William Jobling - hero or villain?

VICTIM'S HOME ... this is where Nicholas Fairles lived.

VICTIM'S HOME ... this is where Nicholas Fairles lived.


So a memorial is to be erected in memory of William Jobling.

Murderer or working-class martyr? Take your pick. Like the idea? Time, I think, for one of my occasional dips into the world of historical mysteries as opposed to paranormal ones.

Over the next three columns I’m going to reveal the truth about William Jobling, the murder of magistrate Nicholas Fairles and the making of an urban legend.

Some will find my conclusions controversial, but I want those who think that erecting a memorial to Jobling is a good idea to understand exactly what they’re committing themselves to.

On Monday, June 11, 1832, Jobling and his pal Ralph Armstrong were drinking in Turner’s bar at the bottom of Hudson Street, South Shields.

At 5pm, Jobling went outside and espied the magistrate Nicholas Fairles riding upon his horse.

Jobling asked Fairles for beer money, but his efforts were rebuffed. 

By this time Jobling had been joined by Armstrong, who attacked Fairles with a stout length of wood and a stone.

The magistrate was seriously injured, and the two pitmen ran off as fast as their inebriated legs would carry them. The victim died ten days later. Or at least, that’s the generally accepted story. Some argue that Jobling was no criminal, but rather a folk hero, a man to be sympathised with and even admired, if not exactly revered.

The facts paint a somewhat different picture.

It is universally accepted that Jobling was present when Fairles was attacked, but his supporters often argue that he neither encouraged the assault nor took part in it.

Ralph Armstrong was the murderer, they say, while Jobling was essentially an innocent bystander.

However, even Jobling’s admirers acknowledge that by begging from Fairles he did play a role in the events that led to the murder.

The primary defence used in relation to Jobling is the poverty that he, his family and his working-class colleagues were forced to endure.

Now while it is true that the miners were treated very harshly and subjected to grinding poverty, Jobling’s impoverishment was seemingly not so great that he couldn’t afford to spend his days drinking in public houses.

Money that could have been spent putting food on the table of his family was frittered away, instead, on ale.

Whatever one may think of Jobling, he was hardly a model of sobriety.

The above version of the story, revered almost as holy writ by Jobling’s supporters, was essentially propagated by Jobling himself.

In fact it is nothing more than a tissue of lies, as we shall see.

What many people are unaware of is that approximately one hour before Fairles approached the vicinity of Turner’s bar, an almost identical incident had taken place, but without such tragic consequences.

John Archer Foster, employed as a viewer at Jarrow Colliery, related his own experience at Jobling’s trial: “ ... about four o’clock in the afternoon, I saw ...William Jobling ... and he came up to me from Turner’s public house. He asked me for some money to drink.

“I at first refused to give him any. I then saw a man called Ralph Armstrong, who came running towards me from the public house: When I saw Armstrong, I gave Jobling a shilling. Jobling then let go his hold on my bridle and went away towards Turner’s public house.”  

This was clearly not a case of begging, but rather obtaining money by menaces.

Jobling had seized the bridle of Foster’s mount, and asked for money.

Foster’s refusal precipitated the rapid approach of Armstrong, whose demeanour obviously unnerved Foster so much that he had a rapid change of mind and coughed up the money.

Only when the men had obtained Foster’s money did Jobling release his hold and allow the man to continue.

Jobling and Armstrong did not beg from Foster; they intimidated him, and the rider clearly felt that if he did not accede to the demand, physical violence may have been a distinct possibility.

Next week we’ll see how the pair’s next victim paid the ultimate price for standing up to them.




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