The Biggs Abduction

An 1880 kidnapping ...

The 3rd February, 1880, saw an event in Tharston that hit the newspapers all around the country. It was alleged that a James Pitcher abducted Harriet Ann Biggs, the granddaughter of the Rev. William Biggs, who was the vicar of Tharston for 30 years.

The newspapers reported the incident and some highlights are:

"It seems that a young farmer names Pitcher, residing in the village, had some years ago courted a young girl named Harriett Ann Biggs. On the evening in question he proceeded to her mother's house, in company with three or four men and a horse and cart."

"The girl shrieked to her mother as she was being conveyed down the road. An uncle, who lived a few doors off, hearing her cries, ran after her, but was immediately pinned by two men, who held him down on the fence and muffled his face. Shortly afterwards the cart began to move off, and the men then left him and joined it."

"Information of the outrage was immediately sent to Policeman Stapleton, living at Long Stratton, who, with Policeman Hannant, proceeded to the spot and took measurements of the horse's feet and the cart wheels. They then telegraphed to the Deputy Chief-Constable (Mr. Paynton Pigott) at the County Police-station, and he at once turned out the whole of the Norwich division to guard the roads. It is supposed, however, that the delinquents must have passed into Norwich before the men had gained their posts, as no sign of them could be discovered. Policemen Stapleton and Hannant followed the marks of the horse and cart as far as Harford Bridge, leaving no doubt that the parties were making for Norwich."

"A reward of £10 has also been offered to any person who will give information leading to the apprehension of Pitcher or his confederates."

A full report of the incident was reported in The Ipswich Journal on February 7th, 1880.

James Pitcher and two of his accomplices were arrested and were later granted bail:

"..... James Pitcher on his recognizances of himself and two sureties of £150 each, and to each of the other prisoners on recognizances of two sureties for £30 each."

This was reported in The Ipswich Journal on March 13th, 1880.

On August 5th, 1880, the case came was hear at the Norwich Assizes.

"This case, which made a great stir when before the Magistrate some months since, did not fail to attract a full Court now. The Grand Jury gallery was filled by ladies."

The court heard evidence of the girl's earlier relationship with Pitcher:

"The prisoner who was charged as the principal (Pitcher) had been known to the family for some years, and no doubt had been in the habit of courting the young lady for some time, although the acquaintance and courtship had been broken off about a year before the occurrence which they were now inquiring into."

Details were given by Miss Biggs about what happened following the abduction:

"When we got to Bergh Apton I was taken out of the cart by Pitcher, and carried into the cottage. Two women were in the cottage. I did not know who they were. They first washed my feet, as they were cut and bleeding. I afterwards went upstairs to change my dress and one of the women gave me another."

Evidence was given that Miss Biggs was a girl with considerable means:

"I was entitled to £3,000 when I became twenty-one, and a further sum of £2,000 on the death of a relative. I have not taken the £3,000 yet, and it is now in the hands of the trustees."

Some inconsistencies in intent were found in cross-examination of Harriet:

"Witness continuing, said: When we got to the bedroom I put my arms round Pitcher's neck. He kissed me and I kissed him. He told me I must get off his knee while he got into bed. When he was in bed he asked whether I was not coming. He then got out of bed, unhooked my dress in front, helped me further to undress, and got into bed again. I then put on my night dress and got into bed."

When evidence had all been presented and summing up completed, after just 15 minutes deliberation the jury returned their verdict:

"The Jury, after a quarter of an hour's deliberation, acquitted all the prisoners, and the verdict was followed by loud applause. Pitcher was enthusiastically cheered by the crowd outside the Court when he left."

This was reported in The Ipswich Journal on August 7th, 1880. Anyone who looks at the full report can see why the not guilty verdict was given.

Many newspapers, local and national, reported this "abduction" and some further examples can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.

It appears that if Harriet had conspired with James to leave her mother, the intention was short lived. She married local farmer Arthur Richard Alexander in 1884, who is thought to be have been born in Wacton. They had a daughter, Edith Rebecca, born on July 4th, 1886, and at the time were probably living in Morningthorpe. By the time of the 1891 Census they had had three more children, Arthur, Frederick and Harriet and were all living at Hardwick Hall with Arthur's widowed mother, Mary Ann Alexander, and a live-in domestic servant, Rosina Fisher. The 1901 Census shows 5 more children, Herbert, Alice, Mildred, Elsie and Olive; but sadly daughter Harriet had already died in late 1891. In 1911, the Census shows the family still at Hardwick Hall, with six children living at home.

Harriet is buried in Hardwick churchyard; inscription:

"In loving memory HARRIETT ANN dearly beloved wife of ARTHUR RICHARD ALEXANDER born 7th April 1855 died 26th Feb. 1919 'What I say unto you I say unto all' Also of ARTHUR RICHARD ALEXANDER born January 4th 1851 died December 30th 1925".

The daughter Harriet is also buried there; inscription:

"In loving memory of HARRIET JANE the dearly loved child of ARTHUR R. HARRIET A. ALEXANDER born April 4th 1890 died Nov. 25th 1891 'Jesus called a little child'."

James was living in Tharston in 1881 with his widowed sister, Elizabeth, and her three children and a domestic servant, according to the Census. In 1885 he married Helen Lane.

The 1891 Census lists him as a farmer and publican on the North Walsham Road in Coltishall. (The pub is believed to be the New Inn which is now called The Railway.) 1901 finds James listed as a publican in King's Lynn, The Grapes in Saturday Market Place, living with wife Alice, son James and daughter Erne; has he got married a second time? There is a record of a marriage in 1902 between James Pitcher and Alice Maude Alborough but there is no record found for the death of a Helen Pitcher - strange! If this is a second marriage then does this have indications on how the abduction is viewed regarding the idea that Harriet had asked him to promise to remain faithful? The 1911 Census has James a visitor in Norwich with two of his children, the oldest of which was born in King's Lynn and working as an insurance agent.