When I started writing this I had just seen a single newspaper article, dated 1900, about a father who went on drunken benders and neglected his children. But when I looked into the case in more detail, I found that he was a Thoroughly Bad Man and wanted to tell his story for the sake of his poor suffering wife and children.
Edward Outram Thrall was born in Mansfield in 1863. His father died soon after, and he was brought up by his widowed mother Martha, a mill hand. They boarded in the home of William Marshall, a mason, which perhaps is how Edward was became a stone mason. Between 1881 and 1885 he moved to Leicester where he married Eliza Smith Harris. Their first daughter, Beatrice Alice, was born the following year (1886). Then followed Benjamin Smith Thrall (1888), Harry George (1890-1892) Kathleen (1893) Arthur Edward (1896-1897) and Evelyn (1898).
In 1893 the Leicester Chronicle reported Edward for the first time. “Edward Thrall stone mason, Lincoln-street, was charged with using obscene language, and being drunk in Green Lane-road,North Evington, on Saturday night. He denied the offence, but two policemen gave evidence on which he was fined 10s.” This was pretty minor stuff for him. In October 1896 he deserted his wife and children since , forcing them to enter the workhouse to survive. At the time he left his son Harry was very ill and unlikely to live (Harry died in April 1897), yet he went on a drunken wanderlust. The Chronicle dated 27th March reported that “Prisoner asked for another chance, but the magistrates sent him to prison for six weeks.” Asking for yet another chance was Edward Thrall’s constant refrain.
In September 1897, on the run from the Leicester police, Edward Thrall was charged with obtaining money by means of a fraudulent begging letter, which he was taking round the shops and inns of Loughborough. He claimed to be collecting for a man named West, who had broken his leg and had a wife and family depending on him – how ironic that Thrall himself had a wife and children going hungry in Leicester. Of course he pleaded guilty, having been caught in the act by a policeman, and said he was very sorry for what he had done. He went to gaol for 28 days hard labour.
The moment he returned from prison in April 1897, he had subjected his wife to almost daily beatings. On one occasion in October he “ banged her about, dragged her upstairs and assaulted her again there.” Brave Eliza reported him to the police, but when Thrall received the summons to court he “thrashed her again and then, picking up a chair, said he would ‘Broughton her.’” I haven’t been able to find a definition for this – though his intention is pretty clear. Does anyone have any information? Do let me know. Anyway, predictably Thrall tried to under play the assault and said it was not as serious as Eliza had made out, and that he had been so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing. However, the magistrates characterised him as a very unworthy man, and sent him to prison for two months.
Unfortunately, fair divorce laws and the welfare state being many decades in the future, Eliza was forced to accept Thrall back as her husband and so-called provider. Sometime between 1898 and 1900 the family moved to 1 Fleetwood Road, Clarendon Park. Edward Thrall was no better. In September 1900 the NSPCC, who had been supervising the family due to previous concerns, prosecuted him for neglect of the children. Eliza testified against him, saying that he was addicted to drink, and got worse and worse. He was drunk frequently. Her mother and other people had helped her, and she had done a little work herself. Mrs Leicester, a Bible Woman, said she had assisted the family with food and clothing. The NSPCC inspector said that it was a chronic case, and there did not appear to be any hope. Sergeant Perkins, the arresting officer, had known Thrall for the last three years, and he had no been sober for many days together. Thrall was again very sorry and asked for another chance – but was sent to prison for six months.
If there is a happy ending to this story, it is that by 1911 Edward and Eliza were living apart (Edward in a cheap boarding house with 94 other men in Lee Street, and Eliza with the children at Justice Street, of all places). She was supporting them by making up hosiery, and the older children were also factory workers. She did not live with Edward again, and he later that year aged just 47. Sadly Eliza just a few years later, in 1918. What a hard life she led. I know that the family only lived in Clarendon Park for a few years, but their story is far from unique in its history I am sure, and I am equally sure that there will be families living with similar problems here today. Please help if you can. Regards, Elizabeth.