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Felix Marsh Rimmington

Felix Marsh Rimmington – FCS (Fellow of the Chemical Society)  1818-1897

Felix was for 25 years the Analytical Chemist for Bradford, an early forensic scientist “The Sherlock Holmes of forensic science”. He investigated many instances of poisoning – including the infamous “Humbug Billy” sweet poisoning case of 1858 where he identified that 14 grains of arsenic had been added to each sweet. His work was instrumental in the passing of the Adulteration of Food Act in 1860. He died on 17 June 1897 and is buried in Undercliffe Cemetery, laid to rest on the 19 June in plot numbers half of G168 and 169 (Consecrated).

His elegant Victorian pharmacy at 9 Bridge Street (near City Hall) still operates today where a blue plaque was recently installed. He also owned a shop on Manningham Lane close to Thorncliffe Road. It was near here at Back Mellor Street that on 29 December 1888 the mutilated remains of 7 year old little John Gill was found. The murder was initially thought to be the work of Jack the Ripper – and the case is still open! Felix role was to analyse the contents of the boys’ stomach.

The 1858 Bradford sweets poisoning mentioned at the beginning was the arsenic poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford when sweets accidentally made with arsenic were sold from a market stall. Twenty-one victims died as a result. The tragedy and resulting public outcry was a major contributing factor to The Pharmacy Act 1868 which recognized the chemist and druggist as the custodian and seller of named poisons (as medicine was then formally known). The requirement for record keeping and the requirement to obtain the signature of the purchaser is currently upheld under the Poisons Act 1972 for “non-medicinal” poisons. W. E. Gladstone’s ministry of 1868–1874 also brought in legislation regulating the adulteration of foodstuffs as a result of the events.

A caricature by John Leech, published in Punch magazine in November 1858, illustrating the Bradford poisoning case. Courtesy: Wikipedia

William Hardaker, locally known as “Humbug Billy”, sold sweets from a stall in the Greenmarket in Bradford (now The Arndale Centre) who  purchased his supplies from Joseph Neal, who made the peppermint humbugs (or “lozenges”) locally on Stone Street. The lozenges were made of peppermint oil added to a base of sugar and gum. However, sugar was expensive (6½d per lb), so powdered gypsum (½d per lb) was substituted for some of the sugar. The adulteration of foodstuffs with cheaper substances was common at the time and the adulterators used obscure nicknames (“daff”, “multum”, “flash”, “stuff”) to hide the practice.

Neal sent James Archer, a lodger who lived at his house, to collect daff for Hardaker’s humbugs from druggist Charles Hodgson’s pharmacy which was 3 miles away at Baildon Bridge in Shipley. Hodgson was at his pharmacy, but did not serve Archer owing to illness and so his requests were seen to by his young assistant, William Goddard who was told that it was in a cask in a corner of the attic. However, rather than daff, Goddard sold Archer 12 lbs of Arsenic trioxide which is a white, crystalline powder that closely resembles sugar but has no odour or taste. The mistake remained undetected even during manufacture of the sweets by James Appleton, an “experienced sweetmaker” employed by Neal, though Appleton did observe that the finished product looked different from the usual humbugs. Appleton was suffering symptoms of illness at the time but did not realise it was caused by poison. 40 lbs of lozenges were sold to Hardaker who also noticed the sweets looked unusual and used this to obtain a discount from Neal and on tasting the sweets also promptly became ill.

Hardaker sold 5 lbs of the sweets from his market stall that night at a price of 1½d for 2 ounces. Of those who purchased and ate the sweets, 21 people died with a further 200 or so becoming severely ill with arsenic poisoning within a day or so.

Originally the first deaths, those of two children were thought to be owing to cholera, a major problem in Britain at the time. The growing number of casualties soon showed that the purchase of lozenges from Hardaker’s stall was the cause, and from there the trail led to Neal and Hodgson. Goddard was arrested and stood before magistrates in the court house in Bradford on 1 November 1858 with Hodgson and Neal later committed for trial with Goddard on a charge of manslaughter. Dr John Bell identified arsenic as the cause, and this was confirmed by Felix Rimmington, the prominent chemist and druggist and analytical chemist. Rimmington’s estimate of how much arsenic each humbug contained was mentioned in the start (14 grains) although a contemporary account suggests 9 grains; 4.5 grains is a lethal dose. As such, each lozenge would have contained enough arsenic to kill two people, and enough distributed by Hardaker in total to kill 2,000. The prosecution against Goddard and Neal was later withdrawn and Hodgson was acquitted when the case was considered at York Assizes on 21 December 1858.

Another example towards the end of his career was The Ice Cream Mystery of 1896. At the inquiry on 14 August into the death of Joseph Rose aged 14 supposedly from eating ice cream, Mr Rimmington, analyst, gave evidence of finding in the deceased stomach a small quantity of dark watery fluid swarming with microbes. The bacteria represented a very serious condition and frequently were a cause of death.

So that is the story of Felix’s famed events, but what of the man and his family?

He was born on 14 February 1818 (bap. 16 February 1818) at Gateforth in the parish of Brayton (near Selby), North Yorkshire to William Rimmington ( a farmer and son of William Rimmington & Mary Hinsworth), b. 3 Aug 1789, bap. 6 Aug 1789 at Brayton in the Anglican Church and Lucy Marsh (daughter of Felix Marsh and Lucy), b. 1793, bap. 14 July 1793 at Conisbrough, Doncaster, Yorkshire in the Anglican Church who married on the 21st or 24th April 1817 at Maltby, near Rotherham, Yorkshire.

Felix Marsh Rimmington had 9 siblings (they were all baptised at Brayton); 6 brothers: James bap. 10 August 1820; John bap. 2 April 1822; Henry bap. 18 November 1823; Edward bap. 20 April 1825; George bap. 1 June 1830 and Cornelius bap. 22 June 1833 plus 3 sisters: Lucy Hannah bap. 16 May 1827; Mary Ann bap. 21 January 1829 and Elizabeth Jane bap. 10 May 1835.

He came to Bradford aged 4 and lived with an uncle who was a chemist, then returned to Gateforth for his education. Then he was apprenticed to Mr. Fell a Huddersfield chemist and also served as an assistant to Mr P Squire of Oxford Street, London, the chemist to the Queen.

In 1841 Felix (then 23) and his brother Edward (15) were both chemists at Ive Gate, Bradford. In 1842 Felix established his Pharmacy at Ivygate. In 1847 Felix was operating at 40 Ive Gate and in 1850 Felix was a maker of glass apparatus for chemical tests at 6 Ive Gate.

Felix Marsh Rimmington was a “Druggist” when he married Elizabeth Elgey (b. 1814 in Bradford) the daughter of George Elgey on the 21st February 1846 at St Peter (Bradford Cathedral) by licence.

In November 1846 an experimental trial of gun cotton for blasting prepared by Mr. Rimmington for mining purposes took place with the most satisfactory results.

Felix and Elizabeth had 4 children: Felix William Elgey Rimmington bap. 16 June 1848 at St. James, Horton, Yorkshire; George bap. 12 September 1851 at St. James, Horton, Bradford; Ada Mary bap 23 August 1854 in Bradford and Sarah Louisa (or Louise sometimes!) bap. 16 October 1857 in Bradford.

In 1851 Felix & Elizabeth were residing at 24 Great Cross Street, Eastbrook Terrace, Bradford, Felix being an Operative Chemist & Druggist aged 33 with their son Felix William Elgey Rimmington (3) and 2 male Chemist & Druggist apprentices and a female domestic servant.

In 1853 Felix was listed in White’s directory as having a business at 6 Ivegate with a house at 42 Vicar Lane.

In 1861 Felix, now a Pharmaceutical Chemist, and Elizabeth were residing at 33 Hanover Square, Bradford with their sons Felix William Elgey Rimmington now 13 and George (9) both scholars and daughters Ada Mary (6) and Sarah Louise (3) both scholars [even at 3!!] plus a male apprentice chemist and two servants: a male Shop Assistant and a female House Servant.

In 1871 Felix, a Pharmacist, and Elizabeth were still residing in Hanover Square, Bradford with their son George (19) now an Apprentice and daughters Ada Mary (16) and Sarah L (13) both scholars plus two male Apprentices and  a female General Servant. But where was Felix William Elgey Rimmington? At the age of 23 he was at 338 Oxford Street, Westminster, London (near the Royal Society of Medicine) as an Assistant Pharmaceutical Chemist with 11 others under the management of Henry J Wigg with a Cook, 3 Housemaids and 7 Messengers.

On the 2nd of February 1872 Thomas Smith with force and arms broke into the shop of F M Rimmington and stole mittens, pipes, matches and umbrellas. He was sentenced to hard labour imprisonment for 12 months at the Wakefield Sessions on 26 February 1872.

The appointment of Mr. Felix Marsh Rimmington, analytical chemist, of this town, as public analyst for the borough, was reported in the Leeds Times of 13 June 1874 and has been confirmed by the Local Government Board. He was also appointed in January 1875 under the Adulteration of Food Act public analyst for the borough of Dewsbury at £20 p.a. and 10s for each analysis over 50 in any year plus all expenses on attending court, etc.

Felix Marsh Rimmington

In 1879 the Bradford Post Office directory listed Felix as of F. M. R. & Sons at 2 Eldon Terrace and F. M. Rimmington & Sons at 9 Bridge Street & 152 Manningham Lane. [The Pharmacy at Bridge Street was established in 1875 and is still there to this day!]

In 1881 Felix M Rimmington, Chemist & Public (sic) Any list (Analyst), and Elizabeth are now residing at 2 Eldon Terrace, Bradford with their daughters Ada Mary (26) and Sarah L (23) plus a Cook & Housemaid. So where is George? He was a 28 year old Chemist of Eldon Terrace when he married Harriet Mary Anderton the 23 year old daughter of Jonathan William Anderton a Manufacturer of Carlisle Terrace on 2 September 1879 at St. Jude’s Church, Manningham and in 1881 were residing at 15 Park View Terrace, Manningham, Bradford, he a Pharmaceutical Chemist, with his wife Harriet and their daughter Dorothy Mary just 8 months old (b. between October and December 1880 at Bradford) plus a female Domestic Servant.

Also in 1881 Felix William Elgey Rimmington, a Pharmaceutical Chemist, was residing at 37 Spring Gardens, Bradford with his wife Clara (21) born in Shipley with their son Felix just 6 months old born in Bradford. Clara is the daughter of John Crabtree and Mary Ann (liked to be called ‘Annie’) who both witnessed the marriage on  3 June 1879  at      St. Paul, Shipley as Clara was a Minor (bap. 30 August 1859). Their son Felix was born on 2 November 1880 and baptised at St. Jude’s, Manningham on 28 November 1880.

Felix William Elgey Rimmington (Druggist) died on 16 May 1882 in Bradford. Probate was granted to his wife Clara of 14 Park View Terrace, Manningham on 17 October 1882 at Wakefield, the estate valued at £255 5s 9d.

On 18 December 1884 Mrs. Felix Rimmington attended the Bradford Technical Collage Conversazione (an assembly or meeting for conversation especially about art, literature, or science). The venue was decorated exceedingly pretty and there was dancing in the lecture hall.

In 1891 Felix M Rimmington, a Pharmaceutical Chemist & Employer, and his wife Elizabeth both now 70 are still residing at 2 Eldon Terrace with Ada 28 and Sarah Louise 27 (both lying about their age!) plus a Cook & Housemaid. George (39) now a Pharmaceutical Chemist & Employer and Harriet (34) are residing at 21 Queens Road, Manningham with Dorothy now 10 and a scholar, Gladys L 7, Marjory 5 and Felix 10, George’s nephew (b. 1881 in Bradford) – so the son of Felix William Elgey Rimmington. They also had two Domestic Servants.

Felix William Elgey Rimmington had passed away at this time (see above) and initially Clara could not be found in 1891; nor could an explanation be found why their son Felix was residing with Felix W E ‘s  brother George Rimmington and his family.  However, what was discovered was that Clara had re-married;  this happened on the     6 April 1886 at the White Abbey Chapel (Wesleyan Methodist), Bradford. She was 26 years old (b. c. 1860) residing in Keighley Road, Shipley; he was Alfred Harris Lobley also 26 and residing at 4 Bell Vue, Manningham, an Accountant, the son of James Lobley the Artist. This enabled Clara’s birth to be established: between July & September 1859 in Bradford. With this new information Clara Lobley 31 in 1891 was residing  at 20 Garfield Street, Bramley, Yorkshire with her husband Alfred Harris Lobley 32 an Accountant and their son John Crabtree Lobley 4 born in Shipley.

In the 1891 Post office Bradford Directory Felix M Rimmington, FCS, was listed as the Borough Analyst at 32 Market Street.

In the 1893 Bradford Kelly’s Directory Felix March Rimmington of FMR & Sons was listed as a Pharmaceutical Chemist & Public Analyst at Shipley.

In the 1895 and following two years of Bradford Electoral Registers, Felix March Rimmington’s abode was at 2 Eldon Terrace with properties at 206 & 210 Manningham Lane. His brother George’s abode in 1895 was at 21 Queens Road, Manningham with property at 52 St Paul’s Road.

Elizabeth Rimmington (née Elgey) died on 10 May 1896 aged 82 (according to the inscription on the family grave headstone shown at the beginning of this story) in Bradford and her husband Felix March Rimmington died on 17 June 1897 at his residence 18 Oak Lane aged 79 and was buried at Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford on the  19 June. There were age discrepancies for Elizabeth throughout her life as evidenced above; if she was 82 when she died, then was born around 1814; records for her birth vary from about 1825, 1816, 1821 & 1823. However, a baptism for an Elizabeth Elgy on 27 May 1814 in Bradford to George & Elizabeth Elgy seems to justify 1814 as it ties up with her marriage certificate recording George Elgey as her father (no other baptism or birth record had George as the father) even though their ages were only entered as ‘Full’. These date discrepancies are probably due to her being 4 years older than Felix which was frowned upon back then, so hid or falsified her age in certain records like the Census.

In March 1899 Felix Rimmington (18 year old son of Felix & Clara) played the part of Jerry in ‘The Broad Path and the Narrow Way’ (a drama of modern life) at the Mechanics’ Institute, Eccleshill. This drama was based on the bible, Matthew 7:13translated as: Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it.

In 1901 George Rimmington (49) a Pharmaceutical Chemist & Employer and Harriet (44) are residing at Oak Lea in the village of Menston (near Otley), Wharfedale, Yorkshire with Dorothy 20, Gladys 17, Marjory 16 and Minnie 5 plus a Cook & Housemaid.

And in 1901 Clara’s new family are now residing at 14 Hanover Square, Bradford with Clara Lobley 41 and Head of the Household (Alfred is not there), Felix 20, her son with her first husband, a Chemists’ Apprentice, John C. Lobley b. 1887 in Shipley and Elsie E. Lobley 9 b. 1892 in Bradford with two boarders, a 49 year old Gardener and a 21 year old Manager of Motor Works.

The good news for 1901 was the marriage of the above Felix to Harriet Whitham between July & September in Bradford leading to the birth of their daughter Gladys between April and June 1902 at Keighley and their son Felix William on 10 May 1908 at 16 Staveley Road and his baptism on 5 July 1908 at All Saints, Bingley. Unfortunately their son passed away between January and March 1910 at Keighley, aged just 1 year old.

In October 1903 Felix Rimmington, lightning cartoonist, performed at the Presbyterian Bazaar at Bradford Westgate New Hall.

The other good news was the marriage of George and Harriet’s daughter Dorothy Mary Rimmington to Ashley Nicholson Lipscomb between October & December 1908 in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. Ashley was born between April & June 1862 at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire.

In 1911 Felix and Harriet both aged 30, he a Music Hall Artiste, were residing at 16 Foulds Terrace, Bingley with their daughter Gladys now 8. Electoral Registers show that they lived at this address from 1904 to 1912 when Felix passed away between April & June 1912 aged 31 at Totnes, Devonshire. Meanwhile, George & Harriet (now 59 & 54 respectively) are still living in Menston but at The Beeches which had 10 rooms, he still a Pharmaceutical Chemist & Employer but now also a Mineral Water Maker, a Governor & Director, with three of their four daughters: Lucy Gladys (27), Marjory (25), and Minnie Christine (15) at School, [their eldest Dorothy Mary having married 3 years previously and living with her husband Ashley] plus a domestic Housemaid and a domestic Cook.

Now those that are really paying attention will be asking ‘What happened to Felix M Rimmington’s daughters’? Both never married and lived to a ripe old age. Ada Mary was born on 27 July 1854 and baptised on 23 August 1854 in St. John’s Church, Bradford, and died on 16 January 1940 aged 85 in Wharfedale, Yorkshire; Sarah Louisa was baptised on 16 October 1857 in St. John’s Church, Bradford, and died on 21 March 1949 aged 91 in Wharfedale, Yorkshire.

Research by David Broomfield – January 2020

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