The following is a selection of various press cuttings relating to local women in the mid-19th century, taken from the Hastings & St Leonards News.


Mary Ann Geering was born at Westfield around 1809 and became pregnant when just 16. According to the custom of the time, the pair was forced to marry. They set up home at Guestling, near Hastings. They were so incompatible they fought throughout their marriage, mainly because Mary Ann found it difficult to submit to a husband's authority, as was expected of her. She asserted, "no man will rule me!"

After many years of frustration and unhappiness, she subjected her husband and two adolescent sons to repeated arsenical poisoning until the former died. All three bodies were exhumed and she was arrested. A "quiet looking country woman", she claimed to be "as innocent as my Almighty Creator."

Found guilty of murder, she was executed at Lewes in 1849, watched by 4,000 people.

Hastings & St Leonards News, 1849


During yesterday, the inhabitants in the neighbourhood lying between Castle-street and Wellington-square were rendered spectators of a singular and somewhat unpleasant transaction connected with the attempted evictment of an aged female named Terry, who occupies an old house or rather cottage, near the corner of Castle-street.

Mrs. Terry's son, to whom the house belongs, is desirous of pulling down the old building and erecting a better, and accordingly has requested his mother to quit her ancient domicile and betake herself to another which he has prepared for her. Adopting the theory of the phrenologists, it appears that Mrs. Terry's organ of inhabitiveness is so largely developed, as to make her stoutly resist all entreaties or attempts made for her removal. Yesterday morning, the son proceeded to dismantle the maternal dwelling, which has lately been bolted and barred against all intruders by the jealous occupant. The next step was to take the door off its hinges, and-the next to turn out the furniture, while the sashes were, taken out.

Mrs. Terry made a desperate resistance to these proceedings, and although the house was stripped, resolutely maintained her post. At six o'clock last evening, she still remained in her dilapidated abode, and the police were obliged to be on the spot to prevent the collection of a mob."

Hastings & St Leonards News 16 March 1849

Mary Wheeler v. George Richards
Claim for wages as cook, £1 8s 8d.

Mr. J. G. Langham appeared for defendant.

Plaintiff made a long; tedious statement, in which she repeated many circumstances quite irrelevant to the case. She appeared to be much excited and often spoke in a most dolorous tone. The Judge listened to her tale with exemplary patience, though after she had been talking for some time, he quietly remarked that he could not understand it.

She said she was engaged by defendant as cook on the 2nd of January, and was to receive £10 a year. Defendant kept a lodging-house, and plaintiff did not know how much there was to do at a lodging-house till she went there. She did not have meat enough, and was very faint. After she had been there about two months the house was let off to a party of thirteen or fourteen, and she was let to the party as cook, while they stayed at the house. When this party left, the lady paid her. Defendant's family then went back to the house; and because she did not get their dinner ready in time, they insulted her and told her to leave the honse. This made her ill. " But," she said with tears, "the butcher did not bring the gravy-meat and suet" soon enough; and it was not her fault that the dinner was behind. Defendant had turned her upon the world for her bread.

Cross-examined by Mr. Langham - I was discharged on the 10th of April and defendant paid me up to that day. I did not live well while defendant was in the house; but did not complain, as I lived as well as the others. I did not want stimulants. I have not been drinking this morning. No, I was not in liquor when I was discharged. My master did not come down and find me drunk on the floor of the kitchen. I was on the floor, and I was screaming, but I was suffering from hysterics. I am very subject to hysterics through weakness. I had had a pint of porter that morning, but nothing to eat. Master sent for a policeman, and I will call him as a witness. I don't know his name, but it was No. 10.

Police-constable Fryman (no. 10) was called, and said that on Tuesday, April 10, defendant came to the station for a policeman, and he accompanied him back to his house, and there found plaintiff rolling about the kitchen in a very excited state. He took her into another room and tried to pacify her. She was intoxicated.

Plaintiff said - The policeman told me afterwards that I was not drunk.

Fryman - I did not.

The Judge said that defendant was perfectly justified in discharging her. He should find a verdict for defendant. Plaintiff then became exceedingly violent, and was obliged to be carried out of Court by "No.10," in a fit of hysterics. Her screaming could be heard in Court for some minutes.

Hastings & St Leonards News 18 May 1855


Ellen Flynn, 14, a chubby, ragged, dirty, gipsy-looking girl, drowed in tears, who stated that she was alone and destitute in this part of the country, but has a father in Devonshire, was charged with the extraordinary offence of stealing a little girl only 5 years of age, the daughter of Mr. John Knight, a carpenter, living at 15, High street.

It appeared that on [Wednesday] afternoon, the child was playing with her sister in the Tor Hill Field, when the prisoner decoyed her away. The sister, 7 years old, carried home the intelligence.

On Thursday morning, police-constable Jones started in pursuit, and overtook the prisoner near Broomham Park, carrying the child on her back. The prisoner told him that she was going to take the child to the Rye Union [workhouse] where she meant to make her own abode. The policeman took charge of the parties, and on arriving at Hastings the child told its father that the prisoner had detained her against her will, and that they had slept in a barn during the night.

Fourteen days imprisonment, on the charge of vagrancy.
Paraphrased from the Hastings & St Leonards News, 1851

The importance of property over persons is illustrated by the following cases from the Hastings & St Leonards News in 1852 and 1855:

Ann M'Noel begged at Adelaide House and was invited in for a cup of water. While inside she was discovered by a male servant to have taken two shillings from the kitchen-maid for telling her fortune (She needed the money "to breathe upon".) This action gained her 14 days' imprisonment.

Ann Robertson was fined 40 shillings or one month in prison with hard labour for being drunk and disorderly.

Sarah Ann Burden, 18, was committed to 6 weeks hard labour, the final week in solitary confinement, for stealing two pairs of boots.

A man who was seen by two witnesses to indecently assault a 4 year old girl was fined 20 shillings or one month hard labour.

Susannah Jackson, 20, was charged with twice using counterfeit coins to purchase a few pennies' worth of groceries for her two young children. She begged to be shown mercy on account of the children, but this was disregarded and she was given two month's hard labour.

A boy of 11 was jailed for four days for ringing a doorbell in George street.

In June 1855 a poor woman called Ann Hall, aged 22, was brought before the Mayor for stealing. She had a child in her arms. William Smith of Caves Road explained to the Mayor that he bought ashes of the St Leonards commissioners for £5 a year and stored them on land near Gensing railway station (now Warrior Square station). Ann Hall, despite having been cautioned several times before, picked out some coals and cinders for her fire and collected them up in her apron. The police constable produced the said articles and declared them worth a penny, but added that having them taken out spoilt the ashes and rendered them unsaleable. She was committed to trial at the quarter-sessions and found guilty. The jury requested "as light a punishment as possible" because she was the mother of a young family. The judge sentenced her to one week's solitary confinement.

The final cutting is particularly curious to our 21st century ears:

In July 1852, Sarah Fuller, a common lodging house keeper of No. 12 Wellington court, was charged with "allowing people of opposite sexes to sleep in the same apartment". It was her first offence and she was let off with a warning.

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