Subject Name: William Billimore (b 1820 – d 1884)

Researcher: Julia Browne

William Billimore was a man with a violent temper which repeatedly landed him in trouble with the authorities, including spells in Wandsworth Prison, before living his final years in the Guildford Union Workhouse.

William was born in 1820, the first son of James Billimore, an agricultural labourer, and Elizabeth Thomas, being baptised on 20 December at St Lawrence Parish Church in Chobham.

The family moved to Stoke-next-Guildford, as on 4 June 1825 a second son John was born and baptised on 3 July at St John the Evangelist Parish Church in the village.

In June 1841, James and Elizabeth are settled there, the Census showing them living in School House Lane with their two sons aged 20 and 16 – all three men working as agricultural labourers. Although James and Elizabeth were shown to be 45 years old, other records show that they were both almost 60 at this time.

A further ten years on and the family are still at the same address with neither William, 28, nor John, 25 (incorrectly noted as 24), married. James and Elizabeth are both age 68.  Just two and a half months later, John passed away age 26 and was buried on 14 June 1851.

As the 1850s progressed, William was gaining himself an unwelcome reputation with the local authorities which came to a head on 17 May 1856 in Guildford when he assaulted a woman named Selina Stiles and the policeman who tried to protect her. An article in the West Surrey Times the following week said that “a witness saw him with a bag of meal, which he swung round and thereby hitting the plaintive several times; he also struck her with his fist, so that she staggered”. When the policeman intervened to arrest William, “he was very violent, tried to bite him several times, kicked and laid down”.

William was fined 40 shillings (£2) or to serve six weeks hard labour at Wandsworth Prison. As the average weekly wage for an agricultural labourer at this time was only about a quarter of this fine, it seems likely that he would have gone to prison.

Unfortunately, his aggressive behaviour continued. In 1860, his name twice appears in the Register of Prisoners of Wandsworth Prison for being drunk and disorderly on the first occasion, and assaulting a policeman on the second. The first record stated he had previously been convicted three times. The records also contained a physical description of William, saying he was 5’ 7 1/2” (1.71m) tall with brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion, weighing 10 stone 7 pounds (66.7kg). One fact that was inaccurate, however, was his age, as with each time that he was convicted, he removed a number of years from his actual age.

When the 1861 Census was taken, William, 42, was back living with his elderly parents in School House Lane, but this did not last long as in 1862 he twice more appeared in the Register of Prisoners in Wandsworth, again for assault. He received a one-month sentence, and a £2 5s (£2.25) fine in July, followed by a further two months with a £5 10s (£5.50) fine just ten days after the previous conviction had been served.

Soon after he left prison in October, his mother Elizabeth died age 82. She was buried at St John’s, Stoke-next-Guildford on 5 January 1863. William’s father James died the following year age 83, and was buried on 25 March 1864 also at St John’s.

William, unmarried and with no immediate family, now slips beneath the radar as he cannot be found on any official record until the 1881 Census where he is noted as an inmate in the Guildford Union Workhouse. He gave his age as 44, so his accuracy in that department was as wild as ever – he was more likely 61.

William lived for almost another three years before passing away in 1884, officially aged 60, but most probably 63. He was buried alongside his parents and his brother at the St John the Evangelist Church on 13 February 1884.

June 2021, updated March 2022

Sources :  Ancestry.co.uk
                   FindMyPast.co.uk (British Newspaper Archive)
                   Government Register Office gro.gov.uk
                    Journal of the Statistical Society of London
                   Surrey History Centre 
Full references available