In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described the Warwickshire village of Moreton Morrell like this:
The 1881 census records that living in a cottage on Morrell Farm in the village were the Dodd family.
Just six years later, Charlotte Dodd and her daughter Fanny were to be the central figures in a murder case which shocked the country. Fanny Dodd was evidently something of a beauty. In the court case which decided her fate she was described thus:
“The younger prisoner, whose appearance is somewhat prepossessing….”
By 1886, Fanny had taken a very common career route for young women from poor backgrounds – she went into service. Wealthy families had servants, and the Trueloves of Stoneleigh – a village between Leamington and Coventry – were no exception, and Fanny was their domestic servant. Stoneleigh is the site of a Cistercian abbey, but it suffered the fate of so many similar institutions at the hands of Henry VIII. The Leigh family had acquired the site in 1558, and in the eighteenth century, a grand house was built on the site, and Benjamin Truelove was a tenant farmer of the current Lord Leigh.
Stoneleigh had a Co-operative Stores, and it was managed by William Hewitt. His son, Joseph, had learned the bakers’ art, and had a comfortable life in the family home. At some point in 1886 the 18 year-old lad had come into contact with Fanny Dodd, a couple of years older than he, and something of a beauty. Evidence given at Fanny’s trial suggests that on Whit Sunday – 13th June – the pair had gone for a walk together, and somewhere near Pipe’s Mill – a water mill on the River Sowe – one thing had let to another, and the couple had, well, coupled (please feel free to substitute your favourite euphemism).
Getting pregnant was certainly not in the job description of domestic servants in Victorian times, so at some point later in 1886 Fanny returned to Morton Morrell. On 8th March, 1887, Fanny gave birth to a healthy girl. The child was duly registered, and her name was Daisy Hewitt Dodd.
At this point there was no evidence to show that Fanny Dodd had any feelings other than love for her daughter. Indeed, records showed that she had taken Daisy to nearby Wellesbourne to be vaccinated – probably against snallpox.
On 15th March, Fanny sent a letter to the young man she believed to be the father of her child.
Morton Morrell, 15th March.
l dare say you will surprised hear that I was confined last Tuesday—a little girl. Of course it has come from last Whitsunday, when of course you know what took place by Pipe’s Mill. It comes exactly from that time. At least I know it belongs you, because there has not been any transaction between me and any man since I went with you then. Dear Joe, I hope you will come to some arrangement. Once, when you asked me, I said not, but I did not know for certain then, but I knew before I left Trueloves for I had gone half my time nearly when I left her. I hope you will either have me or come to some pairing arrangement without going to any further trouble. I ought to have written to you before now, but I kept it from everyone, not even my mother knew I was in the family way until the child was born on Tuesday. I am very weak and can scarcely scribble this letter. I ought to have written to you before. I very sorry it ever occurred. I think the child will own you anywhere. It is a strong healthy looking baby, and likely to live. I think have told you all at present. Believe me, yours sincerely Lizzie, or, as they call me, Miss Dodd.
Joseph Hewitt was evidently not prepared to settle down to married life. A couple of days later, he replied. The substance of what he wrote was never recorded, but one can guess what he wrote, judging by Fanny’s reply:
Mr J. Hewitt – I am writing to thank you for the money that you sent me, which I received quite safe last Tuesday morning, but I was quite surprised at the abusing letter you sent me: and as to saying the child belongs to Charley, that quite untrue, for I am quite sure it belongs to you, and if you do not continue to pay the money I shall swear it on you, because I have things against you to show plain proof. You know you bought me gin and came to meet me with it, but I didn’t take it. and then you sent me that 10s. That has done it at once if I was to swear you. I shall be sure to get pay, for Lord Leigh only asks the girl a few questions and if I tell him you cannot get over it, and it will be nothing but the truth. The time will tell anyone; it comes from Whit-Sunday, at least. I never had any dealings with anybody else, and if old Joe says he can prove it, I should like him to do so. And as for my carrying on here with chaps, I have only spoken to one since I left Stoneleigh. I can get that proved by the people at Moreton Morrell, and can get it proved that those people that told you are very great liars. If they were to look at home and themselves, they have no room to talk about me, and as for you calling me a prostitute, I think you had better mind, or I shall come over and see you and some one else too. I shall expect to hear from you again on the eighth of next month, or I shall swear it was you. The child belongs to you. I should never have said it was yours if you did not get me into trouble, and now you must help me to get out it. People were great liars to say we knocked French’s wheat down, and if we had, the child did not come from that, but we did not. F. Dodd.
Several truths emerge from this exchange. Firstly, Fanny and Joe had enjoyed a brief but tumultuous sexual relationship. Secondly, Fanny had what we might call something of a reputation – she was clearly a very attractive and passionate young woman. Thirdly, Joe Hewitt had been swept off his feet but, while being prepared to send money for the upkeep of his daughter, saw no future in a long term relationship with Fanny Dodd.
IN PART TWO
A gruesome discovery…
A brown paper clue
A trip to Birmingham