March 7, 1868

THERE must have been great scandal in the Richmond area 150 years ago when William Swainston, tailor, appeared before magistrates charged with embezzling £117 from the local Oddfellows’ funeral fund.

“The offences, it was alleged, had been committed with great ingenuity and artfulness, and many of them by false balances, fictitious deaths, and under double entries of deaths,” said the D&S.

The Oddfellows was one of the earliest fraternal societies, and for more than 20 years, Mr Swainston had been the secretary and treasurer of the Richmond district which had 600 members in four local lodges: the Richmond Castle Lodge, the Swale Lodge at Catterick, the Henry Jenkins Lodge at Scorton and Lord Prudhoe’s Lodge at Melsonby.

It was said that over the previous five years, Mr Swainston had withdrawn “14 or 15 sums” which today would be worth about £12,500, according to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator.

He had done this by mis-spelling surnames or entering a legitimate claim in the wrong lodge books and then “correcting” his mistake by double-paying the widow who only received one payment, with Mr Swainston pocketing the excess.

“Charge No 11 was an entry under July 27, 1866, “Donation to Brother G Metcalfe, £10”,” reported the D&S. “In this case, it was proved that G Metcalfe had not departed this life, and that he was still moving about in Richmond in his usual state of health.”

Mr Swainston did not say anything in his defence but was committed to stand trial at the next Richmond Quarter Sessions. The D&S was obviously convinced of his guilt for its headline read: “A Defrauding secretary of Oddfellows.”

Elsewhere 150 years ago, honesty was to be rewarded. Last week we reported the D&S’ outrage that a Guisborough station-lad, who had returned a wealthy lady’s bag stuffed with £10 of cash after she had left it on a train, had no received a penny reward from the graceless lady.

Under the headline “honesty appreciated”, the D&S updated its readers: “His name is George Robinson, and it is to be the intention of several persons who know him to present him some token of respect.”

March 9, 1968

SNOWMELT 50 years ago was causing North Yorkshire’s rivers to fill alarmingly, reported the D&S.

“Wether Fell, Dodd Fell and Ten End have carried a heavy mantle of snow for over four weeks, and no amount of sunshine seemed to have any thawing effect,” said the D&S, referring to fells above Hawes. “This was very much to the liking of devotees of ski-ing, who have had many runs over the fell tops, with wonderful views in the bright sunshine.

At Catterick Bridge, Cadburys Ltd was beginning work on the first factory on the new industrial estate.

“The factory will make the firm’s “instant potato”, Smash,” said the D&S. “The firm is anxious to use local-grown potatoes. This will mean a saving in large value imports from the United States.”

The £1.5m factory was to employ 60 men and 40 women, and it would extract 130m gallons of water a year from the Swale to wash the potatoes before smashing them. Most of the cleaned water was to be returned to the river.

Smash didn’t win the hearts of the British people until 1974 when one of the greatest adverts of all time was shown on TV. It featured tin Martians laughing at humans hard at work hand-pulping potatoes when everyone on their planet knew that “for mash get Smash”.