The notorious Noons

Still at Jack Lee’s Yard Adeline introduces us to “Jim and Jack Noon, father and son, who were cobblers, and lived in the third house.” … although she gives no hint of their criminal activities !!


Born in 1834, James Noon was the only surviving child of John and Sarah (nee George). His mother died in 1857 and the son continued to live with his father at various addresses around this southern end of Bath Street.

Adeline remembers them at Albion Place but before this they had occupied houses on the opposite side of Bath Street at Club Row.

“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading” (Henry Youngman)

Old Resident recalls a description of the pair written in 1869…
“Both of them are remarkably fond of the beverage; and it is no uncommon thing to see them staggering through the streets together under its subtle effects. Ere the lark has risen from her downy bed to carol forth her sweet song in the clear blue sky, John and James have shaken off the drowsy god, and are already inhaling the morning’s fragrant breeze, as they pass through the fields covered with their lovely green verdure. It is for this early rising they are more particularly noted. They are remarkable also for their wonderful love of change of residence; and it is a difficult matter to say where they may be found for six months together”.

Father John

It appears that drinking to excess was neither the only nor the most serious of father John’s vices.
In 1863 and aged over 60 he appeared in a court cleared of females, charged with an attempted indecent offence against Ann Tomasin, the nine-year-old daughter of labourer James and Sarah (nee Levers). This was not the first time that John had been implicated in such a case, although he strenuously denied the offence. The court however decided to believe the testimony of Ann and witness Hannah Straw.
John was found guilty and was fined £5 or two months in jail, with hard labour. He was locked up.

John died in December 1871.


Son James

And after father John’s death it seems that son James really ‘went off the rails’. He also played his part — a much more significant and substantial part — in increasing Ilkeston’s crime statistics.

For example, 1872 started badly for James when he admitted smashing a pane of glass in the shop window of Granby Street grocer Stephen Keeling but couldn’t explain why he had done it. He was drunk and had nothing against the grocer. The result was a fine, payment of costs and damages, or two months in prison.

A month later and James was at Petty Sessions again, to face a string of charges. The prosecution case was that James was wandering the town on an April Thursday when he liberated a fish from the shop window of dealer Edmund North – without the dealer’s consent or knowledge — and escorted it to the Prince of Wales beerhouse in South Street. There he sold it to landlady Mary Ann Godber for 1½d and two cans of ale which he promptly consumed.
Reluctant to leave the beerhouse empty-handed James took with him two pairs of iron pot-hooks worth 2s 6d — again without the owner’s consent or knowledge — and made his way to Mary Mitchell, dealer in second-hand goods. There he exchanged them for 6½d. A few weeks earlier James had been in the Old Harrow Inn and was accused of stealing a smoothing iron from the premises and selling it on to the same second-hand dealer.
Identification evidence in the first two cases was sufficient to convict James but the third case was dismissed through lack of evidence when landlady Elizabeth Aldred could not positively identify her smoothing iron. Part of James’ defence was that he must have been so drunk at the time that he did not know what he was doing.
The Court decided that he would spend the next month where he could not get drunk — accompanied by hard labour.

Almost immediately on his release from Derby Jail James organised another crime wave.
Employed to dig the garden of saddler and shoe dealer Edward Ashford of Granby Street, he walked off with Edward’s spade, value 1s 6d, and sold it to contractor John Evans at the Potteries at a discount.

A couple of weeks later and James was in Lower Granby Street selling a pair of child’s patent leather boots at the shop of William Gaunt to raise money for food. Unfortunately Hannah Campbell of Spring Garden Terrace claimed that the boots were not his to sell, but rather belonged to her. For stealing the spade James was rewarded with 12 months hard labour at Nottingham Prison, followed by seven years’ police supervision.  At this time he was described as aged 37, almost 5 feet 10 inches tall, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes.

In August 1873 James was again roaming the streets of Ilkeston and called at the home of widow Mary Smith — whom we have just met at the alms houses — asking for the use of a pen and inkstand. Unknown to Mary he left with her slippers, valued at 4s 6d, pawned them at Eastwood for 2s and sold the pawn-ticket for 6d. Eventually Mary realised her loss, informed the police and James was apprehended in Ilkeston Market Place the following day.
The result was another 18 months imprisonment at Derby Prison to be followed by more police supervision. Now he was described as aged 38, 5 feet 9 inches tall, with black hair, hazel eyes and a pckmarked face.

And almost immediately upon his release — (have you read those words before !??) — and back in Ilkeston looking for revenge, James approached Mary at her stall in the Market Place, threatened her and kicked over the stall, scattering her goods. The result was another month in prison, and bound over to keep the peace for six months thereafter.

In January 1876 James was again at Ilkeston Petty Sessions, charged with, and fined for, riotous behaviour.

And three months later he was enjoying a change of scene at Ripley Petty Sessions, accused of stealing nine cork soles which he had been trying to sell in Bath Street. When challenged by the police he said he had made the soles, but then  .. no … now he remembered …  he had found them in Nottingham Market Place. And so James was remanded to Nottingham.

About the same time he was also stealing a pair of leather leggings and a quantity of nails from one of his previous victims – Edward Ashford – and then selling them on to shoemaker and general dealer William Mitchell of Pimlico.
This latter crime led to his appearance in July at Derby Crown Court, where he pleaded guilty to this larceny offence. However at the same court he was now also charged with maliciously destroying by fire a number of hay stacks belonging to Ilkeston miller William Sampson Adlington in late April.
(Are you keeping up??)
Thomas Wortley, the farm bailiff to Messrs. Adlington and Potter, had been awoken about 11 o’clock on that night to discover one stack alight. With the help of other people in the vicinity, he had saved the rest of the stacks by covering them with cloths and then soaking them with water.
Previous to the fire James had boasted that he felt like doing something of note, something that might attract attention, but thought that he might go and thrash P.C. William Colton first. Several witnesses saw James on the night of the fire, loitering in the vicinity of the stacks and then Superintendent John Cowley found him standing opposite the stackyard, enjoying the heat from the blaze as the fire roared away merrily. James was subsequently arrested, a box of matches was found on his person and he later owned up to starting the fire.
But it was an accident guv !!   Honestly !!
Unsurprisingly another guilty verdict was recorded against James. The judge noted that he had been convicted three times of larceny, once for wilful damage, once for assault and once for drunkenness. He had served altogether 31 months in prison and so far the punishment had done him no good. Time to get serious with him. A sentence of ten years penal servitude followed. His Lordship would also have placed him under police supervision but knew that he was already under close observation by the law and this had not deterred him from a life of crime.
Consequently a place was found for James at Brixton Prison in September 1876; in June 1879 he was transferred to Pentonville Prison, where he is recorded on the 1881 census.

In March 1884 James was released from the jail and through Police Inspector John Cowley, stationed at IlkestonTown Hall, James received over £5 from the Prisoners’ Aid Society of London to enable him to re-establish himself as a shoemaker.
Now he was richer than he had ever been in his life and almost immediately the money started to burn a hole in his pocket.  So before setting up his self-employment Joseph felt compelled to treat his mates to a few drinks, didn’t he!? And he would share a drink with them of course — to keep them company !!

By the time of his next arrest — five weeks later –he had only a few coppers — as in ‘pence’ — left in his trouser pockets.

April 11th… On the Good Friday night of 1884, about one am., architect and surveyor George Haslam was sleeping lightly in his bedroom at No. 5 East Street when he was awakened by a noise. Looking out his window and seeing nothing amiss, he was reassured to return to bed and to his slumbers. Had he investigated further he would have discovered the broken pane in his shop window and the absence of several pairs of the family’s footwear.
On that same night, about an hour later, PC. Payne was patrolling his path down Bath Street when who should he meet but James Noon. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour which aroused the policeman’s suspicions, or, more likely, the 15 pairs of boots and slippers he was carrying under his arm. Recognising James as a returned convict he took him into custody. And later, architect George was reunited with his missing property.
Thus his craving for other folk’s footwear led to another appearance at the Assizes for James where he pleaded guilty and was back ‘inside’ — now for five years penal servitude.
(At this trial an alias of ‘James Alexander’ was mentioned though its source is not clear to me).

Post script. At this time George Haslam was building a new house and shop in South Street and only a couple of months after the break-in his son, six-year old George Edward, was on site, walking on the scaffolding around the building, when a plank lifted and sent him falling nearly 30 feet from the top of the building into the cellar. The lad fell on his head and injured his skull, such that it was feared the worst consequences may ensue’.
They didn’t !
Their new South Street home was Euclid House — named after the Greek ‘Father of Geometry’ — at the southern corner of South Street and Queen Street. (photo below 2016 — note the symmetrical design).

In 1884 the local notoriety of James Noon was now such that ‘A Rambler’ – who wrote a regular gossip section in the Pioneer at this time – devoted several column inches to the exploits of the cobbler, one of  “the most eccentric, but not always worthy, characters which Ilkeston has produced”.
He remembered that both James and his father tended to work only until noon – true to their name – and then spent any income which they received on drink for the afternoon. When father John died, “the tender orphan waxed disconsolate and weary of his solitary liberty” and so spent the subsequent years seeking companionship inside Her Majesty’s guarded establishments and to which he was now about to return.
Adjoining ‘Rambler’s column was an account of James’s unannounced Good Friday visit to George Haslam and the events which followed.


James was initially imprisoned at Derby, moved to Portsmouth, served his final years in Dartmoor, and was discharged in August 1890.
He was described as having a scar above his right eyebrow, two on his left knee, a mole on his throat and two on his chest, and had lost the tip of the first finger on his right hand.
I believe that he made his way back to Nottingham but within the month … guess what ??
He was at the Sawyers Arms in Greyfriar Gate, left with a can of beer but without paying for it, strolled along to Long Row where he approached P.C Craven, on duty there, and gave himself up. ‘I have stolen this can of beer .. Yes, I know what I am saying but I want to get a month’. At the time James was ‘of no settled residence’.
The can was identified by the Arms’ landlady and so James was carted off and committed for trial. He appeared at Nottingham Quarter Sessions at the end of September when his wish was exceeded — he was jailed for 12 months with two years police supervision — and it was pointed out to him that he had run the dangerous chance of being sent back to penal servitude.
All of this was enacted with James playing the part of ‘James Alexander, shoemaker’ and on the 1891 census he appears as a resident at Her Majesty’s Prison, Nottingham, under the same alias.

Gap alert !!
At this point I lost track of James’s career but it doesn’t appear to have been either successful or profitable. `

By the end of the century James was still single, residing as an inmate, aged 71, at Basford Union Workhouse, and there he is on the 1901 Census.
On the 1911 Census, at the same place, is Ilkeston-born ‘James Moore’, aged 78, formerly a shoemaker.
Did he die in Nottingham in 1914, aged 84?

And now at Jack Lee’s Yard, are you ready to continue the trudge up to East Street?