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THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (2)

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SO FAR – On the evening of Saturday 16th December 1876, a young Wisbech man named Robert Roughton was involved in a drunken scuffle with two older men – George Oldham and Charles Wright – on the river bank near the timber yard on Nene Parade. Allegedly, Roughton was pushed into the river and has not been seen since. The police have arrested Oldham and Wright on a charge of murder, but have been forced to release them on bail, as Robert Roughton’s body has not been found.

Christmas came and went, and The Norfolk News had this brief update in its edition of 30th December.

Norfolk News

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The case dragged on and on, with Oldham and Wright going back and forth to the court and being released again but, eventually, the inevitable happened, and on Sunday 20th January a Wisbech sea captain called Edward Benton made a grim discovery. He later informed the court:

“I am the master of the steam tug Spurn., and live in Bannisters Row, in the parish of Leverington. Yesterday morning I was walking down the bank when a gentleman called across the river to me and said that there was something like a corpse floating. I then launched the boat end recovered the body and brought it to the “Old Bell.” I believe the body to be that of Robert Roughton from the description his father gave me about a  week ago.”

P.C. Burdett. added:
Yesterday morning I searched the body which was brought to the stables by Capt. Benton. and found in the pockets 6d. in silver and 4d in coppers, a pocket-knife, a clay pipe, and a scarf pin.”

At last the police had a body. What kind of state it was in can hardly be imagined. The Nene was certainly freezing cold at that time of year, which would have hindered putrefaction, but the mortal remains of Robert Roughton would have been swept back and forwards twice each day by the relentless scouting tides. The body was identified, with a savage touch of irony, by Robert Roughton’s older brother, who was now a Sergeant in the police force. The post mortem was conducted by Mr William Groom, surgeon. He told the court:

“On Sunday morning, 21st January, I made an examination of the body shown to me as Robert Roughton. The hands were clenched, the arms extended above the head. I had the clothing removed and the body washed except for the face. I saw no marks of injury on those parts which were washed. I washed the face myself and found a bruise upon the left cheek bone between that and the ear about two and a half inches in length. There was a lacerated wound a little above the left nostril and a bruise extending to the lip. There was a bruise upon the prominent part of the right side of the head. I examined the chest. The lungs were in a much congested state and the air tubes had a reddish mucus in them. I then turned the scalp down. The marks of injury on the outside corresponded with the marks of injury on the inside of the scalp. I then removed the cranium and upon examining the brain I found it highly congested. There were livid patches on the face and body, but they were the result of being in the water. I should say that death was caused by suffocation or asphyxia, and from the appearance of the body I should say from immersion in the water. I should say that the injuries on the face were given before death.”

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So, the police now had their body, and after further court hearings in Wisbech, where evidence eventually emerged that Robert Roughton was in dispute with Oldham and Wright over a relatively small sum of money. The disagreement spilled over from the confines of The Albion and onto the quayside of Nene Parade. The magistrates finally adjudged the two men to be guilty of manslaughter, and the case was sent to be tried at the next Cambridge Assizes in March. The hearing was brief, and the newspaper reported:

Brett“Charles Wright and George Oldham, two elderly men, were indicted for the manslaughter of Robert Roughton, at Wisbeach, on the 16th of December last. A bill for murder had been sent up to the Grand Jury, but was thrown out by them. Mr. Naylor appeared for the prosecution ; the prisoner Oldham was defended by Mr. Horace Browne. It appeared that a dispute had arisen between the prisoners and the deceased on the evening in question, and they were seen struggling together on the banks of the river, in which the body of the deceased was afterwards found on the 21st of January. The evidence showed that both the prisoners and the deceased were the worse for drink, and that the deceased, who was a much younger man than either of the prisoners, was the originator of the quarrel. The river bank at the place in question was sloping, and at the place where the cap of the deceased was found there was a gap in the rails by the river-side. Mr. Horace Browne, for the defence, urged that there was nothing in the evidence to show that it was any. thing but an accident. The Jury found the prisoners guilty, and his Lordship (Mr Justice Brett, left) passed a sentence of six months.”

What do we know of the subsequent lives of the participants in this sorry tale? Of Roughton himself, his burial place is not recorded, at least in cemeteries run by Fenland Council. Oldham and Wright appear briefly in the county record of criminal convictions for 1877 (below)

Register

Robert Roughton’s parents, William and Sarah had moved to King Street by 1881, and were in their late 60s, but of Oldham and Wright there is no conclusive trace.

FOR OTHER STORIES OF WISBECH’S CRIMINAL PAST,
CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

OLDMARKET

THE KILLING OF ROBERT ROUGHTON . . . A December Drowning (1)

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StaffordThe 1871 Wisbech census shows that the Roughton family lived at 178 Queen Street. It also puts Queen Street in Walsoken, technically therefore in Norfolk, and the census bundle for Queen Street follows that for Stafford Street (left) – which was certainly in what was then called New Walsoken. Nearby are King Street, Prince Street and Duke Street, so logic would suggest that Queen Street would be nearby, but apparently not. The map shows that Queen Street was a north western extension of Bedford Street and not in Walsoken.

The Roughtons were a typically large family, probably living on top of each other in a terraced cottage. The census lists:
William (aged 57) – agricultural labourer
Sarah (aged 57) – chairwoman (perhaps charwoman?)
Robert (aged 18) – agricultural labourer
Thomas (aged 15) – agricultural labourer
George (aged 12) – agricultural labourer
Jesse (aged 10)
Rebecca (aged 1) – described as granddaughter. In the previous (1861) census there was also John Roughton, then aged 12, and Alice Roughton, then aged 14, so Rebecca must have belonged to one of the older children.

Moving on to Saturday 16th December 1876. It is dank and wet. Exceptionally heavy rainfall had resulted in flooding across much of the region. Robert Roughton, then employed at Walsoken Steam, Brick and Tile Company (which was situated just south of modern day Broad End Road) had left home that day looking for a day’s work in the livestock market. His mother, Sarah, standing in the doorway of their house, handed him his cap and his stick. It was the last time she was to see him alive. Robert was no angel, and he had frequently been in trouble with the law. His offences were mainly trivial, often committed when he was ‘in drink’, but he had served spells in prison.

The events of the evening of 16th December only became clear much later, when witnesses were called to both the Wisbech magistrates’ court and the much more forbidding Cambridge Spring Assizes in March 1877. For William and Sarah Roughton, however, anxiety began to set in when the weekend passed, Monday dawned, and there was still no sign of Robert.

Things were moving on, however, and this was the report in The Cambridge Independent Press of 23rd December.


First report

The report continued:

It is stated that some the men who were with him advised him to go away and that he replied he could not while the man was in the river. The friends of Robert Roughton began to make inquiries about him, he not having gone home on Saturday and nothing having been seen or heard of him since the time he left the Albion. A cap was picked up in the river on Sunday, and upon it being shown to Roughton’s father, he at once identified it as the one his son was wearing on Saturday, and this circumstance, coupled with the fact of his being missing  and the statements made by Oldham led the police to investigate the matter.

The police then learnt that after leaving the “Albion” Saturday Roughton encountered the two men Wright and Oldham, with whom he had a scuffle, and Oldham’s statement is that Wright struck Roughton and knocked him into the river The three parties were evidently in drink, and it is perhaps owing to the state they were in that neither Oldham nor Wright gave any alarm.

The police arrested Charles Wright, and then George Oldham and remanded them in custody to await an appearance before the magistrate. The police had a problem, though – there was no body. It seemed to defy probability that Robert Roughton had scrambled out of the river and was safe and sound somewhere, recovering from his ordeal. The law, however, was the law, and solicitors representing Oldham and Wright were able to secure the release of their clients on bail.

IN PART TWO

Edward Benton, Captain of the steam tug ‘Spurn’
makes a grim discovery, and the court is reconvened

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MURDER IN THE PARK . . . The tragedy of Doris and Walter Reeve (2)

DORIS HEADER

SO FAR – The murder-suicide of Doris and Walter Reeve in August 1933 has shocked Fenland and made the national newspapers. The Illustrated Police News – which had been publishing lurid accounts of crime since 1864 –  had great delight in producing an imaginative illustration of the double tragedy.

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Back in Wisbech, the inquest continues to investigate the relationship between Doris Reeve and her husband.

On the Tuesday, Doris’s father went to Upwell to confront his son-in-law. Walter Reeve was aggressive when spoken to, and accused Mr Reeve senior of only coming round to provoke an argument. When Walter Reeve was accused of carrying on with another woman, he replied:

“I know I have, and I shall do again.”

Later, Doris revealed, that in addition to physically knocking her about, Walter had shown her a double barreled shotgun and threatened to first blow her head off, and then turn the gun on himself. Eventually, later in June, Doris left Walter for good. Walter paid several visits to the Clarence Road home and was in turn both threatening, and playing the part of the heart-broken husband. On one occasion, Doris’s father said to Walter:

“You have turned out a rotter.”
Walter replied:
“You will not let her come back, and you will regret this.”

The events of that Saturday evening, 26th August became clear as the case progressed. PC Howard, who had been called to the grim scene in the railway carriage told the inquest that he had been on duty in Wisbech early on the Saturday evening. He had seen Walter and Doris Reeve standing in the High Street. Walter Reeve had his hands in his pockets, and Doris did not seem to be upset or distressed in any way.

May Simpson, of Norwich Road Wisbech, had known Doris as a friend since January. The two were meant to meet in Wisbech at 7.00pm that Saturday evening, but Doris did not arrive on time. Miss Simpson began walking up Norfolk Street, and stopped outside a butchers’ shop to talk to another woman friend, when Doris Reeve came rushing up. This was about 7.10pm. Doris seemed to be in good spirits. The three women then went to the Empire Theatre, and came out at about 10.45pm. They stood outside talking for a while, and Doris still seemed cheerful, and said nothing about any matrimonial troubles. Doris and the third woman, Mrs Read, then walked towards the Lynn Road, going via the cannon on Nene Quay, rather than the dark and rather confined Scrimshaw’s Passage. They said goodnight by Ames Garage, and Doris the walked briskly off in the direction of her own home. That was the last time that anyone – with the exception of her husband – saw her alive.

What had Walter Reeve been up to on that fateful evening? The court was told that he had no history of mental health problems, and was a man of “considerable bodily vigour and health”. On the evening of the murder, he met with some friends in The Five Bells on Norfolk Street. They stayed there drinking until about 10.00pm, when they went to Wombwells, a fish and chip shop next to The Electric Theatre. After enjoying a fish supper, they left about 10.40pm in the direction of Blackfriars Bridge over the canal, where they parted company

One of the men with whom Walter Reeve had been drinking was asked by the court if Reeve had been the worse for wear. He replied that he had been rather quiet all evening, when he was normally quite jolly. The witness said that he knew divorce proceedings had been started between Doris and Walter, and that Reeve had been seeing another woman.

Ernest Martin Henson, a garage proprietor of Cannon Street, Wisbech, said that he had heard knocking on his door between 11.30pm and 11.45pm on the Saturday night. He answered the door, and the man, who gave his name as Reeve, said that he wanted to be taken to Upwell. Henson said:

“I suppose you know what the fare will be?”
Reeve answered:
“Four shillings.”
No, “ said Henson, “it will be twelve shillings and sixpence at this time of night.
In a very offhand manner, Reeve said, “Oh, alright then.

Henson took about five minutes to get dressed, and went and fetched the car. When he drove round to the front of the premises, there was no-one there. Henson waited for about forty five minutes, but when no-one came, he went back to bed.

Two men, itinerant fruit pickers who had been ‘dossing’ in the park on the Saturday night had an interesting tale to tell. One of the men, called Nesbitt, saw a figure standing by a gate, but the man was doing nothing to attract attention. Then Nesbitt heard groans, and said to his friend:

Come along – there is somebody there badly using a woman.
His friend replied that it might only be a couple in a domestic dispute, and so they decided to let discretion be the better part of valour. The next day, Nesbitt’s colleague said:
There’s been a woman murdered over there..” and Nesbitt replied that he must have been correct all along the previous night.

In the Coroner’s summing up, he said that it was clear that Walter Reeve had murdered his wife and then done away with himself. He raised the question of Reeve’ sanity, but said that there was no evidence of mental health issues with either Reeve himself or any members of his immediate family. He did refer, however, to the testimony of Reeve’s mother, who had said that even as a child, Walter had been possessed of a very violent temper. The Coroner reminded the jury that if they were prepared to say that Reeve was out of his mind when he killed himself, they could then hardly say that he was sane a little earlier when he had plunged the knife into his wife. He said that the reverse was also true.

The jury returned the obvious verdict of murder in the case of Doris Reeve, but asked that the archaic verdict of Felo de Se be placed on record. The Latin term literally translates as “felon of himself”, and in earlier times, English common law considered suicide a crime. A person found guilty of it, even though dead, was subject to punishment which might include forfeiture of property and being given a shameful burial.

If only in the personal column of the local newspaper, Doris and Walter Reeve were united in death.

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Regarding the burials of the two young people, shameful or otherwise, the Wisbech Advertiser had this to say in its edition of Friday 1st September:

FUNERAL 1

Just six miles away, however, a rather different interment was taking place.There will have been tears shed, but no-one sang hymns, and the police were not required to control the crowds.

Funeral 2

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MURDER IN THE PARK . . . The tragedy of Doris and Walter Reeve (1)

DORIS HEADER

On the weekend of 13th and 14th September, 2014, something unusual surfaced on social media. On Facebook, someone reported a mysterious homemade memorial which had been placed on the grass at the edge of Wisbech Park. I went to have a look. It was a simple wooden cross, with a laminated printed message pinned to it.

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Strangely, the sign was only there for a couple of days, but research in newspaper archives led me back over eighty years.

It is August, 1933. The hit song of the year was Stormy Weather, sung by Ethel Waters. In the cricket, England beat the West Indian touring side with ease. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, while Winston Churchill’s speeches warning of the dangers of Germany’s re-armament had been largely ignored. In Wisbech, meanwhile, the local papers were full of the latest speculation about the health of the forthcoming harvest, while the Advertiser and the Standard were running weekly updates on what looked like being a bumper year for Bramley apples. At The Electric Theatre in town, cinema audiences were preparing to be terrified by the forthcoming feature – The Mummy – starring Boris Karloff. But those Wisbech folk were to have a horror – of a genuine kind – delivered to their doorsteps very soon.

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Day broke, and as people gathered around the scene of the murder, none of them was to know that within a couple of hours, an equally macabre and disturbing discovery was to be made. Meanwhile, police had driven to the nearby village of Upwell, where Doris Reeve had been living with her husband Walter, aged 26. Getting no answer to their urgent knocking, the officers forced their way in, but found the house empty.

Another Wisbech Bobby, Police Constable Howard was called, at 10.30 am on that Sunday morning, and told that there was a man who appeared to have hanged himself in a railway carriage near Wisbech LNER station. When he went to investigate, he found that the carriage was the middle one of three, standing in a siding. and he was able to access the carriage without going through the station.he found a man hanging from a luggage rack, with a neck-tie and handkerchief used for the job. The man’s feet were dragging on the floor of the carriage, but his whole weight was on his neck. His right hand was resting on the seat, next to a knife, and his body was stiff and cold. He was wearing a pair of light grey flannel trousers, a vest and a shirt. Round his waist was a belt, with a sheath attached to it. His shirt was flecked with blood-stains and there was a knife wound on the left side of his chest. Cast to one side in the carriage compartment were a jacket, waistcoat and hat. In his possession were a wallet, ten shillings in small change, and a driver’s licence in the name of Walter Reeve, Low Side, Upwell.

The police now had two dead bodies on their hands, and people were able to reach their own conclusions about the circumstances of the deaths. It wasn’t until the inquest, however, that the full truth about the tragic events would be made public. The inquest was held at the North Cambridgeshire Hospital in Wisbech on Monday 28th August. By law, the deaths of Florence and Walter Reeve had to be considered separately. We can look at the evidence given in whichever order we choose. Firstly, the grim physical details of the deaths. Dr Butterworth, when he examined Doris Reeve, had found an incised wound, an inch long, over her third left rib, and another wound – of the same shape and size – more round to the side and between her eighth and ninth ribs. The wound over the third rib had been the fatal one, severing the pulmonary artery. The wounds had clearly been caused by a small – but very sharp – knife. Walter Reeve had died as a result of strangulation, but it also seemed that he had tried to inflict wounds on himself with the knife which was found on the seat beside his body. The doctor and the police were able to confirm that this knife was the one which had killed Doris Reeve.

In order to establish the state of the relationship between Doris and Walter Reeve, Doris’s father was called to the witness stand. He said that Doris had married Walter in January 1932, but the marriage was not one made in heaven. By June 1933 Doris had left their married home in Upwell, and moved back in with her parents at 21 Clarence Road, Wisbech. Doris’s father said that he had been largely unaware of events in his daughter’s life, because she was not n the habit of confiding in him. His first intimation that things were wrong was when he awoke from a nap one day to find Doris kneeling on the floor, with her head in her mother’s lap. Doris, however, would not tell him what had happened, but Mrs Reeve senior told him that Walter had knocked Doris down and taken money from her purse. He had only given her £1 for housekeeping that week rather than the usual thirty shillings. Doris returned briefly to Upwell, but she would come home each night to Wisbech, having been given the bus fare by her mother.

The double death in Wisbech made the national newspapers, and the Daily Mirror published this photograph of the murder site, but mistakenly sited Walter Reeve’s death to Upwell.

Murder site

IN PART TWO
Two funerals, and the inquest concludes

THE STRANGE AFFAIR AT NEEDHAM HALL (2)

Continue reading “THE STRANGE AFFAIR AT NEEDHAM HALL (2)”

THE STRANGE AFFAIR AT NEEDHAM HALL (1)

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Screen Shot 2021-04-21 at 18.20.35In Wisbech, we are not particularly well blessed with what could be called stately homes. Peckover House is very grand, but the next in line might be Needham Hall in Friday Bridge. The present building is on the site of a much older house which was pulled down in 1804. The last owner of the old house was Dr. John Fountayne, Dean of York, and his daughter Catherine lived in the new house until her death in 1824, at which point it passed to her nephew, Richard Fountayne Wilson, M.P. for Yorkshire 1826–30. The 1861 census records that the house was occupied by Frederick Easton Fryer, his large family and a house full of servants. By 1901 the house – and farm – had been bought by Walter Wooll West (left), and it is with the West family we shall stay.

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Walter Montagu West (above), elder son of Walter Wooll, was killed at Ypres in 1915, and eventually ownership of the farm passed to the younger son, Charles. Incidentally, Walter senior was knighted for public service, and seems to have retired to 75 Harecroft Road (just two doors on from my house) where he died in 1952. It is Charles West who is at the centre of a story which made headlines in many national papers in 1956.

The story, as you will soon see, is not one of the tragedies of which I have written before. Rather, it has elements of comedy about it, and it has at least two of the elements that would have instantly attracted newspaper editors – a blonde, and a gun.

Charles West (59) was divorced, and lived with a woman – Ella Grundman – who had been cited as “the other party” in the divorce case. His father, Walter Wooll West was a farmer, yes, but also someone of substance in the county, and kept a large household and employed dozens on the farm, as the photo below (copyright Wisbech & Fenland Museum)  reveals. It was taken on the occasion of Sir Walter and Lady Grace’s Golden Wedding anniversary in December 1940.

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It seems that by 1956 social niceties at the Hall were not so much Upstairs Downstairs as Kitchen Sink. One evening in late April, Charles West was having drinks in a downstairs room with his cowman and a gardener. They were apparently celebrating a very pleasing evaluation of the Hall, farm and estate. Things, however, went rather pear-shaped. The emerging story tickled the fancy of more than one newspaper editor, and The Birmingham Mail reported:

A wealthy Fenland farmer was threatened with a shotgun and a carving knife by his 38 year-old lover a court was told yesterday (Friday 27th April). It happened in a tiff over cigarettes at his family seat said the prosecution at Wisbech.

The farmer, 59 year-old Charles West, of Needham Hall, Wisbech, said that he had accused her of stealing cigarettes. Afterwards, they were found in his desk. I would like to apologise,” he said.

But Mrs Ella Grundman, smartly dressed in a pink grey-dotted suit, did not glance at him as he gave his evidence.

She is accused of shooting with intent to murder, and of causing Mr West grievous harm. Mr David Hopkin, prosecuting, said that the couple were celebrating with a gardener and a cowman at the Hall.

A quarrel began over the cigarettes.Mrs Grunman asked West to open a roll-top desk. He refused.

She fetched a carving knife, put it to his back and pushed him round the room until one of the men took the knife away. Ten minutes later, she was back with a shotgun. She pointed it at West and said:Now you’re going to give me the keys, or else.”

One of the men struggled with her, but the gun went off, peppering the wall and telephone with shot. Mr Alec Whitwell, the cowman, said that later he found her scratching his employer’s face, holding him by the hair, and banging his head on the sofa. Mr West, son of a former High Sheriff, said he could not remember much of what had happened –I wasn’t drunk, but I had a lot more to drink than was good for me.

Haltingly, he said,In the washroom I was being hit by Mrs Grundman with either the candlestick, or the ash tray stand, or both.”

Mr West told Kenneth Land, defending, that he had known Mrs Grundman for two years. She had lived at the Hall since last December and before that had lived in his houseboat at Hilgay, Norfolk.

Mr Land said,She is a hefty woman and strongly built. If she had really wanted to do him harm, she could easily have done so. Neither knew the police had been called, and as far as they were concerned, the quarrel was over, and they were all tucked up for the night.

As, inevitably, Wisbech magistrates decided that Ella Grundman must be tried at the next Cambridge Assizes, the Sunday Mirror couldn’t resist a bit of fun.

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THE MURDER OF MINNIE MORRIS . . . The Walsoken Outrage (Part three)

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THE MORTAL REMAINS OF MINNIE MORRIS were laid to rest in Walsoken Cemetery on the afternoon of Friday 19th July 1912. The newspapers reported:

The officiating clergyman was the Rev. G. A. A. Finch, of Loughborough, who is in charge of the parish whilst the Rector (the Rev. J. Young) is on his holidays. The first part of the service was conducted in the church. The funeral was largely attended, it being estimated that there were quite 300 fruit pickers -from all parts of the district present.

The scene was a very impressive one, for many of the pickers, who are generally so light-hearted, were greatly touched by the solemn ceremony, and numerous were those who were moved to tears as the coffin was lowered into the grave. The chief mourner was the mother of the girl and for her much sympathy had been shown in the parish, a collection on her behalf amounting to £1. The girl’s sweetheart, a London bricklayer, came down to see her body, but was unable to wait for the funeral. There were nearly a dozen floral tributes, one from the mother, and the others, from pickers. Most of the wreaths were made by a Mrs. Love, wife of the copperman at Mr. J. S. Batterham’s farm, where the girl had been working.

On the spot where the body of Morris was found, a cross has been cut in the turf and flowers have been laid on the cross. On Sunday hundred, of people visited Burrett Road to see the spot. The charge of murdering Morris which has been preferred against Robert Galloway. – of No. I Angola Mews, Babington-road, North Kensington, to be investigated at a special sitting of the Marshland Magistrates at Wisbech today (Friday).

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Headline2The inquest on the body of Morris was conducted at the Bell Inn, Old Walsoken, on Wednesday 24th July. Presiding was  the District Coroner (Mr. R. A. Wilkins). Supt. Powles represented the police. The morning was to be dramatic. The victim’s mother. Mrs. Springfield, was the first witness to be recalled, and when she entered the room she looked at Galloway, gasped for breath, and then crying said between her sobs:
“That is the villain.” Stating that her husband was outside ill. she signed the deposition. As she was rising from her seat she said:
“My sister said she would look after her; What this man wanted to kill my daughter for. I don’t know. She never did anyone any harm. He got into the company of the girl, and I quite understand he got jealous. Oh God love her.”
The Coroner: “Do not get excited.”
Mrs. Springfield: “It is cruel. Look at the man. (Then to Galloway): Look at me – look at her mother. (Lifting her hands as a warder stood in front of her, and between her and Galloway): I would if I dare. You scamp, you dirty dog, you villain.”

The witness, who was crying as she was speaking, then left the room. It transpired that the man who cut the cross on the spot where the body was found, and filled the cross with flowers, was James Long, an employee of Mr. Blunt. The Coroner said it was a very nice idea. and quite refreshing after the brutal things they had been listening to.

The grim wheels of the legal process ground ever onwards. The next stage in the process was the police court in Wisbech on 1st August. The findings were never in doubt, but Galloway’s behaviour remained bizarre. He had now decided to opt for an insanity plea.

Police Court
Mr Justice DarlingGalloway remained under lock and key for the next three months, but in October he had to face the finality of justice. At the Norwich Assizes in October his belated attempt to plead insanity cut no ice with either the jury or Mr Justice Darling (right). He was sentenced to death and on the morning of Tuesday 5th November he had no option but to keep his appointment with Thomas Pierrepoint and his assistant George Brown. Newspaper reports said:

“He walked firmly to the scaffold, and death was instantaneous.”

Prior to 1887, Norwich prison – and its gallows had been within the walls of the castle, but Galloway’s last days would have been spent in the institution on Knox Road, and his remains presumably lie therein.

Minnie Morris’s body lies in a quiet corner of Walsoken cemetery, forgotten, unmarked and unvisited. Her family were poor, and unable to afford a headstone. Thanks to the efficiency of the District Council we know her last resting place, and I was able to put some flowers on the spot. If you click on the media player at the bottom of this feature, you will hear a lovely old hymn, written by Ira D. Sankey, which reminds us of our mortality.

Grave

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THE MURDER OF MINNIE MORRIS . . . The Walsoken Outrage (Part two)

HeaderTHE STORY SO FAR . . .  July 1912. Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.Two Londoners in their 20s – Minnie Morris and Robert Galloway – have come to the Fenland town for the fruit-picking season, and are working for a local farmer. J.S. Batterham. They are in a relationship, of sorts, because Minnie is very attractive and enjoys male company. Sadly, Robert Galloway is prone to jealousy, and every word Minnie exchanges with other young men is a dagger in his heart.

On 16th July both had been drinking. Licensing restrictions were only to be introduced a few years later, as part of the effort to boost munitions production in WW1, and both The Black Bear and The Bell Inn in Walsoken were “open all hours”.

The pair went for a walk after a lengthy session in the pub. They followed Lynn Road. and then turned right into Burrett Road. At some point, Galloway’s jealousy and – perhaps – Minnie’s indifference triggered a violent response. Galloway throttled Minnie, using a handkerchief she had been given by another admirer to make a fatal tourniquet around Minnie’s neck. It seems that Galloway then headed back to seek solace in alcohol.

Witness reports in subsequent court hearings tell their own tale:

Bertie Ash, labourer, Walsoken, said that on Tuesday afternoon, 16th July, he was cycling along Burrett Road,. towards the Black Bear, and his attention was attracted by a woman lying flat on her back on the grass with a man kneeling over her. They were on the left-hand side of the road. He did not know what the man was doing. The man’s left hand appeared to be on the woman’s mouth or breast, and a cap was over the woman’s face. He did not stop, but proceeded to Mr. J. S. Batterham’s farm, where he stayed 10 minutes.

He returned the same way on his bicycle and that the woman was lying in the the same position, but the man had gone. She was not moving, and was alone. He did not stop. He thought they were a young couple courting, and that the woman was asleep. When he first passed the couple they did not appear to be struggling at all.

William Frusher, labourer, Old Walsoken, said that on Tuesday, 16th July, he was walking along Burrett Road in the direction of his home, which was away from the Black Bear. It was 5.10 p.m., and he saw woman lying on the left-hand side of the road. She was on her back, and was not moving. He stood for a moment and looked at the woman. He could not see her face as a man’s cap was over it. He felt her hands, and they were cold. He removed the cap and saw there was a lot of brown froth around her mouth. She was not breathing. He did not move the body, and left it just as it was.

He went away and returned with a sack to cover the woman. That was about ten minutes after he first saw her. He returned with a man named Lankfer and remained by the body until the police arrived. He did not notice a letter until P.C. Taylor came. It was in the waistband of her skirt. The woman’s head was bare and her hair was light coloured.

Galloway was either drunk or obsessed. Having walked into Wisbech he spoke to the first policeman he found:

PC. Jacobs, of Wisbech, said that at 6.45p.m. on Tuesday, 16th July, he was on duty on Wisbech Market Place, and the prisoner came up to him and said: “Have you heard of a murder on the Lynn road, Walsoken? I have strangled a woman. I thought you were looking for me. 1 am ready to suffer for what I have done.”

Galloway was arrested and secured in police cells, and at no time did he deny what he had done. In fact, Police Sergeant Arthur Webb, of Walsoken, stated that when he received the prisoner into custody, Galloway said: “Is she dead? I hope so. You can take that down.”

IN PART THREE

A Burial
A Trial
An execution

THE MURDER OF MINNIE MORRIS . . . The Walsoken Outrage (Part one)

HeaderThese days when Fenland fruit needs picking, the hands that do the work will belong to people who come from places like Vilnius. Klaipeda, Varna, Daugavpils, or Bucharest. Back in the day, however,the pickers came from less exotic places like Hackney, Hoxton or Haringey, and the temporary migration of Londoners to the Wisbech area was an established part of the early summer season. In the autumn, the same people – predominantly women and children, might head south to the hop fields of Kent, but in the July of 1912 the Londoners were here in Fenland.

One of the farms in the area which welcomed the London visitors was that of John Stanton Batterham, of Larkfield, Lynn Road, Walsoken. His house still stands:

Larkfield

He was to play no direct part in the tragedy that unfolded on the afternoon of 16th July, 1912, but some of the people who worked for him – and two in particular – were key players.

Minnie Morris has been hard to trace using public records. Her mother, Minnie Gertrude Morris had married (a re-marriage) John M Stringfield in the autumn of 1911, but the 1901 census has her living with a Henry Morris (who was almost twice her age) in Grays Inn Buildings, Roseberry Avenue, Holborn. Also listed is a daughter, also called Minnie, born in Hoxton in 1891.

Screen Shot 2021-01-25 at 21.38.11

Minnie junior is hard to locate in 1911, but on the other side of town, in North Kensington, a young man named Robert Galloway was living with his large family in Angola Mews:

Galloway census

To call Robert and Minnie “star-crossed lovers” is probably pushing the Shakespeare analogy a step too far, but their paths crossed in the summer of 1912. Both turned up, from different parts of the country, to pick fruit for Mr Batterham. It seems that the hours were flexible, and there was money to be handed over the bar in The Black Bear, and the Bell Inn. The Black Bear still thrives, despite the curse of lock-down, but the Bell Inn is long gone. (below)

Old Bell

William Tucker, labourer, Old Walsoken, said he came from London in May last for fruit-picking. He knew Minnie Morris for a few months, and he met her in London. He saw her in the Bell Inn Walsoken, in June. He used to meet her about four times a week and was fond of her. He used to give her grub and spend evenings with her.”

Galloway was described as a seaman in contemporary reports, but there is no evidence to support this. Perhaps the term suggested something exotic and dangerous, and journalists at the time would be as aware of ‘clickbait’ as we are today, even though they might have used a different term. He was clearly violently jealous, and anyone paying court to Minnie Morris was regarded as a mortal enemy.

On 11th July there was a clashing of heads in the Black Bear inn.

Galloway saw William Tucker and Minnie Morris drinking together in the Black Bear inn. Galloway said: “Minnie. I want to speak to you.
She replied: “I’m all right where I am.”
Tucker and Minnie Morris then went out of the inn and stood talking. Galloway said the girl:

“If I don’t find you I’ll find him”, meaning William Tucker.

Over a century later, it is hard to come to any other conclusion other than that Robert Galloway was obsessed with Minnie Morris, and his feelings were that if he couldn’t have her, then no-one could.

IN PART TWO

A fateful stroll
A case for the police












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