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Bessie Lockyer

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (3)

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SO FAR – Bessie Lockyer has been sentenced for committing murder while insane. She virtually decapitated her baby son with her husband’s cut-throat razor, and has been sent to Broadmoor. Normally, with these true crime cases, that is the end of the matter, and the killers invariably die in captivity, either by their own hand or other illnesses. Here, though we have something of a turn up for the books. I found a record listing a number of prisoners detained in mental institutions. There are four columns at the right hand side of the page, and they are headed Recovd. (recovered) Reld. (released) Not impd (?) and Died. Against Bessie Lockyer’s name there is written 4th September ’04, and a tick in the Recovd. column.

Broadmoor

‘Recovered’, just three years after murdering her baby? I thought there must be an error, but looked for the Lockyers in the 1911 census. Astonishingly, Bessie and Thomas were reunited and living at 6,Park Drive, Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Not only that, they had two young children, Stanley Walter Lockyer, aged 5 and born in Fulham, and Edward Norman Lockyer, aged 1 and born there in Ilkeston.

Ilkeston 1911
Redemption is not something often found in these stories, but it seems to have happened here. What became of the family after that is not so clear. There is a Bessie Lockyer recorded as dying in Spen Valley, Yorkshire in 1949 at the age of 74, and also a Stanley W Lockyer dying in the same district in 1968, at the age of 62. Both of these records fit what we know of the family. As for Thomas, there is little certainty about what happened to him. Searching the 1939 register proved fruitless.

All we can be thankful for is that Thomas and Bessie Lockyer had the chance to rebuild their lives together – and took it –  after that terrible morning in Holly Street, back in September 1901.

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . A shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (2)

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Brighton CottageSO FAR – Thomas and Bessie Lockyer, a young couple originally from Bridport in Dorset, have settled in Leamington Spa, where Thomas is working as a reporter for The Leamington Chronicle. They live in a rented house in Holly Street, and have a six-months old son, Arnold Edward. It is Sunday morning, 1st September 1901. Thomas has gone to sing at the morning service at Spencer Street chapel. Bessie, in a state of extreme distress, has gone to her her next door neighbour, Mrs Wiggins, to tell her that she has harmed her baby. Mrs Wiggins can’t believe that Bessie has hurt Edward, but she goes with Bessie back to No. 17.

On the floor, in the back room of 17 Holly Street, was a large enamel basin. In the basin was the dead body of little Arnold Edward Lockyer. His head had been all but severed from his body. The horrified Mrs Wiggins immediately sent for the police, and found someone to go and summon Thomas Lockyer from his chapel service. Let The Leamington Spa Courier take up the story in its edition of Friday 6th September 1901, when it reported on the appearance of Bessie Lockyer at Leamington Magistrates’Court.

“About a quarter twelve he (Thomas Lockyer) was informed in chapel that was required at home. He went home fast as could. When got there he found his wife in the care of two ladies. They were Miss Wiggins and Mrs. Makins, as far as he could remember. His wife was in state of partial collapse, and having been informed of what had occurred did what he could to comfort his wife. She did not seem to realise what had happened. After some reflection, she seemed to have a dim recollection of what had taken plaoe. Dr. West arrived about the same time and jointly they put questions to the accused. She said she had injured the baby, and added she had cut it. She also drew attention to blood-stains on her right wrist.

Thomas Lockyer was so much upset that he hardly knew what he was asking her. The body of the child was afterwards removed by the police. Dr. West informed him that the baby’s head had been all but severed from the body, only a small quantity of flesh being untouched. P.C. Cope and P.C. Hobley were in the house when he came home. P.C. Hollands came up with him, having met him in Holly Walk. His wife was taken to the Police Station and charged.”

These two extracts, again from The Courier, make for painful reading, 120 years since they were first written. First, the evidence from the policeman who was called to the house.

PC Hobley

Then Dr. West addressed the court.

Dr West

When in police custody, Bessie Lockyer had made an extraordinary statement, which had been transcribed verbatim. It was read to the court.

Screen Shot 2021-09-22 at 18.59.38“Yes. I did it Why did I do it? I believe I was cutting the beans. I undressed him. I cut him there (pointing to her throat). I could not get on with my work. As regards my little baby, I cannot tell. I can look back; I cut him, Tom. What made do it Tom ? It was in a bowl. Yes, it was, Tom. It seemed as though I had pressure like a cap all round here (pointing to her head). Sometimes mother fidgetted me. Some times I cannot keep him clean, and you know we cannot pay. When the baby was born they wanted me to go to chapel. Now when I was going to Chapel at Bridport. I had such a pressure round my head. When I went to chapel father always took me. Why did he take me, Tom? Why didn’t he let me go alone?”

The magistrates had no other option but to indict Bessie Lockyer for murder, and sent her back to prison to await trial at the next Warwick Assizes. When that came round in December, the presiding judge was Mr Justice Bigham (right). Despite his forbidding appearance, he was not a monster and, recognising that at the time of the murder, Bessie Lockyer was insane, he judged that she was unfit to plead and ordered her to be confined “during His Majesty’s pleasure.” Bessie was sent to Broadmoor.

Court record

TO FOLLOW – the case takes a remarkable turn

HORROR IN HOLLY STREET . . . a shocking murder in 1901 Leamington (1)

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Bessie Farr was born at 92 West Street, Bridport, Dorset, in 1875. She was the seventh of the eight children of Edward and Jane Farr. The main industry in Bridport was making twine for fishing nets, and the 1881 census tells us that Edward Farr was the foreman at one of the mills. Not far away, in the village of Allington lived the Lockyer family, Thomas, Mary, and their three sons of which Thomas Alexander, the youngest, had been born in 1874. The 1891 census has Bessie, then 16 years-old, apprentice to a dressmaker while, Thomas, still with his family in Allington was training to be a journalist.

Bessie 1891

We know nothing of the courtship between Bessie and Thomas, but in April 1900 they were married in Bridport. By the following year they had moved far away from their Dorset home, and were living in the bustling Warwickshire town of Royal Leamington Spa, and they had a young son, Arnold Edward, born in February 1901. Thomas had served his apprenticeship and was now working as a full time journalist for The Leamington Chronicle. They rented a house, 17 Holly Street East, also known as Brighton Cottage. The 1901 census, taken on 1st April, also shows Bessie’s mother Mary as being in the house.

1901 census

Bessie, who had been a bright and lively young woman before the birth of their son, seems to be have suffering from some form of post-natal depression. She had tried to breastfeed the little boy, but had to resort to giving him artificial milk, which increased her anxiety thus, in turn, further diminishing the chances of her feeding him naturally. She had also become worried about keeping the house clean, and fretted constantly that there was insufficient money coming into the home to keep them all safe. She had taken the baby, with Thomas’s blessing for a holiday back in Dorset over the summer, and had returned, so it was thought, in brighter spirits.

MWA2401On the morning of 1st September, Thomas Lockyer left the house in Holly Street to walk the mile to the church where he sang in the choir – the Congregationalist Chapel in Spencer Street (left). At about 11.30, Mrs Alice Wiggins, the Lockyers’ next door neighbour at No. 16 was surprised to answer the door to a clearly upset Bessie Lockyer. The Leamington Spa Courier later reported:

“About half past eleven on Sunday morning Mrs. Lockyer came into her house. She knocked at the front door and then came through the house to. the back room, which was a kitchen, where Mrs Wiggins was was. She seemed excited and said,
Oh Wiggins I’ve hurt my baby.”
Mrs Wiggins replied “You could not have hurt him. In what way?
Mrs Lockyer said, ” I’ve cut him.
Mts Wiggins answered, “ I don’t think you would hurt him, but let’s go and and see.

Mrs Wiggins accompanied Bessie Lockyer to her house, and went into the back room. She could not see the child at first, and asked where it was. Bessie Lockyer pointed to the floor, and it was a sight that would haunt the neighbour for the rest of her life.

TO BE CONTINUED

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