Prostitution was a major activity in Blackpool. Single men came to Blackpool with money in their pockets. During and after the war servicemen and civil servants outnumbered women.
The hubs of prostitution were the railway stations. Most people who came to Blackpool passed through those funnels. The areas associated with prostitution are same as they were in the ninteenth century… around North Station and Central Station.
Prostitutes frequented North station and carried out business in Back Queen Street. Queen Street was the most prestigious address in Blackpool with a Catholic Convent and the Mayor of Blackpool Thomas McNaughton whose half brother tried to assassinate Robert Peel the Prime Minister.
Prostitution was not a crime. Police Courts in 19th Century Blackpool show antagonism to women who come from other parts of the country. The Police would find grounds such as obstruction.
PROSTITUTION FASCINATES US ALL
Prostitution is an abiding fascination. Prostitutes became heroines in late Romantic Poetry. Poets of Decadence saw Prostitutes as outcasts like themselves. One poet said that he went with prostitutes because it was cheaper that staying in a hotel.
William Gladstone when Prime Minister was in the habit of seeking out prostitutes… with a view to rescuing them. After these encounters he took to scourging himself.
Some professions: priests, undertakers, and prostitutes , for example, see people in a way that we don’t and draw conclusions which they keep to themselves.
Prostitution is highly profitable, not demanding in terms of time and associated with a lifestyle that might be desirable. An observer from Mass Observation in the 30’s writes that a prostitute was on the highest rank of earnings. A prostitute would earn as much as a chef in a top hotel in far less time.
A mystique grew up around Blackpool. A visit to Blackpool combined the temptations of Sodom and Gommorah. It was believed that in smart hotels a bell was rung in the morning so that people could return to their rooms. The Reverend Balmer published a Pamphlet called “Blackpool, Paris and Sodom.”
DIGRESSION ON VICARS AND PROSTITUTES
What is it about vicars and prostitutes? This is from the Daily Mirror and near Madge Leadbetter’s stomping ground.
Vicar is propositioned for SEX by prostitutes using his churchyard as a brothel
Members of the congregation have been offered sex outside church as ladies of the night tout for business outside a house of God
A vicar has enlisted the help of police after a “Sodom and Gomorrah” blight hit his church and worshippers.
Shocked Rev Alan Byron says that prostitutes are having sex with punters in his churchyard.
In addition, he says brazen hookers are even propositioning members of his congregation as they arrive for services.
Now, police in Blackpool, Lancs, have stepped up anti-vice patrols around the Christ with All Saints Church in the resort’s town centre in a bid to eradicate the problem.
BACK TO THE STORY
A girl working as a waitress or chambermaid in Blackpool would be propositioned on a regular basis. The number of former residents of Blackpool who have fallen victim to Serial Killers suggests that time in Blackpool was part of a prostitute’s CV and that prostitution is the most dangerous career. (See blog: “Evelyn Oatley, Helen Barthelemey and Irene Richardson. )
Prostitution is connected with organised crime. Prostitutes shared a place at the margins of society with gangsters. Gangsters provided protection and ran pubs, nightclubs and gambling dens. Gangsters and prostitutes would socialise.
You will not find Blackpool Mary in Gazette articles, or in local histories, or in memoirs. Blackpool Mary was a major figure in Blackpool for many years. She was a prostitute. I am deeply grateful for comments by Susan who tells me that Blackpool Mary died at the age of 74 around the turn of this century. The things she must have known…
I came across her name in Rupert Croft-Cooke’s book about Paul Lund: “Smiling damned villain. ” Paul says that she was involved in a shooting in Blackpool bar. Blackpool Mary was with Scarface Jock and his gang. She approached a stranger in a bar. Scarface Jock was a leading gangster in Blackpool at this time. The plan was to extract money from the stranger. But the stranger drew a pistol and fired it. Scarface Jock was (wrongly) imprisoned.
Why did this stranger have a pistol?
Scarface Jock had upset Billy Hill. Billy Hill was the leading gangster at the time. Billy Hill was normally brilliant but he lost it where Jack Spot was concerned.
Billy Hill hatched a ludicrous plan to wound Scarface Jock and blame it on Jack Spot. Scarface Jock agreed until he was out of reach and then told Billy Hill what he could do with his plans. Then Scarface Jock fled to Scotland. Then he went to Blackpool because it was a lucrative place for a protection business and out of reach of Billy Hill. This may be why a man with a pistol was in the same bar as Scarface Jock and drew and used a pistol when he felt in danger from Scarface Jock.
Paul Lund who tells us as much as we know about crime in Blackpool in the 40s and 50s. He then tells us that he heard that Blackpool Mary was later murdered and that a man was hanged for the crime.
Not true. Paul Lund probably heard the outline of a story years later.
Madge Leadbetter also known as Madge Higginbottom from the Blackpool Evening Gazette
Blackpool Mary was involved and somebody was murdered. Madge Leadbetter was the sister of Mary Holland… “Blackpool Mary.” Madge Leadbetter was murdered by Norman Mitchell early on Wednesday Morning, 31st October 1952.
Norman Mitchell was aged 23 and a big strong man. He had been in trouble with the Police including assaulting a Police Officer. He had been working as a miner and had visited his mother and father who had a boarding house at 16 York Street. His mother and father were not over the moon about having Norman at home and they gave him £5.00 to go back to Barnsley mining.
Mr Cyril Mitchell (the father) went off to Bournemouth on Monday 29 November. The next day Norman’s mother, Ethel, went to Oldham. She left one key with her neighbour and one with the Police. Norman managed to get hold of a key which she had left in the house.
Madge Leadbetter was aged 27. She had married an American Serviceman. The circumstances did not auger well. He was in the guardhouse and was allowed an hour to marry her in the Registry Office. As far as we know she never saw him again. Madge had a daughter aged four called Christine.
Madge was a prostitute. She only had one conviction but she was well known to the police. She was said to be tough and violent and inventive at verbal abuse. One taxi driver thought she was the most prominent, perhaps an unofficial leader of the local prostitutes. She lived in back Oddfellow Street, now demolished.
On Wednesday October 31 , 1952, Norman Mitchell was arrested near midnight in the grounds of Victoria Hospital. He was drunk and incapable. His mother had been phoned by a neighbor about suspicious activity in the house and Mrs Mitchell phoned the police who found the body in the attic. She was nearly naked. She had been strangled and she had knife wounds. This was four hours before Norman Mitchell was arrested.
It didn’t take long to link Norman Mitchell to Madge Leadbetter. The body had been in the attic at his mother’s house and he had a key in his pockets. Norman and Madge had an association. Norman’s behaviour at the hospital was suspicious.
Norman told a story that he had found Madge’s body. Madge had entertained a visitor that evening, Corporal Robert Stafford of the Air Force who was based at Lytham A taxi-driver had taken the corporal to Lytham and another taxi-driver had been the last person to see Madge alive with Norman on the Tuesday Evening when they seemed amiable.
Norman was tried for the murder of Madge Leadbetter.
NORMAN MITCHELL AND MADGE LEADBETTER
Norman had found a client for Madge earlier in the day. He had agreed to let Madge have a key to the house if she found a client. She found a client at Central Station and picked up Norman from a snack-bar and the three of them went back to the house in York Street. Corporal Stafford gave Madge £4.00. Madge gave Norman £1.00. They drank beer and Norman went out. The arrangement had been for the client to stay the night.
Servicemen threw some beer bottles in the street outside the house. That sealed the fate of Madge and Norman. The corporal was disturbed and left the house in a taxi. Madge phoned the snack-bar and left a message for Norman. Madge may also have been unsettled by the broken bottles.
The servicemen who threw the bottles and were chased by a Policeman may have known that Corporal Stafford was there.
Norman took a taxi to the boarding house in York Street. Madge and Norman had a drink with the taxi driver who left about midnight. That is the last time that Madge is seen alive. The two were amiable.
What happened next is known only to Norman. Some parts of Norman’s story are so odd or so inconsequential that they must be true.
Part of Norman’s evidence is that he acted in self-defence. He says that Madge tried to stab him and that he strangled her whilst trying to restrain her. Since she was wearing knickers and a bra when she was stabbed one of the legal team asked where she concealed the knife. None of the evidence supports Norman’s story. Madge had knife wounds. Norman only had scratches that were defensive wounds. If Norman was defending himself from a knife attack it is hard to see how he could have strangled Madge if she was holding a knife.
The parts of Norman’s story that do appear to be true is that there was a struggle. And then astonishingly (after she was dead) he took off her bra which was covered in blood. And then he went to bed with her. When he woke up she was cold. He moved her body to the attic.
He took money from her purse and went out drinking with a window-cleaner friend. They had a lot to drink and Norman gave his friend the slip and was found drunk and incapable in Victoria Hospital where he was arrested.
WHAT WAS GOING ON?
Norman was physically intimidating. His friends called him “Tarzan.” Some of his behaviour makes sense if he had the mind of a nine year old. He did not understand that death was irreversible and he no understanding of consequences. How else to explain his going to bed with her after she was dead. And going to the hospital? Was there some belief that she was ill and might get better, or because the mortuary was at the hospital and he was acting out some grief-stricken urge to be close to her?
Madge was a fiery character. Maybe she taunted Norman who was not used to people standing up to him. What if Norman had some feeling for Madge but was not smart enough to understand that she had other plans. Norman may have had some idea of protecting Madge and sharing in her takings. This would go nowhere with Madge. Norman told the jury that Madge had threatened to take some of his mother’s clothes and that he was going to get a policeman. This sounds like a child.
The jury had three choices. The could accept the self-defence argument, they could find him guilty of murder or they could find him guilty of manslaughter. They found him guilty of manslaughter and he was jailed for ten years.
It may seem merciful of the jury. But they had seen Norman and formed a view about his capacity. If they had found him guilty of murder Norman would have been executed. The jury might have taken into account Madge’s violent reputation. There is also the possibility that the murder of a prostitute was not taken as seriously as the murder of a respectable person.
It is hard not to feel piercing sadness at the fate of Madge. Fiery and independent her , character might exactly have ignited Norman’s incoherent rage. He was strong and stupid and she was fearless and quick witted. Mary would not be submissive or intimidated.
And chance plays a part…
All this would not have happened if servicemen had not thrown beer bottles in York Street.
Blackpool Mary, Mary Holland, was Madge’s sister and a well-known Blackpool character. She was a prostitute and associated with Blackpool gangsters such as Mixie Walsh and Scarface Jock.
We would know nothing about her if she were not mentioned in Rupert Croft-Cooke’s book about Paul Lund: “Smiling damned villain.” I am told she brought up Madge’s daughter Christine who emigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen. (Again I am grateful for Susan’s comments.)
There must have been a community of prostitutes who operated around North Station and had as complex and absorbing existence as the Mayor and the Council. We know practically nothing about them or their world. They are part of Blackpool’s history.