Stanley Stokes and the Lynch Mob – East Street 1836

Stanley Stokes, a legal clerk from London, made frequent short trips to Brighton, always lodging in the same boarding house at 64 Ship Street. During his final visit (Saturday May 21st 1836) he was accused of making ‘improper approaches’ to a male groom who worked in the stables of the New Ship Hotel. He was then assaulted by a mob in East Street; his face was tarred and his throat was cut – according to the Mob, this was a self inflicted wound.

Following the attack, he was taken to the Police Station and from there to the County Hospital where he subsequently died.

The inquest which followed Stokes’s death concluded that deceased, while labouring under cerebral affection and temporary derangement, inflicted a wound in his throat, from the combined effects of which he subsequently died, however study of the evidence presented at the inquest reads rather that Stokes was the victim of a lynch mob who first attempted to lure him onto the more secluded promenade approaching the Chain Pier, and when this failed attacked him close to Lamprell’s Baths at Pool Lane.

The Ledger newspaper reported:

“Saunders, the Landlord of the New Ship Hotel, on Saturday night had laid plans to interrupt him, and accompanied by a crowd of fellows. After charging him with indecent assault on a boy’s person, they simultaneously mobbed him, smeared his face with tar, gave him severe blows to the head with fists, sticks etc… until he fell down”

It is without doubt that the Groom Stokes was alleged to have assaulted was working in concord with the mob and – judging from his evidence and actions – it is unlikely that any unwelcome assault took place, apart from that on Stanley Stokes which led to his death.

Fleeing from the mob Stokes headed to East Street, where he suffered a knife cut to the throat. One of the most striking aspects of the evidence given by ‘witnesses’ is that although certain that Stokes inflicted the injury on himself, none of the Mob who had pursued him actually saw him do it – they were looking the other way at that moment… Again oddly, one ‘witness’ testified that Stokes held the blade in his right hand; the constable later recovered the blade from the left hand pocket of Stokes’s overcoat.

The process of investigation appears designed to cover up the event entirely and ignores likely lines of enquiry as easily as it accepts contradictory and dubious testimony from witnesses who were also likely to be members of the mob behind the assault. The event received coverage in the local media, but with one or two exceptions, the news reports seem to have colluded entirely with the cover up and the protection of those behind the attack.

One exception was the Brighton Patriot, which opened its coverage thus:

“ For the last week nothing, comparatively, has been spoken of, in any society, except the death of Mr Stanley Stokes, and the inquest upon his body. The greatest dissatisfaction prevails throughout the town, and yet the press has contented itself with publishing the meagre evidence given on the inquest, and there exists, in more quarters than one , an evident desire to hush up this horrible and extraordinary affair. This is disgraceful to us as a town, and dishonourable to us all as individuals.”

The inquest as reported left many questions unanswered:

Stokes was alleged to have cut his own throat: Stokes was surrounded by a mob and being hounded along East Street from Pool Lane. Suddenly his throat became cut. None of the witnesses called actually saw this happen – they were all looking away at the time…

The Groom at the centre of the allegations who claimed to be ‘mortally afraid’ of Stokes admitted accepting money from Stokes, and appears to have engineered a series of encounters with him over the course of the preceding days, likely at he behest of the leaders of the Mob

Although Stokes was lucid to the end, no witness who spent time with him in the hospital could remember anything he had said following the assault. The inquest did not press this issue, seeming to view Stokes’s point of view as irrelevant to their enquiry…

During the assault by the mob, Stokes’s face was tarred and his coat was badly torn. No witness could explain to the inquest how this came about, and no witness was pressed for an explanation

The surgeon who examined Stokes at the Town Hall was certain that the knife wound was not so severe as to be the cause of death.

Despite the strong probability that his death resulted from a head injury he received at the hands of the Mob, the surgeon at the hospital did not examine his head or comment on this injury.

170 years have passed since the death of Stanley Stokes. The scant material which survives makes it unlikely that the full truth of his story and his death will ever by finally resolved.

Although having a large family in London and no known local connections, Stokes was buried at Brighton on St Nicholas Ground. The location of his grave within the site is not known.

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