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A CASE OF WIFE BEATING IN BUCKLAND BREWER

 

From the North Devon Journal, 15 August 1889:

 

A quaint ceremony, probably a survival from ducking stool and pillory days, pertains to Buckland Brewer, a hamlet some six miles out of Bideford. it is the custom here for the man who last publicly thrashed his wife to be elected Mayor and remain in office until another candidate for the office appears.

 

It seems that on Saturday week, a labourer, one Herbert Harris, with a wife and two children, left his work and adjourned to the  alehouse - said to be rather a frequent proceeding on his part. His wife quickly followed and by wifely arguments induced him to go home. But visions of foaming tankards and political discussions upset him and he turned on his better half and thrashed her black and blue. This matter was gravely discussed by his neighbours, and one evening last week, the villagers marched en masse, taking a cart with them, to the wife-beater's house, intent on electing him Mayor.

 

On reaching the dwelling, five strong men entered the room where His Worship-elect sat and invited him to accept the honour. On his declining they took him up bodily, struggling, kicking and biting, and, carrying him outside, strapped him to the cart, and then perambulated the village bounds, followed by all the villagers, in great glee.

 

For an hour or so, the fun ran fast and furious, but at length His Worship was set down at his own door and the crowd dispersed. The man did not appreciate the honour thrust upon him and so the deputation of five are summoned to explain matters at the next petty session."

 

North Devon Journal 15 August 1889:

 

So it was that Joseph Prouse, William Eastabrook, Frederick Jewell, Studley Harris and Montague Squire found themselves in the dock facing a charge of assault. Herbert Harris, acting as prosecutor of his own case, stated that on Bank Holiday, a paper on which was written "Herbert Harris, Mayor of Buckland Brewer" was handed to him and they asked him to come for a ride round the village in a donkey butt. He refused to go and ordered them out of the house. They then dragged him out, put him in the cart, and took him round the town. They  tipped him up outside the public house.

 

In defence, the first-named defendant, Joseph Prouse, on behalf of himself and his companions, stated that in doing what they did, they were merely following out an old custom which had existed at Buckland for many years. It was the practice that when a man thrashed his wife, he should be elected "Mayor" and taken tound the village in a cart. Harris had served his wife badly and it was decided that he should be taken round in this way and it was done. No violence was used and Harris was not hurt in the least. However, the Chairman of the Bench explained that the law was stronger than it used to be and any woman who needed protection  could get it through the courts. Clearly on the side of the five defendants, the magistrates fined each man just 6d (2½ p in today's money)."

 

But this was not quite the end of the tale. Herbert Harris had to go on living among  villagers who were constantly watching him . He appeared in the same court in February 1898, charged with the theft of firewood from Trenshill Woods, valued at 4d, the property of the Hon. Mark Rolle. He was fined 2/6d with costs of 17s 6d. He paid 10 shillings off his costs there and then and was ordered to pay the rest within 2 weeks.

 

Herbert stuck it out for some 20 more years, during which he fathered a large family. Taking up a new career as a chimney sweep, he eventually moved himself and his family to Taddiport where, presumably, his previous career as a Mayor was not known. His wife Emily died in 1932 and Hebert in 1949 aged 85.

 

 
 
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