KATH Brooks could hardly have expected to unearth the historical gems which came her way when she investigated her family tree.
But now she can boast a wealth of stories including one of a grandfather who won the praise of a crown court judge.
Chris Cordner takes up the tale.
SEVEN years of study has proved to be time well spent for Kath Brooks.
But the best part of it all is the story which became a family legend, told to Kath by her aunt when she was a child.
Kath said: “My grandfather, John Hayes, never forgot his experience of appearing as a witness in a trial.”
She added: “I uncovered the story by accident when I was researching my grandfather’s life.
“The family story, that was passed on to me, was that my grandfather was very proud of the fact that Judge Grantham had complimented him on his knowledge of guns, when he was called as a witness to Durham Assizes.”
With the family legend as a starting point, Kath began her studies.
She found her granddad’s court summons, dated May 24, 1899.
It instructed John that he was ‘bound in the sum of Fifty Pounds to appear at the next Court of Oyer and Terminer or General Gaol Delivery.”
It ordered John to give evidence against a man accused of felony, adding: “Unless you then appear there and give evidence accordingly, the Recognizance entered into by you will be forthwith levied on you.”
But John, then 18, was ready to do his bit for justice.
The apprentice ironmonger duly appeared and the Northern Daily mail reported how he was the first witness called at the trial.
He confirmed that he was an assistant at Mr Seal’s Ironmonger in Church Street and on May 5, the prisoner bought a revolver at the shop.
John Hayes told the trial how the prisoner bought a gun containing six chambers as well as a box of fifty cartridges.
The court heard how the defendant, a 46-year-old man Thomas Thompson who originated from the West Indies, had been brought to England as a young child.
Before coming to West Hartlepool in 1895, he worked as a sailor in the Liverpool area. He married his wife, Emily, in Liverpool and then moved to Cardiff.
By 1899 he had been married to Emily for fourteen years but it was a troubled relationship. It was reported that she had given birth to a son, whom Thomas claimed ‘was not the child of a coloured man’.
Emily said the child’s father was a local doctor. Thomas went to the police then, four days later, shot and killed his wife, Emily, and stabbed and killed their lodger, David Isaac Phillips.
Thompson received the death penalty at Durham Gaol, but this was changed to life imprisonment.
Judge Grantham told the jury that he was ‘glad to know that they had coupled with their verdict a strong recommendation to mercy.’
The 1901 census shows Thomas Thompson was a convict in Parkhurst Prison, Hampshire.
John Hayes was Kath’s paternal grandfather, born in January 1881 and died in 1959. He was the son of an Irish brewer who came to Hartlepool between 1875-1877.
He served in the Royal Field Artillery and was “an ironmonger all his life,” said Kath a semi-retired teacher who still has family in Hartlepool.