A short investigation into The Crime Museum Uncovered

The death mask of Daniel Good, executed in 1842 for the murder of his wife. Photo: Nell Darby

The death mask of Daniel Good, executed in 1842 for the murder of his wife. Photo: Nell Darby

The Museum of London‘s major autumn exhibition, The Crime Museum Uncovered, opens in October. The exhibition utilises over 600 artefacts from the Metropolitan Police‘s infamous Black Museum to investigate (pardon the pun) the history of detective work and the museum over the past two centuries.

The Black Museum opened in 1875, but the exhibition provides some context by looking at the longer history of policing in London, from the formation of the Met under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.

Although its coverage of pre-20th century offences and convictions is necessarily limited by the smaller amount of artefacts in the Black Museum relating to this period, it then covers events up to the 21st century, from the Krays’ exploits and espionage in the suburbs to terrorism, from the Fenians to the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack.

I am really looking forward to seeing the exhibition when it opens, but have a few reservations about how it presents the artefacts, which I have explored in a piece for History Today here.

I’m hoping those reservations are unfounded; but inevitably, any exhibition that looks at crimes from domestic murders to terrorism has to balance the desire to get good “footfall” with the need to be sensitive about the narrative it explores about crime, detection and punishment.

If you want to get an idea of some of the things that the museum will be showing, Buzzfeed has, perhaps inevitably, produced a good list of 21 Morbidly Fascinating Things From Scotland Yard’s Hidden Museum Of Crime.

The death mask of Daniel Good, pictured above, will be one of the items on show at the exhibition, which opens on 9 October. Tickets can be purchased here.

The death mask of Daniel Good is being exhibited courtesy of the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, New Scotland Yard, and was photographed during the Museum of London’s media briefing on The Crime Museum Uncovered.

 

Advertisements

Breach of promise: the case of Lily Briggs, the jilted shopgirl

Edvard_Munch_-_The_Kiss_-_Google_Art_ProjectIn 1900, Lily Weston Briggs, a Derby shop assistant, became known as the “jilted shopgirl” in the press, after she brought a case alleging breach of promise against a local coppersmith.

Lily and the coppersmith, one Philip James Maskery, who worked in business in Derby with his father, had been courting. He was 27 years old at the time; she was 25.

Philip had proposed to Lily, and she had accepted. However, there was difficulty in setting a date for the wedding, with Philip apparently postponing the event. Eventually, he admitted to Lily that he was “keeping company with another woman”.

Reluctant to give up his status as a bit of a lothario, Philip then insisted that he DID want to marry Lily. She forgave him, but then later “saw him in a theatre with yet another sweetheart.”

Somewhat lacking in chivalry, Philip then told Lily that he wanted to “shake his loose leg” and therefore wanted to have nothing further to do with her.

But Philip had proposed to Lily before, and she had accepted. His jilting of her amounted to breach of promise – their engagement had amounted to a legally binding contract that he would marry her. He had failed to keep that contract, and so Lily immediately went to the Derby sheriff’s court to complain about Maskery’s behaviour.

The jury awarded her £50 for the breach of promise – a considerable sum (equivalent to around £3,000 today) for a shopgirl who lived in the streets and courts around Derby’s main railway bridge.

Philip did not end up marrying any of the three women mentioned in the newspaper report of the court case; in 1901, he was still living at home in Agard Street, Derby, with his parents and sisters. But at the same time, Lily was also living at home, just a few doors away from her unreliable ex, and therefore the former couple probably had to continue seeing each other on a daily basis; he perhaps resentful that she had cost him money, and she resentful of his treatment of her.

You may think that this was a story that could only have happened to our ancestors, but you’d be wrong. Just two years ago, an American woman successfully sued her former partner for breach of promise after he failed to marry her, and was awarded $50,000…

Sources: Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 18 March 1900; 1901 census for 3 Agard Street, Derby and 7 Agard Street, Derby.

The man whose wife had sex with the lodgers

adulteryIn 1900, a Pimlico hairdresser and waiter sought a divorce from his wife, on the grounds of adultery.

His wife seems to have been a busy woman – she and her husband rented out their spare rooms to lodgers, and she was accused of sleeping not just with one but with all three of them.

The husband, Ephraim Riseley, had married Emily Elizabeth Murkett at St John’s in Fitzrovia on 9 May 1886. Ephraim, a coachman’s son, was 23; his bride, the daughter of a carpenter, was 24; both were originally from Huntingdonshire.

They moved into a house at 15 Glasgow Terrace in Pimlico, and had two children, Edwin Ephraim, born in February 1889, and May Emily, born in August 1891.

Ephraim had been working as a footman and butler since his marriage, but wanted to invest for his and his family’s future – so he took over a hairdressing business. They moved to 4 South Wharf Road in Paddington, where Ephraim installed Joel Edwards as manager of the hairdresser’s, renting out one of his rooms to him, with the business being run from there. The other rooms were taken by lodgers named Alfred Leaman and Mr Hammond.

While Edwards was running the hairdresser’s, Ephraim continued to work as a waiter or footman at private functions, which often required working through the night into the early hours of the morning.

On 3 July 1899, when he returned home at 3am after finishing work,

“he found his manager and wife occupying the same bedroom.”

Ephraim's divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

Ephraim’s divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

He unceremoniously turfed the couple out into the street, and when it had reached a more civilised hour, lodged a petition for divorce. Initially, he only named Joel Edwards, but then, later, he requested that he be allowed to amend the petition by adding charges of adultery with both Leaman and Hammond – making it clear that he had never found out, or been told, the latter’s first name. He also recorded that he had only been made aware of these ‘offences’ on 30 July, although he didn’t note how he had found out or who had told him.

He alleged that Emily had slept with Leaman at their house on 29 June 1899, and with Hammond on 30 June 1899 at the same address; in other words, that she had slept with different lodgers on consecutive days, both in the marital home. It was only Edwards, though, who Ephraim thought his wife had regularly slept with.

The divorce was granted, and Ephraim was awarded custody of the couple’s children. As soon as he divorced, he married again, and in 1911 was living in Fulham, where he was working as a gentleman’s servant. His children, Edwin and May, were still living with him, together with his daughter Mary Elizabeth, from his second marriage – born only a year after his divorce case.

Emily, meanwhile, so maligned in the divorce case, with her response to Ephraim’s charges unrecorded, was not so fortunate. For the next decade, she eked a living as a charwoman. The 1901 census recorded her as married still; by 1911, she chose to describe herself as a widow. There was no sign of Joel Edwards – or, indeed, any lodger living with Mrs Riseley. She obviously knew the dangers of having lodgers now.

Sources: The National Archives, divorce case J77/673/454 (also on Ancestry); Reynolds’s Newspaper, 18 March 1900; 1911 census for 20 Burnfoot Avenue, Fulham; 1911 census for 42 Theobalds Road, Holborn; 1901 census for Paddington (address not visible on census return).

The horrors of Kilmainham Gaol

image1 4Last month, I visited Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, and it had quite an effect on me.

Unlike many sanitised dark tourism sites, Kilmainham remains a forbidding site.

The first thing to mention about it is the cold. Little effort has been made to bring it into the 21st century with heating, or decent lighting, or any mod cons.

Apart from the museum – which is a fascinating place, well designed and with so much information that you can spend hours there – the place is firmly set in the past.

You can imagine the lives of the prisoners who once spent their days and nights there; the men crammed in their small cells, the women and children bedding down on straw in the corridors, under open, unglazed windows – at the mercy of the Irish weather.

image2 3This was once, in the late eighteenth century, home primarily to debtors, who made up over 50 per cent of prisoners. But it was also home to petty thieves, drunks, and prostitutes. Men and women were held together, in spaces designed for far fewer.

Window glass was not brought to the site until the late 1840s – until then, how many people must have died after failing to get adequate warmth within the confines of the gaol?

The Vagrancy (Ireland) Act, passed in 1847, served to punish those who, made destitute by the Famine, tried to beg in the streets, or steal food.

The prison became home to these poor people, with up to five sharing a cell designed for one. At least, now, they had a roof over their heads and regular food and drink.

Kilmainham is, of course, mainly associated with political prisoners. The instigators of the Easter Rising of 1916 were brought here, and executed in the yard.

image3 3Today, a cross marks the spot where all but one of these men faced the firing squad (the other, James Connolly, was so ill, he had to be constrained in a chair and killed near the gate where he had been brought in, unable to walk to the traditional execution spot).

You can only visit Kilmainham as part of a guided tour, and even as part of a group, it feels dark, claustrophobic and intimidating walking its corridors and looking at the cell doors behind which so many prisoners languished.

But for that reason, it is well worth a visit. It brings to life how awful prison life was, up there on Gallows Hill, rather than attempting to be a tourism “experience” with costumed guides and garish souvenirs.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Me cut baby’s head off”: murder most horrid in Edwardian Cornwall

William_Hogarth_-_A_Rake's_Progress,_Plate_8_(Orig,_unfinished)The second of my posts from Cornwall.

Sometimes it is clear that an individual cannot be held responsible for their actions, however, inexplicable that action is. This might even be the case with murder.

A horrific murder took place in St Ives in 1907. A baby was found decapitated in a tray of water in the town, and suspicion fell on a local ‘idiot’ boy, Thomas Polmear.

Polmeor, described by The Times as a ‘demented lad’, was taken to the police station, where he confessed to the crime. His confession made explicit his learning difficulties:

“Me put baby in tray of water. Me washed baby’s legs. Me cut baby’s head off. Baby kicked cradle and cried. Baby teasy old thing. Won’t do it anymore, policeman.” [1]

Polmear clearly failed to realise how decapitating the child would be seen by others. In his mind, he was simply playing with it, and responding to the baby’s ‘teasing’. He thought that simply promising not to ‘do it anymore’ would be enough to enable him to leave the police station.

The defendant appears to have been Thomas Paynter Polmear, who would have been 13 at the time of the crime, which fits with the description of him as a ‘lad’.

He was born in the first quarter of 1894, baptised at St Ives on 19 May 1894 and in the 1901 census he is listed as living in Back Road, St Ives, the son of Peter, a mariner. Although the 1901 census makes no reference to him being ‘demented’, the 1911 census is more explicit.

Thomas Polmear's entry in the 1911 census, from Ancestry

Thomas Polmear’s entry in the 1911 census, from Ancestry

This shows that Thomas was sent to an asylum after admitting killing the unnamed baby. The newspapers do not appear to have covered the case apart from the one reference above; if the offence had reached the Cornwall Assizes, he would have been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, under the terms of the 1883 Trial of Lunatics Act.

If he HAD been found guilty, he could have been given the death sentence despite his age –  it was not until the following year, 1908, that the Children’s Act was passed, setting out that only those over the age of 16 could be executed.

In 1911, he is listed as a patient of the Cornwall County Lunatic Asylum on Whiteheath Road in Bodmin, and in the infirmity field of the census it is recorded that he was ‘imbecile from birth’.

Thomas died in 1938, aged 41. His death was registered in Bodmin, so it is likely that he spent the rest of his life in the lunatic asylum.

1: The Times, 6 April 1907

A Bloody Anniversary: 50 years since the last UK execution

On this day fifty years ago, the last hangings in the UK took place. To mark this anniversary, here’s Criminal Historian’s list of key dates in the history of execution in Britain.

William Calcraft, from Irregular Shed's Flickr page

William Calcraft, from Irregular Shed’s Flickr page

4 April 1829: Shoemaker William Calcraft, aged 29, was sworn in as Executioner for the City of London and Middlesex following the death of John Foxton.

He had previously been employed by Foxton to whip young offenders.

He was paid a guinea a week, plus an extra guinea for each execution he carried out.

His first execution was prior to his swearing in – he hanged Thomas Lister and George Wingfield on 27 March 1829.

He retired in 1874, and died five years later.

Marie Manning

Marie Manning

13 November 1849: Frederick and Marie Manning became the first married couple since 1700 to be hanged together. Convicted of killing Marie’s lover, Patrick O’Connor, in Bermondsey, south London, they were hanged at Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

2 April 1868: Frances Kidder, aged 25, was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Britain. She was executed at Maidstone Prison, and a crowd of 2,000, including her husband, watched her die.

Frances was convicted of drowning 11-year-old Louisa Kidder Staples – her husband’s illegitimate daughter – in a dyke near New Romney. There was some sympathy, though, towards her – her husband was said to be a cruel man who, while Frances was in custody, started a relationship with her 17-year-old sister.

Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison

26 May 1868: Fenian Michael Barrett became the last man to be executed in a public hanging.

He caused an “atrocious” explosion in Clerkenwell that killed seven people, and was hanged outside Newgate Prison.

The Daily News reported that he was hanged,

“in the presence of one of the smallest crowds that has for a long time assembled in front of the Old Bailey to witness a public execution”.

29 May 1868: The Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act scrapped public executions.

The entrance to Maidstone Prison. © Oast House Archive

The entrance to Maidstone Prison. © Oast House Archive

13 August 1868: The first private hanging in the UK took place.

18-year-old Thomas Wells was hanged at Maidstone Prison for the murder by shooting of Mr Walsh, the master of Dover’s Priory Station, where Wells had been porter.

Wells had shot Walsh after the latter warned him about the danger of practicing with firearms – Wells’ practice being, according to the press, a “silly and mischievous habit”.

It was the first private hanging within prison walls, with a black flag raised outside the wall to signify that the hanging had been carried out.

25 May 1874: William Calcraft carried out his last hanging – of James Godwin (27), who had been convicted of killing his wife Louisa after an argument.

11 August 1875: The Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act didn’t apply on Jersey – the last public hanging there took place seven years after the act was passed, and saw Joseph Le Brun executed.

Pierrepoint - not a fictional character...

Pierrepoint – not fictional…

26 September 1932: Yorkshire-born Albert Pierrepoint (27) was appointed as Assistant Executioner at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, although due to the relatively low number of hangings in Britain, the first execution he attended was in Dublin.

Within ten years, he was styling himself the Official Executioner of Britain – a job he had wanted since he was 11 years old. Both his father and uncle had worked as executioners.

Pierrepoint combined his executioner role with being a grocer and then pub landlord. He also became a macabre celebrity, telling his story to the press, despite the Home Office’s disapproval.

He retired in 1956 to Southport, where he died in 1992.

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis

13 July 1955: Ruth Ellis (29) became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, after her conviction for the murder of her lover, David Blakely. She was arrested at the scene of the crime, after shooting him dead.

Ruth was hanged at Holloway Prison in north London.

6 May 1958: The last hanging in Wales was carried out, when Vivian Teed (24) was executed at Swansea after murdering 73-year-old postmaster William Williams with a hammer.

20 December 1961: Robert McGladdery (26) is hanged at Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, following his murder of teenager Pearl Gamble after a dance. He becomes the last person to be hanged in Northern Ireland.

15 August 1963: The last hanging in Scotland took place, when Henry Burnett (21) was hanged at Aberdeen. He had been convicted of killing merchant seaman Thomas Guyan, his lover’s husband.

Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Allen

Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Allen

13 August 1964: It was on this date that two men, Gwynne Owen Evans (24) and Peter Allen (21), were executed – at the same time, but in different prisons – making them the last people to be executed in the UK.

They had been convicted of the murder of van driver John Alan West, known as Jack, who had been killed in Cumbria on 7 April. Evans and Allen, both of whom had previous criminal records, had intended to rob him. Although they blamed each other for West’s death, they were both found guilty of murder.

Evans was hanged at 8am at Strangeways Prison in Manchester. At the same time, Allen was executed at Liverpool.

9 November 1965: The death penalty for murder was suspended for five years, as a result of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act.

16 December 1969: The death penalty for murder was formally abolished, following a House of Commons vote.

The Crime of Suicide

A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide (Wellcome Library, London)

A woman diagnosed as suffering from melancholia with fear, or fear of everything, and with a propensity to attempt suicide (Wellcome Library, London)

Suicide was a crime in England and Wales until 1961 (when the Suicide Act was passed). Originally, it was a sin in religious terms, but from the 13th century, it became a common law offence – one of ‘self-murder’ or felo de se.

A person could only be deemed to have committed this offence if they were sane; as time went on, inquests frequently determined that someone who had killed him or herself had done so while the balance of their mind was disturbed – thus suggesting that they were not to blame for their act.

Prior to 1822, a suicide victim’s possessions could be confiscated, a forfeit to the Crown, and thus his family could suffer financially as well as socially for an act not committed by themselves. Someone who killed themselves might also be denied a decent burial, being traditionally buried at a crossroads with a stake through their body.

In 1800, for example, Thomas Flynn, from Hammersmith, was found to have cut his throat, dividing his oesophagus and making it impossible for him to eat or drink. He survived for four days before succumbing to his injury.

An inquest was held the day after his death, where it was decided that he had ‘feloniously, wickedly, and of his malice aforethought, killed and murdered himself’ and the coroner ordered that he be buried ‘in some public highway’. [1]

But already, by this stage, attitudes were starting to change; and the perceptions of Flynn may have been influenced by knowledge – presented by witnesses at the inquest – that he was widely known to be a wife-beater and a generally violent man, who had tried to kill his wife before harming himself. Flynn’s ‘self-murder’ came at a time when public attitudes towards wife-beating were also hardening.

And in the late 18th century, people had started to publicly question whether suicide should be treated so harshly. As this website has detailed, David Hume wrote essays on suicide in the 1770s, and there was also a debate on whether suicide was an act of courage. Legal handbooks, however, still stressed that suicide was an act of the devil (see illustration below).

In Victorian England, attitudes varied. In 1871, Maria Norman, aged 50, was charged with attempting to commit suicide by taking a large amount of carbolic acid. She badly burned her mouth, lips and throat.

From Richard Burn's The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer (1773)

From Richard Burn’s The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer (1773)

She could have died – a doctor called to help her after she was discovered by her landlord refused to help, presumably because she did not have the money to pay him. But a local hospital physician gave her olive oil and glycerine to soothe her and she survived – only to be charged with a crime. [2] 

Yet five months later, a 45 year old labourer named William Atkins was charged with attempting to commit suicide by cutting his throat, at his home in Little Milton, Oxfordshire. He was taken to the county gaol, but when the magistrates were told they had to decide if he was sane, and that if he were, they would have to ‘send him for trial and he would be liable to severe punishment’, they decided they were ‘inclined to take a lenient view of the case’ – deciding he was not sane at the time, and therefore could be discharged. [3]

There was also sympathy for those impacted by suicide. In Oxfordshire, in 1873, an inquest jury clubbed together to give money to a woman, Leah Nicholls, whose husband Joseph had suffered from depression and had cut his throat, leaving her to look after their large family; this was not an isolated occurrence. [4]

What is evident from the many newspaper reports of suicides is that economic reasons and a history of depression were commonly given motives for individuals to kill themselves. Worry over how to feed one’s family, job insecurity during times of economic depression, and a fear of being forced to seek poor relief were all given as possible motives, although other motives could be complex and highly individual.

But they show that life in the past could also be stressful and traumatic, and lead to desperate acts. Some, like Flynn’s, may have been criminal acts, in a way; but many others deserved sympathy and understanding.

FOOTNOTES
1. Derby Mercury, 14 August 1800
2: Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 19 March 1871
3: Jackson's Oxford Journal, 26 August 1871
4: My personal research into Leah and Joseph Nicholls of Chipping Norton