It was offered at Hansons’ (25% buyer’s premium) Bishton Hall saleroom on October 19, consigned by a 53-year-old engineer from Staffordshire who inherited it from his dad and kept it in a cupboard for decades, and sold over the phone to a private UK collector. The hammer price was £10,500.
The book dated back to 1890-1920 and every page was filled with grainy black and white photos of people held in police custody. Derbyshire Record Office (DRO) had hoped to secure it for public use and launched a Crowdfunder appeal. However, despite nearly £2000 of public donations it was outbid on the day.
The DRO said it was so special because it contained photos of Derby woman Alice Wheeldon (nee Marshall, 1866-1919), her daughter Winnie, and son-in-law Alfred Mason. All were convicted of conspiring to murder Lloyd George.
A Harriet Wheeldon is listed as acquitted.
They were socialists who supported the women’s suffrage movement and conscientious objection in the First World War. Their conviction was considered by many at the time to be based on their political views rather than real evidence.
In the mug shot Alice is described as 51 years old, pale with dark brown hair. A note dated February 27, 1917 states: Conspiracy to murder – 10 years. Underneath in red ink a note dated December 30, 1917 states Discharged – an instruction from Lloyd George himself. Added on February 21, 1919 is Died. Weakened by her ordeal, Alice lost her life to influenza during the pandemic.
It was known the Wheeldons were sheltering young men on the run from conscription during the First World War (Alice’s son Willie was also a conscientious objector). In December 1916 ‘Alex Gordon’, an undercover agent, arrived at the Wheeldon home claiming to be a conscientious objector. Alice took him in.
He told her work camps for conscientious objectors were guarded by dogs. A package containing two vials of curare and two of strychnine was sent to her. The package was intercepted and it was claimed they were intended to kill guard dogs at a work camp.
This claim formed the basis of a case against the family but they somehow ended up being actually charged with conspiracy to murder a number of senior members of parliament, including the PM.
Recently, efforts were made to have all convictions quashed because it was claimed the defendants’ right to a fair trial was sacrificed in the name of political interests. Some evidence in the case appears to have been fabricated on behalf of a government keen to disgrace the anti-war movement.
Much was supect, not least the fact that the agent William Rickard, aka Alex Gordon, had only recently been released from Broadmoor Mental Hospital and was declared criminally insane. Despite being a key witness he had not been called to the stand during the trial.
The seller said: “The book was rescued by my father, a police officer at the time, when he was working for Derby Borough Police more than 40 years ago. The station was clearing out some garages and storerooms at an old police station on St Mary’s Gate in Derby.”