Monday, 20 November 2017

Angelina Fildes nee Armitage (1868-1949): Tried at the Old Bailey

Angelina Armitage was born in 1868 in Saltash (near Plymouth), Cornwall. She was the second of seven children born to Edward Armitage and his wife Mary nee Willcocks. Edward (1839-1880) was an elder brother of my great grandfather Robert Melton Armitage (1846-1910). A profile of Edward’s life is on this blog. Angelina was a cousin of my grandmother Emma Ivall nee Armitage (1883-1970).

Angelina’s family moved to London in late 1870 / early 1871. The 1871 census shows Edward, aged 32, a police constable, living in Tottenham with his wife Mary (34) and children Angelina (3) and Thomas (7 months). Around 1875/6, Edward and his family moved to Hackney. In 1880, Edward died suddenly from a ruptured blood vessel, when Angelina was aged 12.

The 1881 census shows Edward’s widow Mary (aged 43, a laundress) with her children John (6) and Ernest (2) living at 5 Gainsboro Square, Hackney. His daughter Angelina (aged 13) was an orphan scholar at Cumberland House Orphanage, Greenleaf Lane, Walthamstow.

Angelina married Stuart Gladstone Fildes on 20 June 1889 at St Mary the Boltons Church, Kensington.
From the church marriage register

I wonder if they got married without telling their families, as the witnesses were not family members ? The occupation of Angelina’s father is given as “Inspector of Police”. He was actually a police constable. 

Stuart Gladstone Fildes was born in Chorlton, a suburb of Manchester. He is shown in the 1881 census aged 13, the only child of Thomas Fildes (41), a member of the Manchester Stock Exchange, and his wife Jessie Macblane Fildes nee Mackie (32). They were living at a house called Fairlawn in Lytham, Lancashire. Also listed at the address were a butler, a cook, a kitchen maid, two housemaids, a nurse, two grooms and a coach man. Thomas Fildes died in 1887 aged 47. His personal estate was declared as £25,660 for probate purposes. This is equivalent to about £12,000,000 now (estimated in relation to the earnings index). The house Fairlawn was advertised for sale after his death. It was clearly a large property with 4 entertaining rooms, 11 bedrooms, stabling for 8 horses and 4 acres of grounds. Thomas was a wealthy man!  His widow married Edmund William Birley in 1888.

It is perhaps surprising that Stuart, a man from a wealthy family, married Angelina, who was from a lower social class and must have been quite poor. They set up home at 15 Redcliffe Street, South Kensington but the marriage was not a success and Stuart left Angelina on 7 October 1889, only 15 weeks after their marriage. Angelina asked him to return but he refused. Later that year she applied to the courts for “restitution of her conjugal rights”. Such a case could be brought against a husband or wife who were living away from their spouse without a good reason. If the suit was successful, the married couple would be required to live together again. The case papers can be read on the Ancestry website. The Lichfield Mercury dated 7 November 1890 reported the outcome of the case (Angelina was the petitioner and Stuart the respondent).


The case of Fildes v Fildes was heard in the Divorce Court. It was a suit instituted by the wife, praying for the restitution conjugal rights. Mr. Middleton, who appeared for the petitioner, said the parties married on the 28th June, 1889, and after that they lived for some time in Redcliffe Street, South Kensington. The respondent, on the 7th of October last year, left the petitioner, and went to his mother's house at Preston. In the following November there was an interview between the husband and wife, and on the 5th of last December the petitioner went down to Preston and delivered into the hands of her husband the final notice required before the suit for restitution could be commenced. Upon its being served, the respondent disappeared, after which application was made for substituted service. There was an appearance under protest, but it was overruled by the learned President of the Divorce Division. The petitioner said that when she married Mr. Stuart Fildes she believed him to be a gentleman of independent means. On 7th of October last year he left home and she had never lived with him since. The last time she saw him she asked him to return to her, but he refused to so.
Mr. Justice Butt: What reason did give for leaving you?
Petitioner: He never gave any.
Mr. Justice Butt granted a decree as prayed.

Stuart’s disappearance was presumably an attempt to avoid allowing the suit to progress. “Substituted service” is the indirect delivery of legal documents to request an individual's presence in court. Stuart did not defend the case and costs were awarded against him.

Even though Angelina won the case, her husband did not return to live with her. In the 1891 census there is an Angelina Fieldes, aged 23, born in Cornwall, living in Cadogan Terrace, Hackney. Her occupation is described as “living on own means”.  Also listed with Angelina is Robert E A (the initials are unclear) Fieldes, a son aged 3, born in Hackney. There are no Robert Fi(e)ldes birth registrations that match this. The best candidate that I can find is a Robert Herbert Ernest Armitage birth registered Q4 1887 in Hackney. There is no mother’s maiden name registered with this birth, indicating that the mother was unmarried. I can find no marriage or death for this person and he does not appear with Angelina in any later records. Perhaps he was born to Angelina before she married and later given up for adoption? This is speculation on my part.

The 1891 census shows Stuart living as a boarder at Dyffryn Aled, Llansannan, Denbigh. This was a 25 bedroom house on remote moorland in North Wales. It sounds like he may have been in hiding to avoid complying with the court order.

Electoral registers show Angelina at 1 Kings Court Mansions, Fulham Road, London in 1900. The census in 1901 shows her aged 33, living alone in High Street, Yoxford, a village in Suffolk. Stuart was a visitor at a guest house in Sidmouth. The occupation for both was “living on own means”.

There were dramatic events in 1909. The item below was printed in The Barnet Press dated 29 May 1909.

Exciting Interview.

Last week, a well dressed woman called at the London offices of Mr Charles Henry Cumberland, solicitor, who resides at The Firs, Bell Bar, Hatfield, and the interview took such a dramatic turn that the woman was charged before Mr Curtis Bennett at Bow Street Police Court with threatening to murder Mr Cumberland, and with unlawfully presenting a revolver at Police Constable McDonald, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm.
The woman, who gave her name as Angelina Fildes, declined to state her age, or give her address. Mr Cumberland was called on by the police to give evidence. He said he did not think it expedient to charge the defendant himself, as he did not consider that she was responsible for her actions. About 20 years ago he acted for the trustee of a settlement in which she was interested, and, under their directions, he paid her a regular allowance for about two years. The matter then passed out of his hands, and he had not seen her or had any communication with her from that time until the previous day, when she called his office by appointment. The trustees of the settlement had recently asked witness to act for them again, and that was why the defendant called at his office on Friday. When she entered witness said to her: “I presume you have come to give me instructions as to the mode of paying your allowance from the trustees?” She replied, “I have no instructions to give, and I will not be under your thumb again”. Witness told her that he had been instructed make certain payments to her, and he wished to meet her convenience in every way. She had previously been receiving her money direct from the trustees. Defendant said she would not have an allowance and demanded her husband’s address. Witness said he must decline to give it to her. Thereupon she left the chair in which she had been sitting, took two or three steps backward, and produced a revolver, which she pointed at witness. With the weapon held in that position she said: “I am a desperate woman, and I not going leave here until I get my husband's address.” Witness still refused to give it, and the defendant said: “You won’t?” In order to temporise, witness asked the defendant if she would be satisfied if he asked her husband to meet her at his office; but he did not catch her reply. He then called over the telephone his clerks’ office and asked them to go for the police. The defendant heard him, and said sarcastically: “Oh, I did not think you would have been so kind.” She remained leaning over the back of a chair, pointing the revolver at witness until P.C. McDonald entered. On seeing the revolver the officer said to her: “Put that thing down.” The defendant said: “Who are you talking to?” At the same time she turned the revolver towards the constable, who made a sudden rush and seized her by the hand. At that moment the revolver went off and the bullet entered the office wall. The defendant was then arrested.
The Magistrate: Have you any questions to put to this witness?
Defendant: No; I refuse to be under his thumb. He will allow me the income as long as he thinks proper, and then he will stop it.
Witness: I have no discretion
The defendant: You have. It is a discretionary allowance.
Witness: It is discretionary so far as the trustees are concerned. I have no discretion.
The defendant: For 19 years you have been my bitterest enemy. Nineteen years ago you did me a deadly wrong. Understand that.
P.C. McDonald said he did not actually seize the defendants hand when she refused to comply with his request to put the revolver down. He rushed towards her and knocked her hand up and at that moment the revolver went off.
Inspector Bailey said the revolver was loaded in four chambers, and contained one empty cartridge. When the charge was read to the defendant at the police station she said: “I did not resist at all. As regards Mr Cumberland, I meant it.”
The defendant was remanded.

Angelina was held in Holloway Prison and her case was heard at the Old Bailey on 23 June 1909.  “The Proceedings of the Old Bailey” website contains the court’s official record and says

FILDES, Angelina (41, no occupation), indicted for feloniously attempting to discharge a loaded revolver at Charles Henry Cumberland, with intent to do him grievous bodily harm; assaulting and resisting William McDonald, a Metropolitan police-constable, in the execution of his duty, pleaded Guilty of a common assault on Cumberland; Not guilty of assaulting the police-constable or of firing the pistol.

Prisoner has been in prison five weeks, during which time she has been under observation. The doctor reports that her mental condition is somewhat unstable, perhaps, and she seems to have been brooding over more or less imaginary wrongs; but she has undoubtedly benefited by her detention.

The case was reported by various newspapers including the Exmouth Journal. The edition dated 26 June 1909 reads

Angelina Fildes, the woman who presented a revolver at Mr. Cumberland, a solicitor, in his office near Bedford Row the other week, was brought up at the Old Bailey on Wednesday charged with unlawfully resisting P.C. McDonald. The weapon was discharged as the constable was about to arrest Fildes.
Mr. Morris, for the defence said the prisoner was married in 1889, and five months later her husband left her, and she had not seen him since. She had received £8 10s weekly under trust in which Mr. Cumberland acted and she gained the impression from a letter written by him that the amount was about to be reduced. Her intention in going to the office with the pistol was to draw attention to her life, for she had been living an utterly lonely existence in little villages. She was prepared to promise to communicate with Mr. Cumberland only by letter in the future, and go to live with some friends at Brighton.
The Judge ordered her to be bound over in her own recognisances on the understanding that this course was taken.

Another paper reported that
During the hearing of the case, Mrs Fildes screamed and fell to the ground, being carried out hysterical.

Angelina’s weekly allowance of £8 10s in 1909 is equivalent to about £3,200 now, when related to the earnings index. This figure and the description of her as a “well dressed woman” in the report of her appearance at Bow Street Police Court indicate that Angelina was comfortably off.

In the 1911 census, Angelina (aged 43) and her mother Mary (73) are shown as visitors at 11 Denbigh Terrace, Notting Hill, the house of Angelina’s cousin Thomas William Armitage (39). I can’t find Stuart in the census.

The 1921 census shows Angelina (aged 52, married) and her mother Mary (83, widow) as visitors in the house of Angelina's sister Mary Armitage (54, single, a lodging house or apartments keeper) at 48 Cambridge St, near Victoria Station in London. Her estranged husband Stuart was living in Malvern, Worcestershire.

Angelina’s elder sister Mary Emma Armitage died in 1925 aged 60 at St Thomas’s Hospital, Lambeth. Probate records give her address as 48 Cambridge Street, Victoria and show that administration of her estate (£341) was granted to Angelina Fildes.

Stuart Fildes of Madresfield Road, Malvern is listed as a dog breeder in the 1932 Kelly’s Directory of Worcestershire. His mother Jessie Macblane Birley died in 1938 aged 89. Her last address was Malvern Hotel, Malvern. Probate on her estate (£1,392) was granted to Stuart Gladstone Fildes, no occupation.

The 1939 Register shows Angelina living at "The Gables" in the Truro registration district (in Cornwall). Her date of birth is given as 14 Feb 1870 (the year was actually 1868), her occupation as "unpaid domestic duties". She is listed as married (so there had been no divorce from Stuart).

Angelina died on 26 November 1949 aged 81. Her address was The Gables, Perranporth, Cornwall. Angelina’s name appears in the burial register of Perranzabuloe Church (near Perranporth), so she is presumably buried in its churchyard. Administration of her estate (£2,748) was granted to Barclays Bank.

Stuart died in 1950 aged 82. His address was 45 Madresfield Road, Malvern and he died at Clanmere Nursing Home, Malvern. Stuart is buried at Great Malvern Municipal Cemetery and his gravestone is inscribed “Stuart Gladstone Fildes, born 18 Jan 1868, died 15 Dec 1950.” Probate records show that his estate was valued at £30,563.


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    1. I have been researching Australians who served in the RNAS during the Great War, one of those men Herbert Armtiage Fildes who claims he was born in Sydney, however, I have yet to find a record of this. His marriage certificate lists his parents as Stuart Gladstone Fildes and Angelina Armitage. I wonder if this is the child listed on the census.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Andrew. Yes, I think it is likely that your Herbert Armitage Fildes is the child listed with Angelina in the 1891 census. Do you have any more info about his life eg when he was born and died ? Thanks.