Were You Richard Herring?
I am a fan of Richard Herrings. By which I mean all the people called Richard Herring throughout history. All of them.
Well, mainly I am a fan of the comedian Richard Herring, to be fair. But I was in the mood for a bit of history-surfing on The British Newspaper Archive. I like taking something small – an unknown fact, little antique item or newspaper clipping and using that as a jumping-off point to see where it takes you. I always find out a lot more than I imagine – there are so many resources and online archives out there that I’ve stumbled upon, which I would never have thought to look for specifically. So today’s post is a little skittish ramble through the outskirts of history.
The good thing about the BNA is that it’s pretty new – there’s new papers being made available nearly every week, and so the potential for discovering something interesting and potentially unknown (or long-forgotten) is quite high. Nothing gives me a buzz like history detective work. My two contributions to Wikipedia – on the “Half Man Half Woman” Josephine Joseph and the Grand National – were brilliantly thrilling rides.
Anyway, back to today’s post – searching for my own name on the BNA brings up nothing at all. If there’s been any Estelle Hargraves in the past, they kept quiet about it. My family’s names are all similarly sparsely represented. I suppose you’re generally only in the papers if you’re very good at something, very bad at something else, or the victim of something tragic. It’s pretty easy to slip under the radar of appearing in the local papers if your life is just a bit humdrum.
Looking for namesakes of people I knew, I was reminded of that Dave Gorman programme from a few years back, “Are you Dave Gorman?” , where he searched the world for people who shared his name. And so, on a whim, I thought I would have a search for people in history who also had the name of the aforementioned Mr Herring. I wasn’t hopeful to be honest – it sounds like a pretty unusual name to me. But no, “Richard Herring” turns out to be a crazily popular name in the world of people who’ve had local newspaper articles written about them. I found out some interesting stories along the way.
So let’s begin – and I think I’ll do this in chronological order.
The first one I found, way back in 1799, was Richard Herring the clockmaker, looking for an apprentice. Not much of a story here though.
The criminal career of the Richard Herrings begins in 1815 with this one being capitally convicted for burglary – i.e. sentenced to death. He is very much not the only naughty Herring.
Then in 1825, there’s a livelier story of another young hoodlum. Young Dick and friends painted their faces black, and burgled “an old and respectable farmer” near Buckingham – quite interesting to me as Buckingham is where I grew up as a teenager. They were found guilty – in 1825, what would the punishment be? Potentially transportation to Australia, or even hanging. I don’t know.
There’s another young Richard Herring living the thug life in 1833, which I am pretty sure is a different one to the 1825 one. This one has the benefit of being “a good looking young man” at least, even though he committed a serious fraud of collecting a vet’s accounts and keeping the money.
Another Richard Herring was the victim in 1833. This one is my favourite. It’s the inquest of poor Richard Herring, cow-keeper. After suffering “a giddiness in the head”, he milked the cows and was subsequently found dead in a well by his son, his feet sticking out of the top. This was all a bit mysterious – the opening of the well was very small, there was no bucket nearby and the deceased was not in the habit of drawing the well water anyway. His son was giving evidence to the inquest when a man ran into the pub where the inquest was being held, shouting for the son to come back and milk the cows. The coroner was not impressed. It became clear that Mrs Herring was outside and wanted the boy (her step-son) to get on with his work. The coroner had held back from requesting her evidence “from a feeling of delicacy” but changed his mind and called her before him, although she argued against it. She scandalised the inquest with her flippancy and by and large did quite a good impression of a fairytale-style wicked stepmother. The coroner “reprimanded her in severe terms” and was only sorry there was no evidence to convict her of murder.
Former farrier Richard Herring suddenly died in 1835, although he was aged 85 which was pretty good going at that time. A farrier is someone who looks after horses hooves, by the way. I do like the phrasing here – “he went into his house, and sat down, apparently in his normal state of health: very shortly afterwards, however, he was a corpse.”
Such a sad story this one. A mother and daughter were charged in 1863 with killing the daughter’s newborn baby and throwing it down the well, where it stayed for at least ten days with the unwitting neighbours continuing to use the water. Richard Herring here was the neighbour who managed to get the baby’s body out.
The brains of the Herrings here with a new invention for improved telegraph messages:
No story here, just an ex-Herring. Oh F*ck I’m 40, indeed.
This one I particularly enjoy as the 1881 version of Richard Herring is “very angry with the post office”. Something not a million miles from the current regeneration. He’s a bit of a nutter constantly writing in to express his displeasure with the world in general. Writing to Queen Victoria to tell her that “she was not as well acquainted with her duties as he was,” takes some nerve though. In conclusion – “the general effect of Mr Herring’s assault on the powers that be is a little confusing.”
A Herring with an idea for a new invention for the House of Commons. It’s an electronic system for the MPs to vote – a bit like the audience vote in Stars in Their Eyes. I’m going to assume this was also the chap with the telegraph invention. He was ahead of his time.
More criminal activity in 1892 – this Richard Herring is one of “three of the most notorious vagabonds in London.” His fellow notorious vagabonds pushed the policeman arresting Herring into a “chest of eggs”, allowing him to escape. Although they caught him again quite quickly.
A bankrupt Herring here is officially a “Leeds Failure” in 1907.
This young Richard Herring fell into the wrong crowd and was hanging around gambling with his friends. The Mayor of Leamington Spa thought the lads “appeared to be earning too much money.” No problem though, his mum confirmed he had joined the Royal Engineers. The First World War will sort him out!
The criminal activities and cow-keeping of the Richard Herrings continue with this one convicted of watering down milk in 1932, although it was the act of revenge of one of his employees.
A tragic Herring in 1952 gave his mother a boiled sweet, which she choked on and died.
Finally, the most recent Herring I found was this boy wonder in the mid 1950s, again from Buckingham. He was constantly in the local press with his fishing and table tennis achievements, but he was also a prize-winning leatherworker. He appears to have been attacked by a pike in the first article – probably for being annoyingly good at everything. He also managed to find what sounds like a dinosaur egg while fishing.
Egg! Like a bird’s egg!
So that’s it. A lot of Herrings. I am going to make the conclusion that many Herrings are drawn towards the water – two tragic well incidents, one fisherman, and one involved in a milk-watering-down scheme. It’s a general mix of criminality and tragedy, but then again, that’s mostly going to be the case with those who stick their head over the parapet of local newsworthiness. Having said that, there’s still quite a surprising amount of criminals. What will time bring for the Richard Herrings of the future, I wonder?