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DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (3)

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PART THREE

So far …. 21 year old Maida Warner, from Stockton, has been arrested after a dead baby was found in the room she occupied at Sandown Villa, the home of Mr and Mrs Patterson, who employed Maida as a domestic servant. The bay was found with string tied tightly around its neck.

On 23rd June, at the second Coroner’s Inquest into the baby’s death, (the first was adjourned because Maida Warner was too ill to attend) the grandly named Mr. J. J. Willington Wilmshurst, spoke to a packed room in Leamington Police Station. This time, Maida Warner was present. The newspaper reported:

“The young woman, Maida Warner, who has been charged with the wilful murder of the child, was present, accompanied by a wardress from Warwick Gaol. She looked white and ill, and after the evidence of the first witness was obliged to retire for a few minutes.”

The jury heard medical evidence which was ambivalent about whether the baby was born alive. This was to be a key issue in the criminal proceedings which followed. The legal phrase was “separate existence”. In simple terms, if the baby had drawn breath, even for a few seconds after the umbilical cord had been cut then was deemed, by law, to have had a separate existence and, as such, was entitled to the protection of the law. Despite one of the doctors saying:

“It is my opinion that the child was healthy child, at, or near, full time, that it had lived and breathed freely. The cause of death was suffocation by strangulation, which might have been caused the cord round the infant’s neck. The child was alive when this constriction was put round it.”

But he then muddied the waters by saying:

“It is impossible to say that the child was wholly born, at the time it was done.”

Despite the confusion, the Coroner could only pass the case on up the legal ladder to the criminal courts. It was at this inquest, however, that another piece of evidence emerged which was to have an important bearing on the date of Maida Warner. Knowing that the young woman would not – whatever the outcome of the trial – be coming back to Sandown Villa, John Patterson had gone to clear up Maida’s room. He found a letter, torn up and thrown in the fire grate. It was signed, “Your dear little husband, S.B.C. – Warwick

Stockton was a small village, and it wouldn’t have taken a Sherlock Holmes to discover who S.B.C. was. In 1901 Sidney Cox had been living with his sister and their large family in a house on Napton ad, Stockton.
Sidney Cox

Probably very much against his wishes, he was produced as a defence witness when Maida was brought to trial at Warwick Assizes on July 28th, in front of Mr Justice Wills (left) By this time – and Maida must have had a very clever defence team – the charge had been reduced to that of concealing a death. The judge seemed to put great store by the presumption that Maida was fully prepared for – and happy with – the fact that she was about to give birth. Evidence for this was produced, in the form of newly purchased baby clothes found in Maida’s trunk. Sidney Cox had his moment in court as reported in the local newspaper:

“A young man named Sidney Cox was then called, and stated that he had been keeping company with the prisoner, and it was arranged that they should be married next month.

Judge; “Did you know that she was about to be confined?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Did you know what she intended to do?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Are you now prepared to marry her, and is it you intention of doing so at the earliest opportunity?”
Cox, “Yes.”

To cut a long story short, the Judge – despite the strange and unexplained matter of the string knotted round the baby’s neck, decided that Maida Warner was guilty of concealing a death, and sentenced her to twelve months hard labour. This story has a happy ending, after a fashion. In December 1906, the local news from Stockton column had this announcement:

Wedding

It is good to know that, whatever the truth of what happened on that fateful day at the end of May 1905, Maida went on to live her life in full. The last we see of her, at least in official records, is that in 1911 she was living with her husband in George Street, Stockton.

1911 census

For me, looking back at something which happened over a century ago, it is a curious case, and no mistake. What was the string doing around the baby’s neck? Was it something to do with a young woman giving birth on her own, and perhaps misguidedly remembering – as a country girl –  how calves were hauled from their mothers’ wombs with stout cord? Did the baby have “a separate existence”? We will never know. I believe there are Neals and Warners still living in and around Stockton to this day, and I hope that they will think that I have reported this strange episode with respect and fairness.

DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (2)

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PART TWO

The story so far. It is May, 1905, and 21 year-old Maida Warner, who had been working as a domestic servant for Mr and Mrs Patterson on Rugby Road, has been sent home to her parents in Stockton, after a mysterious medical emergency. Maida has taken the train from Milverton Station and once they are sure she has gone, John and Lizzie Patterson go up to the girl’s room. Let the newspaper report take up the narrative:

“In the bedroom, Mr Patterson found Maida Warner’s tin traveling trunk. It was strapped up, and appeared the same as when she first came to the house with it. There was also parcel of clothes on the top of the box, and on opening it he saw that which aroused his suspicions still further. He took up the tin box to see how heavy it was, and he found it heavier than he expected. On opening he found a lot of underclothing, and moving these he discovered a parcel, wrapped up in an apron and tied with string. He left the parcel on the floor. and from what saw he went and called Mrs. Moffat, a neighbour, and told her of his suspicions. Patterson asked her to examine the parcel and, with his wife, left the room. When Mrs Moffat returned downstairs she informed them that she had found a dead baby.”

Mary Moffat lived with her husband at Cliff Cottage, next door to the Pattersons, and her testimony at a later court hearing chills the blood, even today.

“I went into the servant’s bedroom. Mrs. Patterson pointed out a parcel to me, which I examined. It contained soiled linen, and evidence that a child had been born. I then examined the contents of the tin box. and found a fish basket, tied with string. Cutting the string, I found a parcel fastened with a safety pin and tied round with a necktie. This I also cut, and on unwrapping the parcel saw the body of a child. It was quite blue in the face, but I did not notice whether anything was tied round the neck. I thought the body looked as it had been washed.”

In a state of shock, Patterson sent for the police. Detective-Sergeant Matthews arrived and went into the back bedroom, and there saw two bundles as described by John Patterson and Mary Moffat. The second bundle contained the body of a male child, wrapped in towels and apron. Matthews removed the body to the mortuary, where Dr Rice made a post-mortem examination. The next day, accompanied by Chief Constable Earnshaw, Matthews went to Stockton and saw the girl, Maida Warner, at her father’s house in Elm Row (below).

Elm Row

He took her to Leamington Police Station, and, after cautioning her, charged her with the wilful murder of the male child on or about May 31st. She replied, “I am innocent of that.” When he saw her first at Stockton she was walking about, and he did not notice anything unusual about her. Warner was subsequently removed to the Warneford Hospital, and from there to the Infirmary at Warwick Gaol.

Dr. Rice’s post mortem report to the Coroner at the inquest into the baby’s death makes for grim reading:

“On the evening of June 3rd I saw the body of the child at the mortuary. I made a post-mortem examination on Sunday, and found that it was a male child, fairly well developed, weighing 51bs. 6oz. On Saturday I had come to the conclusion that the child had lived, but had been dead one or two days. I found a string tied three times round the neck, and firmly knotted at the end of the second round, and again at the end the third round. The child’s face was livid, the tongue protruding, and the fingers clenched. The body was wrapped in an apron which was marked M. Warner.

I made the post-mortem in company with Dr. Ross. Decomposition was just beginning. There were two small punctures of the skin on the left of the stomach, such might have been caused a large pin, but they did not penetrate deeplv. The brain was healthy, but congested, and there was good deal of blood under the scalp, which was the natural process of child birth. The heart was healthy and the lungs inflated. I am of the opinion that the child was healthy child, at, or near, full time, that it had lived and breathed freely. The cause death suffocation by strangulation, which might have been caused the cord round the infant’s neck. The child was alive when this constriction was put round it. It was impossible to say that the child was wholly born, at the time it was done.”

THE FINAL PART WILL BE AVAILABLE
AT 6.00pm ON MONDAY 1st MARCH

DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (1)

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PART ONE

Employment options for young women in the England of the early 1900s were pretty limited, especially from poorer households. Educational opportunities for most would have rudimentary, and many thousands would seek work in domestic service in wealthier households, and hope for a reasonable marriage when they had turned twenty or so.

Such a young lady was Maida Warner. In 1905 her family lived in the village Stockton, between Leamington and Rugby. Her father – like many men in the vicinity was employed at the cement works, which was owned by the Nelson family of Warwick. The 1901 census has the Warners living on Beck’s Lane.

1901 census
After working for a lady in Coventry, 21 year-old Maida took up a position with Mr John Percival Patterson and his wife Lizzie on 10th May. They lived in the rather grand sounding Sandown Villa, on Rugby Road in Leamington. The house showed up in the 1948 Kellys Directory as No. 251 Rugby Road, but that puzzled me, as the present day 251 is obviously a semi built in the 1950s or 60s. Thanks to some excellent detective work by Steve Hawks we found that there was renumbering of the houses at some stage, and what was named Sandown Villa is the modern day No. 269, and to the left of it in the picture was Cliff Cottage, of which more later.

Sandown Villa
Back to the events of May 1905. Later in the month, having seen plenty of the young lady, the Pattersons began to suspect that Maida might be pregnant. In the rather euphemistic words of a newspaper report, they “became suspicious of her condition”. Lizzie Patterson broached the subject but Maida strongly denied that she was expecting. It rather suggests to me that she was, as they say, “of a fuller figure” as had she been just a slip of a thing it must have been glaringly obvious. On 28th May, Lizzie Patterson again spoke to Maida about the matter, but received the same reply. What happened next was reported fully in the newspapers when Lizzie Patterson (witness) gave evidence in court.

“On the Thursday she did her work as usual, but after tea she complained of a headache and went upstairs. Witness advised her to go for a short walk, but she said she felt too ill. Witness asked her if she wanted anything, and she said no. She went to bed, and just after nine o’clock Witness took her a cup of cocoa. When Witness went into the room she felt sure something was wrong and she asked Warner if she would have a doctor. She declined, but Witness insisted on having a doctor. When she went downstairs she sent for the doctor.

Witness did not hear anything of the girl, and the doctor arrived about 11 o’clock. When the doctor went upstairs the bedroom door was locked and Witness called “Open the door.” Warner replied, “Is the doctor there?” and the doctor then asked her if she was all right. She said “Yes,” and added that she did not want the doctor. She refused to open the door. If she wanted help she would let them know.

Later Witness again went to the door, and Warner then said she was all right. She did not hear anything of her during the night. Next morning Witness sent some breakfast to Warner, and a little later went to her room to see her. She asked her how she was and she said she was very much better. Warner had drunk her tea and had eaten some food. The girl appeared very much better. She remained in bed until Saturday afternoon, but still refused to have the doctor. Witness suggested that she must either see him or go home, and Warner said she would rather home. She walked to the station and went by the 4.10 train.”

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The railway station – Milverton – was literally just around the corner, and from there Maida could take the train – a twenty minute ride on the old London and North Western Railway – to Napton & Stockton Station.

LNW ∑ Napton and Stockton ∑ Warwks ∑ anon ∑ by 10/1910

As soon as Maida had gone, John and Lizzie Patterson went up to Maida’s room. What they found there would haunt them for many a year.

PART TWO WILL BE AVAILABLE AT 6.00pm
ON SUNDAY 28th FEBRUARY

THE WISBECH TRAGEDY . . . Part Two

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It was also alleged that after the woman was in this fearful condition, Day did nothing to help extinguish the fire except to pour some water on the woman from a small teapot. He was also said to have threatened do the same for a man who was trying put out the flames if he made fuss about it. There was no other possible conclusion at the inquest other than that Frances Parlett had met her painful end through the violent actions of John Day, and that Day must face trial for murder.

The past is never far away, and it is interesting to note that the initial defence for John Day was conducted by Mr TR Dawbarn – a distinguished Wisbech name. One of the chilling things about this case is the fact that, before she died, Frances Parlett was able to give a lucid account of events. At the trial of John Day, she spoke from beyond the grave:

“I live in Wisbech with the accused. About one o’clock this morning I and accused were alone together downstairs. I woke him up as he had fallen asleep. We had no words during the evening. He said “You ….. cow. 1 will blind you.” He then took the lamp up off the table, which was alight, and threw it at me. I caught fire, and everything I had on was burnt. I was burnt, too, almost all to pieces. I screamed and ran out. but he has knocked me about so that the people took no notice it. He is always at it. The accused did nothing, not even attempt put the fire out. Mr. Brightwell, the next-door neighbour, put it out. The accused threw some buckets of cold water over me, but not before my clothes were burnt off me. I cannot remember anything else. We have been living together nearly two vears.’’

Mr-justice-bucknillAt Day’s trial in June 1905, presided over by Mr Justice Bucknill, (left, as caricatured by ‘Spy’) much was made of the fractious and often violent relationship between Frances Parlett and himself. The poor woman did not die until the next day, and in the immediate aftermath of the attack initially defended Day, but then the following exchange was relayed to the court. Sergeant Watson took the prisoner upstairs to see the deceased, and they had a conversation.
Day said,

 

“Frances, did I do it ?”
She answered,
Yes, you bad boy, you know you did it,”
Day said,
“It’s false.”
Frances repeated,
You did, you bad boy, you know you did.”
She was also heard to say,
You murderer, you have done it this time. You have had a good many tries, and you have done it this time.”

BarristerIn the event, the defence barrister for Day made great play on the grave responsibility that the jurors held. If they found Day guilty of murder, he would surely hang. In the words of the newspaper report, Mr Stewart, for the defence, remarked that the punishment for the crime with which the prisoner was charged was death, and it was not necessary to say more than that to bring home the jury the great and terrible responsibility that rested upon them. The onus of proof against the prisoner lay with the prosecution, and it was for them to satisfy the jury beyond the possibility of reasonable doubt that the prisoner was responsible for the deed. He contended that this had not been done. The statement of the woman was not in nature of a dying declaration, and it ought not to regarded as more important, or have more credence attached to it than was attached to any of the evidence called before the Court during the day.

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THE WISBECH TRAGEDY . . . Part One

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Wisbech is a small Cambridgeshire market town on the banks of the River Nene. It is Spring 1905. The Mayor is Mr H.C. Elgood, patriarch and owner of the local brewery. The Rev. R.E.R Watts, Vicar of Wisbech is retiring due to ill health, and his grateful parishioners have raised the sum of £224.19s as a testimonial. Sadly, due to the cleric’s infirmity, there is to be no public presentation.

Away from the rectories and grand villas, the world goes on. In the insanitary slum courts off the main thoroughfares, men get drunk. their women goad them, and there is violence a-plenty. One such instance is the tragic – and painful – death of Frances Parlett. Most of the following narrative is taken from contemporary newspaper reports.

Frances Parlett was married about six years previously, but left her husband, and for two years she had lived with the John Day at 18a Carpenter’s Arms Yard. At one o’clock in the morning May 2nd they were in their living room, one of two rooms in which they lived. Day, having fallen asleep, was awakened by the woman, and it was said that either in sudden anger or with malice aforethought, he seized a lighted paraffin lamp which was on the table, and threw it at her. She was at once covered in flames, and screamed and rushed to the front door.

A very worthy man who lived near, and who often heard screams, went out and saw the poor creature. With remarkable courage and pluck, this elderly man rushed hack into his house and secured some blankets, with which he put out the flames. Next day the woman died, fearfully burnt. The evidence was that the accused, about 11 o’clock that night, was heard to say to her that he would do something to her when he got home.

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Nothing remains of Carpenter’s Arms Yard today
. It was a narrow lane running off what is now West Street, and it ended just short of Tillery Field, which in those days was a cemetery. Its position was more or less where St Paul’s Close is now. By all accounts it was one of the meaner streets of the town. I have been unable to find any image of Carpenter’s Arms Yard, but it is safe to imagine that it would have been narrow, dirty and the tiny terraced houses would have been packed with residents  who were at the bottom end of society.

PretendThe photo on the right is of an existing Wisbech alley which, due to its central position has survived more or less intact, and gives us an idea of what the Yard might have looked like. Carpenter’s Arms Yard was earmarked for slum clearance in the late 1920s along with its near neighbour Ashworth’s Yard, and both were gone before the outbreak of World War II. What is now St Peter’s Road was probably more prosperous than either of the Yards, and its terraced houses were spared the redevelopments of the 1930s. It is tempting to look back and wish that more of old Wisbech had been preserved, but we would do well to remember that conditions in these old houses would be awful, even by standards of the time. Damp, insanitary and built on the cheap, these grim places contributed to the general poor health and high death rate of the time. The cemetery at the bottom of the slight slope of Carpenter’s Arms Yard was actually instituted as an overflow burial ground when a cholera epidemic struck the town earlier in the 19th century.

Back to the terrible events of May, 1905. Sadly, Frances Parlett died of her burns the next day, and the wheels of the law began to grind. The first step was a Coroner’s Inquest. At the inquest, it was reported that:

“Deceased was suffering from extensive superficial burns, extending from the knees to the armpits, and the front part was worse than the back. If deceased had been sitting at a table and the lamp capsized one would have expected more severe burns at one particular spot. There were no marks on her face or chest to show that they had come in contact with a hard substance, and would have expected to have found some marks on the body if it had been struck by the lamp with much violence.”

In answer to the Foreman, a witness said he thought the lamp could be thrown with sufficient force on the steel of the deceased’s corsets to break the lamp and not mark the body. The skin was discoloured too much to see any bruise. Herbert Brightwell, bootmaker, of 19a, Carpenter’s Arms Yard, said he heard the deceased and Day come home about 11 o’clock on the night in question. At about one o’clock he was awakened by the shuffling of feet, but he heard no voices. Immediately afterwards he heard a woman scream, and saw a bright light flash across his window. The woman continued to scream, and he went downstairs. When he opened the door of Day’s house the deceased, who was in flames, fell into his arms. Brightwell attempted to put out the flames by wrapping blankets round her.

Brightwell asked Day to assist him, but he did not do so, and said nothing. Having put out the flames, Brightwell ran to tell Frances Parlett’s sister, and Day ran after him, saying:

“What the **** are you exciting yourself about. If you don’t come back here I will jolly well put you through it as well.”

NEXT – John Day is tried for murder,
and faces an appointment with Henry Albert Pierrepoint

Part Two of A WISBECH TRAGEDY,  will go live on the evening of Friday 24th July.

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