Regular readers of our blog will be familiar with Roger, one of our cataloguing volunteers, here is his latest fascinating contribution.
This post arises from my continuing curiosity about a man named Matthew Goodden. I first learned of him in 2017 while working on documents from the Thornsett Turnpike Trust (ref: D535). An invoice had survived for payment to be made to Matthew Goodden of Abergavenny for items supplied to a toll house in New Mills. Why, I wondered, would a man in Abergavenny be supplying items to a toll house in New Mills? As explained in a post in 2017 I found that Matthew Goodden made a living from securing leases to collect tolls at locations across the country. This work involved a substantial amount of travel: Matthew Goodden frequently travelled by train; he used tickets which he forged or altered, a practice which landed him in prison on more than one occasion. In the 2017 post I made only passing reference to Matthew Goodden’s family circumstances. Recently I’ve discovered more about his family and began to draft this post. At a late stage I uncovered stark evidence of Matthew Goodden’s abusive behaviour which made me question whether to abandon this post. But history cannot be limited to pleasant stories. And I take into account that this is a victim’s story too and she spoke in detail in open court about her experience.
Matthew Goodden’s family story demonstrates the value for family historians of local newspaper reports of court proceedings; particularly in relation to individuals who find themselves in court frequently for one reason or another. Matthew Goodden found himself facing criminal charges on several occasions: he was also a man who chose to initiate court proceedings in order to settle grievances; and people with a grievance against him took him to court. Furthermore, after his death the financial arrangements he made for his family generated a dispute that ended in court. Census records available every ten years from 1841 to 1911 are also an important resource for family historians. But Matthew Goodden’s family story illustrates that even with the modern facility for digital searching there are challenges about using census records as a source of information about women. The practice of women taking the surname of their husband or of the man they live with can make it difficult to follow the sequence of a woman’s life.
Matthew Goodden: toll collector, husband and widower
Matthew Goodden’s progress into adulthood is easily followed. He was born in Yeovil, Somerset, in the early 1820s, the son of toll collector. By 1841 he was living separately from his family, working at a toll gate in Castle Cary, Somerset. Matthew Goodden was married at Southleigh, Devon, in 1846. In 1851 he, his wife and two sons were at a toll house near Cam, Gloucestershire. The accumulation of money was a major objective: Matthew Goodden leased the right to collect tolls at locations across the country. It becomes clear from a long sequence of court cases, from 1846 onwards, that a traveller who appeared to avoid paying Matthew Goodden or his employee the proper toll was at risk of being taken to court. Conversely, on a number of occasions Matthew Goodden found himself in court, having demanded too high a toll or come to blows during an argument about payment.
Perhaps his money-making determination led him to overreach himself: for a short period in 1855 he was insolvent and spent time in prison in Taunton. In order to save money he, in collaboration with his brothers, became accomplished in altering and forging railway tickets: for which he appeared at Gloucester Assizes in 1859 in what would be the first of several such court appearances. I have found neither Matthew Goodden nor his wife and sons in the 1861 census. But we can locate him through a newspaper court report: in September 1861 he took a grievance to the Cheltenham County Court and from the report in the Cheltenham Examiner we can learn that he was at the toll house in Dowdeswell, Gloucestershire. His wife died there in 1862.
Ann Williams: exploited employee?
At this point a young woman named Ann Williams enters the story. Born in 1846, her roots were in the three neighbouring Gloucestershire villages of Whittington, Foxcote and Dowdeswell. She worked as a servant in the Goodden household in Dowdeswell. Soon after his wife’s death Matthew Goodden moved to the toll house at Shavers End, Dudley, then in Worcestershire. He persuaded Ann Williams to join him there. The evidence suggests that she should be regarded as an exploited employee rather than an unmarried wife. At one point she was briefly remanded in police custody when Matthew Goodden claimed that she had stolen money from him. She became pregnant: her mother met Matthew Goodden and then arranged for her to be accommodated with Edwin and Sarah Penrose in Cheltenham; Matthew Goodden undertook to pay all expenses and visited her there after the birth of their daughter, Clara. But payment was not forthcoming and Edwin Penrose went to court to recover the expense incurred in the care and maintenance of Ann Williams during her pregnancy and confinement. The case was heard in Cheltenham County Court in February 1866 and reported in Cheltenham and Birmingham newspapers. As well as giving evidence about the arrangements for her confinement Ann Williams alleged that Matthew Goodden had “seduced” her in the toll house at Dowdeswell: this had happened immediately after his wife’s death. (Ann Williams’ account indicates that what she endured would have been more appropriately defined as rape rather than seduction. From a twenty-first century viewpoint it is starkly ironic that her evidence was being given in a civil action for recovery of a debt rather than in a criminal court for prosecution of a crime).
At some point Ann Williams returned to Dudley with her daughter and resumed* a relationship with Matthew Goodden (*MG went to Dudley soon after his wife’s death in 1862 and AW went with him. She was apart from him in Cheltenham for confinement and birth in 1865 and by the time of the Cheltenham court case in 1866 she was already back with him in Dudley, so resumed is the correct way to describe their relationship). But in March 1871 Matthew Goodden was sent to prison for fraudulent use of railway tickets. The census taken a few weeks later shows him in Nottingham prison. At a toll house in Tipton were Ann Williams, listed with the surname Goodden, her daughter and her mother. At a toll house a few miles away at Upper Gornal lived a toll collector named John Hill and his wife Harriet. What happened next was related thirty years later in a court room in Monmouthshire, (for more see below), and reported in several newspapers. While Matthew Goodden was in prison Ann Williams and her daughter went to live with John and Harriet Hill. After some time John Hill “ran away” with Ann Williams: they settled in Manchester where a son was born in 1875 and a daughter in 1882. In 1895, presumably after the death of John Hill, Ann Williams was married in Manchester to Charles Nolan, a widowed shoe maker. When the census was taken in 1901 they were living in the Deansgate area of Manchester. Thus in the six censuses between 1851 and 1901 Ann Williams is recorded under her birth surname and also under the surnames Goodden, Hill and finally Nolan
Sisters Harriet Hill and Mary Brettel
At some point after Matthew Goodden’s release from Nottingham prison Harriet Hill became his “wife” and stepmother to Clara Goodden (born Williams). He employed Harriet’s sister, Mary Brettel as a toll collector. A newspaper report in 1875 records a court case in which Matthew Goodden asserted a financial claim. In the Worcestershire County Court he sought to recover the sum of some £5 collected in tolls which he accused Mary Brettel of withholding. She disputed the claim and the court found in her favour. The court was told that she had given birth to a child by Matthew Goodden and that the money she retained was to cover the costs of her confinement. Three years later, when Mary Brettel was married in Wolverhampton, not only was Matthew Goodden present at the ceremony: he signed the register as a witness to the marriage. This episode did not prevent Mary’s sister, Harriet Hill, living as Matthew Goodden’s “wife” for the last thirty years of his life.
Harriet, Clara and Matthew Goodden: settled in Abergavenny
After a failed bid in 1874 Matthew Goodden obtained in 1879 the lease of tolls in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, and the census taken in 1881 shows him settled there with Harriett and Clara. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the practice of providing for road construction and maintenance through tolls was discontinued. But some bridges remained subject to tolls and Matthew Goodden was able to continue as a toll collector at the Llangrwyney bridge over the River Usk between Crickhowell and Abergavenny. In 1888 Matthew Goodden witnessed the marriage of his daughter Clara to James Gwatkin; someone made sure that the local newspaper knew to report that his wedding present to the couple was a cheque for £1,000. In 1890 Matthew Goodden was convicted at Hereford Assizes of forging railway tickets: when the census was taken in 1891 he was in Hereford prison and Harriet was at the Bridge toll house with a young niece. This toll house remained Matthew and Harriet Goodden’s home: they are recorded there in the census of 1901.
A disputed bank account
During his life Matthew Goodden sought to make financial provision for his family. He was regarded as a man who “saved money in every possible way” and was reported to have accumulated between £7,000 and £8,000. He did not make a will but sought to avoid death duties by depositing money in the names of his two surviving sons, Edwin and Robert, his daughter Clara, and his “wife” Harriet. After his death in 1903 the money in one bank account, about £750, was a matter of dispute between Harriett Goodden and Clara Gwatkin, a dispute given added force by Clara Gwatkin’s objection to Harriet Goodden’s intention to marry Matthew Goodden’s brother Robert Goodden. This marriage did take place about ten weeks after Matthew Goodden‘s death. The dispute about the deposited money was contested at a hearing at Monmouthshire Assizes in 1904. The evidence given in court, reported in several newspapers, included much detail about the sequence of events of Matthew Goodden’s life, detail which has informed this post.
The major newspaper reports cited are:
(available via The British Newspaper Archive)
- ‘Heartless Case of Seduction’ Cheltenham Examiner, 28 February 1866 (with similar text in: ‘Extraordinary Revelations in a County Court’ Birmingham Daily Gazette, 26 February 1866)
- ‘Astounding Claim: Goodden v Brettell’ County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire and Worcestershire, 21 August 1875
(available the Welsh Newspapers website of the National Library of Wales)
- ‘Old Man and His Money Abergavenny Family Dispute Remarkable Case Recalled Strange Story at Monmouth Assizes’ Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News, 27 February 1904
A family historian has included a photograph of Matthew Goodden in their family tree on Geni.com, taken from Elizabeth Jack’s CD Victorian Prisoners of Gloucester Gaol: A Rogue’s Gallery (Gloucestershire Family History Society).
4 thoughts on “Family History from Newspaper Reports of Court Proceedings: the Offensiveness of Matthew Goodden”
A word of clarification and apology: the reference to Elizabeth Jack’s “Rogue’s Gallery” should be to the CD of that name, not the book.
Thanks Roger, I will edit that in the main text as well, Becky
What a tangled tale! You’ve done really well to tease it all out.
That is fascinating! Thanks for sharing Mr Gooddenâs story. He wasnât actually a âgood âunâ, but what a life J