Bates Tolliday – an Extraordinary Case 1843

Cambridge Chronicle 5th August 1843 written with great relish by an observer of the time.

“At the County Court in town on Thursday week before Rev. T. Coombe, John Stead, the Constable of Histon, preferred a charge against a man named Bates Tolliday under these circumstances.

It appeared that the defendant, with a remarkable instinct as to a befitting habitation for his peculiar habits and qualifications, had long time since been in possession of the Cage (the village lock-up on the Green) at Histon and there with his wife and family resided during the whole of the past Winter!

Frequent endeavours had been made to serve an ejectment on the defendant, but he had hitherto resisted all attempts to dislodge him and at last, those in authority, who considered the defendants’ continued occupation of his singular mansion, reflected equal discredit on his taste and their power, ordered the complainant (the Constable) to turn the defendant out at all hazards.

Accordingly, the defendant received an intimation that it was expected he should “quit” by 12 o’clock on Thursday. The defendant however, did not see the necessity of a removal and when the appointed time came, put the whole “posse committals” at defiance, asserting that an Englishman’s house was his castle, no matter how he came by it, or what the style of architecture it might be – and knowing that possession was nine points of the law sought to make the tenth out of the point of a knife (!) which he held in his hand and wielded about with a continuance and determination not to be trifled with.

At last overcome by superior forces and beer, the defendant was ejected; and taken “nolen volens” before the magistrate (Rev. T. Coombe). The Complainant (the Constable) having seen the serviceable effect which the previous potations had had on the defendant, suffered him to further weaken his resistance by imbibing an additional quart of beer on the road so that by the time the parties appeared before the reverend magistrate, the defendant was unable to stand.

The Magistrate severely admonished the Constable for his gross dereliction of duty and remanded the case until the next day when the defendant (we assume then sober) was bound over to keep the peace and to answer any charge that was brought against him at the next session.”


Shortly afterwards, Bates Tolliday and his family relocated to the neighbouring parish of Girton.

Sadly, Nathaniel (Bates’ brother) drowned soon after whilst picking water cress. His widow (Jane Curtis) and eight children were subsequently helped by the Methodist Church to emigrate to Australia where this branch of the family thrives today.

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