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Preston teen thief seduced into life of prostitute by brothel owner

Mary Ann Watts was sent to walk the streets around Stoneygate looking for clients
Mary Ann Watts was sent to walk the streets around Stoneygate looking for clients
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Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look a the sleazy side of life in Preston that landed a girl, 19, in court in a case from yesteryear...

On the last Saturday of March 1877 at the Preston Police Court, a respectably dressed girl, named Mary Ann Watts, aged 19, was charged with stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, and a purse containing six shillings, the property of Catherine Matthews.

The court heard that Matthews, who kept a brothel in Rose Street, and had previously been convicted for keeping a bawdy house, had befriended the girl.

According to the prosecution Matthews had met the girl at the Clarence Hotel in Grimshaw Street where she was a servant and the accused had repaid her kindness by intentionally stealing the clothes and then doing all she could to disgrace her.

Mr. Blackhurst, who defended the girl, suggested that Matthews had told her that she could show her an easier way to earn a living and that she would provide her with fine clothes.

Matthews responded by stating she did not remember saying such things. Mr. Blackhurst went on to accuse her of lending Miss Watts clothes to walk the streets and of putting her up in her brothel – accusations that Matthews denied, although she did admit supplying her with brandy at the Clarence Hotel.

Mr. Blackhurst concluded by saying: “The prisoner before meeting this woman had led a moral and proper life. She had lost her parents at an early age and been brought up by her uncle, who was a respectable man in Oswestry. She was engaged at the Clarence Hotel, where she unfortunately met her accuser, who prevailed on her to take drink, and then took her home and introduced her to a life of prostitution.”

According to the accused she had been desperate to flee the house run by Matthews who encouraged her to go on to the streets around nearby Stoneygate and bring clients back to her brothel.

Consequently, after a few days, she had gathered some clothes and the cash to head back to Oswestry. She had been apprehended at the home of her uncle Henry Wilson, a fruit dealer, who appeared in court and testified that the girl had always been of good character, having spent some time in service in Bolton prior to working at the Clarence Hotel.

When the magistrates returned from a brief consultation the chief magistrate, Richard Pedder, stated that it was the most disgusting case he had come across.

It was apparent that the prosecutor, after getting the prisoner drunk, had deliberately seduced her into a life of immorality. Unfortunately, they could not let the prisoner off altogether as they had found her guilty of committing a felony and he handed her a sentence of seven days in the House of Correction. Regarding Matthews, he asked Chief Constable Joseph Oglethorpe to direct his attention to the house kept by Matthews whose conduct had been shameful.