"God have mercy on me"
In the summer of 1864 a young 22 year old servant was charged with the concealment of the birth of her baby at Belgrave in Leicester.
Lois Wykes was born in 1842 to Joseph, an agricultural labourer and Hannah Wykes of Shepherds Cottage, Bonds End, Glenfield in Leicestershire. Like most working class girls, Lois went into service and at 18 years old Lois had left the village of her birth and went to work for George Waterall a Chemist and Druggist on Talbot Street in Nottingham. Lois worked for the Waterall family for four years until she returned to Leicester and took a position as cook for Thomas Law an Iron Founder in Belgrave.
The house Lois worked at as cook was described as a very substantially-erected and commodious genteel family residence, with coach-house, stabling, convenient offices, an extensive garden, walled round, well stocked with choice fruit trees with extensive frontage to the Harborough and Loughborough Turnpike Road.
Lois had only been working for the Law’s for one month, when on the morning of Thursday 2 June 1864 Emma Taylor another servant in the employ of Thomas Law was going about her usual duties in the kitchen and noticed Lois was constantly going from the kitchen to the privy which was outside. The last time Lois came out of the privy, Emma noticed she had bundle wrapped up in her black petticoat which she took into the coal house where she preceded to lock herself in for about ten minutes. When Lois finally come out of the coal house she went straight back to the privy, put on an apron and went to fetch a bucket and mop. From the kitchen window, Emma could see there was a quantity of blood and vomit on the privy floor. After cleaning the toilet floor, Lois washed the bottom of her dress in the water pump and went back into the kitchen to dry her dress by the fire. As she held up her dress, Emma could see there were spots of blood on her under garments. Emma was concerned about Lois and went to find her mistress Hannah Law, the wife of her employer who after realising Lois was suffering from distress and possibly an illness sent her to bed.
The same afternoon Mr Sidely the family surgeon was visiting the Law’s little boy who was poorly and so he went up stairs to see Lois. After the visit Mr Law sent for Mr Henry Nuttal another surgeon and for Police Sargent Clarke to accompany him back to his residence to speak to Lois. Without hesitation Lois admitted to Dr Nuttal she had given birth to a child about four hours ago and that it was in the coal shed. Dr Nuttal and P.S Clarke went to investigate and there found the child. It was wrapped in a skirt and concealed behind a lump of coal. A piece of ligament was tied tightly around the child’s throat and presented symptoms of having been suffocated.
Lois was charged with endeavouring to conceal the birth of a male child and the preliminary inquest was held on the evening of Friday 3rd June 1864 before coroner J.Gregory Esq at the Champion Inn on the Loughborough Road in the Belgrave, Leicester.
As well as calling Emma Taylor as a witness, an Eliza Riddle possibly another servant of the Law’s or a friend of Lois’ was called. She stated that she knew Lois was pregnant and that Lois had made had made preparations for the baby - “She had one frock and she had seen it”. If this was the case Mr Metcalfe (who was representing Lois) proceeded to address the jury in her defence, suggesting that the body of the child was only put in the coal-house to hide from view of the mistress, Mrs Hannah Jane Law with the object of afterwards taking it away and seeing to its interment.
Dr Nuttal concluded from the post-mortem examination that the lungs were in a perfectly healthy state and that the child was born alive and it was possible that Lois might have put the tape round the child's neck to help with the delivery.
The jury, after a short deliberation returned a verdict of wilful murder and Lois was conveyed back to the County Jail to await trial at the Leicester Assizes.
On 11 July 1864, Judge Mr Baron Bramwell summed up the case and stated that as no evidence was offered in the charge of murder, the jury, by the learned judge's direction, found Lois not guilty on the charge of wilful murder but the jury found Lois guilty of concealment.
His Lordship said he could not help thinking in his own mind that the child was born alive and could not imagine a worse case than hers.
On hearing her sentence of two years hard labour, Lois screamed out “God have mercy on me” and sunk to the floor.
After Lois was released in 1866, she returned back to the village of her birth Glenfield in Leicestershire where one year later in the Autumn of 1867 she married William Smith an Agricultural Labourer.
The couple settled on Main Street in Glenfield, only two doors from The Griffin Inn (now The Forge) and only seven houses from her own parents.
Lois and William had seven children and by 1901 they were living on Chestnut Road in the village. Lois died in the April of 1901 aged 58 and is buried at St Peter’s Church in Glenfield.
Loughborough Road at the turn of 1900 (authors own postcard)
The once 'Champion Inn' on Loughborough Road (Image Google maps)
Leicester Castle Court 1821 - 1992
(Authors own postcard)
Lois and William Smith c 1900