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A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (3)

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SO FAR – George Hay, a gentleman farmer from South Reston, has taken a shotgun and killed his brother-in-law, and left his young wife Louisa horrifically injured, and clinging to life by a thread. He is in police custody in nearby Alford. It is 25th May, 1890.

There were no backlogs of court cases in rural Lincolnshire back in the 1890s. Later on the Saturday after his appalling crimes had been discovered, George Hay was before the magistrate in Alford, charged with murder and attempted murder. He had tried to injure himself while in custody, and had been strapped to a chair to prevent such an occurrence. He was, of course, remanded in custody to await trial at Lincoln Assizes in July.

The other integral part of the justice system in the case of violent death is the Coroner’s Inquest. This was convened in South Reston on Monday 26th May and was presided over by Mr Frederick Sharpley. What was going to be a melancholy affair anyway was made more dramatic by the announcement that Louisa Hay had died. Not only that, but she had died while giving birth.

I have called this story A Chapter of Horrors, with good reason. The very thought of that poor woman – just 22 years old – having suffered horrific injuries but  then having to go through the trauma of childbirth just hours afterwards is truly appalling. She was buried in South Reston Graveyard on 28th May. The church of St Edith has long since been demolished.It is pictured below. (photo courtesy of Louth Museum)

The Hay family has a corner of the graveyard (below), and members of the family were interred as recently as the 1960s, but the gravestones are terribly weathered. I could not locate Louisa’s grave, but we can assume that she lies among her family. One can only hope that she found more peace in heaven than she did on that terrible night in May 1890.

It seems that George Hay had suspected Louisa of having an affair with a young man from a nearby village. This seems to be another of his delusions, because the young man, named Banks – and members of his family – appeared at Lincoln Assizes in July 1980 to testify that there was nothing between the pair. At the Assizes trial he was, obviously, found guilty of a double murder, but there was no doubt in the minds of the judge and the jury that George Hay was insane. He was sentenced to be detained “at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” There was to be one final, brutal twist to this terrible saga. On Thursday 14th August 1890, the Hull Daily Mail reported:

A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (2)

SO FAR – South Reston, May 1890. George Hay lives at The Grange with his wife, two young chidren, and his brother-in-law. Half a mile or so to the north-east is South Reston Hall (below), where George’s parents and siblings live. In the early hours of Saturday 24th May, George has turned up at the Hall, soaked to the skin and covered in mud. He confesses that he has tried to commit suicide in a little river in nearby Withern. He is put to bed, but then requests that someone should go to his home to see how his family are. The Grange sat near the junction of Willoughby Lane and Scrub Lane. The house presently on the site is called Prosperity Farm. Locals may be able to confirm if it is the same house. I suspect it is, but much altered. (see the image at the foot of the page)

Hall today

George Hay’s mother and his sister Lizzie had a servant put a pony between the shafts of their trap, and set off to drive the mile and a half to The Grange. They stopped in the Grange yard, and Lizzie went to the door of the house. She tried to open the door, but found resistance. When she peered through the gap she was horrified to see a woman on her knees, with bloody hands placed against the door. Lizzie’s first reaction was to tell her mother to come no closer. Seeing some men – farm labourers – standing nearby, she summoned them and asked them to force the door open. Two of the men, John Crow and John Cross did as they were told, but recoiled in horror at what lay in front of them. The woman on her knees, still alive, was Louisa Hay, George’s wife. Lizzie Hay, in an understandable state of shock, ordered the men to go into the house but they wouldn’t. Still unaware of the full horror that lay beyond the back door of The Grange, Lizzie and her mother got back on the trap, determined to go and fetch medical help from the nearest doctor.

Just a few hundred yards down the road, however, Lizzie Hay had a change of heart. She said:
“Mother, I have made a mistake.I ought to have gone into the house with those men.”
She turned the trap round and made back for the yard of The Grange, where she stepped down from the trap once more. Along with the two men, and a Mrs Scupham who had arrived on the scene, she pushed her way into the house. Louisa Hay had moved away from the door, and was sitting against the wall with one hand clasped around her knee. The state Louisa was in almost defied words, but at a subsequent court hearing, Dr William Prawford Palmer, of Withern, described what he saw:

wounds

It was later discovered that the poor woman had been crawling about on the floor of her kitchen, horribly wounded and in excruciating pain – but unable to cry out, due to her wounds – since nine-thirty the previous evening. Not only that, but she had been keeping company with a corpse – that of her brother Thomas. The farm men and Lizzie Hay lifted Louisa onto the sofa, but then they saw, slumped at the feet of a chair, the body of Thomas Hay. His injuries were equally horrific as those of his sister, but at least death had claimed him quickly. Part of his skull had been blown away, shotgun pellets were found in other parts of his body, and it seemed as though he had been sitting in the chair taking off his boots when the shots were fired.

This is a tale from the depths of hell, but it was to get worse. Unbelievably, upstairs and above the carnage, the two children of Louisa and George Hay were discovered – thankfully unharmed and seemingly oblivious of the nightmare that had just occurred. They were packed off to stay with relations near Brigg.

The police were called from Alford, and George Hay was arrested and taken into custody. The doctors desperately tried to save Louisa Hay, and when George Hay was brought before magistrates the next day, she was still clinging to life.

 

IN PART THREE – TRIAL, RETRIBUTION – AND THREE MORE DEATHS

A CHAPTER OF HORRORS . . . A tragedy from 1890 (1)


ACOH header1I have been researching and writing
about true crimes for many years now and, by their very nature, the events I have described rarely make easy reading. On display is a journey through the very worst of human character, from weakness, via jealousy and insanity, through to pure and simple evil. I can say, however, that the story I am about to tell has been hard to write. It contains descriptions of madness and physical violence which may not be to everyone’s taste, so, if you are squeamish, then maybe this is not for you. Every word of this story is taken from contemporary newspaper reports and transcriptions from a criminal trial that horrified readers in the early summer of 1890.

We are not quite in Louth, but just a few miles south east, in the gentle landscape on the edge of The Wolds, and bordering the former marshland which stretches out to the coastal settlements of Mablethorpe, Trusthorpe and Sutton. South Reston is a modest village now, as it was then. In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described South Reston like this:

RESTON (South), a parish, with a village, in Louth district, Lincoln; 2 miles N N E of Authorpe railway station, and 6 S E of Louth. Post-town, Louth. Acres, 710. Real property, £1, 312. Pop., 235. Houses, 51. The property is divided among a few. S. R. Hall is the seat of W. Hay, Esq. There is a brick and tile manufactory. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Lincoln. Value, £180. Patron, the Duchy of Lancaster. The church was rebuilt in 1865; and is in the early English style. There are chapels for Wesleyans and Free Methodists, a parochial school, and charities £7.

It is the family of William Hay of South Reston Hall (pictured below) that concerns us in this story. The Hays were a landed family spread across the county as far north as Scunthorpe and Brigg. The Hall itself is on an ancient site that dates back to pre-Domesday times. Strangely, in the 1881 census, the inhabitants of the Hall are listed as Lizzie Hay, aged 20, as Head of House, with her younger siblings Walter and Mary. You will notice the name of John Crow living close by. He was to be a witness to the dreadful events about to be described. In 1891, a few months after the dreadful crime about to be described, the Hay family seem to have been all together again.

Although it is not illegal, we are, nowadays, justifiably squeamish about first cousin marriages. Where it does occur – mostly in immigrant families – it is a proven cause of child deformities and mental health problems. The Hay family, however in the second half of the 19th century, had no qualms. George Dawson Hay, elder son of William and Elizabeth had married his first cousin, Louisa Hay. The 1881 census has her, aged 14, living with her farming family in Humberston, just south of Cleethorpes. Also named is Thomas W Hay, aged 13.

George Hay had been gifted a house and land on which to farm. South Reston Grange sits near the junction of Willoughby Lane and Scrub Lane, a little way south west of the village. The household comprised George Dawson Hay junior, just a year old, his two year-old sister Ethel, and – strangely – Louisa’s brother, Thomas.

It seems that mental illness was not uncommon in the Hay family. A Thomas Hay, of Yarborough, had died eighteen months earlier in Bracebridge Asylum, Lincoln; George Hay’s older brother, William, had died at the Hall in 1886, while his younger brother, Sidney, was undergoing treatment for what was termed ‘melancholia’. George Hay himself had spent some time in New Zealand, and had confessed to trying to do away with himself there.

On the early morning of 24th May, the staff of South Reston Hall were astonished to see George Hay enter the building. He had apparently been sleeping in a stable. but his clothes were soaking wet, and he was covered in mud from head to foot. His mother came to his aid, and he told her that he had been to the nearby village of Withern, where he had tried to drown himself in the Great Eau (pictured left), a narrow but swift flowing stream which eventually dissipates into the marshes near Saltfleet. Mrs Hay packed him off to bed with a glass of whisky, realising that this was the latest manifestation of mental troubles of which George had been complaining for some weeks. When she went up to see him, a little later that morning, he was still awake, but barely coherent. He asked her just one thing:

“I think you had better go down to The Grange, and see how they are getting on there.”

A simple request from a concerned husband? What the visitors to The Grange found would scar them for the rest of their lives.

IN PART TWO – A TRUE CHAPTER OF HORRORS

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