Sheridan Smith on WDYTYA: Newspapers reveal a story of arson | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Sheridan Smith on WDYTYA: Newspapers reveal a shocking arson story in her family tree

You can find fascinating information about your ancestors at The British Newspaper Archive. Sheridan Smith did just that during her Who Do You Think You Are? episode, uncovering a story about her great-great-grandfather Benjamin Doubleday.


Benjamin Doubleday and the fire at the Woodman Inn

On Friday 5 July 1895, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that a fire had taken place at the Woodman Inn. The newspaper stated that Sheridan Smith’s great-great-grandfather was seen at the scene and ‘appeared in a dazed condition’.

It seems that the fire had started in one of the bedrooms. The newspaper article reports that a bed was on fire and ‘a heap of what appeared to be rubbish and paper was alight’.


Sheridan Smith's great-great-grandfather was mentioned in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Friday 05 July 1895

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Sheridan Smith learnt her ancestor was charged with arson on WDYTYA

Benjamin Doubleday was suspected of setting fire to his house in order to claim insurance money. An article from the Sheffield Evening Telegraph shows that Doubleday was charged with attempted arson at the Sheffield City Police Court on Tuesday 26 November 1895.

The newspaper article records the case put forward in defence of Sheridan Smith’s ancestor by Mr A Howe. His statement reveals that Benjamin’s wife had left him and that they had moved most of their possessions out of the house.

Howe argued that ‘surely there could be no attempt to defraud the Insurance Company, because there were so few things in the house’. The Sheffield Evening Telegraph reported that Benjamin Doubleday was found not guilty two weeks later.


Benjamin Doubleday's defence in 1895

Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 26 November 1895

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