With his father behind bars awaiting trial, the melancholy task of burying his mother fell fell to Henry Timms As the newspaper report suggests, there was a great deal of public interest in the poor soul’s demise.
“The funeral of the murdered women took place on Monday afternoon, when the remains were interred at Borough Cemetery. A large number of people gathered in the neighbourhood of Charles Street, and stood in groups near the house where the unfortunate women met her death. The body had been enclosed in an elm coffin with black mountings, and a brass plate bearing the following inscription. “Harriet Fanny Timms, born 10th May. 1835. Died 19th January. 1888″ A single wreath of flowers had been placed the coffin. The mourners were the deceased’s son. Henry, his wife and sister, and two other relatives, who were accompanied by two friends of the late Mrs Timms. The least frequented route was taken, but by the time the hearse and coach had arrived at the cemetery a considerable crowd had assembled in the vicinity of the grave. After a short service in the Church, the coffin was borne to the where the last offices were performed by the Rev Scarborough, Wesleyan Minister of Warwick. Directly the ceremony was over the, sexton proceeded to fill up the grave, and the crowd dispersed.”
With there being no doubt at all that George Timms had battered his wife to death with a fire brick, the police and prosecutors were left to ponder the exact state of the man’s mind. He was being held in Warwick Gaol on Cape Road (below), and the poignant scene when he was visited there by his son and daughter-in-law was described with a great sense of melodrama by the local papers, although how on earth they knew the details, I cannot imagine. It is hardly likely that reporters were present, but who knows?
“In an interview with his son and daughter-in-law at Warwick Gaol on Thursday afternoon, Timms is described as having been prostrated in grief, and when questioned by his son as why he killed the deceased, he repeated his former declaration that he could give no explanation whatever. He paced up and down the cell, wringing his hands and said:
” Poor soul, do you think I’d knowingly have hurt a hair of her head?”
“When somewhat calmer he inquired whether his wife’s funeral was over. and also asked several questions relating domestic matters. During all this time he seemed comparatively cool and collected in his manner, but before the close of the interview he lapsed into the condition of melancholy and indifference which has occasionally characterised him since has been in prison.”
“When he had recovered himself, his son and daughter-in-law – the interview having terminated – shook hands with him, and wished him good-bye. He then cried bitterly again, and it was some time before he could be pacified. The prisoner, it is said, looks much thinner, and has a most careworn appearance.”
Timms appeared before Warwick Magistrates – the Mayor (Councillor S. W. Stanton), Major Mason, Mr Baly, and Mr James Baly – and was represented by Mr Boddington who, on the behalf of the prisoner, pleaded “not guilty”. The grim litany of events on that January night was put before the court, and in just under tow hours, George Timms was declared guilty of his wife’s murder, and the case transferred to the next Warwick Assizes.
The March Assizes was presided over by a distinguished judge, Baron Huddleston, (left) and, unlikely though it may seem to us today, the names of the members of the jury were published in the newspapers, complete with names and addresses. Look at the bottom of the list, and you will see the name of a Mr G H Nelson. We will never know, but this could be one of the family who not only employed Timms for a number of years, but built the cottage in which he battered his wife to death. Judge Huddleston, incidentally, was in very poor health, and would die the following year at the age of 75. As his formidable appearance might suggest, Huddleston was was opinionated and unafraid to exert a strong influence on juries. He was reputed to wear colour-coded gloves to court: black for murder, lavender for breach of promise of marriage and white for more conventional cases. In this instance, however, he was quick to agree to the request by Timms’ defence team, that the case should stand over until the next Assizes so that a more detailed report into the prisoner’s mental health could be presented.
When the next Assizes came around, at the end of July, sufficient medical evidence had been gathered to convince both judge and jury that George Timms was not of sound mind. He was, of course convicted of murder, but his sentence was that he should be detained as a criminal lunatic. In a headline that modern day tabloid papers would be proud of, the verdict was announced to the world.
The nearest asylum to Warwick was, of course, the brooding mock-Tudor hulk of Warwick County Lunatic Asylum at Hatton, which opened in 1852. It was renamed Warwick County Mental Hospital in 1930, changed its name to Central Hospital in 1948, and finally closed in 1995. I have an personal interest, albeit, a rather gloomy one. My great grandfather, Richard Prestidge, died there in 1909 at the age of 48, of what was termed General Paralysis of The Insane. We now know it as terminal syphilis, so I suspect that my ancestor had been something of a bad lad in his youth. His youthful indiscretions had a fatal consequence, sadly, in those pre-antibiotic days. As for George Timms, it was later reported that he was a resident of Hatton, happily engaged with a new skill, that of a shoemaker.