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DEATH COMES TO BINSWOOD END . . . a dark deed in 1920s Harbury (2)

Harbury header

SO FAR –  Harbury, 1922. Rugby ne’er-do-well William Rider bigamously married Rosilla Patience Borton in 1918. As well as mistreating her, he has become  involved with her (under-age) sister Harriet. Rosilla has left the house in Pennngton Street, Rugby, to seek protection with her mother in the house at Binswood End, Harbury.

Rachel Freeman, Rosilla’s mother, hearing rumours that William Rider has been the seen the previous evening in the area, on the morning of Thursday 7th September had tried to make the house secure fearing that he was a threat. At the coroner’s inquest into the death of Rosilla, Mrs Freeman was questioned about her fears:

Coroner

The next witness called was Harriet, who had been an apparently willing victim of Rider’s womanising. Despite the fact that she knew Rider had just murdered her sister in cold blood, she was what the papers called ‘a recalcitrant witness.’

Harriet

Rider claimed that he had taken the gun only to scare Rosilla into returning to him, and that it had gone off accidentally when she grabbed it in self defence. Rosella had been shot dead with a cartridge from a 16 bore gun. The medical examiner estimated that there were over one hundred pellets from the cartridge embedded in her skull. Neither the coroners inquest nor the magistrates’ court considered Rider’s version of events credible, and he was sent to face trial at Warwick Assizes in November. Meanwhile local papers covered the mournful event of Rosilla’s funeral.

Funeral

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Rider’s trial began on Friday 17th November 1922. Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Bartholomew appeared for the prosecution, and Rider, who pleaded not guilty in a firm voice, was defended by Mr. Harold Eadon. In his opening address Mr. O’Sullivan, after outlining the facts of the case, submitted it was clear case of deliberate and premeditated murder. When Rider finally came to the witness box his story was that he had spent the night in the lavatory of the house, and had the gun so he could go out in the morning to shoot rabbits. He said that he went upstairs to see Rose, and she made a gesture from the bed which he interpreted as her wanting him to kiss her. As he stooped down to do so, Mrs Freeman ‘mistaking his kind gesture as a threat’ sprang from her bed and tried to grab the gun, at which point it went off, killing Rosilla instantly.

As preposterous stories go, Rider’s was up there with the best, and the jury took little time in pronouncing him guilty, at which point the judge donned the black cap.

Presiding over Warwick Assizes that November was Montague Lush ( above left) Wikipedia says of him:

“He retired from the bench in 1925 due to deafness, and was made a Privy Counsellor the same year, although he never sat on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Although highly regarded as a barrister, he was not a successful judge: he was said to be too diffident and sometimes let personal feelings influence his decisions.”

William Rider’s legal team may have sensed that Mr Justice Lush’s mediocre reputation  gave them a chance of overturning the death sentence. It was not to be. The appeal was made before The Lord Chief Justice, Gordon Hewart but, like the relatively lowly Southam coroner and magistrates before him, he believed that William Rider was, by the standards of the time, unfit to walk among his fellow men. Regional newspapers across Britain carried this simple story on Tuesday 19th December 1922:

Penalty

FOR MORE WARWICKSHIRE MURDERS, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Warwickshire

DEATH COMES TO BINSWOOD END . . . a dark deed in 1920s Harbury (1)

Harbury header

I’ll be quite upfront. I am in my seventies and most people consider me a reactionary. I rant on with the best (or worst) of them about the decline in modern morality and the collapse of traditional family values, but as I research these old murder cases, it becomes increasingly apparent that the ‘good old days’ of sound and stable families may be something of a false recollection. This case involves a terrible murder in the village of Harbury in September 1922. The victim was a 24 year-old woman called Rosilla Patience Borton.

Rosilla was born in 1898, and she first appears on public records in the census of 1901. She is living in Cross Green, Bishop’s Itchington  a member of a large household headed by William Freeman, and his wife Rachel. Seven of the ten children have the Freeman surname, while Alice Violet (9) Arthur Henry (7) and Rosilla share the surname Constable. Rosilla is described as ‘daughter of the wife’. William Freeman, like many other men in the village was a stone quarryman. So, already, there is something of a puzzle. It seems that Rachel Freeman had a dalliance with someone called Christopher Constable, long enough to produce three children. Constable, incidentally, died in 1898 at the age of 35. Whatever the truth, we mustn’t ponder too long, because there are more mysteries ahead.

Borton Census 1911

In the summer of 1915, Rosilla married Edward James Borton. He and his family are listed in the 1911 census as living in Binswood End, Harbury (above) He was 18 years senior to Rosilla, and died at the age of 36 in April 1917. Rosilla may have mourned his passing, but she was young, and had cause to hope that her best years were yet to come. In January 1918, Rosilla married William Rider, again a much older man. He was a chimney sweep and window cleaner who lived in Rugby. He was, to put it mildly, a ‘wrong ‘un’. It transpired that he had never divorced his first wife, who was still alive. The home, in Pennington Street, Rugby (below),  which Rosilla joined, already had two young women in residence. One was Rider’s daughter by his legal wife, and two were the fruits of Rider’s relationship with yet another woman.

Pennington Street

It was not a happy house, at least for Rosilla, as Rider had started knocking her about. To make matters even worse, Rider seems to have tired rather quickly of his new ‘wife’ and instead began making advances to Rosilla’s half-sister Harriet. Harriet was born in 1906, so she was only just ‘of age’ by the time Rosilla was killed, and it seems she had fallen under Rider’s spell some time before this.

Rosilla had, on several occasions fled the house in Rugby to seek refuge with her mother who, by this time was living in Binswood End, Harbury. Was this the same house previously occupied by the Borton family? I can’t answer that question, sadly.

The Gloucester Echo of 11th September 1922 carried this chilling story:

A Village Tragedy

FOLLOWING, IN PART TWO

A murder
Trial and conviction
A job for Mr John Ellis

ELLIS

A SEA CAPTAIN SPURNED . . . A Grimsby murder, 1893 (part two)

Rumbold feature

SO FAR – It is November 1893. 39 year-old Grimsby fishing smack captain Henry Rumbell (widely called Rumbold in press reports) has been having an affair with a young Grimsby girl, Harriet Rushby. Rumbell, fearing that Rushby was ‘playing the field’ had arranged for her to stay under the watchful eye of one of her relatives while he and his ship set to sea for a long trip.

Rumbell’s fishing trips normally lasted eight weeks, but Harriet Rushby was clearly playing on his mind, and after just two weeks at sea, he turned Nightingale round and headed back to Grimsby. On reaching port on the afternoon of Tuesday 7th November, Rumbell made straight for the house in Ayscough Street where he had hoped that that Harriet had been staying under the watchful eye of her cousin Charles. The news that he had seen neither hide nor hair of the young woman sent Rumbell into a barely controlled rage. He set off for Victoria Street where he purchased a revolver and a box of cartridges from a gunsmith’s shop.

He visited a woman called Ann Widall in Emmerson’s Terrace, and she told him that Harriet had been seen heading for what the press called The Empire Music Hall. This is another of the mysteries in this story. Where it was, I don’t know, as what became known as the Empire Theatre in Cleethorpes wasn’t built until 1895. Eventually Rumbell caught up with Harriet on the Cleethorpes Road. She was in the company of a woman called Mrs Bowdidge and a man called William Burns, who lodged with her at 124 Tunnard Street. The four of them continued an evening’s drinking, ending up at a long-since-closed pub, The Barrel in Lock Hill. At about eleven o’clock, Rumbell and Rushby went to the house in Tunnard Street, where Rumbell demanded to know what the girl had been doing behind his back. When Bowdidge and Burns arrived at the house a short time after, what they heard was reported in a local newspaper:

The Killing

From here, the path from Grimsby police station to the gallows at Lincoln Gaol was straight and smooth. This, once again from a contemporary newspaper:

“Rumbold was tried at Lincoln Assizes on Wednesday, November 29th, before Mr. Justice Charles. There was practically no defence, the only efforts of counsel on behalf of the prisoner being directed to obtain a verdict on the less serious charge of manslaughter. The summing up of the judge was distinctly unfavourable to this view of the case. His Lordship said he did not suppose anyone could have any doubt of the sort of life led at the woman Bowdidge’s house, and there it was that the girl took up her abode whilst the prisoner was away at sea, but in point of law nothing took place that would justify them in reducing the criminality of the charge After nine or ten minutes consideration the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and then it was that the prisoner, who had presented a calm demeanour throughout the four hours’ trial, made most extraordinary statement. He expressed his satisfaction with the verdict, and asked his Lordship to grant him, as he was a great smoker, as many cigars and cigarettes as he wished for between then and the day of his death. ” I want to die an English hero,” said the wretched culprit, ” though,” he added, ” I know it is a disgrace to my country and my friends and comrades.”

Henry Rumbell’s demise on 19th December 1893 was described graphically in a Grimsby newspaper report:

Execution

Tragically, male on female violence, whether fueled by jealous rage or not, shows no sign of abating as we supposedly become more civilised. The list of men who have murdered women is a long one, and includes such infamous names as Dr Crippen, Reginald Christie, John Haigh, Fred West, Harold Shipman, Levi Bellfield and Wayne Couzens. It remains a matter of debate whether the death penalty would have acted as any deterrent in the more recent cases.

FOR OTHER LINCOLNSHIRE MURDERS, FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW

The Killing of Minnie Kirby

Death comes to Newmarket

The madness of a daughter

A chapter of horrors

The Spalding poisoner

The strange death of Catherine Gear

A SEA CAPTAIN SPURNED . . . A Grimsby murder, 1893 (part one)

Rumbold feature

Tunnard Street in Grimsby is in the East Marsh area of the town, cited recently as the most dangerous areas in Lincolnshire in terms of reported crime. Many of the houses just wouldn’t be built today. They are tiny two up-two down terraces, built by 19thC profiteering builders and financiers, eager to make a quick profit. Perhaps violence is embedded in the very ground beneath residents’ feet. But that violence isn’t a recent phenomenon. One of the town’s most infamous murders took place there. 

As far as I can judge, the house that was numbered 124 Tunnard Street no longer exists. Along with its neighbouring houses, it has been demolished and replaced by more modern – and spacious – dwellings. The old chapel on the corner still stands, but rather than being a place where Grimsby’s Pentecostal congregation worshiped, it is now a boxing club.

The old 124 Tunnard Street was, in November 1893, witness to a brutal murder that shocked townsfolk and  attracted attention across England.The two leading players in this fatal drama were Harriet Rushby and Henry Rumbold.

HarrietThe early life *(see footnote) of Harriet Rushby has been difficult to trace. One newspaper report says that she was 24 in 1893, while another says she was 20. There is a death record for December 1893, where a Harriet Rushby was buried in Caistor, aged 22, and a census record for 1881 which gives us a Harriet Rushby living in Lower Burgess Street with her grandparents, but she is listed as being born in 1874.

RumboldHenry Rumbold proved just as problematic, until I realised that his actual surname was Rumbell, and that his family were well known seafarers from Yarmouth. On the night of Sunday 3rd April 1881 he was listed in the census as being on board the ship Tempus Fugit, moored off the Suffolk Coast. It looks as though he was described as Master, while his younger brother Walter was Mate

Census

By 1893, Rumbell was master of Nightingale, a fishing smack operating out of Grimsby. Later reports stated that he had previously been married in Yarmouth, but that the union was  an unhappy one and had not lasted long. In Grimsby, Rumbell had become enchanted by Harriet Rushby, almost half his age, and described as being of ‘very pleasing appearance’. The problem for Rumbell was, however, that his trade meant lengthy absences from Grimsby, and it seems that Harriet Rushby was ready neither to settle down nor to remain faithful to her lover. A contemporary newspaper report primly stated:

“She came of an old Grimsby family, was very respectably connected, but she fell into evil ways, and was the habitual associate of bad men and women. At what time she made the acquaintance of Rumbold is not clear, but at all events an illicit intimacy had existed between them before his last fishing cruise, from which he returned unexpectedly on the fatal 7th of November. “

The pitiful scenario of an older man becoming entranced by a younger woman, and then possessiveness and jealousy leading to tragedy, is as old as humanity itself. It seems that Rumbell had become aware that he was not the only person in Harriet’s life, and in late October,  as he prepared to take Nightingale out into the wintry North Sea for another trip, he had made arrangements. This, from a contemporary newspaper report:

“He had expected being way at sea for eight weeks, and from motives probably of a personal kind had arranged that she should lodge in his absence at the house of her own cousin, Charles Rushby, in Ayscough Street. She did not, however, fall in with his plans. ”

 IN PART TWO

a surprise return
a revolver is purchased
a job for Mr Billington

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* Of the many such cases I have written about over the years, this has been the hardest to research in terms of the people involved. Normally it is possible to trace participants through census and birth/marriage/death records, after picking up the gist of the story from old newspaper reports. This time, however names either don’t exist at all, or don’t match addresses. I suspect, as with Henry Rumbell, names were either miss-spelled or misheard by court reporters and other journalists.

THE HANGMAN OF HORNCASTLE . . . part two

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Inevitably, Marwood’s profession brought him face to face with some of the most notorious criminals of the second half of the 19th century. One of these was Charles Peace. Seldom can a man’s surname have been so inappropriate. Peace,after killing a policeman in Manchester, fled to his native Sheffield, where he became obsessed with his neighbour’s wife, eventually shooting her husband dead. Settling in London, he carried out multiple burglaries before being caught in the prosperous suburb of Blackheath, wounding the policeman who arrested him. He was linked to the Sheffield murder, and tried at Leeds Assizes. Found guilty, he was hanged by Marwood at Armley Prison on 25th February 1879.

Peace merged

One of Marwood’s jobs involved the despatch of someone who was, quite literally, ‘close to home’. In August 1875 he presided over the execution of a young man from Louth, Peter Blanchard, who had savagely murdered his girlfriend in a fit of jealous madness. I have written about the case elsewhere on this website, and if you click this link, it will take you to the feature. Blanchard’s death was described in the Lincolnshire Chronicle.

Blanchard

Perhaps the most controversial period of Marwood’s career as hangman was as a result of rising tensions in Ireland in the 1880s. The Irish nationalists, in particular the group known as The Irish National Invincibles, were determined to inflict damage on what they saw as British imperialism, and on 6th May 1882, two high profile British officials, Thomas H Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish were murdered while walking in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. In Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, on 14th May 1883, Marwood hanged the five men found guilty of the murder. In the previous year, 15th December, Marwood had hanged Maolra Seoighe for his part in the murder of a local family in Maamtrasna in County Mayo. The five ‘invincibles’ are pictured below:

The five copy

Such was the animosity between the Irish republicans and anyone thought to be an agent of the British state that when Marwood died – officially of pneumonia and jaundice – in September 1883, there was speculation that he had been assassinated by the Fenians. This was from the Leeds Times:

The Irish lnvincibles sent him a threatening missive, warning him that if he set foot upon Irish soil he would not depart alive. Marwood was carefully protected while in Ireland and the threats against his life prove to be inoperative. Rumours having gained currency that the Irish Invincibles were in someway responsible for the illness and death of .Marwood, it was deemed advisable to inform the coroner. Arrangements were-made for the interment of the body, but pending the coroner’s decision the funeral was delayed. The inquest was held on Thursday. The coroner remarked that deceased’s death was not unexpected. Two medical men attended him. Sarah Moody, who had nursed deceased, was not aware that anything of an unfair kind was administered to him. Mrs. Marwood, wife of deceased, said her husband went to Lincoln on Friday week. He had not been well since. She asked him on Sunday if anything of an injurious kind was given to him. He said “no” and made light of the matter. She did not believe he had received any threatening letters since one published a year ago. He had no fear or expectation of violence at the hands of the Irish. Dr. Hadden and Mr. Jelland, surgeon, who had attended deceased, said that their patient died from natural causes, and a verdict to that effect was returned. The remains of Marwood were afterwards interred in Trinity Churchyard.

A sad postscript to the life of William Marwood was that, despite his quite prodigious earnings from his job, he had mismanaged his affairs. Some years after his death, this was the report in The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser:

Bankrupt

THE HANGMAN OF HORNCASTLE . . . part one

Marwood header

The 1841 census has a William Marwood (55) living in Goulceby with his wife Mary (35) and two children – John (3) and Jane, just a month old. Marwood was a shoemaker, as was another William Marwood (20) and Jesse (30) who lived in Bolingbroke, and was also a shoemaker. The 1851 census gives Marwood’s date of birth as 1819 and he is living in Dexthorpe, near Spilsby. Dexthorpe is now classed as a deserted medieval village. In this census return, Marwood has described himself as a Master Cordwainer. The term comes from the use of Cordovan leather to make high quality shoes. 1861 found William and Jesse Marwood living at 182 Foundry Street in Horncastle. Jesse died in the summer of 1867 at the age of 61, but William did not remain a widower for very long. He married his second wife, Ellen, later that year.

In 1881, William and Ellen Marwood were still in Foundry Street, but the house has a different number, whether through new builds necessitating renumbering, or through actual moving house, it is not clear. He describes himself as a Professional Executioner and shoe dealer – surely a unique combination! Marwood has a blue plaque in town, but it is on a tiny building in Church Street.

Plaque

It is pointless to speculate what made Marwood wish to become an executioner, but an infamous Lincolnshire murder in 1872 prompted him to offer his services to the governor of Lincoln Castle prison, where Boston-born William Horry was in the condemned cell, have been sentenced to death for killing his wife. After the abolition of public executions in 1868, prison governors and staff were required to witness hangings, which normally involved slow strangulation. Marwood had devised a method known as ‘The Long Drop’, where a calculation was made using the prisoner’s body weight to ensure that the neck was broken instantly.

The execution of Horry, on 1st April 1872, went perfectly, and in 1874 Marwood was appointed senior hangman. He was awarded a retainer of £20 a year – in modern money over £2400 – and earned the equivalent of £1200 for each execution. The Long Drop’ was certainly a more humane method of judicial killing – when it was correctly calculated calculated. Marwood’s successor, James Berry, got things badly wrong on one infamous occasion, when he was required to execute the Wisbech murderer, Robert Goodale in 1885 at Norwich. When the trap opened and Goodale disappeared from view, onlookers were horrified to see the rope spring back through the trap door as if it were made of elastic. When they opened the door leading to the space below the scaffold, Goodale’s head had completely been severed from his body.

William Marwood was hangman for nine years, and hanged 176 people, which gave him lifetime earnings from his trade (again in modern money) as £232,800! His second career undoubtedly enabled him to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. The Lincolnshire Chronicle of 5th April 1881 reported that he and his family were enjoying the Spring sunshine in France.

Holiday

Marwood certainly experienced a certain mixture of celebrity and notoriety in his home town. The famous Scottish music hall entertainer, Arthur Lloyd (pictured below left), recalls meeting him after giving a concert at Horncastle Corn Exchange:

its-naughty-but-its-nice-sung-by-arthur-lloyd-comic-song“During my stay in Horncastle I got to know that Marwood had been doing duty as a hangman some time before his neighbours knew of the circumstance. And it would have been a secret for some time longer, but that a Horncastle man happened to be present at an execution which took place at some distant town, and, on seeing the operator, recognised his fellow-townsman. The news spread like wildfire at Horncastle, and when Marwood arrived home he found himself the object of a few attentions which were more demonstrative than nice. And for some time after, when he started for, or came back from, an execution, he was followed about by people who showed no displeasure by hooting him, and by beating tin kettles, pots, and pans. This grew to be a veritable nuisance, so bad that Marwood was compelled to write to the Home Secretary claiming protection. After he had done this the head of Horncastle police was communicated with, and since that time Marwood has been permitted to depart from, and return to this town without molestation; in fact, he walks about the place without attracting any special attention. I noticed that his fellow townsmen greeted him in an unmarked but friendly manner, and he appeared to be on good terms with everybody. He keeps a shoemaker’s shop, and is comfortably off, owning several houses in Horncastle.”

IN PART TWO
Marwood’s ‘celebrity clients’ & bankrupt death

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (2)

Duddles header

SO FAR: On the afternoon of October 8th 1907, a strange weekday drinks party had been held in a tied cottage belonging to Guy’s Head Farm near Sutton Bridge. Some of the drinkers went home for tea, the tenant of the cottage, William Gear, departed in fetch more beer, leaving his wife, Kate, alone in the house with their lodger, William Duddles. When her returned, he found that his neighbours had found Mrs Gear lying on the floor of the cottage, mortally wounded, a bloodstained hammer by her side. Of Duddles, there was no sign.

The police went in search of Duddles, and he was soon found. A newspaper reported:

“Sergeant Taylor, of Long Sutton, went in search of him. and he was discovered in the Marsh, near to the sea bank. He was then charged with attempted murder, the deceased at that time not being dead. His hands and clothing bore marks of blood, and in answer to the charge he said, “A still tongue makes a wise head,” and made no definite statement.”

The same newspaper went on to say:

“At Long Sutton, on Wednesday, William Duddles, aged forty-seven, was charged with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, aged thirty-six, at Lutton Marsh, on October 8th. Supt. Osborn, of Spalding, gave evidence similar what is stated above. Sergt. Taylor, stationed Long Sutton, said he charged the prisoner with the attempted murder of Mrs. Gear, in Lutton Marsh, that afternoon. Prisoner replied : ” I have never done anything wrong before ; I am a bad ‘un, I know. I have been put on.” A short time afterwards he said: “A still tongue makes a wise head ; I shan’t say nowt.”

“That morning, from further information, and after cautioning him again, witness charged him with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, and he made no reply. The prisoner was remanded until Wednesday, the l6th. He appeared in court with a black eye and cuts on the left temple and over the left eye, which, it was suggested, indicated that the woman had tried to defend herself. The inquest was held on Wednesday evening, before Dr. Barritt the Spalding District Coroner, at Lutton Marsh. William Gear, the husband, said that he and his wife got on very well together. A lodger named Duddles had been with them about two years, he occasionally had some words with them when was in drink, and sometimes made imputations against deceased.”

“They had some words recently. Duddles called his wife some some abusive names, and witness, taking her part, struck him. On Tuesday, witness went out at four o’clock to fetch some beer, and upon returning found his wife lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood, a coal hammer lying few yards away. She was not dead, but was unconscious. Evidence was also given by Edwin Hocking, living next door, and a neighbour named Towson. The inquiry was adjourned until Monday next, and a post-mortem examination was ordered. The hammer, with which the tragedy alleged was alleged to have been enacted was produced in Court; it is an engineer’s hammer, fifteen inches long, with a heavy head of iron.”

Church

The funeral of Kate Gear was a lonely and bleak affair:

Funeral

Justice moved swiftly in the case of William Duddles. He was swiftly indicted for murder, and sent for trial at the November Assizes in Lincoln. This was not before the national press had a few things to say about him.

Demon

IPNThe “diminutive man of repulsive appearance” was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by the judge, despite the jury recommending mercy due to the prisoner’s mental state. One of the strange things about this case is that newspapers at the time normally reported verbatim anything said in court, either by the accused or his legal representatives. In this case, I have been able to find absolutely nothing. Defence barristers are known to this day for concocted elaborate excuses when pleading clemency for their clients, but here they either had nothing to say, or it was never reported. The obligatory plea for mercy was sent to the Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone (son of the great former Prime Minister) but it fell on deaf ears, and William Duddles was executed on 20th November in Lincoln Prison. In charge of proceedings were the Pierrepoint brothers, Henry and Tom – father and uncle to the more celebrated Albert.


The classic mantra of solving murders – both real and fictional –  is ‘Means, Motive and Opportunity’. In the case of William Duddles, the means and opportunity are obvious, but the big question remains “why”? From the limited evidence that remains available through old newspapers, it is hard not to conclude that there was a sexual element in this murder. Out of consideration for the dead woman and her family, the newspapers would have remained silent, but it seems to me that Kate Gear was, in some way, tormenting Duddles over a period of time, perhaps promising much but delivering little, and the teasing became too much for a man of limited intelligence made dangerous by drink.


Does this excuse what he did? Never in a million years. He battered a woman to death and, depending on your views on capital punishment, was punished accordingly. There is a strange undercurrent to this case – the mid-week drinking binge being the strangest – that will remain a mystery. Kate Gear lies in the peaceful churchyard of St Nicholas, Lutton, while her killer is buried in the poignant little plot reserved for hanged men within the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (1)

Duddles header

On a bright summer day, the table-flat marshland between Long Sutton and The Wash is beautiful. Endless blue skies, waving fields of wheat and skylarks singing overhead. On a grey autumn afternoon, however, the countryside takes on a much more menacing aspect. It was on such an afternoon in October 1907 that a brutal murder took place near Guy’s Head Farm. Two people are central to the drama, a 36 year-old farm labourer’s wife named Catherine Gear, and a 47 year-old man called William Duddles.

William Duddles was born in 1860 in High Toynton, just on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. In the 1891 census he is living with his mother and sister in Boston. Somehow he doesn’t appear in the 1901 census, but we know that in 1907 he was working on Guys Head Farm, on the left bank of Tycho Wing’s Channel, the arrow straight cut that takes the River Nene into The Wash. He was lodging with another farm worker in their tied cottage. William Gear and his wife Catherine, always known as Kate. They had married in 1898, and she was from the Bontoft family, born in Wrangle, between Boston and Skegness.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 8th October 1907, some employees of Guy’s Head Farm were, for whatever reason, not engaged in honest toil. In the Gear’s cottage Kate, William, Duddles and two other workers, James Towson and Edwin Hocking, were having a party which certainly involved drinking beer, if nothing more sinister. At some point, the beer ran out, and William Gear volunteered to walk the mile or so to Gedney Drove End and fetch more beer from one of its three pubs. By the time he returned, Towson and Hocking had, as they used to say, ”made an excuse and left”, leaving Kate Gear and William Duddles in the cottage on their own.

What William Gear found in his cottage when he returned with fresh supplies was not a convivial booze-up, but a dying woman – his wife. She had been battered about the head with something heavy and deadly. She lay on the floor, her life oozing away inexorably from a terrible head wound. Gear’s return to the cottage had coincided with neighbours hearing some kind of disturbance and going to the cottage to investigate. Their evidence was later reported in the newspaper:

“Whilst witness (Mrs Jane Hocking) was getting her tea a friend who was with her remarked, ” I think I can hear a scream,” and upon going into Gear’s house they found the woman in a dying condition. Robert Stebbings, labourer, of Lutton Marsh, said about the time of the tragedy he noticed William Duddles coming from the direction of Gear’s cottage, and at the same time Mr Gear was going an opposite direction, Duddles turned off to avoid him. When Duddles passed witness he noticed that he was in excited and frightened state, and witnessed confessed to being alarmed at his appearance. He stated that a fortnight previously he had heard Duddles say, ” I will be the death of the **** if I swing for it.”

The sensationalist newspaper, The Ilustrated Police News, were quick to have one of their house artists draw a dramatic reconstruction of the discovery of Kate Gear’s body.

IPN2

The police and medical help were summoned, but Kate Gear was beyond help, and she died later that evening without ever recovering consciousness. A heavy coal hammer, its head bearing the marks of blood, bone, hair and skin tissue had been discarded next to the woman’s body, and was obviously te murder weapon, but where was William Duddles, the obvious culprit? The Boston Guardian reported on Duddle’s movements – and the amount he had drunk:

After the murder

IN PART TWO:

An arrest, a funeral, an execution – and a mystery

THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (2)

KSS header

SO FAR: It is late afternoon on Thursday 19th March, 1921. Motor mechanic Frederick Pugh (47) has spent most of the day drinking in various Leamington pubs, and he has returned to the house he shares with his wife, Constance Ethel Pugh, at 50 King Street. Rows between the two are frequent and always noisy. The next door neighbour has come to remonstrate with Pugh, who is now outside the house. Pugh complains that his wife is always nagging him and goes back indoors.

The neighbour, Thomas Mills, returns to his own house, but then hears two loud bangs. He goes to look through the window of number 50, and seeing Mrs Pugh lying on the floor, runs into the town until he finds a policeman, Police Sergeant Pearson, who was on duty where Regent Street crosses The Parade.

Pearson was later to give this evidence:

“I was on duty on the Parade at the Regent Street crossing when Mills called me. Upon arriving at 50, King Street, I knocked at the back door, but received no reply. Looking through the kitchen window I saw a revolver lying in front the fire. I knocked again, but there was still response, so I decided to break in. Upon  opening the door, Pugh put his face round the door and looked at me. His face was badly injured and covered with blood, and he was staggering about. I took hold of him and said ” What’s the matter? “

I assisted the man to the kitchen and laid him on the floor, having first taken charge of the revolver. Two chambers had been fired, and one had missed fire. One of the spent cartridges had been struck twice. When I loosened Pugh’s collar, the man said ” Let me get up,’’

After calling a doctor, I examined the house. The woman was lying on her back with her head under the sink, and she was quite dead, with blood-marks on the right side of the face. The appearances were that the shots had been fired at close range. The condition of the room did not suggest a struggle. The woman had been washing, and the utensils were in their correct position. By this time Pugh had become unconscious and upon following up my examination I found bloodmarks on the stairs and on the pillow on the bed.”

Constance Pugh was beyond mortal help, and her body was removed to the mortuary, but Frederick Pugh was rushed to the Warneford Hospital.

On the following Tuesday the inquest into Constance Pugh’s death was opened, and the sad state of the Pughs’ marriage was laid bare. This report is from The Leamington Courier:

“The first witness called was Mrs. J. H. Cooke, sister of Mrs. Pugh, who said that deceased was Pugh’s second wife. Pugh served during the war.
The Coroner: ‘Did you know the conditions under which they lived?’
Witness: ‘They were’nt very happy’
‘Did your sister’s husband ill-treat her and keep the children short of food?’
‘Yes, he had an abnormal temper.’
Witness proceeded to say that one day last week she had a conversation with her sister relative to Pugh and deceased then said that her husband had threatened to “do her and the children in.”
He had said this many times that they did not take him seriously.
The Coroner: ‘On this particular occasion had he used the expression because she had asked for food for the house?
‘Yes.’
Mrs. Cooke said that one of the sons lived at Luton, Pugh’s native town, and a daughter was in a home in London.
Foreman (Mr. R. E. Moore); ‘Was Pugh usually sober when he made these threats?’
Witness: ‘I was not there whenhe  used them, but my sister said he had taken to drink again.’
‘You didn’t know much about the man himself?’ asked the Coroner.
“I simply hated him!” exclaimed the witness in reply.
The Foreman : Did you know that Pugh kept firearms in the house?
‘No, I shouldn’t have gone there had I known that he did.’
Mrs. Ada Key, another witness, living at 19 Plymouth Place, said the deceased had often complained of her husband’s treatment of her. and alleged that he kept the children short of food. He had a very bad temper. ‘My sister to come down to my house to get something to eat,’ continued the witness, ‘for she couldn’t get enough for the children at home.”
The Coroner: ‘You knew by her actions that she was not being supported properly at home?’
Witness: ‘Yes.’
‘Did she ever complain her husband drinking?’ asked the Coroner.
At this point the witness broke down, and the Coroner did not press his questions. “

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Mr. E. F. Hadow (Coroner for Mid-Warwickshire) did eventually reconvene the inquest, but his optimism that Frederick Pugh would be able to attend to account for his crime was unfounded. Pugh eventually died, still in hospital, on Friday 2oth May. There only remained the technicality of deciding if Pugh was in his right mind when he shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself.

Last word

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PughAs with many of these stories, there are always the children who become victims of adult misdeeds. The Pughs had two children. In the census which was held in the summer of 1921, an Arthur Frederick Pugh, born in 1920 and listed as grandson, was living in Leamington in a house, the head of which was Edith Jones, born in Bishops Itchington, and almost certainly Constance Pugh’s mother. Sadly, the next time we hear of Arthur Frederick Pugh it is as a casualty in WWII. His body lies in Madras War Cemetery. Arthur was a cook in the Army Catering Corps. He was working at a military hospital in Burma. While walking around the hospital grounds he was shot by a sniper in a tree and killed on 28th April 1945 just two weeks before the end of the war. Thanks to Julie Pollard (a relative) for this information.

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The older child, Tessa Vernie Yvonne Pugh (thanks again to Julie Pollard) was born in 1913. She was brought up by Constance’s brother Leonard. Records show that she married a man called Felix Jackson at Stratford in 1939. The 1939 register shows them living at 128 Tavern Lane Stratford.  She died in 1973, her husband having passed away two years earlier.

Was Frederick Pugh driven to commit murder by some awful residual damage he had incurred during the Great War? One newspaper report suggests that he had come home “with a piece of bullet lodged in his head.” He would not have been the only man damaged by the horrors of 1914 – 18, but we shall never know. The only certainty is that a fatal combination of anger and drink – and possibly war trauma – cost two people their lives on that March afternoon.

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