Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of woman who married two soldiers for financial gain...
At the Preston Borough Police Court in early August 1916 Elizabeth Durant, aged 24, appeared before magistrates.
She was charged on remand with having bigamously married Thomas Green in February 1915, her husband James Durant still being alive, and also of obtaining £22 by false pretences.
Alfred Blackhurst appeared for the prosecution and he called Richard Holding, a labourer, who said he was present at the marriage between the accused and James Durant at St Saviour’s Church in February 1911.
Thomas Green, who had been invalided out of the Army, was the next witness and he testified that he went through the form of marriage with the accused at the Registry Office in Preston in February 1915, saying that he had only known her a few weeks before they wed, and she had represented herself as a single woman. Green, who claimed he was very ill, and looked it, stated that she had been a good wife to him and a good mother to his daughter. According to Det Insp McGuire when charged, she said: “I am very sorry, I did it for the best.”
Mr Blackhurst stated that the second charge was that the woman had drawn separation allowances in respect of both her husband and Green. James Durant being a soldier in the East Lancs Regiment who was serving in France. Both allowances had been stopped by the Army Pay Office when the facts became known on receipt of an anonymous letter. The woman having collected payments of 12 shillings per week at the Preston GPO and the Bow Lane Post Office. The accused was then committed to the next Lancaster Assizes, with bail being allowed following a plea from Green.
The Lancaster Assizes took place in late October 1916 before Mr Justice Avory, where she pleaded guilty to both charges. Det Insp Mc Guire said the woman had worked in the mill and worked hard and whilst on bail had supported Green, who had been gassed during the retreat from Mons, and his child. Her husband James Durant still being on military service in France.
His Lordship then addressed the accused, reminding her that every time she went to the Post Office to draw the money she was committing an offence that was punishable by penal servitude. Unfortunately, he knew there was too much of that kind of fraud going on and she had aggravated her case by going through a form of marriage that was a sham. He then told her he had no alternative but to send her to prison for 12 months with hard labour.
St Saviour’s Church in Avenham, at the corner of Queen Street, where Elizabeth Durant was legally married in 1911, was built in 1868, closed in 1970 and was knocked down a year later as the Avenham area was redeveloped.