The 1871 Wisbech census shows that the Roughton family lived at 178 Queen Street. It also puts Queen Street in Walsoken, technically therefore in Norfolk, and the census bundle for Queen Street follows that for Stafford Street (left) – which was certainly in what was then called New Walsoken. Nearby are King Street, Prince Street and Duke Street, so logic would suggest that Queen Street would be nearby, but apparently not. The map shows that Queen Street was a north western extension of Bedford Street and not in Walsoken.
The Roughtons were a typically large family, probably living on top of each other in a terraced cottage. The census lists:
William (aged 57) – agricultural labourer
Sarah (aged 57) – chairwoman (perhaps charwoman?)
Robert (aged 18) – agricultural labourer
Thomas (aged 15) – agricultural labourer
George (aged 12) – agricultural labourer
Jesse (aged 10)
Rebecca (aged 1) – described as granddaughter. In the previous (1861) census there was also John Roughton, then aged 12, and Alice Roughton, then aged 14, so Rebecca must have belonged to one of the older children.
Moving on to Saturday 16th December 1876. It is dank and wet. Exceptionally heavy rainfall had resulted in flooding across much of the region. Robert Roughton, then employed at Walsoken Steam, Brick and Tile Company (which was situated just south of modern day Broad End Road) had left home that day looking for a day’s work in the livestock market. His mother, Sarah, standing in the doorway of their house, handed him his cap and his stick. It was the last time she was to see him alive. Robert was no angel, and he had frequently been in trouble with the law. His offences were mainly trivial, often committed when he was ‘in drink’, but he had served spells in prison.
The events of the evening of 16th December only became clear much later, when witnesses were called to both the Wisbech magistrates’ court and the much more forbidding Cambridge Spring Assizes in March 1877. For William and Sarah Roughton, however, anxiety began to set in when the weekend passed, Monday dawned, and there was still no sign of Robert.
Things were moving on, however, and this was the report in The Cambridge Independent Press of 23rd December.
The report continued:
It is stated that some the men who were with him advised him to go away and that he replied he could not while the man was in the river. The friends of Robert Roughton began to make inquiries about him, he not having gone home on Saturday and nothing having been seen or heard of him since the time he left the Albion. A cap was picked up in the river on Sunday, and upon it being shown to Roughton’s father, he at once identified it as the one his son was wearing on Saturday, and this circumstance, coupled with the fact of his being missing and the statements made by Oldham led the police to investigate the matter.
The police then learnt that after leaving the “Albion” Saturday Roughton encountered the two men Wright and Oldham, with whom he had a scuffle, and Oldham’s statement is that Wright struck Roughton and knocked him into the river The three parties were evidently in drink, and it is perhaps owing to the state they were in that neither Oldham nor Wright gave any alarm.
The police arrested Charles Wright, and then George Oldham and remanded them in custody to await an appearance before the magistrate. The police had a problem, though – there was no body. It seemed to defy probability that Robert Roughton had scrambled out of the river and was safe and sound somewhere, recovering from his ordeal. The law, however, was the law, and solicitors representing Oldham and Wright were able to secure the release of their clients on bail.
IN PART TWO
Edward Benton, Captain of the steam tug ‘Spurn’
makes a grim discovery, and the court is reconvened