William John Roydhouse 1853-1868

On the 28th May,1853 the marriage was recorded between William John Roydhouse ,23 and Mary Johns Jordan, 23 at St. James, Clerkenwell .

The first child, William F was born in Clerkenwell in 1856  and it is likely that the birth of Sarah in Dover in 1858 coincided with his second wire laying contract through Dover, and in 1860 daughter Mary was born just south of the Thames in Bermondsey.

In 1861 the family are recorded by census as living in Llantwit Fadre while William was carrying an overhead wire for the Taff Vale Railway Company .

Thomas Richard was born in 1862,18 miles north from  there at Merthyr Tydfil ,while his father was fitting new instruments and batteries for the then largest railway ironworks in the world.

(Dowlais Ironworks)

By 1865, when  Matilda was born in West Ham the Silverton Telegraph Company employed WJ to electronically fit out 8 Naval vessels. Based in Woolwich, Sheerness, Plymouth and Chatham it would seem William was working away from his family at this time. His sister Ann lived in West Ham so a possible connection can be made as to where Mary and children were.

(HMS Minotaur)

Between 1864 and 1868 William was involved in a murder, an invention and met with the approval and interest of a Baroness!

As early railway travel became popular with the travelling public, luggage thefts were common and violent robberies occurred from time to time.

Many opponents of the railways painted a gloomy picture of the prospect which faced the lone passenger in the unlit carriages. Trains in those days were not corridor connected, and men were robbed and women assaulted often enough to provide pessimists and hostile sections of the press with plenty of material.

The first railway murder, however, did not occur until 1864. It was one of the most sensational crimes of the century.
On Saturday, 9 July 1864, the 9.50pm train from Fenchurch Street on the North London Railway arrived at Hackney at 10.11pm.

Two bank clerks entered an empty first class carriage and sat down, immediately noticing blood in the carriage. They called the guard who examined the compartment and found blood all over the cushions and the off-side door. He also found a black beaver hat, a stick, and a bag.

The guard locked the door, telegraphed Chalk Farm station, and on arrival there told the stationmaster. The carriage was detached and sent to Bow for examination and the hat and other articles were handed to the Metropolitan Police.
At 10.20pm, the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction saw something between Hackney Wick and Bow Stations. He stopped the train and found an unconscious, severely injured Thomas Briggs, chief clerk of a bank. He was nearly seventy years old and died of his wounds the following night.
The bag and stick found in the compartment were identified as Briggs’. The hat was not identified and provided an initial clue in the form of the address of the maker at Crawford Street, Marylebone. Robbery was evidently the motive for the murder because Briggs’ gold watch and chain, and gold eye-glasses could not be found.The publicity given to this unique crime caused an outcry as railway passengers campaigned for better protection. The Government and the bank which employed Briggs offered substantial rewards for information.

The first important information came from a jeweller named John Death. He gave a description of a German man, who called at his shop in Cheapside on 11 July and exchanged a gold chain, later identified as Briggs’.A week later, a cabman told police that he found a small cardboard box bearing the name ‘Death’ in his home.
The cabman also stated that the black beaver hat found in the train was one purchased by him on behalf of Muller at the Marylebone address. He gave police a photograph of Muller and Death, the jeweller, identified him as the man who had exchanged the gold chain.

(Franz Muller)

Enquiries showed that Franz Muller had sailed for New York on the 15th July.Muller was linked with the property stolen from the murdered man and with the hat found in the compartment. A warrant for his arrest was granted by the chief magistrate at Bow Street and on 19 July, Inspector Tanner and Sergeant Clarke left Euston for Liverpool.

On 20 July they sailed for New York on a steamship and reached there on 5 August, three weeks before Muller. He was arrested and searched and in his possession were found the watch and a hat believed to be Briggs’.

Extradition proceedings began on 26 August and on 3 September the officers left for England with their prisoner. On 27 October 1864, Muller appeared at the Old Bailey. Evidence for the prosecution was given by several railway witnesses including the ticket collector who punched Briggs’ ticket at the beginning of his fateful journey, the guard of the 9.50pm train, and the driver who found the body.

Muller’s defence was an alibi – he tried to prove he was elsewhere at the time of the murder. One defence witness stated he had seen Briggs in the compartment with two other men, neither of whom he recognised as the prisoner. Another witness, a prostitute, said Muller was with her at the material time.The defence also suggested that the hat left in the compartment might have belonged to the cabman who could have been the murderer. Muller, who had a previous conviction for larceny, asserted his innocence to the end but was found guilty on the strongest possible evidence. He was publicly executed amid scenes of drunkenness and disorder which contributed to the ultimate abolition of these exhibitions.

Briggs’ murder was the first to take place on the British railway and the pursuit across the Atlantic caught the imagination of the public in much the same way as the Crippen case fifty years later.Briggs had been murdered in a closed compartment that had no corridor, so after the train started there was no way to leave until the next station. Public reaction resulted in the establishment of the communication cord on trains that allowed passengers to contact members of the railway crew, required by the Regulation of Railways Act 1868. It also led to the creation of railway carriages with side corridors, which allowed passengers to move from their compartments while the train was in motion. (www.btp.police.uk)


William  fitted some of the first railway trains with the first types of electrical alarms at Doncaster, Yorkshire. The murder had raised great concern by the traveling public in England, and the Railways were quick to find ways to reassure them.

This work suggested to William an idea for burglar alarms, and he invented a system where every door and window could be placed in a circuit. When this circuit was broken, an alarm was sounded in a selected place, and the door or window was indicated.

This invention brought him under the notice of the Baroness Burdette-Coutts, who was always interested in inventions and encouraged inventors. The Baroness took great interest in his work, and it was through her interest that he was able to dispose profitably of his invention.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts

This great Victorian philanthropist was born in London in 1814, the youngest of six children of Sir Francis Burdett ,politician, and Sophia, daughter of the banker Thomas Coutts. Angela inherited her grandfather Coutts’ fortune and then assumed the additional surname of Coutts by Royal licence and became known as “the richest heiress in England”. She applied her fortune to many charities connected with the Church of England, the relief of the poor, children and animals. In recognition of her work Queen Victoria in 1871 conferred a peerage on her under the title Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate and Brookfield

In 1881 the Baroness (67) married William Lehman Ashmead-Bartlett,(27), who was an M.P. and her secretary. The age difference caused a stir at the time, but it was a very happy union. She died in 1906 of acute bronchitis.

(Baroness Burdett-Coutts)


The next work was to tear up the six wires that were previously laid by the company from Cornhill to Dover and three eighteen wire cables were laid in their places. These wires were connected to the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, Whitehall, Somerset House, Deptford Dockyards, Woolich Arsenal, Chatham and Dover and Deal dockyards, besides numbers of commercial offices in London and Gravesend. The work was completed in eighteen months, and I was in full charge of all offices from the Houses of Parliament to Deal for five years.

I then started contracting on my own account for the United Kingdom Telegraph Company, Old Bond Street, City. I carried a line of overhead wires from Leeds to Bradford; from Bradford to Halifax; from Halifax to Huddersfield; Huddersfield to Wakefield; Wakefield to Manchester and many other places during the next few years.

I carried an overhead wire for the Taff Vale Railway Company, South Wales; fitted up new instruments and batteries for the then largest railway ironworks in the world.

After this I entered the employ of the Silverton Telegraph Company, North Woolich.

I had orders to fit up electronically H.M.S Valiant from the bridge fore and aft, to the engine room, and to the man at the wheel I fitted up the Minotaur in the same dock, finishing her at Sheerness.

In a like manner the Achilles, Black Prince, and the Zealous were fitted in Plymouth Dockyard, and Agincourt, Cumberland, and Northumberland in Chatham.

After this I went back to my former employers, W. T. Henley. Soon after this the N. Z. Agent General was enquiring for an expert to go to New Zealand to look after the new Cook Strait cable, and to erect land lines.

Author: gorcat28

writing up my ancestors one week at a time

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