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THE WHITE HORSE MURDER . . . A brutal killing in a Lincolnshire market town (2)

WHITE HORSE HEADER

SO FAR – Market Deeping, Lincolnshire. September 1922. On Wednesday 20th, 18 year-old Ivy Dora D’Arcy had married her sweetheart, George Prentice. On the following Monday, her widowed mother Edith – landlady of The White Horse – was to remarry. At around 9.00pm on Saturday 23rd, Edith, Ivy, her sister Gertrude, and Edith’s soon-to-be daughter in law Eva are examining wedding presents in a back parlour, lit only by a candle. As ever, what happened next is vividly described by a local newspaper:

Blurb 1

At the coroner’s inquest on Monday 25th September, Edith D’Arcy explained that she was now Mrs Kitchener. Her new husband’s rather hard-hearted employers The Great Northern Railway Company, had refused to extend his leave of absence despite the tragedy, and so they had been married just an hour or so before arriving at the inquest. They are pictured below.

Mum arrives

Barely managing to keep her composure, she told the court that in the darkness, no-one realised what had actually happened. She said:

“Gertrude cried, “Bring a light, Ivy has been shot. I got some matches and lit the gas, and I saw them lifting Ivy onto a chair. She was smothered in blood, and a big clot of blood as big as my hand lay on her lap.”

What she saw was described in more chillingly anatomical terms by the doctor who was called to the scene:

“Dr. Benson stated that he was called to The White Horse Hotel soon after 9.20, on Saturday evening. Deceased was dead on his arrival. Her clothing was saturated with blood, and there was a 2½ inches by 3 inches wound on the left breast, whilst several ribs were smashed. A large cavity was formed In the thorax. The full charge from the gun had entered her chest at close range, from close range. Death was instantaneous, and due to haemorrage and shock. The wound was consistent with having been caused by the charge of a sporting gun such as that produced.”

It is almost impossible to imagine the devastating effect this murder would have had on George Prentice. For three days he had a lovely young wife with the promise of children and years of happiness. Because of an instant of jealous rage, those dreams lay in tatters. He is pictured below, the man on the right, supported by a friend, arriving at the inquest.

George arrives cropped

Worse was to come for George Prentice. He had to watch as his young wife was lowered into the ground on Wednesday 27th September while the solemn words of the burial sentences were intoned.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet Shall He live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

It is hardly surprising that the occasion was too much for George Prentice to bear.

Husbands Collapse

Ivy’s grave is very weathered, but can still be found in Market Deeping cemetery.

Ivy Dora Prentice smaller

FRANK FOWLERScreen Shot 2022-06-07 at 20.39.30

As for Fowler, (pictured left, leaving the inquest) he was clearly as guilty as sin. In his mind he had painted a picture in which he and Ivy D’Arcy were destined to be man and wife, despite the lack of any encouragement on her part. He was sent for trial at the autumn assizes in Lincoln, and it wasn’t until the jury found him guilty of murder, and the death sentence had been imposed by Mr Justice Lush  that his defence team  decided to ask for a  a repeal on the grounds of insanity. This was rejected, and Fowler was booked in for an appointment with the formidable Thomas Pierrepoint, (right). 13th December 1922 was a bad day for Lincolnshire, as the double execution despatched two men of the county, Fowler and a man called George Robinson who had murdered another 18 year-old girl in Dorrington.

Double Execution

As for Fowler’s motivation, one has to accept Edith Kitchener’s statement that there was never anything between Fowler and her late daughter. Whatever relationship there was must have existed purely in his own head. At the time of the shooting he was heard to say, “Now I’ve had my revenge.” He had determined that if he couldn’t have Ivy Dora D’Arcy, then no-one would.

These stories would wander interminably if we followed the future lives of the surviving participants, but thanks to Chris Berry, whose family tree Ivy D’Arcy is part of, I can add that George Prentice married again in 1927, to a woman called Florence Taylor. He died in October 1960, leaving the tidy sum of £20315 which is close on £330000 in today’s money. Edith and William Kitchener were recorded as living in Tallington in the 1939 register. She died in the spring of 1945, aged 75, while William died in the spring of 1951.

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Imp copy

THE WHITE HORSE MURDER . . . A brutal killing in a Lincolnshire Market town (1)

WHITE HORSE HEADER

The ancient Lincolnshire town of Market Deeping sits on the north bank of the River Welland, and its many 17th century buildings would have appeared, in 1922, pretty much as they do today. The census tells us that its population had steadily declined from a peak of nearly 1300 in 1871, to 888 in 1921. A small part of this decline was due to the sacrifice paid by the men of the town – in common with almost every other community across the land – during The Great War. 25 men of the town went to war and never returned, and a plaque in their honour was dedicated in St Guthlac’s church in December 1920.

One of the most elegant buildings in the town is The White Horse on Church Street. In 1922 the hotel was run by Edith Caroline D’Arcy, helped by her daughters. She was a widow, her husband William George having died in 1915 at the age of 53. There was great anticipation in the household that September, as there was to be a double wedding. Edith’s youngest daughter, Ivy Dora, was to marry local hairdresser George Prentice on Wednesday 20th, while Edith herself was to end her widowhood by marrying William Kitchener – a signalman from Tallington – on Monday 25th.

The Darcy family had moved around over the years. The 1891 census has George and Edith (and daughter Winifred) living in Penge, with George registered as a jobbing gardener. 1901 has them living in Halfleet, Market Deeping, and they are still there – but with Lucy, Gertrude and Ivy – in 1911. It appears they are living at The Oddfellows’ Arms, a Market Deeping pub long since gone.

1911 census

The D’Arcys seemed to be hardworking and a close family. Perhaps the same could not be said of Frank Fowler’s background. He was born in 1886, in  Langtoft, just a couple of miles north of Market Deeping. The 1891 census has him living with his parents Francis and Alice.

Fowler 1891

Frank FowlerBy 1901, however, he is still living in Langtoft, but with his grandparents Henry and Alice Rosling. His parents, along with daughter Henrietta and a younger son, Robert, had moved to Pickworth, 8 miles east of Grantham. One can only speculate why they left Frank – still only fourteen – behind. It is possible that there was no sinister reason behind this, as by then he may have been working, but it is not mentioned on the census return. In 1911 he is still living with his grandfather – now a widower – and certainly working on a farm. It seems he was either conscripted or joined up to fight in The Great War (pictured left), survived, and returned to Lincolnshire. In 1922 he was managing a farm owned by his aunt, a Mrs Ormer, and was a regular customer at The White Horse. It also seems he had developed an interest in the landlady’s daughter – Ivy Dora D’Arcy.

With all the characters in place, we must now move on to the events of the third week of September 1922. On the Wednesday, Ivy and George were married. They had not yet set up house together, but were staying in one of the guest rooms of The White Horse, helping prepare for Edith’s own wedding, scheduled for Monday 25th September. On the evening of Saturday 23rd, Edith and two of her daughters – Gertrude and Ivy (below) were in a candle-lit back parlour of the hotel, looking at some of Edith’s wedding presents. Suddenly, the door was violently kicked open, and a deafening blast of a shotgun doused the candle and plunged the room into darkness.

IVY DORA

IN PART TWO

A grisly discovery
A wedding and a funeral
Trial and retribution

THE FRITH BANK HORROR . . . A savage murder in 1901 (part two)

FBH header

SO FAR – March, 1901. William Kirk, by trade a plate-layer for The Great Northern Railway lives with his wife and younger children in a modest cottage beside Frith Bank Drain, just north of Boston, Lincolnshire. He has been unable to work for some time, and is convinced that his wife Ellen is having an affair with a younger man – farmer Henry Robinson. Ellen has temporarily gone to stay with the Robinsons – just the other side of the Frith Drain – as Mrs Eliza Robinson is due to give birth, and has asked for nursing.

A newspaper reported on the violent events of Friday 22nd March 1901.

The Murder

Kirk, having virtually decapitated his wife, and threatening to do likewise with Henry Robinson – the man he thought was cuckolding him – headed back to his own home, covered in Ellen’s blood, and with her desperate screams no doubt echoing in his head. Was he insane, as his legal defenders were to claim late, or was it that terrible male anger – repeated in murder after murder over the years – at his woman becoming more attracted to someone else?

Kirk made no attempt to escape the area, but put up a fierce struggle with the police and was soon in custody. The next step was the inquest into the death of Ellen Kirk, and it was held in a back room of The Malcolm Arms, a nearby pub (pictured below)

Malcolm Arms copy

The proceedings were grim for all those present, but the law had to take its course. Unlike today, where news is instant and digital, court reports sold newspapers.

THE INQUEST AT SIBSEY. VERDICT OF WILFUL MURDER AGAINST KIRK

The inquest was opened by the District Coroner (Dr. F. J. Walker, at the Malcolm Inn, Anton’s Gowt, Sibsey, at three o’clock this afternoon. The inn is a quaint brick building, with an old-fashioned swinging sign standing up from pillar on a stone base in front of the house, and is in a picturesque situation. The gowt’s bridge, from which the neighbour takes its name, is close to hand. The inquiry was held in the large parlour, and Mr. Charles Gilliatt was foreman of the jury. Supt. Wood, of the Spilsby police, Supt. Costar, the North Holland police, and Supt. Adcock, of the Boston Borough police, were present. The Coroner having formally opened the inquiry, the jury retired to view the body. On their return Fred Kirk, the accused’s son, was the first witness called. He identified the body as that of his mother, and said she was 46 years of age. He last saw her alive on Friday night. He did not see her again until that day.

In reply to Supt. Wood, witness said was in service at a farm close by, and went home on Thursdays and Sundays. On Thursday night, in answer to a note from his mother, he visited her at the house of Mr. Robinson, Frith Bank. In the kitchen he found his father and mother with Mr. Robinson and   the servant girl. Some unpleasantness had evidently occurred between his father and mother. His father said he should not. allow her to stay at Mr. Robinson’s until Tuesday. Witness tried to persuade his father to treat his mother more kindly.

After a time witness and his father left the house together, and went to his father’s house, where they slept, instead of witness returning to his situation. On the way his father promised to treat his mother more kindly, and said he would go and see after a job at Higdon’s. He would go there on Lady-day. On Thursday morning, at about 11.30, witness was passing Mr. Robinson’s house, and he saw his mother near the front gate. His father was standing also some distance off. His mother made complaint to witness of his conduct towards her. His father came up and said, “What is she she telling you now?” After further conversation, witness went along the road in the direction of his own home.

Henry Robinson, a pleasant-looking young farmer, was the next witness. He said he lived on Frith Bank. On Tuesday evening, Ellen came to nurse his wife. On Friday morning Kirk came into the house, and sat in the kitchen. Witness was in the room about a quarter of hour, and while he was there, there were some words between Kirk his wife. Witness afterwards went about the premises as usual about his work. At about 9.30 maid-servant, Amy Barber, called him into the house where he saw Ellen Kirk lying on the ground with her head on a block wood. Kirk was leaning over her with knife razor cutting the back of her neck, holding the head with his hand.

Witness at once shouted “What are you doing?” Kirk did not answer, but got up, and ran at witness with the weapon in his hand. Witness fetched a manure fork, and told Kirk leave his wife alone, he would knock him down. Kirk then went away. Witness fetched a man named William Bedford, who was at the brickyard close by. On looking at the body, witness found it was lifeless.

Dr. Reginald Tuxford was called. He said on Friday morning went see Mrs. Robinson and found he had already been sent for to see a woman who was lying in the back yard with her throat cut. She was quite dead, and death had taken place immediately. Witness had further examined the body that day and found a large gaping wound in the chin, running across the neck. The blood vessels on the left side were completely divided, and the wind pipe and gullet were separated. There were two or three gashes on the left of the face, near the jaw bone. In addition to these there was a wound at the back of the neck reaching nearly from ear to car, and also a wound down the vertebral column. Witness had also examined the internal organs of the deceased and found them healthy, with the exception of the kidney. The body was absolutely bloodless. He came to the conclusion that death was caused by shock following upon haemorrhage from the injuries caused to the threat.

Screen Shot 2022-05-28 at 15.20.16

Screen Shot 2022-05-29 at 20.07.34Inevitably, William Kirk was found guilty of murder, and his case was sent to the July Assizes in Lincoln. The trial, presided over by Mr Justice Wright (left) was a formality, and Kirk was sentenced to be hanged. Just days before he was due to meet James Billington for the first – and only time – the powers that be judged that he was insane at the time of the killed his wife, and he was reprieved, and sent to Broadmoor.

The future lives of the Kirk children are beyond the scope of this story, but one can only hope that they were not permanently traumatised by the killing of their mother. It is reported that Kirk wrote several letters to them while he was awaiting execution, but none of them ever came to visit him. Public records show that the death of a William E KIrk was registered at Easthampstead, Berkshire, in the summer of 1916. Easthampstead was almost certainly where deaths in Broadmoor were registered, so it seems Kirk reached his allotted three score years and ten without ever leaving the secure hospital. The one flicker of light in this sad tale is that the 1901 census records that the Robinson household now included Walter, aged just two weeks, so it is good to know that the murder of Ellen Kirk had no lasting effect on the woman she was nursing, or the baby she was hoping to help bring into the world.

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County Map

THE FRITH BANK HORROR . . . a savage murder in 1901 (part one)

FBH header

Frith Bank Drain is one of the innumerable channels which bisect the flat lands around Boston. Parts of the area are fens, meaning land reclaimed from fresh water inundation, while others are marshland, i.e. land recovered from salt water flats. Needless to say, the land rarely rises to much more than a couple of metres above sea level and, visually, it presents the visitor with huge skies and long horizons.

Our story centres on two people who lived beside the Frith Bank Drain. William Enoch Kirk was born in the village of Kirkstead in 1846. Kirkstead sits on the River Witham and at Anton’s Gowt, the Frith Bank Drain branches eastward. Gowt, by the way, is believed to be a corruption of ‘go-out’, meaning a sluice or outlet. Ellen Mountain was born in Boston in 1853. Her parents lived in Blue Street. A newspaper report contemporary to the tragic events about to unfold wrote:

Wedding copy

Will and Ellen lived at Kirton for a time, but eventually moved to Frith Bank. Will had a decent job as a plate-layer with the Great Northern Railway Company, and their modest cottage overlooking the Frith Bank Drain was described as “a pleasantly situated dwelling of the plain brick type, comfortable if not exactly roomy within. Attached is a piece of garden land, whereon much produce is cultivated, and the rent is only £5 year, and there were a couple of pigs in the sty, so the family lived “passing well.”

The 1891 census tells us that the Kirks had six children ranging in age from Herbert (14) to Arthur (1).

1891

The address is given as 1 Frith Bank Road which, if we follow modern numbering, puts in north of the drain, but a newspaper reported that the Kirk’s house was on the Boston side of the drain. The adjacent page of the census mentions Pepper Gowt Lot and part of Tattershall Road, which seems to confirm that.

It is rather ironic that when the 1901 census was taken, on the evening of Monday 1st April, the Kirk family were no loner a unit. Arthur, for example, now 11 years old, was described as a boarder in the house of George and Ellen Taylor, of Frithville, while Frank Kirk, again described as a boarder, was living with Henry and Caroline Nixon, Henry Nixon being a stockman on a nearby farm.

The circumstances that led to the terrible events of 22nd March, 1901 are, again, best described in the words of a contemporary newspaper report.

Illness

Money – or the lack of it – was clearly preying on Ellen Kirk’s mind, and she was glad to be offered paid employment as a nurse to supervise the impending birth of a child to Eliza Robinson, the wife of Henry Robinson, who ran a farm on the other side of the Frith Bank Drain. Although the two households were almost a stone’s throw from each other, Ellen Kirk had to cross a trestle footbridge (almost certainly the one pictured below) across the drain to be at the Robinson home. She told William that she would be staying there until the new baby was safely brought into the world.

Footbridge

For reasons best known to himself, William Kirk was convinced that the main reason for Ellen’s visits to the Robinson’s house was that she was having an affair with Henry. In the days leading up to 22nd March, he was haunting the house, turning up at all hours and demanding to speak to his wife.

IN PART TWO
The dreadful events of Friday 22nd March 1901
A family is destroyed
Another job for Mr James Billington

A SEA CAPTAIN SPURNED . . . A Grimsby murder, 1893 (part two)

Rumbold feature

SO FAR – It is November 1893. 39 year-old Grimsby fishing smack captain Henry Rumbell (widely called Rumbold in press reports) has been having an affair with a young Grimsby girl, Harriet Rushby. Rumbell, fearing that Rushby was ‘playing the field’ had arranged for her to stay under the watchful eye of one of her relatives while he and his ship set to sea for a long trip.

Rumbell’s fishing trips normally lasted eight weeks, but Harriet Rushby was clearly playing on his mind, and after just two weeks at sea, he turned Nightingale round and headed back to Grimsby. On reaching port on the afternoon of Tuesday 7th November, Rumbell made straight for the house in Ayscough Street where he had hoped that that Harriet had been staying under the watchful eye of her cousin Charles. The news that he had seen neither hide nor hair of the young woman sent Rumbell into a barely controlled rage. He set off for Victoria Street where he purchased a revolver and a box of cartridges from a gunsmith’s shop.

He visited a woman called Ann Widall in Emmerson’s Terrace, and she told him that Harriet had been seen heading for what the press called The Empire Music Hall. This is another of the mysteries in this story. Where it was, I don’t know, as what became known as the Empire Theatre in Cleethorpes wasn’t built until 1895. Eventually Rumbell caught up with Harriet on the Cleethorpes Road. She was in the company of a woman called Mrs Bowdidge and a man called William Burns, who lodged with her at 124 Tunnard Street. The four of them continued an evening’s drinking, ending up at a long-since-closed pub, The Barrel in Lock Hill. At about eleven o’clock, Rumbell and Rushby went to the house in Tunnard Street, where Rumbell demanded to know what the girl had been doing behind his back. When Bowdidge and Burns arrived at the house a short time after, what they heard was reported in a local newspaper:

The Killing

From here, the path from Grimsby police station to the gallows at Lincoln Gaol was straight and smooth. This, once again from a contemporary newspaper:

“Rumbold was tried at Lincoln Assizes on Wednesday, November 29th, before Mr. Justice Charles. There was practically no defence, the only efforts of counsel on behalf of the prisoner being directed to obtain a verdict on the less serious charge of manslaughter. The summing up of the judge was distinctly unfavourable to this view of the case. His Lordship said he did not suppose anyone could have any doubt of the sort of life led at the woman Bowdidge’s house, and there it was that the girl took up her abode whilst the prisoner was away at sea, but in point of law nothing took place that would justify them in reducing the criminality of the charge After nine or ten minutes consideration the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and then it was that the prisoner, who had presented a calm demeanour throughout the four hours’ trial, made most extraordinary statement. He expressed his satisfaction with the verdict, and asked his Lordship to grant him, as he was a great smoker, as many cigars and cigarettes as he wished for between then and the day of his death. ” I want to die an English hero,” said the wretched culprit, ” though,” he added, ” I know it is a disgrace to my country and my friends and comrades.”

Henry Rumbell’s demise on 19th December 1893 was described graphically in a Grimsby newspaper report:

Execution

Tragically, male on female violence, whether fueled by jealous rage or not, shows no sign of abating as we supposedly become more civilised. The list of men who have murdered women is a long one, and includes such infamous names as Dr Crippen, Reginald Christie, John Haigh, Fred West, Harold Shipman, Levi Bellfield and Wayne Couzens. It remains a matter of debate whether the death penalty would have acted as any deterrent in the more recent cases.

FOR OTHER LINCOLNSHIRE MURDERS, FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW

The Killing of Minnie Kirby

Death comes to Newmarket

The madness of a daughter

A chapter of horrors

The Spalding poisoner

The strange death of Catherine Gear

A SEA CAPTAIN SPURNED . . . A Grimsby murder, 1893 (part one)

Rumbold feature

Tunnard Street in Grimsby is in the East Marsh area of the town, cited recently as the most dangerous areas in Lincolnshire in terms of reported crime. Many of the houses just wouldn’t be built today. They are tiny two up-two down terraces, built by 19thC profiteering builders and financiers, eager to make a quick profit. Perhaps violence is embedded in the very ground beneath residents’ feet. But that violence isn’t a recent phenomenon. One of the town’s most infamous murders took place there. 

As far as I can judge, the house that was numbered 124 Tunnard Street no longer exists. Along with its neighbouring houses, it has been demolished and replaced by more modern – and spacious – dwellings. The old chapel on the corner still stands, but rather than being a place where Grimsby’s Pentecostal congregation worshiped, it is now a boxing club.

The old 124 Tunnard Street was, in November 1893, witness to a brutal murder that shocked townsfolk and  attracted attention across England.The two leading players in this fatal drama were Harriet Rushby and Henry Rumbold.

HarrietThe early life *(see footnote) of Harriet Rushby has been difficult to trace. One newspaper report says that she was 24 in 1893, while another says she was 20. There is a death record for December 1893, where a Harriet Rushby was buried in Caistor, aged 22, and a census record for 1881 which gives us a Harriet Rushby living in Lower Burgess Street with her grandparents, but she is listed as being born in 1874.

RumboldHenry Rumbold proved just as problematic, until I realised that his actual surname was Rumbell, and that his family were well known seafarers from Yarmouth. On the night of Sunday 3rd April 1881 he was listed in the census as being on board the ship Tempus Fugit, moored off the Suffolk Coast. It looks as though he was described as Master, while his younger brother Walter was Mate

Census

By 1893, Rumbell was master of Nightingale, a fishing smack operating out of Grimsby. Later reports stated that he had previously been married in Yarmouth, but that the union was  an unhappy one and had not lasted long. In Grimsby, Rumbell had become enchanted by Harriet Rushby, almost half his age, and described as being of ‘very pleasing appearance’. The problem for Rumbell was, however, that his trade meant lengthy absences from Grimsby, and it seems that Harriet Rushby was ready neither to settle down nor to remain faithful to her lover. A contemporary newspaper report primly stated:

“She came of an old Grimsby family, was very respectably connected, but she fell into evil ways, and was the habitual associate of bad men and women. At what time she made the acquaintance of Rumbold is not clear, but at all events an illicit intimacy had existed between them before his last fishing cruise, from which he returned unexpectedly on the fatal 7th of November. “

The pitiful scenario of an older man becoming entranced by a younger woman, and then possessiveness and jealousy leading to tragedy, is as old as humanity itself. It seems that Rumbell had become aware that he was not the only person in Harriet’s life, and in late October,  as he prepared to take Nightingale out into the wintry North Sea for another trip, he had made arrangements. This, from a contemporary newspaper report:

“He had expected being way at sea for eight weeks, and from motives probably of a personal kind had arranged that she should lodge in his absence at the house of her own cousin, Charles Rushby, in Ayscough Street. She did not, however, fall in with his plans. ”

 IN PART TWO

a surprise return
a revolver is purchased
a job for Mr Billington

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* Of the many such cases I have written about over the years, this has been the hardest to research in terms of the people involved. Normally it is possible to trace participants through census and birth/marriage/death records, after picking up the gist of the story from old newspaper reports. This time, however names either don’t exist at all, or don’t match addresses. I suspect, as with Henry Rumbell, names were either miss-spelled or misheard by court reporters and other journalists.

THE HANGMAN OF HORNCASTLE . . . part two

Marwood header

Inevitably, Marwood’s profession brought him face to face with some of the most notorious criminals of the second half of the 19th century. One of these was Charles Peace. Seldom can a man’s surname have been so inappropriate. Peace,after killing a policeman in Manchester, fled to his native Sheffield, where he became obsessed with his neighbour’s wife, eventually shooting her husband dead. Settling in London, he carried out multiple burglaries before being caught in the prosperous suburb of Blackheath, wounding the policeman who arrested him. He was linked to the Sheffield murder, and tried at Leeds Assizes. Found guilty, he was hanged by Marwood at Armley Prison on 25th February 1879.

Peace merged

One of Marwood’s jobs involved the despatch of someone who was, quite literally, ‘close to home’. In August 1875 he presided over the execution of a young man from Louth, Peter Blanchard, who had savagely murdered his girlfriend in a fit of jealous madness. I have written about the case elsewhere on this website, and if you click this link, it will take you to the feature. Blanchard’s death was described in the Lincolnshire Chronicle.

Blanchard

Perhaps the most controversial period of Marwood’s career as hangman was as a result of rising tensions in Ireland in the 1880s. The Irish nationalists, in particular the group known as The Irish National Invincibles, were determined to inflict damage on what they saw as British imperialism, and on 6th May 1882, two high profile British officials, Thomas H Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish were murdered while walking in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. In Kilmainham Jail, Dublin, on 14th May 1883, Marwood hanged the five men found guilty of the murder. In the previous year, 15th December, Marwood had hanged Maolra Seoighe for his part in the murder of a local family in Maamtrasna in County Mayo. The five ‘invincibles’ are pictured below:

The five copy

Such was the animosity between the Irish republicans and anyone thought to be an agent of the British state that when Marwood died – officially of pneumonia and jaundice – in September 1883, there was speculation that he had been assassinated by the Fenians. This was from the Leeds Times:

The Irish lnvincibles sent him a threatening missive, warning him that if he set foot upon Irish soil he would not depart alive. Marwood was carefully protected while in Ireland and the threats against his life prove to be inoperative. Rumours having gained currency that the Irish Invincibles were in someway responsible for the illness and death of .Marwood, it was deemed advisable to inform the coroner. Arrangements were-made for the interment of the body, but pending the coroner’s decision the funeral was delayed. The inquest was held on Thursday. The coroner remarked that deceased’s death was not unexpected. Two medical men attended him. Sarah Moody, who had nursed deceased, was not aware that anything of an unfair kind was administered to him. Mrs. Marwood, wife of deceased, said her husband went to Lincoln on Friday week. He had not been well since. She asked him on Sunday if anything of an injurious kind was given to him. He said “no” and made light of the matter. She did not believe he had received any threatening letters since one published a year ago. He had no fear or expectation of violence at the hands of the Irish. Dr. Hadden and Mr. Jelland, surgeon, who had attended deceased, said that their patient died from natural causes, and a verdict to that effect was returned. The remains of Marwood were afterwards interred in Trinity Churchyard.

A sad postscript to the life of William Marwood was that, despite his quite prodigious earnings from his job, he had mismanaged his affairs. Some years after his death, this was the report in The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser:

Bankrupt

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (2)

Duddles header

SO FAR: On the afternoon of October 8th 1907, a strange weekday drinks party had been held in a tied cottage belonging to Guy’s Head Farm near Sutton Bridge. Some of the drinkers went home for tea, the tenant of the cottage, William Gear, departed in fetch more beer, leaving his wife, Kate, alone in the house with their lodger, William Duddles. When her returned, he found that his neighbours had found Mrs Gear lying on the floor of the cottage, mortally wounded, a bloodstained hammer by her side. Of Duddles, there was no sign.

The police went in search of Duddles, and he was soon found. A newspaper reported:

“Sergeant Taylor, of Long Sutton, went in search of him. and he was discovered in the Marsh, near to the sea bank. He was then charged with attempted murder, the deceased at that time not being dead. His hands and clothing bore marks of blood, and in answer to the charge he said, “A still tongue makes a wise head,” and made no definite statement.”

The same newspaper went on to say:

“At Long Sutton, on Wednesday, William Duddles, aged forty-seven, was charged with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, aged thirty-six, at Lutton Marsh, on October 8th. Supt. Osborn, of Spalding, gave evidence similar what is stated above. Sergt. Taylor, stationed Long Sutton, said he charged the prisoner with the attempted murder of Mrs. Gear, in Lutton Marsh, that afternoon. Prisoner replied : ” I have never done anything wrong before ; I am a bad ‘un, I know. I have been put on.” A short time afterwards he said: “A still tongue makes a wise head ; I shan’t say nowt.”

“That morning, from further information, and after cautioning him again, witness charged him with the wilful murder of Catherine Gear, and he made no reply. The prisoner was remanded until Wednesday, the l6th. He appeared in court with a black eye and cuts on the left temple and over the left eye, which, it was suggested, indicated that the woman had tried to defend herself. The inquest was held on Wednesday evening, before Dr. Barritt the Spalding District Coroner, at Lutton Marsh. William Gear, the husband, said that he and his wife got on very well together. A lodger named Duddles had been with them about two years, he occasionally had some words with them when was in drink, and sometimes made imputations against deceased.”

“They had some words recently. Duddles called his wife some some abusive names, and witness, taking her part, struck him. On Tuesday, witness went out at four o’clock to fetch some beer, and upon returning found his wife lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood, a coal hammer lying few yards away. She was not dead, but was unconscious. Evidence was also given by Edwin Hocking, living next door, and a neighbour named Towson. The inquiry was adjourned until Monday next, and a post-mortem examination was ordered. The hammer, with which the tragedy alleged was alleged to have been enacted was produced in Court; it is an engineer’s hammer, fifteen inches long, with a heavy head of iron.”

Church

The funeral of Kate Gear was a lonely and bleak affair:

Funeral

Justice moved swiftly in the case of William Duddles. He was swiftly indicted for murder, and sent for trial at the November Assizes in Lincoln. This was not before the national press had a few things to say about him.

Demon

IPNThe “diminutive man of repulsive appearance” was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by the judge, despite the jury recommending mercy due to the prisoner’s mental state. One of the strange things about this case is that newspapers at the time normally reported verbatim anything said in court, either by the accused or his legal representatives. In this case, I have been able to find absolutely nothing. Defence barristers are known to this day for concocted elaborate excuses when pleading clemency for their clients, but here they either had nothing to say, or it was never reported. The obligatory plea for mercy was sent to the Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone (son of the great former Prime Minister) but it fell on deaf ears, and William Duddles was executed on 20th November in Lincoln Prison. In charge of proceedings were the Pierrepoint brothers, Henry and Tom – father and uncle to the more celebrated Albert.


The classic mantra of solving murders – both real and fictional –  is ‘Means, Motive and Opportunity’. In the case of William Duddles, the means and opportunity are obvious, but the big question remains “why”? From the limited evidence that remains available through old newspapers, it is hard not to conclude that there was a sexual element in this murder. Out of consideration for the dead woman and her family, the newspapers would have remained silent, but it seems to me that Kate Gear was, in some way, tormenting Duddles over a period of time, perhaps promising much but delivering little, and the teasing became too much for a man of limited intelligence made dangerous by drink.


Does this excuse what he did? Never in a million years. He battered a woman to death and, depending on your views on capital punishment, was punished accordingly. There is a strange undercurrent to this case – the mid-week drinking binge being the strangest – that will remain a mystery. Kate Gear lies in the peaceful churchyard of St Nicholas, Lutton, while her killer is buried in the poignant little plot reserved for hanged men within the grounds of Lincoln Castle.

THE STRANGE DEATH OF CATHERINE GEAR . . . A Lincolnshire murder (1)

Duddles header

On a bright summer day, the table-flat marshland between Long Sutton and The Wash is beautiful. Endless blue skies, waving fields of wheat and skylarks singing overhead. On a grey autumn afternoon, however, the countryside takes on a much more menacing aspect. It was on such an afternoon in October 1907 that a brutal murder took place near Guy’s Head Farm. Two people are central to the drama, a 36 year-old farm labourer’s wife named Catherine Gear, and a 47 year-old man called William Duddles.

William Duddles was born in 1860 in High Toynton, just on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. In the 1891 census he is living with his mother and sister in Boston. Somehow he doesn’t appear in the 1901 census, but we know that in 1907 he was working on Guys Head Farm, on the left bank of Tycho Wing’s Channel, the arrow straight cut that takes the River Nene into The Wash. He was lodging with another farm worker in their tied cottage. William Gear and his wife Catherine, always known as Kate. They had married in 1898, and she was from the Bontoft family, born in Wrangle, between Boston and Skegness.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 8th October 1907, some employees of Guy’s Head Farm were, for whatever reason, not engaged in honest toil. In the Gear’s cottage Kate, William, Duddles and two other workers, James Towson and Edwin Hocking, were having a party which certainly involved drinking beer, if nothing more sinister. At some point, the beer ran out, and William Gear volunteered to walk the mile or so to Gedney Drove End and fetch more beer from one of its three pubs. By the time he returned, Towson and Hocking had, as they used to say, ”made an excuse and left”, leaving Kate Gear and William Duddles in the cottage on their own.

What William Gear found in his cottage when he returned with fresh supplies was not a convivial booze-up, but a dying woman – his wife. She had been battered about the head with something heavy and deadly. She lay on the floor, her life oozing away inexorably from a terrible head wound. Gear’s return to the cottage had coincided with neighbours hearing some kind of disturbance and going to the cottage to investigate. Their evidence was later reported in the newspaper:

“Whilst witness (Mrs Jane Hocking) was getting her tea a friend who was with her remarked, ” I think I can hear a scream,” and upon going into Gear’s house they found the woman in a dying condition. Robert Stebbings, labourer, of Lutton Marsh, said about the time of the tragedy he noticed William Duddles coming from the direction of Gear’s cottage, and at the same time Mr Gear was going an opposite direction, Duddles turned off to avoid him. When Duddles passed witness he noticed that he was in excited and frightened state, and witnessed confessed to being alarmed at his appearance. He stated that a fortnight previously he had heard Duddles say, ” I will be the death of the **** if I swing for it.”

The sensationalist newspaper, The Ilustrated Police News, were quick to have one of their house artists draw a dramatic reconstruction of the discovery of Kate Gear’s body.

IPN2

The police and medical help were summoned, but Kate Gear was beyond help, and she died later that evening without ever recovering consciousness. A heavy coal hammer, its head bearing the marks of blood, bone, hair and skin tissue had been discarded next to the woman’s body, and was obviously te murder weapon, but where was William Duddles, the obvious culprit? The Boston Guardian reported on Duddle’s movements – and the amount he had drunk:

After the murder

IN PART TWO:

An arrest, a funeral, an execution – and a mystery

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