The hamlets of Foxlydiate and Webheath were, in 1902, still separate entities, but are now just part of Redditch. The word ‘lydiate’ is not uncommon in English place names, and it comes from Old English Hlid-geat, pronounced Lidyat, meaning swing-gate. The 1901 census shows that near to Springhill Farm, three adjacent cottages housed three people who were to lay significant roles in events a year later.
At 164 lived Samuel Middleton, his wife Hannah and their adult son William. Next door was an elderly widow, Harriet Hassall, and at 166 were Thomas and Lara Drew and their five children. Samuel Middleton was 47, and his wife 50. She was from Stow in Oxfordshire, and had married Samuel in 1879. He was born in Bentley, just a mile away from Foxlydiate. On the evening of 10th May 1902 the Middletons were in the middle of one of the violent arguments which had become all too common in recent months. Crockery was thrown and, fearing for her safety, Hannah Middleton ran the few hundred yards up the road to The Fox and Goose Inn. Landlord Herbert Chambers took Hannah back to the cottage, and later testified that the exchange was along these lines:
Middleton, “He’d better not come in here, or I’ll serve him the same.”
Chambers, “You’d better not do that, Sam.”
Middleton, “Come on then ..”
Chambers, “You’d be best governing your temper, Sam”.
Middleton, “No, I’ll do for the lot.”
Chambers later testified that Middleton was not drunk, and that he was normally a peaceable man, but rather eccentric. Such was the proximity of the neighbouring cottages that the rows between the Middletons were something of a public event, and Laura Drew was concerned about Hannah’s safety. A newspaper reported her version of events.
Both cottages – back to back as they were – were destroyed by the fire, as was Hannah Middleton. A few days later, at the coroner’s inquest, witnesses were able to piece together the events.
Joseph Worskett, gamekeeper to Lord Windsor, said Middleton came to his house (where William Middleton was living) at Bentley at 3.30 am and called him through the window. Middleton called out, “Tell Will his mother’s nearly dead,” and went off.
William Middleton said he had heard Middleton frequently threaten his mother during the last two or three months. Inspector Hayes said the police, and fire brigade arrived at the cottages at five am on the morning of 11th May. Loose straw was littered in a continuous trail from the pig-stye to the house, and there were burnt ends around the door. Witness and two firemen discovered what they thought were human remains, on the brick floor. Portions of a woman’s clothing were buttoned at the back. Police Constable Lyes said a pair of tongs and part of a poker were lying about two feet from the body. The head of a large axe (weighing five or six pounds) was found on the floor in a room adjoining. The broken end of the poker lay close to it. A bill-hook was near the axe-head in the front room.
Later in the day, a roadman called James Tyler, was working in Trench lane, between Himbleton and Droitwich, when Middleton came and said, “Where am I going?”
Tyler said “ Where do you want to go?”
Middleton replied, “Anywhere, anywhere. I have killed the wife; they will soon catch me.”
Police Constable Bird found the prisoner the same evening sitting in Trench lane, and asked him what time he left Foxlydiate. He said had not left it, but when asked if his name were not Samuel Middleton he said, “I suppose it must be,” and asked where he was be taken. Police Sergeant Howard said prisoner while being taken from Bromsgrove to Redditch pointed to a scratch on the right side his cheek, and said, “That woman done this. She would not leave me and followed me downstairs. We had been rowing. She would have bit me to pieces, but I hit her on the head with the poker. They say it was all my fault.”
IN PART TWO
More details emerge
Trial and retribution