7 March 1903

A Faithless Dukinfield Romeo — A Strange Introduction and Courtship
Amusing Evidence in a Unique Trial

Hyde people have had this week the unique experience of having a breach of promise case in their midst, and what is more, of having it heard under the roof of their own court. The event took place on Tuesday, before His Honour Judge Reginald BROWN, and the parties in the action were Virginia GREGORY, of Wilton-street, Denton, factory operative, and William JAMES, of Astley-street, Dukinfield, painter and paperhanger, and the amount claimed was £50. Plaintiff was represented by Mr W F CHAMBERS, solicitor of Denton, and Mr Arthur LEES, solicitor, Ashton, represented the defendant.

Mr CHAMBERS said the proceedings in that case were certainly novel and unique in the sense that from all information he had been able to acquire, it appeared that that was the first time such an action had been brought into the County Court. Many people who had heard of these proceedings were in wonderment as to how such an action could be brought there. It was not necessary to explain to the court that the action was taken under section 64 of the County Courts Act 1898, giving such County Courts jurisdiction in these cases with the mutual consent of the parties.

Plaintiff was a reeler in a cotton mill and defendant was a painter and paperhanger. The parties met some four years ago at a Sunday school in Dukinfield. They did not know each other for some little time after meeting, but the defendant must have become enamoured of the plaintiff, and he sought for an introduction to her. He was accordingly introduced to the domestic household by a musical friend named COOPER. Mr COOPER brought him to tea one Sunday evening.

On the Monday, the defendant appeared to have come to the conclusion that plaintiff was a fit and proper person to walk out with, for he turns up again, and in the course of the conversation invited her to have a walk and suggested an engagement. Being a prudent girl and seeing things as a sensible girl should, she said she was willing to become engaged if her parents agreed. Her parents did agree, and they became properly engaged, and defendant was received at her home as the accepted suitor of the daughter.

The engagement went on from that time up to January of the present year. The two parties then lived in separate parts of the district, but the defendant made proposals to the plaintiff’s parents that he should come and live with them as he had no parents and no kith and kin. Eventually it was agreed that he should come and live with them as a lodger. He remained there until January 7th.

The wedding was arranged to take place last Easter, but as plaintiff’s father had died in the meantime, the marriage was postponed. The engagement went on in the usual style, and there was no doubt, although it was said that the course of true love never did run smooth, yet in this case there had been no quarrels whatever.

About a year afterwards they began to build their little nest. At one time they purchased a suite of furniture for £5 5s, on another occasion a bookcase and books, a pair of bronzes for the mantle shelf, and subsequently family Bible. Later on they purchased a clock. Then they bought cutlery and a tea service. All these articles were bought partly with plaintiff’s and partly defendant’s money.

They continued to live in peace and harmony under the maternal roof until January 7th of this year. On that day, for some reason which has never yet been explained to the plaintiff, defendant walked out of the house in an extraordinary way, and the next they heard of him was a letter which he produced from a solicitor demanding the return of certain articles belonging to him and also certain boxes of clothing. The boxes of clothing were given up, but the furniture was retained. Not content with simply demanding these things, he created a great disturbance in the neighbourhood of plaintiff’s home. He brought a lurry for the articles, but he was not allowed to take them.

With regard to the interrogatories which had been administered in the action the question to be considered was whether the promise to marry was admitted in the first paragraph of those interrogatories and subsequent ones, and the purchases were also admitted. But it was not denied that the promise to marry was mutually rescinded or words to that effect.

What he (Mr CHAMBERS) contended was that there was no rescission whatever. On the 7th January defendant gave plaintiff and her mother the understanding that he was coming over and that the engagement was broken off. Plaintiff refused to release him and said “if you don’t keep it I shall sue you.” Defendant then said you can do whatever you like.

Plaintiff entered the box and said she first met the defendant at Dukinfield. She met him on the Sunday, he proposed to her the following day, and they commenced to walk out on the Wednesday. They were to have been married that Easter, but it was postponed on account of her father’s death and sickness. They were living in Market-street, Denton, and defendant was living with them. She was always ready and willing to marry him, and the arrangement was never broken off by her. She remembered the 7th January, when defendant went away on his own accord. She asked him what he was going for, and told him he couldn’t think much of her if he were going.

On the following Saturday, she told him she would sue for breach of promise. Later he came and asked for the furniture, but plaintiff replied that she had helped to pay for the furniture and that he would not be allowed to take it. He went upstairs and threw her things out of a box where they were kept. Plaintiff and her mother begged of him to stop and told him the neighbours would only talk. He said it didn’t matter to him, he was going away.

They had never had any bother of any kind. When he came again on the Saturday night she told him of the promise to marry, and he said “Yes, but we are not married yet.” He told her she could do what she liked, but that he would not marry her.

Cross-examined by Mr LEES, plaintiff said defendant was a friend of Mr COOPER’s, and it was Mr COOPER who introduced him to her. The first time she spoke to defendant was when he was brought to tea. She did not know he was coming to tea until he turned up with COOPER. She was not aware that it was an improper thing for a man who was a comparative stranger to another to take that man to people he did not know. It was done common enough.

She only walked out with him before the Sunday he came to tea. After that night they began to walk out frequently together. Defendant had often wished “he were married,” and in November, 1901, he proposed marriage. When he suggested that he should become a lodger her mother did not like the idea, but after a bit of begging she took him in. She said she did not like a young man who was engaged to her daughter to come and live there.

Mr LEES: Have you never had any quarrels? No, only just now and then like anybody else. Didn’t you get him to assist in the house work? — Now and then. He would please himself. — (Loud laughter.) He used to do the scouring when he took a fit. — (Laughter.) It were only now and then though. He only gave my mother 10s in the winter, and did a bit of scouring for t’other. — (Loud laughter.)

Didn’t he look after the domestic duties, peeling potatoes and that sort of thing? — That was my job. (More laughter.) Didn’t you sometimes delegate it to him? — No, He wouldn’t do it. And because he would not do it you had quarrels? No, we never had any quarrels about peeling potatoes. If I had said anything about peeling potatoes he would have taken the sulks for a week. — (Loud laughter.) Can you have any affection for a man who sulks for a week and will not peel the potatoes? — I would not think anything about him. If he said he would not do it I used to do it myself. — (Laughter.)

The Judge: You have not yet told me how old you are? — I am 26 and he is about 24 or 25. Mr LEES: Would there have been any claim against JAMES but for the letter demanding the return of things? — Yes. Is it true that on the 4th January you said, in the presence of defendant and other people, that you had got a “rum ‘un” and that you did not know what to do with him? — No. Did you say to him, “You can go your way and I am going mine?” — Well; By gum! Telling them lies. — (Roars of laughter.)

Miss GREGORY went on to say that she was a reeler in a mill, earning about £1 a week. She would not say that she earned more money than the defendant, because he did not work in the winter. The Judge: How did he live if he did not work? — He put money away in the summer. The Judge: I am glad to know somebody does that in this district. — (Laughter.)

The plaintiff, proceeding, said defendant gave her money to put in the bank to prepare for the marriage. They had between them saved about £6. Mr LEES: Have you had any other courtship previous to this? — This is the first. — (Laughter.) You can get another young man if you bide your time; you are a good looking young woman you know. (Laughter.) Have any of your friends had courtships which have been broken off? — No. Tell me, have you ever heard of a person of your station in life bringing an action for breach of promise? — No. The Judge: You have not got sick of him or anything? — No.

Harriet GREGORY, mother of the plaintiff, was the next witness. She said she knew that two were engaged. They had been engaged for two or three years, and so far as she (witness) was concerned, she had always done her duty to the defendant. Asked to give a substantial reason why she believed they were engaged, witness replied, “because he were always theer!” — (Loud laughter.)

Witness said she remembered the 4th of January when plaintiff and defendant, Mrs BRITTON, and another daughter were present. They were conversing in a jocular way and talking on insurance topics, witness remarking that she knew of one person who would have a decent hand when she “popped off,” and that she had her in for £50. Mr LEES: Wasn’t that why plaintiff wanted to wait until you were gone before she got married? — I know nothing of that.

Continuing witness said she never remembered plaintiff saying defendant was a “rum ‘un,” and that she did not know what she would do with him when she got him. When defendant went away her daughter began to cry and begged him to stop. He said “I shall not marry you.” When he said that he cocked his head nearly as high as the ceiling. — (Laughter.) Mr LEES: Did he ask for your consent to become engaged to your daughter? — It were not necessary. One was as willing as the other. — (Laughter.)

The defendant, who appeared in the box in his working attire, denied that he had ever broken off the engagement. There had never been any day fixed to get married, but she always said she would wait until her mother had died. He suggested marriage in November 1902, and she replied she was not ready.

On the 4th January the plaintiff and others were talking about the young fellows they knew, when Virginia said “I have got a rum ‘un. I have not got him yet, but I don’t know what I shall do with him when I get him.” — (Laughter.) She slung the engagement ring at him, and he picked it up.

When he went for the articles of furniture, which he said belonged to him, the plaintiff said she would smash them before he should take them away. There were £5 in the bank belonging to him, and, taking all the year round, he earned about £1 a week. In answer to Mr CHAMBERS, the defendant said he had not appeared in his best clothes, but it was not because he wished to impress the court with his poverty.

He narrated how on one occasion, when he was out of work, Virginia wanted him to do some house work, and because he would not she began to sulk. — (Laughter.) They made it up again. The Judge: But this conversation about you being a “rum ‘un” was the last straw. — Yes. — (Laughter.)

Plaintiff (recalled) said she never threw the engagement ring at defendant. She always gave it to him on Sundays to put in the box. She let it drop to the floor, and defendant picked it up and said “Thank you.” She only wore the ring on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Mr LEES said that having regard to the position of these parties, he thought it was somewhat ludicrous to bring an action for breach of promise of marriage. They were both in work, and if plaintiff would only bide her time some other young fellow would come along and marry her. Her sole object in the case seemed to be to retain the furniture, and his opinion was that had it not been for his letter there would have been no such action. He submitted that plaintiff was never ready and willing to marry defendant.

His Honour said that by the law of England of that nature could be brought into a court of that character, although it was the first case he had ever heard of having brought. Still, if the parties had sufficient confidence in the tribunal, without even having a jury, the tribunal ought to be somewhat proud of the matter.

Reviewing the evidence, His Honour expressed himself of the opinion that the promise to marry was undoubtedly made, and that it had not been proved that plaintiff was the cause of the marriage being continually postponed. But even if she had been defendant, must have a consenting party.

One part of the defence was that the agreement to marry was rescinded by the mutual consent of the parties. Referring to the alleged bother, he could see no reason for believing that plaintiff said defendant was a “rum ‘un.” On the other hand, he appeared to have been a respectable and a provident young man, as he offered the first instance which he (the Judge) had ever come across of an operative trying to put some money for a rainy day. It was certainly to the young man’s credit. Looking at all the probabilities of the case, he felt bound to accept plaintiff’s story, and award her £10 10s.

The Judge ordered that the £10 10s should include the £6 in the bank, and the money was ordered to be paid at the rate of 10s per month.

JAMES also sued Mrs GREGORY for the return of the furniture. In the end (with consent of the parties) His Honour allowed the claim to be withdrawn against the mother, on the understanding that Miss GREGORY was to keep the furniture, and give credit to JAMES for £8 18s 3d on account of the balance of the damages in the breach of promise action and the taxed costs.

Creative Commons License Rhodes Family History by Ian Rhodes (1999-2018 v.3.0) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.