Criminal Quilts Case Study – Agnes Herrity

Criminal Quilts is my exhibition, research project and book.  The textiles I have created are inspired by the stories of women who were photographed on release from Stafford Prison between 1877 and 1916.

I was fascinated when I first saw the photographs from the 1870s where the women have their hands on their chests. This was in case of missing fingers which would be used for identification. This is the first time prisons took photographs of prisoners to identify them if they offended again. They are usually photographed in their own clothes so we get to see what they really looked like. Photographs of working women are rare so these are very special images of women who wouldn’t normally have photographs taken. Original images and documents courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office.

Find out more in the online exhibition of Criminal Quilts including a film and all the exhibition text. My Criminal Quilts book covers the photo albums in detail, includes many more case studies, a background to women in prison in the 19th century and is illustrated with my textile works. It is available in my online shop along with cards, books and artworks.

This is part of a series of case studies of some of the women recorded in the prison photographs.

Agnes appears five times between 1897 and 1910 in the photograph albums. Her older sister Margaret appears once in 1884 and their brother Thomas in 1896. The Roman Catholic family were living in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Their parents were from Ireland, but the children were all born in Coventry or Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. They lived in a ‘court’ house, which we would now consider slum housing. Agnes was born around 1868-9. The census below shows the family in 1881 when Agnes is 13. Julia is working in a silk factory, as are a number of their neighbours. There is a transcript of this at the end of this page. Julia’s baptism record is at The Most Holy Sacrament & St Osburg, Coventry but nothing can be found for Agnes. Their surname is spelled in various ways: Harrity, Herritty and Herrity (which is the one I use).There are other Herritys in Newcastle-under-Lyme at around the same time and there are still people with the same surname in the town now.

At 18 years-old, Agnes was charged with assaulting her father, although she remained living with her family for the whole period, except when she was in prison.

Birmingham Daily Post

Agnes was convicted many times for drunkenness, theft and assault and spent considerable time in prison. Both Agnes and Thomas were in Stafford Prison at the time of the 1901 census. Agnes at times had employment as a labourer or hawker (a travelling seller of goods), but is also described sometimes as a prostitute, which reflects a life of poverty, a lack of education and opportunities.

Agnes is recorded as having a fresh complexion, black hair and hazel eyes with a round face. She was about 5’3″.

1901 Census details from Stafford Prison

First name(s)Agnes
Last nameHerrity
Marital statusSingle
Birth year1868
Birth townCoventry
Birth town as transcribedCOVENTRY
Birth placeEngland
Birth place other as transcribed
Birth countyWarwickshire
Birth county as transcribedWARWICKSHIRE
OccupationHawker (Sometimes)

Conviction notes about Agnes copied from prison documents.

922. Agnes Herrity. 13th November 1893. Convicted in Hanley of 2 charges of assault. 6 calendar months hard labour, fine of £1.19.10 + 6CM HL to follow. No education. Age 24.  5’3 1/2” No occupation. Single. RC. Born Coventry. Released 13th Jan 1894

208. Agnes Herrity. Arrested 19/3/1894 Hanley. Drunk. 1CM HL. Age 25. Released 18/4/1894

1074 Agnes Herrity. Arrested 28/12/1895 Wolverhampton. Wounding and assault. 2 CM LL Age 28. 5’ 31/2” 

107 Agnes Herrity. Drunk. 7 days. 6/3/1895

798 (96) Mary Agnes Herrity. Wolverhampton. Drunk. Age 28

50/1897. Agnes Herrity. Arrested Wolverhampton January 1897. Assault. 1CM. Prostitute. Superior education ? Possibly reads 51 previous convictions including 1003/1896 & 50/1897

19/5/1897 Arrested Newcastle. tried 16/7/1897 Newcastle. Stealing purse ad month from the person. 6CM HL. Age 28. 5’1” Occupation: Prostitute. Roman Catholic. 53 Previous convictions including 322/1897 in Newcastle 20/4/1897 for prostitution. released 15th Jan (?) 2898. Released 19 May 1897

192/1901 16/3/1901 Arrested Newcastle for prostitution

I have found Agnes intriguing, particularly as we discovered more about her life and found more photograph of her and her family. I love the earliest photograph of her with knitted shawl and flower-trimmed hat, and used this image for a quilt (which then because the book cover) and for a screen printed quilt above. You can find out more about these two quilts in the online exhibition. Additional research by Jan Bray, project volunteer.

First name(s)Last nameRelationshipMarital statusSexAgeBirth yearBirth placeOccupation
RichardHerrityHeadMarriedMale691812Mayo, IrelandFarm Labourer (Ag Lab)
MaryHerrityWifeMarriedFemale471834Mayo, Ireland
JuliaHerrityDaughterSingleFemale231858Coventry, Warwickshire, Silk Factory
MargaretHerrityDaughterSingleFemale171864Coventry, Warwickshire,Silk Factory
ThomasHerritySonSingleMale151866Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, Scholar
AgnesHerrityDaughterSingleFemale131868Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, Scholar
JohnHerritySonSingleMale31878Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, Scholar