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“SHE WOULD HAVE BIT ME TO PIECES, SO I HAD TO FINISH HER”. . . The murder of Hannah Middleton (2)

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HannahSO FAR: On the evening of 10th/11th May 1902, Foxlydiate couple Samuel and Hannah Middleton had been having a protracted and violent argument. At 3.30 am the alarm was given that their cottage was on fire. When the police were eventually able to enter what was left of the cottage there was little left of Hannah Middleton (left, in a newspaper likeness) but a charred corpse. Samuel Middleton was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife. The coroner’s inquest heard that one of the technical problems was that Hannah Middleton’s body had been so destroyed by the fire that a proper examination was impossible.

Inquest
Screen Shot 2023-01-07 at 19.18.43Samuel Middleton was sent for trial at the summer assizes in Worcester. Assize courts were normally held three or four times a year in the county towns around the country, and were presided over by a senior judge. These courts were were for the more serious crimes which could not be dealt with my local magistrate courts. At the end of June, Samuel Middleton stood before Mr Justice Wright (left) and the proceedings were relatively short. The only fragile straw Middleton’s defence barristers could cling to was the lesser charge of manslaughter. Middleton had repeatedly said, in various versions, that his wife had clung to him with the intention of doing him harm – “She would have bit me to pieces, so I had to finish her.” It was clear to both judge and jury, however, that Middleton had battered his wife over the head with a poker, and then set fire to the cottage in an attempt to hide the evidence.  Mr Justice Wright delivered the inevitable verdict with due solemnity.

Verdict

On the morning of Tuesday 15th July 1902, within the walls of Worcester gaol, the wheels of British justice, with the assistance of executioner John Billington, made their final turn in the case of Samuel Middleton. Public executions ended in 1867, but newspaper reporters were granted certain levels of access, and what they couldn’t actually see, they made sure their readers had full access to their imaginative skills.

“The Press representatives had full leisure to observe all these details while they were waiting for the arrival of tbe procession. The time went slowly for the waiters, but too fast, alas, for the wretched criminal awaiting his doom in the condemned cell. The minutes went by, till at length the warder flung open the huge gates, which extend the whole length of the wall, and let in a flood of summer sunshine. The sad procession made its appearance by a door on the opposite side of the yard, descended the few steps, and slowly crossed to the place of execution. The Chaplain, the Rev. R. R. Needham, headed the cortege, and was closely followed by the condemned man, his arms pinioned behind him, and supported by a warder on either side. His face was deathly pale, and his eyes had a terrified expression, but otherwise he appeared quite calm. Others in the procession were the Governor of the Prison (Mr. H. B. Lethbridge), tbe Under-Sheriff of the County (Mr. W. P. Hughes), the surgeon (Mr. L. J. Wilding), Ald. J. Millington (one of the Visiting Justices), Chief Warder Gibson, and other warders, and the Sheriff’s officer.”

“Arriving at the death-chamber, Middleton was assisted on to the trap doors, and in a moment Billington and his assistants, two young, active men, had the noose affixed and the strap securely bound round the man’s legs. All this while Middleton made no sound or sign. The white cap was pulled down over his head, Billington sprang to the lever, gave a sharp pull, the doors flew open, and the miserable man’s body plunged down into the pit. There was a jerk, the rope vibrated for a few seconds, and then all was still. Middleton had paid the penalty of his crime.”

“As soon as the body disappeared, the Rev. R. R. Needham read a few sentences from the Burial Service, while the prison bell tolled, conveying to the waiting throng outside an intimation that the last act in the tragedy had been accomplished. The Chaplain’s voice sounded unsteady as he read the words of awful import, but he proceeded to the end. Then slowly the spectators filed out, giving one glance down the pit as they passed at the motionless, white-capped figure, the rope taut round the neck, and the head bent on to the shoulder a a horrible angle.”

In a bizarre postscript, Middleton’s official criminal record includes the  charge of destroying the cottage in which he lived, and the one occupied by Mrs Hassall.

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“SHE WOULD HAVE BIT ME TO PIECES, SO I HAD TO FINISH HER”. . . The murder of Hannah Middleton (1)

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The hamlets of Foxlydiate and Webheath were, in 1902, still separate entities, but are now just part of Redditch. The word ‘lydiate’ is not uncommon in English place names, and it comes from Old English Hlid-geat, pronounced Lidyat, meaning swing-gate. The 1901 census shows that near to Springhill Farm, three adjacent cottages housed three people who were to lay significant roles in events a year later.

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At 164 lived Samuel Middleton, his wife Hannah and their adult son William. Next door was an elderly widow, Harriet Hassall, and at 166 were Thomas and Lara Drew and their five children. Samuel Middleton was 47, and his wife 50. She was from Stow in Oxfordshire, and had married Samuel in 1879. He was born in Bentley, just a mile away from Foxlydiate. On the evening of 10th May 1902 the Middletons were in the middle of one of the violent arguments which had become all too common in recent months. Crockery was thrown and, fearing for her safety, Hannah Middleton ran the few hundred yards up the road to The Fox and Goose Inn. Landlord Herbert Chambers took Hannah back to the cottage, and later testified that the exchange was along these lines:
Middleton, “He’d better not come in here, or I’ll serve him the same.”
Chambers, “You’d better not do that, Sam.”
Middleton, “Come on then ..”
Chambers, “You’d be best governing your temper, Sam”.
Middleton, “No, I’ll do for the lot.”
Chambers later testified that Middleton was not drunk, and that he was normally a peaceable man, but rather eccentric. Such was the proximity of the neighbouring cottages that the rows between the Middletons were something of a public event, and Laura Drew was concerned about Hannah’s safety. A newspaper reported her version of events.

Mrs Drew

Both cottages – back to back as they were – were destroyed by the fire, as was Hannah Middleton. A few days later, at the coroner’s inquest, witnesses were able to piece together the events.

Joseph Worskett, gamekeeper to Lord Windsor, said Middleton came to his house (where William Middleton was living) at Bentley at 3.30 am and called him through the window. Middleton called out, “Tell Will his mother’s nearly dead,” and went off.

William Middleton said he had heard Middleton frequently threaten his mother during the last two or three months. Inspector Hayes said the police, and fire brigade arrived at the cottages at five am on the morning of 11th May. Loose straw was littered in a continuous trail from the pig-stye to the house, and there were burnt ends around the door. Witness and two firemen discovered what they thought were human remains, on the brick floor. Portions of a woman’s clothing were buttoned at the back. Police Constable Lyes said a pair of tongs and part of a poker were lying about two feet from the body. The head of a large axe (weighing five or six pounds) was found on the floor in a room adjoining. The broken end of the poker lay close to it. A bill-hook was near the axe-head in the front room.

Later in the day, a roadman called James Tyler, was working in Trench lane, between Himbleton and Droitwich, when Middleton came and said, “Where am I going?”
Tyler said Where do you want to go?”
Middleton replied, “Anywhere, anywhere. I have killed the wife; they will soon catch me.”

Police Constable Bird found the prisoner the same evening sitting in Trench lane, and asked him what time he left Foxlydiate. He said had not left it, but when asked if his name were not Samuel Middleton he said, “I suppose it must be,” and asked where he was be taken. Police Sergeant Howard said prisoner while being taken from Bromsgrove to Redditch pointed to a scratch on the right side his cheek, and said, “That woman done this. She would not leave me and followed me downstairs. We had been rowing. She would have bit me to pieces, but I hit her on the head with the poker. They say it was all my fault.”

IN PART TWO
More details emerge
Trial and retribution

 

 

THE MURDER OF LUCY LINGARD . . . A Grimsby tragedy (part two)

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SO FAR: Grimsby, 18th November 1902. Lucy Lingard is separated from her husband John. She and her children live in Hope Street, and she has been in a relationship with Samuel Harold Smith (Harry), a trawlerman. He has returned from sea, and the couple have spent the afternoon and evening drinking and arguing. Smith has hit Lucy several times, but they return to their house, both drunk. A newspaper reported what happened next.

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InquestThe report was overly optimistic. Lucy Lingard hovered between life and death for a while, but on the Sunday, four days after the attack, she died of her injuries, described below at the subsequent inquest.

Dr Harold Freeth, house surgeon at the Hospital, gave evidence to the effect that the deceased died in the Hospital from exhaustion, following on from injuries, which he described. There were eleven incised wounds in all, chiefly on the chest and the left arm. One of the most serious wounds was that on the upper side of the left breast, and penetrated through the first rib into the chest cavity. The deceased had lost a great deal of blood. Witness had made a post-mortem examination. The wound which penetrated the chest had set up acute inflammation, and there was also inflammation of the pericardium. In reply to a juryman, the witness said the deceased’s organs were quite healthy before the injuries were inflicted.”

Bizarrely, despite the eye-witness testimony of Lucy Lingard’s daughter, who had witnessed the attack, and the fact that he had admitted his guilt when arrested, Smith pleaded not guilty. Another newspaper reported on young Rose’s demeanour.

Rose

Sir_William_Rann_Kennedy_1915Inevitably, the Coroner’s court, convened at the beginning of December, declared Smith to be guilty of murder, and now it would be up to the Lincoln Assizes court, Judge and Jury, to determine his fate. Smith spent the rest of December – including Christmas – and the greater part of February in Lincoln gaol. On Wednesday 25th February 1903, before Mr Justice Kennedy (right), Samuel Henry Smith  ‘had his hour in court’. Despite the suggestion to the jury that the charge should be reduced to one of manslaughter, it all went badly for Smith.

“The Lincolnshire Assizes were resumed yesterday before Justice Kennedy. Samuel Henry Smith, aged 45, fisherman, was indicted for the wilful murder of Lucy Margaret Lingard. at Grimsby, on the 18th November last. Mr Etherington Smith and Mr Lawrence appeared for the prosecution, and at the request of the Judge Mr Bonner undertook the defence. The case was sordid one. The deceased woman lived apart from her husband at 3, Taylor’s Terrace, Hope Street, Grimsby, and the accused had been in the habit of staying with her. On November 18th last the couple were out together during the afternoon, and on their return had some words, and the prisoner struck the woman. Afterwards they again went out, and when they returned late at night with a lodger and another woman, they were the worse for drink. The quarrel was resumed after a time, and, according to the evidence of the woman’s thirteen-year-old daughter, the accused took out a knife, and, rushing at the deceased, stabbed her several times. She died in the hospital on the following Sunday. On the prisoner’s behalf, Mr Bonner suggested that the jury would be justified in finding him guilty of manslaughter. The crime was undoubtedly due to drink, and he submitted that at the time of its commission the prisoner was not in condition to exercise any discretion as to the result of what he was doing. The jury found the prisoner guilty of Wilful Murder,” and he was sentenced to death.”

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Smith’s legal team had applied to the Home Secretary, Viscount Chilston, for a reprieve, but he was not minded to be merciful. Likewise a petition set up by residents of Smith’s home town, Brixham, was ignored. On Tuesday 10th March, Samuel Henry Smith was marched to the scaffold by the executioner, William Billington (left). The role of state executioners was often kept within families. Just as the Pierrepoint family had several hangmen – Henry, Thomas and Albert, William Billington took over the job – along with brothers John and Thomas – when their father, James, died in 1901. Newspaper reporters, at this time, were still officially allowed to witness executions first hand, but in practice, most prison governors (and the hangmen) preferred if they didn’t, due to sensationalised and lurid accounts of the prisoners’ last moments. Whether the reporter from the LIncolnshire Chronicle saw the end of Samuel Henry Smith with his own eyes, or simply used his imagination, we do not know:

“According to recent Home Office regulations the black flag is not now displayed and all that told of the end was the tolling of the prison bell just after hour had struck. Inside the Prison, where there were only officials, the scene was impressively quiet. Wm. Billington the executioner, and his brother John, had arrived on the previous night. Early on the fateful morn the Rev. C.H. Scott visited the condemned man, who listened to his ministrations with attention and apparent gratitude. At ten minutes to eight o’clock County Under-Sheriff (Mr. Chas. Scorer) entered the cell, and approaching Smith requested him to prepare for execution. To all appearance he remained quite calm, and with a steady voice intimated that he was prepared to meet his death. Quietly he submitted himself to the executioner for the necessary pinioning process, and walked unfalteringly to the scaffold, and within two minutes all was over. Billington allowed a drop of 7ft. 3in. To the witnesses death appeared to be absolutely instantaneous and there was scarce a motion of the rope after the body disappeared from sight in the space below the drop.”

All that remained was for Samuel Henry Smith’s body to be buried in the gaol cemetery, along with dozens of other executed killers, and his name to be entered in the official record book.

Prison record

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THE MURDER OF LUCY LINGARD . . . A Grimsby tragedy (part one)

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Lucy Margaret Mullins was born in the village of Worlaby in 1869. Her father James was Irish, and worked as a groom. Her mother Jane was from the Lincolnshire village of Great Limber. In the 1881 census the family had moved to Little Limber Grange, near Brocklesby. In April 1889, Lucy married John Lingard in St James Church, Grimsby, and the census two years later shows that they were living at 6 Vesey’s Buildings in Grimsby, and they already had two children, Rose (2) and William (10 months). By 1901 they had moved to Sixth Terrace, Hope Street, and had two more children, Nellie (8) and Arthur (4). Also living in the house were two of Lucy’s adult relatives.

The 1901 census was taken on 1st April, and by the autumn of the next year John and Lucy Lingard had separated, Lucy remaining in Hope Street with the children. By the autumn of 1902 she had given birth to another child, born earlier in the year. The census also tells us that a fisherman named Samuel Henry Smith was also living in Hope Street, apparently on his own. His background has been difficult to track. The census records that he was born in Norfolk, but later newspaper reports suggest that his home town was Brixham in Devon.

It is not clear if Harry Smith was in any way responsible for the break up of the Lingards’ marriage, but by November 1902 it was clear that Lucy Lingard and Harry Smith (also separated from his spouse) were in a relationship, when he was not out on the North Sea on a trawler.

At this point, it is worth pausing the story to compare how people lived – in terms of house occupancy – back in the day. It was very common for ordinary working people to share houses with others. I was born in 1947, and my parents rented a room in a Victorian terraced house, which was shared with another couple and the owner, a single man. Each had a bedroom to themselves, and the kitchen and scullery were shared. There was no bathroom. There was running water, but also a pump in the scullery which drew water from a well. There was no electricity until, I think, 1951 and lighting was from gas lamps which were lit by pulling a little chain, which struck a flint, rather like the mechanics of a cigarette lighter.

Before demolition

Screen Shot 2022-09-10 at 18.37.47Hope Street in Grimsby was cleared of its terraces in the late 1960s (pictured above, thanks to Hope Street History), but a late 19th century map shows back-to-back houses opening directly onto the street, and every so often there would courtyards, each open area being surrounded on three sides by further dwellings. For those interested in the history of Hope Street, there is a Facebook page that gives access to an excellent pdf document describing the history of the street. That link is here. It is also worth pointing out that house ownership, certainly in 1902, would have been in the hands of landlords. The great majority of people in streets like Hope Street would be tenants.

We must now move on to the events of 18th November 1902. Harry Smith’s trawler docked that morning, and he had spent the best part of the afternoon and early evening in the company of Lucy Lingard. Smith at one point went down to the docks to collect his wages from his latest voyage. He and Lucy Lingard were at each other’s throats, perhaps because she had refused him ‘conjugal rights’, and he had struck her several times, giving her two black eyes. In spite of this, they went out drinking again, but what happened when they returned to Hope Street later that evening was to send a shiver of revulsion through the whole area.

IN PART TWO
A daughter’s testimony
Denial, trial – and the black cap

THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (2)

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SO FAR: It is Sunday 24th August 1902, and in the colliery village of Badley Ensor, the Chetwynd family live on Watling Street Road. The household consists of widow Eliza Chetwynd (62) her son Joseph (24) daughter Eliza (21) and Eliza’s eleven week old son, who had not yet been named. The baby’s father, George Place (29) also lives there, but there is a tense atmosphere, as Place had just been served with am Affiliation Summons, which made him legally responsible for the upkeep of the child.

The events of that fateful Sunday morning were reported thus in a local newspaper:

HeadlineLate on Saturday evening, after leaving a public-house in Wilnecote, Place told two men that he intended to do for the three of them (meaning the women and the child), and showed the men a six-chambered revolver and a packet of cartridges. He got to his lodgings shortly after midnight, and it was a curious circumstance that at ten minutes past one in the morning Mrs. Chetwynd saw a neighbour, Mrs. Shilton, and told her she was afraid Place was going to do something to them, for he had a revolver and had got a knife to open a packet of cartridges. 

The four rooms of the house were all occupied. The victims slept together in one bed in the room the right on the ground floor; the kitchen on the same floor was occupied by the son of Mrs. Chetwynd, who slept on a sofa ; Place slept in one room on the upper floor; and Jesse Chetwynd, another son of Mrs. Chetwynd, with his wife, who had come from Upper Baddesley for the night, used the other room.

At about a quarter to six in the morning Place came downstairs and entering the room where the women and child were asleep, deliberately shot each of them through the head, the bullets entering the right side of the head. The baby was in its mother’s arms at the time. The older woman must have had her hand up to her head, for two of her fingers had been wounded by the bullet. Jesse Chetwynd rushed downstairs on hearing the reports, and found Place sitting on the doorstep with the revolver in his hand. Place had neither hat nor jacket on. Jesse Chetwynd said to him ” Whatever have you been doing ” but Place made no reply.

The other son, Joseph, said Place had threatened him. and that Jesse’s coming down saved him from being shot. The poor old woman and the child died almost immediately, but the daughter lay unconscious for about four hours, when she succumbed. The old lady was heard to exclaim “Oh !” when Mrs. Jackson, a neighbour, went in. The murderer walked, away quietly from the scene of the tragedy. He took the the public road to Atherstone, and was followed by Samuel Shilton, whom gave up the revolver and 14 cartridges. On the way, Place said to Shilton, ” If you hadn’t come after me I would been comfortable at the bottom of the canal.”

executionThe rest of this grim tale almost tells itself. George Place, apparently unrepentant throughout, was taken through the usual procedure of Coroner’s inquest, Magistrates’ court, and then sent to the Autumn Assizes at Warwick in December. Presiding over the court was Richard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone, and the trial was brief. Despite the obligatory plea from Place’s defence team that he was insane when he pulled the trigger three times in that Baddesely Ensor cottage, the jury were having none of it, and the judge donned the black cap, sentencing George Place to death by hanging. The trial was at the beginning of December, the date fixed for the execution was fixed for 13th December, but George Place did not meet his maker until 30th December. It is idle to speculate about quite what kind of Christmas Place spent in his condemned cell, but for some reason, during his incarceration, he had converted to Roman Catholicism. It seems he left this world with more dignity than he had allowed his three victims. The executioner was Henry Pierrepoint.

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THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (1)

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Asked to name  counties associated with England’s coal mining heritage, many people would say, “Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.” The more knowledgeable might add Lancashire and, perhaps, Kent, but few would be aware that until relatively recently there was an important mining industry in North Warwickshire. One of the most significant centres was the village of Baddesley Ensor (below), near Atherstone. Mentioned as ‘Bedeslei’ in the Domesday Book, the village has a long and fascinating history, but the events of a day in late August 1902 are the focus here.

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The 1901 census tells us that the Chetwynd family, comprising John (56), wife Eliza (60), Joseph (22) and Eliza (19) lived at 177 Watling Street Road, in what was known as Black Swan Yard. Not far away, on the same road, a young man called George Place, described as a coal hewer, lodged with William Aston and his wife Martha. At some point later that year George Place and the younger Eliza became, as they say, “an item” – to the extent that Eliza became pregnant. On 14th August 1902, Eliza gave birth to a baby boy. Much had happened prior to this. On 19th March John Chetwynd died leaving the two Elizas and the his as-yet-unborn grandson to manage on the income of young Eliza’s brother Joseph Chetwynd who, inevitably, was another coal miner. It seems that George Place had moved in with the family, and had become informally engaged to Eliza, but his contribution to the the family finances must have been minimal, as Eliza had served him with what was known as an Affiliation Summons – a kind of paternity order, what we know as a Child Support maintenance enforcement.

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George Place was not a Warwickshire man. He was born in 1874 in Radford, an outer suburb of Nottingham. His was a large family, even by the standards of the day. He was the elder of nine children. In 1891, at the age of 17, he was listed as living at 72 Saville Street, Radford, working as a cotton spinner. Whether he became a miner by choice or through necessity, we will never know, but fate brought him further south into the Warwickshire coalfield.

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Observer

Having researched and written about many of these historical murder cases, the question of evil versus insanity comes up every time. The central question is simple: Would someone committing a murder in plain sight have to be unhinged to think they could get away with it? Another question: Can insanity be temporary, so that when a murderer is apprehended, he/she may seem perfectly sane? These days, of course, the distinction is largely irrelevant, as no murderer will lose their life as a result of a guilty verdict; the only variable is the kind of institution in which they will serve their sentence. What follows in this story will explain why I have raised the philosophical question.

As is often the case, there is a back story here, and the Nuneaton Observer (left) made much of the troubled relationship between George Place and the Chetwynd family.

Quite why George Place felt so aggrieved at being asked to contribute to the upbringing of the little boy he had fathered we shall never know. When the summons making him responsible for his eleven day old son was served on Place, he threatened that all the Chetwynds would get out of him would be a bullet. This sounds like empty rhetoric, uttered for dramatic effect, but what followed was truly horrific

IN PART TWO

Three bullets. Three lives
A date with the hangman

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