In the spring of 1898, one incompetent farmer’s penchant for chemicals was to land him in trouble with the law when he applied poisoned grain to his land.
Robert William Watson was born in 1839 in the Lincolnshire village of Foston, the son of publican and farmer, Thomas Watson, from Welby and his wife, Martha Selby, from Colsterworth. Thomas Watson was the landlord of the Blue Lion Hotel and Robert spent his childhood and adolescence at the large inn in Grantham’s Market Place with his sister and nine brothers.
By the age of 22, Robert had left his home town of Grantham and found employment working as an assistant to a chemist and druggist in the Ecclesall district of Sheffield. In the summer of 1866, Robert married Sarah Annie Richards from Worksop. The wedding took place in Sheffield, and the couple settled in the city where their five sons and two daughters were born. Using the experience that he had gained working as a chemist’s assistant, Robert set up his own successful business in Sheffield, and by 1881 he was employing six assistants at his shop in the city.
It is a bit of a mystery then, as to why, at the age of about 60, Robert suddenly decided to take up farming. Sometime before 1901 he moved to Goadby Marwood to take over the tenancy of a large farm from his cousin, Richard Watson, although he still retained his chemist business in Sheffield. The 1901 census recorded Robert living with his wife, Sarah, and son, Harold, at The Laurels, the 120-acre farm at the west end of the village.
Although Roberts’s grandfather, and to some extent his father, had both been farmers, Robert had spent little time in a rural environment, and this inexperience was to lead to an incident which resulted in a prosecution and substantial fine. The case was reported by the Leicester Chronicle on April 16th:
Robert Watson, farmer Goadby Marwood, was charged with placing poisoned grain in a field at Goadby Marwood on the 1st of March.
Defendant, who is also a chemist at Sheffield, did not appear, Mrs. Watson attending.
P.C. Stapleton stated that on the 22nd inst. he received a complaint that a quantity of crows and pigeons had been found dead in a plantation on Mr. Watson’s farm at Goadby Marwood.
Witness made enquiries and also opened several of the birds and found wheat in their maw. He proceeded to a field close by the plantation and saw it was drilled with oats and 10 dead crows stuck on sticks about the field.
Witness went to Goadby Marwood and told Mr Watson there had been complaints of poisoning crows and perhaps he knew something about it. Mr. Watson told him he wanted some to tie up and Saturday before he left Sheffield, he dressed half a pint of wheat with poison and scattered it about the field and didn't know he was doing anything wrong.
Mr. Dalglish “If he is a chemist he ought to know”.
Mrs. Watson said her husband knew it was poison but didn't know he was breaking the law in any way.
Supt. Mantle did not want to press the case but it might have turned out very serious, as there were several pigeons and a pheasant and one man was taking some home to cook.
The Rector of Goadby said he knew Mr. Watson well and he was a most conscientious, kind, benevolent and humane man and no doubt living as he did in a town he was acting under a mistake and committed an error of judgement.
The Chairman said the magistrates regarded it as a very serious case and a lot of damage might have been done. The maximum penalty was £10 and the defendant would have to pay £2 and 14s 6d costs.
It seems that Robert had simply not thought through the possible consequences of his actions and was no doubt grateful that the Reverend Samuel Rees, the highly respected Rector of Goadby, spoke on his behalf. Robert and Sarah Watson did not remain in Goadby for very long, by the time the 1911 census was taken they had returned to Sheffield, where they lived for the remainder of their lives. Robert died in January 1929 in Sheffield; he was 90 years old.