Who were the female offenders in nineteenth century Kendal? Most of them seem to have been sad and pathetic creatures, convicted of drinking offences and petty thefts.
Were there any prostitutes in Kendal? The Kendal Police Photo Book has “mug shots” of two prostitutes who were in town. They both stayed at Troughton’s Lodging House on Stricklandgate at the same time, but it is clear that they were not friends: one gave evidence against the other. Both ended up in the House of Correction.
Mary Reynolds was 27 when she turned up in Cumbria; in March 1887, at Barrow, she got seven days in Lancaster Castle gaol for begging. Mary was from Lancashire. She had been born amongst the mill towns and called herself a factory operative. But she had a long string of convictions for theft, drunkenness and prostitution in Lancashire before she came to Cumbria. A few days after her release from Lancaster, she was in trouble again, in Kendal.
On this occasion, Mary had met John Brennand, recently discharged after twelve years’ service in the army. They met at Carnforth Railway Station and Mary persuaded John to spend his discharge money on drink. They travelled up to Kendal together, then spent some time boozing in the Railway Inn. John lost consciousness later that evening, and when he came to (in the police station) could not recall exactly what had happened, but his money and Mary had gone.
Mary was found later on the following day. She had four of the soldier’s gold sovereigns sewn into the lining of her clothing, and was sentenced to four months.
‘Mary Reynolds’ was in fact an alias, which she seems to have adopted from the title of a serialised story that was running in many newspapers at the time: ‘Mary Reynolds: a Woman’s Devotion.’ Her name was Letitia Farrell. This is how she was listed in the 1871 census, when she was aged 12 and living with her mother, a cotton rover, in Preston.
Letitia’s first recorded conviction was in 1879. She was with two other young women in a Blackburn pub. When the landlord refused to serve them, they assaulted him and smashed several windows. The press report said the three were ‘all prostitutes of the lowest kind.’ Letitia’s two friends had previous convictions and were sentenced to a month’s hard labour. Letitia as a first offender got 14 days.
Court appearances followed thick and fast after this. Before 1884, all her offences were in the Accrington/Blackburn/Burnley/ Preston area. Most were drunkenness or disorderly behaviour. Two were for prostitution, which seems to mean soliciting, one for ‘an indecent act on Blakeley Moor.” In 1882 at Blackburn, she was acquitted of the theft of £9 19 shillings from a salesman. The case seems like later thefts, where Letitia stole money from her customers.
In 1885 Letitia Farrell branched out. She went to Belfast in Northern Ireland with an accomplice, William Murray, who may have been her pimp or bully. Letitia was acquitted of stealing from a customer; when he became aggressive, Murray had intervened to ‘save’ Letitia.
Her visit to Kendal earned her the longest sentence of her career, but she did not leave the town as soon as she was released. In August that year, Letitia, still calling herself Mary, met another young woman, who seems to have been living a similar chaotic lifestyle. Letitia gave evidence in court that secured the conviction of Johanna for theft.
Mary Reynolds was charged at York in 1889 with larceny from the person. Was this Letitia? The modus operandi was the same as Letitia had used in Belfast and in Blackburn in 1882, so it seems quite likely. She was now moving around to new towns, hoping perhaps to escape notice in towns where she was unknown, but the Kendal Police Photo Book shows that her exploits were well known: Kendal listed almost everything she had done, her description including tattoos, and all the different names she had used.
York was apparently her last court appearance. Letitia was recorded in the 1891 census, once again Letitia Farrell, factory operative, living in a common lodging house at Amen Corner, Rochdale. The death of Letitia Farrell, age 34, was registered in Salford in 1892. The name is sufficiently unusual to believe this was her, but one cannot be certain; there were some other Letitia Farrells in the census, but none of the right age or place of birth.
Strangely enough, a news report from London in 1893 mentioned a prostitute called Mary Reynolds. It would make a satisfyingly happy and moral ending to the story if this were Letitia, but I strongly doubt it was her. However, it is such an endearing story that I have quoted it here nonetheless:
A young woman named Mary Sullivan, in respect of whom an application for assistance was made some two months ago, owed her rescue to Mary Reynolds. The story of Mary Sullivan was that, having been left destitute, she wandered about in search of work, and was on the point of succumbing to her necessities by going on the streets, when she fell in with Mary Reynolds, already an unfortunate. On telling her wants and hopelessness she was advised against beginning the downward course, and introduced to the missionary of this court, where Reynolds had often been charged.
And so it was that Mary Sullivan was saved.