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History With Flynn

I have covered some strange historical news stories over the years but I have to admit to be taken aback at this truly bizarre court case from the Eccles and Patricroft Journal of January 1916.

Mrs Hulse who lived at Bell Terrace in Barton appeared at Eccles Magistrates Court with her head swathed in bandages.

She gave evidence against her husband George Henry Hulse in the hope of getting a separation order – an early form of divorce.

Legal separation in 1916 was difficult for women – not only because of the immense cost of legal representation.

The 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act allowed ordinary people to divorce, but women not only had to prove their husbands had been unfaithful but also had to prove additional faults, which included cruelty and rape.

It was not until 1937 that the law was changed to allow divorce on other grounds, including drunkenness, insanity and desertion.

Had poor Mrs Hulse been born 20 years later, the law would have caught up with what she needed to get away from her husband.

Eccles Magistrates Court heard that George Hulse had hospitalised his wife in a severe assault after a row over money and beer.

She said that her husband – who had an artificial leg – had left her penniless, hungry and without any housekeeping money for over a week.

George had apparently gone out drinking and had not returned until 24 hours later, much the worse for wear.

When Mrs Hulse sat with her husband to explain the lack of cash, he promptly stood up and punched her in the face, sending her sprawling to the ground.

As if that wasn’t enough, he started attacking the prone woman with his wooden leg while she was on the floor, until both she and the kitchen floor were covered in blood.

Such was the ferocity of the assault Mrs Hulse had to be taken to Eccles and Patricroft Hospital for stitches to her head wounds.

It transpired in court that this was not the first time he had beaten his wife so badly she needed hospital treatment: she had already been in the infirmary for over a week during Christmas 1915 after another assault.

The unhappy couple had only been married since March the year before and each had five children from those marriages. Eight boys and girls were living with them at the time.

Edith Bradley, a neighbour from Bell Terrace, told the court that she had seen Mr Hulse come home and lock the front door and then proceed to thrash his wife. She could hear the screams from next door but was unable to gain entry into the house so called the local police for help.

Mr Hulse took the witness box and said that it was all his wife’s fault as she was “seeing another man causing him to lose his temper with her”.

The Magistrate told Mr Hulse that his actions had been cowardly enough without making charges of that nature.

He then proceeded to say that in ordinary circumstances the offender would have been sent straight to prison, but that he had to take the couple’s multiple children into consideration.

Mr Hulse was then told he would be fined £1 or face a month in prison – a remarkably light sentence in my opinion.

A seperation order was also granted to Mrs Hulse with an allowance of 15 shillings a week to be paid by Mr Hulse.

I think we have to ask ourselves what on earth was Mrs Hulse doing in the first place marrying this dreadful man?

Bell Terrace, I believe, was a small, close-quarter terraced street behind the Rock Hotel in Barton, hardly an ideal place to bring up eight children in what sounds like appalling conditions, not to mention while dodging a drunken, bullying husband.

Hopefully Mrs Hulse went on to live a normal, happy life bringing up her children without any violent interruptions from Mr Hulse.

Tony Flynn


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