When two farmers Johnson and Clowes left the Fox Inn at Rushton Spencer one snowy December night in 1879 they little thought of the terrible ramifications over an argument about the sale of geese with another local man named Brooks would have. The pair met farmer Brooks on the road. That night Johnson realised that Brooks was still annoyed at being out bid by Johnson for the birds. But in Johnson’s account nothing was really said and the men went home. A day or so later Johnson heard that Brooks had been attacked and maltreated. Although in the demur way of the press of the time this was not the whole of it as Brooks had been castrated by an unknown assailant. Johnson thought that when the police called a day or so later that he would be called as a witness having seen Brooks prior to the assault. It turned out that the police had arrived to arrest both men on a charge of grievous assault. The judicial process was speedy and both men found themselves in the dock by the end of January 1880. They were found guilty. Johnson in a subsequent interview was very contemptuous of the lack of guidance and support by his legal team. Johnson and Clowes got ten years penal servitude. They rigorously protested their innocence and began to serve a prison term firstly at Pentonville and then at Chatham. It was hard at first as they were in solitary confinement and the two men were used to the outdoor life. The regime was a severe one and the two men were put to work in menial back breaking work. Johnson did not feel any bitterness to Brooks for allowing this situation to develop. Johnson gained some solace from the prison chaplain at Pentonville “ But many a night I burst my eyes thinking about it”. The poor diet and toil reduced both men to shadows of their former selves physically and mentally.
Clowes added a statement ” Our conviction came on us sudden. We could not blame the jury or the judge, for no one at the trial had anything to say for us and Brooks words were not contradicted”.
The two men’s luck changed when Brooks died and in a death bed confession insisted that the two men were innocent. Brooks had in fact wounded himself. The Home Secretary ordered their release and the two men were given a change of clothing and put on a train to North Staffordshire. They were well treated and spent some time in Burslem where the Mayor of the town gave them money before the men went to their homes.
Mrs Clowes told the press that the family had been broken up and she had been turned out of the farm. The children were living with other relatives and she now ran a shop on Biddulph Moor. Johnson had been much changed by the experience.