Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Julia Wright writes about one of them…
When we were given the possible choices for characters whose stories we could tell, I chose Maud Dillon, as she seemed at first to be a woman who was caught up in a life of prostitution. I was interested to find out why she might have been involved in that when she was a woman who had a job as a polisher – likely to be a metal polisher who worked in the jewellery industry. Was she desperate for money?
The only information about Maud Dillon is that she was 25 when she was arrested on 5/8/1921 for indecent behaviour. She was given a fine – £4 or 25 days in prison. I then discovered that ‘indecent behaviour’ could range from shouting and swearing in public to soliciting (prostitution). So maybe she was merely shouting and swearing in public? But why? When looking into the work that police women did at the time I found it seemed to contain a lot of what we would now call social work. Young women were picked up from around the station, seeking to meet soldiers and in 1919, 25% of them were under 17. What dreadful lives drove them to that?
In June 1918 a hostel was set up in Dale End to ensure women were in a place of safety from abuse while further enquiries were made to find them work or more permanent lodgings – one of the first hostels in the country. The workhouse was where some women who were abused ended up but was feared by all and women would be separated from their children (children still legally belonged to the father until 1925 so it was difficult for many women to leave abusive relationships). For some women the workhouse was better than the abuse at home
Miss Dorothy Peto became a lady enquiry officer with the CID in Birmingham in 1920. She visited homes, investigating indecent assaults and abuse and stated ‘the relief of victims was obvious when they saw a female police officer had come to take their statement.’
I have linked together the work of Dorothy Peto and a possible explanation for Maud Dillon’s arrest to highlight the often appalling abuse that women had to endure, sometimes at the hands of their partners. The disturbed mental conditions of returning soldiers were often not recognised and PTSD was not diagnosed or understood.
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Helen Kelly writes about one of them…
Evelyn Miles was one of the first police women in England, taking up the uniform after her troubled husband was dispatched to Handsworth Asylum. An unwed mother at 18, the housekeeper to a doctor, the wife of a police sergeant suffering from mental illness – my reading of her character is that she was an empathetic person, drawn to Birmingham’s coal face of poverty and social deprivation, like Dorothy Peto after her (also featured in Ghosts of the Lock Up).
With no template or notion of social services, the justice system was society’s last net for lost souls, deeply flawed, maybe, but with a burgeoning complement of compassionate women coming through in the early Twentieth Century, to bring some sense of social responsibility towards those who had been abandoned by society, and lost their way.
I loved it that Evelyn was in her fifties when she embarked on her new life (hope for us all) and still holds the record for the oldest serving female officer in the West Midlands aged 77 when she retired.
You can meet Evelyn and many other fascinating characters in BEHIND BARS: Ghosts of the Lock-Up 19th – 21st October.
Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only. Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Vanessa Oakes writes about one of them…
I’ve been writing about a murder.
A murder involving two real life Peaky Blinders, a spinster and a pair of false teeth.
On 25th October, 1898, at the age of 23, James Twitty broke into Miss Aliban’s house with his accomplice Mumby:
we only meant to gag her… not frighten her to death… i even sang to her to help calm her down.
They had planned to rob her – Mary Ann Aliban (age 60) had a number of rental properties in Birmingham and was well known in the neighbourhood for carrying a large amount of money around in her carpet bag:
all the neighbours heard her… clink… clink… as she walked… clink… clink… clink… as she sat counting her coins of a night… she’d even ask people to feel the weight of her bag… she was asking for it.
Twitty and Mumby gained entry through the cellar (it was reported that Twitty had previously worked for a coal merchant) and waited for her return. They then took their boots off and crept upstairs to search the house – she was asleep by the time they reached her bedroom but on waking began to scream.
They quickly tied her to the bed and gagged her with a silk handkerchief. They then grabbed a small amount of money nearby and left. The robbery was a failure – the police later found £108 hidden in the house.
Tragically Mary died having swallowed her false teeth:
how was we to know she’d swallow her false teeth… who wears their snaggs to bed?!
Having read all the sensational newspaper reports from the period I felt strongly that I wanted my short play to remember what happened to Mary and to provide some small sort of retribution. She must have been terrified as she choked to death. Too often we remember the names of the criminals and forget their victims.
Originally charged with murder Twitty and Mumby’s sentences were eventually commuted to penal servitude for life. In 1915 Twitty was declared insane and moved to Broadmoor, where he died mute, aged 73.
You can meet Twitty as well as a host of other characters from the Lock-Up’s past in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock-Up.
Follow this link to book your ticket/s now: https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8