My dictionary defines the word ‘cuckold’ as ‘a man whose wife is unfaithful to him’. In 1916 Johann Eriksson, a Dutchman, I presume, aged fifty-five, who worked as a tram driver for the London County Council, was almost certainly a cuckold, but took a long time discovering the fact.
He married Emily, who was 10 years younger, at St George’s Church, Westcombe Park in 1896 and they had five children. By 1916 three of them had left home. Perhaps the older boys were in the army as this was the third year of the Great War.
Eriksson was seeking a divorce from his wife on the grounds of misconduct with the co-respondent, one Joseph Hall who was 66 and worked as a coach painter and Christmas card salesman. (Business would have been a bit slack in the summer, I would have thought).
Emily denied the charge and alleged that her husband had been cruel to her. Mr Justice Horridge commented at this point that all of them were old enough to know better. Johann’s lawyer said that in 1916 the couple were living in Royal Hill, Greenwich and that Joseph was lodging not far away in King George Street.
Mrs Eriksson went to bible classes at a Baptist Chapel where she and Joseph became acquainted. Joseph began visiting the Erikssons frequently and had dinner with them every Sunday. A few weeks later in the autumn Emily began going out with Joseph at night, saying that she was helping him to sell those Christmas cards. Just before the festive season arrived the tram driver became suspicious (about time). He told his wife she seemed to think more of Joseph than of him.
However, Joseph continued to spend time in the house with them. One night in January, 1917 Mrs Eriksson had a slight cold and went to bed early. At nine o’clock her husband showed Joseph out and went to bed himself in the spare room. Waking at midnight he saw the gas light in his wife’s bedroom was on and, on entering, found his wife in bed and Joseph reading aloud to her.
Eriksson showed their midnight visitor the door and then had an angry conversation with his wife who assured him that nothing wrong had occurred. This was all too much for Johann, who, next evening, went round to Joseph’s lodgings and told him never to darken his door again.
A few days later he found his wife dressing to go out. Thinking she was going to meet the ‘Bible-basher’, he told her to stay in the house. His wife hit him, there was a struggle, she screamed and the neighbours gathered round. That night Mrs Eriksson packed her belongings and, with the two youngest children, went to live with Joseph.
In August 1917 she went on holiday to Bognor, where she, Joseph and the two children shared the same bedroom. A month later, Johann had obtained a separation order at Greenwich Police Court. In the witness box, Mrs Eriksson said that during the holiday she had not taken her clothes off. (Pooh!)
She said her husband had been cruel to her, saying that he hoped a Zeppelin would drop a bomb on her, and during her baptism, it would have been better if the minister had drowned her. Joseph Hall told the judge that he was a respectable man, a Christian and could trust himself. He was asked, “If you had any care for the reputation of this woman, wouldn’t you have sent her back home or have walked the streets all night, rather than have slept in the same room as her?”
Justice Horridge said it was almost impossible to believe that adultery was not committed during the visit to Bognor and granted a decree nisi with custody of the two younger children – costs to be paid by the co-respondent.
I’m not sure after reading this that I agree with Justice Horridge’s remark. After all Joseph was an elderly bachelor and apparently more interested in his Bible than sex. Anyway, we’ll leave it with the hope that the runaway couple lived happily ever after and that Johann later found a nice cuddly middle aged woman who would cook him delicious hot dinners and look after him in his old age.