Thug claimed boy's injuries caused when he fell over

Historian Keith Johnson looks back at crime from yesteryear...

Wednesday, 3rd May 2017, 10:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:53 pm
The prison treadmill haunted convict Thomas Beardsworth

On the last Saturday of August 1895 Thomas Beardworth, aged 26, a tripe dresser from Preston, appeared before the magistrates at Douglas, on the Isle Of Man, accused of an aggravated assault upon Edward Cubbon, aged 12, a local lad.

The court heard that Beardsworth, along with Sarah Harris his companion, and a Mr Fowler had arrived in Douglas on the previous Monday evening aboard the steamer from Liverpool. It appeared that the lad had met the arriving steamer and when the Preston party disembarked he had approached Mr Fowler asking to carry his portmanteau for him.

Mr Fowler offered him 3d to carry out the task and they headed towards the Grand Hotel. Unfortunately, as they approached the hotel the lad claimed he had been offered a shilling for his troubles and was refused such a reward.

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Quite a commotion followed, which attracted much attention among the crowds which mingled in the area, and the lad was chased off by Fowler. However, when he returned and started shouting and pulling faces at Beardsworth the accused ran after him.

According to Beardsworth, he merely chased him away into a lane, off Victoria Street, where the lad stumbled and he fell on top of him.

It was a different tale from the lad who was adamant he did not trip over but that Beardsworth had wrestled him to the ground, and a couple of witnesses testified that they had seen Beardsworth take hold of the lad and deliberately strike his head on the cobbles.

Dr Thomas MacKenzie was next called and he stated that he had been treating the lad since the incident for wounds on his scalp and temple, besides pains in his belly all consist with the kind of assault described.

Local police chief Supt Boyd was next called and he told how Beardsworth, who had fled the scene, was apprehended later that evening hiding behind a fireplace in a workshop down St George’s Walk. He also told the court he had been in contact with Major Francis Little, Chief Constable of Preston, who had provided details of Beardsworth’s criminal past.

It had started as a teenager when convicted for stealing he had been sent to an Industrial Home, in the years that followed custodial sentences had followed for being drunk and disorderly, common assault, riotous behaviour and for aiding and abetting in the keeping of a brothel. Given the opportunity to speak, Beardsworth told the court that he had been out of gaol for nine months and was in a relationship with Sarah Harris, who he was intending to wed whilst in the Isle of Man. He also stated he had set up a successful tripe shop business down Stoneygate, in Preston, bringing in £3 or £4 a week.

After a short consultation chief magistrate, Major Stephens, told Beardsworth he did not believe a word of his explanation and that he was guilty as charged, sentencing him to four months in prison, with hard labour.

Life in the Isle of Man Gaol was not to his liking because weeks later news was received that two doctors had examined him, declared him temporarily insane and removed him to the IOM Lunatic Asylum.

Apparently, he was suffering from the delusion that he was constantly working the prison treadmill. His Douglas exploits behind him, Beardsworth returned to Preston and his tripe dressing business.

The notoriety of his younger days was to continue when he became implicated in the trials that followed the Preston murder of James Fell in his dry salters warehouse in May 1906. Patrick Callaghan was convicted of that murder, but Beardsworth stood trial twice for the same crime. The first jury could not agree, and the second jury found him not guilty as Sarah Harris, who he had eventually married days after the killing, claimed that he had been with her at their Stoneygate tripe shop when the murder took place.

The outcome of that trial forced the couple to flee Preston for good, being smuggled out of town by police chief Major Little as an angry mob besieged their Stoneygate premises.