Criminal Women: The Life & Times of Mary Ann Stonehouse of Whitby

By Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant

The Quarter Sessions bundles [QSB] allow us a glimpse into parts of people’s lives, at times telling us something of their socio-economic circumstances and their behaviour in response to these – but rather frustratingly, not the whole story. On occasions the QSB records wonderfully provide us with not just one, but a number of snapshots of particular individuals, as in the case of Mary Ann Stonehouse of Whitby.

A search of the QSB records so far uploaded to our online catalogue reveals that between the years 1869 and 1883, Mary Stonehouse appears in the sessions records nineteen times (yet more might be revealed, as the listing work of our QSB volunteers continues to be uploaded).

The tale begins in 1865, with a recognizance (bond) for Mary to keep the peace, along with Isaac Winter and Robert Foster. This is followed in 1866 by a summary conviction for Mary Stonehouse, single-woman, for being drunk in Whitby. In 1869 Mary is described as a “common prostitute”, and convicted for behaving indecently in St Anne’s Staith. The following year, Mary is bound to keep the peace towards one Hannah Mary Tudsey.

During 1871, the QSB records contain four summary convictions for being either drunk and disorderly or for obstructing Haggersgate and The Cragg. She’s also convicted of being drunk in Pier Lane in 1872, and for being drunk on the Pier in 1873. Then in 1874 she appears before Whitby Strand sessions three times for being drunk in Haggersgate, for being drunk in the licenced premises of William Douthwaite and refusing to leave, and for being drunk in Church Street. In 1875, Mary is convicted for being drunk once again in Haggersgate and later that same year is bound to keep the peace towards one Mary Elizabeth Pearson.

There are two summary convictions for Mary in 1877 for drunk and disorderly behaviour in Haggersgate and New Quay. She is convicted in 1883 for use of obscene language in Haggersgate, and again in 1888 for using profane and obscene language in St Ann’s Staith.

The following examples from across the years give an idea of the types of sentence Mary Ann received for her misdemeanours. The harshest sentence she received was 21 days’ hard labour in the House of Correction at Northallerton, for her conviction for prostitution in 1869.

Be it remembered, that on the twenty fifth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty nine at Whitby, in the North Riding of the County of York Mary Ann Stonehouse is convicted before the undersigned three of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the said Riding, for that she the said Mary Ann Stonehouse on the twenty fourth day of September in the year aforesaid, at the Township of Whitby in the Riding aforesaid, 
"then being a common prostitute did then and there wander in a certain public thoroughfare there called Saint Anns Staith and then and there did behave in an indecent manner" 
contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and we adjudge the said Mary Ann Stonehouse for her said Offence to be imprisoned in the House of Correction, at Northallerton, in the said Riding, and there kept to hard labour for the space of twenty one days.

Be it remembered, that on the twenty fifth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty nine at Whitby, in the North Riding of the County of York Mary Ann Stonehouse is convicted before the undersigned three of Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said Riding, for that she the said Mary Ann Stonehouse on the twenty fourth day of September in the year aforesaid, at the Township of Whitby in the Riding aforesaid,

“then being a common prostitute did then and there wander in a certain public thoroughfare there called Saint Ann’s Staith and then and there did behave in an indecent manner”

contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and we adjudge the said Mary Ann Stonehouse for her said Offence to be imprisoned in the House of Correction, at Northallerton, in the said Riding, and there kept to hard labour for the space of twenty one days.

QSB 1869 4/10/14/117 Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse, common prostitute

For her episodes of drunk and disorderly behaviour and for using obscene language Mary Ann was normally fined. For example, for being drunk in Haggersgate in 1874 she got a 5 shillings fine, plus 8 shillings to be paid to the informant (approximately £41.00 in today’s money).  If she failed to pay, then she would get 14 days’ hard labour at the prison at Northallerton.

In 1888, for using profane and obscene language, the now married Mary Ann Foster was fined 2 shillings 6 pence with 10 shillings 6 pence costs (approximately £53.00 in today’s money) – or 7 days in Northallerton prison without hard labour if she didn’t pay.

Conviction for Penalty etc
In the North Riding of the County of York - Petty Sessional Division of Whitby Strand. 
Before the Court of Summary Jurisdiction sitting at the Court House, in Whitby. 
The First day of November 1887 Mary Ann Forster wife of Robert Forster of the Township of Whitby, Coal Porter (hereinafter called the Defendant), is this day convicted for that she on the 29th day of October 1887 at the Township of Whitby in a certain street there called St Ann's Staith within the limits of the Whitby District Local Board unlawfully and to the annoyance of the residents or passengers then in the said street did use certain profane and obscene language, contrary to the form of the Statute in such cases made and provided. 
And it is adjudged that the Defendant for her said offence do forfeit and pay the sum of Two shillings and sixpence and do also pay the further sum of ten shillings and sixpence for costs forthwith.

Conviction for Penalty etc


In the North Riding of the County of York – Petty Sessional Division of Whitby Strand.
Before the Court of Summary Jurisdiction sitting at the Court House, in Whitby.

The First day of November 1887 Mary Ann Forster wife of Robert Forster of the Township of Whitby, Coal Porter (hereinafter called the Defendant), is this day convicted for that she on the twenty ninth day of October 1887 at the Township of Whitby

“in a certain street there called St Ann’s Staith within the limits of the Whitby District Local Board unlawfully and to the annoyance of the residents or passengers then in the said street did use certain profane and obscene language,”

contrary to the form of the Statute in such cases made and provided.


And it is adjudged that the Defendant for her said offence do forfeit and pay the sum of Two shillings and sixpence and do also pay the further sum of ten shillings and sixpence for costs forthwith.

QSB 1888 1/10/10/19 Mary Ann Foster, wife of Robert Foster, Summary conviction for profane and obscene language at St Ann’s Staith.

Whilst we are given a pretty clear picture through the QSB records of how Mary often behaved in public, who was she as a person? Some clues can be found in other available records, such as the census returns and parish registers. The 1841 census shows Mary, aged 5, in Whitby Union workhouse, with her mother Hannah, and grandmother Mary (who dies in the workhouse the following year). Mary’s entry in Whitby baptism register records her as the illegitimate daughter of Hannah, and the workhouse at Whitby as her birthplace.

In 1851, the census shows Mary and her mother (a char woman) as lodgers of John Cole (a fisherman) in Church Street. Hannah later marries John, and Mary for a time afterwards adopts Cole/Coal as her surname (indeed, Mary’s alias – “Poll Cole” – is mentioned in a Whitby Gazette report of her riotous behaviour with Robert Foster in October 1869).

Mary is still living with her mother and stepfather in 1861, still using the surname “Coal”, and appears to have a 4 month-old son, named John Coal. Mary’s son is living with his grandparents at 2, The Cragg in 1871, but Mary isn’t resident at the time of the census.

By 1881, Mary Cole, unmarried, is living with her son John at the Old Post Office Yard and lodger Robert Foster (with whom she was bound over to keep the peace in 1865). Robert and Mary eventually marry in April 1887, and are still resident at Old Post Office Yard in 1891, with their toddler son Robert and Mary’s son John. Shortly after the census was conducted, however, Mary dies, aged 54.

The Quarter Sessions records for Mary certainly paint a colourful portrait of her, and it seems fair to say that her frequent court appearances over so many years do not appear to have dimmed her character! Yet the court records only tell us one part of the story – they constitute a skewed representation of Mary. Newspaper reports of the time sometimes supply additional details of events, including her appearances as the defendant in cases where she was the victim of verbal abuse or physical assault. Indeed, the tone of the Whitby Gazette’s stories about Mary in the ‘Whitby Police Court’ column was akin to a soap opera.

We will never truly know why it is Mary behaved so persistently in the way she did. We cannot fully know whether certain events, or the particular circumstances of Mary’s life, were a significant influence on her perceived antisocial behaviour, which was not tolerated under the law.


QSB Sources: List of convictions (to date) in date order:

QSB 1865 3/10/13/42Recognizance to keep the peace made by Mary Stonehouse, Isaac Winter, carpenter, and Robert Foster, labourer, all of the township of Whitby
QSB 1866 1/10/15/10Summary conviction of Mary Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk; on the oath of William Metcalfe of the township of Whitby police constable
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 11 October 1865
Case heard at Whitby.
QSB 1869 Q4/10/14/117Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse common prostitute for behaving indecently in St Ann’s Staith
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 24 September 1869
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1870 3/10/12/36Recognizance to keep the peace towards Hannah Mary Tudsey; made by Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman, 14 May 1870
QSB 1871 1/10/9/17Summary conviction (Nov 1870) of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby single-woman for being drunk; on the oath of Stephen Parkinson of the township of Whitby
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 18 June 1870
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1871 2/10/12/49Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby single-woman for obstructing Haggersgate; on the oath of Robert Ramsdale of the township of Whitby police constable
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 13 March 1871
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1871 4/10/13/57Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 23 July 1871
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1871 4/10/13/60Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for obstructing The Cragg
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 23 July 1871
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1872 4/10/10/19Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby for being drunk in Pier Lane
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 7 September 1872
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1873 4/10/11/63Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly on the Pier
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 21 July 1873
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1874 1/10/10/14Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly in Haggersgate; on the oath of William Hewison of the township of Whitby police constable
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 14 October 1873
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1874 3/10/8/124Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk on the licensed premises of William Douthwaite and refusing to leave when asked by John Smith a constable for the North Riding
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 11 June 1874
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1874 4/10/9/93Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly in Church Street; on the oath of James Kidson pawnbroker and George Eli North police constable, both of the township of Whitby
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 5 August 1874
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1875 2/10/10/36Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly in Haggersgate; on the oath of Thomas Hall of the township of Whitby police constable
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 5 February 1875
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1875 4/10/10/98Recognizance to keep the peace towards Mary Elizabeth Pearson wife of John Pearson of the township of Whitby platelayer, made by Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman 11 Sep 1875
QSB 1877 1/10/11/72Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly on the New Quay; on the oath of William Nicholson police constable and Thomas Archer inspector of police, both of the township of Whitby
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 8 December 1876
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1877 3/10/11/74Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for being drunk and disorderly in Haggersgate
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 4 April 1877
Whitby Strand – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1883 3/10/9/50Summary conviction of Mary Ann Stonehouse of the township of Whitby singlewoman for using obscene language in Haggersgate
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 4 May 1883
Whitby Strand Petty Sessional division – case heard at Whitby
QSB 1888 1/10/10/19Summary conviction of Mary Ann Foster wife of Robert Foster of the township of Whitby, coal porter, for using profane and obscene language in St Ann’s Staith
Offence committed at the township of Whitby on 29 October 1887
Whitby Strand Petty Sessional division – case heard at Whitby

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