William Kitson (c.1797-1879)

William Kitson was a cloth dresser who lived the in Berry Brow and was arrested several times for illicitly distilling whisky.


William Kitson was born in Halifax circa 1797, the son of cloth dresser Thomas Kitson and his wife Hannah, and was baptised on 4 July 1797 at the Wesleyan Chapel on South Parade, Halifax.

The details of his first marriage are uncertain, but it was most likely to Mary McWhire on 16 August 1818 at St. John the Baptist in Halifax.

His second marriage was to 49-year-old widow Julia Thompson (née Crow) of Lockwood, daughter of clothier Joshua Crow, on 25 September 1842 at All Hallows, Almondbury.[1]

Mary Kitson most likely died in 1837, aged 44, and was buried on 5 February 1837 at Woodhouse, Leeds.

In 1851, he was working as a cloth dresser and residing at Dog Hall, Lockwood, with his wife Julia and son Charles.

Julia Kitson died in 1858, aged 65, and was buried at Emmanuel Church, Lockwood, on 3 June.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 14 December 1859, Police Constable 444 saw William Kitson walking from Lockwood to Folly Hall with a basket under his arm. Suspicious, the constable stopped Kitson and searched him, finding in the basket "two bladders in which were nine pints of whisky." After taking him into custody, his house in Lockwood was searched by Superintendent Heaton who found "a complete still and apparatus fitted up for the distillation of spirit, together with two large tubs of wash in a state of fermentation, and also bottles containing upwards of two gallons of whisky." Kitson was fined £25 and, if that wasn't paid, three months hard labour at Wakefield House of Correction.[2]

The 1861 Census listed him working as a cloth dresser and living with a woman named Sarah on Parkgate, Berry Brow. Although listed as his wife, he did actually marry widow Sarah Coppock until 3 August 1863.[3]

In February 1862, acting on information given to him by Police Constable Wardle, Superintendent Heaton visited Kitson's house and "found a still and apparatus for the manufacture of spirits at work." Caught red-handed, he admitted that he had been making whisky for the last three months. He was fined £30 or three months' imprisonment.[4]

In August 1864, Thomas Shaw was charged with stealing six chickens and a hen, passing some of them on to William Kitson of Berry Brow.[5]

In June 1870, Kitson's house was under observation by the police and he was caught once more with bladders full of whisky concealed in a basket. His house was then searched, where distillation equipment was found. He was fined £30.[6]

At the time of the 1871 Census, he was out of work and living with Sarah on Waingate, Berry Brow.

Sarah Kitson died on 19 March 1873, aged 78.

In September 1873, then in his mid-70s, he was once again caught making illicit whisky. This time he was fined £60 or committed for six months' imprisonment — unable to pay, he went to goal.[7] A second charge was brought against him in November with a maximum fine of £2,000, however the bench settled on £100. The Chronicle noted that "the prisoner will be kept in gaol, either until the money is paid, or during her Majesty's pleasure."[8]

In September 1877, Chief Inspector White and Mr. G.J. Baldock were tipped off that 80-year-old Kitson was back to his old ways. After gaining entry to his house, they found 35 gallons of fermenting worts. It was suspected that the old man was selling illicit spirits to local families for the upcoming Honley Feast. Having pleaded guilty, magistrate J.F. Brigg sentenced him to £60 or six months in Wakefield Gaol.[9]

William Kitson died on 6 August 1879, aged 83, and was buried the following day at St. Paul, Armitage Bridge. His Law Will and Testament was executed by grocer Thomas Shaw of Berry Brow.[10]

Concealment of a Still Born Infant (1838)

If William's first wife was the Mary Kitson who died in 1837 in Woodhouse, then it seems certain that the defendants in a 1838 court case were William Kitson and his daughter, Hannah.[11]

Acting on information that a birth might have been concealed, Superintendent William James went to the residence of William Kitson at Asquith's Buildings in Woodhouse, Leeds. William Kitson's unmarried daughter Hannah was found in her bed and, under questioning, admitted to having suffered a miscarriage about a fortnight previously. She claimed to have not known that she was pregnant and did not know where the body was.

William Kitson — working at that time as a cloth dresser at Messrs. James Brown & Co. in Bagby, Leeds — admitted to having disposed of the body in an outside privy. The body was then recovered by night watchman George Hall and both William and his daughter were arrested.

In court, Leeds surgeon Robert Baker reported that the body was nearly 20 inches in length and was suffering from an ailment "which would have destroyed it afterwards if it had lived." An autopsy had shown that the infant had not breathed following the miscarriage.

In advance of the trial, rumours had begun to circulate that the child was the result of incest and that William Kitson was the father. However, Hannah was adamant that a man named Francis Wood who resided in St. James Street was the father. In court, Maria Dean claimed that Hannah had told her, "if she was in the family way, it was to her own father." Francis Wood denied that he "had any connection with the prisoner."

The jury retired for nearly an hour[12] before reaching their verdict that Hannah Kitson was guilty of concealing the birth, that the child was still-born, and that her father was guilty of aiding and abetting with the disposal of the body. Hannah was sentenced to 3 months and William to 6 months hard labour at the Wakefield House of Correction.

Notes and References

  1. Julia Crow was born 1793 and baptised on 9 June 1793 at All Hallows, Almondbury. She married William Thom(p)son on 10 April 1825.
  2. "Well Caught" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Dec/1859).
  3. Unlike his previous marriage certificate, William was now able to sign his name.
  4. "Illicit Manufacture of Spirits" in Huddersfield Chronicle (22/Feb/1862).
  5. "Stealing a Hen and Chickens" in Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Aug/1864).
  6. "An Aged Whisky Spinner" in Leeds Times (02/Jul/1870).
  7. "Illicit Manufacture of Whiskey: The Prisoner Fined £60" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (18/Sep/1873).
  8. "The Discovery of an Illicit Still at Berry Brow" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (13/Nov/1873).
  9. "Seizure of an Illicit Whisky Still at Berry Brow" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (24/Sep/1877).
  10. The probate recorded effects under the value of £50.
  11. See Leeds Intelligencer (08/Dec/1838), Leeds Times (08/Dec/1838), Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser (29/Dec/1838) and Leeds Intelligencer (29/Dec/1838).
  12. According to the Leeds Intelligencer, but the Leeds Times stated they made their decision in just 15 minutes.