Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Jul/1851) - Assault Upon the Postmaster

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.



The Guildhall, on Tuesday last, about noon, presented a scene of excitement which strangely contrasted with its customary quietude, and the routine order of its general proceedings. In the course of the morning Mr. William Moore, postmaster, was observed in communication with the bench, and in the course of half an hour afterwards, about noon, and during the proceeding of the general business, Mr. Joseph Gaunt, the landlord of the Queen Hotel, Market Street, was brought into court in the custody of the police, by virtue of a warrant, charging him, "that he, on the 8th inst., between the hours of eleven and twelve in the forenoon, did unlawfully assault and beat William Moore." Mr. Gaunt was accompanied by his solicitor, Mr. William Sykes, of Milnesbridge, his son and daughter, and a number of friends. Mr. Sykes, on behalf of the defendant, immediately made application for an adjournment on the ground that there had not been time to prepare the defence, and an adjournment was understood to be granted for a week. In the meantime Mr. Moore entered the court, in a very excited state, — his face scratched and disfigured, his shirt front torn, his breast exposed, and carrying in his hands a two-pronged hay-fork. He pressed forward to the front of the bench, and standing before Mr. Gaunt, placed the fork on one end upon the table, with the prongs uppermost, at the same time drawing the attention of the magistrates to it as the implement with which he had been attacked. The defendant immediately seized it, and with great violence endeavoured to wrest it from Mr. Moore's grasp, to the imminent danger of those behind. Not succeeding, in the excitement of the moment, he raised his hand to strike, when, by the directions of the bench, the police interfered, and removed him.

The confusion in the court during this brief interval baffles description. In the eagerness of the crowd present at the time to see the struggle there was a general rush in the direction of the bench, and the court presented at this juncture a scene of excitement and confusion of a most unusual character.

The defendant having been removed by the officers of the court, something like order was again obtained, and Mr. Sykes renewed the application, which had been so extraordinarily interrupted, and wished to know what amount of bail would be required. The bench peremptorily refused to grant bail, and ordered the defendant to be kept in custody during the adjournment, and the Clerk suggested that the depositions should be taken, in order that the case might go to a higher tribunal. Under these circumstances Mr. Sykes claimed to have the case heard at once, and after an excited and desultory discussion, the application was granted.

The depositions having been taken, the case was heard, in the course of an hour or two afterwards, before Joseph Armitage and B.N.R. Batty, Esqs., the defendant being charged with a violent assault upon William Moore, with intent to do the said William Moore some grievous bodily injury. Joseph Brook, Esq., was present on the bench, but took no part in the proceedings.

Mr. William Moore said, this day about half-past eleven o'clock, I was giving instructions to a mason to make certain alterations at the King's Head Inn, when I was suddenly accosted by Joseph Gaunt, who was about 15 yards distant, calling out "Moore, have you permitted these people to retail in yon place, — by G—d I'll kill you." He hastily came up to me, uttering threats, with a hay-fork in his hand. All that I said was, "Mr. Gaunt, I have nothing to say to you." He then became extremely violent, and flourished the hayfork in an alarming manner Luckily the mason seized hold of the fork, and with the assistance of one or two others wrenched it from him. He then fell upon me violently with his fists, swearing at the time he would kill me, and stating I should not be able to do so and so again. I kept him at bay as well as I could, nevertheless he tore my mouth and otherwise marred me on the face, tore my shirt, and in fact behaved in a most violent, outrageous, and insane manner, uttering the most violent threats the whole time. Several persons then came around us, amongst whom were his son and his daughter, and he then pulled off his coat in an attitude of defiance to me, declaring he would kill me, and that I should never be in a state to use anybody as I had used him. During the scuffle I said I would send for Mr. Brook. He replied, "Send for him," using some kind of a threat which I cannot remember. I sent for the police, but, before they arrived his friends had taken him away. I immediately went to the Magistrates' Office for a warrant. When Mr. Gaunt was brought into the court I was there with a fork in my hand : he made a violent snatch at the fork with intent to take it from me, and he would have done so but for the policeman. From the threats that Mr. Gaunt has used towards me I dare not go after my ordinary business : I consider my life in danger. I have an occupation which leads me into contact with him, as the workmen are working in a room over his stable and in his stable.

Cross-examined by Mr. Sykes :— I was engaged by Mr. Brook as agent for the works in Market Street. The Queen Hotel, however, formed a separate work. I at one time advertised the Queen to be let for Mr. Brook. I had several applicants, and Mr. Gaunt was one of them. I made an agreement as to the letting of the Queen to Mr. Gaunt. At the time I let him these premises there was a tap-room attached to them. There was not an understanding that there should be no taproom at the King's Head, but it was understood that the King's Head should be given up. The cellar under the King's Head is not opened as a beer house : they do not sell beer. They sell porter: that comes under the beer license. There has been a fresh license obtained for that property, or rather a continuance of the old license. It was not distinctly understood that there was to be nothing of that kind at the King's Head when Mr. Gaunt took the Queen. It was not understood that it should not be let for the sale of beer : it was understood that the King's Head should be given up as a public house. At the time Mr. Gaunt took these premises he also took a number of stables. There has been some dispute about those stables. There has been some dispute whether they are in Mr. Gaunt's take or not. At half-past eleven o'clock this morning I was in the yard at the King's Head. I was standing about in the centre of the arch that leads towards the stables, which is about four or five yards from one part of the stables in dispute. I was not near Mr. Gaunt's premises at the time. The first time I saw Mr. Gaunt he was near the further steps, in a line with the mouth of the passage. There are some steps leading up into a warehouse that is part occupied and part unoccupied, but they do not lead to Mr. Gaunt's stables. Mr. Gaunt has stables in two parts, — stables that do not in right belong to him, and stables that do. The steps are against the wall of the stables that belong to him. I was about 14 or 15 yards from this spot. I did not see Mr. Gaunt come out of the stable, but I heard his voice. When I first saw him he was at the end next to the stable. He went into the stable, and came out with a fork. He bad not a fork in his hand at first. He flourished the fork, but did not strike me. The only damage I received was what is observable on my face and my shirt front. He did not strike me with the fork.

By the Bench :— He told me he would kill me with the fork.

John Dyson said: I am a mason, I was working in the King's Head yard, which attaches to the yard of the Queen's Hotel, of which Mr. Gaunt is the landlord. Both places belong to Mr. Brook. About twelve o'clock this morning I saw Mr. Gaunt come towards Mr. Moore. Mr. Gaunt had a fork in his hand. He said, "Moore, have you given these persons license to sell retail." He said he would stab him for it. He pointed the fork at him, and made a lunge towards him. I ran and catched hold of the fork from behind Mr. Gaunt, and took it from him, and gave it to one of the labourers to take away. Mr. Gaunt had then aimed to have gone up to Mr. Moore with his fists, but I held him bock. I did not see Mr. Moore use any provocation to Mr. Gaunt.

Joseph North said, I am a joiner, and am working at the King's Head. Some one said there is a fight, and I immediately ran out. I saw Mr. Moore and Mr. Gaunt scuffling together. I parted them and stood betwixt them. Mr. Gaunt said, "Stand back, joiner: I will learn that devil to behave better. He's robbed me of £200." I said to Mr. Gaunt, "Now, Mr. Gaunt, I will not let you touch Mr. Moore." Mr. Gaunt then pulled off his coat, and said, "Where is that fork?" and then went into the stable, apparently to find it. He came out of the stable again, and wanted to push me on one side, that he might get at Mr. Moore. I said, "Mr. Gaunt, it's foolishness." From the violent threats Mr. Gaunt made use of I consider Mr. Moore was in great danger. I heard Mr. Moore say, "Go for Mr. Brook." Mr. Gaunt replied, "I'd do the same to Mr. Brook."

Joseph Brier, inspector of the borough police said, this afternoon, about half-past one o'clock, I was in the Guildhall. I saw Mr. Gaunt brought into the court in custody. Almost immediately afterwards Mr. Moore came, having a short fork in hi6 hand. As soon as Mr. Gaunt saw it, he seized it in a violent manner, and wrenched it from Mr. Moore. He brought the prongs of the fork over his left shoulder, as if he was going to strike Mr. Moore. This was in view of the four magistrates on the bench. [Joseph Armitage, B.N.R. Batty, Joseph Starkey, and George Armitage, Esqs.] He asked Mr. Moore what business he had to bring that fork there. From the manner in which the fork was wrenched, parties standing behind Mr. Gaunt were in very great danger. It is almost a miracle it did not go into some of them. I seized the fork which I now produce. Other parties assisted me in laying hold of Mr. Gaunt. I took him out of court by order of the magistrates.

This closed the case for the prosecution.

Mr. William Sykes, on rising to address the bench, said, — May it please your worships, in the first place I shall specify the particular charge we are brought here to meet. I find from the warrant that my client is charged "that he did unlawfully assault and beat the said complainant." I believe your worships' clerk, in opening, stated that my client was charged with an assault with intent I apprehend, however, your worships, that the warrant itself will at once upset anything of that kind. We are merely brought here for having unlawfully assaulted and beat the complainant, and not, as some of your worships seem to have an idea, as stated by your clerk, to be examined on a charge which must be referred for decision to a higher tribunal. I shall now, therefore, proceed to the facts of the case. Your worships will have observed, from my line of cross-examination, that there has been some dispute between Mr. Brook and Mr. Gaunt, and, with all respect to Mr. Brook, a gentleman whom I highly esteem, it will be my duty in the present case to comment upon the agreement under which Mr. Gaunt entered the Queen Hotel. Mr. Gaunt, I am informed, was highly respected during his residence at Armley, near Leeds, and I can speak individually as to his character since he came to this town, as a quiet, peaceable man. Now, gentlemen, Mr. Gaunt comes into this town, and becomes the tenant of extensive premises, wholly unintroduced, and has a connection to obtain. Attached to these premises is a tap, upon which he has to depend for a great part of his custom. At the time he took these premises it was understood that the King's Head was to be given up, and that there was to be no beerhouse or porter cellars, or anything of the kind, retained. Mr. Gaunt has succeeded in obtaining a good and respectable connection, but he now finds that some one, I believe Mr. Moore, has opened a beerhouse under the King's Head. In addition to this, there has also been a dispute about some stables. I submit these circumstances to your worships in palliation, for I am instructed to admit the assault, and I think your worships will concur with me that they were calculated to excite dissatisfaction in the mind of Mr. Gaunt. There may be means used in the irritation of the moment which the individual using them would afterwards regret, and I am authorised by Mr. Gaunt to make every apology for what has occurred. Now, as to the evidence Mr. Gaunt informs me that at the time Mr. Moore came into the yard he was in one of the stables, attending to his duty, and came out with the fork in his hand, and he denies altogether that he went into the stable specially for the fork, as Mr. Moore has sworn. He heard Mr. Moore, and he came out, irritated with the fact that the beerhouse had just been opened; and without premeditation, or intention to injure Mr. Moore, he did flourish the fork in his face. One of the witnesses says he laid hold of the fork, after which Mr. Gaunt went up to Mr. Moore with his fists, but was prevented from striking him. Mr. Moore says, he struck him, and appears here with his face scratched and his shirt torn. Undoubtedly, gentlemen, there has been a dispute, but Mr. Gaunt, whilst acting upon the impulse of the moment, had no intention of injuring Mr. Moore, nor did he, according to the statement of one of the complainant's witnesses. Mr. Moore seized him, and thereupon a struggle took place, but it never assumed a more serious character than a common assault, and why depositions should have been taken in writing I do not understand. I now come to the scene which occurred in this court, and justice to myself demands that I should remark upon it. I was called from my dinner at a moment's notice, and appeared here in company with my client to make the usual application for the adjournment. In the meantime, Mr. Moore enters the court, places himself directly in front of Mr. Gaunt, and holds up to the court a hay-fork, to convey the impression that he had been attacked by this instrument. I ask your worships whether this was likely to allay the irritation so recently excited ! My client, however, very improperly seized this fork with some violence, a struggle ensued, and amidst great confusion Mr. Gaunt was removed by the officers of the court. Immediately, I was asked by Mr. Laycock if I was going to defend a man like that ? Gentlemen, you must be aware that my duty was to see that my client obtained justice at your hands, and it was also my duty to adopt such a course for that purpose as appeared to me best. And when, after this occurrence, you refused to grant me an adjournment on bail, I felt myself bound, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which I laboured, to claim an immediate hearing. In conclusion, I am desired by Mr. Gaunt to beg your pardon for what has occurred, and I think, your worships, when you look at all the circumstances of the case, and consider the respectability of Mr. Gaunt, you will concur with me that the depositions have been uselessly taken, and that you will not, for one moment, think of severing the defendant from his family, and incarcerating him in prison, to await a trial at another tribunal, for a paltry assault like this. Fine Mr. Gaunt, if you think proper; and if Mr. Moore, — the valiant Mr. Moore (laughter) is so afraid of his life that he dare not go about the streets, bind Mr. Gaunt over in sureties of peace. The case, your worships, is in your hands.

The Chairman :— We are satisfied Mr. Gaunt that you have committed a violent assault upon Mr. Moore, and for the offence we shall fine you in the penalty of £5. Further, Mr. Moore swears he goes in danger of his life, and we shall, therefore, call upon you to give sureties of peace, yourself in £50, and two others in £25 each.

The fine was immediately paid, and responsible sureties having been sworn, the parties left the court with their respective friends.