1924: Theatre fight and vicious slander

Imagine turning up to see a show with a friend, you buy your tickets for the best seats in the house and sit down ready to be entertained for the evening.

But just as the performance gets underway four men appear to tell you to move – claiming you’re sitting in their seats!

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Well that’s what happened on December 29th 1924 at the Royal County Threatre in Shrewsbury.

What followed was a brief scuffle, and the most atrocious slanderous comment any self-respecting gentleman could utter.

Alfred Leonard Hawkins, a 33 year old solicitors clerk, was visiting the town from Oldbury.

It was a Monday night and he’d gone to the theatre with a friend for a performance of Paddy the Next Best Thing (a young woman’s coming-of-age tale, see below for description).

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He’d managed to get tickets for Box A.

But 15 minutes into the play four men approached them, one of them being the 63 year old proprietor of the establishment (and near by George Hotel) Mayor Robert Bates Maddison.

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He told Hawkins to move to Box 2 – but he refused and fight broke out. Bates Maddison then called Hawkins a “dirty low down dog”

Six months later the full facts about what had happened, and who said what, emerged when both parties appeared in court to give their side of the story.

The defendant, Mr Bates Maddison, took to the stand, and here’s what he said…

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Lancashire Evening Post – Saturday 28 June 1924

The frank admission continued as the prosecuting solicitor questioned him.Capture

The jury found in favour of the victim Alfred Leonard Hawkins and Shrewsbury’s Mayor was ordered to pay £25 damages.

But interestingly this wasn’t the first time Mr Hawkins had taken action against someone for slandering his ‘good name’.

Ten years earlier he’d taken similar action against a neighbour who accused him and taking his wife to Blackpool and called him a “thief and a rogue” as reported here in the Birmingham Post

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Birmingham Daily Post – Tuesday 20 October 1914

As for the theatre itself, in 1931 a cinema screen was installed with “All British Talking Picture Equipment”  but in 1945 it was hit by a bad fire, after which it was never reopened. It was gutted and turned into shops (Theatre Trust)

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Four years after the fire Mayor Bates Maddison died in Shrewsbury.

So what happened to Mr Hawkins?

If it’s the same one, it appears he went on to become a hotel tycoon. A further search of the archives reveals a Mr Hawkin’s, from the same neck of the woods as our solcitor’s clerk,  signed a big deal in 1939 (see below).

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Evening Despatch – Thursday 09 February 1939
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1939 Register – Managing Director of the Royal Hotel in Torquay

And in 1940 our ‘retired’ solicitor’s clerk was left a lot of money in a will.

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(Probate Search)

That’s around £35,000 in today’s money. But are they the same person?

I haven’t found a matching death record yet so ultimately can’t confirm what happened to Alfred Leonard Hawkins after 1924.

But what this story has done is inspired me to find more most incredible slanders from the past – but it’ll take some insult to beat being called a “dirty low down dog”.


Paddy-The-Next-Best-Thing

To give you an idea of what the story was about this person wrote a review on it on Amazon in 2012.

on 13 August 2012
My Northern Irish mother had raved about this novel, which was published before 1920 and is set mainly in the scenic area around Carlingford Lough in Ireland – a place I often visited when on holiday. The heroine – the Paddy of the title – is a very articulate and strong-willed tomboy who gets into all sorts of scrapes. The moral and social climate of the age dictate that she should agonise over whom to marry. The course of true love doesn’t run smoothly, but all is happily resolved in the end. I can see why my mother would have enjoyed this story, reading it at an age when we may be very susceptible to romantic ideas. Having searched for this book for some time, I was delighted to find it on Kindle. The transcription has a lot of flaws in it, but nevertheless I enjoyed reading the book as it revived a lot of fond memories for me.

END.

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