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DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (3)

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PART THREE

SO FAR – On the evening of Sunday 7th March, 1875, 22 year-old Louisa Hodgson is stabbed to death in the family home on Newmarket. Her killer, suitor Peter Blanchard, has been arrested and is awaiting trial at Lincoln Assizes.

It is worth, at this point – with Louisa dead and buried and Peter languishing in a prison cell – to examine the background – to the killing. It emerged during the investigation that all was not well between Louisa and Peter. While Mr Hodgson kept out of things, Louisa’s mother was beginning to frown on the relationship., partly because Peter Blanchard was subject to epileptic fits.

There is also the question of Peter Blanchard’s jealousy. Was there a rival for Louisa’s affections? At the inquest, evidence was given by John Campion:

“I am a farmer residing in Brackenborough Lane, Louth. I was at Mr. Hodgson’s house from eight to nine o’clock the previous evening. I saw Peter Blanchard there. He came into the kitchen to light his cigar. I left about 9 o’clock and when going out I could hear Blanchard and the deceased talking very loud. I thought I heard Blanchard say ” I will.” and the deceased burst out crying. I am a friend of the deceased’s brother and I had offered to keep company with her. I believe Blanchard was jealous of me and he had threatened to give me a good thrashing as he was going to chapel on Sunday night.”

The Spring Assizes at Lincoln was only a few days after the murder. The case was presented, but adjourned until the summer, to give more time for evidence to be gathered. The Summer Assizes opened at the end of July 1875 and, as usual, the jury was made up of men of ‘reputation and good standing.’

Trial

It might be thought that when Peter Blanchard came to take the stand, proceedings would have been relatively brief, given that there was little doubt that he had killed Louisa Hodgson. His defence team, however, lead by Mr Samuel Danks Waddy, knew that their only hope of saving Peter Blanchard from execution was to convince the jury that he was insane at the time of the murder, and so there was a long debate about the prisoner’s mental health. The jury eventually retired and returned with a verdict of ‘guilty’, but with a recommendation that Blanchard should be spared the hangman’s noose. Before the judge gave his verdict, Peter Blanchard was allowed to speak:

“My Lord and Gentlemen, – I have a few words to say. I did not not know what I was doing, or else I could not have done it. I loved her so much, and never believed it was true that I had killed her till I got one of her funeral cards, for I had never anything against her. I would take my place in hell if her dear soul might go to heaven, for I would at any time sooner suffer myself, than see her suffer. I should be thankful if you would give my parents my body to take to Louth, in order that I may laid by the side of my dear Louisa. I wish to give one word of advice to you. my dear young friends, both men and women. You have come here to see me. and hear sentence passed upon me. Keep out of bad company. That was my ruin. My first failing was that I was soon persuaded to smoke ; from that I got to drinking and then to gambling, and then to neglect to go to a place of worship. Then I lost my senses at times, and then the fits came on. Let this be warning to you all. Look to Jesus, or some of you may be standing where I am next year. And if parents would look after their own families they would find plenty of work, without looking after others. After naming a man who. he said, had caused him many restless nights, the prisoner continued : I pray to God that this may be a warning to you all, and I hope my Heavenly Father will permit me to meet you all in heaven, to part no more. I shall soon be in heaven, and I am sure to meet my dear Louisa there. Young and old. come to Jesus, for he will help you in the time of trouble. Good bye to you all.”

Mr Justice Lindley was not empowered, to be merciful, however, and was only able to put Peter Blanchard’s fate in the hands of the Home Secretary:

Verdict

Screen Shot 2021-03-22 at 19.36.24Sadly for Peter Blanchard and his family, the Home Secretary, Richard Blanchard Cross (left), was not inclined to be merciful, and Peter Blanchard was executed on Monday 9th August 1875. This newspaper report tells the melancholy story:
“Peter Blanchard, a tanner, of Louth, Lincolnshire, was executed yesterday morning at Lincoln Castle for the murder of Louisa Hodgson at Louth in March last. The prisoner was examined by Dr. Briscoe on Friday, by order of the Home Secretary, with the view of ascertaining whether the jury’s recommendation to mercy, on the ground of his mind having been weakened by fits, could be acted upon. The result, however, was unfavourable to the prisoner, and the law was allowed to take its course. The crime for which Blanchard was executed was committed in a fit of jealousy arising out of a love affair. The young woman whom he was courting disregarded his attentions, nor was he looked upon favourably as a suitor by her parents. On Sunday evening, the 7th of March, she was accompanied to church by a young man, and on returning home they were met by Blanchard, who walked the remaining distance with her. When he took his departure she went to the door with him, and he suddenly drew out a knife and stabbed her to the heart, death being instantaneous. He then left and called on a neighbour, to whom he said, “I have done it.” Since his conviction Blanchard has slept well, and has been most attentive to the ministrations of the clergyman daily. On Saturday he had a final interview with his father and mother, his four brothers, and a friend. He acknowledged the justice of his punishment, and stated he had no wish to live. He averred that he did not know at the moment what he was doing when he committed the deed. Yesterday morning he was quite resigned to his fate, and walked unsupported to the gallows. He shook hands with the gaol chaplain and officials, and the last words he was heard to utter were, “Good-bye, my dear fellows; I am quite re- signed, and hope to meet you all in heaven.” He slept well on Sunday night, rose at six yesterday morning, breakfasted at seven, and wrote a short letter to his parents and brothers. He died almost without a struggle. Mr Marwood was the executioner.”

DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (2)

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PART TWO

SO FAR – On the evening of Sunday 7th March, 1875, 22 year-old Louisa Hodgson is stabbed to death by a man – Peter Blanchard – who had been courting her for four years. She dies almost instantly after Blanchard’s knife pierced her heart. The pair had been together in the sitting room of Louisa’s family home at 29 Newmarket (below) Blanchard has fled the scene.

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William Turner, a dealer in poultry, lived with his wife Emma in their small house in Vickers Lane. It was 10.30pm, Emma Turner had gone to bed, and William had locked the house up and was preparing to join his wife, when he heard someone trying the front door. He went to investigate, and found Peter Blanchard. Blanchard was clearly in a state about something, and asked if could come in. Turner’s evidence continued as follows:

“He asked if I would give him some whisky. I said my wife had gone to bed, but I would call her down and see if we had such a thing in the house. She came down and said we had not She gave him glass of brandy instead. He said, “I have done It”. I told my wife to take the bottle away and give him no more.

I said, “Done what Peter ?” At first he made no reply, but on my again asking him, he said, “I have stabbed the missus.” These were his exact words. I said, “What with ?” and he replied, “With a butcher’s knife. If I had not done it with a butcher’s knife I should have done it with this, putting his hand into his pocket and pulling out a razor. He put it back into his pocket. He first opened and shut it again. He was very excited and irritable. I could not say he was drunk. He had the use of his limbs as well as I have mine now.

My wife prevailed upon him to take the razor from his pocket and give to me. I told my wife to call my son to fetch Peter’s father and mother, and also to go to Mr. Hodgson’s and inquire what it meant. On my son’s return he said “She is dead.”

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Locations

The Hodgsons had already sent for the police, and Sergeant Wilkinson and Superintendent Roberts were at the scene when 16 year-old Thomas Turner arrived. He immediately informed the officers that Peter Blanchard was at the house in Vickers Lane. When Wilkinson and Roberts arrived, there was a scene of complete confusion. There were several members of the Blanchard family in the house, as well as the Turners and their five other children. Superintendent Roberts then arrested Blanchard. This was his evidence:

“On my seizing the prisoner he said, “I’ll go”. I’ll go without the handcuffs”.
He then said, “Is she dead?
I said, “Yes she is, and you are charged with killing her, but keep yourself quiet”.
He was a in a very excited state. He answered me:
It’s a good job, and I’m glad.”
We then brought him to the police-station, where I told him he would be detained on a charge of wilful murder. To this be said ,
“Oh, I did it and I’ll die like a man for her.”

I told him that what he said would be taken down and given in evidence against him.  I  cautioned him and expressly warned him that whatever said would be taken down and produced against him. I did not put any questions to him. The exact words I used were these, when he was in the cell:
“When I told you that you would be charged with this serious offence, I did not know for a certainty the girl was dead. You will be charged with the wilful murder of Louisa Hodgson”’
He then said: “Is she dead?” and on my replying, “I have already told you so” he said:
“God bless her.”
He was undoubtedly under the influence of drink; but my impression was that be knew well what he was doing.”

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At the Magistrate’s Court the next morning, Monday 8th March, Dr Higgins gave his account of Louisa’s injuries:

“I am a registered medical practitioner, practising in Louth. I was sent for to see Louisa Hodgson at about a quarter past ten o’clock. I went at once and found her dead. I saw a wound on the chest but did not then make further examination. This morning I made a post mortem examination. The wound was situated about half an inch below the nipple of the left breast. It was an incised wound about one inch in extent. I traced the wound which had penetrated the chest wall between the fourth and and fifth ribs, passed through the interior margin of the upper lobe of the left lung, and entered the left auricle of the heart.

I found a considerable quantity of blood effused into the pericardial and pleural sacs. The wound was sufficient to cause death rapidly, almost instantaneously. The heart would only beat a few seconds after it was inflicted.

I believe the knife produced would produce a similar wound to one described. It might have penetrated four inches.”

Blanchard had thrown away the murder weapon (a butchers’ knife) but it had been recovered in Aswell Street. He had taken the knife from his landlady’s kitchen. The magistrates committed Blanchard to be tried for murder at the next Assizes in Lincoln.

Louisa Hodgson was laid to rest in Louth Cemetery on Wednesday 10th March.

Funeral

In PART THREE – trial and execution

DEATH COMES TO NEWMARKET . . . A savage murder in Victorian Louth (1)

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PART ONE

It is March 1875. Mr Disraeli is the Prime Minister, and in Louth, local architect James Fowler is Lord Mayor. At No. 29 Newmarket lives agricultural blacksmith John Hodgson, his wife Jane and their large family. Elder son Charles has moved out but there are still seven other young Hodgsons at home, the oldest being Louisa, aged 22.

For the last four years, Louisa has been courted by a young man called Peter Blanchard, aged 25, the elder of another large family who live at 29 Charles Street. Peter’s father, Peter senior, with whom he works was described as a fellmonger, an old word for someone who deals in animal skins. Peter the younger had moved out of the family home and was living in town with a woman called Mrs Baker who kept a lodging house on Eastgate.

Photograph of Free Methodist Church, Eastgate, Louth, Lincolnshire [c.1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992


The Hodgson family were devout churchgoers, and their chosen place of worship was the imposing Free Methodist church on Eastgate (above). This had been built in the 1850s after the so-called ‘Free’ Methodists split from the mainstream Wesleyan church. On the evening of Sunday 7th March, the Hodgson family attended the evening service in Eastgate. Peter Blanchard was standing across the way from the church, outside Mrs Baker’s house, and he came over to talk to Louisa but did not join them when they went into the church. At about 7.45 pm, the family left the church, to find Blanchard waiting for them. Mr and Mrs Hodgson went to visit friends in the town but Louisa, Blanchard and the two younger Hodgson girls – Alice and Harriet – walked up the hill to Newmarket.

Mr and Mrs Hodgson returned home at 9.15, along with another young man called John George Campion, a farmer who lived on Brackenborough Road. Louisa and Blanchard were  together in the sitting room, but the rest of the family were in the kitchen. Contemporary newspaper reports can do a much better job of describing what happened next that I can. These were the words of John Hodgson:

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In PART TWO – an arrest and a funeral

MURDER AT MADAME TUSSAUDS . . . Between the covers

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This is the sixth book in the delightful series from Jim Eldridge set in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and featuring a private investigator partnership between Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton. The pair are so mismatched that they make a delightful fit, if that makes any sense. Former policeman Daniel is short, stocky and of solid working class London stock, while Abigail is of more ‘noble birth’,  tall, elegant, and an expert in archaeology, particularly that of the classical world. As you can see from the banner above, they have worked their way around the major museums of England, but now they are called to a slightly less academic venue – Madame Tussaud’s waxworks on Baker Street.

One of the night watchmen is found decapitated, his body (and head) posed next to the instrument of death that caused Anna Maria “Marie” Tussaud née Grosholtz to fear for her own life during the French Revolution – the guillotine. Wilson and Fenton immediately smell a rather large and malodorous rodent. The dead man – Eric Dudgeon – and his fellow watchman, Walter Bagshot, were lifelong friends, and former army colleagues. Now Dudgeon is dead and Bagshot is missing. Even stranger is the fact that some months earlier the previous watchmen, Donald Bruin and Steven Patterson, both left at the same time and, within days, Dudgeon and Bagshot arrived at the exhibition asking if there were any vacancies for security staff.

BigWigs

Meanwhile, Eldridge has introduced some real life characters (pictured above) – Prime Minister the Marquess of Salisbury, Sir Matthew White Ridley the Home Secretary, and William Melville head of the Special Branch. The men are concerned about a series of successful bank robberies, each of which has been carried out by the robbers tunneling into the bank vault from the cellar of an adjoining building. The sums taken have been eye-wateringly huge – so much so that the government is concerned about a run on the banks. Dedicated Sherlockians, when hearing about the robbers’ method, will raise an eyebrow and say, “A-hah – The Red Headed League!*

The murder plot becomes more twisted, when a young man, working on the basis that if he can scare his girlfriend she will succumb to his advances, hides with her in a Tussaud’s broom cupboard at closing time, and then sneaks out into The Chamber of Horrors. What they find is a genuine horror rather than a wax version, and all thoughts of dalliance go out of the window. Abigail, meanwhile, is courted (in a gentlemanly way) by none other than Arthur Conan Doyle, who wants her to lead an expedition to excavate an obscure group pf pyramids in Egypt. Both she and Daniel have their lives threatened, however; Abigail by an obsessed young woman who lusts after Daniel, and Daniel himself by a powerful and seemingly untouchable crime boss, Gerald Carr. But is Carr the real spider at the centre of this web, or is it someone much more closely connected to high society?

Screen Shot 2021-06-20 at 19.30.31This shouldn’t be dismissed as ‘comfort reading’. Yes, we know what we are going to get – the atmospheric late Victorian setting, the warm human chemistry between Daniel and Abigail, the absence of moral ambiguity and the certainty that good will prevail. Any genuine reader of fiction – and in particular, crime fiction – will know that, rather in the manner of Ecclesiastes chapter III , there is a time for everything; there is a time for the dark despair of Derek Raymond, there is a time for the intense psychological dramas of Lisa Jewell, and a time for workaday police procedurals by writers like Peter James and Mark Billingham. There is also a time for superbly crafted historical crime fiction which takes us far away in time and space, and allows us to escape into an – albeit imaginary – world which provides balm and healing to our present woes. Murder at Madame Tussaud’s is one such book. It is published by Allison & Busby and is available now.

*The Red-Headed League” is a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which Sherlock Holmes takes the case of a businessman who feels that he’s been duped. A small business owner named Wilson tells Holmes how a man named Spaulding convinced him to take a job with The Red-Headed League. The League pays Wilson to copy out the Encyclopedia Britannica in longhand. Wilson does this for seven weeks, until the League is disbanded. Holmes realizes that Spaulding just wanted Wilson out of the shop so that he could dig a tunnel into the nearby bank.

DEATH IN DARK WATER . . . The murder of Ann Chapman (2)

SO FAR – Saturday 16th April, 1870. Thomas Chapman and his wife Ann have gone out for a walk together, leaving heir children at home in Linen Street Warwick, with Ann’s parents. Neither would ever return to that back-to-back terraced house.

Thomas Chapman’s father lived in Friar’s Court, Warwick. At 1.00 am on the morning of 17th April, he was awakened by a loud banging on his front door. Opening it, he was astonished to see his son, bedraggled, and apparently soaked to the skin. He said to his father:
“I have killed Ann, and now I have come home to die with you.”
Thinking his son to be either drunk or muddled, the elder Chapman made his son take off his clothes and sent him upstairs to lie down. After a few hours, however, Thomas Chapman convinced his father that he had,indeed, killed Ann,and the air set off together to the police station. PC Satchwell later gave this statement to the magistrates.

Confession

Taking Chapman seriously now, a party of constables took drags – large iron rakes on the end of ropes – and set off for Leam Bridge. They noted that there were signs of a struggle on the canal towpath, and they set about the melancholy business of searching for Ann Chapman. After about twenty minutes they found her, and brought her up out of the water. She was taken back to Warwick on a cart, covered in blankets, and Thomas Chapman was charged with her murder.

As was usual with these matters, a Magistrate’s hearing and a Coroner’s inquest were quickly convened. At the inquest, Mr Bullock, a surgeon reported what he had found.

Inquest

Chapman’s confession was graphic, and told of how his grievances against Ann’s behaviour with other men had been festering for some time:

“Last night I went home about six o’clock, and gave my money to her mother. We lived with her. I stayed at home till went out with my wife. I told her we would go to Leamington and look round there. We started a little after nine o’clock. We called at Page’s near the chapel and had a pint of ale. That is all I had all the night. We looked in the shop windows, and went on to Emscote cut bridge. I said, “Come on this way”. She said she did not like to the water side. She was all of a tremble. I said, “What makes you tremble? What have you to tremble for – I said if she would come along there we could get out the Leam Bridge on the Old Road.

We were talking as we were going along the cut side. I said I was sure the last child was not mine. She said none of the children were mine. She said. “No, you scamp, none of them are yours.” She said, “I have deceived you a good while.” When got under the Leam Bridge I pushed her into the water, and as she was going in she laid hold of me and pulled me into the water, I could not get away from her for a long while. She kept fast hold of me. She had liked to have drowned me. I got away from her and got out of the water, and lay down on the grass. I could not walk I was wet. The water was up my chin. I could not touch the bottom.

I threw my old jacket into the water. I got on the Old Road. man passed me against lawyer Heath’s. I made up my mind to drown her before went out of the house. I went my father’s house about one o’clock, changed clothes and lay down on the bed. I have been away from home three months together. When I last came home she held the last child up and said, “Here’s pattern for you; do you think you could get such a one as this ?”

By the time Chapman’s case eventually came to Warwick Assizes, it had clearly dawned on him that it was likely he was going to be hanged, and it was reported that he had been busy trying to convince the authorities that he was insane. What appears to be play-acting cut no ice with the doctors, and they testified that he was perfectly sane, both then and at the time of Ann’s death. Remarkably, the jury – all male, remember – were sufficiently sympathetic with Chapman’s bruised ego that they found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to life. What became of him, I don’t know. In those days life meant life, and so it may well be that he died in prison.

What became of the Chapman children is another mystery. The 1871 census has Francis and Mary Dodson – Anna’s parents – living at 12 Union Building, both on ‘Parish Relief’. This had nothing to do with church parishes, but was a form of benefit based on what we now call local government wards. In practice, it was patchy, and depended on the ability of a particular parish to levy rates, and then distribute a portion to the needy.

To me, it is absolutely clear that Thomas Chapman murdered his wife. He pushed her into the murky depths of the Warwick and Napton Canal with one purpose, and one purpose only – to pay her out for her infidelity and taunts about the parentage of her children. His bizarre attempts to convince the authorities that he was insane suggest that he knew he was facing the hangman’s noose. Why judge and jury deemed his crime manslaughter baffles me. What became of him, and whether he survived the Victorian prison system, I cannot say. What I do know is that the dark and gloomy spot where the canal passes under Myton Road is forever tainted by the struggles of a young woman pushed down into the unforgiving depths by an angry and violent man.

Thanks again to Simon Dunne and Steve Bap for the photographs

 

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LAST NOCTURNE . . . Between the covers

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I am a huge fan of MJ Trow’s books. We have some things in common. I don’t share his gifts as a writer but we did go to the same school and we both had long careers as teachers. We certainly share the same acerbic views of the bean counters and politically correct apologists who run schools these days. If you want first hand knowledge of these miserable characters, then read any of Trow’s wonderful Peter ‘Mad’ Maxwell series. They are great entertainment – very, very funny, but with a serious side, too.

Like his creator, Peter Maxwell has left the chalk face and retired to his Isle of Wight home, but Trow’s brilliance as a historian still shines in the Grand and Batchelor series, of which Last Nocturne is the seventh. Reviews of some of its predecessors are here, and the new book has the usual dazzling mix of real-life characters – try Oscar Wilde, GF Watts, John Ruskin and James McNeill Whistler for starters –  knockabout humour and murder most foul.

41xgC83kdoLGrand & Batchelor are private investigators based in 1870s London and – much to the relief of James Batchelor, who is a terrible traveller – Last Nocturne has its feet securely on home soil. Grand is from a wealthy New England family, and fought bravely for the Union in The War Between The States, while Batchelor is a journalist by trade. Murder – what else? – is the name of the game in this book, and the victims are, you might say ‘on the game’. Cremorne Gardens were popular pleasure gardens beside the River Thames in Chelsea, but after dark, the ‘pleasure’ sought by its denizens was not of the innocent kind. ‘Ladies of the Night’ are being murdered – poisoned with arsenic – but the killer doesn’t interfere with them, as the saying goes, but instead leaves books by their dead bodies.

As the two investigators become involved in the police hunt for the bookish poisoner, they are still doing the day job which, in this case, is being employed by Grand’s fellow countryman Mr Whistler – he of the painting of his mum – to dig out any dirt they can find on art critic John Ruskin who, ‘as any fule no’ (to quote Nigel Molesworth) wrote, of one of Whistler’s paintings, “never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”


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Trow has great fun
with John Ruskin’s back story, particularly his disastrous marriage to Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray , and the disastrous first night of their honeymoon when he was so traumatised by her luxuriant pubic hair that he was unable to continue with his marital duties. The Pre-Raphaelite painter John Millais clearly had no such qualms, as he married Effie in 1855, and they produced eight children.

The search for the killer, however, continues, but G & B, along with the police, remain mystified. They even resort to a seance involving the well-known society medium, Miss Florence Cook, whose reputation has gone before her:

“The murmurs from the guests were mixed, but Florence was used to that. Speaking for herself, she couldn’t really see why people were always so surprised when she was from time to time exposed as a fraud. What did they expect? That the dead would turn up on cue to talk to people about the other side? Why would Uncle Norman come back to a seedy scullery in Acton to tell his niece that it was all very l, he was at peace, and he’d been talking to Beethoven only the other day, who told him to tell little Bessie to carry on with her piano lessons?”

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Eventually G & B solve the mystery, but rather more by accident than design and the book comes to a dramatic and entertaining conclusion. Last Nocturne is published by Severn House, and is available in hardback and as a Kindle.

NO GOOD DEED . . . Between the covers

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Screen Shot 2021-01-13 at 19.14.13First, a word about the author, Ewan Lawrie (left). He comes to the book world by a rather different route than many of his fellow writers. There cannot be many authors who served for nigh on a quarter of a century in the armed forces – in this case, the RAF – and then turned to writing. His first novel, Gibbous House, (2017) introduced us to a gentleman called Alasdair Moffat, who rejoices in the appellation Moffat the Magniloquent. In that novel he was a prosperous and successful criminal in Victorian London, but now, a decade later, he  – having fallen on hard times – has relocated to America, along with countless other folk of the “huddled masses”, the “wretched refuse” and the “tempest-tossed”. Unlike them, however, he is not seeking the “lamp beside the golden door”, but a rather better place in which to exercise his criminal talents.

It is 1861, and America is on the verge of the disastrous conflict which will shape the nation’s future for decades to come. Moffat has fetched up in St Louis, pretty much stony broke. With an unerring talent for sniffing out trouble, he murders a man named Anson Northrup, assumes his identity and, in order to pay off a brothel bill he cannot afford, accepts the task of delivering a mysterious package further down the Mississippi River. He boards the steam-driven riverboat The Grand Turk. The package he is carrying contains operational details of what was known as The Underground Railroad – a network of secret routes and safe houses established in America used by slaves to escape into freedom. Moffat, of course, being British, takes the metaphor literally, and it is some time before he realises that he is not carrying a conventional railway timetable, and that the late Anson Northrup is a key figure in a plot to steal silver bullion from the Mint in New Orleans – the major city in the state of Louisiana, which had just seceded from the United States.

NGD1In his guise as Northrup (although not everyone is fooled) Moffat meets several larger-than-life and almost grotesque fictional characters, and lurches from one crisis to the next, but one of the most spectacular parts of the novel is when he meets Marie Laveau, a real life New Orleans character renowned for her mystical qualities, as well as her expertise in the black arts of voodoo.

Lawrie is an entertaining writer who has clearly done his historical homework, but also adds a heady combination of whimsy, smart jokes and improbable situations to make for an entertaining read. The rather old fashioned literary term picaresque came into my mind as I was reading this, but I needed to check what it meant. The ever-present Google says that it is:

“relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.”

I think that pretty much sums up No Good Deed. The novel succeeds not through the particular integrity of the plot, but more through the relentlessly entertaining episodes, and the grim allure of Moffat himself. There is more than a touch of George MacDonald Fraser and his likeable coward Harry Flashman about this book, and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed that series of novels. No Good Deed is published by Unbound Digital, and is out now.

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN . . . A Warwickshire murder (part one)

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In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described the Warwickshire village of Moreton Morrell like this:

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The 1881 census records that living in a cottage on Morrell Farm in the village were the Dodd family.

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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.

Dear Joe
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.

letter

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


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