A domestic squabble about the existence of God

Thomas Clayton (a 40 year-old engraver) appeared at Southwark police Court in June 1891 charged with assaulting his wife. He had returned home shortly after midnight and, seemingly without any provocation, picked up a china mug from the ‘supper table’ and hurled it at her.  The crockery hit her on the temple and caused her head to bleed ‘profusely’. Clayton then issued a number of ‘horrible threats’ before several neighbours  intervened between the couple, if they hadn’t   Mrs Clayton feared for her life.

In his defence Clayton firstly accused his wife of inappropriate behaviour with one of the other tenants in the building. She had, he suggested, been ‘upstairs in the lodger’s room all evening’. His wife admitted playing cards with the lodger but added that her daughter, 15 year-old Rosy, had been there all the time so there was no impropriety to answer for.

Thomas now switched tack and argued that his wife constantly denied the existence of God. He had been left money by his God-fearing father to bring his children up in ‘Christian-like manner’ and it pained him that his wife purported to be an atheist. His wife rejected this saying ‘you are making this up’.

Their relationship now deteriorated further as Thomas moaned that he couldn’t get a moment’s peace from her nagging: ‘I give her 30s each week’ he said, ‘but when I come home it’s all the same, she starts on me, and  jaws, jaws all the night.  A clearly exasperated Mrs Clayton retorted: ‘I have not had a minute’s peace the whole of the 22 years I have been married, and I have four little children, and have had to work for them very hard – yes, work hard, when you were in prison you wretch!’

Thomas now tried to get his daughter to back him, asking her to confirm that he had apologized for striking his wife with the mug. Yes, she said, ‘you are always sorry you, after it is done’.

Angered, Thomas now accused her of being an atheist as well and blamed his wife for this. Whatever his tactic was – to paint his wife as not respectable for playing cards with the lodger, or as somehow irreligious and a bad mother – it didn’t work. The magistracy had little time for violent and drunken working-class husbands (and Thomas had rolled in after midnight so it is perhaps safe to assume he had been drinking) and the engraver was bound over to keep the peace to his wife and told to find a £10 surety or he would go to prison for six months.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, June 7, 1891]

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