Wednesday, 30 October 2013

"The violent Vincent"

Everyone has black sheep in their family tree. I quite like finding out about mine. One of the most entertaining of my black sheep is Vincent Hickman, my 3x-great-grandfather. It's a sad tale in its way.

Vincent was born in Somerby, Leicestershire, in about 1810. Somerby then had fewer than 400 inhabitants. According to Wikipedia the "surrounding countryside is very attractive and is often referred to as 'High Leicestershire'. Much of the Parish is several hundred feet above sea level and there are often superb views to be found." 

As an adult Vincent settled in Wymondham, Leicestershire, about eight miles from Somerby. It was in Wymondham that he married Jane Morrison; since they married in August 1834 and their first child was born in November 1834, it was probably a marriage of necessity.  Wymondham is also very pretty, but sadly, Vincent was unable to appreciate this beauty, as for much of his life he was blind. This was the result of an altercation which Vincent started and which he must have sorely resented himself for. The Leicester Chronicle of 28 November 1835 tells the story:
A man residing at Wymondham, named Vincent Hickman, was at Melton market on Tuesday last, and for a considerable time amused himself with annoying a man who was selling hardware in a cart, rapping the man on the shins, pulling and tossing his goods about, and striving by every means to interrupt him in his business. Irritated at length by this treatment, the man gave him a blow on the face, having in his hand at the instant some articles for sale, when unfortunately a sharp point entered one of Hickman's eyes, and instantly deprived it of sight. Considerable apprehension is entertained that the other eye will be lost; and the sufferer now lies at Melton, a sad example of the folly and danger of carrying a joke too far.
I don't think Vincent did lose the sight in his other eye immediately. He continued to work; in 1841 he's working as an agricultural labourer and in 1851 a grocer and general dealer, and there is no indication of a disability (although in 1851 there's a place in the census to record it). He and Jane had nine children, at least seven of whom lived to adulthood. However, in the 1840s, Vincent begins to get in trouble with the law; the tensions this must have caused in his marriage would be exacerbated by the fact that by the mid-1850s he is described as being blind. Again, the papers of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire record his charges. On 15 September, 1846; drunk and disorderly, paid 12s costs. In 1854 he was charged with 'Simple Larceny' but the charges dismissed "no bill" - meaning there was not enough evidence.

On 20 February 1855, Vincent was charged with assault following a night out drinking, described in the Lincolnshire Chronicle:
James Morrison, of Wymondham. labourer, was fined 2L, and costs 1L 1s. 6d., or six weeks' imprisonment, for assaulting Mr. Gascoigne Hurd, of that place, publican.— Vincent Hickman, also of Wymondham, labourer, and a "regular rough," was fined 5L., including costs, or two months' imprisonment, for assaulting Mr. William Brown, of that place, thus: —Both these last named defendants were drinking at the inn, and behaved so badly that the complainants assisted to turn them out; after which Hickman, who is nearly blind, begged to shake hands with and be forgiven by Mr. Brown, whose hand was no sooner within his own than he struck and tried to strangle him. When his punishment was pronounced by the magistrates, Hickman became so grossly abusive towards them, and so foully swore and roughly assaulted the police in the room, that he was properly punished with another fine of 20L, or two months' more imprisonment.
The Leicester Chronicle describes Vincent as "the violent Vincent". He appears to have made quite an impression.

Vincent presumably served his four months, but that didn't persuade him to stay out of trouble, and he continued to appear before the magistrates:

  • January 1857 he is described as "a blind man" and charged with poaching using a dog to find game
  • July 1857, more drunk and disorderly
  • June 1858, drunk again, and committed for two months in default of sureties
  • April 1860, drunkenness
  • October 1861, drunkenness
  • January 1864, drunkenness; this time, with his previous offences, Vincent was sentenced to three months' hard labour
  • June 1866; Vincent assaulted a bailiff while in the execution of his duty and was fined two pounds, or two months' hard labour
  • In January 1867 Vincent was a victim of crime for once; he accused Thomas Hickman, carrier of Wymondham, with assaulting him. This could have been Vincent's son Thomas, or his brother Thomas. I'm still trying to find out.
  • In April 1867 Vincent was drunk again.
In the 1861 census Vincent is a grocer, and marked as 'blind' in the infirmity column. He's living with his wife and seven of his children; most of them are ag labs, but 19-year-old George is a shoemaker. George was my great-great-grandfather. 

Vincent Hickman's headstone in Wymondham, Leicestershire.
Vincent Hickman died in the Union workhouse at Melton Mowbray on 14 July 1869, a year after his wife's death. I can't help but wonder how much of his drinking, violence and anger were related to a self-hatred born on that market day in 1835 when he teased a man into lashing out at him. Even partial blindness must have been a bitter thing to bear for a young man with a family to support, and all the more so since it was his own fault. 

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