Wonderful writer, researcher and family historian, Suzie Grogan aka @keatsbabe has kindly agreed to share this fascinating, and highly entertaining (not for his poor wife!), story of her naughty ancestor:

Samuel Furneaux, the brother of my Great Grandfather George Furneaux, was born in the very poor area of London around St Pancras Station in 1839. The Furneaux family were generally hardworking and sober and later in the century took advantage of their proximity to the tracks to embrace lives working on the railway that carved up their neighbourhood.

As a Furneaux (I have always loved my maiden name) I felt quite glamorous. My father was convinced we came from France with the revolution, or following the persecution of the Huguenots. It was only later, after detailed analysis of the family tree that we found little blue blood and a lot of cobblers. Literally. I was disappointed. We do so love a little intrigue in our trees don’t we?

But then a cousin found Samuel. I had my ‘black sheep’….

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Samuel worked as a plasterer all his life, but that is the least interesting fact about him. Having lost his first wife Dora he remarried within a year, but again he was unlucky in the health of his spouse, Ann. Undaunted, Samuel, now 45 years old, married again. This time the brave woman was a 26-year-old widow named Harriet Fogden, who took her chances and married him on 14 April 1884 at All Saints Church, Camden Town.

When the Old Bailey records became available online we made a fascinating discovery. In 1885 despite being only recently married and with his latest wife in the advanced stages of pregnancy, Samuel apparently threw off the shackles of Furneaux sobriety. Old Bailey records show he was tried on 24 June 1885, being accused of ‘indecency’ with a woman named Annie Williams, aged 32. Records suggest that he and Annie were engaged in a ‘sexual act’ in full view of one ‘Margaret Dickson and other persons’, which resulted in them both being arrested for indecency. This sounds embarrassing enough, but the offence apparently took place in a pew in the Church of Our Lady, Kentish Town.

Our Lady's, Kentish Town: the scene of the 'crime'

Our Lady’s, Kentish Town: the scene of the ‘crime’

Perhaps it was all a horrible misunderstanding. One can imagine the good ladies of the church, polishing the pews and arranging the flowers, just happening upon Samuel and the mysterious Annie (about whom we know nothing) in a compromising position. Maybe Annie had innocently volunteered to help Samuel with the fastenings on his breeches, or perhaps she had stumbled whilst praying and had fallen, accidentally pulling his trousers down as she did so…. If she did, the jury believed her, they were found ‘not guilty’.

We could perhaps forgive him this slip, but we later found he had what could be called ‘form’.

Samuel, and most of my Furneaux ancestors lived (until well into the 20th century) in St Pancras and Somers Town in a very unprepossessing part of North London. In  1878 Samuel was living in Sidney Street, an area replaced by a ‘Garden Estate’ in the 1930′s and described at that time as ”insanitary and overcrowded……. where whole families lived in a single room and children had to sleep five to a bug-infested bed”.  It seems he was in the habit of taking the air, in the wee small hours of the morning, down the nearby Euston Road.  A few years later, in his ‘Survey into life & labour in London’ Charles Booth was to describe this part of the Euston Road as having a number of “hotels of questionable repute and some regular brothels”. He made notes to the effect that it was so notorious a street for the purposes of prostitution that the police had “a regular crusade against the houses” in an effort to drive them out of the area.

At about 1.40 in the morning of 12th November 1878, Samuel was apparently set upon by Ellen Miles aged 20 and Sarah Gallaghan aged 25 as he took one of these late ‘walks’.

Under oath, Samuel told the court that he had shouted ‘police!’ when one woman had, without warning, leapt upon him. One ‘caught hold of him’ around the waist and the other tore at his shirt and collar. Fearing for the safety of his pocket watch he clasped his hands ‘across his breast’.  There were two witnesses, both only coming to the scene after Samuel had cried out. In the court report Charles Bridges, a policeman, states:

‘I heard the cries of “Police!” and on going to the spot saw that the two prisoners had hold of the prosecutor, who charged them with assaulting him and attempting to steal his watch and chain—I took them to the station and heard Miles say, “Go and get me bail from No. 8, West Street”—I do not know if that is where the prisoners live—the prosecutor was quite sober.’ The women were not drunk.

Despite Samuel’s evidence, the two women were found ‘not guilty’, rather suggesting that the court did not believe Samuel’s account of events. If, as seems likely, the women were prostitutes, the jury may well have believed Samuel to be a ‘punter’, whose watch was being taken in lieu of proper payment.

Although Samuel had these close encounters with the seamier side of London life, he was not actually a convicted criminal. Rather he may just have been unlucky that his need for risky sexual encounters resulted in his infidelity being noted in court records for posterity. Despite these accusations, his last marriage lasted a long time and he and Harriet had two children. Samuel died in Islington in 1906, aged 67.

I was very glad to find him. Samuel is a beacon of interest in a poor but decent branch of my tree. My Great grandmother Furneaux may have taken in children to make money for gin, and my aunt made much of being sent to the butchers for a barrow of giblets to eat on Christmas day. But there really is nothing like a bit of criminal interest to get the genealogy juices flowing…

Huge thanks to Suzie for sharing Samuel’s escapades. You can find out more about her work at www.suziegrogan.co.uk

If you have a black sheep in your family tree, please do get in touch – it would be great to hear your story.

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