The Fidler Saga
By GEORGE BROWN
ST. MATTHEW CHAPTER 25 VERSES 32-42
32 And before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And He shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goats on the left:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in:
36 Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I WAS IN PRISON AND YE CAME UNTO ME.
37 Then shall the righteous answer Him saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee, or thirsty and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, OR IN PRISON and CAME UNTO THEE?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, YE HAVE DONE IT UNTO ME”
41 Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepare for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked and ye clothed me not: sick, AND IN PRISON, and ye visited me not
44 Then shall they also answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison and did not minister unto Thee?
45 Then shall He answer them, saying Verily I say unto you, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me”.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
FRAMWELLGATE MOOR MAN’S 34 YEARS in BROADMOOR CRIMINAL ASYLUM
This is a true story of a Framwellgate Moor man; born in the village, son of a miner who was killed in the local pit, Framwellgate Moor, County Durham.
The man, Horace H. Fidler, had been only eight months at work in the mine when his father was killed. He was the elder son and had a brother and two younger sisters. This family loss left Horace the great responsibility of being the bread winner. Horace H. Fidler was a likeable lad, and he was given a great deal of sympathy. He was well accepted by the Colliery officials, including the Manager (Mr. Thomas Hindson) so much so that he got away with lots of things that other boys would not have been allowed to do. In this case it would seem that the old adage ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ was true, and Fidler gave way to the thought that he could do just as he liked at the pit.
Several times he was warned as to his conduct, and was also informed of measures which might have to be taken in the near future if he did not mend his ways. But Fidler carried on disregarding warnings until the manager could put up with his ways no longer. Fidler was shocked when he eventually appeared before the Manager and was told that his services would no longer be needed at the colliery.
Fidler was at this time approaching the age of 20 years, and the circumstances at home were such that on the death of his father he was the recognised bread winner. He knew nothing else but pit work and in a mining village during those years there was nothing else. It is true that there were other collieries, such as Kimblesworth, Bearpark, and Sherburn, all within easy reach on a bicycle, but on approaching these collieries he had to answer the vital question “Why had he left his last colliery?” “Misconduct” was the answer – and so the result was a repetition of “No vacancies”.
So the weeks’ efforts rolled on, and the inevitable depression set in coupled with a distinct sign of brooding on Fidler’s part. He did get a few weeks’ work at Kimblesworth Colliery, but soon gave it up as he ‘did not like the work’. Five weeks later – Horace H. Fidler is found to be seeking revenge, and he plans to carry this out on the colliery manager. On Saturday, the 2nd May, 1903, Fidler rises and leaves home armed with an axe and razor. He sought to waylay the manager leaving his house which was situated near the colliery yard, which was enclosed by a low wall. He knew the manager was due to go down the pit at 7. a.m., so he hid in an outhouse, and, as he expected, the manager came out at his usual time.
The following is an extract from the DURHAM CHRONICLE dated the 17th July, 1903
‘His mother had discovered that Fidler had left home at 2.30a.m., and thinking he was intent of doing himself some harm, she noticed an empty razor box; she immediately informed the police, never dreaming, as she later stated at the trial, that he had gone to the pit’.
Before the time of Mr. Hindson leaving the house, the servant (Lydia Terrell) saw the face of a man looking through the window of the outhouse, and on informing Mr. Hindson he recognised the face of Fidler, who, the night before, had tried to get his job back.’
Mr. Hindson went to the outhouse and bid Fidler to come out. The door was locked on the inside. Fidler opened the door; his sleeves were rolled up. He held an axe in one hand and a razor in the other. Fidler immediately attacked.
A fierce struggle took place. The servant cried out for assistance, and the men in the pit yard upon hearing her, approached the scene of the dreadful fight.
But before they arrived a dog from a neighbouring house starts attacking and gets hold of Fidler’s leg. Despite this , Fidler hit Mr. Hindson several times on the shoulders and back. Mr. Hindson was middle aged but quite agile, and was therefore able to keep up the fight until finally Mr. G. Smith and Mr. H. Goodrich arrived, they in turn were joined by others, and eventually Fidler was overpowered. It took the effort of seven men to overpower and bind Fidler so that he was incapable of inflicting any further bodily harm.
Mr. Hindson Received severe bruising on the shoulders and back; his eye was cut, and he suffered severe shock; Mr. Smith received cut fingers whilst trying to relieve Fidler of the razor.
URHAM ASSIZES 17th JULY, 1903
Mr. Mitchell Innes Prosecuting Counsel
Mr. Symey Defending Counsel
At the trial Fidler pleaded that he remembered nothing after going to bed on Friday night, after returning from a visit to Durham. He certainly did not remember getting up and going to the colliery to make the attack on the Manager.
Fidler was sentenced to be detained during H. M. Pleasure and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Asylum by Justice Grantham.
Not long after this Fidler’s family moved to Gateshead, and in so doing they had to leave free house and coals.
Time passes and Fidler is forgotten except for the occasional comment by way of the events as told by parent to child, and with the exception of the old families of the village the “Fidler” case was not known.
In the early 1930s – during the years of the so called ‘depression’ Framwellgate Moor had formed an unemployed men’s club. Their activities in Handicraft and Social Welfare became widely known.
HRH Prince of Wales (Duke of Windsor) visited the centre on the 6th of December, 1934.
Mr. C. Dent one of the club’s members who had been a miner all his life, was now an official instructor and travelled around the newly named “Social Services Centres”
On the 6th of February, 1937 Mr. Dent received a letter and parcel. This was from Horace H. Fidler of Broadmoor Asylum, Crowthorne, Berks. In his letter Fidler stated that he had read of the Framwellgate Moor Social Services Centres activities in the Durham County Advertiser and added that he was a Framwellgate Moor man. The parcel contained a homemade cap (this was the traditional headwear of the miners): he gave instructions as to how they should be made, and recommended that the ladies of the centre be encouraged to make them.
This information at once created a stir in the village, and headlines in the press read – “VOICE FROM THE DEAD CALLS TO FRAMWELLGATE MOOR”.
Rumours in the village said Fidler died years ago. Others asked the question – if he was alive, why had he not been released before as he was sentenced to H. M. Pleasure – and the King had died. Also, the manager, Mr. Hindson had been dead for several years. Had nobody inquired as to his being released? For days public opinion built up, and all wondered what could be done. The result of all this questioning resulted in the following – Mon the 11th of February 1937 a general meeting of the Framwellgate Moor Social Service Centre was held with Mr. G. Brown in the chair.
Mr. C. Dent reported on the letter and parcel he had received, and after a long discussion it was decided that a bid be made for Fidler’s release.
An ‘Action’ committee was chosen as follows :-
Mr. Worthy Reed
Mr. R. Brown & Mr. G. Brown (brothers)
Also the committee elected its officers :-
Mr. C. Dent (Instructor) as chair
Mr. G. Brown (Chairman) of the centre as secretary
Mr. R. Brown secretary of the centre
Mr. Worthy Reed (Members of the Committee)
This committee met and prepared the plan of steps to be taken, and these were as follows :-
1 An announcement through the press asking for news from any of Fidler’s family .
2 An appeal to Mr. Joshua Ritson, Member of Parliament for his assistance.
3 An invitation to Mr. W. McKeag (solicitor ) and an ex member of parliament, for his assistance.
4 letters to be written to:-
Horace Fidler, at Broadmoor
The governor of Broadmoor
The three sons of the late Mr. T. Hindson
5 A letter to Sir John Simon, the Home Secretary.
6. The appeal to be made in three stages –
(a) That Fidler should be released as he had served 34 years.
(b) He should be transferred to his home County where he would be near to his Family.
(c) He should be allowed an examination by an Independent Mental Expert.
Needless to say the National Press makes full use of the story, and now I will describe the letters:-
I received a letter from Mrs. Fidler by the 15th February. She was living at 160 Rectory Road Gateshead. She stated that she was pleased that someone was going to try for her son’s release from prison, especially after so many individuals had made enquiries and failed. She prayed each day that she might be able to see him, as she had only seen him three times since he was admitted to Broadmoor; the last time was in 1916. Her ill health, age, and expense were the reasons given for not seeing him.
The letter to Horace Fidler was to tell him of our intentions, and to inform him that we were writing to the governor so that he could anticipate an interview with him. In the letter names of families were given (whom he might remember) and the question of transfer or release was mentioned. This was done to get an idea of his reactions on these questions and also to obtain a certain amount of information as to his general opinion. Letters were sent to the Henson brothers to see if they were prepared to help – or at the worst, object.
These three letters stated that they had nothing personally against Fidler, and that as far as they were concerned this was a matter for the Medical Authorities.
The reply from the Governor of Broadmoor stated that patients were the sole responsibility of the Medical Superintendent, who was directly responsible to the Home Secretary. The appeal to Mr. Joshua Ritson M.P. brought immediate assistance available. The request to Mr. W. McKeag, Solicitor, and ex Member of Parliament, resulted in the receiving of a letter to say that he would write to the Home Secretary. This – as far as we knew – was the only action taken by him or we did not hear from him again.
Now for the reply to the letter sent to Horace Fidler. He sent a very well written letter in which he stated that he remembered many of the people he was asked about – especially Mr. Worthy Reed (one of the members of the committee). Fidler remembered him as a Sunday school teacher in his early days.
The following is an extract from Fidler’s first letter:-
Yours of the 13th in most gladsome receipt. Yours is a weighty letter as well as being a very interesting one as to me personally, and in general though a day longer in acknowledgement (quote 2 gone)
Question No 1. how do you like being away?
Answer – Ever since I got my spiritual eyes opened, bordering on 30 years ago, I have been content to suffer. Have not regretted the way I have been taken, but of course the cost to others inside and outside family circles, more and more determined me to patient enduring and well doing, as I came to realise extent, committing their cause to God as I committed my own.
The remaining clause – if it was possible to be offered your release would you be delighted?
Answer – I shall be glad of no more winterings here.
Re Centre overtures regarding my release, personally by no means anticipating such by request or otherwise, my truly sincere thanks for those at home as well as for yourself, and no harm done by you writing the governor for this once, otherwise no more than is utterly necessary. I utterly taboo it. I may or may not write the Home Secretary this week. Not a petition for release; as personal objections to that on principle, but on principles as to why I should be released from here irrespective of health and strength, body or brain or conduct either.
Sir John Simon, Home Secretary, wrote to Mr. Ritson –
Cases like Mr. Fidler’s come regularly for review.
Fidler’s case came up for special consideration last month and regrets he cannot be discharged at present, with little likelihood in the near future.
Mr. Ritson requests a personal interview with Fidler, and asks for an independent mental expert to examine; also suggests transfer to a civil home.
Sir John requests more time on the last two Questions, but gives permission for a private interview with Fidler.
Fidler writes regularly to the centre and I give extracts from another of these . . . . . . .
. . . . . . ‘I am writing this letter on Saturday for Monday’s post. The weather is very cold; things almost freezing to the touch; trouble inside and out, and the officials to contend with at all times. Delighted with the contact established. God grant we are in hands of better powers.
I thank your family and old friends for their word of cheer. Thank God I always have that! no matter what troubles and trials, no matter what health and strength body and brain.
Even so when I have occasion to be saddened by transpirings from within and without walls but ‘stone walls ‘ and ‘iron bars’ do not a prison make! and though extremely worn in both mental and bodily powers I’m By no means a grey haired old fogy. This is not vanity but simple truth – re my 55 years”
. . . . . .
On the 2nd June I received a letter from Lampton, New South Wales, Australia. It was from a former Pity Me man who worked at the pit and was also a schoolboy with Fidler.
He stated that he had read in the Australian newspapers about Fidler, which interested and touched him very much. He goes on to say – I am Matthew Anderson, born at Pity Me, and spent my school days and working days with Horace. My father was Bob Anderson who was winding engine man at the Old Pit. On the morning I happened to be in the pit yard and witnessed part of the scene after the supposed attempt. So you will see how deeply I have been touched after reading in the press of efforts for his release; and I can tell you ever since, I have visualised the part of the scene which was before my eyes, and imagined the major part. It also brought back memories of the sadness in the village on the day judgement was given.
I am enclosing a letter for him and trust you will forward it on to him as he might remember our times together. If it is going to take a petition to help him, please place my name and address on to it.
So the machine goes on, and after Mr. Ritson’s interview with Fidler the Home Secretary calls in his advisers, and the result is that a letter is received from the Home Office, Whitehall, dated the 17th March, 1937 –
Dear Mr. Ritson,
with reference to our conversation about the case of Horace Fidler, a patient in Broadmoor Asylum, the Home Secretary has now arranged that one of the Senior Medical Commissioners of the Board of Control shall make a special examination of this patient in consultation with Dr. Fowlerton, the Superintendent of the Asylum.
The home secretary will communicate with you again after this examination has taken place.
(sgd) A. MAXWELL
The result of this examination comes in a letter from the Home Office, Whitehall, S. W. 1. dated the 25th May, 1937.
Dear Mr. Ritson
The case of Horace Fidler has now been fully considered, and I am afraid it is clear that the Home Secretary would not be justified in authorising his discharge to the care of relatives or friends.
The Medical Commissioner of the Board of Control, who made a special examination of the patient at the Home Secretary’s request, was of the opinion that Fidler is quite unfit to go home, but has suggested that he might benefit by transfer to the Durham Mental Hospital, where he would be able to receive visits. The home secretary would be quite prepared to authorise Fidler’s removal there, And I enclose for your confidential information of a copy of a letter which has been sent to the Medical Superintendent asking him to obtain the views of his Committee on this proposal.
(sgd) A. MAXWELL
While this official procedure has been going on, things have not been standing still in the village. Fidler has been writing frequently. Mr. Ritson has been reporting on his interviews with him and the Home Secretary.
Contact has also been made with another old friend of Fidler’s in the person of Mr. Fred Lowes, now the under manager of Thornley Colliery, who has been visiting the Centre. He gives the startling information that he has over the years written to Fidler and sent him copies of the Durham County Advertiser (hence Fidler’s knowledge of the Centre’s activities), and occasional gifts of tobacco and comforts.
He also brought pictures that Fidler had painted together with a cloth cap. This confirmed what Fidler had sent about is not having wasted time. The list of pictures brought were as follows.
1. But still the clock ticked on, and brought the blade nearer 1905
2. Geordie and the Bairn 1906
3. Sweethearts 1906
4. Frae aine that you ken 1920
5. Jesus risen from the dead 1920
6. Queen Mary II
7. Lord Kitchener of Kartoon (sic)
8. Durham Cathedral
9. The ex-King Edward VIII as a boy 1930
Fidler had taught himself to paint, and we were informed that a fellow patient by the name of Ronald True (son of an American millionaire) who was in Broadmoor for the murder of a young woman, had a flair for pictures of ladies’ busts. It was Fidler whom he persuaded to paint them for him. This we understand ceased after Fidler’s conversion.
Fidler was also a very keen greenhouse worker, and liked growing tomatoes. He forwarded a recipe for growing tomatoes which contained a banana flavour. (This I did).
As I said earlier, Fidler was able to make cloth caps and was in touch with various firms and received catalogues from them. His activities did not cease there since he taught himself to read the Hebrew Bible (I shall mention later how I received from him his Hebrew Bible.)
We were informed that his medical sheet showed only one misdemeanour they had against him – that of his throwing a cup of tea at an attendant.
On the 1st July 1937 I received a telegram from Winterton Mental Hospital, stating –
Horace H. Fidler, a patient from Broadmoor Criminal Asylum, had to-day arrived at Winterton Hospital. Arrangements would be made so as to enable you to visit him later.
This news created great joy in the centre and in the village.
Mr. Ritson pays a visit and again we have more intimate news .
During his journey to the North, Fidler saw a baby in arms for the first time in 34 years.
He also saw for the first time the stockingless legs of a lady (this was the new fashion).
He also tasted ice cream for the very first time (at the age of 55 years).
Thus Fidler arrived at Winterton but could not receive visitors for a month since a ruling was in force that he should be allowed time to settle down in his new surroundings.
After settling in he received his first visitors. They were two sisters and a brother – and what a re-union that was after 34 years absence from his own County. Mr. and Mrs. F. Lowe’s are also amongst his first visitors.
On Saturday the 4th September, 1937 his mother, sister and brother-in-law pay him a visit.
This is the first time since 1916 (21 years) when his mother last saw him. It was the day she had long prayed for, and was overjoyed at the meeting. I received word from her expressing her warmest thanks and appreciation to all those who have made this possible
The greatest moment for the committee was on on Saturday the 23rd August when we arranged to go through to Sedgefield. On that day, Mr. Worthy Reed the 80 year old member, who have been Fidler’s Sunday school teacher was unable to travel, so it was left to: –
Mr. C. Dent, Mr. R. Brown & myself (Mr. G. Brown) to have the pleasure of visiting Fidler.
I had received a letter from Mr. M. Anderson from Australia the same morning, in which he asked if I would forward a letter to Fidler, so I was able to take it along with me and deliver it personally.
In my earlier comments from his letter Fidler had written “I am by no means an old fogy” . . . . . . now we are about to see the man who made the above statement. Would he be a demented, decrepit, dejected, crouching old man at 55 years, grey haired and stooping lazily as he would approach us? . . . . . Well, here he comes along the corridor escorted by what we found to be a Deputy Chief male nurse.
Fidler turned out to be a smart 5 ft 9 inches man, well groomed. His stately figure was dressed in a smart brown suit, with brown matching shoes. He wore a sprig of artificial holly for a buttonhole; pince-nez glasses and had a waxed moustache. He possessed an army like appearance, and his shirt sleeve ends showed just below his jacket. He walked in a stately like manner. This was a sight one had to see to believe; and to think that this was a man who had lived for 34 years cut off from the outside world, living amongst, and being classed alongside the most violent men in in the country.
“This is Fidler” says the Deputy Chief.
Fidler comes forward and in a very fine voice greets us with a warm handshake, enquiring as to to whether we had had a pleasant journey.
The Deputy Chief handed me a small parcel, with the words “this is for you, Mr. Brown, a gift from Fidler”. This parcel contained his Hebrew Bible and inside was the following inscription –
From Horace H. Fidler
Presented to Mr. Geo. Brown.
August 23rd 1937
The Deputy Chief then left us to converse as we wished, and Fidler proceeds to bring us tea and biscuits. Then we proceeded with the topic of his joy at being transferred; the conditions, he found, and overwhelming thanks to all concerned for the help that had been given. Thus he talks quite rationally, and there did not appear at any any one time that there was anything wrong with him.
I was able to hand to Fidler the letter I had received that morning from his old friend in Australia. We were left alone with him until the end of visiting time, and the experience was one which made all our time and anxiety well worth while.
Later we received word from Mr. Ritson that our success in getting the Home Secretary to allow an independent mental expert to examine the patient in a criminal asylum was the FIRST time it had been done, and thus it was put on the “Statute” Book.
N.B.That a patient of this nature can now claim the right for an independent mental examination was made radical, rather than left in the hands of the superintendent of the hospital, who was responsible only to the Home Secretary.
I received a letter from Mrs. Fidler asking me to visit her on the 26th September. Upon seeing her I received her warmest thanks to all concerned. She expressed her joy at the results of our efforts and then presented me with a picture Fidler had painted for her, it was –
THE WORKSHOP AT NAZARETH
So the joy of meeting members of his family and friends gave Fidler much pleasure. His letters, too, are in very good spirit, and he was particularly pleased with the Christmas parties he attended.
While this is going on, the committee and Mr. Ritson decided that an effort should be made for him to have parole, so that Fidler might get a week-end at home. Steps are taken towards this end, and a reply is received dated the 17th January, 1938 from the Home Office, Whitehall –
Dear Mr. Ritson,
You will remember talking to me a short time ago about Horace Fidler, who was transferred from Broadmoor to Durham Mental Hospital on the 1st July last. The position is, as you know, that a patient of this kind cannot be allowed outside the mental hospital without the express permission of the Home Secretary.
Since you spoke to me the Home Secretary has made enquiries about the present condition of Horace Fidler, and after considering the matter carefully, he regrets that he would not be justified at the present time in giving permission for him to be allowed outside the hospital.
(signed) Selwyn Lloyd
Time passes and Mr. Ritson again makes an approach for parole, and he writes to me on the 30th August, 1938 from the House of Commons –
Dear Mr. Brown
Yours re – H. Fidler’s parole,
I have had talks again with the Home Secretary. I can assure you it is the medical side who refuse to advise his parole. Whether it is the medical man at Sedgefield or not I cannot get to know, but I think it will be. Do not give Fidler that idea, because I am not quite sure; it may be the Home Office staff.
I could not see the Medical Superintendent at Sedgefield when I was last there. When I do see him I shall ask him direct. I am sorry for I think it could be done. I am speaking from a layman’s point of view, and may be wrong. I will have another talk with Fidler if I can this morning. I hope to see the superintendent then. It is very disheartening after your committee has worked so hard.
(signed) Jos. Ritson
So Fidler continues with his pleasures in his is new-found surroundings, but is unaware that steps are moving forward.
On the 2nd day of March, 1939 I received the following
letter from Winterton Hospital –
I regret to inform you that No. 25497, Horace Fidler, died in this Mental Hospital at 3:55 p.m. on the 1st day of March, 1939 and that his remains will be interred in the Hospital Cemetery on Monday next the 6th instant., at 12:30 p.m., unless previously removed by friends.
Arrangements for the funeral were carried out by the Fidler family.
Horace H. Fidler died from a heart attack.
NORTHERN ECHO 6th March, 1939 records
TRAGIC SON AND FATHER IN THE SAME GRAVE
Thirty seven years after his detention in Broadmoor Criminal Asylum during His Majesty’s Pleasure, for trying to murder a pit agent, 57 year old Horace Fidler, of Framwellgate Moor, was buried in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Durham, yesterday, in the same grave as his father, who was killed at Framwellgate Moor Colliery 8 years before his son’s tragedy.
Fidler collapsed and died from a heart attack in Durham Mental Hospital, to which he had been transferred 18 months before by the efforts of the Framwellgate Moor Social Service Centre.
The name of the man who never failed to send Fidler gifts of tobacco and newspapers, and visited him at Sedgefield, was revealed to the Press for the first time at the funeral. He is Mr. F. Lowes, under manager of Thornley Colliery, who was with Fidler the night before the tragedy (and gave evidence at the trial
when Fidler received his sentence). Members of the Fidler family were overcome as they met the committee of the Social Services Centre, who were responsible for Fidler’s transfer. Mr. J. Richardson M.P. for Durham, sent a telegram stating that he was unable to be present at the funeral owing to illness. The Rev J. Maughan, vicar of St Cuthbert’s, officiated.
AND SO THIS TRUE STORY ‘A PAGE FROM MY SCRAPBOOK’ ENDS