The earliest record for Albert  Frank Kench is to be found in the first quarter of 1869 at Kidderminster, with a birth registration, the youngest son of John Kench from Oxfordshire and Eliza Cooke from Kidderminster.   His parents married in Kidderminster in 1847.  He was preceded by six brothers and two sisters.

In the 1881 census, he was living in Coventry Street, Kidderminster at home with his family and in 1891, aged 22 years, still living in Coventry Street; he was a cab driver.

He married Rosannah Holyman in Kidderminster in 1892 and by 1893 he had moved to Droitwich and his first child, Mary Eliza, was born in that year.

Within two years, Albert Kench had become Secretary of the Local Victuallers’ Association and became well-known within the community.  He hosted many committee meetings in the ‘Waggon and Horses’, including an annual dinner in 1900.  In 1908, Albert gave a lengthy report to the members of the association on the new Licensing Bill to close public houses on Sundays.

In 1901 he was living in the ‘Waggon and Horses’ public house  at 24 HighStreet, Droitwich, with his wife Rosannah aged 31; he was 32 years old.  By this time, he and Rosannah had two children, Mary Eliza aged 7 and Harry aged 1, born in Droitwich in 1900.   Living with them in the public house were Lizzie Jones, his niece, aged 17 and Harriet Crowther aged 23, a servant.

The 1910 Riot

Albert experienced the 1910 January Droitwich Riots first hand. The Riot Act had been read due to disturbances caused by the outcome of the Mid-Worcestershire election.  The Hon. John Lyttleton, Conservative, defeated Mr Cecil Harmsworth, Liberal, by 105 votes.  Harmsworth had won the seat in 1906.  Droitwich was a Liberal stronghold.  The salt workers in Droitwich believed that Harmsworth would produce a revival in salt making and therefore provide them with employment, at a time when the salt industry was declining in the town.  A brick thrown through the window of the shop in St Andrew’s Street where Conservative posters were displayed the night before polling, on Friday, 28th January, was the start of the ill feeling which developed. The crowd then moved on to Friar Street where an attack was made on the Conservative Committee Rooms.  Insufficient police were available to control the crowd, but they were dispersed by local senior liberals.  Cries were heard, ‘We’ll be back tomorrow’.  After declaration of the poll, Mr Harmsworth addressed the crowd outside the Union Workhouse, praised Mr Lyttleton (who was struck down with ‘flu) and urged his supporters not to renew the disturbances. He was then carried shoulder high to the Raven Hotel.  

On the following day, after the election result, a large crowd assembled outside the Raven Hotel and stones were thrown at a car with Unionist colours.  Harmsworth appeared and repeated his call for calm.  In anticipation of disorder, about 136 members of the county constabulary under the Deputy Chief Constable, had been drafted into the town and were especially guarding public houses.

Infuriated by the Liberal’s defeat, an estimated 1000 strong crowd went on the rampage on the night of Saturday, 29th January, hurling stones at windows in St Andrew’s Street and Friar Street. A brick through the window of the ‘Waggon and Horses’ was a precursor to the escalation of the violence at closing time. Kench was an active supporter of Lyttleton and became a victim of some people’s resentment.  He had taken a prominent part in the 1906 election.  Reports stated that he had apparently irritated the crowd.  The Barley Mow also came under attack, the proprietor also being a Unionist supporter.

It appears that the culprits were a group of men concealed in Gurney’s Lane opposite the public house, taking advantage of the darkness there.  Between 8 and 9pm they threw stones at the windows of the inn, threatened Kench, damaged blinds and endangered the lives of the people inside.  Almost all of the windows were smashed.  Neighbouring properties were also affected.  A line of police were drawn up in front of the ‘Waggon and Horses’ but the protestors were able to fling stones over the heads of the police guard.  They were heard to shout, ‘Fetch him out!’.  No-one actually attempted to enter or interfere with Kench and he even continued serving customers throughout the evening.  The ‘Waggon and Horses’ was closed prematurely.  Kench was put under police protection along with other proprietors in the town, by the extra police drafted in.  At about 11pm, the Deputy Chief Constable summoned the Mayor, Alderman Jackson Gabb, who read the Riot Act with great difficulty in the middle of the crowd, by the light of a candle. Unfortunately, very few people heard the announcement, due to the noise of the rioters and missiles continued to be thrown as he was issuing the Riot Act. 

The Riot Act:

Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.

They were given one hour to disperse, but they refused and further stone throwing at houses occupied by Unionists ensued.  With batons drawn, five mounted police and police reserve charged the crowd before restoring order just before midnight. They charged up and down High Street and very quickly order was restored.  It had taken three hours to quash the disturbances.  One policeman suffered a bruised hand, one a kick and two were accidently hit by stones.

The culprits were never arrested and scuttled away from Gurney’s Lane in the darkness.  12 Droitwich men, chiefly salt makers, were committed to Worcester Assizes but were acquitted as they claimed the Riot Act had not been read out clearly.  One man, John Sankey, seemed to be blamed, but an eye witness account said he was more of an entertainer for the crowd.  There was no evidence to show that the other 11 men acted together to form a riot and certainly one man, (John Sankey), could not be guilty on his own.  It was felt by some that there was an exaggeration of the events and the rioters were ‘not nearly so vicious and angry as a crowd of football supporters’.  It was also considered that the police should have taken more energetic measures earlier in the evening.

In 1914 Albert Kench produced a booklet to advertise the ‘Waggon and Horses’ and to rename it the ‘Crooked House’, cashing in on the unusual nature of the premises. The subsidence in the High Street had caused interesting features.  These included:  a ‘mysterious table’ which slanted considerably and yet a billiard ball placed at one end, rolled up hill; a bar which had sloping shelves and yet glasses and jugs remained upright; rooms and passages which were lopsided; a bedroom where the bed had to be tied to the wall and the legs raised, otherwise the visitor could go to bed at one end of the room and wake up at the other. The advertising booklet demonstrates Albert’s entrepreneurial flair; he must have realised that with the war underway it was necessary to promote his business. There were many cyclist groups who visited Droitwich and he encouraged them to stay a while at his hostelry.  He also had postcards produced which visitors to the public house were able to purchase for 1d (penny) and send to others.  The postcards detailed some of the curious features found within the premises.

The last record of the Kench family at the ‘Waggon and Horses’ was in a Kelly’s Directory of 1916.

Albert and Rosannah moved to Portsmouth where their daughter, May Eliza, was living with her husband Harry Osborn, after their marriage in September 1917.

Albert died on 4th September 1923, aged 54 years in Portsmouth.  He was described as a ‘retired victualler’ and he left his estate to Rosannah Kench, his widow.  She returned to Kidderminster, the place of her birth, where she  married a Harry Lewis in 1935. Rosannah died in Kidderminster in 1945 aged 75.

Sources

Berrows Worcester Journal 1910 Riots

Eye witness account 1910 Riots  Droitwich Library local history filing cabinet

H W Gwilliam’s account 1910 Riots      Droitwich Library local history filing cabinet

Deposition of witnesses 1910 Riots      Droitwich Library local history filing cabinet

The Times newspaper 1910 Riots   Droitwich Library local history filing cabinet

A ‘Comic Opera Riot’ by Pat Niner.  The 1910 Election in Droitwich.  Droitwich Library local history filing cabinet

Thanks to Paul Jones LRPS for permission to include the booklet and photographs of the ‘Crooked House’.

Census returns : 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911.