The Sad Death of William Mellersh, aged 14 years 1st August 1880 Steep
The following piece appeared in the HAMPSHIRE CHRONICLE of Wednesday 11th August 1880:
THE FATAL STABBING OF A LAD AT STEEP NEAR PETERSFIELD
“The enquiry into the circumstances attending the death of William Mellersh, a lad of fourteen years, who expired a few minutes after being stabbed with an ordinary penknife by a companion on Sunday evening week, was opened by Edgar Goble, Esq., the County Coroner at the “Harrow Inn”, Steep. The accused, Albert Clark, was permitted by the Magistrates (who had remanded him on the charge on Monday) to be present, and there was a very large number of persons in attendance, including the clergyman of the parish, the unfortunate affair having created the most profound sensation in the whole district around Petersfield.”
The coroner’s court was held at the Harrow Inn at the beginning of August 1880, evidence was given by the following:
• Albert Mellersh, coal agent at Petersfield Railway station, father of William Mellersh
• Alfred Triggs, 12 years, son of William Triggs of Burnt Ash, Steep
• Frank Gale 17yrs., son of Thomas Gale farm labourer of Ragmoor, Steep
• James Corner, mason, of Madeline Terrace, Petersfield
• Lavinia Budd, wife of Henry Budd farm labourer of Pole Hill Cottages, Sheet
The accused, ten year old Albert Clark, appeared at the inquiry with the remains of a black eye.
The vicar of Steep at the time was Rev. Samuel Blackburne; he officiated at William’s burial.
William’s father, Albert Mellersh, reported that he had tea with his son at 5.05pm on Sun 1st August 1880. After tea, William left to go to Steep church.
Later that evening a group of boys, some of whom were in the church choir, came out of Steep church after the service.
The boys seemed to fall into two groups:
• William Mellersh aged 14 years and his friends Alfred Triggs, 12 years, and Frank Gale, 17 years.
• Albert Clark aged 10 years, his brothers Frank (13yrs) & George Clark (14yrs), and James Farren, 12 years.
Another boy Jack Breach was also present.
This seems to be the story of what happened, as reported to the court:
The boys left the church and as they were walking down Steep Hollow, Albert Clark started throwing stones but not at anyone in particular. Alfred Triggs, James Farren & George Clark joined in.
William Mellersh told Albert Clark to stop, but he continued, so William and Frank Gale chased him down the hollow. (The hill that runs from Steep church down towards The Harrow Inn.) William and Frank chased Albert into Mr Stubbs’s copse, where Albert fell over. William then hit Albert in the right eye while he was on the ground. Meanwhile Albert’s brothers, Frank & George Clark had run off in a different direction. Albert got up & they all returned to the road. Albert then started throwing stones again, this time at William, but they did not hit him. William was a little distance in front of Albert and walking down the hill towards the turning off to the Harrow. Albert Clark followed him saying he would cut off William’s head. As Albert drew alongside of William, he pulled out his penknife and opened the larger blade. William tried to take hold of Albert to take the knife away. There was a struggle in which Albert stabbed the penknife into William with a back handed stab into the lower chest. Mellersh then said, “I be stabbed!” Frank Gale told Clark he would get locked up for what he had done, to which Clark replied: “Bill Mellersh had no business to hit me!”
Albert Clark then ran away towards home crying and was met by Mrs Lavinia Budd & her husband who were out for a walk. She asked him what was the matter and he said that Mellersh had knocked him to the ground, beaten him and given him a black eye.
James Farren was with Albert and he called out, “Oh Mrs Budd, Albert Clark has stabbed Willie Mellersh!”
James Corner, mason, had come out of The Harrow & was about to return to his house in Petersfield when he saw Gale and Triggs coming towards him, supporting Mellersh who was staggering as if drunk and who then sank to the ground. He had a stab wound in his breast. Corner and one of the boys placed Mellersh on the grassy bank at the side of the road. Lavinia Budd & her husband came to help, but Mellersh died shortly afterwards.
Someone went to fetch Albert Mellersh, William’s father. When he arrived, he found his son dead. He did not know of any existing ill feeling between the two boys. Dr Charles Ticehurst of Petersfield was sent for. He found Mellersh lying quite dead on the grass just outside the Harrow Inn. By the time Inspector Henry Ransome in charge of Petersfield Division Hampshire Constabulary arrived, he found Mellersh lying in a room adjoining the Harrow Inn. He apprehended Albert Clark, who said he had given the knife to his brother William. The boy gave it up. There was no blood on the knife. The knife, an ordinary boy’s penknife was produced at the inquiry.
The Clark family lived at The Harrow at the time, with Albert’s father William Clark being licensee. This was where Albert Clark was running to when he met Mrs Budd.
The Coroner’s inquiry was then postponed so that a solicitor: Mr G. H. King of Portsea, could be appointed for Albert Clark. The enquiry was resumed at the Harrow on Saturday morning 7th August.
A post-mortem by Dr Ticehurst later showed that the stab had been between the fifth and sixth ribs. The blade had pierced the liver and the right cavity of the heart, resulting in haemorrhage, which had been the cause of death. When questioned by Clark’s solicitor, he said that it was possible for a sudden jerk caused by the struggling for the knife to have produced this effect. The coroner summed up the case for the jury saying that they must not be influenced by the fact that they knew both the boys. They must decide whether there had been intention to murder or whether it was manslaughter due to an accident. The room was cleared for the jury to make their decision.
After 15 minutes the foreman of the jury announced a verdict of manslaughter. Clark was to be taken into custody and committed for trial. Bail was granted to Clark’s father for 50 shillings & two sureties of 25 shillings each. Clark who had treated the matter lightly and laughed frequently during the coroner’s proceedings was then released.
Hampshire Assizes 16 Nov 1880
The case went to Winchester assize court on 16th November 1880. The details were reported in the Portsmouth Evening News on 17th November, also in the Hampshire Advertiser. Mr Ford, the Steep school master was called to the assize court. He gave the opinion that Albert, although intellectually backward, was intelligent enough to have understood the consequences of his actions. He also gave Albert a good character. Albert’s lawyer argued in his defence that he was an inoffensive & well behaved boy, who he had been attacked by William & the threats he made were just brag and bluster. The knifing was accidental, occurring solely because of the struggle for the knife. As Clark had a good character he was acquitted at the assizes and allowed to go free. The judge commended him never to use the knife again and he promised not to do so.
Albert’s treatment by the court shows the steady improvement in the treatment of children in court in the Victorian era. Earlier in the C19 children were treated similarly to adults & many minor crimes were punishable by death.
William Mellersh was buried at Steep church on 5th August 1880. The Revd Samuel Blackburne conducted the service. He had just been appointed as vicar of Steep in that same year. William’s grave is south west of Steep church, near the corner of the vestry extension. A subscription was raised for a gravestone. The inscription on William’s gravestone is now largely illegible, but reads:
“ERECTED BY SUBSCRIPTION
IN MEMORY OF
WILLIAM MELLERSH AGED 14
WHO ON AUGUST 1ST 1880
FELL VICTIM TO A HASTY BLOW.”
Beneath this are further words exhorting the reader never to let the sun go down on his wrath.
The case was a sensation in the local area and was reported in great detail in a number of local newspapers. Victorians loved melodrama. Newspapers were often full of news of crimes etc. With no radio or television, reports of such incidents would have been the real life soap operas of the time.
But who were the families of the two boys concerned? And how did this incident affect them?
The Mellersh family
William’s grandfather was also named William. He seems to have been a gentleman farmer working large farms in the local area. In 1860s and 1870s, large farms at Steep, East Meon & Hawkley were run by members of the Mellersh family. In 1871 a Henry Mellersh was farming 128 acres at Roke Farm, Steep.
William’s father: Albert Mellersh, was born about 1831 at Sandhill, Rogate and baptised 9th Oct 1831 at Rogate. In the 1841 Census Albert Mellersh 9 years & his brother Alfred 7 years, appear with about 20 other boarders at a private school in Rogate. But Albert may have been one of the younger sons, so he does not seem to have had the money or resources of other members of the family. In 1861, he seems to have been a smaller farmer employing 2 labourers & one boy at Dunhill, Steep. After that he appears to have given up farming. He was listed as dealer or coal agent on subsequent censuses.
On 6th Jan 1860 William’s father: Albert Mellersh aged 27 years married Frances Muse aged 20 years at St James’s Westminster. Frances had been born in 1840 in Northumberland. The marriage register listed Albert’s father William as a ‘gentleman’, so William Mellersh’s family may have had a background with a little more money and a slightly better education than that of the local farm labourers.
At the 1861 census: Frances (Fanny) Mellersh, 21 years, appears as a visitor at Tigwell Farm, East Meon, occupied by William Mellersh 51 – farmer of 436 acres employing 11 labourers & 3 boys – he was possibly Albert’s father or an older relative?
Yet in the 1861 census: Albert Mellersh, 28 years, appears in Steep as a farmer employing 2 labourers & 1 boy at Dunhill Steep.
The children of Albert and Fanny Mellersh:
In 1864 Albert and Fanny’s son John was born in Yorkshire.
In 1866 their son WILLIAM was born in Yorkshire
In 1868 their daughter Fanny was born in Derbyshire and baptised aged 2 years at Steep church in 1870.
In 1870 another son, Tom Albert, was born and baptised at Steep church on 29th May 1870.
In 1874 Another daughter, Kate, was born. She was baptised in May 1874 at Steep church.
The Mellersh family possibly now had 6 children, although John no longer appears in records & may have died.
In January 1875 Tom 4 years and Kate 1 year were enrolled at Steep School when it first opened. The family address was given as ‘Ashford’.
In 1875 (first quarter) Tom aged 4 years died. He was buried at Steep church.
In April 1876, the family were living at Downgate, Steep Marsh when Henry was enrolled aged 3 years at Steep School. In the same year 1876 (second quarter) William’s mother, Frances Mellersh, died aged 36 years and was buried at Steep church.
Then two years later, on 1st Aug 1880, the fatal incident occurred: poor WILLIAM MELLERSH aged 14 years died after a stabbing. He was buried at Steep church. By the time of the 1881 census, the Mellersh family lived at one of the two Venables Cottages, in Steep Marsh. Albert Mellersh, 48 years, was by now listed as a widower, occupation: coal agent. His daughter Fanny, 13 year,s was employed at home, Henry 9 years and Kate 7 years were scholars and still living with the family.
The family had shrunk from six to three children in a short period of time.
By the 1891 census, Albert Mellersh 52 years (dealer), Fanny 23 years (grocer), Henry 19 years (domestic gardener) & Kate 17 years (dressmaker) were living at and running the grocer’s shop at Ragmore, Steep Marsh. It is believed this grocer’s shop was at the house now known as Downgate Cottage in Steep Marsh.
Extract from a former Steep Newsletter Article on the Shops of Steep:
“Downgate Cottage in Steep Marsh was a general store at one time, also selling greengrocery and paraffin. One person who grew up in the 1920s remembered being banned from buying sweets there, because of alleged cock fights in the garden.” – Information from Beryl Low & David Dobson
(This was probably after the time of the Mellersh family.)
By the 1901 census Albert, Fanny & Kate Mellersh were still at the grocer’s shop. Albert 70 years was listed as retired farmer, Fanny 33 was the shopkeeper and Kate 24 years was a dressmaker. Henry was no longer with them.
Henry had married, he was living at Albourne near Cuckfield, Sussex and working as a domestic coachman. He was still there in 1911.
By the time of the 1911 census, Albert was an 80 year old age pensioner and Fanny 39 years was an unmarried grocer’s shop keeper. They were both at Downgate, in Steep Marsh. They had been joined by relative (another) William Mellersh 68 years, a retired farmer who was born at Hawkley. Daughter Kate was no longer with them. She was unmarried & working as a general domestic servant in Twickenham. In 1911 (third quarter) William’s father: Albert Mellersh aged 80 years died.
According to the 1912 – 1915 Electoral Registers – Fanny Mellersh continued to live at Downgate Cottage in Steep Marsh after her father’s death. Relative William Mellersh continued to be her lodger occupying a furnished first floor bedroom. In August 1918 William Mellersh 76 years (Fanny’s lodger) died. He was buried at Steep church. The Spring 1920 Electoral Register shows that Fanny Mellersh continued to live at Downgate Cottage. By Spring 1923 the Electoral Register shows that Fanny Mellersh was living at The Almshouses, Church Road Steep. In 1930 (first quarter) Fanny Mellersh aged 62 years died at Fareham.
The Clark family
The Clark family seem to have originated as agricultural labourers from Priors Dean. The 1841 Census shows Albert Clark’s father William, aged 4 years, as living at ‘Priorsdeane’ with parents George (Agricultural Labourer) and his wife Lucy. There were 5 children.
By 1851 William Clark (Albert’s father) 14 years, was working as a plough boy at Hurst Farm at Privett.
In 1861 William (Albert’s father) 24 years, was working as an ostler for Henry Monk, innkeeper of Dragon Street Petersfield. In 1861 William Clark (Albert’s father) married Mary Ann Putman in the Petersfield district.
The 1871 Census shows the Clark family were living at The Harrow Inn, Steep:
Albert’s father: William 34 years born 1837 Hampshire was the innkeeper.
Albert’s mother, Mary A 31 years born 1840 in Hampshire was with him.
There were 6 children: William 8 years b.1863, Mary Ann 7 years b.1864, George 5 years b.1865, Frank 4 years b.1867, ALBERT 1 year b.1869, Louisa 0 years b.1871. Between 1865 and 1878 George, Frank, Albert, Louisa, Catherine & Charles were all baptised at Steep church.
In 1880 ALBERT Clark 10 years old was on trial for the stabbing of William Mellersh. It has been suggested that the family were still living at The Harrow when the stabbing occurred. Between 1878 and 1881 Albert, Louisa, Catherine and Henry Clark attended Steep School. Albert returned to Steep School in February 1881 after the court case.
However, by the 1881 census, the Clark family were no longer at The Harrow Inn and instead, were living at Kettlebrook, Steep. Albert’s father William 43 years was working as an agricultural labourer. Another daughter Catherine, 8 years, had been born in 1873 and baptised at Steep church on 26th Oct 1873. A further son, Charles, was born and baptised at Steep church on 16th June 1878. The Clark family now had seven children with them including Albert. (Daughter Mary Ann had left home by this time.)
It has been suggested that Albert Clark’s father, William, may not have continued as innkeeper at the Harrow because of local feeling against the family after the stabbing. Indeed, the story from Steep village is that they were shunned by the people of the village, who no longer went to the Harrow Inn.
One wonders also as to how the family funded the lawyer for Albert’s court case. In 1887 Albert’s father, William Clark, died aged 51 years. He was buried at Steep church on 13th Nov 1887.
According to the 1891 census, living at Ragmore, Steep Marsh were Albert’s mother, Mary Ann, widow aged 52 years and her two sons George 26 years and Charles 15 years, both domestic gardeners. I could find no further records of Mary Ann Clark after this. Perhaps she died. No further records could be found for George or Charles either. Did they move away, Jon the army, emigrate, or die?
In 1894 ALBERT Clarke, aged about 24 years married Agnes Mary a blacksmith’s daughter, in London. The 1901 census shows ALBERT 31 years was working as a coachman and living with his wife at 14a Pembridge Crescent, Kensington. In 1904 Albert and his brother Frank bought two plots of land at the western end of Church Road, Steep. Nos. 1 and 2 Pembridge Villas were built there.
It is known that Albert Clarke had returned to Steep by 1906 and was living at no. 2 Pembridge Villas. He was called as a witness in the coroner’s enquiry into the case of the Mad Sailor in Petersfield in August 1906. He gave evidence that he had heard the fatal shot fired by the sailor which had killed Mrs Margaret Treble outside the Railway Hotel in Petersfield where he was working in the stables. His address was confirmed as 2 Pembridge Villas, Steep. He was working as a jobmaster and tenant of the stables at the Railway Hotel.
By the 1911 census, Albert was a jobmaster and an employer. He and his wife were living at Holmdale, Lavant Street, Petersfield. They had no children. Kelly’s Directory for 1911 listed him in the commercial section as ‘Agent to London & South Western Railway Company, Railway Stables & Dolphin Mews’. On 20th April 1924 ALBERT Clarke died aged 54 years. He was still living in Lavant Street, Petersfield at his death. Probate was granted to his brother Frank Clarke, farmer of Steep. Albert’s effects amounted to just over £2100.
From the 1890s, the family seems to have added a final letter ‘e’ to their surname and became listed as ‘Clarke’ in records after that.
Albert’s brother, Frank Clarke was a well known local dairy farmer in Steep until his death in 1949. He was buried at Steep church. In May 1888 Frank Clarke had married Matilda Aldred at Steep church. The 1891 census shows Frank 24 years working as an agricultural labourer. The family were living with the Matilda’s family, the Aldreds at Burnt Ash cottages in Steep/Sheet. In the 1901 census Frank 34 years was a general labourer and cow keeper and living with his family at Church Cottages Steep. The 1911 census shows Frank 44 years was a dairy farmer, living with his wife and six children at Pembridge Villa, Church Road, Steep. From here they ran the village dairy. The 1939 Register shows the residents at Pembridge Villa, Church Road, Steep were:
Frank Clarke b.17.2.1867 Dairy Farmer
Henry C. Clarke b. 10.7.1896 Assisting father
Louisa Clarke (later Warwick) b. 13.5.1899 Dairy and house duties.
A Note about Pembridge Villas, formerly owned by Frank and Albert Clarke
One observes that Albert Clarke and his wife had lived at Pembridge Crescent in Kensington in 1901. The houses that were built on the plots, which he and his brother Frank purchased in 1904, were named Nos. 1 and 2 Pembridge Villas. Was this name a coincidence, or was there a connection with Albert’s former abode in Kensington? Research from Ruth Whiting shows that the plot on which No. 1 Pembridge Villas was built was sold to Frank Clarke for £45 in 1904. The adjoining plot on which No. 2 Pembridge Villas was built was sold to Albert Clarke. Albert returned to Steep and lived there by 1906. After Albert’s death in 1924, no. 2 Pembridge Villas was occupied by Margaret Jupe and renamed Bow Cottage. No. 1 then became known just as ‘Pembridge Villa’.
A Henry Clarke was the tenant farmer at Island Farm in the time when Island House, Steep, and its land was owned by Mrs May Fitton. He later purchased the farm after her death in 1954. This may have been Frank Clarke’s son.
This was a very interesting tale to research. It demonstrates that, even though knife crime is much in the news in twenty first century Britain, it was also in evidence in the past, even in the small village of Steep. It has been fascinating to walk the areas of Steep where the events took place and led me to uncover additional facts about some of our local Steep buildings.
Steep church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials
Find My Past:
British Newspaper Archive – local news reports of the time
Steep School Admissions Book
Steep and Stroud Village Newsletter
Research by Ruth Whiting into the land certificate for Pembridge Villas, Steep, courtesy of Linda Foulcher, owner of no. 1.
This research was carried out and written by Fran Box in 2014 for Steep History Group. If you have further information to add, or would like to correct inaccuracies, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This account is ©FrancesBox2014