The Penrith brothel that wasn’t

The Penrith brothel that wasn’t, or… who ate all the pies (and shortcake)?

‘Penrith brothel’ is not something I want in my search history, so I don’t know how things are today. And I trust anyone reading this won’t be disappointed to find this post relates to a story that was in the news in 1888!

Keeping a disorderly house in Penrith.

In April 1888, widow Isabella English was charged knowingly permitting her house in Burrowgate, Penrith, to be used as a brothel.

She denied the charge.

Police Sergeant McGuffie told the court he and ‘PC Ashbourne’ had heard singing coming from the house just after midnight: a bawdy song. The language being used was ‘both profane and obscene’.

On entering, they found Isabella English, women called Robertshaw, Wilson, Ann Hill, and one they didn’t know. And eight men.

All were under the influence of drink, and of immoral character.

The bench decided the eight young men should not be named in court.

Sergeant McGuffie said the hair of the women was hanging down over their shoulders, and their dresses were disordered.

The back door of the property led to a yard shared with the Red Lion. He had not seen any drink in the house,

Isabella English had lived at Little Dockray at Christmas, when police had found a number of men fighting in her house.

‘PC Ashbourne’ said the blinds hadn’t been shut and he’d seen one of the men ‘coddling, kissing and pulling one of the women about’.

Isabella English said she kept a pie shop and the men and women were all in there to buy pies.

She’d never seen two of the women before. The other two had come to buy pies to take home, but she’d sold out.

A young man had offered to treat them to a shortcake, and they’d gone into the kitchen.

William Johnstone (who affirmed, as he objected to taking the oath) said he’d gone there for a pie and had seen nothing immoral.

One young man had sung a song called ‘Far Away,’ which was not obscene.

Isabella English’s servant, Sarah Nicholson, aged 15, said the defendant sold pies, buns, shortcake and other things. She’d never seen any improper behaviour.

The bench found the ‘Penrith brothel’ wasn’t, and acquitted Isabella English of the charge. They did say there had been ‘disorderly conduct as a most improper hour’.

Isabella English

The fight referred to in the court case took place on Christmas Day 1887, at five to one in the morning. John Nanson, labourer, John Wilson, printer, Thomas Nicholson, fireman, and fitters Joseph Simpson and Robert Crossland, all of Penrith, were all bound over to keep the peace for six months for committing a breach of the peace. Namely fighting each other in Isabella English’s ‘house’ (likely pub, though I don’t know which).

There’s an Isabella English, grocer, on the 1881 census, living in King Street, Penrith. It looks like husband William English, a clogger, died in 1886.

Isabella, born Melmerby, was 28 and a grocer.

In 1889, an Isabella English married a Richard Mattinson.

On the 1891 census. Isabella Mattinson is ’35’ (three years older than her husband, so she may have knocked three years off her actual age). Born Melmerby. They were living in Keswick, where Richard Mattinson was a (wood bobbin) turner. 

Isabella’s occupation was ‘cook’: so she was perhaps still making pies.

The police

Sergeant James McGuffie was, unsurprising, born in Scotland, around 1841.

Police Constable George Ashburn (as it appears on the 1891 census, rather than ‘Ashbourne’), was born at Loweswater, circa 1852. He doesn’t look to have ever risen beyond the rank of constable.

The Penrith brothel that wasn’t was just one of many cases they investigated, and they may well pop up again in future posts.

The fourth woman

The woman Sergeant McGuffie didn’t know was a Mrs Boak. Who said she and Ann Hill had simply gone to the shop for pies.

Assuming this was Jane Boak, she will feature in a future post. She led an eventful life, to say the least – but nothing to do with immoral earnings!

In 1888, she’d have been 50. And if she fancied a pie at midnight – well, who are we to judge her for that?

Given that the Penrith brothel was actually just serving baked goods, I’ve illustrated it with a photo of shortcake!


One thought on “The Penrith brothel that wasn’t

  1. Eeee, the things some folk will do just for a bit of cake or a bite of pie!

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