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.
Berrows Worcester Journal
Eye witness account 1910
Riots Droitwich Library local history
H W Gwilliam’s account 1910 RiotsDroitwich Library local history filing
Deposition of witnesses 1910
RiotsDroitwich Library local history
The Times newspaper 1910 RiotsDroitwich Library local history filing
A ‘Comic Opera Riot’ by Pat
Niner.The 1910 Election in Droitwich.Droitwich Library local history filing
Thanks to Paul Jones LRPS
for permission to include the booklet and photographs of the ‘Crooked House’.