Diagram of the treadwheel at Aylesbury House of Correction. This was one of the forms of punishment suffered by Great Horwood and Singleborough residents imprisoned with hard labour during the nineteenth century. By permission of the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Q/AG 42/2.
The Abduction of Helen Line, 1885 A scandal that rocked Great Horwood in November 1885 was reported in over thirty different newspapers throughout the British Isles from London to Dublin, Dundee and even translated into Welsh in Baner ac Amserau Cymru. This was the shocking case of the seduction and abduction of a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl by a 37-year-old ‘gentleman’.
In 1881, Samuel Taylor Mendel was a ‘retired merchant’ with inherited money from the East India trade, aged 32 and living in Appleton-le-Street, Yorkshire with his wife Mary, daughter Ethel, eight servants and a governess. By late 1882, Mendel had been widowed, lost some of his fortune, left his daughters Ethel and baby Olive with his parents-in-law, moved to Buckinghamshire and married a 23-year-old barmaid, Adelaide Clarke.
In summer 1884, the couple moved to the west half of Grenville Cottage, Great Horwood, now 25 Little Horwood Road. They bought their meat from a village butcher and farmer, Joseph Line, and sometimes Joseph’s daughter Helen delivered it to the Mendels’ villa. Helen was not quite thirteen, the same age as his own elder daughter, when Mendel started to take an unsavoury interest in her.
Grenville Cottages, Little Horwood Road, where Mendel lived when he committed his crimes.
Samuel Mendel often drove Helen in his horse and trap to and from school in Winslow and he soon began to shower her with expensive presents. These gifts included silver bracelets, gold rings, a gold pencil case with his name engraved on it, a tortoiseshell knife with ‘Nellie’ engraved and, for her fourteenth birthday, a gold locket in a case, engraved with a forget-me-not and the words, ‘Helen Sarah Line, September 4th 1885’. Helen was a young girl, flattered to be treated like a woman, excited to have wonderful gifts lavished upon her and too immature and naïve to realise the dangers. Around the time of Helen’s fourteenth birthday, Adelaide left Samuel and moved back home to her family. They remained married but he decided to sell his furniture and move to Manchester, his birthplace, taking Helen with him. He gave Helen a letter telling her to come away with him:
Helen Line's testimony at Samuel Taylor Mendel’s trial, 'Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Aylesbury News', 16 January 1886.
Helen’s sister Caroline found the letter, and Helen was confined to the house to prevent her from going with Mendel. However, shockingly, their eldest sister, 24-year-old Elizabeth, helped Helen to escape and accompanied her little sister and Mendel to London. On 6th November 1885 they all slept in one room at a coffee shop near Euston Station, Mendel and Helen in one bed and Elizabeth in another. The following day, they travelled by train to Southwold on the Suffolk coast. Mendel was annoyed that Elizabeth came with them and had her book two rooms at a guesthouse so that he could spend the night alone with Helen. By this time, Mendel and Helen were calling themselves 'Mr and Mrs Taylor', and Helen was wearing a wedding ring.
During the week they spent in Southwold, Mendel tried to blackmail Helen’s parents against seeking his arrest. Helen must have mentioned to him some misdemeanor that her brother George had committed so, on 12 November, Mendel sent Elizabeth home with a letter demanding that Joseph and Mary Ann Lines sign a statement giving consent for Helen to live with him of her own free will as his wife. If they refused, Helen would be a ‘ruined girl’ and Mendel’s solicitor Robert Stoneham would inform the police of George’s crime. He and Helen were about to sail to Spain and would not return to England until they had her parents’ consent. However, the Line family was not swayed by these threats and George Line immediately delivered the threatening letter along with others to Police Sergeant Bowden in Winslow. The next day, Stoneham persuaded Mendel to bring Helen back to London. Stoneham had Helen brought to his office, where Sgt Bowden and Inspector Dowdell of the Metropolitan Police immediately collected her and Sgt Bowden took her home.
Mendel turned himself in on 21st November. At a Special Sessions at Winslow on 2nd December he was charged with taking away Helen Sarah Line aged 14 from the custody of her father and also, ‘under the new Act, with criminally assaulting the same girl, she being over 13 but under 16 years of age’. This ‘new Act’ was the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 14th August 1885 which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16. Samuel Mendel was one of the first men to fall foul of the new law. The magistrates committed Mendel to trial on both charges at the next Assizes.
Mendel pleaded guilty before Mr Justice Manisty at the Buckinghamshire Winter Assizes in Aylesbury on 12th January 1886. The judge remarked that ‘he had never heard a case which had caused him more anxiety’ and said that:
Justice Manisty’s remarks during Samuel Taylor Mendel’s trial, 'Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Aylesbury News', 16 January 1886.
Mr Justice Manisty explained that the crimes of abduction and of misdemeanour assault were each punishable by two years’ imprisonment with hard labour. He feared he was being too lenient but, partly because of Elizabeth Line’s shocking complicity in the abduction, he passed two concurrent sentences of 15 months’ imprisonment with hard labour on Mendel.
Helen had been returned to her family but, as Mendel had threatened, she was now a ‘ruined girl’. Helen’s and Elizabeth’s reputations were destroyed. In 1891, all four of the eldest Line daughters were keeping a boarding house in Bloomsbury, London, probably sent there by their parents to try to escape the taint of scandal. Elizabeth Line never married. Helen Line cannot be traced after 1891 so perhaps she changed her name.
It seemed that Mendel had been lucky to escape with a lighter sentence than the law permitted. However, he had never previously had to do physical work and could not cope with forced hard labour. Just two months into his sentence, newspapers reported:
Sam Taylor Mendel … has already become so broken down that he has been removed from the county gaol at Aylesbury to Oxford Gaol, where there is a hospital connected with the prison.
Samuel Taylor Mendel died in Croydon on 1 April 1895 at the age of 46. He probably wasn't in contact with his family as he left £1,267 7s. 4d. not to his daughters or to his wife but to his lawyers, Robert and Frederic Stoneham for them to dispose of.
Adelaide Mendel did not remarry after Mendel’s death but stayed at home with her parents and siblings, some of whom never married either, their reputations perhaps tarnished by association with the name, Mendel.
More from Great Horwood’s Criminal Past 19th-century newspapers reported a variety of crimes involving people from Great Horwood and Singleborough. Here are just a few:
Sentence of Death
In 1822, John Etton appeared at Buckingham Assizes charged with stealing a horse from Ann Harris of Great Horwood. He was sentenced to death but reprieved.
Deceiving the Gullible
In August 1839, Singleborough farmer, Thomas Mills visited The Plough pub in Winslow reportedly carrying £20 (approx. £1,200 today) in his purse. Two respectably dressed men, claiming to be ‘gentlemen on a spree’, engaged him in conversation, plied him with alcohol, offered to lease a farm to him and then gave him £10 for himself or charitable purposes. As he put the money into his purse, the men expressed concern that he didn’t wrap it securely. Thomas allowed them to wrap all his money in brown paper and put it back into his purse for him. The men invited Thomas to dinner at The Bell but, when he arrived, he discovered that no one matching their description was staying there. Only then did he check his purse. All his money was gone.
Thomas Mills was a victim of crime again in July 1844 when one of his horses was stolen. He started a hue and cry to spread news of the theft from town to town until the horse and the thief were discovered a fortnight later in Salisbury. George Smith of Great Horwood was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to 10 years’ transportation. Hearing his sentence, Smith addressed the judge, “Thank you sir; I have been there before, and shall be glad to get out of the country.”
Mary Jenkins, a maidservant of Singleborough, was sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour in 1852 for stealing two blank cheques from her master, Richard Fairbrother, and attempting to use them.
On 12th April 1855 John Gascoyne (46) stole one loaf of bread from William Hanson, a Great Horwood baker. At Buckinghamshire Midsummer Quarter-Sessions, Judge Lord Carington sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment even though, at the same sessions, he sentenced one James Messenger to only 14 days’ imprisonment for stealing 30 loaves of bread from Thomas Nash at Bierton.
Several villagers, struggling to feed their families during hard times, committed the crimes of trespass and poaching. Several members of the Marks family found themselves in trouble for such offences, including Gill Wood’s great-grandfather, Jabez Marks. Another whose poaching cost him dear was Joseph Ridgway who, in 1864, was fined £5 plus costs and imprisoned for three months with hard labour for shooting a partridge in Singleborough without a licence and a further £2 plus costs and another two months’ hard labour for trespass in search of game on land occupied by George Viccars.
In 1871, Benjamin Harrup (15) and George Price (14) attacked James Stevens, an old man. They took his barrow from him and threw him over it, leaving his face and nose badly cut. They were fined and, in default, imprisoned for 14 days.
George Fowler married Great Horwood girl Maria Collyer on 15th June 1874 but neglected to tell her that he was already married to Jane Humphrey of Houghton Regis. He was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment.
There were several traffic offences, such as driving a cart without lights, under-age driving, leaving a cart unattended and driving without reins. Alfred Barfoot, fined 6s (30p) in 1888 for driving without reins, was just one of the Great Horwood villagers to fall foul of traffic laws even before there were motor-cars on the roads.
Four arson attacks damaged outbuildings at Manor Farm in Nash Road during December 1893. The stable boy, 15-year-old Herbert Faulkner, was arrested partly because suspicion was cast upon him by Eunice Fennemore, the farmer’s 14-year-old domestic servant. At a Special Sessions at Winslow, Faulkner was released because there was no evidence against him but he had lost his job and his character had been sullied. On 20th March 1894 a fifth identical fire was started. Eunice Fennemore accused Faulkner but Police Sergeant Knight of Winslow discovered that she was the real arsonist. Eunice was found guilty of the fifth arson attack but, because of her youth, the Assize Judge, Sir Charles E Pollock, sentenced her to only one day’s imprisonment and released her to live with Miss Holland of Buckingham, who had taken her into service.
England and Wales Census returns, various.
Local and national newspapers, including Buckinghamshire Advertiser and Aylesbury News, Bucks Herald, Baner ac Amserau Cymru.
Criminal Registers, Bucks Winter Assizes, 1886.
South Metropolitan Cemetery Burial Register, 1895.
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Will and Administrations), 1858-1995.