Child stealing in Kilburn
Exactly a hundred and five years ago today, on the 29 October 1907, five week old Violet Mabel Gibbons was abducted. Mrs Maud Gibbons and her husband lived in Larch Road, Cricklewood. On the 25th, Maud got on an omnibus with baby Violet who she was taking to be christened. When the bus reached Kilburn, a well dressed young woman got on and sat next to Maud. They got talking. The young woman, whose name was Lily Clowes, told Maud she was an actress. She admired and kissed the baby, and Maud said proudly that everybody took notice of the beautiful child. Lily warned Maud to be careful as several children had been stolen recently. Before she got off at Chapel Street Lily got Mrs Gibbons’ address. On 29 October she turned up unannounced at Larch Road with some eggs and sweets for the baby and the Gibbons’ other children. She had striking ginger hair, was fashionably dressed in a ‘Gibson’ coat with long tails and seemed very respectable. So when Lily asked if she could show the baby to her mother in Kilburn, Mrs Gibbons agreed. When she was later asked why she let a stranger take her child, Maud simply said, ‘I never gave it a thought. She seemed fond of the child.’ Lily promised to return in an hour. But she didn’t. Maud became concerned, particularly when she discovered the address she had been given for Lily’s mother was a false one. In a desperate state she went to the police. Four days later Maud was called to the Willesden Infirmary where she found baby Violet in a filthy condition.
18 year old Lily had taken the baby to the house of Mrs Akeham in Brondesbury Road and spent the night there. At first she said the baby was her’s but then said it belonged to a friend. Her boy friend Frederick Plumb called the next day and they left, with Plumb holding the baby. He said they should keep the baby as they would be able to get lodgings more easily. But when the baby cried all night, Plumb said they should get rid of it. On 1 November they met a little girl called Mary Adams in College Road, Kensal Rise. They asked her to hold the baby, promised to give her some sweets and a penny and walked off. After an hour and a half Mary took the baby to the police. Several days later Detective Andrews saw Lily buying milk from a barrow outside her mother’s house at 14 Messina Avenue and arrested her. Andrews knew Lily as a prostitute and he also knew Plumb, who had been under restraint ‘owing to a weak state of mind’. Plumb was later arrested in Barnet.
This was not the first time that Lily had taken a child. On the 8 July 1907she called at the house of George Grocott, a plumber, at Harlesden. She asked if she could buy the six month old child a frock and took the baby with her. Two days later the baby was found in a house off Regent Square Euston, where Lily and a man had taken a room. Lily had left a note with the baby asking the landlady to return it to the Grocotts.
After Lily was arrested, she agreed to stay in a missionary home, St Alban’s in Regent’s Park, but after only two hours she ran away. She was found and arrested in Oxford Street with a group of prostitutes.
On 23 February 1908Lily now with dark rather than ginger hair, appeared at the Guildhall Middlesex Sessions and pleaded guilt to stealing a silver watch and other items from George Grocott. She and 23 year old Plumb denied taking the two babies. Surprisingly, Plumb was acquitted, but Lily was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
Lily was born on 23 June 1890 and in 1902 she had attended Netherwood School near Grange Park, Kilburn. (Opened in 1881, the school has since been converted into private flats).
On 23 May 1907 Lily married Harry William Driver, a cycle fitter of 5 Narcissus Road, at Hampstead Town Hall. But they never lived together. Lily said on her wedding day she ran off with Plumb, who she met when she was fifteen. Plumb had ‘ruined’ her and promised her marriage. Several times they had been to a registry office but he didn’t have enough money for a license. Lily said that Plumb had deserted her, leaving her penniless. She’d protected him many times but wouldn’t any longer. A policeman was put between them in the court.
On 30 September 1910 Lily’s widowed mother, Martha Clowes, died at 14 Messina Avenue. She was a spiritualist and had given her occupation in the previous census as a ‘meadium,’ which had been crossed out.
In 1911 Plumb was living and helping his widowed mother run a pub at 24 Great Marlborough Street, Westminster. But unfortunately, we couldn’t find what happened to Lily after her time in goal.