The John Street Miser

The John Street Miser

The following article was taken from the Daily Gazette of 20 April 1874.  It tells the rather bizarre story of Mary Ann Stackard, an old lady living in John Street, Thornaby…

In the course of last week , a maiden dressmaker, named Mary Ann Stackard, aged 71 years, presented herself at Stockton Workhouse, covered in filth and vermin, and was admitted as an inmate of the institution, it being understood that she had yielded to the good advice of a well-known Stockton lady and gentleman.  Mr Ninian Cairns, receiving officer, was informed of what had occurred and he, with Sergeant Heslop, visited the one room of a large house, No.8, John Street, which was occupied by Miss Stackard, and of which Mr Flockton is deputy landlord.

The room was found to be completely filled with furniture or lumber of various kinds, packed together ’breast high’, so that the locality of the bed could not easily be discovered.  Everything was covered with filth, some bundles of rags that were laid near the window in the sunshine actually had great lice and other vermin running about.  Lines were stretched about the room, and from them, besides lines along the wall sides, depended little bundles which had originally contained bread and meat, but many of which were now either dry or rotten substances as though good natured ladies, for whom she had worked, had given her victuals which had been hung up in store for a more pressing time.

Inside of a joiner’s bass or basket was found the remains of three large cats and also the skin and bones of one smaller animal.  Some care had been used in stowing away the remains of the now defunct Grimalkins.  Each was placed on its four feet with the nose between its fore legs and its tail brought forward underneath to meet the nose, and each animal was carefully bedded in hay.  The stages of decomposition showed that some of the meat, and also the cats, must have been stowed away for years.

Dispersed about the room, in various corners and amongst the bed clothes, were a number of small packets containing money, the sum total of which amounted to £11.7s.3¼d.  There was also a Tower Hamlets bank book showing that Mary Ann Stackard had £100.3s.2d to her credit in the year 1858 and that the book had not been presented at the bank since 1858.   Another bank book was found showing that Miss Stackard’s account with the Stockton Branch of the Post-Office Savings Bank, Principle and Interest, in January amounted to £21.8s.4d, and the odd £1.8s.4d had been withdrawn in February 1874.

Other odd articles were found spread about in all directions such as remnants of scented soap, biscuits, meat &c.  the two officers pursued their search until some vermin got upon their clothes, and they then abandoned their investigation for someone else to complete.

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It is interesting to note that Miss Stackard’s total wealth of £131.10s.6d would be worth more than £10,000 today.

We are grateful to Gale-Cengage Learning for granting permission for the use of the material in this article which was taken from the Middlesbrough Daily Gazette, part of their 19th Century Newspapers online resource collection.