Family History from Old Newspapers – Part 2

In the first part of this article, I introduced Frederick Linfield, who was Mayor of Worthing from 1906 to 1908. Another story I came across in an issue of 1903 could very easily have ruined Frederick’s political career. The events described must, at the very least, have worried him considerably. They concern the antics of a certain Emily Frances Linfield, a middle aged spinster who had lived most of her life in Brighton, where she had helped her mother run a lodging house. Unfortunately, Emily Frances became a habitual drunkard, always pestering her aged mother for money. In desperation to get away from her, her mother came to Worthing in October 1902, where she took up lodgings in Warwick Road. Mary Emma Linfield was 90 years old on February 2nd 1903. Somehow or other, Emily eventually managed to track her down and continued to extract money from her to finance her squalid drinking binges.

However, what attracted the attention of the newspapers was the death of Mary Linfield after a fall in suspicious circumstances on May 1st. The Coroner’s Court had to consider the accusation by witnesses that Emily had deliberately pushed her mother during a row over money. She broke her leg in the fall, which, according to the doctor, accelerated her death which he attributed to bronchitis and heart failure.

The first witness, Eliza Jane Oliver, the landlady, claimed that on the evening of May 1st, she had been listening to the conversation between mother and daughter which was taking place behind the locked door of her room. Emily had been asking for money, as usual, which her mother had refused. “Emily Linfield then pushed her mother and told her to “take that!” and she heard Mrs Linfield fall and then begin to cry.” Despite knocking on the door several times, Emily refused to open it until she threatened to have it knocked down. Her mother was sitting on the bed, and told her she had fallen down. However, a week afterwards when lying in bed she said “Emily pushed me down, but she does not want me to say so to anyone, because they would be on to her.”

Mrs. Oliver’s nephew, Edward Knight, also gave evidence. He had heard Emily Linfield say to her mother that “she ought to be kicked to death.” He afterwards heard her say “Take that!” and heard her fall and cry.

The inquiry was adjourned so that Emily could be called to give her own version of events. She was subsequently brought over from Lewes Prison, where she was serving a term for drunkeness. Called to give evidence, she stated she was the eldest daughter of the deceased, Mary Emma Linfield, whose husband, a wine merchant’s manager, had lived in Brighton. On the evening in question, she had been sitting in front of the fire with her mother. Her mother dropped her handkerchief a number of times, and Emily had warned her to be careful since she could catch it alight and burn herself. On getting up to lie on her bed, her mother again dropped her handkerchief and Emily had once more cautioned her. But her mother, had knocked her in the chest with her elbow, remarking “Don’t Bother!” Annoyed at this, Emily had jerked her with her elbow in return, but, being very weak on her left leg, it gave way beneath her and she fell.

Emily then denied that they had been quarrelling or that she had said “Take that!” to her mother. She had not bolted the door either. She had called Mrs. Oliver to help after the fall, and she had never heard her mother say anything in her presence about her pushing her. She then related how her mother had suffered a fall at Christmas, and on several occasions since, thereby further weakening her left leg.

It now came for the Jury to decide the outcome of the case. Had Emily deliberately pushed her mother down, as the witnesses claimed, or was the fall an accident? After deliberating for some time, they requested another daughter of the deceased might be fetched, in the hope that she could throw more light on the cause of the accident. The daughter stated that she came to Worthing about a week after the accident. Her mother had intimated nothing at all to her about being pushed by her sister.

The Jury rejected the contradictory evidence of the landlady and her nephew, and returned a verdict of “Death from heart failure and bronchitis, accelerated by the fall.” As for Emily Frances, she stayed in Worthing for a while, still a “troublesome visitor” who continued to be brought before the bench for drink related offences. Then suddenly she disappeared from the town; nevertheless, despite the heavy drinking and destructive life style, she lived to be 84 and died in Brighton in 1931.

No doubt Frederick Linfield and his two brothers were very pleased to see her go, not least because they must have known that Emily Frances was, in fact, a very close relative – something which the newspapers did not reveal! She was actually a first cousin – her father, Henry Linfield (1824-67), was the younger brother of William who had moved to Worthing in the early 1850s! The Linfields had become a respected Worthing family, and the scandal surrounding Emily Frances could have seriously damaged their standing in the local community. Perhaps they even paid her fare back to Brighton in order to protect themselves from the potential damage she could have inflicted!

What did she do in all those years until her death? She must have been a lonely and pathetic figure; things would probably have turned out better for her had she not lost her father from tuberculosis at the age of 43. Instead of marrying and raising a family of her own, she remained with her widowed mother, helping her to run her lodging house. No doubt this rather mundane existence had something to do with her drift towards alcohol, and like many hundreds of thousands of others in Victorian times, she sought the refuge of the Gin Shop and the temporary oblivion of her own misery. All in all, a very sad human being.

This article has, I hope, indicated that a wealth of family information can be found in old newspapers. So please go and have a look at some of them – and don’t forget to let us know what you find!

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