Debbie Cameron, one of the volunteers for GM1914, has uncovered a fascinating case of fraud and confidence tricksters in Manchester during the Great War.
This is the last post to bring together the information she has been able to uncover, inspired by the initial archive document of the quarter sessions in February 1918.
As with all crimes, there are victims, and in researching their stories Debbie has found some remarkable connections.
Please read on…
I thought the victims of this dastardly crime would be “ordinary” people with no stories to tell. But I was wrong. I found that the few I looked into all had interesting tales to tell ranging from poor secretaries, unfair dismissal claims, inventors and a will with a rather telling message!
Annie Letitia DOGGETT
It seems to me that Annie is probably the saddest of the victims of this fraud. She was from a very working class background. Born in Staffordshire in 1883, she is described on the 1901 census – aged 18 – as a “factory girl”. In 1911 she is described as a “domestic housekeeper” working for a Mr Belford who died in 1915 and left £2,335 in his estate. I wonder if Annie was left some money in his will? In any event, it seems that she replied to the advertisement, asking for investors in the Manchester Aeroplane Company. In her evidence, she said she offered to invest £150 – and why not? – O’Sullivan told her it was a “brilliant” investment and guaranteed a yield of 10% within 3 months. However, she asked if she could also be employed as his personal secretary, for 30 shillings a week and this was agreed. So she was working for the person who eventually swindled her out of what was described in court as “her life savings”. The only thing I found out about Annie after the trial is that she married in 1933 and died in 1943.
John Thwaite Harker
Mr Harker was approached by the investors and was persuaded to part with £200. According to the 1911 census he lived in Oldham and was a cloth salesman. I have not found his war record, but it seems he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant in 1915 (the promotion was published in the London Gazette). He died in 1935 and his will caused such amusement, that part of it was published in the press under the heading “the lighter side of life” (somewhat unintentionally ironic!) . It seems John never forgot his early struggles and working class origins!
His brother in law was Henry Hall, BBC band leader.
Arthur Richardson Scott
Mr Scott must have been a wealthy man – it is not clear if he handed over the money, but the indictment mentions a sum of £1,000, surely a significant sum of money in 1917. He was listed as a draper in 1881 but by 1901, he was a bookkeeper. Interestingly, according to the 1911 census, he was the “Manager of a Bleach and Dye Works” in Southport – so was clearly on the up – but under the occupation, he adds “out of work”. On searching the archives, I found a newspaper report dated April 1902 in which he is suing his employers for unfair dismissal – I didn’t know such a thing existed in 1902, I must admit! He is claiming £1,732 in damages, which he went on to win. So once again the two swindlers. took money from an ordinary person, who had fought adversity to claim what was rightly his, only to lose it in their fraud.
George Frederick French
Initially, I thought that of all the victims, George Frederick might be the least interesting. How wrong I was! He was asked to invest £1000. He was an “Engineer Foreman in Steam Appliances” in 1911 but when I checked his probate details, I discovered that he left a whopping £98,928 – in 1954! A fortune! Intrigued, I checked some newspaper reports and discovered that he was an inventor of the “rufflette” curtain tape. His father Thomas had been born right at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and from being a weaver, built up a massive business, which made great use of George’s fantastic inventions!
So, the trial did not affect George’s prospects, indeed, he went on to register over 100 patents and even sued the government for “stealing” his design for a cartridge belt that was used in WW1.
A V Roe
One of the world’s first aircraft builders, A.V. Roe and Company was established at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street Manchester, by Alliot Verdon Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon Roe on 1 January 1910.The Type 500 was developed into the Avro 500, first flown in September 1913. A small number were bought by the War Office before the outbreak of the first world war and the type saw some front-line service in the early months of the war, but is best known as a training aircraft, serving in this role until 1933. Production lasted 20 years and totalled 8,340 at several factories: Hamble, Failsworth, Miles Platting and Newton Heath.
The A V Roe type/triplane, Roe’s first successful aircraft.
Clearly, the fraudsters saw this company as very lucrative target for their plans. Once again, on researching I found another fascinating fact; Humphrey was a philanthropist, very interested in the idea that birth control would help limit the suffering of poorer families; in 1918, after having joined the RFC and sustaining a broken ankle he left the RFC and, met Marie Stopes, the famous birth control campaigner and married her within three months. He continued to support her in her work for many years to come.
Debbie and I had no idea where the connections would take us when she started looking into this case.
Rufflette and Avro are well known in Manchester, but the links to band leader Henry Hall and to birth control pioneer Marie Stopes came as a complete surprise.
Thank you for a great piece of detective work!