Death of a Salesman


Crowds packed into Grantham Guildhall on 16th October 1882. The Mayor, George Slater Esq, along with the other Grantham magistrates were due to make their decision on a case which had been the talk of the town for the past fortnight.
The evidence had been heard, witnesses had been questioned, lawyers had argued; and now the four young men knew – they would have to face a Grand Jury at the Lincoln Assizes on trial for manslaughter.


Joseph Bailey was born on the 23rd December 1798 to Thomas, a labourer, and his wife Ann. He was baptised just days later at St Wulfram’s Church.

As a young man he trained to become a hairdresser, setting up his business in the centre of Grantham.  He married Ann Dance from Nottingham, in 1820. Joseph had a shop on Westgate from at least 1828, and he stayed living and working on the street for the rest of his life.

The 1841 census shows Joseph and Ann living and working at 14 Westgate with their five children, their eldest child, Ann Mary was 19; the youngest, Frederic, was eight.

Like any family, the Bailey’s experienced loss. Ann died in 1852, aged 56, and in 1857 Ann Mary, who had married William Pick, a Grantham butcher in 1842, was widowed.

By 1861, Joseph, his daughter Ann Mary, and three of her children were living and operating their business from 16 Westgate.

Fragment of Joseph Bailey’s family tree

Family life was largely unremarkable. Children grew up and married and had children of their own, some followed Joseph into becoming hairdressers, others went into different traditional trades, or looked to modern industry, becoming metal workers.

In 1868, aged 69, Joseph married 39 year old Alice Askew from Baston, and the two continued to run the business at No. 16, as respected members of the Grantham community.


At around 11pm on Saturday 30th September 1882, seven boys, aged between 15 and 18 left Mrs Edmond’s ‘coffee – tavern’. They had been relaxing after their days work, and discussing arrangements for the football team they had recently formed.

About the same time, Joseph began to close up for the evening. Normally his young neighbour, Arthur would lock up for him, but Arthur was ill, and as such it was Joseph who went outside to hang the shutters over the windows.
He was about to hang up the fourth and final shutter when he found himself surrounded by the group of young men.
There was a scuffle, a shout, and a shove, and Joseph fell to the ground, tangled in the window shutter.

John George Torr went to Joseph Bailey’s assistance and helped him back into the house while Alice finished locking up.
Accounts differ as to Bailey’s state of health at the time, but when the surgeon – Mr James Eaton – was called to him the following morning, it became clear that his injuries were severe.
Mr Eaton diagnosed ‘a fracture of the neck and thigh-bone’ as well as ‘a rupture of some blood vessel in or connected to the stomach’.  He recommended the patient be given nothing but ‘ice and milk and little brandy if necessary’[1].  When he returned two hours later, Eaton was of the opinion that Joseph was unlikely to survive, and he called the Superintendent of Police, John Pemberton.

From his death bed Joseph gave a statement to Superintendent Pemberton:

“Last night, about five minutes past eleven o’clock, I was putting up the shutters to my shop when four young men went by… one of them threw a piece of paper of something in my face, I took no notice. They went as far as Mr Fred Fletcher’s and then returned, and one of them said he wanted a pipe. He took hold of the shutter which I had in my hand, I had a scuffle for the shutter, and I fell down on the ground, with the shutter between my legs. All four men then ran away[2]


Joseph died on 4th October 1882, four days after his fall. The coroner ordered a post mortem, which confirmed Mr Eaton’s diagnosis, and subsequently issued a warrant for the arrest of the four boys on a charge of manslaughter.

Benjamin Heber Davies, an 18 year old clerk from Hornsby and Sons; William Nickerson, 16 a tailors apprentice; John Huthwaite, 16 a tinsmiths apprentice; and Henry Panton, 16, were duly arrested and appeared before Mayor George Slater, and the Grantham Magistrates.

A number of witnesses were called, including the three other boys that had been at Mrs Edmonds’ that night; along with Annie Queenborough, a 15 year old girl who claimed to have witnessed the events of that evening; and John George Torr.

Witness statements were muddled, with Annie in particular giving a number of different accounts of the events. In her three appearances, she gave three different statements, one in which she stated that one of the boys had pushed Joseph to the ground, another where he fell after the boys had left, and a third where she reported that a ‘little man with a blue neck-tie’[3] was involved.
Superintendent Pemberton believed that the variation in her statement was caused by witness intimidation, claiming that she had been attacked on leaving the inquest. The Mayor instructed Pemberton to ‘give her every protection’ for the duration of the trial, however her statements were eventually discounted.

Lincoln Crown Court, where the four boys stood trial before a Grand Jury (photo: Richard Croft)

All of the witnesses described the boys crowding round Joseph asking about a pipe or cigar, and that there was a scuffle with the shutter during which Joseph had struck Henry Panton. No one was clear as to who if any of the accused had knocked Joseph to the ground.


Mr Heath, who stood in defence of the four, had been instructed only 15 minutes before the hearing began, he had requested an adjournment, but the magistrates insisted on hearing the evidence. Having listened to the witness statements magistrates ordered the case adjourned for a week, ordering the boys back to their cells, considering the ‘ends of justice would be best met by the boys being kept in custody for a week’.

The following Monday, in a packed court room, Davies, Nickerson, Huthwaite, and Panton appeared again before the Mayor and magistrates. The evidence was reviewed and character witnesses appeared in the boys defence.
Mr Heath argued that the boys were entitled to an acquittal.  He stated that the boys ‘in common with other people, sincerely regretted the death of Mr Bailey’[4], but that no real evidence had been given to prove that any of the boys had committed an unlawful act which resulted in his death.

Regardless of this, the magistrates decided there was enough evidence for the four to be indicted for manslaughter and sent for trial by the Crown Court at the next session of the Lincoln Assizes.

Bail was granted, and their trial date set for Monday 28th January 1883.

When the judge, Mr Justice Cave, reviewed the evidence however, he was of a different opinion. He agreed with Mr Heath’s argument before the magistrates that there was no evidence to support the charge of manslaughter against the boys, and instructed the Grand Jury to find them not-guilty.

Davies, Nickerson, Huthwaite and Panton returned to Grantham with their names cleared.

By 1891, Alice Bailey had left Grantham, and was working as a housekeeper in Fulbeck. 16 Westgate had become the home of William Kirk, a boot and shoe maker, and his family.




[1] Grantham Journal, October 7th 1882, “Serious Affair in Westgate”

[2] Grantham Journal,  October 14th 1882, “The Alleged Manslaughter Case in Westgate Grantham

[3] Grantham Journal, October 7th 1882/ October 14th 1882

[4] Grantham Journal, October 21st 1882 “The Alleged Manslaughter case at Grantham, Commital of the Accused”

Grantham Journal, Saturday October February 3rd 1883, “Lincolnshire Winter Assizes

J. Pigot and Co. (1828) ‘National and Commercial Directory’  as accessed here 

Photo Credit  of Lincoln Crown Court: Richard Croft, used under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0