Search

fullybooked2017

Tag

Warwickshire

THE OUTRAGE AT OUTHILL . . . A brutal murder in rural Warwickshire (2)

Outhill header

SpudSO FAR: 23rd April, 1862, rural Warwickshire, and a 21 year old ploughman, George Gardner,  employed by farmer Davis Edge at Outhill Farm, near Studley, has shot 24 year-old Sarah Kirby, employed by Edge as a domestic servant. Gardner’s peculiar state of mind before killing Sarah Kirby could almost be described as existential, in that it seemed to recognise neither logic nor the law – just his own obsession. He did, however, seem to have acknowledged the presence of chance. He had been uncertain that morning about killing Sarah Kirby, so he adopted a rural version of tossing a coin. Ploughmen used a hand-tool known as a “spud”. It was basically a flat blade, usually mounted on a wooden handle, (left} and used for clearing earth from the blades of the plough. Gardner decided to toss the tool in the air, and if it landed blade first, then Sarah Kirby would die. It did, and so did the young woman.

Garner needed to escape, and for that he needed protection from his pursuers – and money. He smashed open Davis Edge’s bureau, but found only small change. He took this, as well as the gun, the powder and the *shot flask.

*This was in the days before shotgun cartridges. There were three elements to a shotgun load. (1) the gunpowder tamped down via the barrel (2) the lead shot, likewise loaded from the muzzle, and (3) a small primer, known as a primer cap. This, when ignited by the gun’s hammer, would set off the powder which would, in turn, expel the shot.

Leaving the scene of his crime, Gardner set off to put distance between himself and the police. He managed to get to Stratford, where he sold the gun, powder and shot. Meanwhile, he was a hunted man:

“The police joined the villagers and gamekeepers, scoured the woods and surrounding country, and got upon the track the fugitive, whom they traced to Wootton, and thence to the Stratford Railway station, and ultimately to the junction of the Stratford branch with the West Midland main line at Honeybourne, where the police captured him.”

Gardner’s brutal nature was only matched by his stupidity. Waiting in Honeybourne to catch the next train to Oxford, he decided he had time for a drink, and went into a nearby inn, where he was later found by the police, almost unable to walk due to the amount of cheap gin he had drunk.

Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 19.27.31

Gardner’s subsequent trial at Warwick Assizes was something of a formality. His defence barrister made a half hearted attempt to prove that the gun had gone off by accident, but the jury knew a killer when they saw one, and the judge – Baron Pollock – duly donned the Black Cap, and sent Gardner back to the condemned cell. His execution was set for Monday 25th August. A newspaper report described the days leading up to the Gardner’s appointment with the executioner:

“Exactly a fortnight has therefore elapsed before the sentence was enforced. During his incarceration in Warwick Gaol Gardner has learnt to write ; and since receiving sentence has spent good portion of his time in both reading and writing. There is really no condemned cell in the gaol, and the one occupied by Gardner after condemnation differed in no respect from the others except that it was larger, and situated in that portion of the building nearest to the sleeping-rooms of the turnkeys, two of whom attended him day and night.

Since condemnation, he has dined on the usual prison fare, which consists of ½lb. of mutton chop, 1lb. of potatoes, 11b. of bread, and a pint of ale. He has slept well every night, and conducted himself altogether as well as could be expected. Mr. Carles, the chaplain, has afforded him what consolation of spiritual nature his state required, and latterly he appeared to be very penitent, and made a confession to the following effect:”

Confession

Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 19.58.53Gardner had one further misfortune. His executioner was none other than George Smith (right), a former criminal and noted drunk, known – with rough humour – as The Dudley Throttler. This was to be a public execution, and a perfectly respectable form of cheap entertainment at the time. A reporter described the scene:

“At precisely eighteen minutes past ten the prisoner appeared upon the drop, attended by four warders, and Smith, the executioner. The clergyman did not, as is customary now, make his appearance upon the scaffold, and this, coupled with the absence of any tolling of the bell, robbed the ceremony of much of its impressiveness. The prisoner was dressed in the same clothes wore the trial—a short white smock and fustian trousers. The executioner also wore long white smock frock. After he had removed the prisoner’s neckerchief, and adjusted the rope upon his neck, Smith shook hands with the wretched man, and left the scaffold to draw the bolt.

A murmur of horror ran through the crowd, it being evident that the hangman had forgotten to place the cap over the culprit’s face in the usual manner. There the poor wretch stood, pinioned, the rope around his neck, facing the crowd. Everyone who saw him expected momentarily see him plunge downwards, and the horror of witnessing the wretched man’s death-agonies depicted in his face, unmasked, caused those who were even accustomed such scenes to turn away. The omission was noticed by one of the warders upon the scaffold, who called the executioner back, and he then produced the cap from his pocket. Altogether the wretched culprit must have stood face to face with the crowd for the space of ten minutes – to him it must have been a century of agony.

The bolt was drawn immediately afterwards, and the prisoner being a heavy man, the body fell with immense force, sufficient, we should imagine, if the rope had been properly adjusted, to have caused dislocation of the neck and a very speedy death. As it was. however, life was not pronounced extinct for at least twelve minutes. The body was afterwards buried within the precincts of the gaol. Owing to the position of the scaffold persons standing in the road can see very little of what takes place, and after the drop nothing but the cap of the culprit was visible. The number of spectators was between twelve and fourteen hundred, of whom least one third were women and children.”

FOR MORE WARWICKSHIRE MURDERS, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 20.02.33

 

THE OUTRAGE AT OUTHILL . . . A brutal murder in rural Warwickshire (1)

Outhill header

Outhill Farm is a lonely enough place even today, despite being beside the busy A1489 road from Henley-in-Arden to Redditch, but in the spring of 1862, it would have seemed even more remote. The tenant farmer was a Mr Davis Edge. Among his employees were two young people, both in their early 20s. Ploughman George Gardner – a native of Broadway in Worcestershire – was a burly and, apparently, a rather uncouth fellow, while Sarah Kirby, a domestic servant, was described as a very comely young woman, and much respected in the neighbourhood for her modesty and gracious manner. Across the Atlantic, our cousins were in the second year of a brutal and divisive civil war, but in England, at least in the face of it, all was peace and calm. It is 23rd April, a day doubly celebrated these days as being our national saint’s day and also the birthday of our greatest dramatist, born just a dozen or so miles from the scene of this tragedy.

It is clear that Gardner ‘had designs’ on Sarah Kirby, but the attraction was never mutual. A later newspaper report used the circumlocutory language of the day to describe something which we would be more frank about these days.

Brutal passion

The press saw George Gardner, rightly of wrongly, as the Beast to Sarah Kirby’s Beauty:

“Gardner was a remarkably stout-built, firmly knit man, about five feet four inches in height, with a heavy and unintellectual head, set upon a short, thick neck, which only rose a few inches above his muscular and expansive chest. He was of dark complexion, with dark hair and whiskers, and a countenance anything but prepossessing. In this case the man’s appearance was true index to his character. Devoid of education, he allowed his brutish passions to govern him instead of endeavouring to keep them in check.”


Gardner had, at least in his own mind, another grudge against Sarah Kirby. The farm men used to come back to the house at lunchtime, and be served a meal, accompanied by beer. Gardner was convinced that Sarah, who acted as waitress, ‘served him short’ and would not fill up his tankard when he asked. The question of sanity, in these old murder cases – as in those of more recent times – is always problematic. There is an argument that men like Gardner would have to be insane to think they could get away with the crimes they were about to commit. Insanity is not the same as stupidity, however, and perhaps Garner’s limited knowledge of the world was the cause of  his apparent optimism that he could commit murder and get away with it. What happened in that Outhill farmhouse on 23rd April 1862 was graphically described in a newspaper report:

The shooting

IN PART TWO

An escape
A manhunt
An arrest
A rendezvous with “The Dudley Throttler”

 

THE BUTCHER OF PRIORS HARDWICK . . . Murder at London End Cottage (2)

Screen Shot 2022-09-26 at 20.07.40

SO FAR: November 1872. Edward Handcock, 58,  a jobbing slaughterman and butcher, lives with his third wife, Betsy, and their children, in a tiny cottage on London End, Priors Hardwick. He is prone to bouts of drunkenness, and is a profoundly jealous man. He is convinced that Betsy, ten years his junior is, to use his own words, “whoring”. On the evening of 13th November, things come to a head. A subsequent newspaper report tells the grim tale.

Report

Edward Handcock was immediately arrested. Betsy Handcock was buried a few days later in the village churchyard.

Laid to rest

The procedure with suspected murder cases was relatively straightforward in concept, but could be lengthy. First came the coroner’s inquest, before a jury, to establish cause of death and a recommendation for the next stage which, if a suspect was believed guilty, was the local magistrate court. Finally, the suspect would be sent for trial at the county assize court, before a senior judge. The inquest on Betsy Handcock was held on 15th November at the village pub, The Butchers Arms – an appropriate venue in a macabre way. The medical evidence makes for grim reading:

Mr. Bragge, surgeon, of Priors Marston, said he saw the deceased woman just before eight o’clock, and found her in a comatose condition, but still partly sensible. He asked her what was the matter, and she pointed to her thigh. Examining the wound he found there was bleeding, and at once ordered her into a warm bed, and administered stimulants. She died in a few minutes after she was placed in the bed. He had made a post-mortem examination, and found the femoral artery in the left thigh bad been severed by a clean-cut wound. The wound was deep, and such as might have been caused by the knife produced. There was also a small punctured wound under the left armpit, and two small cuts on the left arm. The wounds could not have been inflicted by the deceased. Mr. Rice, surgeon, of Southam, gave corroborative evidence. He said the cut the in thigh severed the femoral artery and the vessels.

George Shuckburgh

The worst part of these various hearings was that the two principal witnesses to the murder were the children, Walter and Eliza.  It was necessary for them to relive the ordeal three times over; first at the inquest, then in front of the Southam magistrates on 18th November, and then a third and final time in the much more intimidating surroundings of Warwick Assizes. The magistrates court was presided over by Major George Shuckburgh (left). Walter testified:

“My father’s name is Edward Handcock. I returned home from my work at Mr. Mumford’s (Prior’s Marston) Wednesday last about half-past five in the evening. I had my tea by myself as soon I got home. Before I began my tea mother said she would go and fetch a policeman, and she left the house. I did not hear what passed between my father and mother  before she went out. My father remained in the house after mother went away, and was in an adjoining room from where I was. After my mother left the house I heard my father sharpen his knife. I did not see him. but l am quite sure did so. My mother was gone about five-and-twenty minutes. She did not bring a policeman with her. I had finished my tea when she came back. Before my mother came back, my father went upstairs. I did not observe him take anything with him. I remained downstairs. When my mother came back, my father threw the casement of the window down into the court. I did not see him do it, but I heard the wood fall. My mother undressed the children when she came home. The children’s names are Eliza, Peter, and Minnie. After they were undressed, she took them upstairs, and said she expected there would be a “pillilu” when she took them up. I heard my mother say “Walter, Walter, he’s cutting me.” and I ran out of the house to tell the next door neighbour, Edward Prestidge.”

Edward Handcock was duly sent for trial at the December Assizes, in front of Sir George Bramwell Knight, and he was found guilty and sentenced to death on 18th December. What kind of Christmas he had doesn’t bear thinking about, but on Tuesday 7th January 1873, he was led to the scaffold inside Warwick Gaol. The executioner was George Smith, known as “Throttler Smith”. What was known as ‘the long drop’, where the condemned person died almost instantaneously, was some way off, and Handcock’s death was certainly not swift.

Execution

Criminal record

FOR MORE HISTORIC WARWICKSHIRE CRIMES
CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Screen Shot 2022-09-28 at 17.06.30

THE BUTCHER OF PRIORS HARDWICK . . . Murder at London End Cottage (1)

Screen Shot 2022-09-26 at 20.07.40

The 1871 census tells us that Edward Handcock and his family lived in London End Cottage, Priors Hardwick and, judging by his neighbours the Sharps, whose cottage was described as ‘near the Vicarage’, London End Cottage was in the same area. Handcock was 48, and was his wife Betsy 38. The children in the house were Walter Edward (11), Harry Mold (6), Eliza (5), Charles (3) and Minnie (2). We know for certain that Walter was not Betsy’s son, as he was the product of one of Edward’s earlier marriages.

1871 census

Edward Handcock’s marriages were, to say the least, interesting. We know that he married Betsy Mold in September 1865, so it is safe to say that Harry and the younger children were blood siblings. An earlier marriage, in 1851, was to Ann Hodgekins or Hodgkins. She died in 1862, and a newspaper report subsequent to the events of this story suggested that Handcock’s first wife was Betsy’s sister Ann, but following that trail takes us away from the narrative to no good purpose.

Edward Handcock was a butcher, but he worked for himself, more than likely dealing with the pigs that were the staple of many cottagers at the time. There is no better description of the trade than in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure but, unfortunately, Challow the pig-man doesn’t turn up, so Jude and his wife Arabella have to do the job themselves.

“Upon my soul I would sooner have gone without the pig than have had this to do!” said Jude. “A creature I have fed with my own hands.”
“Don’t be such a tender-hearted fool! There’s the sticking-knife — the one with the point. Now whatever you do, don’t stick un too deep.”
“I’ll stick him effectually, so as to make short work of it. That’s the chief thing.”
“You must not!” she cried. “The meat must be well bled, and to do that he must die slow. We shall lose a shilling a score if the meat is red and bloody! Just touch the vein, that’s all. I was brought up to it, and I know. Every good butcher keeps un bleeding long. He ought to be eight or ten minutes dying, at least.”
“He shall not be half a minute if I can help it, however the meat may look,” said Jude determinedly. Scraping the bristles from the pig’s upturned throat, as he had seen the butchers do, he slit the fat; then plunged in the knife with all his might.
“‘Od damn it all!” she cried, “that ever I should say it! You’ve over-stuck un! And I telling you all the time”
“Do be quiet, Arabella, and have a little pity on the creature!”
“Hold up the pail to catch the blood, and don’t talk!”
However unworkmanlike the deed, it had been mercifully done. The blood flowed out in a torrent instead of in the trickling stream she had desired. The dying animal’s cry assumed its third and final tone, the shriek of agony; his glazing eyes riveting themselves on Arabella with the eloquently keen reproach of a creature recognizing at last the treachery of those who had seemed his only friends.
“Make un stop that!” said Arabella. “Such a noise will bring somebody or other up here, and I don’t want people to know we are doing it ourselves.” Picking up the knife from the ground whereon Jude had flung it, she slipped it into the gash, and slit the windpipe. The pig was instantly silent, his dying breath coming through the hole.

Arabella says, “There’s the sticking-knife — the one with the point”, and this phrase will have a chilling resonance as the story of Edward and Betsy Handcock unfolds. It seems that Edward Handcock was convinced that Betsy was being unfaithful to him, although no sound evidence ever emerged that this was true. When combined with his penchant for alcohol, this put him in dangerous and violent moods, as their next door neighbours, the households only separated by a thin wattle and daub wall, were later to testify.

IN PART TWO
The events of 13th November 1872
Two terrible deaths

THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (2)

Place header

SO FAR: It is Sunday 24th August 1902, and in the colliery village of Badley Ensor, the Chetwynd family live on Watling Street Road. The household consists of widow Eliza Chetwynd (62) her son Joseph (24) daughter Eliza (21) and Eliza’s eleven week old son, who had not yet been named. The baby’s father, George Place (29) also lives there, but there is a tense atmosphere, as Place had just been served with am Affiliation Summons, which made him legally responsible for the upkeep of the child.

The events of that fateful Sunday morning were reported thus in a local newspaper:

HeadlineLate on Saturday evening, after leaving a public-house in Wilnecote, Place told two men that he intended to do for the three of them (meaning the women and the child), and showed the men a six-chambered revolver and a packet of cartridges. He got to his lodgings shortly after midnight, and it was a curious circumstance that at ten minutes past one in the morning Mrs. Chetwynd saw a neighbour, Mrs. Shilton, and told her she was afraid Place was going to do something to them, for he had a revolver and had got a knife to open a packet of cartridges. 

The four rooms of the house were all occupied. The victims slept together in one bed in the room the right on the ground floor; the kitchen on the same floor was occupied by the son of Mrs. Chetwynd, who slept on a sofa ; Place slept in one room on the upper floor; and Jesse Chetwynd, another son of Mrs. Chetwynd, with his wife, who had come from Upper Baddesley for the night, used the other room.

At about a quarter to six in the morning Place came downstairs and entering the room where the women and child were asleep, deliberately shot each of them through the head, the bullets entering the right side of the head. The baby was in its mother’s arms at the time. The older woman must have had her hand up to her head, for two of her fingers had been wounded by the bullet. Jesse Chetwynd rushed downstairs on hearing the reports, and found Place sitting on the doorstep with the revolver in his hand. Place had neither hat nor jacket on. Jesse Chetwynd said to him ” Whatever have you been doing ” but Place made no reply.

The other son, Joseph, said Place had threatened him. and that Jesse’s coming down saved him from being shot. The poor old woman and the child died almost immediately, but the daughter lay unconscious for about four hours, when she succumbed. The old lady was heard to exclaim “Oh !” when Mrs. Jackson, a neighbour, went in. The murderer walked, away quietly from the scene of the tragedy. He took the the public road to Atherstone, and was followed by Samuel Shilton, whom gave up the revolver and 14 cartridges. On the way, Place said to Shilton, ” If you hadn’t come after me I would been comfortable at the bottom of the canal.”

executionThe rest of this grim tale almost tells itself. George Place, apparently unrepentant throughout, was taken through the usual procedure of Coroner’s inquest, Magistrates’ court, and then sent to the Autumn Assizes at Warwick in December. Presiding over the court was Richard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone, and the trial was brief. Despite the obligatory plea from Place’s defence team that he was insane when he pulled the trigger three times in that Baddesely Ensor cottage, the jury were having none of it, and the judge donned the black cap, sentencing George Place to death by hanging. The trial was at the beginning of December, the date fixed for the execution was fixed for 13th December, but George Place did not meet his maker until 30th December. It is idle to speculate about quite what kind of Christmas Place spent in his condemned cell, but for some reason, during his incarceration, he had converted to Roman Catholicism. It seems he left this world with more dignity than he had allowed his three victims. The executioner was Henry Pierrepoint.

FOR MORE TRUE CRIME STORIES FROM WARWICKSHIRE, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Bear and B

THE WARWICKSHIRE TRIPLE MURDER . . . Violent death visits Baddesley Ensor (1)

Place header

Asked to name  counties associated with England’s coal mining heritage, many people would say, “Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.” The more knowledgeable might add Lancashire and, perhaps, Kent, but few would be aware that until relatively recently there was an important mining industry in North Warwickshire. One of the most significant centres was the village of Baddesley Ensor (below), near Atherstone. Mentioned as ‘Bedeslei’ in the Domesday Book, the village has a long and fascinating history, but the events of a day in late August 1902 are the focus here.

BE copy

The 1901 census tells us that the Chetwynd family, comprising John (56), wife Eliza (60), Joseph (22) and Eliza (19) lived at 177 Watling Street Road, in what was known as Black Swan Yard. Not far away, on the same road, a young man called George Place, described as a coal hewer, lodged with William Aston and his wife Martha. At some point later that year George Place and the younger Eliza became, as they say, “an item” – to the extent that Eliza became pregnant. On 14th August 1902, Eliza gave birth to a baby boy. Much had happened prior to this. On 19th March John Chetwynd died leaving the two Elizas and the his as-yet-unborn grandson to manage on the income of young Eliza’s brother Joseph Chetwynd who, inevitably, was another coal miner. It seems that George Place had moved in with the family, and had become informally engaged to Eliza, but his contribution to the the family finances must have been minimal, as Eliza had served him with what was known as an Affiliation Summons – a kind of paternity order, what we know as a Child Support maintenance enforcement.

Screen Shot 2022-07-28 at 19.44.18

George Place was not a Warwickshire man. He was born in 1874 in Radford, an outer suburb of Nottingham. His was a large family, even by the standards of the day. He was the elder of nine children. In 1891, at the age of 17, he was listed as living at 72 Saville Street, Radford, working as a cotton spinner. Whether he became a miner by choice or through necessity, we will never know, but fate brought him further south into the Warwickshire coalfield.

Screen Shot 2022-07-28 at 19.44.18

Observer

Having researched and written about many of these historical murder cases, the question of evil versus insanity comes up every time. The central question is simple: Would someone committing a murder in plain sight have to be unhinged to think they could get away with it? Another question: Can insanity be temporary, so that when a murderer is apprehended, he/she may seem perfectly sane? These days, of course, the distinction is largely irrelevant, as no murderer will lose their life as a result of a guilty verdict; the only variable is the kind of institution in which they will serve their sentence. What follows in this story will explain why I have raised the philosophical question.

As is often the case, there is a back story here, and the Nuneaton Observer (left) made much of the troubled relationship between George Place and the Chetwynd family.

Quite why George Place felt so aggrieved at being asked to contribute to the upbringing of the little boy he had fathered we shall never know. When the summons making him responsible for his eleven day old son was served on Place, he threatened that all the Chetwynds would get out of him would be a bullet. This sounds like empty rhetoric, uttered for dramatic effect, but what followed was truly horrific

IN PART TWO

Three bullets. Three lives
A date with the hangman

DEATH COMES TO BINSWOOD END . . . a dark deed in 1920s Harbury (2)

Harbury header

SO FAR –  Harbury, 1922. Rugby ne’er-do-well William Rider bigamously married Rosilla Patience Borton in 1918. As well as mistreating her, he has become  involved with her (under-age) sister Harriet. Rosilla has left the house in Pennngton Street, Rugby, to seek protection with her mother in the house at Binswood End, Harbury.

Rachel Freeman, Rosilla’s mother, hearing rumours that William Rider has been the seen the previous evening in the area, on the morning of Thursday 7th September had tried to make the house secure fearing that he was a threat. At the coroner’s inquest into the death of Rosilla, Mrs Freeman was questioned about her fears:

Coroner

The next witness called was Harriet, who had been an apparently willing victim of Rider’s womanising. Despite the fact that she knew Rider had just murdered her sister in cold blood, she was what the papers called ‘a recalcitrant witness.’

Harriet

Rider claimed that he had taken the gun only to scare Rosilla into returning to him, and that it had gone off accidentally when she grabbed it in self defence. Rosella had been shot dead with a cartridge from a 16 bore gun. The medical examiner estimated that there were over one hundred pellets from the cartridge embedded in her skull. Neither the coroners inquest nor the magistrates’ court considered Rider’s version of events credible, and he was sent to face trial at Warwick Assizes in November. Meanwhile local papers covered the mournful event of Rosilla’s funeral.

Funeral

Screen Shot 2022-05-19 at 20.13.36

Rider’s trial began on Friday 17th November 1922. Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Bartholomew appeared for the prosecution, and Rider, who pleaded not guilty in a firm voice, was defended by Mr. Harold Eadon. In his opening address Mr. O’Sullivan, after outlining the facts of the case, submitted it was clear case of deliberate and premeditated murder. When Rider finally came to the witness box his story was that he had spent the night in the lavatory of the house, and had the gun so he could go out in the morning to shoot rabbits. He said that he went upstairs to see Rose, and she made a gesture from the bed which he interpreted as her wanting him to kiss her. As he stooped down to do so, Mrs Freeman ‘mistaking his kind gesture as a threat’ sprang from her bed and tried to grab the gun, at which point it went off, killing Rosilla instantly.

As preposterous stories go, Rider’s was up there with the best, and the jury took little time in pronouncing him guilty, at which point the judge donned the black cap.

Presiding over Warwick Assizes that November was Montague Lush ( above left) Wikipedia says of him:

“He retired from the bench in 1925 due to deafness, and was made a Privy Counsellor the same year, although he never sat on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Although highly regarded as a barrister, he was not a successful judge: he was said to be too diffident and sometimes let personal feelings influence his decisions.”

William Rider’s legal team may have sensed that Mr Justice Lush’s mediocre reputation  gave them a chance of overturning the death sentence. It was not to be. The appeal was made before The Lord Chief Justice, Gordon Hewart but, like the relatively lowly Southam coroner and magistrates before him, he believed that William Rider was, by the standards of the time, unfit to walk among his fellow men. Regional newspapers across Britain carried this simple story on Tuesday 19th December 1922:

Penalty

FOR MORE WARWICKSHIRE MURDERS, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Warwickshire

DEATH COMES TO BINSWOOD END . . . a dark deed in 1920s Harbury (1)

Harbury header

I’ll be quite upfront. I am in my seventies and most people consider me a reactionary. I rant on with the best (or worst) of them about the decline in modern morality and the collapse of traditional family values, but as I research these old murder cases, it becomes increasingly apparent that the ‘good old days’ of sound and stable families may be something of a false recollection. This case involves a terrible murder in the village of Harbury in September 1922. The victim was a 24 year-old woman called Rosilla Patience Borton.

Rosilla was born in 1898, and she first appears on public records in the census of 1901. She is living in Cross Green, Bishop’s Itchington  a member of a large household headed by William Freeman, and his wife Rachel. Seven of the ten children have the Freeman surname, while Alice Violet (9) Arthur Henry (7) and Rosilla share the surname Constable. Rosilla is described as ‘daughter of the wife’. William Freeman, like many other men in the village was a stone quarryman. So, already, there is something of a puzzle. It seems that Rachel Freeman had a dalliance with someone called Christopher Constable, long enough to produce three children. Constable, incidentally, died in 1898 at the age of 35. Whatever the truth, we mustn’t ponder too long, because there are more mysteries ahead.

Borton Census 1911

In the summer of 1915, Rosilla married Edward James Borton. He and his family are listed in the 1911 census as living in Binswood End, Harbury (above) He was 18 years senior to Rosilla, and died at the age of 36 in April 1917. Rosilla may have mourned his passing, but she was young, and had cause to hope that her best years were yet to come. In January 1918, Rosilla married William Rider, again a much older man. He was a chimney sweep and window cleaner who lived in Rugby. He was, to put it mildly, a ‘wrong ‘un’. It transpired that he had never divorced his first wife, who was still alive. The home, in Pennington Street, Rugby (below),  which Rosilla joined, already had two young women in residence. One was Rider’s daughter by his legal wife, and two were the fruits of Rider’s relationship with yet another woman.

Pennington Street

It was not a happy house, at least for Rosilla, as Rider had started knocking her about. To make matters even worse, Rider seems to have tired rather quickly of his new ‘wife’ and instead began making advances to Rosilla’s half-sister Harriet. Harriet was born in 1906, so she was only just ‘of age’ by the time Rosilla was killed, and it seems she had fallen under Rider’s spell some time before this.

Rosilla had, on several occasions fled the house in Rugby to seek refuge with her mother who, by this time was living in Binswood End, Harbury. Was this the same house previously occupied by the Borton family? I can’t answer that question, sadly.

The Gloucester Echo of 11th September 1922 carried this chilling story:

A Village Tragedy

FOLLOWING, IN PART TWO

A murder
Trial and conviction
A job for Mr John Ellis

ELLIS

THE KING STREET SHOOTING . . . A Leamington murder in 1921 (2)

KSS header

SO FAR: It is late afternoon on Thursday 19th March, 1921. Motor mechanic Frederick Pugh (47) has spent most of the day drinking in various Leamington pubs, and he has returned to the house he shares with his wife, Constance Ethel Pugh, at 50 King Street. Rows between the two are frequent and always noisy. The next door neighbour has come to remonstrate with Pugh, who is now outside the house. Pugh complains that his wife is always nagging him and goes back indoors.

The neighbour, Thomas Mills, returns to his own house, but then hears two loud bangs. He goes to look through the window of number 50, and seeing Mrs Pugh lying on the floor, runs into the town until he finds a policeman, Police Sergeant Pearson, who was on duty where Regent Street crosses The Parade.

Pearson was later to give this evidence:

“I was on duty on the Parade at the Regent Street crossing when Mills called me. Upon arriving at 50, King Street, I knocked at the back door, but received no reply. Looking through the kitchen window I saw a revolver lying in front the fire. I knocked again, but there was still response, so I decided to break in. Upon  opening the door, Pugh put his face round the door and looked at me. His face was badly injured and covered with blood, and he was staggering about. I took hold of him and said ” What’s the matter? “

I assisted the man to the kitchen and laid him on the floor, having first taken charge of the revolver. Two chambers had been fired, and one had missed fire. One of the spent cartridges had been struck twice. When I loosened Pugh’s collar, the man said ” Let me get up,’’

After calling a doctor, I examined the house. The woman was lying on her back with her head under the sink, and she was quite dead, with blood-marks on the right side of the face. The appearances were that the shots had been fired at close range. The condition of the room did not suggest a struggle. The woman had been washing, and the utensils were in their correct position. By this time Pugh had become unconscious and upon following up my examination I found bloodmarks on the stairs and on the pillow on the bed.”

Constance Pugh was beyond mortal help, and her body was removed to the mortuary, but Frederick Pugh was rushed to the Warneford Hospital.

On the following Tuesday the inquest into Constance Pugh’s death was opened, and the sad state of the Pughs’ marriage was laid bare. This report is from The Leamington Courier:

“The first witness called was Mrs. J. H. Cooke, sister of Mrs. Pugh, who said that deceased was Pugh’s second wife. Pugh served during the war.
The Coroner: ‘Did you know the conditions under which they lived?’
Witness: ‘They were’nt very happy’
‘Did your sister’s husband ill-treat her and keep the children short of food?’
‘Yes, he had an abnormal temper.’
Witness proceeded to say that one day last week she had a conversation with her sister relative to Pugh and deceased then said that her husband had threatened to “do her and the children in.”
He had said this many times that they did not take him seriously.
The Coroner: ‘On this particular occasion had he used the expression because she had asked for food for the house?
‘Yes.’
Mrs. Cooke said that one of the sons lived at Luton, Pugh’s native town, and a daughter was in a home in London.
Foreman (Mr. R. E. Moore); ‘Was Pugh usually sober when he made these threats?’
Witness: ‘I was not there whenhe  used them, but my sister said he had taken to drink again.’
‘You didn’t know much about the man himself?’ asked the Coroner.
“I simply hated him!” exclaimed the witness in reply.
The Foreman : Did you know that Pugh kept firearms in the house?
‘No, I shouldn’t have gone there had I known that he did.’
Mrs. Ada Key, another witness, living at 19 Plymouth Place, said the deceased had often complained of her husband’s treatment of her. and alleged that he kept the children short of food. He had a very bad temper. ‘My sister to come down to my house to get something to eat,’ continued the witness, ‘for she couldn’t get enough for the children at home.”
The Coroner: ‘You knew by her actions that she was not being supported properly at home?’
Witness: ‘Yes.’
‘Did she ever complain her husband drinking?’ asked the Coroner.
At this point the witness broke down, and the Coroner did not press his questions. “

Screen Shot 2022-02-27 at 18.31.05

Mr. E. F. Hadow (Coroner for Mid-Warwickshire) did eventually reconvene the inquest, but his optimism that Frederick Pugh would be able to attend to account for his crime was unfounded. Pugh eventually died, still in hospital, on Friday 2oth May. There only remained the technicality of deciding if Pugh was in his right mind when he shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself.

Last word

Warneford_Hospital,_Leamington_Spa

PughAs with many of these stories, there are always the children who become victims of adult misdeeds. The Pughs had two children. In the census which was held in the summer of 1921, an Arthur Frederick Pugh, born in 1920 and listed as grandson, was living in Leamington in a house, the head of which was Edith Jones, born in Bishops Itchington, and almost certainly Constance Pugh’s mother. Sadly, the next time we hear of Arthur Frederick Pugh it is as a casualty in WWII. His body lies in Madras War Cemetery. Arthur was a cook in the Army Catering Corps. He was working at a military hospital in Burma. While walking around the hospital grounds he was shot by a sniper in a tree and killed on 28th April 1945 just two weeks before the end of the war in Europe. Peter Colledge reminded me that the war in the Far East was to continue until August, days after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Thanks to Julie Pollard (a relative) for this information.

Screen Shot 2022-02-27 at 19.43.02

The older child, Tessa Vernie Yvonne Pugh (thanks again to Julie Pollard) was born in 1913. She was brought up by Constance’s brother Leonard. Records show that she married a man called Felix Jackson at Stratford in 1939. The 1939 register shows them living at 128 Tavern Lane Stratford.  She died in 1973, her husband having passed away two years earlier.

Was Frederick Pugh driven to commit murder by some awful residual damage he had incurred during the Great War? One newspaper report suggests that he had come home “with a piece of bullet lodged in his head.” He would not have been the only man damaged by the horrors of 1914 – 18, but we shall never know. The only certainty is that a fatal combination of anger and drink – and possibly war trauma – cost two people their lives on that March afternoon.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑