A Vagrant Called Ghost

Ghosts are not always supernatural beings from the spirit world. One such example I encountered recently was an unfortunate individual who lived during the middle of the 19th century. His name was Ghost Wright.

It is unlikely that Ghost was his original Christian name, although that was the name he was commonly known by, particularly in the two appearances he made before the Quarter Sessions court in 1847. Both of these were for convictions under the Vagrancy Act of 1824. This had been introduced shortly after the Napoleonic Wars to combat the large numbers of soldiers that returned and who were both jobless and homeless. These unfortunate individuals had no alternative other than to wander from place to place in search of employment.

Uttoxeter Market Place

Uttoxeter Market Place

The first of the two offences that involved Ghost was on June 22nd when, at half past eleven at night, he was found lying across the footpath in the Market Place at Uttoxeter and unable to give any account of himself, where he was from, or what he was doing. Convicted of the offence he was committed to the House of Correction at Stafford for fourteen days and kept to hard labour.

The second offence was on July 7th at Weston where he ‘did wander abroad and did lodge in a certain outhouse there situated and not having any visible means of subsistence and not giving a good account of himself’ was ordered to return to the House of Correction. This time he was given the rather harsh sentence of being kept to hard labour for three months.

Why, on both occasions, was he unable to give an account of himself? Was this unfortunate individual deaf, or dumb, or possibly incapacitated in some other way? Perhaps his incapacity was so severe that he was unable to communicate his Christian name and the moniker of Ghost had been given to him by the authorities to reflect his nocturnal wanderings.

It appears possible that Ghost was simply an unfortunate individual who, unable to support himself, took to wandering in search of accommodation and employment. Thomas Stokes, however, was probably not so innocent. On the night of February 28th 1825 he was arrested in possession of a handcart, spade, fork and two boxes. We can only conjecture what his motives were for wandering about in the darkness with such a collection of tools.

Most vagrants were single men. However, some travelled in pairs for safety and companionship, such as George Pool and John Smith who were described as ‘idle and disorderly persons’ who on February 18th 1829 did ‘wander abroad and beg or gather alms at Uttoxeter.’ Their sentence was confinement to the House of Correction at Stafford and kept to hard labour for one calendar month.

Occasionally women were also convicted of similar offences. Esther Richardson was convicted of being a ‘rogue and vagabond’ in July 1834 and ‘did wander abroad and lodge in a barn or outhouse at Uttoxeter.’ She too was sent to the House of Correction at Stafford for fourteen days, but was spared the task of hard labour. Some women did not escape so lightly. In December 1825 Elizabeth Mills, ‘a common prostitute was at a late hour wandering in the public streets and market place at Hanley behaving in a riotous and indecent manner.’ Similarly, in March1828 Ann Clulow was apprehended on the public highway between Leek and Cheddleton for the same offence. Both ladies were sentenced to a month at the House of Correction and kept to hard labour.

Occasionally other ‘improper’ behaviour was subject to the Vagrancy Act. In March 1806 Joseph Follows and Walter Malpas, both labourers of Tixall, allegedly discovered Anne Greene and Mary Sharp lodging in a shed in a field belonging to their master, Peter Perry, a yeoman of Tixall. The two women were described as ‘behaving in a very lewd and disorderly manner and unable to give a good account of themselves.’ No further details were given as to what the ‘lewd and disorderly’ behaviour involved. Had they been approached by Follows and Malpas, who had amorous intentions which had been rejected? Was this an act of revenge by the two men who concocted a story with which to discredit the women? The outcome was that they were branded as rogues and vagabonds and committed to the House of Correction at Stafford where they were to remain until the next Quarter Sessions of the Peace unless discharged sooner by the law.

Although heavily amended since being introduced almost 200 years ago the Vagrancy Act is still in-force today, making it an offence to sleep on the streets or to beg for subsistence money.

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