Heenan family of Pembrokeshire: a brush with the law

Newspapers published in Wales in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have revealed a number of Heenan family members who had an encounter with the law. Some where the culprits. Others were the victims.

One family in particular seemed to be regular attendees at the petty sessions in Haverford, Pembrokeshire.

David Heenan was a seaman who married Phoebe Owens at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. They continued to live in Haverfordwest, going on to have a further six children, one of whom was born shortly after David’s death in 1901 when he was in his early forties.

Frederick Heenan

By the time Frederick (also known as Freddy) was 13 he was already in trouble with the law, up before Haverfordwest police court charged with theft of apples. He and two other boys were unlucky enough to be spotted by a police constable as they climbed over the hedge from a garden. When ordered to empty their pockets they produced 47 apples. Each of the boys was fined and, according to the report in the  Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of 15th August 1902,  “were warned as to the serious nature of the offence and of the consequences that would follow a repetition.”

Perhaps he heeded the warning because he seemed to have kept out of trouble until 1916 when he was charged for being absent without leave from the army. He’d volunteered in November 1915 and had even been mentioned in the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven TelegraphBut on a Saturday night in April 1916 he and another man from Haverfordwest absconded from the 23rd Pioneer battalion of the Welsh Regiment. They were found asleep in bed at their family homes in Haverfordwest and taken back to the battalion under military escort. 

A few years later he was again in court, when  his behaviour had apparenly degenerated to the point his mother felt it necessary to take out a summons against him. She told the court in October 1919 that Fred “had been absolutely out of control”, had smashed crockery  said he would murder her. She would give him another chance however because she was his mother. The case was adjourned so whether they were reconciled is unknown but he was back before the court in December for stealing stout from a pub on Christmas Eve when he and a friend were drunk. 

Joseph Stanley Ernest Heenan

Frederick’s younger brother Joseph Heenan was equally no stranger to the court room in Haverfordwest.

theft of potatoesIn November 1906 when he was 14 years old he and a friend were charged with damaging a garden after they were spotted breaking trees and crushing roses. The magistrates warned them they would be birched if they re-offended. 

They never went through with the threat however, even when the boy appeared before them again the following year, this time charged with stealing lead from the roof of an old house Quay Street. In the middle of the hearing, Joseph suffered an epileptic fit, according to the Pembroke County Guardian. His step-father came to his defence declaring that the boys were not responsible for the theft though he couldn’t prove it since he was away working at the time. The magistrates didn’t believe him and adjourned the case. Before they had the boys in front of them again Fred, became giddy while at a pleasure fair and fell out of a swing, wrenching his ankle. By the time he was due back in court in August,  the local Education Authority had been granted an order to remove him to an institution for the blind in Swansea.

Percival (Percy) Heenan

In the summer of 1914, it was the turn of David Heenan’s youngest son Percival (Percy) Heenan to appear before the magistrates. He and two other schoolboys were accused by Pembrokeshire Tennis Club of stealing 24 tennis balls. Initially denying the theft, the boys later admitted they had gone to the courts on two separate occasions , using keys to get into the pavilion. They sold some to a school teacher and hid the rest. They were put on probation for 12 months.

Before the 12 months was up however, Percy was charged with another offence, this time  theft of a looking-glass from a steam barge. Giving evidence, the boy’s probation officer said he had been behaving well and there had been good reports from people for whom Percy had been running errands.

The magistrates ruled however that they were going to try and remove him from his present surroundings and “give him a chance to become an honest man”. Percy was sent to the Kingswood Reformatory in Bristol for three years.

Phoebe Heenan and David Heenan

1888 Heenan David_prison sentenceIt wasn’t just the children of this couple that got into trouble, both David Heenan and his wife Phoebe felt the strong arm of the law.

Before his marriage David Heenan served a one-month prison sentence for assault at Pembroke in 1888.

His wife took out a summons against her bother in law John Heenan in 1894, accusing him of assaulting her in a family squabble in Quay Street, where she was living. He was fined 5 shillings.

She had a narrow escape  in 1904 when she was accused of receiving stolen goods. Her step-son William Arran and two men were charged with breaking into a premises and stealing beer which was later found hidden in the ashpit at Phoebe Heenan’s home. When the case went to court however the presiding magistrate decided the evidence against her was week and the charge was dropped.

She did however end up with a fine the following year for neglecting to send her children to school regularly. 

Sources: The National Library of Wales, Welsh Newspapers on Line

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser

Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph

The Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter


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