We are walking with PC Freddy Fudge. He had walked from Little Frederick Street into Tredegar Street. This had as its western junction what is now Hayes Bridge Road. It was a busy thoroughfare, especially packed with pedestrians. There were also several public houses in Tredegar Street so always a place where a police officer would pay special attention.
Lying in the street he saw a man. He approached him and saw that he was dressed in what only could be described as rags. The initial thought was that he was drunk but that idea was soon eliminated when the man, who looked elderly, managed to utter a weak sound. There was no smell of alcohol. He could not stand on his own even though PC Fudge had lifted him to his feet. He was starving. A Tredegar Street resident kindly offered a cup of tea but the old man could not even hold the cup, let alone take it to his lips. The officer noticed he was uncontrollably quivering with the cold that was whipping down the street.
Constable Fudge tried to question him to get some identity. By putting his ear adjacent to the man’s mouth he heard him say, ‘Tommy Irons’. More questions resulted in the following information. He was sixty-two years of age, homeless, with no friends. He told the officer that he had friends once but that was in Newport.
A local business had, as usual, a stable at the rear of their premises, together with a cart, used to deliver goods, and he offered his services. It was not needed as a horse cab was passing. The old man was gently lifted into the cab and it was driven off to the workhouse infirmary where he was admitted.
PC Fudge reported the details of the man to the workhouse authorities and on returning to the police station at the Town Hall he wrote out a docket referencing the incident. The staff at the workhouse tried to feed Tommy some cabbage, beans, and a gruel-style soup. Thomas Irons was simply too weak to eat.
Two days later PC Fudge was contacted by a doctor at the hospital to inform him that Tommy Irons was dead. Fudge, together with a manager from the workhouse, informed the coroner and within twenty-four hours an inquest was held in front of a quickly convened jury at the Town Hall.
The post-mortem showed no diseases. The doctor told the jury that Thomas had not eaten for weeks, therefore they found his death was due to starvation. A pauper’s grave was arranged and the friendless man was laid to rest with no one present other than a priest and the gravedigger. Perhaps a sweet release for Tommy.
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This tale of Victorian policing comes from Horrors of the Dead House. As a former police officer, John F. Wake brings his investigative expertise to the macabre true crime stories that haunt Cardiff’s streets.