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The case of the adulterous lace manufacturer
A Nottingham private detective was asked to prove a relationship that both predated one man's marriage, and lasted throughout it...
Charles Henry Pratt was an ordinary married man from Nottingham, who lived peacefully in the city with his wife Amy and children John and Olive. However, Charles was also one of the city's private detectives, and on occasion, his work could take some time to finish. In one case, it took four years.
Nottingham was a centre of the lace-making industry, and Charles had originally been employed to investigate a local lace manufacturer's relationship with a woman that predated his marriage, but had also lasted throughout it. This manufacturer was Frank White, a young man from West Bridgford, who, in 1898, had become attracted to one of his lacehands - Clara Blakey. They duly engaged in 'improper relations' until 1901, when Frank, apparently, sent Clara to London.
This seems harsh, but in October 1900, Frank had married Florence Mary Jacklin, the daughter of a lace warehouseman, and now he needed to put his former dalliances aside and concentrate on being a respectable married man. Matters were complicated by the fact that his father-in-law had got him his first job in the lace industry, and so it was important to stay on the right side of him.
This seems to have worked initially. The 1901 census shows Frank and Florence living at their own house in West Bridgford, and employing a single female servant. Florence, however, became suspicious of Frank stopping away from home occasionally - and then, in 1903, he suddenly disappeared for three months before returning.
What had happened in 1903 was that Clara had suddenly decided to return to Nottingham, renting a house in the idyllic-sounding Crocus Cottages on Goodhead Street. Frank duly resumed his relationship with her, regularly visiting her at Crocus Cottages. This time, the relationship lasted some four years before it inexplicably was broken off by one or other of the parties. However, this does not mean that Frank's marriage lasted; instead, he seems to have walked out on Florence and deserted her.
In 1907, Charles Pratt had been engaged by Florence's father, George Jacklin. Charles prepared a case proving that Frank White had had a relationship with Clara, and George first presented this case to his stunned daughter. He then asked Mr Pratt to come and see her to confirm what he had discovered.
However, it was not until June 1912 that the Divorce Court heard that Frank White was guilty of adultery, cruelty and desertion, and granted Florence White a decree nisi. The private detective was called as a witness to prove the identity of Frank White, and wearily explained that he had originally prepared the case four years earlier, it taking time for the case to reach the courts. Clara Blakey was also asked to give evidence: she admitted she had 'known' Frank White before his marriage, and that after returning from London, he had 'visited her'.
There was no happy ending for Frank White and Clara Blakey. Frank returned to his parents' home, the only one of their children to be living there. He no longer worked in the city's famous lace trade, but became an agent for the printing industry. However, within a year of his divorce, he found another woman to marry. Florence disappeared from the archives - as divorced women were sadly prone to do - and Charles resumed his life, with this particular case now finished and consigned to his own archive.