SO who could they believe?

Yes, it was hardly a marriage made in heaven, with violence not uncommon - but with her, and not him, generally inflicting it.

But in prosecuting his wife, Jane, for assault, David Walker was somewhat economical with the truth why he had deserted their marriage.

He neglected to reveal there was the small matter of another woman.

Yet bizarrely, when his wife discovered the clandestine relationship, she moved in with them!

It was a case that Southampton magistrates on May 25, 1846, had been particularly anxious to hear, with the Bench endeavouring both parties to somehow settle their differences amicably but it proved ineffectual.

The couple had been married for 37 years, with Walker running a thriving shoemaking business in London, but he claimed he had been forced to give it up because of her unbearable attitude and reluctantly took on on a less rewarding practice in Southampton so that he could get away from her.

Unfortunately, for him, she followed, as did the violence.

"She has been in the habit of assaulting me in the streets or wherever she could meet me, " he complained. "Finally came this assault in Winkle Street where she pelted me with a heap of mud that had been swept up in the street and it almost smothered me."

Although the assault was corroborated by two witnesses, Walker did confess under cross-examination that he had struck several times with a cane which he carried.

Naturally, Mrs Walker put a different complexion on their history, lamenting how her husband had begun treating her indifferently some four or five years ago and he had often struck her, but she remained with him in London until he moved to Southampton.

"It was then I learnt he had taken a woman with him to live here," she testified. "I did not believe it at first but at length I resolved to come to Southampton to ascertain the truth.

"When I arrived, he told me all the goods in the house were the property of the woman who was living with him as he had made them all over to her. Then I discovered there was a little girl also living in the house."

Strangely Mrs Walker not only stayed at the house but was also was initially reluctant to believe all the gossip surrounding her husband and the other woman.

But no matter how much she must have lied to herself, she finally had to accept the truth on discovering they had been sleeping together at an inn.

"While I stayed in the house, I saw him combing and curling her hair and she kissing him, and on one occasion I saw my husband come out of her bedroom at night time.

"I left."

Mrs Walker was supported by the couple's youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who was candid about her father's infidelity.

"During the short time I was in the house, I saw more familiarties pass between my father and the other woman than took place between him and my poor mother."

However, as recrimination after recrimination was aired during the hearing, Walker steadfastly denied nothing "improper" had occurred in his relationship with the second woman.

The Bench said they could view the case in terms of the assault and nothing more. "That has been clearly been proved and therefore we must convict," explained chairman E H Hulton.

But indirectly sympathising with her, he added: "In consideration of the extenuating circumstances, we will fine you just one shilling and costs."