Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The butchers of Syston (part four). The very sad bit.

Ancestors of Elizabeth Toon
This is the fourth and final part of the story about the family of Elizabeth Toon and her husband, William Holyland. (If you didn't read The butchers of Syston (part one), click here.) or (part two), click here, or (part three), click here. William Holyland was one of the very many butchers of Syston during the first half of the 19th century. That's not all he was: he was a husband, a father, a friend; a man who tried to defend others, yet messed up. Badly.

This part is where the story is very sad. Advance warning. You don't have to read it. You can leave it here, imagining that William Holyland grows older and wiser, keeps doing good deeds, carries on the butcher trade for generations of Syston families. It's OK--leave this page if you like, it's what a lot of people do when they are researching family history, too. Ancestors are left as the sum of their vital dates, and the title of their occupation. William Holyland was a butcher. Elizabeth nee Toon was a meat seller. That's it.

But if you do want to know the rest... here it is.

Life did not seem to become any easier for William Holyland (and probably not for his wife, nor for his children).

The Leicestershire Mercury has more stories about William. On 24th August, 1850, John and Joseph Pick, two brothers from Syston, were charged with assaulting William Holyland. Their father had quarrelled, at a pub, with another man, and William had taken the other man's side. The Picks were heard to tell William, "If you killed Bevan, you're not going to kill us". Seems like the manslaughter charge was not to be forgotten in Syston.

The Leicestershire Mercury then reports that on 24th April, 1852, three young men, John Getliffe, David Thorp, and Thomas Adcock, were charged with assaulting Wiliam Holyland in Syston. William said he was a butcher, and on the 15th of the month saw the defendants at the Bull's Head. (The Bull's Head was a public house on High Street, on the right-hand side just before the Green, walking from the center of the town, opposite the thatched cottage that later became Gamble's undertakers. When I was a kid, the pub's sign was not a board, but a carved head of a bull, sticking out of the wall. When the pub closed, I think the head was taken by another local pub of the same name.) 

David Thorp accused William of having hit his brother: all three defendants "fell on him", said William. Someone who worked at the pub confirmed William's account of events, saying that the young men would have "kicked his chops in", had they been wearing their work boots. But the defendants said that William was already drunk, and that he wanted to fight them, knocked two of them down. And the parish constable said that he was at the Bull's Head after the fight, and found William very drunk. And disorderly. The magistrates dismissed the case, saying that Willam was "not in a fit state himself" when he went into the public house. 

So if you were already drunk, you were a fair target to be attacked? 

Then the Leicestershire Mercury reports on 29th May, also in 1852, that William was again charged with being drunk and disorderly, this time in Mountsorrel. The case was discharged and the person who brought the charge was ordered to pay costs, William was let go, no fine, no charge, no crime... but his name was, once again, in the newspaper.

But then... in August 1854, William Holyland was charged with assaulting a man called Robert Taylor, with intent to do grevious bodily harm. Taylor was a wheelwright, also from Syston: William had walked into the wheelwright's shop one morning, yelling at him, pushing him... the wheelwright lifted a hammer to defend himself, and William took the hammer, and hit Robert Taylor on the head. Several witnesses confirmed what had happened. William was committed for trial at the assizes. Bail was applied for: bail was denied.

We have no clue what the argument was about, Why did William go to the wheelwright? What was he angry about? Why did he want to fight a man who was working in his own shop, at 10 o'clock in the morning?

We will never know the answers. There was no trial.

There was no trial, because William Holyland, a butcher, who knew all about knives, and about sharpening knives, and about how to humanely slaughter animals: that William, he took his own life, with a dinner knife, in his cell at the county gaol.

There. I told you it was a sad story. What can be more sad than a family man's suicide?

The Leicester Journal, Friday, 15th September, 1854, between news of a council meeting about Wyggeston's Hospital and the cricket scores, gave a full account of the inquest into William Holyland's death. I have transcribed the article, and you can read it, in full, here. Please do. It tells a better story than I do. 

If you read it intellectually, the article provides great insight into aspects of prison life that have changed; they type of work prisoners did, how their meals were served, with what. It's an example of journalism from the 1850's, when the only way to obtain news was by reading word-by-word accounts of happenings. See the difference in the emotion carried in the reporting; see how open the information was. Look at it from the point-of-view of a newspaper publisher; not only did someone have to note down all the inquest, someone had to write the story, someone had to put together the page, in columns, for printing, character by leaden character; someone had to ink the print, operate the printing press, cut and assemble the newspapers. Someone had to go onto the street and sell the papers, hawking them from street corners. 

If you read it emotionally, you'll see a better picture of the man William Holyland: his state of mind, his sadness, his regret, anger, disappointment.

What I took away from this story: William Holyland, Elizabeth Toon; they were not just names on a census. They were not just their trades, the number of children they had, the connection to my blood line. The were real, living, breathing, human beings.

After William took his own life, Elizabeth had to carry on. The children were growing up, almost adults, but a parent having to tell their children that the other parent isn't coming back... it's hard. One of the hardest things a parent ever has to do. No doubt, Thomas William Doubleday Holyland and Harriet Henrietta Holyland had already been through a lot during their young lives, already, before this happened; young Doubleday would in the future also be in trouble with the law.

Elizabeth Holyland nee Toon lived until 1884. In the 1861 census, Elizabeth is 48 and her trade is "meat sales woman".  Harriett, a dressmaker aged 22, lives with her, as does a three-year-old grandson, William Holyland. And a retired butcher, John Swain, aged 67. By 1871, Harriet has married William Briggs, a painter and paper-hanger--not a butcher!--and has three children. Elizabeth is living with the family, still on Cramp Lane/Street, but she is no longer selling meat... she's a nurse, perhaps helping Harriett with the grandchildren, perhaps helping others. In 1881 I'm not certain... she might be the Elizabeth "Holland" living on Upper Church street, a pensioner, but I'm not 100% certain.

Elizabeth died, in Syston, in 1884 (at least, that's what I think). She had never remarried. We will never know what the relationship between Elizabeth and her husband was like. Was he angry with her too, when drunk? Or was he tender and sad? Did he bring her daffodils stolen from the park? Did he treat the children with love? He defended an old man in the pub... was that a good indication of William's character, someone who cared for those less able to defend themselves, even if his actions were misguided.

We cannot know, without the time machine. And even if we had that machine, no-one ever truly knows what goes on within another person's relationship.

All we can say is this: William Holyland was much, much more than just-another butcher from Syston. And Elizabeth Holyland, nee Toon, was much, much more that a Meat Sales Woman.

References: Leicestershire Mercury, Leicester Chronical, through http://findmypast.com and other sources. Note that a review of the gaol, published in the Leicestershire Mercury on October 21st, 1854, shows that William was one of only two suicides in the gaol that year. 

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