Those who served…Part Three

Those who served…Part Three

Maria Beckett

Maria claimed in court to be a 56-year old widow, which means she was born somewhere around 1860. According to Police Sergeant Kelly she was “a woman of intemperate habits”, and it was her “regular practise to carry drink for the soldiers from the hospital to her house.”  We know she “caused the medical officers at the hospital a great deal of trouble, and they had frequently complained to the police.”  An un-named Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (possibly Captain Thomas) told the court that Maria was “a source of constant trouble to the men at the hospital, both orderlies and patients…”

Superintendent Charles E. Hodgson, the man in charge of the Ormskirk Division of Lancashire police, which included the Maghull area, said that she was “a woman of some means” and that she “waylaid these unfortunate men and asked them to have a drink.”

(Incidentally, Superintendent Hodgson, born 1855 in Buckinghamshire, had been one of the main organisers of a day trip for 60 hospital patients that was reported in the Ormskirk Advertiser on September 2nd, 1915.)

Maria’s trial on 7th July 1916 was not her first alcohol-related appearance at Ormskirk Magistrates.  She had also been arrested on 14th October 1915 and subsequently fined 9 shillings for being “drunk in Liverpool Road.”

In the 1911 census there was a Maria Beckett living with her husband John on Prescot Road in Melling, the neighbouring parish approximately 25-30 minutes’ walk from Foxhouse Lane where the widow Maria Beckett was living in 1916 at the time of her imprisonment.

This couple are both Irish, childless, and have an age difference of over twenty years between them.  She is recorded as 51, he as 73.  Although both ages have been altered on the census, suggesting some degree of uncertainty, Maria is the right age, living near Moss Side hospital, and it seems highly possible that her much older husband could have died between 1911 and 1916, although we have so far been unable to find any evidence of this.

It’s also tempting to surmise that the lonely, childless widow could have turned to alcohol after the death of her husband, who she had lived with for over thirty years.  The census also tells us that John was an army pensioner.  Might this help explain why she reached out to the shell-shocked soldiers she saw in the country lanes of Maghull?  Was she offering herself as a drinking companion – or was she perhaps offering more than that?  If she was prostituting herself why did she allow John Darling to stay in her home for eight days?

Even more intriguingly, there is a John and Maria Beckitt [sic] living together in the military barracks in Gosport back at the time of the 1871 census.

379 Private John Beckitt was with the 88th (Connaught Rangers) Regiment of Foot, who had just returned from a 13-year India posting.  As the John and Maria living on Prescot Road in 1911 were both born in Castlebar Count Mayo, which is in the province of Connaught, it is very possible that army pensioner John’s old regiment was the Connaught Rangers.

He is recorded as 33, the right age to correspond with the 1911 census.  There is still a significant age gap between him and Maria, but it’s just under (rather than just over) twenty years.  In 1871 she is 14, where we would expect her to be 11 or 12 if she was the person living in Melling in 1911.

However, John is recorded as a widower and Maria as his daughter!

So, was the young Maria living with John Beckitt as his daughter in 1871 and then living with him as his wife after 1881, when they claimed to have been married?  Did they deliberately lie about her age (and their relationship) in 1871? Or is this a different couple?

If she spent some of her childhood in a barracks, if her father and/or her husband had been a military man (or men), it might help explain why she went out of her way to connect with the mentally distressed veterans from Moss Side Hospital.

In the 1891 census a Maria Beckett, 32, lived at Derby Square, Liverpool with her older husband John, 52.  The ages and the age difference are approximately correct, the couple have no children and they were both born in Ireland.  John Beckett is now working as a bank messenger.   He would have been responsible for transporting bank papers (not usually money) to other addresses.

Ten years later the 1901 census records them as both still living at 5, Derby Square.  John is 62 and still working as a bank messenger, but Maria’s age is now recorded as 41.

The 1901 census was taken five days earlier than the 1891 census.  The disparity in Maria’s age could mean that she was born between 1st and 4th April 1859; or it could be further proof that she wasn’t always reliable when recording her age.

John and Maria remain childless in 1901, but they are now have a servant living with them, 19-year old Martha Harrigan, so at this point Maria’s life seems quite stable.

Perhaps it was only after the couple’s move to the countryside north of Liverpool, and especially after John’s death, that Maria’s potential problem with alcohol began.

She most likely served her sentence in either Preston or Liverpool prison.  There is no record of her being admitted to the former, and unfortunately the latter’s records have been lost, so we can’t confirm this is where she was sent, nor do we know what happened to her after her release.

There are three possible deaths for her after 1916.  One in 1920 in Manchester (born c. 1860), one in 1939 in Liverpool North (born c. 1861) and one in 1949 in Hyde (born c. 1860).


Written by John Fay

Edited by Amy Walling, Manchester Metropolitan University

Posted on 14 September 2018 under Moss Side Military Hospital

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