SO FAR: On the night of Saturday 3rd March 1907, In a drink-fueled fit of rage, 33 year-old Edwin James Moore has set his mother on fire at their home, 13 Oxford Street. She is pronounced dead at the scene.
While the doctor, police, neighbours and the other members of the Moore family crowded into 13 Oxford Street, what had become of the central character in this drama, Edwin James Moore? With skin hanging from his hands and arms after trying – and failing – to extinguish the flames that killed his mother, he was taken by one of the neighbours to a nearby chemist to have his burns dressed, but it was clear the damage was severe, and he was taken to the Warneford Hospital, was treated further treated for his wounds and kept in overnight.
In the drama of the moment, the cries of young Bertie Moore (“Help! Murder!”) had been temporarily disregarded, and it was assumed that there had been a terrible accident, but when the proverbial dust settled and Police Sergeant Rainbow spoke to the distressed child, it was clear that Fanny Moore’s death was something other than a misfortune. On the Sunday morning, Rainbow visited Edwin Moore in hospital, and put it to him that he had killed his mother. Moore replied, indignantly:
“No, never. I tried to put out the fire and burnt my coat in doing it.”
Despite his denial, Moore was arrested and appeared before Leamington magistrates, where he continued to deny that he had caused his mother’s death. The magistrates were unconvinced, and sent him to be tried at the next Warwick Assizes on a charge of wilful murder. Meanwhile, the Moore family had a final melancholy duty to perform.
The County Assizes were a major civic event. The Great and the Good put on their best finery to celebrate this most emphatic and visible reminder to the common folk that British justice was a solemn affair, and those who fell foul of it were in a very dark place indeed. The local paper reported:
“WARWICKSHIRE WINTER ASSIZES. The Warwickshire Winter Assizes were opened at the Shire Hall, Warwick, Friday morning, before Mr. Justice Phillimore. His Lordship arrived in the town on Thursday afternoon, and was met by the High Sheriff (Sir William Jaffray) and the Sheriff’s Chaplain (the Rev. J. Thompson;. GRAND JURY: the following were sworn upon the Grand Jury : Lord Algernon Percy foreman), Mr. H. Lakin, Mr F. E. Muntz, Major F. Hood Gregory, Capt. F. Gerard, Mr. D. S. Greig, Mr. F. Stanger Leathes, Major H. Chesshyre Molyneus, Major Gibsone, Major Armstrong, Mr A. Kay, Mr R. W. Lindsay, .Mr A. Sabin Smith, Mr. J. Booth, Mr. W. E. Everitt, G Anson-Yeld, Mr. E. C. Gray-Hatherell, Mr. A. Batchelor, Mr. Savory, Mr. P. S. Danby, Mr. S. Flavel and Captain K. Oliver-Bellasis.”
Percy, Lakin, Flavel – just three names that still resonate locally today, and several others who, if you Google them, remain clearly at the heart of the British establishment more than a century after they convened to decide the fate of Edwin James Moore. It is pointless to speculate whether a rough former soldier was ever going to get the benefit of the doubt after being accused of murdering the woman who brought him into the world and watched over him during his childhood. The jury system in 1907 was what it was. The trial was very brief, and on Monday 11th March Mr Justice Phillimore had little hesitation when he instructed the jury, who found Moore guilty of murder. Phillimore (left) donned the symbolic black cap, and sent Edwin James Moore back to his gloomy cell in Warwick Prison on Cape Road (below) to await the visit of the hangman.
In an age when the wheels of justice turned extremely slowly, the downfall of Edwin James Moore was extremely swift. By my reckoning, the interval between that fateful Saturday night and his death on the morning of 6th April, at the hands of (below, with newspaper report) John Ellis – whose day job was a newsagent and hairdresser in Rochdale – was just thirty-three days. To borrow the obligatory final words of the sentencing judge, “May God have mercy on his soul.”