Argument settled by a smack across the face with a dead rabbit
- Credit: Honiton museum
The Red Cow in Honiton High Street used to be a notorious gypsy haunt. Fights between regulars often broke out and they usually ended up in the court room charged with assault.
The most persistent offenders for over a decade were Priscilla Cooper and her husband Thomas. They lived on Farway Common and made a living by hawking (with or without a licence). Thomas gathered ferns and Priscilla sold clothes pegs and picked daffodils and primroses to sell in London markets.
On one occasion Priscilla and Thomas arrived at court with their heads heavily bandaged. They stated that while they were at the Red Cow, Betsey and John Gill started a quarrel without the least provocation. The landlord Pharez Tucker gave evidence that several gipsies were in his house on that Saturday afternoon when challenges were exchanged to fight. He put both the female complainant and defendant outside and advised the others to leave quietly. They then went into the road. Priscilla claimed that she was attacked by seven or eight women led by Betsey. Thomas tried to rescue her and was set upon by John Gill.
Later, Priscilla and Thomas summoned Rose and Thomas Love (his half brother) and Rose and Thomas summoned Priscilla and Thomas for assault. Priscilla and her friend Mrs Orchard were shopping and went into the White Horse for refreshment. Rose was there and made some offensive remarks. Priscilla left before anything serious occurred and returned to town hours later with her husband.
As they were passing by the Red Cow, Rose came out and without provocation struck Priscilla with a violent blow under the chin followed by a smack across the face with a dead rabbit. Rose threw Priscilla to the ground, pummelled her for about ten minutes and pulled out some hair.
Priscilla, ‘bedecked in beads’ produced a quantity of hair, ‘enough to fill a cushion’, which was carefully wrapped in paper as evidence. The defence asked if it was the same hair that she produced at court six months previously. Thomas Cooper claimed he was rendered senseless. Mr Alford for the defence asked what Thomas did when he was senseless. Thomas answered ‘Nothing’. Mr Alford replied ‘Very sensible’. All four of them were bound over in the sum of £10 to be of good behaviour.