Elizabeth Remnant – ‘A disgrace to her sex’

For the working classes of Victorian Southampton, ensuring the survival of themselves and their families must have been a difficult and overwhelming task. For those of this class that inhabited the town’s overcrowded slums, survival must have been a daily struggle. Within the pubs and tumbledown houses, many a person turned to drink as a coping mechanism in the face of such hardship. The slums thus became a place where drunk and disorderly behaviour was commonplace and those guilty of these transgressions often gained local renown in the process. The newspaper reports referred to these people as ‘old offenders’. These were the men and women who, time and again, found themselves before the bench for offences that were usually linked to alcohol. One such woman was Elizabeth Remnant.

Elizabeth’s origins are obscure. Some census entries have her birthplace as Worcester, one has London, another has ‘not known’. Her age varies wildly, too. The earliest date for her birth that appears on these documents is 1819 and the latest 1831. Elizabeth’s maiden name appears to be Agen – or Agan – and by 1851 she found herself living with a labourer named Richard Remnant in Spring Court. This dwelling was situated near Cross Street, placing Elizabeth in the midst of one of Southampton’s most deprived slums. Located beyond the town’s medieval walls to the east of the High Street, Cross Street ran east to west, with its western stretch being known as the Rookery. Cutting through it vertically was the notorious King Street, which joined East Street in the north and led to the dead end of Russell Court in south. The Rookery joined Orchard Lane, and the whole slum was a desperate maze of cramped alleys, yards, and courts. The pair married two years later but, by the late 1850s, it was clear the marriage was not a happy one.

King Street

King Street.

Elizabeth’s first newspaper appearance came in April 1856 after a ‘beer house row’. She was accused of punching and kicking a woman named Ellen Hall. Elizabeth claimed that Hall’s husband had grabbed her by the throat but her testimony did nothing to aid her cause. She was found guilty and fined ten shillings and costs. If she couldn’t pay, she faced fourteen days’ imprisonment. The following year, Elizabeth was charged with assault after a fight with one Ellen Donovan as well as breaking eight panes of glass, which she offered to pay for. For this, Elizabeth was fined twenty shillings or, this time, risked twenty-one days in gaol if she failed to pay. She was fined for drunk and disorderly behaviour at least once in 1858 and she faced the magistrates no less than three times in 1859 for the same, with one charge including the use of obscene language. By now, Elizabeth was repeatedly being referred to as an ‘old offender’.

That same year, Elizabeth’s husband, Richard Remnant, appeared in court charged with assaulting her, but he was dismissed upon payment of costs. The following year, in 1860, he appeared again on the same charge. This time, Richard admitted to assaulting Elizabeth but said that, in his defence, he had returned home to find her in their bedroom with another man. Upon disturbing them, he chased them into the street where he struck Elizabeth. She denied the statement but his assertion was ‘in some way corroborated’ by a policeman who told the court that Elizabeth was very drunk at the time and using ‘the most filthy language’. The court was told that she had repeatedly been before the bench and the case was dismissed. Elizabeth had been assaulted by Richard but someone reading the report could be excused for thinking that she was the defendant and not her husband.

Elizabeth’s life could not have been a very happy one by this stage and 1861 was a year that proved even more difficult for her. In March, she was sent to prison for seven days with hard labour for being drunk and riotous on the High Street. In June, she served another seven days for drunkenness. In the report of this incident, Elizabeth was described as a ‘notorious offender’, suggesting that her infamy exceeded that of the ‘old offender’. In August, she faced the same punishment for being drunk at one o’clock in the morning and using ‘abusive and obscene language’. It is interesting to note that this report differs from others in that it labels her a prostitute. It is unknown whether Elizabeth engaged in prostitution or not, however. At this time, the label seemed to be freely applied to women who had problems with alcohol. Sometimes it was assumed that, if they were out all night, they could be nothing other than a prostitute. In September, whilst living on Queen Street, which ran adjacently to King Street, she was given twenty-one days with hard labour for assaulting a woman named Elizabeth Bullistone, and on 18 December she faced a fine of five shillings and costs or seven days’ imprisonment for assaulting Elizabeth Williams. It is unclear whether Elizabeth paid the fine or spent Christmas in prison but, on 27 December, she was in court again. This time, she had been assaulted by a man named Edward Williams, and he was punished with a twenty shilling fine and costs or twenty-one days’ imprisonment. His motives were unclear, he may well have been associated with Elizabeth Williams who Elizabeth Remnant had assaulted days before.

The exact number of times Elizabeth Remnant appeared in court is not known but, in searching for her in the newspaper archives, I discovered one hundred and nine articles that place her before the magistrates. Sometimes these cases involved Elizabeth assaulting other individuals. On a handful of occasions, she appears having been assaulted herself. For the vast majority of these court appearances, though, Elizabeth was there for being drunk and disorderly. It would be impractical to list every single entry but there are some that are definitely worth noting.

Elizabeth’s next newspaper appearance came in September 1862. Her crime was assaulting a little boy who had been sat in a doorway. Allegedly, Elizabeth had been drunkenly quarrelling with some neighbours when she struck him in the face. A year later, the ‘old offender’ assaulted Elizabeth Box ‘by striking her in the eye in a violent manner’ and in the following month – September, 1863 – Elizabeth was charged with being drunk and disorderly in East Street. She had only been at liberty for a few days having just been in prison for the same offence. The bench declared her ‘one of the most unruly women in the town’ and promised to ‘send her to gaol until she was cured’. They gave her seven days with hard labour.

In June 1865, Elizabeth was summoned for assaulting Mary Mattock and in August she was charged again with being drunk and disorderly. The previous day, she had been charged with being drunk and breaking windows at a pub but she was discharged on promising to pay for the damages. She walked free and then immediately proceeded to get drunk and create the disturbance that saw her arrested once more. She was given seven days with hard labour, again. Twice in the September of that year she was charged with being drunk, disorderly, and abusive. It is quite apparent that Elizabeth had a serious problem with alcohol, and this pattern of behaviour continued into the late 1860s.

In August 1867, Ellen Homer, of Winchester Street, complained to the police about Elizabeth’s ‘insulting language’. When Detective John Verge served Elizabeth with the court summons, she responded by descending on Ellen Homer’s house and breaking eleven panes of glass. For this crime, Elizabeth was found guilty and sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour – her longest sentence yet.

In April 1868, Elizabeth appeared in court charged with assaulting Bridget Long but she was ‘what might be termed as “crying drunk” when she appeared to answer the charge’, and so the case was delayed and Elizabeth was remanded in custody. A few days later, the bench decided to dismiss her with a caution, but she failed to heed their warning as the following month she was sent to prison for seven days for drunk and disorderly behaviour in East Street. ‘Prisoner, on leaving the dock, said she would sooner be in gaol for seven days than be at home with her husband’, reported the Hampshire Advertiser.

In April 1869, less than a month after serving another seven days, Elizabeth was in trouble again. The Hampshire Advertiser ran with the headline ‘ONCE MORE IN TROUBLE’ and reported how she was charged with threatening to cut the throat of Elizabeth Draper a week after being fined for assaulting her. The pair had met on Brewhouse Lane on a Sunday evening and Elizabeth Remnant allegedly had a razor in her hand, threatening to ‘do for her’. The newspaper reported that she said, “I never had a razor in my hand, and she was as drunk as I was. She had been drinking with me, and her husband as well.” But Elizabeth Draper denied being drunk and William Batchelor, a resident of Brewhouse Lane, said that the sober Draper ‘flew into his house for protection’ and when he went to the door he saw Elizabeth Remnant stood there, razor in hand. Elizabeth was sentenced to one month in prison with hard labour. In the October of that year, she drunkenly turned up at the police station at one o’clock in the morning and asked to be locked up. The police had no issue in meeting her demands. Charged with being drunk and incapable, she told the court that her husband had mistreated her and so she went to the police station thinking she’d be better there than anywhere else. The magistrates sent her to gaol for three days with hard labour.

On 30 December 1869, Elizabeth was sent to prison again. This time it was for drunkenly breaking three panes of glass at Richard Flood’s beer shop in Charlotte Street. Her defence was that she had been given some Christmas boxes, the beer had overcome her, and she fell and hit her head on the window. The bench told her that they hoped it would be the last time they saw her but just under four months later she stood before them again. Her offence? Smashing four panes of glass at the same Charlotte Street pub. Her penchant for breaking glass continued later that year as, in August, she was sent to prison for drunkenly breaking twelve panes of glass at Peter Lott’s beer shop on King Street. Elizabeth went to the pub but, since she was already drunk, she was ordered to leave. She did so but returned and smashed the windows, cutting her arms and hands in the process. When Elizabeth was taken into custody she was covered in blood.

In 1872, Elizabeth was cautioned for refusing to leave the Beehive Hotel on Royal Crescent Road where she had turned up drunk. Clearly, the hotel was one of Richard Remnant’s favourite drinking establishments because Elizabeth asked the landlady, Emma Jannaway, why she kept her husband there spending his money when he had a comfortable home to go to. According to Jannaway, Elizabeth was noisy and using bad language and she also allegedly threatened to smash the windows. Richard Remnant told the court that he was not in the Beehive at the time but he gave his wife ‘a very bad character for drunkenness’.

Elizabeth’s name was so commonly printed in the ‘Southampton Police Court’ section that her name often appeared in the headline itself. In May 1873, alongside headlines like ‘A FRACAS AT A LODGINGHOUSE’ and ‘A ROW AT A MUSIC-HALL’ we find ‘ELIZABETH REMNANT AGAIN’. She had thrown a cup at the head of Martha Stainer, the landlady of the Bricklayers’ Arms on East Street, ‘causing the blood to flow’. Before being taken into custody, Elizabeth had threatened to smash the window but in court she denied all knowledge of what had occurred. Nevertheless, she was sent to gaol for a month with hard labour. Elizabeth couldn’t have been out long, either, before she assaulted Elizabeth Beavis of Cross Street for not giving her some beer. A witness said that Elizabeth Remnant had punched Elizabeth Beavis in the face, and in court she sported a ‘shocking black eye’. The bench considered it a gross case of assault and sent her to gaol for yet another month with hard labour. Elizabeth Remnant said it was scandalous to send her to prison. “She ought to have two months,” Richard Remnant reportedly told the court as she left.

Periodically, months elapse without Elizabeth making an appearance in the newspaper records which may indicate attempts on her part to overcome her problems. When she was charged with drunkenness in December 1874, she told the court that she had taken the temperance pledge and had managed three months without a drink, even showing her temperance medal. Elizabeth was discharged upon promising to take the pledge again but unfortunately, just under four months later, she drunkenly threw a loaf of bread through a window and she was again sent to gaol. In May 1875, she promised to take the pledge again but two weeks later she was violently assaulted. Elizabeth Jones was charged with striking her with a piece of iron in Bell’s Court, which was located in the Rookery near King Street. The attack left Elizabeth Remnant with a severed artery in her temple and the attending physician, Dr Palk, requested a remand for a week due to her condition. He ‘could not say what the result would be as Remnant was of intemperate habits’. The following week, Elizabeth Jones was discharged due to a lack of evidence. In the October of that year Elizabeth Remnant, who at this time was living in Bell’s Court, presumably still with Richard, was charged with assaulting Louisa Smart there. According to the complainant, Elizabeth had spat in her face for no reason. The day before the court case, Elizabeth drunkenly went to the police station and said that she should not attend court. She walked into a cell and asked to be locked up. The bench told her that if her husband would agree to vouch for her good behaviour for three months she would be let off. She said she’d bring him in the next morning, but it is not known whether Richard agreed to this.

In February 1876, she was charged with being drunk and disorderly again but she was discharged upon promising to sign a pledge of teetotalism. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, six weeks later she was in trouble for the same offence. Chronologically speaking, this was the fiftieth article I found her mentioned in, however the court was informed she had been charged with offences about one hundred times. Upon being given a month in prison, the Hampshire Advertiser reported that she said, “make it another week; make it five weeks,” but John Henry Cooksey, presiding over the case, denied her plea for more time. There are a number of examples of men and women asking for prison time. For some it was an escape from alcohol and homelessness, a chance to get a roof over their head, to have some food and some structure in their lives. Sarah Penny was a woman very similar to Elizabeth Remnant. She too struggled with alcoholism and was constantly going in and out of prison, and in 1867 she was given a month in gaol for being drunk and disorderly. “One month only. Can’t you give me more?” she asked the bench, according to the Hampshire Advertiser. When she was told that they could not, she took off her boot and ‘threw it violently at the magistrates’. She refused to leave the dock and had to be forcibly removed by the police. When she returned, Sarah explained that she did it to get a heavier sentence. She told a policeman that if she got a month she would only get dry bread but if she had longer she would ‘have a better living’. It was agreed that she was well behaved in gaol, unlike when at liberty, and she said “I am as happy as the day is long in gaol.” Sarah Penny was given an extra month for throwing her boot and warned not to ever do something like that again. “I’ll put my hand through a window and have a watch or something else next time,” she reportedly told the magistrates. Elizabeth Remnant would spend a third of 1876 in gaol as, in that year, she was given a month’s imprisonment on four separate occasions.

Four years after Elizabeth Remnant had given Elizabeth Beavis a black eye, it happened again. According to Beavis, she had been purchasing some coal when her old adversary came up to her and asked for a penny. When she told Elizabeth Remnant she didn’t have a penny to give her, she was struck in the face. However, the court was told that Beavis’ conduct was ‘most aggravating’ and so the case was dismissed. After spending two weeks and then a month in gaol for drunkenness earlier in the year, Elizabeth Remnant would spend the Christmas of 1877 inside after being given two months’ imprisonment with hard labour for drunkenly breaking the windows of the Cross Keys beer house in the Rookery.

Elizabeth was in court at least ten times in 1878 and nine of the appearances were due to drunkenness. In March, she told the bench she’d been teetotal for a month, but since it was her 27th wedding anniversary, she’d ‘tasted a little’. Elizabeth’s wedding day had actually been twenty-five years earlier, in 1853, and in November, not March. The only time that year she wasn’t brought up for drunkenness was when she was violently assaulted two weeks before her supposed anniversary celebration. She said that a youth named Thomas Hardy had knocked her to the floor on Orchard Lane and then prevented her from getting up, striking her several times about the face, which became covered in blood. The reason behind the attack is unknown, but the court heard how Hardy was a ‘troublesome youth’ with previous convictions, and so he was given a month’s hard labour. For beating a woman, he was given the same punishment which that same woman received many times just for being drunk. In fact, Elizabeth spent nearly four months of 1878 in gaol, mostly for drunkenness, although one conviction shows that she had returned to smashing windows. After being sentenced to a month in gaol on one of those occasions that year, the Hampshire Advertiser reported that she said, “very well, it won’t kill me.”

Despite their problems, Richard and Elizabeth Remnant were still living together by 1879. However, unlike in 1871 when they were living privately in a house, they were now staying in a common lodging house in the notorious Simnel Street. Whilst the slums of King Street and the Rookery were located outside of the town walls, Simnel Street was situated in a slum within the old town, west of the High Street. She was accused of stealing a sheet worth one shilling from this house, but she said that she only put the sheet around her whilst she washed her petticoat, and because there were difficulties in the case, she was discharged with a caution.


Simnel Street.

Later that year she went to the police station and insisted she be allowed to stay the night. Upon being ejected she ‘created a great disturbance in the street’ and so she was charged with being drunk and disorderly. In court, she was asked whether she would like to go to gaol or the workhouse. She elected the latter and was escorted there by a constable. A few days later, a columnist who went by the name of Diogenes wrote the following in the Hampshire Advertiser’s ‘Sayings and Doings’ column:

It is not everyone who would voluntarily choose a Police-station for a night’s lodging, and yet there is a female inhabitant of this town who deliberately walked into the station at the Bargate, Southampton, and demanded to be “taken in” for the evening. But then Elizabeth Remnant, as this candidate for a police-cell is named, is no stranger to the place… How many times has she been an inmate of both police-station and gaol this deponent knoweth not, but are they not recorded in the “black books” or our criminal records? It is such incorrigibles as Elizabeth Remnant who help to give a bad character to a town for drunkenness. Why do not teetotallers reclaim such characters?

In 1880, a policeman named Charles Martin saw Elizabeth sat on a York Street doorstep abusing someone in a pub opposite. People in the area had complained to him about the noise she made, saying they couldn’t sleep. Charles Martin went to take Elizabeth into custody and she managed to walk a short distance before she laid down on the ground, saying she would not walk any longer. The court heard how she had apparently been in custody fifty-one times in the past year and she had spent one year and nine months of the past ten years in gaol. They sentenced her to one month’s hard labour. “That will only make me worse,” she allegedly told them.

Supposing she was released one month later, around 16 March 1880, it would not have been long before she was widowed. Richard Remnant was buried in Southampton on 27 April 1880. In the September of that year, Elizabeth was described in court as a ‘perfect nuisance to the town’. She had come out of the workhouse in the morning, and by the afternoon she was drunk and disorderly in Windsor Terrace, where she broke a window. She then went to John Eldridge’s house and kept ringing his doorbell. Eldridge was the magistrates’ clerk and so the two would have been familiar with each other. The Hampshire Advertiser records the following statements. “If you had been a man I would have horsewhipped you,” Eldridge told her. “It would have been better to give her a ducking,” John Cooksey said. The Mayor, William Henry Rogers, then addressed her, and told her that she was ‘a disgrace to her sex’. As she was leaving, Elizabeth was reported to have said, “I hope to God Almighty you will have a month’s sickness while I am away, as I don’t deserve this sentence.”

John Eldridge really didn’t like Elizabeth Remnant. On 21 December 1881, over a year after ringing his doorbell, she appeared in court on account of being drunk on Above Bar Street. “Oh! You wretched old creature!” was how Eldridge apparently greeted her. She said that she had been given a ‘glass or two’ after a wedding at St Mary’s Church, but it appears she had drunkenly chased John Cooksey ‘helter skelter up the street’ which led to her being locked up. She was given fourteen days with hard labour, meaning she’d have spent Christmas in prison. Despite her reputation outside of gaol, it was said she bore a very good character inside of it and she made shirts whilst in there.

Elizabeth was charged with the usual at the beginning of 1882 but by the middle of the year she was in Winchester, where she was found asleep against a tree near Holy Trinity Church. A Police Sergeant woke her up and told her to go home, but she was drunk, ‘became obstreperous’, and as they tried to convey her to the police station she scratched his hands and face. By the end of the year Elizabeth was back in Southampton, again being charged with the usual. It appears that the endless cycle of court, prison, and workhouse did nothing to improve Elizabeth’s situation.

In 1883, Police Constable Henry Emery found Elizabeth leaning against the Bargate, drunk, with a crowd of people around her. She was asking them who they were looking at. Since she would not leave, she was locked up and in court it was said that she was ‘never better than when in gaol’ and usually ‘kept herself right’ for a few days after, so they said she would have to pay a fine of ten shillings and costs or go back to gaol for fourteen days.


An early 20th century F. G. O Stuart postcard showing the Bargate. The police station, which Elizabeth would have been very familar with, was attached to the Bargate itself, and can be seen here on the right. Source: http://www.fgo-stuart.co.uk/postcard/25/the-bargate-southampton

“She should be charged with being a public nuisance, that’s really what she is,” said John Eldridge in 1884 after Elizabeth was found falling about the street drunk. Eldridge said that she had gone to his house and knocked on his door, but when he didn’t answer she went to his neighbour’s house and told them that Eldridge was ‘dangerously ill’ which, of course, he wasn’t. The following month she accused a Simnel Street lodging house keeper called Simmons of assaulting her. She said she went to his house with a ticket for a night’s lodging, and he came into the room where she was sleeping and assaulted her. The Hampshire Advertiser reported that ‘it appeared’ she went to the house drunk, and was turned away by Mrs Simmons who said she had to have the windows protected to prevent Elizabeth from breaking them. However, she got back in unobserved. When discovered, she was forcibly ejected, as her drunken behaviour was ‘stated to be very unpleasant’. The bench took this view, and told her that if she wanted to stay at Simmons’ house, she should go whilst sober.

By the middle of 1885 Elizabeth was again in Winchester. She went to gaol for fourteen days in July after biting a pub landlord’s arm when he tried to eject her from his premises. The bench at Winchester heard how she was a ‘habitual drunkard and a tramp’ and said that the Southampton magistrates had paid her two shillings to leave the town. This is possibly why she was in Winchester. The Hampshire Advertiser noted that ‘the bench considered their Southampton brethren were very kind’, the sarcasm being obvious, and they listened to a ‘flood of talk’ with ‘exemplary patience’ before giving her the choice between a twenty shilling fine or fourteen days’ imprisonment. Perhaps lacking the funds, or seeing an opportunity to escape her problems for a couple of weeks, Elizabeth went to gaol. Two days after her release, she became ‘violent and abusive’ having been found drunk and lying in the street, and so she once again appeared before magistrates in Winchester where it was said she was ‘of Southampton notoriety’. She was given twenty one days in gaol. By November, Elizabeth was back in Southampton where she had apparently come out of the workhouse to buy a pair of spectacles. However, she had two glasses of beer, and she said because she was not well, it ‘took advantage of her’. She promised to go back to the workhouse and to not get drunk for six months and consequently she was discharged.


The workhouse on St Mary Street was built in the late 1860s, replacing an older workhouse that had been condemned as being not fit for human habitation.

Within four months the ‘old offender’ was back at the police station, drunkenly asking for a night’s lodging after stating she had been working at an eating-house at the bottom of town. In the Hampshire Advertiser’s words, John Cooksey said that ‘some day the woman would be found dead in the streets’ and wished that ‘the foolish persons who gave her pence to get beer had to swallow the cup’. He asked her if she’d go to the workhouse. “Yes, Mr Cooksey, for your sake,” she replied, getting a laugh from those present. The following week she was charged with being drunk on St Mary Street, opposite the workhouse, and ‘making use of obscene and threatening language towards the Guardians [the Board of Guardians were responsible for running the workhouse], as they left the premises’. She was given twenty-one days in gaol, and said that she should rest in peace in there. The following month, in May 1886, she again went to the police station whilst drunk and asked for a ticket to the casual ward at the workhouse. Superintendent Thomas Breary told the bench that she was always at the station, and he only wished that she was as fond of the workhouse. It is safe to assume that at this time, after the death of her husband, Elizabeth had no fixed residence. It must have been an impossibly vicious cycle for this woman, who was possibly well in her fifties by now, to have an alcohol problem and no home. She was probably considered a tramp or a vagrant, and if she could not stay at a lodging house, she obviously tried the police station for shelter, and failing that, she invariably ended up at the workhouse or in gaol. For many, the workhouse was the most desperate form of relief and there would have been a stigma attached to those who had been in one, especially its casual ward, where ‘tramps’ and ‘vagrants’ spent the night in horrible conditions. Elizabeth’s life was merely an act of survival, played out on a day to day basis. For turning up at the police station, she was given the choice of a five shilling fine, or seven days’ imprisonment. It is unclear which option she chose but seven days later, on 24 May 1886, Queen Victoria’s birthday, she was being drunk and disorderly in the High Street. “When shall we see the last of this woman?” asked the chairman, Thomas Payne, sat near John Cooksey. Elizabeth told them that she had “only been keeping up the Queen’s birthday.” Payne said the magistrates had tried the workhouse for her but it didn’t seem to work, and he thought she preferred Winchester Prison. He sent her there for a month, and told her that he hoped she’d enjoy it. “Good morning. Thank you Mr Payne, God bless you,” she said. “I hope so, and you too,” he replied. At the end of August she was found drunk and incapable, as reported in an article titled ‘THE SAME OLD REMNANT’ she told the bench she had wanted to go hop picking at Alton. The magistrates must have seen this as another opportunity to remove Elizabeth from their jurisdiction for a while, so they paid her fare and gave the train guard one shilling, instructing him to give it to her once she got to Alton. She returned from Alton the following month, and was found on her hands and knees, drunk. She told the bench she had returned to buy a pair of boots but she had lost a half sovereign on the train and was heading for her lodgings when her legs gave way. John Eldridge read a letter that stated Elizabeth was going to get married, and assured John Cooksey in the chair that he was not joking. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that she ever did remarry. Elizabeth was dismissed and Eldridge paid her train fare back to Alton. It’s not clear whether she went, as a few days later she was charged with being drunk in Southampton High Street and consequently she was sent to gaol for fourteen days. Later that month she once again applied for relief at the Bargate police station, and was placed in a cell. Inspector Curtis said she ‘kept them alive’ until two o’clock in the morning by her ‘uproarious conduct in the cell’. She took off her boots and hammered the door with the heels. The court heard how at the workhouse she had smeared mud all over the windows, and so the bench sentenced her to a month’s imprisonment. “You will die in a prison, I hope,” she reportedly said to John Cooksey. “You were glad to get out of prison yourself, wasn’t you, in France?” she continued, and there was loud laughter according to the Portsmouth Evening News. I wish I could find some evidence of Cooksey’s possible incarceration in a French prison, but I could not find anything. Elizabeth was in the workhouse as 1886 became 1887.

Cooksey British Library Board

John Henry Cooksey (1819-1895) was a prominent Southampton businessman, Liberal councillor, and justice of the peace, who served as mayor of the town in 1880. The Southern Reformer declared him ‘a great favourite with the labouring portion of the community, on account of the interest which he, and the members of his family, take in all the efforts that are made for the improvement of their condition’.

I did not find a single article about Elizabeth in 1887 or 1888, I can only hope she managed to get a roof over her head and stay out of trouble. The next time her name appeared in the black ink of the newspaper was in late August 1889, when the Southern Echo reported that she had been in Bromley, Kent. Bromley’s Board of Guardians wrote to their Southampton counterparts asking them to take Elizabeth off their hands as she was chargeable to the town, and they agreed to accept her ‘without demur’. It may be that she had gone hop picking in Kent, just as she had done a few years earlier in Alton. Many impoverished people took an opportunity to go out into the fields to earn money, and each year many Londoners would descend upon Kent for the hop picking season. A year earlier, in 1888, Catherine Eddowes of the East End had done just that. In some ways Elizabeth and Catherine were similar, both women endured unimaginable poverty and struggled with an alcohol dependency. In September, after hop picking in Kent, Catherine Eddowes returned to London, and at the end of that month she sadly became a victim of Jack the Ripper.

The census return of 1881 had placed Elizabeth in the workhouse on St Mary Street, and the 1891 census a decade later did the same. A year later, in 1892, the following article appeared in the Southern Echo:

ELIZABETH RE-APPEARS – Elizabeth Remnant, 69, widow, who at one time was frequently before the Court, was charged with wilfully breaking a pane of glass at the police-station, Bargate. Defendant, who only came out of the Poorhouse on Monday morning, pleaded guilty, but said it was an accident. Inspector Curtis stated the facts, and said Mrs Remnant was drunk. She had not been up for four years, and she was now sent to gaol for 14 days.

A note, again, must be made her on her age here. The age given in this particular article, for example, is sixty-nine. However, it is impossible to know if this is accurate or not. Her apparent age appears in the newspapers a number of times but each time it results in a different potential year of birth. Her census entry ages vary and her death certificate age gives a birth year of around 1829. If she was born in 1829, she’d be sixty-three in 1892, not sixty-nine. It also says she had not been before the bench in four years, which proves that there must have been more court appearances than what I was able to find. As stated, for her transgression she was sent to gaol for fourteen days. The fact that she had stayed out of trouble for four years, possibly her longest stretch of good behaviour in nearly half a century, makes it even sadder that this woman of (probably) sixty-something had to yet again go to prison as a result of drinking too much alcohol.

The next, and penultimate, time I found Elizabeth appear was the following year, in 1893. Frank Hull, a fish salesman in his sixties, stood accused of violently assaulting her with a stick in the Strand. He pleaded not guilty and Elizabeth said she did not wish to press charges against ‘the old man’. However, Chief Constable William Berry said that the magistrates must go into the case for the protection of other people in the town as Hull was apparently a violent man. During the hearing, Hull constantly interrupted proceedings and was warned by the chairman that the case would be heard in his absence if he did not keep quiet. The pair had seemed to be in the Haymarket Tavern, on the corner of the Strand and Hanover Buildings. A barmaid called Louisa Purkis stated that Elizabeth had ‘annoyed defendant very much in the house’ and they then both left. A lad who was passing gave evidence to the effect that he saw the two quarrelling, and then Hull spat in her face. She returned the favour and followed it up with some bad language. He replied with the same and told her that if she was a man he’d knock her down. Another witness saw Elizabeth accuse Hull of spitting in her face and stated that she tried to hit him. He then struck her across the arm with his walking stick and walked off towards East Street. She followed him, abused him, and put up her fist, to which he hit her in the face with his stick, causing it to bleed. Elizabeth said he had spat in her face unprovoked, and denied a claim that she had wanted him to buy her a pint in the Haymarket. According to the Southern Echo, she said something along the lines of, “he might have given me a shilling twenty years ago,” but it is unclear she meant by that. Hull’s defence was ‘a rambling statement’ in which he said the police were always watching him and he made confused statements which caused some amusement. Eventually, Hull was ordered to be sent to a lunatic asylum. He had spent eight months in the Portsmouth Borough Asylum in 1884, with his last known place of residence being listed as ‘police station and Southampton workhouse’, and he had a few convictions for drunkenness, despite spending the twenty-four years prior to 1883 teetotal. By the time of the 1901 census, Frank Hull was living with his wife on Bevois Street, so at least he did not live out the rest of his days within the institution’s walls.

In April 1894, Elizabeth was charged with being drunk and disorderly on the High Street. She was described as having no fixed residence and, upon promising to return to the workhouse – from which she had just come out – she was dismissed. The age given here was seventy-one but she may have been in her sixties. Despite this being the last newspaper appearance I could find, Elizabeth’s story does not end in 1894.

At the time of the 1901 census she was at the workhouse, just as she had been in 1891, and 1881. For over thirty years, probably more, she had been a regular there. For nearly half a century she was a regular in court and she would have known the walls of Winchester Prison just as well as both of those places. She had experienced the most abject poverty and had been the victim of violence, turning to alcohol and spiralling into an impossible situation where those in power thought the only cure was a prison sentence. Her reputation followed her for her whole life as she drifted from police station to gaol to workhouse but despite her occasional violence and penchant for smashing windows one cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Elizabeth was by no means an isolated case. There were countless men and women like her in Victorian Southampton, ‘old offenders’ who became well known to the magistrates and to the public through the newspaper columns. She was just one of many who had to endure poverty and crime in those areas at that time.

Elizabeth Remnant died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the Southampton Parish Infirmary (now the General Hospital) on 11 June 1915. Her death certificate gives her age as eighty-six, but she may have been even older than that. Alcoholism can be a risk factor linked to a cerebral hemorrhage and it’s likely that this played a role in Elizabeth’s death but she did well to reach her eighties considering the life she led. There were other well known ‘old offenders’ whose lives were cut short as a consequence of a similar life. Colourful and volatile, yet also at the same time sadly predictable, Elizabeth Remnant’s life was just one of many tragic tales born out of Southampton’s nineteenth century slums.

Thank you for reading.

With thanks to Amy Humphries for checking the piece and providing some top tips.


6 thoughts on “Elizabeth Remnant – ‘A disgrace to her sex’

  1. A really interesting read. I’m sure a lot of research went into this and it’s a nice thought that Elizabeth is remembered. Such a hard existence, can’t even call it a life really. I will walk round the streets of Southampton next time and remember her and many others who lived in such poverty. Thanks again for taking time to write and remember these people.

    Liked by 1 person

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