The Cecilia Road Book Thief

This is a bit of an odd story.  In 1889 a man named William Alfred Haseldine (born in Syston in 1839), a blacksmith, who lived at 7 Cecilia Road – then known as Cecil Road – was sentenced to one month’s hard labour for stealing a book worth 3s 6d from the stall of Messrs Smith and Sons at the Midland Railway Station.  The Chronicle reported that Haseldine was convicted of a felony 17 years previously, which probably explains the harsh sentence.  He was also said to have been in good work since then, but was sometimes “rather strange in his manner,” and he wanted to know if he would be allowed to buy the book after he completed his prison sentence.  That sounds to me like the behaviour of a man who is mentally unwell, but he would not be awarded much sympathy in 1889.  He left his wife, Rosetta De Board Haseldine (is that not the most fantastic name?) and four children in need of support.

Later that year he committed another, more serious crime,  which was dealt with at the Quarter Sessions rather than at the police court – he stole 24 pairs of leather soles, worth £5, from his employer Willliam Wheater, and this time he was sentenced to eight months’ hard labour.  Then in 1891, barely out of prison, he stole again and was up in front of the bench.  He spent another few months at Leicester Gaol.

Things generally deteriorated for William.  In 1901 he was an inmate at Leicester Workhouse, and sometime before 1911 he was admitted as a patient at the Borough Lunatic Asylum at Humberstone, later The Towers Hospital.  On both occasions he was described as a widower, though his wife died in 1922, so perhaps she disowned him.  She too described herself as a widow in 1911 – probably because of  the shame of mental illness.

William died in 1914, probably still an inmate of the mental hospital.  He was 79.  It is sad to think of this physically strong man, a blacksmith, having been brought so low by mental illness.  I wonder whether his mental state caused him to commit the crimes, or whether it was the other way round?

I know William and his family only lived in Clarendon Park for a short time but it is so fascinating to me how every house has many different human stories,  This one is particularly poignant but I would love to know what felony William committed…another trip to the record office!  Regards, Elizabeth.

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