Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a court case from Lancashire's history

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a scandolous case involving a church worker and a young parishioner...

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 1:58 pm
St Saviours Church in Bamber Bridge where Sharples was sexton

In early March 1889 a scandal that had got the tongues wagging in Bamber Bridge came to a conclusion at the Manchester Assizes before Mr Justice Charles and a common jury.

Described as a shocking case of seduction it was brought by James Hodson, grocer and provision dealer, who was seeking to claim damages from the defendant, James Sharples, a coal dealer and sexton of St Saviour’s Church in Bamber Bridge, with regards to the seduction of the plaintiff’s daughter.

The court heard that Alice Ann Hodson, aged 20, the plaintiff’s only child, had attended St Saviour’s school since 1881 firstly as a probationary and then as a pupil teacher. In her latter capacity she arrived at the school at 8 o’clock in the morning and attracted the attention of Mr. Sharples who was the school caretaker. He was on friendly terms with the girl’s parents who trusted him to take care of their 14-year-old daughter. Unbeknown to them, and despite being 20 years older and married, he seduced her and intimacy took place within the school grounds on a number of occasions.

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Alice who was a very intelligent girl passed an examination in the summer of 1887 which entitled her to admission to a training college at Ripon, to reside there for three years for a nominal fee. Accordingly she left home in January 1888 to go to Ripon, with her intimacy with Sharples having continued up to that time.

At Easter she came home for the holidays returning to the training college after the break.

As midsummer approached the girl realised that she was likely to become a mother. The consequence being that she saw that all her preparation to become a fully qualified teacher would be ruined.

In a state of despair she wrote to Sharples telling him of her plight and that she was coming home. In reply he wrote to her telling her he would visit her. Accordingly she met him and he took her to Coventry, finding lodgings for her where she stayed seven weeks whilst awaiting their child’s birth.

Having been made aware that Alice had left the college her father went from place to place searching for his daughter. At last a rumour got about that Sharples knew something about the girl’s whereabouts, and a detective accompanied him to question the church sexton.

Eventually, Sharples admitted that he had induced the girl to go to Coventry and that he had been keeping her there, and that she had given birth to a child.

The father at once went to Coventry, and brought back his daughter and her child, who since then had lived in the family home.

The defendant consenting to an affiliation order confirming he was the father of the child.

In his defence his lawyer Mr. McKeand made a plea that the plaintiff had suffered no loss of his daughter’s services, in so much as she gave him none.

Whilst following the disclosures his client had lost his position as sexton and caretaker, along with his role as a coal agent.

According to Mr. Mckeand the defendant was deeply grieved that he had done wrong as he followed a path of infatuation and passion.

For the plaintiff it was argued that his daughter was very handy about the house and often helped out in the shop.

Mr. Hodson stating that the defendant had been a regular visitor to their home, and had been regarded as a trustworthy friend.

Before they retired Mr Justice Charles reminded the jury that they could award damages not only for loss of services, but also for the outrage committed and the effects upon the life of the family.

After a lengthy consultation the jury found in favour of the plaintiff and awarded him £300 damages – equivalent to £38,000 today.