Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

July 2011

This months News



Village History - Seduction, Betrayal & Intrigue

Carol Clark, (a former Oxhill resident), has unearthed the following story from the Times archive online, drawn from a report of Oxford Assizes for 23rd July, 1819. 

The theme of love betrayed is familiar enough, but we are soon reminded that the ways of the early nineteenth century were very different to our own.  Young people did not come of age until twenty-one, and until then were regarded in law as servants of their parents. Considerations of property were also important when considering marriage, particularly among the farming community. 

The action brought at the Assizes in 1819 was over the seduction of a young girl. She did not herself sue for breach of promise – although it was intimated that she might still do so.  It was her father who appeared as the plaintiff, claiming compensation from her lover for being deprived of his daughter’s services owing to the seduction.  The girl worked, we are later told, in her father’s dairy. 

The two young teenagers involved were Elizabeth Cooke from Hanwell, and Thomas Hitchman from Fulready.  They had been introduced to each other in 1815 by Elizabeth’s cousin, Clark Middleton, who lived with his parents at their farmhouse in Oxhill (now Fexloe House), and the courtship proceeded steadily for over three years.  There seems however to have been some reserve between the two families, seemingly owing to the fact that while the Hitchmans owned their own farm (albeit indebted), the Cookes were tenants only.  Thomas assured Elizabeth’s father nevertheless of his honourable intentions, and after Elizabeth became pregnant in 1818, he renewed his promise of marriage, even naming a day.  On returning home however, he appears to have succumbed to pressure from his widowed mother, and wrote to Elizabeth saying that while he still loved her, “my mother says that if I was possessed of any property...she would not be against our marriage, but to marry at this time would….at last be our ruin.”  

When the child was born Thomas visited Elizabeth, and held the baby girl, making no allegations of unfaithfulness on Elizabeth’s part.  While still not proposing marriage, he did offer to meet the child’s boarding costs while Elizabeth went into service. 

However by the time the case came to court in 1819 the tone had hardened.  Thomas’s counsel alleged that when in 1817 Elizabeth had spent the night with her cousins in Oxhill, one of them, William Middleton, had entered her bedroom and spent some time there. This was undoubtedly indiscreet, but Elizabeth maintained that nothing untoward took place.  William had sat on the bed “leaning with his arms”, and they discussed her uncle, (also William), who was then very sick.  (In fact he was dying – he was buried on 30th May, 1817).  The evidence against Elizabeth came from a servant Mary Taylor who said that when she took in the warming pan, “she found the parties in such a situation as to leave no doubt what had occurred”.  However Mary had an axe to grind, as she was shortly afterwards dismissed, having been caught in a hay-loft with a man at 6am.  When asked about this repeatedly in court, she claimed not to understand the questions, and her other answers were sometimes evasive. We can only guess now at the truth, but her story does seem a little contrived, and the whole accusation came very late in the day. 

The Judge, in summing up, said that Mr Cooke had demonstrably been deprived of his daughter’s services, and the jury should also consider the injury to his feelings, and the damage to family relationships that had been caused. They could diminish the damages if they believed Mary Taylor’s allegation, and they should also be careful not to completely ruin Thomas Hitchman.  In the event, Mr Cooke was awarded £150, which seems quite large, given that Hitchman’s total assets amounted to £600.

 I do not know the later outcome of this sorry tale, but it seems likely that the child would have been fostered, (presumably at the expense of Mr Cooke), and that the unfortunate Elizabeth would have gone into service. She was only 20 years old, but her marriage prospects would have been much compromised.  William Middleton married a young Oxhill widow, Hannah White, in 1826.  Thomas Hitchman would not inherit his half of his father’s estate until he reached 24, and he and his brother would have to pay its debts, and maintain their widowed mother.  Life then was full of hard practicalities, but maybe in time he found a match that fulfilled his requirements for both affection and finance! 

Ann Hale

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Last modified: July 09, 2011