Wilson Towers – two curious deaths

Wilson Towers isn’t as rare a name as you might think. This one was a stone mason, born at Tallentire about 1843-45. In the space of four years, he was to be charged with manslaughter twice. Later, he would be charged with neglecting his children. And the death of his second wife is just plain strange.

Wilson Towers and demon drink

A lot of the stories connected to Wilson Towers involve large quantities of alcohol. In 1867, he and quarryman from Blindcrake called George Walker, were charged with being drunk and riotous at Tallentire on September 29. They’d gone to the schoolroom, where a ‘divine service’ was being performed, and had ‘caused great annoyance’ to the ladies while leaving the chapel. They pleaded guilty and were each fined five shillings, plus costs.

The first manslaughter charge

Wilson Towers married Mary Squires, of Pasture House, Caldbeck, in March 1869. Less than a year later, he was charged over the death of Henry Kendall, at Brigham. 

Again, it was down to drink. A quarrel and fight had broken out in the early hours between Towers, a man named John Rooney, and Henry Kendall, a river watcher in the service of Sir Anthony Dalzell. 

Both men attacked Kendall, who fell, struck his head on the pavement, and died. All three had been in the Three Tuns pub before then, with no trouble between them.

Kendall was 36 and left a widow and five children unprovided for. 

Towers was very drunk when arrested, his face battered and covered in blood. Kendall had been seen earlier, also very drunk. 

Roney was subsequently discharged, and Wilson Towers (‘imperfectly instructed’) was committed for trial. The witnesses had been too drunk to remember anything, and Towers was found not guilty, but bound over the keep the peace.

The 1871 census for Castle Sowerby lists Mary Towers, 27, born Wreay, as married, with a daughter Mary Ann, aged 1. In the margin, unusually, it says: ‘head of family absent’. It’s likely he was working away.

Henry’s widow, Mary Kendall, 38, was at Wythrop Mill with her five children, aged 11 down to baby Henry, aged one. She is listed as ‘outdoor pauper of the Cockermouth Union’.

The second manslaughter charge

In 1874, Wilson Towers was back in court, accused of (indirectly) killing a four/five-month old baby, John Hetherington, at Castle Sowerby.

Again, it involved a pub, but this was more about temper. A girl called Fanny Glaister was nursing the baby (for Mrs Hetherington) when Towers came in and accused her of ‘striking his girl’. 

He grabbed her hair and lifted her off the chair. She began screaming, and so did the baby, who became black in the face and was later seized with convulsions. He died six weeks later. Two medical men put the convulsions down to fright. 

But faced with such a strange case, the jury found him not guilty. One news report calls him ‘a respectable man’.

A drunken assault and a threat

By the time of the 1881 census, Wilson and Mary Towers had four children:

Mary Ann 11, Sarah Jane 8, Margaret 5, and Elizabeth 2. 

In October 1882, it seems likely he was the Wilson Towers who assaulted a pub landlady, Mrs Howe, in Hesket New Market, after she said he was drunk and refused to serve him. 

Joseph Howe threw him out. Towers was fined £5 and costs for assaulting Mrs Howe, and Joseph 20 shillings and costs for assaulting Wilson Towers.

He was back in court in December, for threatening violence against Joseph Howe. Towers was fined 10 shillings and costs, and then jailed for 14 days for non-payment.

The second marriage

The first Mary Towers died some time between 1891 and 1893 – possibly in 1893, of pneumonia. For sure, it was in 1895 that Wilson Towers married Mary Baty.

She already had a son William (Willie), born in 1889, and a son James (no birth found). It looks like Baty was her maiden name, rather than her being a widow, making the two boys illegitimate.

In 1901, the four of them, plus their joint son Wilson Towers, aged two, were living in Botchergate.

A daughter Ethel was born later that year.

Mary’s strange death

The child neglect case was to hear that the second Mary Towers died in January 1903, in circumstances that were strange, to say the least.

It seems Wilson Towers and his wife 

‘were coming from Carlisle when she fell in the mud and suffocated. He was unaware of it till the following morning.’

I can’t find a news account of her death at the time, but some of the later reports said he had been ‘too drunk to notice’.

The October 1904 report refers to ‘a boy in industrial school’. 

Industrial Schools:


‘…were intended to help those children under 14 years old who were found to be homeless or begging but who had not as yet committed any serious crime. The idea was to remove the child from bad influences, give them an education and teach them a trade.’

(Source: National Archives)

That has to have been James Baty: Willie would have been too old and had likely been found ‘live-in’ work somewhere.

Child neglect

In October 1904, Wilson Towers was back in court, this time accused of neglecting his two young children, Wilson, aged six, and Ethel Towers, aged three.

They were living at Warnell Cottage, Sebergham – a remote, two-roomed cottage with little furniture.

It seemed that since Mary died, he’d been working away from home in the week, leaving the children with a housekeeper – but leaving nothing for them.

When the NSPCC inspector, Percy Cooke, visited on October 5, he found the cottage in a filthy state and damp. There was little furniture – and no food. The two children were poorly nourished and hadn’t eaten that morning.

Mr Cooke found ‘a woman of local character’ in the house. 

The first housekeeper

Jane Gibson, widow, of Fusehill Workhouse, Carlisle, said she’d acted as housekeeper for two weeks – and gone back to the workhouse as things were so bad. 

There was no coal, no change of clothing, the beds were in a bad state. And Wilson Towers had left just three slices of bread, a little tea and sugar, and half a crown.

The second housekeeper

Isabella Dalton, single woman, of Wigton Workhouse, said she’d gone there as housekeeper in June and stayed 14 weeks. 

She was supposed to be paid 4s a week, but in that time Towers only gave her 4d. She had spent that on food for the boy. She got food from the neighbours, who were kind to them.

On September 24, he’d brought three loaves and some tea to the house. Is all. She’d had to gather sticks from the wood to make a fire. The children had no change of clothing and it was impossible to keep them clean.

On October 2, Towers came from Carlisle ‘with a woman of loose character’. All they brought with them was a penny cake. They had stayed till Wednesday morning. 

The  neighbour

Elizabeth Armstong, of Warnell, said she’d known Towers three years. He was a man of drunken habits. She’d often given the housekeeper money to feed the children, and had given him two guineas to pay off the arrears for a boy he had in an industrial school. Isabella Dalton had done her best for the children.

The police constable and the workhouse master

PC Reay, Sebergham, said Towers came to his attention in November 1902, when Towers’ wife complained of his conduct. There was a scarcity of food in the house then.

George Gibson, Wigton workhouse master, said the children were brought there on October 5, in a dirty state and badly nourished. Their clothes had to be fumigated twice.

Towers was jailed for three months with hard labour.

And after?

1911. Wigton Workhouse.

Wilson Towers 67.

Wilson Towers 14.

Ethel Towers, aged 11, was one of three boarders (the other two adult men) living with a family called Watson, in Wigton.

Isabella Dalton, 59 born Caldbeck, was also still in Wigton Workhouse. You can read more about her in this post.