2.35 – Richard Percy Martin (previously unmarked)

Two simple sidestones: In Loving Memory of Richard Percy Martin who fell asleep Dec. 19th 1914 aged 10 years. Never forgotten by his loving father, mother, and sister.

Richard Percy Martin, or Percy Richard Martini as he was registered at birth, was born in Holbeck, Leeds, the son of Richard and Rosa Martin. Richard was a “trick cyclist”, or trick psychiatrist, or maybe even just a performing cyclist – the term can refer to both types of performance – who performed under the name Richard Martini along with his wife Rosa (or Rose, or Rosina, depending on the census return in question) as part of a travelling entertainment troupe. Its membership was loosely formed, but Richard and Rosa were constantly on the road. Rosa had been born Rose Bradley in Margate, and ran away with Richard a month after being convicted of stealing two pairs of boots from a shoemaker and being released under her father’s recognisance. He was a police officer so the entire affair must have been very embarrassing. They had one other child, Rosa Alexandra Martin, born two years before Richard.

Richard and Rose’s marriage certificate

Young Richard’s death was a sad one, and opened up a number of mysteries for our researchers. From the inquest into Richard’s death in December 1914, in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter:

“Mr. E. H. Hill, the district coroner, and a jury presided over by Mr. Robert Sutcliffe, held an inquest at the Town hall, on Monday afternoon, on a boy named Richard Percy Martin, ten years of age, who for the last five years has lodged with Mrs. [Nelly] Earley, of 22, Victoria Road, Todmorden, and who died under rather mysterious circumstances on Saturday afternoon, without having been attended by a doctor.

Richard Martin, 4, Great Market Road, Great Yarmouth, trick cyclist, said deceased was his son. For the last five years deceased had lived with Mrs. Earley, at 22, Victoria Road, Todmorden. As far as he knew the boy had had good health. He had never been attended by a doctor as far as he knew. He (witness) and his wife were always travelling about, and the boy had lived permanently at the address in Victoria Road.

One of many newspaper mentions of Richard and Rosa, aka Monsieur and Rose Martini

Mrs. Earley. 22, Victoria Road, said deceased had lived with her for about five years. His health had been good, except that he had had an occasional cold. He had not had a particularly delicate stomach. He went to school on Friday afternoon, and was all right when he went to bed.

The Coroner: What had he for supper on Friday?- Witness: Nothing but some chips he had bought outside. Before that he had had half of a big sour orange. For tea he had bread and butter and bananas. He ate the chips outside, and when he came home he said he had eaten them hot. He went to bed about 9-30.
Asked if he went to sleep, witness said he usually had a play in bed with two or three of the other children, for about an hour. He went to sleep after that till the big girls went to bed about 11-30. They were rather later than usual, having been to the picture show. As they were going to bed he woke up, and vomited. He vomited the orange and big pieces of chips. She said “There is no wonder at your being ill, eating them like that.” He went to sleep again, and slept till the children went to work between 5-30 and 5-45 next morning. He asked for a drink, and she gave him some water, just aired, which he vomited back. He did not get up. She wrapped him up, and he went to sleep till the girls came home for breakfast, when she took him up a drink of tea. She asked him if he was going to get up, and he said— No, he would stop in bed. She wrapped him up and left him in bed. She went up to him during the forenoon, and he seemed to be asleep. About 10-30 she took him down into her daughters’ room, so that she could hear him if he wanted anything. He walked down into the bedroom. He went to sleep again till the girls came in from the mill at dinner-time. She said if he was not better they would carry him down into the front room, so that they could see him. Her daughter carried him down, because he said he felt dizzy and could not walk. He had not any diarrhoea. They put him on the sofa in the front room, and he went straight to sleep again. She sent one of her little girls to Dr. Mather’s surgery to ask the doctor to call when he came out of the surgery. That would be about two o’clock. All the rest of the afternoon he seemed to be sleeping peacefully. She thought he was having a good sleep. Her eldest daughter was in the room all the time, ironing. She went to look at him about ten minutes to four, and as he looked awfully bad she said to one of the girls “I am sure he is in a fit, or something.” He was gasping very hard- big gasps, and then stopping. She sent one of the girs for Dr. Mather again, but she came back, saying he was not in. She then went, and they said the doctor was out, but they did not think he would be long. She then ran for Dr. Southwell, and he followed her, but the boy had been dead about five minutes when he arrived.

Dr. Mather: Had the child ever complained of stomach-ache?- Witness: No. He has ailed nothing but just a bit of a cold, the same as children have when they get wet. He was always a very big eater, and ate his meals very quickly.

The Coroner: Without chewing them? Witness: Always without chewing them. He would eat three slices while the other children were eating one.

Dr. J. de Ville Mather said he got in rather late on Saturday afternoon and went into the surgery about 2-30. He received the message to call and see this boy, and after attending to the surgery patients he had one or two appointments, and intended calling to see the boy. He did not think it was an urgent case, and was intending calling later. He had since made a post-mortem examination. Externally, the body was moderately emaciated, and not well nourished. A child of that age ought to be plump. The post-mortem colouring was very marked. The heart and lungs were normal. The stomach was intensely dilated and injected. The small intestines were also injected. There was no obstruction of the passage. There was intestinal matter in the stomach. The bladder, kidneys, liver and spleen were normal, but the peritonseum was absolutely crammed with tuberculous matter. The glands were much enlarged, and breaking down in places. He did not think this condition was of long standing, but it was rapidly increasing, and this, in his opinion, was the cause of death. These must have been tuberculous disease for some time. The brain was quite normal. There was no tuberculous mischief there. In his opinion death was due to general abdominal tuberculosis. The vomiting symptoms simply hastened the end.

The Coroner: If he had been in a normal condition, he would have simply vomited and been all right again? I think so. Would it have been at all easy to have diagnosed the case?— Sometimes you can get at it.
I should have thought it would have been noticed that he was wasting a bit? Still it would not interfere with his running about, and going to school, and so on. -The doctor said that was so. Had the intestines been affected by it.- No. Would it affect the passage of digestive matter generally?- I think so. It would tend to intensify the condition of gastritis set up by this food. I am surprised that he has not had recurrent attacks of constipation and diarrhoea … It looked as if it was just the last straw.- The doctor said that was so, and he was surprised he had not complained of pain … A verdict in accordance with the medical evidence was at once returned.

The mystery of why Richard’s illness was not noticed earlier deepened when we started asked why he was with the Earleys in the first place. On the face of it, it makes sense – Richard Sr. and Rosa would be travelling all over for work. In fact, their daughter Rosa was living with the Earleys in Pontefract in 1911. Why she isn’t with them in 1914 is unknown. And the connection between the families is not known either. It is hard to believe that the Martins would have left their children with Nelly Earley if they had known her past. This is beyond youthful indiscretions such as Rosa’s boot thefts; this is sad, strange territory.

Detail from the 1911 Census

Nelly Elizabeth Parker Leng was born in Beverley in 1868 and first married Samuel Bromwich, by her account a volunteer with the army, in 1887. Samuel is impossible to trace after this. Nelly was not one for fidelity, although whether or not the reader believes that she was in full control of her fate will have to be left to them. Because in 1890 scandal erupted, when Nelly Bromwich was named as a chief witness, and part cause of, the suicide of Jane Popple of Laundress Lane in Beverley. From the inquest into Jane’s death in the Bolton Evening News, July 1890:

“A WOMAN SACRIFICED.” Yesterday afternoon an inquest was held at Beverley, on the body of Jane Popple, aged 26 years, residing in Hopper’s Buildings, Sandies-lane, who died from the effects of poison on the previous day. The evidence showed that the husband of deceased was labourer at the shipyard, and that a woman named Nelly Bromwich, who stated her husband was soldier in Africa, lived in the same house and slept in the same bed. This woman admitted that there had been reports of an unpleasant nature about herself and the husband, but that she still continued to live with them. She added that it was at the deceased’s suggestion that she occupied their bed. On Thursday the deceased had arranged to attend the funeral of Bromley’s [sic] illegitimate child, but when the time came informed her she had taken poison. It was found she bad taken the contents of threepenny packet of vermin-killer and although Dr. Walker was called, death ensued in about an hour. While the husband was being examined he fainted, and was taken from the room. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary mental derangement, brought on by the conduct of her husband and his relations with Nelly Bromwich; and the Coroner, at their request, severely censured the woman and Popple, remarking that did not believe their evidence, and that the jury would be unit for their position if they believed it. He added that he had had a long experience, but did not remember a case that had been so painful and disgusting as this. The jury had expressed themselves strongly, but not too strongly, for by their disgraceful conduct the life of this poor woman had been sacrificed.”

And the following week in the Beverley Echo:

“Sequel to the late Suicide at Beverley. The unfortunate woman, Jane Popple, whose suicide we chronicled last week, was buried on Saturday afternoon. A large crowd of women congregated round the entrance to Harrison’s Yard, Laundress Lane, where deceased had lived, to see if Nellie Bromwich (who with Mr. Popple were censured at the inquest) would follow the remains to the grave. She wisely abstained from doing so, but occasionally presented herself at the door or window, when she was greeted with howlings and execrations from the exasperated mob outside, who by their threats and gesticulations would have lynched her had they been able to get hold of her.”

Other coverage of Jane’s suicide went into more detail about Charles’s verbal abuse of Jane and Jane’s sister’s assertion that she would only have allowed Nelly to share the couple’s bed if Charles had browbeaten her into it. Even the coroner agreed, saying that there are other ways to mistreat a wife than to beat her. Was Nelly a conscious and willing participant in the bullying of Jane, or was she simply a young married woman, living alone and with little means of support, who had fallen under the control of an abusive man?

Detail from coverage in the Beverley and East Riding Recorder, July 12th 1890

It is perhaps worth noting now that Nelly had two children who died; Donald Samuel Bromwich (1888-1891) and Charles Henry Bromwich (1890-1890), the child in question whose funeral was being held the day Jane killed herself. For all Nelly’s assertion at the inquest that the dead child’s father was an unnamed soldier and that she had not “behaved improperly” with Charles Popple, the choice of first name rings hollow.

Charles and Nelly moved from Beverley due to their hated status and went to Wakefield, where they lived together as a labourer and domestic servant until 1895, when presumably Samuel Bromwich had died and they were able to marry in November of that year. In June 1896, Charles died. Good riddance? We may never know. By this time Nelly had two daughters, Laura and Ada. In 1897 she married Thomas Earley of Wakefield and they eventually came to Todmorden, where Thomas’s brother Michael was already settled.

It is hard to read the coverage of Jane’s suicide and not want to cast Charles as the sole villain; and if young Richard had been well looked after, as well looked after as Nelly’s own children appear on the face of it to have been, then it would be even easier. But his death and the way the inquest dances around the matter of whether he was neglected in any way, and knowing Nelly’s history, makes it a little harder. As with so many of these stories, there are no black and white, simple assumptions that can fairly be made without knowing the minds of those involved…

Richard and Rosa continued to tour after their son’s death, and the next (and last) time we were able to find them in the public record was in 1939 when they were living in Camberwell with, we think, young Rosa and a number of boarders and possible younger relatives. By this time Richard is a mail order salesman – presumably using some of his theatrical powers of suggestion to make his monthly targets.

Any further information that can be provided on the Martins or on Nelly Leng/Bromwich/Popple/Earley would be greatly appreciated.

One Comment

  1. What a very sad story .

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