Above is the opening page written by Francis Haydn Williams in a pamphlet he published in 1899 to offer his side of the story concerning his
“long contest (not yet finished)”
with Sir Charles William Strickland, Baronet, Lord of the Manor of Whitby. (See opposite)
The pamphlet, which cost one shilling, was an attempt to recoup his financial losses engendered by this titanic contest
which would see him sent to jail on two occasions and which may have damaged his health.
The account is
hugely subjective and partisan
but it does give us a flavour of this courageous and remarkable man. The contest which took place over a number of years and two goal sentences is a complex story so what follows is, of necessity, somewhat truncated.
I will try, as far as possible, to use Haydn Williams’ own words
when describing the events and the emotions that his protests against enclosures led to.
He begins the second page of his pamphlet as follows:
Sir Charles Strickland Bt, Lord of the Manor of Whitby (1875–1909)
In October, 1890, I caught Strickland taking in the piece marked C in the Plan above.
The solid stone wall he was building was completed for 5o yards and was breast high. I called a meeting on the Plain, and it was decided to send a respectful memorial (petition) to Sir Charles through the hands of the Rector, Canon Austen.
This was done, but the memorial was peremptorily refused.
In the reply to the memorial Sir Charles's solicitor, Mr. George Buchannan, said that the reasons for the enclosures being made from the Plain and added to the private possessions of the Lord of the Manor, were that the boys misbehaved themselves on the Abbey Plain by cursing and swearing, and their games endangered the safety of " the venerable cross ! ! "
So in order to protect the venerable cross the boys were crowded round it, by having less land on which to play, and in order to check their swearing-
This is a sample of the sort of sophistry that has been practised all through by the myrmidons of Strickland. I demolished the wall with the help of Mr. W. U. Sanderson, Mr. Joseph Battensby, and others.
Fearing the two old encroaching walls of 1866 and 1873 would be thrown down by me, Sir Charles obtained an injunction (by misleading ex parte evidence) restraining me from attacking those old walls of solid stone 8 feet high.
This injunction merely delayed Williams’ campaign, his account continues thus:
In April, 1892, Sir Charles made an attempt to enclose 90 square yards, as the result of a corrupt bargain with the Whitby District Local Board.
I demolished the new wall.
Some of the old inhabitants then asked me to demolish the old walls of 1866 and 1873 which were protected by the injunction.
At the risk of imprisonment I demolished them both, and was sent to Holloway Prison on May 4th, 1892.
I was released on June 4th, and on returning to Whitby found a barbed wire fencing round the grassy slope.
I sawed this down.
For this I was arrested, cruelly treated by the tipstaff and policemen, and taken to York Castle, where I was incarcerated two months, losing my health, and, for a time, my reason.
Net result -
When I was in York Castle in the most terrible state of mental agitation, the medical officer of the prison, Dr. Tempest Anderson, certified that I should probably become insane if not released.
The only terms on which Strickland would consent to my release were my signing a bond promising to pay £100 if I attacked his fences again.
Mr. Sydney Morris, minister of St. Saviourgate Chapel, York (wh0 visited me in prison), became co-
I was released on 9th September, 1892, and, after patiently waiting for five years and a half, it seemed to me, in May, 1898, that another attempt ought to be made to get back that grassy slope of 207, square yards, and the public land on which the lodge stands.
I called a meeting in my garden on Sunday afternoon, 15th May, and asked some men to take up ladders and battering rams to demolish the lodge.
I understood them to consent, but when I got there in the evening, with my crowbar on my shoulder, I found not a solitary helper, but only a huge crowd of people to see what would be done. I assailed the barbed wire fence, and broke two of the wires, when Mr. Superintendent Allen ordered Inspector Blewitt and Sergeant Mutter to arrest me, which they promptly did.
I resisted, and called on the bystanders to rescue me. Not one would do so, and I was marched off to the cells amid a huge crowd all the way. The meeting was convened for 6.30 P.M. so as to have a quiet time (as I said) when most of my opposing and disopposing neighbours would be at their prayers. The churches and chapels had very sparse attendances that evening.
I was released on personal surety at 9.30 that night, and on the following Tuesday was before the magistrates, who fined 2s. damage, and £2.10s.
for resisting the police.
This they have never enforced.
I protested that the proceedings were invalid all through.
(i) I was asserting a public right, and in such a case the magistrates have no jurisdiction ; and
(2) the magistrates were advised by Strickland's own lawyer (Buchannan), which is an illegality.
Strickland then pursued me for the bond, and obtained final judgment for the £100 and £13.8s.2d. costs.
To obtain this, he made me bankrupt,
and to save my library and household goods, I have had to seriously burden a little bit of property I own with a mortgage. Strickland's claim was paid in full with four per cent. interest.
The publication of this pamphlet will, I hope, help me to clear off the debt.
The battle is not finished.
My friend and helper, Mrs. Tattersfield, 9, Keble House, Church Square, accompanied me June 15th on a visit to Sir Charles, when we handed him a Memorial from the children’s meeting (see picture opposite) asking him to give back those 207 square yards. Sir Charles is 79 years old and we hope that the Memorial( petition) from the children will be successful; it is as follows:
for the town of \Vhitby, and that we are nearly all the
children of poor people. We have only the noisy, narrow,
and dirty streets to play in except the Abbey Plain.
2. —That there is a nice grassy slope which was once open
ground, on which our parents played when they were
children, but it is enclosed by a fence of posts and barbed
wires. That grassy slope would be delightful for us to play
on and to sit on to nurse the babies that some of us have to-
look after. We cannot sit and nurse the babies on the ﬂat.
part which the boys use for football and other games.
3.— We therefore humbly beg that of your nobility you will give
back that grassy slope, and make us and future generations
for ever grateful to you.
4.— We ask Mrs. Tattersfield and Mr. Williams to sign this on
our behalf, and we shall wait in hope and anxiety for youi
Signed accordingly this 15th day of ]une, 1899.
ANN E. TATTERSFIELYF
FRANCIS HAYDN WILl.lAMS.
[No reply from Sir Charles or his agent has been vouchsafed
/My 23212’, 1899. F-
plural noun: myrmidons
a follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly
The humble Memorial of the children of Whitby
(represented by 232 of them assembled in a meeting on the Abbey Plain, held on the 6th day of ]une, 1899) to
Sir Charles William Strickland, Baronet, Lord of the Manor of Whitby.
1. That the Abbey Plain is the only public playground there is for the town of Whitby, and that we are nearly all the children of poor people. We have only the noisy, narrow, and dirty streets to play in except the Abbey Plain.
2. That there is a nice grassy slope which was once open ground, on which our parents played when they were children, but it is enclosed by a fence of posts and barbed wires. That grassy slope would be delightful for us to play on and to sit on to nurse the babies that some of us have to look after. We cannot sit and nurse the babies on the ﬂat part which the boys use for football and other games.
3. We therefore humbly beg that of your nobility you will give back that grassy slope, and make us and future generations for ever grateful to you.
4. We ask Mrs. Tattersfield and Mr. Williams to sign this on our behalf, and we shall wait in hope and anxiety for your reply.
Signed accordingly this 15th day of ]une, 1899.
ANN E. TATTERSFIELD
FRANCIS HAYDN WILl.lAMS.
[No reply from Sir Charles or his agent has been vouchsafed]
July 23rd, 1899. F-
Our thanks to Whitby Museum and Pannett Art Gallery for the visual material relating to Haydn Williams
Williams’ original plan with amendments as his demolishing activities continued
Here Francis Haydn Williams’ narrative ends.
The remainder of the one shilling pamphlet is taken up with a series of appendices made up of some of his
own polemics and extracts from chronicles of court proceedings as well as photographs of the events described.
These polemics which were hand published under the title of
“The Whitby Gibbet”
give us an insight into the tenacious character of the man as well as a taste of the “intemperate” language he was often inclined to use in defence of the causes he espoused.
The more Williams encountered legal and establishment figures the more disrespectful he became of their pretentions to authority.
The document, upper right, outlines his view of titles. It’s Latin nomenclature, “Audivi Vocem” (I heard a voice) suggests he sees himself in the role of a latter day Old Testament prophet.
Another appendix named
“The Whitby Gibbet No 4” ( see opposite )
outlines the struggle in brief as Williams sees it. He clearly narrates that struggle in very black and white terms and there is no doubt as to who is the villain of the piece. It is vivid pugnacious prose which constructs Williams as both victim and activist hero.
The “short account” a one shilling pamphlet published by Francis Haydn Williams in an attempt to recoup financial losses incurred in the “long contest” and to put forward his view of events. There is a link to the full document at the foot of this page.
However much the language used in this pamphlet may seem, to our modern ears, excessive it was born out of a care for the rights of poorer people and clearly owes a debt to the language of Dickens and Swift as well as the Bible and Shakespeare. His colourful rhetoric and behaviour served its purpose in that he received considerable publicity for his cause and was generally assured of a large supportive gathering when he went about his demolition work
Williams clearly saw himself as a righter of wrongs and was prepared to suffer two highly unpleasant jail sentences and personal bankruptacy rather than yield to what he perceived as a manifest injustice.
His opponent ,Lord Strickland, in this struggle may well not have been the most pleasant of men as the letter (see opposite) Williams received from Lord Strickland’s son bears out suggesting that his father could be capricious and vindictive when his property is threatened.
His animosity towards Strickland never abated, clearly the loss of substantial monies and the terms of imprisonment had left their mark on Haydn Williams for he “published” this hand written list of grievances as late as 1909, a year before his death in 1910, in his “Whitby Pedestal”.
On the right:
This is how Haydn Williams summed up his activities on the Abbey Plain. Clearly his final imprisonment in York prison was a highly traumatic experience.
To hear an actor read the “Gibbet No 4” click on Haydn Williams’ image above. The “poor little place” he refers to is how Sir Charles spoke of the town of Whitby.
To read the whole of this wonderful series of documents and photographs click on the cover of the pamphlet above.
Below is a video produced in 2018 showing the area known as The Abbey Plain as it currently is and indicating the areas where Lord Strickland attempted to enclose what was believed by Haydn Williams to be “common Land.”