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THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (2)

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SO FAR – On the evening of Saturday 16th December 1876, a young Wisbech man named Robert Roughton was involved in a drunken scuffle with two older men – George Oldham and Charles Wright – on the river bank near the timber yard on Nene Parade. Allegedly, Roughton was pushed into the river and has not been seen since. The police have arrested Oldham and Wright on a charge of murder, but have been forced to release them on bail, as Robert Roughton’s body has not been found.

Christmas came and went, and The Norfolk News had this brief update in its edition of 30th December.

Norfolk News

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The case dragged on and on, with Oldham and Wright going back and forth to the court and being released again but, eventually, the inevitable happened, and on Sunday 20th January a Wisbech sea captain called Edward Benton made a grim discovery. He later informed the court:

“I am the master of the steam tug Spurn., and live in Bannisters Row, in the parish of Leverington. Yesterday morning I was walking down the bank when a gentleman called across the river to me and said that there was something like a corpse floating. I then launched the boat end recovered the body and brought it to the “Old Bell.” I believe the body to be that of Robert Roughton from the description his father gave me about a  week ago.”

P.C. Burdett. added:
Yesterday morning I searched the body which was brought to the stables by Capt. Benton. and found in the pockets 6d. in silver and 4d in coppers, a pocket-knife, a clay pipe, and a scarf pin.”

At last the police had a body. What kind of state it was in can hardly be imagined. The Nene was certainly freezing cold at that time of year, which would have hindered putrefaction, but the mortal remains of Robert Roughton would have been swept back and forwards twice each day by the relentless scouting tides. The body was identified, with a savage touch of irony, by Robert Roughton’s older brother, who was now a Sergeant in the police force. The post mortem was conducted by Mr William Groom, surgeon. He told the court:

“On Sunday morning, 21st January, I made an examination of the body shown to me as Robert Roughton. The hands were clenched, the arms extended above the head. I had the clothing removed and the body washed except for the face. I saw no marks of injury on those parts which were washed. I washed the face myself and found a bruise upon the left cheek bone between that and the ear about two and a half inches in length. There was a lacerated wound a little above the left nostril and a bruise extending to the lip. There was a bruise upon the prominent part of the right side of the head. I examined the chest. The lungs were in a much congested state and the air tubes had a reddish mucus in them. I then turned the scalp down. The marks of injury on the outside corresponded with the marks of injury on the inside of the scalp. I then removed the cranium and upon examining the brain I found it highly congested. There were livid patches on the face and body, but they were the result of being in the water. I should say that death was caused by suffocation or asphyxia, and from the appearance of the body I should say from immersion in the water. I should say that the injuries on the face were given before death.”

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So, the police now had their body, and after further court hearings in Wisbech, where evidence eventually emerged that Robert Roughton was in dispute with Oldham and Wright over a relatively small sum of money. The disagreement spilled over from the confines of The Albion and onto the quayside of Nene Parade. The magistrates finally adjudged the two men to be guilty of manslaughter, and the case was sent to be tried at the next Cambridge Assizes in March. The hearing was brief, and the newspaper reported:

Brett“Charles Wright and George Oldham, two elderly men, were indicted for the manslaughter of Robert Roughton, at Wisbeach, on the 16th of December last. A bill for murder had been sent up to the Grand Jury, but was thrown out by them. Mr. Naylor appeared for the prosecution ; the prisoner Oldham was defended by Mr. Horace Browne. It appeared that a dispute had arisen between the prisoners and the deceased on the evening in question, and they were seen struggling together on the banks of the river, in which the body of the deceased was afterwards found on the 21st of January. The evidence showed that both the prisoners and the deceased were the worse for drink, and that the deceased, who was a much younger man than either of the prisoners, was the originator of the quarrel. The river bank at the place in question was sloping, and at the place where the cap of the deceased was found there was a gap in the rails by the river-side. Mr. Horace Browne, for the defence, urged that there was nothing in the evidence to show that it was any. thing but an accident. The Jury found the prisoners guilty, and his Lordship (Mr Justice Brett, left) passed a sentence of six months.”

What do we know of the subsequent lives of the participants in this sorry tale? Of Roughton himself, his burial place is not recorded, at least in cemeteries run by Fenland Council. Oldham and Wright appear briefly in the county record of criminal convictions for 1877 (below)

Register

Robert Roughton’s parents, William and Sarah had moved to King Street by 1881, and were in their late 60s, but of Oldham and Wright there is no conclusive trace.

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THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (1)

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StaffordThe 1871 Wisbech census shows that the Roughton family lived at 178 Queen Street. It also puts Queen Street in Walsoken, technically therefore in Norfolk, and the census bundle for Queen Street follows that for Stafford Street (left) – which was certainly in what was then called New Walsoken. Nearby are King Street, Prince Street and Duke Street, so logic would suggest that Queen Street would be nearby, but apparently not. The map shows that Queen Street was a north western extension of Bedford Street and not in Walsoken.

The Roughtons were a typically large family, probably living on top of each other in a terraced cottage. The census lists:
William (aged 57) – agricultural labourer
Sarah (aged 57) – chairwoman (perhaps charwoman?)
Robert (aged 18) – agricultural labourer
Thomas (aged 15) – agricultural labourer
George (aged 12) – agricultural labourer
Jesse (aged 10)
Rebecca (aged 1) – described as granddaughter. In the previous (1861) census there was also John Roughton, then aged 12, and Alice Roughton, then aged 14, so Rebecca must have belonged to one of the older children.

Moving on to Saturday 16th December 1876. It is dank and wet. Exceptionally heavy rainfall had resulted in flooding across much of the region. Robert Roughton, then employed at Walsoken Steam, Brick and Tile Company (which was situated just south of modern day Broad End Road) had left home that day looking for a day’s work in the livestock market. His mother, Sarah, standing in the doorway of their house, handed him his cap and his stick. It was the last time she was to see him alive. Robert was no angel, and he had frequently been in trouble with the law. His offences were mainly trivial, often committed when he was ‘in drink’, but he had served spells in prison.

The events of the evening of 16th December only became clear much later, when witnesses were called to both the Wisbech magistrates’ court and the much more forbidding Cambridge Spring Assizes in March 1877. For William and Sarah Roughton, however, anxiety began to set in when the weekend passed, Monday dawned, and there was still no sign of Robert.

Things were moving on, however, and this was the report in The Cambridge Independent Press of 23rd December.


First report

The report continued:

It is stated that some the men who were with him advised him to go away and that he replied he could not while the man was in the river. The friends of Robert Roughton began to make inquiries about him, he not having gone home on Saturday and nothing having been seen or heard of him since the time he left the Albion. A cap was picked up in the river on Sunday, and upon it being shown to Roughton’s father, he at once identified it as the one his son was wearing on Saturday, and this circumstance, coupled with the fact of his being missing  and the statements made by Oldham led the police to investigate the matter.

The police then learnt that after leaving the “Albion” Saturday Roughton encountered the two men Wright and Oldham, with whom he had a scuffle, and Oldham’s statement is that Wright struck Roughton and knocked him into the river The three parties were evidently in drink, and it is perhaps owing to the state they were in that neither Oldham nor Wright gave any alarm.

The police arrested Charles Wright, and then George Oldham and remanded them in custody to await an appearance before the magistrate. The police had a problem, though – there was no body. It seemed to defy probability that Robert Roughton had scrambled out of the river and was safe and sound somewhere, recovering from his ordeal. The law, however, was the law, and solicitors representing Oldham and Wright were able to secure the release of their clients on bail.

IN PART TWO

Edward Benton, Captain of the steam tug ‘Spurn’
makes a grim discovery, and the court is reconvened

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HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (3)

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SO FAR – Bessie Lockyer has been sentenced for committing murder while insane. She virtually decapitated her baby son with her husband’s cut-throat razor, and has been sent to Broadmoor. Normally, with these true crime cases, that is the end of the matter, and the killers invariably die in captivity, either by their own hand or other illnesses. Here, though we have something of a turn up for the books. I found a record listing a number of prisoners detained in mental institutions. There are four columns at the right hand side of the page, and they are headed Recovd. (recovered) Reld. (released) Not impd (?) and Died. Against Bessie Lockyer’s name there is written 4th September ’04, and a tick in the Recovd. column.

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‘Recovered’, just three years after murdering her baby? I thought there must be an error, but looked for the Lockyers in the 1911 census. Astonishingly, Bessie and Thomas were reunited and living at 6,Park Drive, Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Not only that, they had two young children, Stanley Walter Lockyer, aged 5 and born in Fulham, and Edward Norman Lockyer, aged 1 and born there in Ilkeston.

Ilkeston 1911
Redemption is not something often found in these stories, but it seems to have happened here. What became of the family after that is not so clear. There is a Bessie Lockyer recorded as dying in Spen Valley, Yorkshire in 1949 at the age of 74, and also a Stanley W Lockyer dying in the same district in 1968, at the age of 62. Both of these records fit what we know of the family. As for Thomas, there is little certainty about what happened to him. Searching the 1939 register proved fruitless.

All we can be thankful for is that Thomas and Bessie Lockyer had the chance to rebuild their lives together – and took it –  after that terrible morning in Holly Street, back in September 1901.

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (2)

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Brighton CottageSO FAR – Thomas and Bessie Lockyer, a young couple originally from Bridport in Dorset, have settled in Leamington Spa, where Thomas is working as a reporter for The Leamington Chronicle. They live in a rented house in Holly Street, and have a six-months old son, Arnold Edward. It is Sunday morning, 1st September 1901. Thomas has gone to sing at the morning service at Spencer Street chapel. Bessie, in a state of extreme distress, has gone to her her next door neighbour, Mrs Wiggins, to tell her that she has harmed her baby. Mrs Wiggins can’t believe that Bessie has hurt Edward, but she goes with Bessie back to No. 17.

On the floor, in the back room of 17 Holly Street, was a large enamel basin. In the basin was the dead body of little Arnold Edward Lockyer. His head had been all but severed from his body. The horrified Mrs Wiggins immediately sent for the police, and found someone to go and summon Thomas Lockyer from his chapel service. Let The Leamington Spa Courier take up the story in its edition of Friday 6th September 1901, when it reported on the appearance of Bessie Lockyer at Leamington Magistrates’Court.

“About a quarter twelve he (Thomas Lockyer) was informed in chapel that was required at home. He went home fast as could. When got there he found his wife in the care of two ladies. They were Miss Wiggins and Mrs. Makins, as far as he could remember. His wife was in state of partial collapse, and having been informed of what had occurred did what he could to comfort his wife. She did not seem to realise what had happened. After some reflection, she seemed to have a dim recollection of what had taken plaoe. Dr. West arrived about the same time and jointly they put questions to the accused. She said she had injured the baby, and added she had cut it. She also drew attention to blood-stains on her right wrist.

Thomas Lockyer was so much upset that he hardly knew what he was asking her. The body of the child was afterwards removed by the police. Dr. West informed him that the baby’s head had been all but severed from the body, only a small quantity of flesh being untouched. P.C. Cope and P.C. Hobley were in the house when he came home. P.C. Hollands came up with him, having met him in Holly Walk. His wife was taken to the Police Station and charged.”

These two extracts, again from The Courier, make for painful reading, 120 years since they were first written. First, the evidence from the policeman who was called to the house.

PC Hobley

Then Dr. West addressed the court.

Dr West

When in police custody, Bessie Lockyer had made an extraordinary statement, which had been transcribed verbatim. It was read to the court.

Screen Shot 2021-09-22 at 18.59.38“Yes. I did it Why did I do it? I believe I was cutting the beans. I undressed him. I cut him there (pointing to her throat). I could not get on with my work. As regards my little baby, I cannot tell. I can look back; I cut him, Tom. What made do it Tom ? It was in a bowl. Yes, it was, Tom. It seemed as though I had pressure like a cap all round here (pointing to her head). Sometimes mother fidgetted me. Some times I cannot keep him clean, and you know we cannot pay. When the baby was born they wanted me to go to chapel. Now when I was going to Chapel at Bridport. I had such a pressure round my head. When I went to chapel father always took me. Why did he take me, Tom? Why didn’t he let me go alone?”

The magistrates had no other option but to indict Bessie Lockyer for murder, and sent her back to prison to await trial at the next Warwick Assizes. When that came round in December, the presiding judge was Mr Justice Bigham (right). Despite his forbidding appearance, he was not a monster and, recognising that at the time of the murder, Bessie Lockyer was insane, he judged that she was unfit to plead and ordered her to be confined “during His Majesty’s pleasure.” Bessie was sent to Broadmoor.

Court record

TO FOLLOW – the case takes a remarkable turn

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . a shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (1)

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Bessie Farr was born at 92 West Street, Bridport, Dorset, in 1875. She was the seventh of the eight children of Edward and Jane Farr. The main industry in Bridport was making twine for fishing nets, and the 1881 census tells us that Edward Farr was the foreman at one of the mills. Not far away, in the village of Allington lived the Lockyer family, Thomas, Mary, and their three sons of which Thomas Alexander, the youngest, had been born in 1874. The 1891 census has Bessie, then 16 years-old, apprentice to a dressmaker while, Thomas, still with his family in Allington was training to be a journalist.

Bessie 1891

We know nothing of the courtship between Bessie and Thomas, but in April 1900 they were married in Bridport. By the following year they had moved far away from their Dorset home, and were living in the bustling Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa, and they had a young son, Arnold Edward, born in February 1901. Thomas had served his apprenticeship and was now working as a full time journalist for The Leamington Chronicle. They rented a house, 17 Holly Street East, also known as Brighton Cottage. The 1901 census, taken on 1st April, also shows Bessie’s mother Mary as being in the house.

1901 census

Bessie, who had been a bright and lively young woman before the birth of their son, seems to be have suffering from some form of post-natal depression. She had tried to breastfeed the little boy, but had to resort to giving him artificial milk, which increased her anxiety thus, in turn, further diminishing the chances of her feeding him naturally. She had also become worried about keeping the house clean, and fretted constantly that there was insufficient money coming into the home to keep them all safe. She had taken the baby, with Thomas’s blessing for a holiday back in Dorset over the summer, and had returned, so it was thought, in brighter spirits.

MWA2401On the morning of 1st September, Thomas Lockyer left the house in Holly Street to walk the mile to the church where he sang in the choir – the Congregationalist Chapel in Spencer Street (left). At about 11.30, Mrs Alice Wiggins, the Lockyers’ next door neighbour at No. 16 was surprised to answer the door to a clearly upset Bessie Lockyer. The Leamington Spa Courier later reported:

“About half past eleven on Sunday morning Mrs. Lockyer came into her house. She knocked at the front door and then came through the house to. the back room, which was a kitchen, where Mrs Wiggins was was. She seemed excited and said,
Oh Wiggins I’ve hurt my baby.”
Mrs Wiggins replied “You could not have hurt him. In what way?
Mrs Lockyer said, ” I’ve cut him.
Mts Wiggins answered, “ I don’t think you would hurt him, but let’s go and and see.

Mrs Wiggins accompanied Bessie Lockyer to her house, and went into the back room. She could not see the child at first, and asked where it was. Bessie Lockyer pointed to the floor, and it was a sight that would haunt the neighbour for the rest of her life.

TO BE CONTINUED

DEATH ON A QUIET STREET . . . The killing of James Frederick Greatrex (2)

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SO FAR: James Greatrex had retired from his Walsall saddlery business a wealthy man, and in the summer of 1892, he was living in Moss Close, a large town house on Guys Cliffe Avenue, Leamington. His wife Mary had recently died, and her sister, Rebecca Ryder, now lived in Moss Close. William Ernest Greatrex, aged 37, was the younger son of the former businessman. He had been set up in numerous ventures by his father over the last twenty years or so, in places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and Texas, but all had failed. Now, William Ernest Greatrex was living in St John’s Wood, London, but still – as it was revealed later – harassing his father for more money by way of an improved allowance.

James Greatrex and Rebecca Ryder were in the habit of taking a morning stroll provided the weather was clement. Tuesday 31st May 1892 dawned bright and warm, and a little after 11.25, the pair walked down Guys Cliffe Avenue towards Rugby Road. They crossed Rugby Road and as they walked alongside The Coventry Arms (now The Fat Pug) Mr Greatrex stopped and turned round, as Miss Ryder had lagged a few paces behind and was removing a stone from her shoe. As he asked how she was getting on, a gunshot rang out. Struck in the chest, Greatrex staggered, and as he did so he was shot again, this time in the back. He fell to the pavement, bleeding profusely. Rebecca Ryder screamed in horror at the assault and was astonished to see, nonchalantly holding a large revolver, William Ernest Greatrex. He had concealed himself beside the wall of a large house opposite The Coventry Arms and, as his father and companion approached, had stepped out and fired the shots from close range.

Dr-ThursfieldThe stricken man was carried to a nearby house and laid on a sofa. Dr  Thomas William Thursfield (left) was a well known local doctor and politician (he later became Mayor) and a bystander attracted to the scene by the sound of gunfire noticed that Dr Thursfield’s carriage was outside an adjacent house. He was quick to attend to Mr Greatrex, but there was nothing to be done. The inquest found that one of the bullets had passed through the victim’s heart.

A labourer who had been drinking in The Coventry Arms had seized William Greatrex after the shooting, but there had been no resistance, and when Constable Crowther and Sergeant Hemmings, who had been in the vicinity, arrived at the scene, Greatrex calmly handed over the weapon and said:

“It is all right, officer; here you are. “The second shot did it. I have got him ; it ought to have been done years ago.”

When he was charged with murder at Leamington Police Station later that day, Greatrex made a formal statement:

“I would like to make a clean breast of it. No one knows the treatment I have received from my father. I ought to have done it years ago. He drove me out of the country in 1884. I have been in America five years, and had fever and dysentery, and was very ill. I came back to this country, and have tried to make friends with him, and to know how I stood in his will. He has tried to drive me out of the country again. I have not been home since I came to my mother’s funeral. I have tried to get satisfaction in every way, but have failed. I stayed in Warwick last night, and came on this morning to have satisfaction. Now I have got it. I am sorry I did not have time to take a dose of prussic acid.”

Justice_Wright,_Vanity_Fair,_1891-06-27

Charles_Arthur_Russell,_Baron_Russell_of_Killowen_by_John_Singer_SargentAfter the formality of the local inquest and magistrates’ court appearances, William Ernest Greatrex appeared before Mr Justice Wright (above) at the August Assizes in Warwick. His legal team, headed by the distinguished QC Charles Arthur Russell (right) had but one job, and that was to establish that William Ernest Greatrex was insane at the time he shot his father dead. Russell did this after his people had conducted ruthless research into the mental stability of the male members of the Greatrex family, and so the barrister was able to make a convincing case, backed up by the medical officers of one or two large lunatic asylums. William Ernest Greatrex was found guilty but insane, and ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and he was sent to Broadmoor.

Her Majesty’s pleasure in this sad case was not very prolonged. Records show that Greatrex died in December 1905, but even in death he was worth a tidy sum – in today’s money, over £170,000.

Broadmoor
Death
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DEATH ON A QUIET STREET . . . The killing of James Frederick Greatrex (1)

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The 1861 census has William Ernest Greatrex living with his family at 3 Victoria Terrace, Rushall, a district of Walsall. The house, below, along with its neighbour, No. 4, is a Grade II listed building which you can find more about here. William was born in the autumn of 1854, and the records tell us that was baptised at St Matthew’s Church on 27th December 1854. His father, James Frederick Greatrex, was the well-to-do owner of a family saddlery business in Adams Row Walsall. In all, James Greatrex and his wife Mary had five children – Robert Charles, Frederick James, and two daughters, Emily and Mary Augusta.

3Victoria


It seems that the family home – at least in regard to William – was not a happy place. At the age of seven he was sent to boarding school, in Kidderminater. This was one of the things he later levelled  his ” Mater.” He said, “The school was nasty, the food was bad, the bread and milk made me feel sick.” He complained that he was most unhappy there but his unhappiness was just dismissed as, “complaints of trifling annoyances such as are met with by school boys generally.

A newspaper reported:

He left Kidderminster about eleven years of age, and went a school at Brewood, where he remained about two years, and then went to Malvern College, where he had inflammation of the lungs. He states he was lost there in consequence of not having sufficient pocket money. He is under the impression that his parents put him to these schools to get rid of him, and that they were persecuting him at that period of his life. After he left school, at about 15 years of age, he was sent to Hastings and Torquay on account of his health, and, at about 18, he helped in his father’s business, at Walsall, his father making him a small allowance.”

This matter of money was to weigh heavily on William Greatrex for the rest of his life. What shouts to us from the printed page over a century after the tragic events of 1892 is that James Greatrex spent a small fortune on his son, and considered it money well spent to keep William at arm’s length.

William’s career in the decades after he left school is a catalogue of disasters, one after the other. After working for a while as a commercial traveller for the Greatrex firm, he was sent to Australia at the age of 23 on ‘a sales mission.’ From there he was asked to go to New Zealand, where opened his own business. This failed, and after a brief spell at home he was again sent abroad, this time to America, where he was given money to become a partner in a cattle ranch in 1884. It was reported that Greatrex senior had sunk £6000 into this venture. Using the Bank of England online calculator, I can report that this is somewhere in the region of £800,000 today. The ranching venture, like everything else the younger Greatrex had tried, failed dismally and, eventually, after a spell in Geneva in 1889, William Greatrex returned to England, where he rented rooms in London, and began a concerted campaign to persuade his father to give him “just one more chance.”

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By this time, James Greatrex had sold the business and retired to Guys’ Cliffe Avenue, a quiet street in Milverton, a district of Royal Leamington Spa. The house, known in those days as Moss Close, still stands, but has now been converted into flats (above). It is within a stone’s throw of this house that the next chapter of this drama will play out.

IN PART TWO – A fatal revenge and an investigation into insanity

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THE HANGMAN’S SONG . . . Executions in 19th century Warwick (2)

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PART TWO

WillsOn 6th April 1863, Henry Carter, aged 20, was hanged for the murder of his sweetheart, 18 year-old Alice Hinkley, in December the previous year. The murder occurred in Bissell Street, Birmingham, and was relatively unusual for a ‘domestic’, as it involved a firearm, in this case a double-barrelled pistol. When the case came to Warwick Spring Assizes Carter’s defence was that the pistol had been discharged accidentally, but the jury was having none of it. They found him guilty, but with a recommendation to mercy. Mr Justice Willes (left) donned the black cap, and told Carter”

“I must implore you not to entertain any fond hope that the recommendation can save your life from the consequences of so awful and dreadful an act.”

He was right to be pessimistic. Home Secretary Sir George Grey was disinclined to be merciful, and Henry Carter was hanged. The newspaper reported thus:

“Yesterday morning Henry Carter was executed at the County Gaol, Warwick, in the presence of an immense assemblage of persons. It will be remembered that the culprit was tried at the recent assizes on the 28th ult. before Mr. Justice Willes, for the wilful murder of a young woman named Alice Hinkley, to whom he was paying his addresses, at Birmingham. He admitted when taken into custody that he had shot the unhappy girl. The execution took place at ten minutes after ten o’clock, and it is understood that the culprit confessed his crime ; but as Warwick is one of the gaols from which the press is rigorously excluded, any details are impossible to be given.”

Another account had more detail:

“Henry Carter, brass-founder, aged about twenty, was executed in front of the County Gaol at Warwick, on Thursday, for shooting with a pistol Birmingham, on the 4th of December last, his sweetheart. Alice Hinkley. The facts of the case have been recently reported. Carter had been Sunday-school teacher at Car’s Lane chapel, Birmingham, and spent the chief part of his time since his condemnation in religions devotions. On Thursday week a petition was forwarded the Secretary of State praying for commutation sentence, the grounds of Carter’s youth. An intimation that the the law must take its course was received on Saturday, and the warrant for execution once made out.

The services of Smith* of Dudley, Palmer’s executioner, were retained as hangman. The ceremony commenced shortly before ten o’clock on Thursday morning, when the prisoner attended prayers in the chapel of the gaol, then formed one of the procession of the prison officials to the pinioning room, and thence on to the scaffold. He was asked whether the pistol went off accidentally, and he said, “No. There was no quarrel between us while talking. I shook her hand, and kissed her before parting, and then shot her. It was through jealousy.” On reaching the scaffold in his prison dress he addressed the crowd below, warning them not to give way to similar feelings lest they should meet the fate which he was about to receive. and which, he well deserved. He then repeated a prayer from a book entitled “The Prisoner’s Memorial,” after which the bolt was removed and the drop fell. Death ensued almost instantly.”

George-Smith*George Smith (1805–1874, pictured right), popularly known as The Dudley Throttler , was an English hangman from 1840 until 1872. He was born in Rowley Regis in the West Midlands where he performed the majority of his executions. Although from a good family he became involved with gangs and petty crime in his early life, and was imprisoned in Stafford Gaol on several occasions for theft.

Carter was the last person to be publicly executed in Warwick, and the last to die in front of the old gaol. A new prison was built on Cape Road and the old gaol was converted into a militia barracks. There were to be seven more executions, the last being William Harris on 2nd January 1894. Harris, also known as Haynes, had murdered his girlfriend, Florence Clifford in Aston, Birmingham in September the previous year. The 17 year-old girl, tired of Harris’s brutal behaviour towards her, had decided to leave him, and went to her mother’s house to collect some clothes. Harris followed her there, and murdered her with an axe. He then went on the run, but gave himself up to Northamptonshire police. At his trial, he said:

“I wish I could have chopped the girl’s mother up, and then I should have been satisfied. I would have chopped her into mince-meat, and made sausages of her. I am ready for execution now.”

Defiant and unrepentant during his trial, Harris cut a sorrier figure when he went to the gallows.

Harris execution

It is worth remembering that the death penalty was widely available for a large range of offences until penal reforms in 1835 saw the end of capital punishment for crimes other than murder or attempted murder. The chart below gives an analysis of executions in Warwick during the 19th century. “Uttering” was, basically what we would now call fraud, while “coining” was the crime of counterfeiting or otherwise interfering with currency. It was also considered to be high treason.

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THE HANGMAN’S SONG – Executions in 19th century Warwick (1)

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PART ONE

I was at Warwick School in the 1960s, and our regular cross-country running route was up Gallows Hill, which runs between the Banbury Road and Heathcote Lane. It is certain that it was a place of execution long ago, but my story here is about relatively more recent times when executions at Warwick Gaol were a source of great entertainment for the population. The gaol was situated in what is now Barrack Street, and was rebuilt on that site in the late 18th century. You could be executed for all manner of crimes back in the day (see closing paragraphs of Part Two) but I am focusing on several executions for murder which were carried out between 1820 and 1900.

Dial House

To be a parent and have to suffer the pain of having one of your grown-up children executed for murder must be considered, at the very least, unfortunate, but to have two offspring die in the same way is a tragedy. Such, however, was the fate of a Mrs Heytrey, a widow living in Charlecote. Her daughter Ann, 21, was a servant in the house of Mr and Mrs Dormer who lived at Dial House, Ashow (above). On the evening of 29th August 1819, while other members of her family were out for a walk, Mrs Sarah Dormer was sitting in a chair, reading. For no apparent reason, and without any provocation, Ann Heytrey came up to Mrs Dormer and punched her hard on the head, knocking her onto the floor. Dazed, Mrs Dormer staggered upstairs, but Ann Heytrey, wielding a large kitchen knife followed her, and slit her throat from ear to ear.

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When the family returned, they found Heytrey “in a great state of perspiration” with blood on her apron. Mrs Dormer’s body was discovered, Heytrey was arrested and duly tried for murder and Petty Treason – the crime of violating the authority of a social superior. She was found guilty and, as decreed for any crime of treason, bound to a hurdle (a kind of gate woven with sticks) which was then drawn by a horse to the place of execution. She was hanged in front of Warwick Gaol on 12th April 1820, and a final indignity was visited on the hapless woman’s body in death, as while her body was still warm, it was cut down and sent to Kenilworth to be dissected by doctors. The travails of her mother in Charlecote were not over, however.

On 14th April 1821, the Warwick crowd was entertained by a quadruple hanging. Henry Adams, Thomas Heytrey (brother of Ann), Nathaniel Quinney and Samuel Sidney had been convicted of the murder of a wealthy landowner, Thomas Hiron, in November the previous year. The reports of the killing were sensational:

“On Saturday, the 4th instant, at an early hour in the evening, a ferocious and murderous robbery was committed within a few miles of the borough of Warwick, upon Mr. William Hiron, a gentleman residing at Alveston, about two miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. The deceased had on that day dined with his nephew, Mr. Thomas Hiron, surgeon, of Warwick, and set out from his house, to return home, about seven o’clock. Between seven and eight the next morning, Mr. Hiron’s horse was found at the stable door, when search was instantly made after its master.”

Hunscott

“”On the road leading from Wellesbourne to Alveston, near to Little Ham Bridge, about half mile from the house, his keys, gloves, and stick, were found upon the ground, near to which lay a quantity of blood. A short time afterwards the unfortunate gentleman was found lying in a senseless state, without his hat, in a deep ditch in Hunscott Lane, by a woman who was passing that way. She immediately procured assistance, and he was conveyed home. It is supposed that he had been attacked by some villains at the place where the blood, and other articles belonging to him, were discovered, and that, after beating him about the head in a most dreadful manner, they had robbed and then left him. It was also supposed that Mr. Hiron, after lying some time, recovered a little, and had attempted to find his way home, but, from the state of confusion which he must have been in from the nature of his wounds, instead of taking the road for Alveston, went towards Charlecote, and becoming faint from the loss of blood, had fallen into the ditch. The deceased, we most sincerely regret to add, lingered till Tuesday night, nearly in a senseless state, and then expired. His executors immediately offered a reward of two hundred guineas to any person who would give such information as should lead to the conviction of the offenders. Four men were apprehended in the neighbourhood of Alveston, on Thursday, on suspicion of having committed the murder, and, it is added, that they have confessed the horrid deed.

The account of the closing day of Warwick Spring Assizes for 1821 begins with this:

Warwick Assizes

And continues:

“Thursday was principally occupied with the trial of Quinney, Adams, Heytrey, and Sidney, for the murder of Mr. William Hiron, in the parish of Alveston On the 7th November last. lt appeared in evidence that Mr. Hiron had been in Warwick on the day in question, to give his vote to Mr. Lawley in the late county election, and left that place about eight o’clock in the evening, on his return home. When he got to Little Ham Bridge, six miles from Warwick, and about half mile from his mother’s house, the prisoners attacked him, put a large hook, in the form of a shepherd’s hook, round his body and pulled him off his horse. Mr. Hiron sprung upon his feet, when three of them attacked him. (Heytrey being hid behind the hedge) and beat him with large bludgeons until he was senseless. They then robbed him of two or three pound notes and his pocket book, and left him in the road to all appearances dead. Mr. Hiron, in the course of the night, recovered a little, got up, and endeavoured to go home, but missing his way, he went up Hunscott lane, where fell into a ditch. In this situation, nearly senseless from his wounds, loss of blood, and cold, he was found about eight o’clock the next morning, lying upon his back. The prisoners had made separate confessions before the coroner, Mr. Hunt, acknowledging the murder, and the part each of them had taken in the barbarous deed. These confessions, added to the corroborative evidence given by the respective witnesses, left no doubt whatever in the minds the Jury, or on a very crowded Court, of their having committed the murder. The Jury found them all guilty, and in pursuance of their sentence the unhappy men underwent the dreadful penalty of the law shortly before twelve o’clock on Saturday morning.”

As a sad postscript, it was reported that Mrs Heytrey had “died of a broken heart” even before her son had breathed his last.

IN PART TWO …. The last public hanging and a new gaol

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