Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Category: rural (page 1 of 2)

Abandoned lives: concealed births and abandoned babies in Victorian England

There was a movement in the bushes as she walked down the path that led from her house to the road. Why she stopped to look, she wasn’t sure; perhaps because it was not a breezy day – it was simply cold, and still – or perhaps because the movement seemed unusual.

But stop she did, and stoop down to look more closely. It’s just as well she did, for there, lying amongst the foliage, yet not well hidden – as though somebody wanted it found – was a small bundle of cloths. She picked it up, and it moved; for there, well wrapped up against the cold, was a baby.

Lawford's Gate House of Correction, where Elizabeth Pratt was first sent. © Trustees of the British Museum

Lawford’s Gate House of Correction, where Elizabeth Pratt was first sent. © Trustees of the British Museum

The child was just three months old, and had not been there, in the garden in Stapleton, very long. At the Gloucestershire Assizes in February 1888, 21-year-old servant, Elizabeth Pratt, was found guilty of unlawfully abandoning it, but she refused to admit that it was hers, and even the judge in her case stated that he didn’t know whether the child was hers, or belonged to someone else.

Stapleton – now a suburb of Bristol – was only a village at that time, yet it already had a reputation for child related offences. In 1875, for example, a 33-year-old laundress, Charlotte Gingell, had been found guilty of the lesser charge of concealing the birth of her child after a naked baby girl had been found at the bottom of her well in Stapleton.

When questioned about it, she had tried to stab herself. Her case was deemed to be novel; many concealment cases were the result of young single women who had been seduced, and who hid the bodies of their illegitimate children to ‘hide their shame’ – according to the judge at Charlotte’s trial. Her case was seen to be far worse, as she was a married woman with two older children. She had been found guilty and sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour; but she was not found guilty of murder, despite evidence that the child had been born alive, and died due to either asphyxiation or drowning.

Charlotte appears to have been pregnant with a child by a different father to that of her elder children – then aged three and eight – and her brother and sister-in-law, who she lived with, had told her she would have to go and live somewhere else if she was pregnant. She was worried about her situation, and what would happen with regard to her work and her home if she gave birth to another child.

Like Charlotte Gingell’s, Elizabeth Pratt’s was seen to be a ‘very unusual case’. Usually, if a woman like Elizabeth had an illegitimate child and could not or would not take care of it, it might be looked after elsewhere – or she might even kill it, as the numerous infanticide cases in the 19th century show. There was, to some degree, sympathy with mothers in such a plight, and those charged with infanticide were often found guilty of a lesser offence, or reprieved if convicted.

But Elizabeth had not abandoned her child in the hope that the cold might kill it; she had not drowned it; she had not appeared to want it dead. Instead, she had wrapped it up warmly and left it in a woman’s garden, where it would be quickly and easily found. She could not keep her child, but she wanted it to survive and be cared for. This was recognised when her case was heard at the Assizes, the judge stating that ‘she had done nothing but abandon the child, and it was immediately afterwards found and taken care of.’

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Elizabeth was from a labouring family, and poverty may have helped to explain her offence. Her father, William, was a labourer in Cromhall, a village in south Gloucestershire, around 11 miles from Stapleton; his wife, Elizabeth, worked as a washerwoman. Neither were well-paid or secure occupations. The 1871 census shows that at that time, William and Elizabeth were maintaining seven children, aged between two and 13. Cromhall was a rural parish, and work was predominantly agricultural labouring.

By the age of 13, Elizabeth was working away from home as a servant, acting as nurse to a family in Berkeley. At the age of 18, she received her first criminal conviction. At the Coleford Petty Sessions on 8 January 1884, she was found guilty of stealing money, and sentenced to a month in prison.

In 1887, she became pregnant, and gave birth in the September of that year. She appears to have been able to look after her child initially – but what happened three months later to make her abandon her child? Could her parents no longer support her, or had she been in a relationship that ended? The records do not record more than the cursory details; we know that Elizabeth was just 4 feet 11 in height, had dark brown hair and could read and write imperfectly; but we do not know the motive for her abandoning her child after three months of looking after it. The records also fail to record whether the child was male or female, or what happened to it after it was discovered.

What is known is that poverty impacted on the lives of those around her. The record of her conviction is on a page full of petty offences – drunken behaviour, begging, hawking without a licence. They are offences committed by those at the bottom of the social ladder, who are trying to either eke out a living or drink when they have nothing else.

Elizabeth was initially sent to Lawford’s Gate, a House of Correction in Bristol. Then, at the Gloucestershire Assizes, Elizabeth was sentenced to 14 days’ hard labour in prison. She was discharged on 1 March 1888. She then returned to service, and in 1891 was working for the Reverend Gerald N Jackson at Tytherington vicarage (Tytherington being a village near Cromhall), acting as the family’s cook. Did the Jackson family offer her a bit of Christian charity? It seems unlikely that in a small community, near her birthplace and where her family lived, that they would have been unaware of her history and convictions.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

Prison register entry for Elizabeth, from Ancestry.

In Tytherington, Elizabeth seems to have made a life for herself. She met a new partner, a labourer named Thomas Creed, four years her junior, and on 5 August 1893, at the parish church in Tytherington, aged 26, she married him. The wedding ceremony was conducted by her employer, vicar Gerald Jackson. She then had three children – Beatrice, born in 1894, Lucinda Emily Maud, born in 1898, and John, born 1900 – before the family relocated to Caldicot, Monmouthshire, where Thomas found work as a fireman. In 1911, the family was living there, seeing their two younger children through school.

What happened to the poor child who was abandoned in a garden in Stapleton? Absent from the censuses, and not referred to by name in either press reports or prison registers, it is hard to tell. However, a William Stevens Pratt was born in the autumn of 1883 in the Thornbury district of Gloucestershire – which included Cromhall – and died there three years later. William was of course Elizabeth’s father’s name; and it was fairly common for illegitimate children to take their natural father’s surname as their middle name. Perhaps Elizabeth had fallen pregnant to a Mr Stevens’ child, and abandoned the baby, only for him to die aged three.

The abandoning of her first child, and her prior conviction for theft, indicate a troubled spell for Elizabeth as a young woman, living in a community with a limited range of options for a girl from a labouring family. It also shows that living in the Gloucestershire countryside was not a rural idyll, but one fraught with hardship, the struggle to find and maintain work, to get money, and to cope when difficult situations arose. The criminal registers and newspaper reports suggest that Elizabeth’s life was not, in this respect, an unusual one.

Based on records from the British Newspaper Archive and Ancestry. One of the criminal records for Elizabeth states that she was born in Lydbrook, in the Forest of Dean; although this is feasible, as it is not too far away, I suspect that this is an admin error, for there are no other records relating to a woman of this name being born in that area at the right time, and other records give her birthplace as Cromhall.

Breaking the rural idyll: a murder one summer’s morning

An advert offering a reward for apprehending Henry Ball's killer (Salisbury Journal, 19/6/1815, from the British Newspaper Archive)

An advert offering a reward for apprehending Henry Ball’s killer (Salisbury Journal, 19/6/1815, from the British Newspaper Archive)

Poor Henry Ball. He thought he had a nice job, as keeper of the turnpike gate situated by Marlborough Pond, some five miles from Southampton. He lived there, on the London Road, with his wife, living a calm and otherwise un-newsworthy life. He had reached the age of 80 with no major mishaps.

That all ended one Sunday morning in June – 11 June 1815, to be precise. Mrs Ball had gone out in the morning to Fernhill to speak with a neighbour. Presumably a friend of hers, she stayed for about an hour, leaving her husband at home, at Turnpike House.

But on returning to Marlborough Pond, she found her husband ‘weltering in his blood’. He had been the victim of a prolonged, and vicious, assault.

The Southampton surgeon, Mr Corfe, was summoned, and found that the whole of the left side of Ball’s skull had been ‘beaten into the brain’. His right eye was ‘beaten into his head’. His throat had been cut; his nose was broken.

His assailant had used the fire tongs from the Balls’ own home to rain violent blows on Ball’s head; they were found by him, covered in his blood.

Although the case looked hopeless, Mr Corfe dressed the wounds and Ball, to everyone’s amazement, survived for three days before finally dying of his injuries.*

An agricultural labourer in the traditional smock

An agricultural labourer in the traditional smock

Theft appeared to be the motive; a silver watch on a steel chain, together with a canvas bag containing silver and other articles, were found to have been stolen. It was believed that the killer had hoped to find the money that Ball had collected for the previous week; unknown to them, however, the keeper had taken it to the bank the day before his death.

At his inquest, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder; the Trustees of the South District of the Southampton Road offered a reward of 50 guineas to catch the murderer – with a pardon offered to accomplices.

It was said that a man ‘of suspicious appearance’ was seen on the road at around 8am the morning of the murder, in the clothes typical of the rural labouring class – a round smock frock, light coloured breeches, and large black whiskers.

But the press still had to report that:

No tidings have as yet been heard of the perpetrator or perpetrators of this most inhuman deed, and the whole transaction is at present wrapped in mystery. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 19 June 1815)

The reward advertisement was repeated in the local press and the London Gazette into the following month, suggesting that the man who tried to take money off an octogenarian turnpike keeper one summer morning got away, quite literally, with murder.

 

*The Salisbury Journal gave two different accounts of Ball’s ‘lingering’ – on p.4, it said he had survived for three days, but on p.1 of the same edition, the advert offering a reward for the perpetrator’s apprehending stated that he ‘lingered till the next day and then died’.

Other sources: The London Gazette, 4 July 1815; Bath Chronicle, 22 June 1815; Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 23 June 1815; Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 26 June 1815. The Capital Punishment UK website doesn’t have a record of anybody being hanged in Hampshire for Henry Ball’s murder.

When the Wild Woman of the Mountains stole a child

From William Blake's illustrations for Dante's Inferno

From William Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s Inferno

Harriet Haines, or Hayes, was a ‘notorious’ character, known as the Wild Woman of Wales or the Wild Woman of the Mountains, who, since the late 1850s, had chosen to isolate herself from her community, living at the top of a mountain in Caernarfonshire.

She was originally from Ireland, and nobody knew how long she had lived in Wales. What was known, though, was that during summer, she camped at the top of the mountain, and at night, when everyone was in bed, she would climb down to the lowlands to steal fruit and vegetables from local people’s orchards, and milk their cows, thus enabling her to live for free – although at cost to those who were growing food and rearing cows for their own families’ sustenance.

In winter or cold weather, she would wander into other people’s houses – which were rather remote from each other- and ‘pretend’ to be mad. If she came across anyone weak-minded or old in the house, she would demand ‘the best food in the house’ and only exit when other family members came in.

One Wednesday morning in February 1866, it being very cold and wet, Harriet made her way down the mountain to Ty Newydd, Dolwyddelan, to warm herself in someone else’s house. She heard the family return, and hurriedly left the building – but on seeing a toddler playing at the door, grabbed it and made her way back towards the hilltop. Luckily, the child’s mother soon realised it was missing, and ran out to look for her two year old.

She found Harriet with the stranger’s child 200 yards away, but had to struggle with her to get the child from her. She immediately went for the police – which must itself have taken some time – and the nearest police constable located the Wild Woman at Bryn Eithin, near Capel Curig. She was taken to the lock-up at Llanrwst, ‘where she was safely lodged’.

Why did Harriet steal the child? Nobody seems to have asked this question – it was simply assumed that it was the kind of thing a mad hermit would do. Perhaps Harriet saw it as a bargaining tool – if the family gave her food, she would return the child – or maybe she was even lonely, and wanted someone to keep her company on her isolated mountain-top.

However, it seems that up to that point, there had been a fair amount of tolerance towards this woman, who refused to be part of the local community, yet needed its resources. It was only when she abducted a young child that she was finally seen to have crossed the line.

Tolerance was now in shorter supply. The following year, Harriet was described in the press as ‘an awful creature’ who illustrated the barbarity of Wales as a country (ironically, this was in a story repeated verbatim in an Irish newspaper – which completely missed the point that Harriet was herself Irish, not Welsh).

The area the Wild Woman was walking in 1867

The area the Wild Woman was walking in 1867

It was noted that she had twice been ‘captured’  and that she had now ‘been finally run down’ by the local community. A large group of locals got together after having spotted Harriet near Llanfairfechan, and attempted to chase her. A police constable was at the head, and he eventually found this dangerous and awful woman… fast asleep on a mountain that led from Caerhun to Rowen.

The constable woke her up, and at 2am one Friday morning in late July 1867, brought her to the lock-up. At this point, she told him that she thought she had been excommunicated by the Pope and ordered to live a solitary life on the mountain for ten years. However, she now found herself ordered to live in the confines of Caernarfon Gaol for the next month.

On her release, Harriet returned to her former ways, but was still not left alone. In 1881, now ‘aged and decrepit’, she was discovered by another police constable, PC Humphreys, sleeping in an outbuilding on the side of the Llanfairfechan mountain. It was January, and she was half-covered in snow.

She was charged with this offence, and PC Humphreys’ superior, Inspector Hughes, said at Bangor Police Court that to his knowledge, she had been ‘wandering about the mountains’ for years, and that in November 1879, she had been sent to gaol for 14 days for again sleeping in an outbuilding. Apparently, even though she was now an old woman, she usually slept in ‘holes’ on the mountainside, and only ventured down when the weather was simply too bad to stay outside.

When asked to explain herself, she said,

“When I’m up in the mountains, I am almost as far as God; but they won’t let me be near God. They bring me down to this earth again.”

The newspapers felt that this simple statement was evidence that Harriet was of weak intellect; the magistrate, Reverend D Evans, said that it was clear that Harriet would be ‘better off’ in gaol, dispatching her there for another 14 days. Perhaps this was a sympathetic approach – for in gaol, Harriet would at least be warmer (if not warm – Victorian gaols not being known for their luxuries) and out of the snow.

Sources: Carnarvon Herald, undated, but repeated in Freeman’s Journal, 16 February 1866 and Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser, 17 February 1866; Oswestry Advertiser, undated, but repeated in Saunders’s News-Letter, Dublin, 5 August 1867; North Wales Chronicle, 15 January 1881.

 

 

“The Home Secretary has issued orders for the execution of Bucknell, convicted at the late Somerset Assizes of the brutal murder of his aged grandfather and grandmother, at Creech St Michael’s, to take place at Taunton Gaol, on Thursday morning next, the 26th instant.

“The wretched criminal, it is said, appears extremely callous, and to have no conception of the enormity of his guilt.

“He is respectful to the reverend chaplain, but seems rather to tolerate than wish for his spiritual consolation and assistance.”

Liverpool Mercury, 23 August 1858

21-year-old John Baker Bucknell was executed at Taunton on 26 August. He had been convicted of housebreaking in March 1857 and given a 10 month gaol sentence.

The following year, he was convicted of murdering innkeeper John Bucknell, aged 72, and his wife Betsy, 74. He was described by the Taunton Courier of 11 August 1858 as an “unfortunate young man”.

Looking through a magistrate's eyes

I’ve been meaning to do this post since last summer – but better late than never! This is an insight into one of the magistrates I studied for my PhD, which includes a look round his house…

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Sir Richard Colt Hoare was a Wiltshire magistrate, a member of the banking family. Born in 1758, he inherited the family estate of Stourhead, near Mere, on the Wiltshire/Somerset border.

Hoare was, as was typical for a rural justice, a member of the landed gentry. He professed sympathy for the rural poor, yet was, by his own status, somewhat distanced from them.

His attitude expressed a dichotomy amongst the magistrate; he commissioned portraits of the poor, showing them as both innocent and vulnerable and thus displaying publicly his empathy towards them.

However, he also kept man-traps in his house and made out lists of poachers who had been caught taking game from his lands.

Hoare’s ambivalence and contradictions perhaps reflected his own background. Although gentry, his status reflected the changing nature of the magistracy over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The increasing workload of the rural magistrate was leading to the JP being drawn from a wider social group than previously – for example, a growing number of magistrates were now from a clerical background.

Hoare’s money was new(ish) money; he was descended from the founder of the bank, C. Hoare and Co. Unlike many gentry magistrates, Hoare was not educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and did not get admitted to one of the Inns of Court, a popular form of education for young gentlemen.

Stourhead

Stourhead

Instead, in his mid-20s, he inherited Stourhead, and indulged his passions for archaeology and travelling. But he was also a magistrate for decades – his notebooks covering the period between 1785 and 1834 – and High Sheriff for Wiltshire in 1805.

How accessible he was as a magistrate is debatable. He spent a lot of time travelling both in Britain and across Europe, and translated classical works.

He was certainly not always present at Stourhead, and in his absence, local people had to either travel further to another magistrate, or resolve their issues within their community rather than seeking the mediation and arbitration of a justice.

Hoare's library

Hoare’s library

Hoare was also concerned with appearances. He set his grand library up as his justicing room, where he would received those members of the local community who wanted him to resolve their disputes, or to report offences such as thefts and assaults.

This library must have appeared intimidating to callers. It was lined floor to ceiling with books – both antiquarian works and legal manuals, bound copies of statute law and books on local history.

But the most fundamental issue was access to the justicing room itself. Hoare constructed an exterior staircase entering into the room, so that callers would have to queue outside – regardless of the weather – rather than traipse through the interior of Stourhead to reach the room.

This does not suggest that Hoare saw himself as champion of the poor, or friend of the poor. Instead, it suggests that he was at a distance from those who came before him, and was keen to preserve that distance.

Those of equal status to himself may have been allowed to set foot in other rooms, but those who came before him charged with poaching, or other forms of theft, and who were drawn largely from the humblest ranks of rural society, knew their place as soon as they lined up on that staircase.

That is why visiting Stourhead is so valuable; the gap between the image the magistrate wanted to present, and the complex reality is clearly visible in the contrast between grand library and the small flight of stairs outside it.

For more information about the Hoare family, see the National Trust’s page here.

The Trials of Selina Wadge

A post inspired by a recent trip I made to Bodmin Jail.

image2Selina Wadge is commemorated in Bodmin Jail by a rather strange, blank faced, waxwork depiction of her in an old jail cell. She is shown throwing a child into a well while an older child looks on, equally blankly (see photo).

The waxwork display fails to bring to life the sheer poverty and desperation of Selina’s life – the trials and tribulations she underwent in her fairly short life.

She was born in the first quarter of 1852 in Altarnun, a village some eight miles from Launceston in Cornwall, the daughter of Thomas Wadge and his wife Mary. Thomas worked, like many local men, in the local mines; at the time of Selina’s birth, he was a tin streamer; ten years later, he was a copper mine labourer. Selina was baptised on 18 June 1852 at the village church of St Nonna.

1861 census entry for the Wadge family in Altarnun (via Ancestry)

1861 census entry for the Wadge family in Altarnun (via Ancestry)

In 1878, she was 26, single, and the mother of two illegitimate sons – John, aged six, and Harry, a crippled child of two whose disability meant he was unable to walk.

She looked after her boys as best she could, but on more than one occasion, had to be admitted to Launceston Workhouse as a pauper.

After her last admission to the workhouse, she left there on 8 June 1878, and returned to Altarnun to stay with her parents. When living at home, she occasionally went out to work in order to try and maintain her boys, with her mother helping out with childcare.

At some point in the previous couple of weeks, Selina had met a former soldier, James Westwood, and started a relationship with him. They had arranged to meet on 22 June 1878 in Launceston.

The day before, Selina hitched a ride into the town with her sons with a local farmer, William Holman, telling him she was going to meet Westwood – ‘I am going to meet my man’ – apparently unaware that Westwood had written to Selina to cancel their meeting, due to work commitments.

Holman dropped Selina and the boys off at Orchard’s coal stores, which was just outside Launceston, with Selina saying that she would walk the rest of the way.

But when she reached Launceston, at around 11am according to her own testimony, Selina had only one son, John, with her.

She went to visit her older sister, Mary Ann Boundy – then 28, but already widowed – who was an inmate in the workhouse, reaching there at about 12.30pm.

She told Mary Ann, without being asked, that Harry had died from a head abscess and throat complaint and had been buried ‘near the church door at Altarnun’, his coffin made by John Trehane in the village.

Selina only spoke to Mary Ann for around half an hour before leaving at 1pm. She told her sister that she was going to stay in Launceston that night, and return to Altarnun the next day.

That evening, Selina was met by neighbours from Altarnun at the Pennygillam turnpike road, with John by her side. On being asked where Harry was, Selina said that he was at Launceston; she then said goodbye and continued on the road to Launceston, while the neighbours went in the opposite direction towards Altarnun.

However, at around 9pm, she was calling at a lodging house in Tower Street, Launceston, having previously slept there on a couple of occasions. The lodging house keeper, Harriet Parker, therefore knew the family, and spotted that Harry was not with his mother. She asked where it was, and Selina answered, ‘it died out at mother’s’.

The next evening, she returned to the workhouse, this time with an order from the parish to be admitted. She was put in the receiving ward to sleep.

The following morning, a Sunday, the workhouse master, Daniel Downing, and his wife, the matron, Louisa, asked for more information from Selina.

Putting the blame squarely on James Westwood, she stated, ‘The man took it away from me, threw it in the water, and drowned it’.

Extract from registers of prisoners tried at the Assizes at Bodmin - Selina's entry is at the bottom (via Ancestry)

Extract from registers of prisoners tried at the Assizes at Bodmin – Selina’s entry is at the bottom (via Ancestry)

Despite it being later argued that Selina was a loving mother to her son Harry, her use of ‘it’ rather than ‘him’ suggests either that she saw him as an object rather than a boy, or that she was already distancing herself from her son, talking about him as an ‘it’ so that she would not have to think too deeply about what had happened.

Superintendent Barrett from Launceston was called, and he came and asked Selina where Harry had been when she went to the lodging house.

Selina answered that she had been walking with a man on the Tresmarrow road (where she had lived six years earlier) together on the Friday afternoon, and,

‘he took away my little boy, went into a field, and came back and told me he had thrown it in a pit where there were railings, and had drowned it. He came after us, saying he would drown us too.’

She then gave the policeman Westwood’s name and address.

But after he left, Selina turned to the matron and said,

‘Oh, Mrs Downing, I did it. I drowned the child; I put Harry into the water. There was no man with me; no one but my little Johnny, and he began to cry.’

An investigation had, by this time, been launched, and soon Harry’s body was found at the bottom of a 13-foot deep well shaft in Mowhay Park. The lid had been replaced on the well, suggesting that this was no accidental death.

The body was identified by the next door neighbour of Selina’s parents, a Mary Wakeham, who described Harry, when alive, as ‘a fine, healthy child’. A post-mortem suggested that he had died of suffocation, although this might have been due to drowning rather than violence beforehand.

Selina had confessed, and now she was charged with murder, and was taken to Launceston police station, telling the constables that Westwood had promised to marry her if she got rid of her disabled son.

Bodmin Jail

Bodmin Jail

The trial of Selina Wadge took place at the Cornwall Assizes held at Bodmin on 26 July 1878. She was found guilty of murder, the jury taking just three minutes to make their decision. She was held in the condemned cell at Bodmin Jail, guarded by female prison officers.

On 15 August, at 8am, Selina Wadge was hanged by William Marwood – hers being the first private execution at Bodmin. Her last words were ‘Lord deliver me from this miserable world.’

Selina’s trials in life were over, but those for her remaining son, John, may not have been. He was not looked after by family members after his mother’s death (his grandparents were still living in 1901), and may have continued to be an inmate of the Launceston workhouse until he was old enough to work.

The 1911 census records a John Wadge of the right place and date of birth, a former carpenter, listed as an inmate of the Plymouth workhouse. If this was Selina’s son, poverty continued to be an issue into the next generation – no doubt not helped by John’s inauspicious early years, and the witnessing of the death of his little brother at the hands of his mother.

Sources: Bodmin Jail, Ancestry, and the Cornwall Gazette, 28 June 1878, page 5.

 

Kill the witch!: murder and superstition in a Victorian village

Balai_sorcière_admin

An appropriate post for Hallowe’en…

Witchcraft is most commonly associated with the seventeenth century – the era of James II and his obsession with witches, and Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder-General. Yet in rural areas, even in the late nineteenth century, the association of elderly women with witchcraft persisted, and could – and did – result in murder.

It is 15 September 1875 in the village of Long Compton, which is, as its name suggests, a linear village, between Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire and Chipping Norton over the border into Oxfordshire.

It is, even today, a quiet place; there is one gastro-pub, the Red Lion, and one village shop, and a church and primary school. If you time it right, you can catch the infrequent bus service to Stratford; or else you can explore the lovely countryside on all sides of the village.

It’s a short journey from the Rollright Stones – Neolithic and Bronze Age stones that, folklore says, was a group of men turned into stone by a local witch.

But in 1875, the village had a closer link to witchcraft. One newspaper commented that “there is a general belief in witchcraft at Long Compton and in other villages of South Warwickshire, among a certain class of the agricultural population.”

There was even a “wise man” living near Banbury, whom the local residents visited to try and get rid of witchcraft affecting them.

There was suspicion of several aged women, in particular, in the village, and the area on one side of the pub was even known as Witch End. Often, witchcraft was associated with widows; but here, ordinary married women were also viewed with suspicion.

But I digress.

It was around 7.30 on Wednesday evening, and 79-year-old Ann Tennant was returning from the village baker with a loaf of bread for her and her husband’s supper. She was married to John, who had had a varied career history working as a butcher, agricultural labourer and small dealer.

They had had several children, but although all had moved out of the family home now, several still lived on the same road with their own families, including sons James and John and daughter Elizabeth.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

Coming the other way was James Hayward, a local farm labourer, then aged around 44. He was accompanied by his stepfather, and close to them was a 16 year old farm labourer named John Ivens, all returning home from work.

Ivens saw Ann coming down the road on the footpath, carrying her loaf of bread. He then looked at Hayward, with a pitchfork over one shoulder, from which hung a basket and a bottle – his lunch from earlier.

With no warning, on seeing Ann, Ivens saw Hayward throw his bottle and basket into the road before walking calmly up to the elderly women. He thrust his pitchfork into her, stabbing her several time in both legs, then hitting her over the head with the fork’s handle.

The shock of the attack seems to have paralysed those who witnessed it, but James Taylor, a nearby farmer, heard Ann’s terrified screams and ran to her aid. He grabbed Hayward and held him while the village constable, John Simpson, was called.

Meanwhile, others who heard the screams picked Ann off the floor and carried her to her daughter Elizabeth’s house, which was only a few yards away.

The Chipping Norton doctor, George Wright Hutchinson, was called and saw Ann lying on the floor of her daughter’s cottage, mumbling incoherently. She had wounds to her left temple, right ear, and both legs. Ann died 15 minutes after the doctor’s arrival, and he gave the cause of death as loss of blood and shock.

PC Simpson arrived and told James he had to lock him up, as he looked like he had killed Mrs Tennant. James replied:

“There are no odds about it, I hope she will die – there are fifteen more of them in the village that I will serve the same. I will kill them all.”

James was taken to the nearest prison cell, which was the Shipston-on-Stour lock-up, but by the time he was taken out of Long Compton, a crowd had gathered, and he was hooted with derision and anger as he left.

Once at the lock-up, James showed no remorse. He said,

“I hope she’s dead, she was an old witch: there are fifteen more in the village I’ll serve the same. I mean to kill them all.”

He then said that earlier in the week, he had been trying to work in a bean field for hours, and had been unable to be productive – “as they had witched me.”

The following morning, at about 11am, Superintendent Thompson informed James Hayward that he was to be charged with murder, as Ann had died of her injuries. “Dead?” asked James. “Yes.” Answered Thompson. “Well, I didn’t kill her outright,” was the strange reply.

The next day, James continued to act strangely. From his cell, he called the superintendent, James Thompson, to him, thrusting out a jug of water and saying, “the water I have is full of witches!” He then added,

“It is only those that have witches about them that can see them, and no-one can work, only when the witches will let them.”

For the rest of that day, he continued to ramble incoherently about witches and witchcraft. He said the Banbury wise man had told him he was possessed, and that James believed it was his duty to kill the witch who had possessed him.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

Once transported to gaol, Hayward marked passages in the bible that he thought showed he was justified in his acts; and finally, he tried to bribe the prison governor with a sovereign to let him off the murder charge, arguing that he had killed her only to “avenge” the injury she had done him in possessing him.

At Ann’s inquest, which was held at the Red Lion on 17 September, several witnesses deposed that James, although appearing “quite rational” and having worked since his youth as a farm labourer, “was under the delusion that he was haunted with witches”.

Young John Ivens was called to give evidence, and related what he had seen. He had been working with Hayward all day in the harvest fields, and had seen him threaten Ivens’ grandfather and some other local women. He said that these women – Ann Tennant, Betty Ford, and Betty Hughes – were all witches, that they had been haunting him, and that he would kill them all.

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against James, and he was duly sent for trial at Warwick Assizes. His trial was held on Wednesday 15 December 1875, when he was indicted for murdering Ann Tennant. It was reported that,

“the prisoner entertained most astounding delusions and superstituons respecting witches and witchcraft, which had haunted him for years, impelling him to murder the deceased, and which still held his mind in thraldom [sic].”

James made no friends at his trial by repeatedly refering to poor Ann as “a wicked old wretch”. John Tennant gave evidence, and stated that Hayward’s parents had also been firm believers in witchcraft, and frequently said that witches were “at” their son – “they won’t leave him alone”. They therefore brought James up to believe that when anything went wrong in his life, or with his work, it was not his fault but that of witches.

Although John Tennant said James was seen by others as being “not quite right” in the head, and that “he would drink any quantity of gin or liquor that could be put before him, and then he would go mad after”, another witness estimated that a third of the village believed in witchcraft.

James Taylor, the farmer who intervened in Ann’s attack, said that although he didn’t believe in witches himself,

“There were many persons in the village whom he knew to be popularly regarded as witches. They were all old women, and mostly widows. He did not know an instance of a young woman or a sick old woman being suspected of being a witch.”

PC Simpson added to this, stating, “I feel sure there are many people in Long Compton who believe in witchcraft.”

To a rural labourer, such as James, brought up in a family with these beliefs, blaming witches for poor work was a reasonable thing to do; but the more modern, urban jury saw it clearly as irrational and madness. They found James to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge commented,

“I do really think something should be done towards putting a stop to this unhappy state of things. Such ignorance and superstition is most criminal and lamentable.”

James was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure; one source states that he starved himself to death a few months later.

 

Sources: The York Herald, 20 September 1875, p.3; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 25 September 1875, p.6; The Bradford Observer, 16 December, 1875, p.5; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 18 December 1875, p.3; Reynold’s Newspaper, 19 December 1875.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Five: On trial for rape and murder

This is the final part of my series this week on the Ullingswick Murder. Click on the links for Parts One, Two, Three and Four.

The trial of William Hope took place on 28 March 1863 at the Herefordshire Assizes.

Entry for William Hope at the Hereford Assizes in 1863, from Ancestry.

Entry for William Hope at the Hereford Assizes in 1863, from Ancestry.

The circumstantial evidence – William’s presence at the beershop, his attempts to get Mary to drink with him, his sudden absence from the shop when Mary left, and his failure to return back to his lodgings – was combined with the evidence of marks in the clay and mud matching his poorly mended cord trousers, and the teethmarks in his skin.

Particular emphasis was placed on this physical evidence, and the fact that the trousers had been found bloody and muddy. The newspapers reported that these were ‘damning proofs of the prisoner’s guilt’, and there was little surprise when the jury found Hope guilty of wilful murder, and he was sentenced to death.

In reality, Hope’s previous convictions virtually signed his death warrant. He was known locally as a bad character, a man with a criminal past, who was unable to get steady employment, who liked his beer a bit too much.Even his looks were perceived to be criminal.

He was the obvious suspect, and there is little evidence that the local community saw him as anything other than a bad apple. The press saw him likewise, stating that:

‘he displayed not the slightest feeling while sentence was pronounced, and seemed to be indifferent to the death that awaits him.’

It was reported that Hope was ‘sullen’ between his conviction and the execution, and that when the High Sheriff of Hereford had visited him in his cell two days before his death, he had admitted the murder, but blamed Mary for her own death.

He turned her second visit to the beer-shop as an invitation, a suggestion that she was interested in him – and so he followed her intending to ‘gratify his lustful passions’. He said that if Mary ‘had not returned a second time to the village beerhouse and shop, and waited for him in the road, it would not have happened.’

condemnedOn the night before his death, Hope had been unable to sleep, only getting two hours’ sleep between 3am and 5am. He ate the usual prison breakfast at 7am. He was then pinioned, and helped onto the scaffold. He then knelt down to pray with the chaplain for a few moments, before the noose was adjusted round his neck, and the white cap placed over his head.

On Wednesday 15 April 1863, at exactly 8am, William Hope was executed by hangman Smith.

‘He was assisted to the drop, gazed for an instant with a wild look on the thousands of persons who had assembled to witness a murderer’s end, and the next instant was launched into eternity, life passing away with scarcely a struggle.’

His hanging was reported in far less detail than the original offence. This is, perhaps, what he deserved; it also reflects a desire by the press not to turn this hanging into entertainment, given contemporary concerns over the point of such executions.

But it also shows how the focus of the press was on the juxtaposition of good versus bad; the goodness of the loyal servant and the evil of her death at the hands of a criminal who had been given a second chance by the judicial system.

Sources for these blog posts: The Standard, London, 23 October 1862, The Leeds Mercury, 24 October 1862, The Standard, London, 25 October 1862, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 28 March 1863,  The Bury and Norwich Post, 31 March 1863, Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863, Criminal Registers, 1851 census, 1861 census, 1871 census via Ancestry.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Four: The Criminality of William Hope

The penultimate part of my story of the Ullingswick Murder. Catch up on Parts One, Two and Three by clicking the links.

William Hope's entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope’s entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope was not a character with a blameless record, and so it was perhaps inevitable that he would be the first person on whom blame for Mary’s death would fall.

He was a local – born in Ullingswick in 1833 to agricultural labourer George and his wife Ann, at their house at New Bridge, Ullingswick. He was well-known to the other villagers, evne lodging for a while with Mary and John Bevans.

But although he was known by name, face and family, this did not stop him abusing his neighbours. In 1850, he had broken into Mrs Skerrick’s house in the village, this being before her husband had died. He stole fowls from the house and was duly tried at the Hereford County Sessions of 30 December 1850.

He was found guilty of housbreaking and robbery, and was sentenced on the first offence to a week’s imprisonment, but for the second, was sentenced to be transported for seven years.

He never made it to Australia, but instead was sent to Millbank prison in Pimlico, London, which was designed as a ‘holding’ prison where prisoners would be kept before they were transported.

William, though, served a whole three years of his sentence at Millbank. This was usual by the 1860s, as transportation had greatly reduced, with most people being sentenced in this way simply serving a prison sentence.

He then obtained a ‘ticket-of-leave’ and returned to Herefordshire, but ‘resumed his old habits and associations’.

Millbank Prison, 1867

Millbank Prison, 1867

The press reported that he had since been convicted twice for various misdemeanours, including the use of threatening language, and had been twice imprisoned for 14 days. However, the records of the Trinity Quarter Sessions held at Hereford in July 1861 also show that a William Hope was convicted of assault on that date and sentenced to six months in prison.

By 1861, he had found lodgings with a sawyer, Mr Proper, at Ullingswick, but was dependent on occasional labouring odd jobs to maintain himself. He was well known for his regular drinking in the Ship Inn.

He was a stout, thick-necked, burly man, and the Victorian press, in its usual way, decided that ‘his physiognomy tends to a low estimate of his moral character.’ He was also described as ‘a man of known bad character’.

The press also noted that he had previously been in the army and the Herefordshire Militia, clearly associating his criminal nature with his involvement in the armed forces. [The Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863].

This was not a new association; as Clive Emsley has noted, the armed forces in England have long had a negative image, being associated with complex images of masculinity relating to aggressiveness, drink and violence [Clive Emsley, ‘Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914’, Oxford, 2013, p.11]

In short, William Hope had all the characteristics of a Victorian baddie. He was working-class, a drifter, with a long criminal record. He was just as much a stereotype, as he was depicted in the press, as any Dickensian character.

The final part of the Ullingswick Murder: On trial for rape and murder, will be published tomorrow.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Three: How the press reported Mary Corbett's murder

The third part of my series on the Ullingswick Murder of 1862. Catch up with Parts One and Two by clicking the links.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

The coverage of Mary Corbett’s death in the newspapers was unusual in one respect – the media all focused on her reputation as a ‘well conducted, modest young woman’. This was unusual because Mary came from a background that Victorian England disapproved of – she was an illegitimate child, one of five, drawn from the rural labouring class.

As far as I have been able to work out, Mary was probably the illegitimate daughter of Jane Corbett, variously described as an agricultural labourer and a servant, presumably meaning she was an agricultural servant.

She had been born when her mother was between 15 and 18 years old (Jane was baptised on 27 May 1832, but in the census returns is listed as being born between 1829 and 1832).

Jane was, in turn, the daughter of a mason’s labourer, Richard, and his wife Sarah. In 1851, Jane and her father, sibling and 6 month old son had all been paupers living in the Bromyard Union Workhouse. In 1861, Mary was living with her family at Stone House, Ullingswick.

Her family are recorded in a way to make them ‘respectable’ in the census; Sarah Corbett, a 66 year old widow, is listed as the mother of Elizabeth and Jane, aged 35 and 32 – but also mother of 14 year old Mary – with Jane’s other four children – Elizabeth, Emma, Vincent and Fanny, aged between 2 and 12 – listed as grandchildren.

By 1871, Jane was back in the workhouse, together with her 12 year old son Vincent and a younger child, eight year old Eliza.

Yet despite this very humble background, Mary was seen as a good girl, and a rarity – a loyal, hard-working servant, who instilled the compassion and respect of her employers.

Berrow’s Worcester Journal, reporting the trial, noted that “the atrocity of the crime caused great excitement throughout the county of Hereford at the time, which, judging from the crowded state of the court this morning, has not yet subsided.”

Part of this excitement was reflected in the press coverage. The violent sexual death of a pretty 16 year old girl; the offence allegedly committed by a prior offender, who met the Victorian stereotype of the callous labouring class man whose previous criminal convictions should have led to hanging rather than a transportation from which he could return and commit new offences; the bucolic rural setting – all helped make this a story that the newspapers could sell their copies on.

The innocuous nature of Mary Corbett’s errand that October evening – an innocent trip to buy candles that led to her death, and the fact that she had only walked yards to a local shop yet did not return – added to the drama of the story.

There was a reluctance from the press to report the details of Mary’s post-mortem, and this continued at the trial. The detailed evidence of rape was glossed over, apart from the fact that there was bruising to the right side of Mary’s groin.

Dr Bull, who carried out the post mortem, had found evidence of a violent rape on Mary’s body, but Berrow’s Worcester Journal simply commented that ‘The doctor then detailed the appearances presented by other parts of the body, from which it was evident that violation with much violence had taken place.’

Apparently, it was alright for Victorian readers to learn about Mary’s struggle with her attacker, and the exact mode of death – but sexual violence had to be glossed over.

As was usual with press reports of deaths, some details were wrong or the result of Chinese whispers, with some reports naming William Hope as his brother George, and others reporting that Mary had been strangled, not suffocated.

But Mary’s death – and the subsequent trial of William Hope – was also news because it was unusual. It was noted by the Bristol Mercury that it had been some 30 years since the last execution in Hereford. In that case, too, in 1832, a man – named Gammond – had been hanged after raping a young girl.

The fact that Hereford rarely saw offences that resulted in executions was newsworthy in itself – the city papers stressing the rural, bucolic nature of the county. Added to this was the fact that at this time, the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment had been established, and two years later would recommend the end of public hangings.

The last public hanging took place in 1868, six years after Mary’s death. The debate as to whether public hangings were an educational experience for onlookers, or simply a form of entertainment, is evident in some of the press coverage about this case. It was noted after Mary’s killer was hanged that:

‘the conduct of the occupants of the houses opposite the place of execution deserves a passing word of praise. They either went from home or closed their houses, neither viewing themselves nor permitting others to view the execution from their premises.’ [Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863]

It can be seen, then, that Mary’s murder was a chance for various issues to be explored in the press – and that it also demonstrate how the Victorian press reported violent crimes, depicting such events as a simplistic fight between good and evil and choosing the facts that best suited their chosen narrative.

Part Four of the Ullingswick Murder: The Criminality of William Hope, will be published tomorrow.

Older posts

© 2017 Criminal Historian

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑