lived servant with Mr. Sillitoe last Christmas twelve months: she recollected Mr. Sillitoe telling Jenkinson he might go about his business; it was no use his staying. The beer was very good—they had 1/2d for three of them. The cheese was sometimes very bad. On her cross-examination, she said the beef, and mutton, and veal they had, was generally very good: a time or two it was not so: Jenkinson always had the same sort of meat as his master. Mr. TAUNTON, in reply, commented on young Jenkinson’s evidence, observing that it had been contradicted by another witness on the same side. He (Mr. T.) believed there was no foundation for what he had said about being knocked down and half suffocated—there was nothing of that on the record. Mr. Justice PARK, in summing up, said he thought the father to blame when his son ran home for not flogging him well and sending him back to his master, instead of applying to an attorney. As for the hardship of cleaning grates, it was what every ironmonger’s apprentice boy must do. “Nobody could walk down the streets of Stafford (but it was not very pleasant to do so either, for it hurt one’s feet very much) without seeing apprentices employed in cleaning windows, and articles in shops, and sweeping before the doors - and he did not know why the son of the Rev. Mr. Jenkinson should object to similar employment.” With respect to bread and cheese for supper, himself and the learned Counsel round the table all recollected that when they went to school, they were glad to get a good piece of bread and cheese for supper. He thought the defendant had made not one plea in this case. Verdict for plaintiff, damages £25. Felicity Potter
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