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52 Ancestors: Week 18 – Crime and Punishment


I am taking part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for 2021. The challenge is organised by Amy Johnson Crow who provides a weekly writing prompt. This week the prompt is “Crime and Punishment”.

I spent a while trying to decide who to write about this week. To my knowledge none of my ancestors have committed major crimes and I struggled to know what to to do. I nearly decided not to write at all this week. Then I remembered that one my Grandmother’s cousins had been a Special Constable.

I looked up John Edward Owen Wadsworth on my family tree software and confirmed my memory: I had received an email from a fellow family historian back in 2003. The sender’s parents had known the Wadsworth family and he had recently spoken to his mother about them. His aunt had married Maurice Wadsworth, Owen’s brother. The sender had helped change the reels in the projection rooms at the Wadsworth family cinemas. He told me that Owen, as he was known, was connected the to the Sheffield Constabulary. He also recalled that Maurice and Owen ran an electrical business.

This snippet was what I had remembered, he was “connected to” the Sheffield Constabulary. Grandma may have told me that her cousin was a Special Policeman. So I have spent some time filling in the in blanks. John Edward Owen Wadsworth was born on 6th April 1906(1) in Wickersley, near Rotherham(2)(3) the eldest son and second child of Leonard Downes Wadsworth and his wife Lucy Isabel Davies. He was christened at St Albans Church, Wickersley on 3rd June 1906.(4)

Owen and his family lived at Arddleen Villa(2), named for the Montgomeryshire village his mother came from. Living close by were Uncle Edric Harold Wadsworth, brother of Leonard Downes Wadsworth and his wife Margaret Davies, sister of Lucy Isabel Davies, and double cousins Harold, John and Mary.

Image: postcard “Wickersley Church Rotherham 1908 Crowther Cox Processed By eBay with ImageMagick”

Census records. England. Wickersley, Yorkshire. 02 April 1911. WADSWORTH Leonard Downes (head). Rotherham/RG14/PN28065/ RG78/PN1603/ RD511/ SD2/ ED23 /SN139 https://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 4 April 2009.

By 1921 the family were involved in the cinema business and had moved to Sheffield.

From a family tree supplied by another distant cousin I believed that Owen had married “Kathy” and had a daughter Eileen. Searching FreeBMD I found a marriage in the first quarter of 1933 in Sheffield between John E O Wadsworth and Kathleen E Telford(5), and in the final quarter of 1939 the birth of Eileen M Wadsworth in Sheffield, mothers maiden name Telford(6). Without ordering the certificates I cannot be sure of this, but it seems very likely.

From those ancient emails I had information that Owen was connected to the Special Constabulary, had an electrical business and also worked in the family cinema business. Finding him on the 1939 register confirmed all this:

1939 Register. England. Sheffield, Yorkshire. 29 September 1939. WADSWORTH, Kathleen E. Sheffield 510/4 KIPT. SN 106. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed 8 May 2021.

He was a busy man, a cinema operator, an electrical and wiring contractor, a Special Constable, and a baby due very soon(1). I was unable to find many references to Constable Wadsworth, but there are few police records on the internet. I hope to get to Sheffield Archives one day where I may be able to learn some more from their collection of Police Records.(7) I did find one reference in a newspaper.

I could easily be putting 2 and 2 together and making 6 here, but Constable Wadsworth could very easily refer to John Edward Owen Wadsworth. Checking of the records in Sheffield might reveal if there was more than one Constable Wadsworth at the time. Sheffield court records for the period were not available online.


On 8th May 1939 Thomas Albert Spooner had been drunk and fighting in Sheffield city centre so Constable Wadsworth “got hold of him to take him into custody.” His friend Thomas Mason pulled Constable Wadsworth away from Spooner which resulted in Mason being charged with obstructing a policeman in execution of his duty, but this was dismissed. Mason was fined 10 shillings for using obscene language.


Sheffield Evening Telegraph. (1939). Scene in City Square: Court Sequel to Fight. 9 May. p2b. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000706/19390509/351/0012 : accessed 8 May 2021.

I cannot be sure, but it would be possible that Owen was among the seventy special constables who visited the new Batchelor’s Peas factory on 26th January 1939.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph. (1939). “Specials” Visit Factory. 27 January. p9e. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000701/19390127/196/0009: accessed 8 May 2021.

From Wikipedia(8) I learned that Special Constables generally wore the same uniforms as their full time counterparts. So, Owen would have worn a uniform like those illustrated by the British Police History website. I have not reproduced the images here for copyright reasons.

During the war Sheffield Special Constables worked during bombing, and took part in a parade in Sheffield with armed forces at the end of the war.(9)

Owen died on 1st July 1962 at Winter Street Hospital in Sheffield.(10) I have not yet ordered a death certificate, Owen was after all my grandmother’s cousin, a rather distant relative. However, I can take a stab at his cause of death, aged just 56. It seems very likely that he had contracted tuberculosis. Winter Street Hospital was purpose built for infectious diseases(11), and specialised in tuberculosis from 1912(12). Evidence of the roof top “airing courts” are visible in the image below.

Winter Street Hospital © Copyright Terry Robinson and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Owen’s premature death feels like a very sad end to what seems to have been a very full life.

  1. 1939 Register. England. Sheffield, Yorkshire. 29 September 1939. WADSWORTH, Kathleen E. Sheffield 510/4 KIPT. SN 106. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed 08 May 2021.
  2. Census records. England. Wickersley, Yorkshire. 02 April 1911. WADSWORTH Leonard Downes (head). Rotherham/RG14/PN28065/ RG78/PN1603/ RD511/ SD2/ ED23 /SN139 https://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed 04 April 2009.
  3. Births Index (CR) England. RD Rotherham. 2nd Q 1906. WADSWORTH, John Edward Owen. Vol. 9b. p. 734. http://www.gro.gov.uk : accessed 09 May 2021.
  4. Baptisms (PR) England. Wickersley, Rotherham, Yorkshire. 03 June 1906. WADSWORTH, John Edward Owen. [Transcription] In Wadsworths Wickersley (2003) Kendrick, Angela.
  5. Marriages Index (CR) England. RD Sheffield. 1st Q 1933. WADSWORTH John E O & TELFORD Kathleen E. Vol. 9c. p. 867. http://www.gro.gov.uk : accessed 08 May 2021.
  6. Births Index (CR) England. RD Sheffield. 4thQ 1939. WADSWORTH, Eileen M. Vol. 9c. p. 1411. http://www.gro.gov.uk : accessed 08 May 2021.
  7. Crime and Punishment Collections Network 2018. Sheffield City Archives. https://www.capcollections.org.uk/organisation/sheffield-city-archives/ : accessed 09 May 2021.
  8. Wikipedia. Special Constabulary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Constabulary#Uniform : accessed 08 May 2021.
  9. Clarke, Helen. (1999/2021) Charles Leslie Batterham in The Wartime Memories Project – Police and Special Constabulary during the Second World War. https://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/ww2/allied/regiment.php?pid=8 : accessed 09 May 2021.
  10. Testamentary records. England. 27 May 1963. WADSWORTH John Edward Owen. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the grants of probate . p. 12. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1858-1966. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 08 May 2021.
  11. Robinson, Terry. SK3487 : Winter Street Hospital (Former), Winter Street, Sheffield – 1 … Later re-named St George’s Hospital. https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2040432 : accessed 8 May 2021
  12. Wikipedia. Bartolomé House. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartolom%C3%A9_House : accessed 8 May 2021

One reply on “52 Ancestors: Week 18 – Crime and Punishment”

This is the second policeman post I read today where he dies young of TB… perhaps a danger of the trade? And, I wonder why they were invited to a canning factory, even if it was ‘model’. Thanks for sharing.

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