Ellen Tring

The life of Ellen Tring is a fascinating insight into world of crime and false identities.  Ellen worked as both a rag sorter and a rag picker, but like many others she had to find other ways to earn a living. Her other occupations included a weaver, millhand and a common prostitute. A woman of “notoriously bad character”, she also went by the names of Ellen Quinn and Ellen Cameron. Prison records show that her date of birth varied between 1846 and 1850 and she was born in either County Armagh or Glasgow depending on the alias she used at the time. [1]

The prison records also provide details of her background and her physical appearance. Ellen’s height was recorded as being between 5ft 1” and 5 ft 3”. She had brown hair, pierced ears and a scar on her forehead.  On her left arm she had tattooed the initials of her husband, John William Tring, a mechanic. Ellen was a Roman Catholic who could read but who had an imperfect education. She had no fixed abode but records show that she lived in Bradford, Barnsley, Dewsbury, Halifax, Heckmondwike and Sheffield, among others – all areas associated with the heavy woollen industry and rag working. It was her criminal convictions that brought her to the attention of the courts and the newspapers. “A wretched looking woman”, “well known to the police” and “an old thief” she had approximately twenty-one criminal convictions between the years 1877 and 1896, with sentences from three days to twelve months hard labour. [2]

Ellen had a tough life and may have turned to drink as a way of forgetting her problems. However, this in turn led to numerous criminal convictions for drunkenness, disorderly behaviour and for being riotous. It also led to violence. Ellen was convicted in June 1883 in Bradford of being drunk and riotous. Her profession was given as rag picker. She had already had two previous convictions that year. [3] In 1879 Ellen and her husband assaulted three bailiffs, named Berry, Wallace and Green who had come to their house in Sheffield. The men were struck and kicked by John, whilst Ellen threw plates and a drawer from a dresser. [4] On 29th June 1883 she was also convicted at Bradford of assault on Sarah Ann Wood [5]. In the case of the latter he had been called to the Commercial Hotel Ravensthorpe where Ellen, being the worse for drink, had refused to leave. Ellen had become very violent and had assaulted the constable. [6]

41238_1831101881_0652-00109.jpgSarah Ann Wood
Wakefield Prison Register 1883-84

Ellen also pleaded guilty and gave the excuse of being the worse for liquor when she stole three vests from George Cathcart Wood, a pawnbroker. [7] She was also drunk when she was involved in the theft of a rug from Mr Mitchell of Cleckheaton and the stealing of an overcoat from tailor and draper Joseph Ward with Robert McMillan (a currier with whom she lived as man and wife). [8] She had previously been convicted of stealing seven shirts from John W Burrell, a draper in 1877. [9] She was also convicted of stealing a shawl belonging to Mary Ann Stokes (and replacing it with an old one) [10] Prostitution and vagrancy were amongst her other convictions. [11] Despite being very drunk, she was acquitted of stealing a watch, guard and locket valued at 8s from David Jefferson in Barrow. [12] They both met in the Duke of Edinburgh public house and drank half a bottle of whiskey in a nearby field. She was told “she had had a narrow escape”. She was also acquitted of stealing 4s from Harry Mawson in Otley. [13]

The final record of her is in an article in the Knaresborough Post in September 1896. [14] Ellen was now an old woman and was charged once again with drunkenness after she had been found asleep near Dragon Farm. She stated that she was destitute and had sold her spectacles for a nights’ lodgings in the Poorhouse. The police inspector replied that she had promised to go to the workhouse the previous year but had been imprisoned the following day for drunkenness. She was told to keep off the drink and was sent to gaol for seven days. It seems that Ellen was unable to refrain from drinking and her colourful life was largely the result of it. She was not unique. Other women, many of whom worked in the rags industries, had very similar lives to Ellen. Their stories can also be found in the archives and newspaper reports.

Tracey Williams

End notes

  1. West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Wakefield History Centre (WHC), Quarter Session Records, QS1/220/5, Petty Sessions records, P7/30, P18/6
  2. ibid: WYAS, WHC, C118/ 261. Calendar of Prisoners 1881-2 Ellen Tring noted to have had fourteen previous prison sentences, including for theft of shirts and three waistcoats
  3. WYAS, WHC, Wakefield Prison Female register C118/227, 1883-1884
  4. Sheffield Independent: 19 March 1879
  5. http://www.ancestry.co.uk: WYAS, WHC, Wakefield Prison Female Registers, C118/227, 1883-1884
  6. Dewsbury Reporter: 8 December 1883
  7. Sheffield Independent: 10 September 1879
  8. Bradford Daily Telegraph: 10 January 1882
  9. Sheffield Independent: 13 December 1877
  10. Bradford Daily Telegraph: 26 February 1884
  11. WYAS, WHC, C118 Nominal register 1880-1881. Conviction 24th January 1881 in Barnsley
    12. Lancaster Gazette: 30 June 1880
  12. Wakefield Archives Q51/220/5: Bradford Daily Telegraph: 29 June 1881
  13. Knaresborough Post; 19 September 1896 (Dragon)