Posted by: Christine | February 6, 2012

The best conducted beershop in town?

I have finally got around to looking for some relatives on the British Newspaper Archives website. I had done some searches and book marked interesting pages but finally paid my subscription and started looking at the pages.

I started with trying to find out more about my GGGrandfather William Madder (1815-1890) the cause of my getting into Family history in the first place. This elusive gentleman moved frequently and went under several different names. I found several newspaper reports mentioning him while he was living in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk where he is described as a tailor and beerhouse keeper. His name is given as Benjamin Madder.

The earliest report is of his appearance at the Borough Petty Sessions of August 5th 1858. He was charged with using “language calculated to provoke a breach of the peace towards Louisa, the wife of George Harrison”. Mrs Harrison, who lived nearby in Northgate Street accused him of using “some annoying expressions and gestures towards her, with reference to her approaching confinement”.
There seems to have been a continuing disagreement between them, after Madder had asked her to leave his house several months earlier. Witnesses included Mrs Prigg, John Creamer and John Webb for Mrs Harrison.
Creamer said that he saw the two women “go across to Madder’s, and heard one of them say “Come out, you snap-eyed beggar, and we’ll give you what you want” but he hid himself up, as he was accustomed to do after he had got into a row with any of his neighbours”
Police had cautioned Madder twice because of Creamer’s representations.
“Mr Brook, for the defendant, contended that the evidence only proved that the complainant went to the defendant’s house about two months after some alleged insults and challenged him to fight. He like a prudent man, did not speak to her, but got out of the way, and now he was brought up and charged with provoking a breach of the peace”
A witness for the defence was Mr Horace Barker whose property “adjoined Madder’s house, which he had always considered well conducted. In fact, if he had been asked, he should have pointed this out as the best conducted beer-shop in the town”
Robert Melton, out door apprentice to Mr Madder, testified as to the bad behaviour and drunkenness of Mrs Harrison and her friend.
“The magistrates decided that the defendant must find sureties, himself in 10l and two others in 5l each, to keep the peace for one month, or be committed in default” they cautioned Mrs Harrison “not to provoke or annoy Mr Madder, or they should place her under heavy sureties”
Both parties left the Court and that seems to be the end of it.

Benjamin was in court again the following year, in November 1859. This time he had been charged by the Inland Revenue for “unlawfully having in his beer store 2 gallons and 1 pint of rum and a gallon and five pints of gin” He pleaded ignorance and said he did not know that he had done anything wrong. No evidence was found that he had sold any liquor. He was convicted in the penalty of 12l 10s which resulted in the loss of his licence, but it had only three or four months to run and he would not be disqualified from obtaining another. 

In July 1860, it was his wife, Emily who was in court. This time she was the victim of assault. On Friday evening Alfred Mower and George Double called into the beer house for a pint of ale and two-pennyworth of bread and cheese. They started insulting another customer, an elderly man, and Emily asked them to leave. They refused and threatened her. At this point her husband came home and managed to get them out, but they forced their way into the private room and attacked him again. She went to his assistance and “they struck me on my arm and side” The Bench fined them 10s and expenses, or in default twenty-one days imprisonment. They were taken to gaol!

There were more problems in December of that year when two Irish dealers, John Caffray and Andy Holmes were charged with being drunk and creating a disturbance at Mr Madders beerhouse. When Benjamin tried to turn them out, Holmes drew a knife. The police were called and they were charged. “On searching them at the Station, Holmes had 50l in his possession, and Caffray 40l. They were discharged on payment of 10s expenses.

The next summer, on 1st Jun 1861, William Willingham was charged with assaulting Benjamin Madder. This involved an argument about the removal of kindling from the premises of Mr Lee (see next extract). The flooded river had moved a tree to the property of Mr Taylor. Willingham was employed by Mr Taylor and told by him to cut bits off the tree. Benjamin saw him do it and “told him it was a dishonest trick, on which defendant, putting himself in fighting attitude, said he would give him a good slap of the skull if he said anything about it. Complainant got out of the way and told Mr Lee” The Bench said Mr Taylor had exonerated Willingham of stealing the wood but he was still guilty of what was legally an assault. He was given a fine (illegible) and costs of 12s 6d.
“In default seven days imprisonment – Defendant threatened that if he had to pay this money he would “pay” Madder when they got into the street, but the Bench advised him not to do so, unless he wished to get into further trouble – The money was eventually paid for defendant by Mr Taylor”

The final article in the Bury and Norwich Post only mentions Benjamin in passing. It concerned a “Charge of Stealing Copper” from “Mr Lee’s brewhouse, adjoining Madder’s beerhouse, out Northgate”. Details can be found in the issue of 12th Nov 1861, almost exactly 150 years ago, but a crime with very modern echoes 

Benjamin must have had enough of the “Mean Streets” of Bury St Edmunds as by 1864 he was living in Edgefield in Norfolk, as a farmer and tailor. The only other newspaper report that I found is twenty years later in the Ipswich Journal of 1884.

Ipswich Journal 29 March 1884

I wonder if the Conservative Club knew about his colourful past in the Bury beerhouse?

There are thousands of interesting stories in the British Newspaper Archive. I’m sure I’ll be posting about a few more on this Blog.


  1. […] an exact contemporary of the other Jeremiah. He was the younger brother of William Madder – the Bury Beerhouse Keeper, and like him seems to have combined tailoring and selling […]

  2. […] can read about William’s time in the Bury St Edmunds Beer House in my previous post about using on-line […]

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