Bee mine, honey: a cautionary tale from Shap

Love can be sweet. But wooing someone with bees can end up with one of you being stung, as a Shap saddler learned to his cost.

Before the courts

Cumbrian Characters’ URL is ‘‘ because originally, I was going to focuse on old court cases.

Here are two from September 1865 that caught my eye. One relates to fish, and the other to love and bees.

Proceeds of crime put to good use

Thomas Shepherd, weaver and William Shepherd, wheelwright, uncle and nephew, both of Kendal, were up before the bench for the illegal capture of fish (salmon) with a net. Police caught them with 12 salmon and two trout in a net. They were practised offenders. 

William hit one of the officers on the head with a stick, for which he was fined 20s and costs, or one month in the House of Correction. They were each to pay a fine of £5 and £2 ‘for each of the salmon morts illegally taken’, or to spend three months in the House of Correction as an alternative.

It was the opinion of the officers that the fish had been taken in Levens Park.

“The fish, some of which were fine ones, were ordered by the magistrates to be sold and the proceeds, we understand, go to the police superannuation fund.

Old Weller’s advice

PENRITH COUNTY COURT. Friday, September lst. (Before T. H. Ingham, Esq., Judge.) A NOVEL LOVE PRESENT. MARGARET COCKBURN versus JOHN ROPER. 

Margaret Cockburn was a widow, John Roper was a saddler, and both lived in Shap.

‘Four years ago the defendant, who is past the heyday of life, regardless of Old Weller’s advice to “beware of the widows,” became enamoured of Mrs. Cockburn, whose bosom, however, did not glow with mutual ardour. ‘

Whoever Old Weller was, poor Mr Roper disregarded the folk wisdom. 

In 1861, when he fell for her, Margaret Cockburn was 50. She had two daughters living with her in Shap (Margaret ,aged 12 and Agnes, aged 8), and three boarders providing an income. Husband John had died  in tragic circumstances two years before.

Margaret’s first husband

John Cockburn was a railway porter at Shap Station On May 30, 1859, he was crushed between two wagons while they were being shunted. He died from his injuries the following day.

John Roper was then 57, also widowed, and living in Shap with his son, also called John. 

Hello sugar

Some men say it with flowers. John Roper said it with bees.

Margaret Cockburn refused him and the bees, which she gave to an (unnamed in the court case) daughter.

‘From time to time defendant, instead of “sighing like a furnace,” sought to prove the strength of his affection in a more substantial way. Coals, coffee, and sugar were sent to the widow’s dwelling by the amorous saddler.’

Margaret Cockburn accepted the gifts, but not the lovelorn saddler. Though she did at some point give him six shillings – she told the court it was a loan, he said it was part-payment for the produce. I court, she also alleged he was a drinking man:

“He is always drunk. It is a wonder he is sober now.”

A sour ending

The bees did well and by 1865 had increased to four hives. By which point, John’s ardour had cooled. And when she refused to return the bees, he waited till late and took the hives (which he then hid in someone’s garden.

In the end, His Honour ordered John Roper to pay Margaret Cockburn the money she was claiming for the bees, or to dispose of the hives and give her the proceeds.

Asked if he’d taken the marriage lines to the vicar without Mrs Cockburn’s consent, John Roper told the court: “She would rather have the bees than me.”

Margaret Cockburn and John Roper remained neighbours for a good many years. She lived on until 1890, with John Roper dying in 1888, aged 85.

Doesn’t look like the drink did him too much harm – but then honey is very healthy.