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Arthur Spencer

MARY ANN GARNER . . . A life and death (2)

Mary Ann header

SO FAR: March 1891. Mary Ann Garner, a 32 year-old widow, is living with her three children and teenage step son in a tiny end-of-terrace cottage in Stanley Place, Lincoln. She has been in a relationship with Arthur Spencer, a 22 year-old pork butcher. He has asked her to marry him, but she has refused. Spencer has not taken kindly to the snub.

On the evening of Monday 30th March Arthur Spencer arrived at 19 Stanley Place. He knocked at the door, and Mary Ann’s step son, John Henry Garner answered the knock. The subsequent conversation was later reported in court:
Mary Ann said, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me,” answered Spencer. (Earlier, Spencer had threatened to shoot Mary Ann and then himself if she wouldn’t marry him. She had not taken him seriously.)
She called out, “Have you got that pop-gun?”
Spencer replied, “No.”
Mary Ann said, “Let him in, John.”

At a court hearing, it was revealed that Mary Ann, despite appearing not to take Spencer’s threat seriously had thought of contacting the police. Spencer had previously lodged at the house, and she assumed that the young man had come back to collect his clothes and belongings. The sequence of events that followed was reported in a newspaper.

The shooting

Mary Ann was, sadly, beyond medical help, and she died in the small hours of the Tuesday morning. Spencer had been true to his word, and turned the gun on himself. It is debatable whether he exhibited the same fatal intent, however, as although he was taken to hospital, he was well enough to appear in court within a few days, charged with the murder of Mary Ann Garner.

At the subsequent coroner’s inquest, the effect of Spencer’s bullets was revealed:

“There is not much to add to the details published yesterday of the dreadful tragedy at Lincoln, except perhaps that later information only tends to intensify the horror which was felt at the cold-blooded premeditation of the murderer, for it was found at the post-mortem examination held on the body of the unfortunate victim that her assailant had fired four shots at her from the revolver. Two of these did no injury beyond causing superficial wounds on the woman’s body, but one fired into her breast and another at her back were both serious wounds. Either of them would have proved fatal.”

The melancholy sequence of events that follows a murder took their course. Mary Ann Garner was buried in Canwick Road cemetery on 3rd April, 1891. Arthur Spencer was brought before a coroner’s inquest, then the magistrates’ court, and finally the Assizes Court at Lincoln in July, where he appeared before Mr Justice Roland Vaughan Williams (below left), an uncle of the celebrated composer. The conclusion was inevitable, and on Tuesday 28th July, Arthur Spencer paid the ultimate price for killing Mary Ann Garner. The hangman was James Berry (below right)

Execution

VW_Berry

The Gods of Misfortune had not finished their business with Mary Ann’s family, however. On Friday 28th June 1895, a newspaper ran this story:

Lightning

It is a sad reflection on life that most murderers are men, and their victims are frequently women. The women should not be forgotten in Lincolnshire or anywhere else. Click the names below to read the stories of Lincolnshire women who met their deaths at the hands of men. By doing so, you will not bring them back to life, but at least they will not be forgotten. They are in chronological order according to when they were killed.

Louisa Hodgson
Louisa Hay
Mary Ann Garner
Harriet Rushby
Mary Eliza Bell
Ellen Kirk
Lucy Lingard
Sarah Ann Smith
Catherine Gear
Ivy Dora Prentice
Minnie Eleanor Kirby
Janice Holmes

MARY ANN GARNER . . . A life and death (1)

Mary Ann header

Mary Ann Elizabeth Witrick (or Witterick) was born in Wereham, Norfolk in 1857. Her baptism (above) is recorded in the village church (below) as taking place in 1859. Her parents, John and Ann (née Rust) were poor, hard-working and, like so many other families across the land, produced children on a regular basis. There was no contraception other than abstinence, and child mortality tended to keep a lid on the birth-rate.

St Margarets Wereham

Her life was to end, violently, in a Lincoln terraced house on the evening of 31st March 1891. We know that the family were still in Wereham in 1861, but the remainder of her youth  – and where she spent it – remains something of a mystery. We do know that in 1880, she married a Lincoln widower, Henry Garner. Garner’s wife Charlotte (née Foster) had died in 1879. They had one son, John Henry, who had been born on 23rd April 1875. Mary Ann and Henry went on to have three children, Arthur Garner (b1882) Ernest Witterick Garner (b1883) and Ada Florence Garner (b1886).

Bracebridge

What was to be a run of misfortune for Mary Ann Garner began in 1889, with the death of her husband. He died on 19th August 1889, in Lincoln Lunatic Asylum, Bracebridge (above). ‘Bracebridge’ was a potent word in Lincolnshire, certainly when I was growing up. I spent many hours being looked after by my grandmother in Louth, and when I played her up (which was frequently) she didn’t mince her words. “You’ll have me in Bracebridge, you little bugger!”

Henry Garner had just turned 40.  I can only speculate on his cause of death. One possibility might be, given his age, was what was euphemised as GPI (General Paralysis of the Insane) or Paresis. When researching family history one has to be prepared for unpleasant surprises, as was the case with my great grandfather. He died in an asylum, of Paresis. It is actually the final and fatal stages of syphilis. The disease could be contracted when young, but then the visible symptoms would disappear, only for the disease to return later in life, manifesting itself as delusions of grandeur, erratic behaviour, brain inflammation and, finally, death.

It is unlikely that Henry Garner left his widow very much by way of an inheritance. The early spring of 1891 found her in a tiny end-of-terrace, 19 Stanley Place, pictured below as it is now. To make ends meet, she was taking in washing and, according to a newspaper report, was also taking in lodgers. This is scarcely credible from a modern viewpoint, looking at the size of the house, but that was a very different time in terms of privacy and living space.

Stanley Place

At some point after the death of her husband, Mary Ann met a young man called Arthur Spencer. He was ten years her junior and came originally from Blyth in Nottinghamshire. His trade was pork butcher. For a time, he lodged at 19 Stanley Place, and one must assume that he shared Mary Ann’s bed. He asked her to marry him, but she refused, saying they were better off apart. After this, he left the house, and went back to live over the shop where he worked. Spencer was clearly besotted with Mary Ann, and on the evening of Sunday 29th March, he returned to Stanley Place and told her that if she wouldn’t marry him, he would shoot her and then turn the gun on himself. Mary Ann did not take him seriously, and sent him packing. The following evening, 30th March, Spencer came again to see Mary Ann. A newspaper reported, rather cryptically:

“They appear to have gone upstairs together, leaving the eldest child, a boy of 14, in the kitchen, the other children being in bed.”

What happened next was to send a shudder or revulsion through both the citizens of Lincoln, and cities, towns and villages across the land.

IN PART TWO
Gunshots
Trial and retribution

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