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Tony Flynn
100 YEARS AGO: STRANGE CASE OF ELDERLY WOMAN SLEEPING ROUGH IN WORSLEY WOODS
Sadly it's an all too familiar sight these days to see people sleeping out rough in tents, sleeping bags even cardboard boxes, if you get the tram from Eccles to Manchester there is a small "hobo town" pitched on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal near Cornbrook.

Sadly this is not a new phenomenon as the following story from August 1918 will show.

Sarah Normond aged 72 of no fixed address appeared at Manchester County Police Court, charged with, "sleeping out"

P.C. Walmsley informed the Bench that he was on duty at Worsley Police Station at 7am when Sarah Normond called in and asked if she could be allowed to dry her clothes, explaining that she had slept the night in a nearby field, when a sudden rainstorm had soaked her to the skin.

P.C. Walmsley did everything he could to make her comfortable, making her a mug of tea and giving her a blanket to keep warm whilst he dried her sodden clothes.

Her conversation and explanation as to how she had come to be sleeping out in the field alarmed him and so he decided to detain her for her own safety and let the Police Court decide on how best to help her.

In the dock her conversation to the Chairman, Mr W.A. Rothwell was as equally puzzling.

She told him that her father was a well known brewer of beer whilst she herself was strictly tee-total.

Carrying on in a similar vein, she stated that she was a widow and was related to the Earl of Marlborough, adding that she didn't come from Manchester but had come from America and had been staying in the Everton district of Liverpool.

The Chairman asked her, "If we release you, where will you go?"

She replied, "I shall go where I like, I can get my living and I have got money, also I have two son's serving in the British Army and two daughters still living"

No doubt concerned for her safety he asked her, "Where do you live in, Manchester?"

Her explanation to this question was bizarre to say the least,

"I don't belong to Manchester, I shall not go into the workhouse, I have never been in one yet, I have money to live upon, I can get it from the King of England, I can't say anything fairer than that"

Again she was told that they only wanted to help her and to trace her relatives, however she would be remanded in custody for a week whilst enquiries were made to trace them.

Supt. Rutter of the Manchester Police Force then circulated a description of Sarah Normond to police stations in the Manchester area in an effort to find out who she was.

She was described as being aged 72, four foot, ten inches in height, grey hair, grey eyes with a fresh complexion.

Her clothing she was wearing when found were described as, a fawn coat, blue skirt, blue stockings, and black lace up boots.

Hardly the clothing to wear if you were unfortunate enough to be sleeping outside for any length of time.

Sadly I couldn't find a happy ending to this story despite trawling through months of local newspaper reports.

It does seem that poor Sarah was suffering from some delusional, mental health issue with talk of rich parents, links to the Earl of Marlborough and even the King of England being brought into the equation.

A sad story which asks so many questions as to how a 72 year old woman could end up sleeping rough in a field in Worsley and provides no answers.

I do hope that she found some peace in her life and didn't end up in the dreaded workhouse which surely would have been the end of her, sadly I don't think we shall ever find out.


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