(Source: Bath Chronicle and Herald (Bath: England) Saturday June 8th, 1935, p.11)
A shot rang out, echoing through the woods. Birds rose into the air with a frantic flapping of wings, and a blood-curling scream pieced the morning calm.
At the sound of what was undoubtedly a woman’s scream, William Nott, busy feeding his poultry close by, ran towards the noise. Within seconds another shot could be heard, but this time no scream followed. Nott arrived just as the second shot had been fired.
When he arrived at the scene, there, lying face down on the ground with her head completely shattered, was his wife Gladys. Standing a small distance away from where she lay was his neighbour Arthur Franklin holding a shotgun.
No sooner had William Nott taken in the horror of what had just happened,then Franklin levelled his gun at Nott and shouted, “And you too, you rat.“
Nott turned to run to his shack, a matter of feet away, to get his own gun. Wrenching open the door, he tumbled inside, pushing it shut behind him. Another shot split the air and splintered its way through the door, the bullet’s trajectory slowed by the thick timber but striking William Nott in the side of the head. With blood pouring from his wound, and unable to see clearly, Nott grabbed his gun, kicked open the door and fired back at Franklin, but missed completely.
Franklin contemptuously shouted at Nott, “I will play with you as a cat with a mouse.” He levelled his gun and pulled the trigger. An empty click told Nott that the gun was not loaded and he lunged forward to grab Franklin, but he was in no fit state to do so. Blood was pouring from his temple and eye socket. By this time, others had arrived from their woodland homes and some men grabbed and restrained Arthur Franklin, wresting the gun from him. Others tried to see if the poor woman could be saved and another tried to stem the blood flowing from William Nott’s face.
This is not a remote outback somewhere in a distant wilderness, but welcome to Hanham Abbots in the depths of Hanham Woods, on the banks of the river Avon near the city of Bristol in England on the eighth of May, 1935.
In these woods, various poor families scraped a living as smallholders and occasional traders in town, but on the whole this was a small, closed community, living by its own standards and morals. It was not a community that relied upon anyone else’s help or values, and the police tended to leave them to their own devices. The wooden, stone and mud shacks, scattered amongst the trees along tired dirt track, were not regarded as part of Bath or Bristol’s local community – they were outsiders.
(Mr. and Mrs. Nott’s shack in Hanham Wood where they lived with their son Dennis)
Apart from one-room shacks, some families were living in converted furniture vans and some old army huts with no access to sanitation apart from the river Avon.
Now, however, too much had happened to keep this within the community and a young boy was sent running down to the local police station in Staple Hill to fetch the police.
When the police arrived, they found a distressed crowd gathered around the body of twenty-eight year old Gladys Nott, still bleeding from a gunshot wound to her shoulder. They had covered her head, which the second shot had completely shattered. As the pathologist would later confirm, her brain had been blown completely out of the skull and this cowardly second shot had happened after she had been felled from behind by the first of Franklin’s shots.
Mrs.Priscilla Dyer and Mrs. Elizabeth Robbins had quickly arrived on the scene just as Franklin had realized he was out of ammunition. He acknowledged them and said, “I have shot Gladys and I have also put a shot into Mr. Nott.“
He was just as open with the police, repeating his confession as soon as they arrived. While Arthur Henry Franklin was arrested and taken off to appear before Staple Hill magistrates the following day, William Nott was rushed to hospital in a very serious condition.
There was no question about Franklin’s guilt, and when he appeared at Staple Hill Police Court, the following day, charged with the wilful murder of Mrs. Bessie Gladys Nott, on May 8th, Franklin again openly confessed that he had done just that.
William Nott was so ill, however, that Franklin had to be remanded in custody twice more while his neighbour recovered enough to appear at the police court to recount his version of events.
At Franklin’s second remand on Thursday May 16th, he was told by the Bench that they were prepared to grant him a certificate for legal aid. Franklin replied, “I don’t want one.” He was then allowed to meet his brother Frank before being taken back to Horfield prison.
Meanwhile the tiny village of Hanham Abbot had been buzzing with news of the tragedy on their doorstep. People were travelling down from Bristol and Bath to visit the woods and re-live the dramatic events that had taken place.
Local newspapers such as the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald and the Gloucester Journal, vied for sensational descriptions of this gruesome shooting, speculating on why two neighbours,living a mere 150 yards apart, had got into such a bloody feud. They had to wait until Friday 24th May to learn the truth.
Daily Mail: Friday 24th May, 1935, page 20.
This confession to murder, and attempted murder, could not have been more clearly expressed. Arthur Franklin, forty-five years old, a broad stocky man with a shock of long blonde hair, stood upright and confident in the local courtroom again refusing any offer of legal aid from the magistrates.
Franklin, they learnt, was single and formerly lived in Bath with his parents who ran a small grocery shop in Camden Place. However, he was now part of the Hanham Wood community where he had a smallholding with his brother Frank and kept pigs. They were virtual hermits, only venturing out to collect food waste for their pigs from local canteens.
Waiting to appear in court as a witness was a heavily bandaged William Nott, aged thirty-six, who had lost his right eye completely as a result of Franklin’s attack on him. The prosecution established that William and Gladys Nott were poultry farmers and had a young son, Dennis aged eight, and they lived approximately 150 yards away from the Franklin brothers and their pigs. The animosity between William and Arthur had begun in November 1933 when Gladys left William and moved in with Arthur Franklin and his brother.
Every day William Nott saw his wife living with his neighbour while he cared for their son, sending Dennis off to school with food scraps wrapped in newspaper to sustain him. He would dutifully take the boy to his mother every weekend to be bathed, have his clothes mended and to have a proper Sunday meal.
This went on for eighteen months, William Nott valiantly accepting the fact that his wife wanted to live with Franklin rather than with him. Then Gladys gradually changed her mind and William was heartened to discover that she wanted to return to him after all and live as a family once more and that was her plan on the day of her tragic murder by Franklin.
She had waited until Dennis had left for school, excited that not only was he was to receive a gift of a King George V Jubilee mug at school assembly, but he would return home to both his mum and dad as a family once more.
So, on May 8th 1935, as she left the Franklin brothers’ shack, carrying some meager possessions along the dirt track back to her old home, Arthur Franklin walked out behind her and aimed his single barrel shotgun at the back of her head. His first shot missed but penetrated her shoulder, hurling her to the ground and the second shot found its target, killing her outright.
Franklin had told the police, “I had a few words with my wife and went down to Nott’s ground to get even with him. I took my single-barreled gun with me.” It seems that, seeing Gladys walking back to his rival had changed his plans and so he shot her from behind in cold blood before turning his attention to “getting even” with his neighbour William Nott. He was asked in court if he wanted to give any reason for what he had done, but simply said, “I am not interested.”
He was also challenged about referring to Gladys Nott as his wife. He admitted they were not legally married but had undergone a ‘ceremony’ conducted by his brother Frank.
Franklin also declared he was very much in love with Mrs. Nott and could not bear to think she was going back to a man who he claimed half-starved her and Dennis their son. No evidence was offered to substantiate Franklin’s claim.
At the local court hearing, it was now time for William Nott’s story to be told. He was a sad figure, heavily banaged, an eye lost to the jealous murderous rage of his neighbour, his wife dead and his son now without a mother.
He told how he had met and married Gladys Slocombe in 1926, and that they had one son, Dennis. He recounted his devastation when his wife had left him eighteen months previously. He recalled the exact day – Tuesday, the twenty-ninth of November 1933. He had frequently quarreled with Franklin about this situation and there was even a period when Gladys took furnished rooms in Bristol to try and cool the situation down.
He had received a note from her saying she wanted to return and had even secretly visited her Hanham Wood home on the day before she was killed to explain that she wanted to come back to him and Dennis. The next morning, when she had been doing just that, her life was cruelly taken.
Arthur Franklin was committed to be tried for murder at Gloucester Assizes on June 5th. His refusal to accept legal aid and his reluctance to provide any real account of his motive or personal feelings at what had happened resulted in this murder trial setting a record yet to be broken. The newspapers were full of the fact that from his appearance in the dock, until the chaplain murmured “Amen” once the inevitable sentence of death had been pronounced by Mr, justice Macnaughton, the whole proceeding took only six minutes.
The media seemed more taken by the fact that this is (and remains) a twentieth century record for the shortest murder trial in the United Kingdom, rather than the terrible family tragedy it involved.
“DOCK DRAMA LASTS 6 MINUTES,” proclaimed the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald adding “Franklin who was quite unmoved, hardly seemed to realise that the proceedings were over was he was led from the dock by prison warders.”
Franklin’s execution was set for Tuesday June 25th 1935.
On that sunny morning, two hundred or so people gathered in silence outside Gloucester prison listening to the cathedral bells chiming eight o’clock – the moment of execution by hangman Thomas Pierrepoint. A matter of minutes later, they surged forward to read the notice of the completed execution posted on the prison gate.
This whole tragic story. however, was not yet over.
Living alone and depressed, Franklin’s brother Frank made attempts to recover the gun that his brother had used to murder Gladys Nott.
Source: Bath Chronicle and Herald, Saturday November 30th, 1935, p.26
Eventually he succeeded after being refused permission on several occasions.
In August 1937, after more than two years of a lonely, and bitter life without his brother, Frank Joseph Franklin stood on the edge of a rain-filled quarry close to the scene of Gladys Notts murder by his brother and shot himself with that same gun. He fell into the quarry where he remained for some time before being discovered. He left a note:
Meanwhile, Dennis Nott, William and Gladys’s son, left Hanham woods after his father had died a broken man and he married a young lady from nearby Pucklechurch – working on her father’s farm.
Tragically, during haymaking time, he fell from a large haystack and died from a broken neck.
Family tragedies take many forms.
Winter in Hanham woods (2004) by the river Avon in the heat of Bristol