Jack The Ripper – ‘Give him to the women, they’ll spoil his pretty fizz.’


[Original London broadsheet following Mary Jane Kelley’s murder on 9th September 1888]

Who cares that there is yet another book, Jack the Ripper : Case Closed, (Corsair 2017), claiming to reveal the identity of London’s most famous serial killer, albeit this claimant says it was not one, but two men, working in tandem! The author has used historical fiction as his genre but claims its basis is true and returns to the foreign emigrant theses of old to find his killers and, because there are now two killers rather than one, ratchets up the victims to eleven rather than the four, five, six or  possibly eight cited by established ‘Ripperologists’. He also uses an expanded time frame running from early April 1888 right through to February 1891 instead of the usual August through to November 1888.

Why am I having a brief rant about this?

It is because these very real series of terribly vicious and hideous murders created a reverberation of fear amongst all women, especially those in the East End of London where the murders took place. Women who were struggling from day-to-day to survive at a time when the female voice carried no weight whatsoever in local affairs.

Indeed, it’s true the killer did target prostitutes in London’s East-End and he did engage in horrific mutilations of his victims’s bodies centered on removing their sexual organs – but while all the gore and misogynistic sentiments have constantly remained the overriding features of this historic barbarity  – with Jack the Ripper as the central attraction  – little has been done to really tap into the public feelings of the moment and how there was a subtle but definite empathy for the women’s perspective and, even encouragement to fight against their curt dismissal as unworthy of too much concern in this world of extreme male violence, especially if you were a prostitute.

Here I would like to present some rare archive material from 1888 that taps into the emerging protective community spirit that showed concerns for the female population of London and their well-being.

Initially, however, we need to know that so determined were the authorities to catch ‘The Ripper’ –  immunity  was assured to any accomplice or partner with knowledge of the murderer. Here is the pardon notice issued by the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan police force in November 1888.

MURDER PARDON(Sir Charles Warren was the Metropolitan Police Commissioner: he resigned at the same moment this murder pardon was published)

Mary Jane Kelly is considered the final murder victim but of course at the time, she was the sixth or maybe the seventh, even the eighth, depending on who is chosen as his first victim – this has never been settled. So without any clues except he appeared to be familiar with using a knife to mutilate and dissect bodies, preferring to strangle his victims face-to-face, before carefully lying them down without causing bruising to the head, only to then cut their throats prior to mutilating their body. There were never any signs of sexual intercourse or evidence of masturbation over the body by the assailant.

It is a horrific scenario to contemplate and so it was mostly through supportive song lyrics and rhymes that women were encouraged to imagine their own scenario where they took charge of the confrontation with ‘Jack’ and executed their own attack on him.

In the lyrics that follow, the sentiment of the chorus to let the ladies mutilate Jack’s face (fizz in the song – short for fizzog i.e. face) is rousing enough but when you get to see what a certain Mrs. Potts would do to him it really turns the tables and empowers the victims to hit back, albeit in song. This is sung to the tune of a song called “Railway Train” which, as yet, I have not been able to locate – your assistance would be very welcome if you know it.


The torturous fantasies of Mrs. Potts not only includes reciprocal mutilation,thereby getting revenge for her ‘sister’ victims but forces this ‘humbug’ to gulp down an inventive boiling-hot stew comprised of all that his evil presence represents.

Another lyric, sung to the air of “Teddy 0’Neale,” manages to imbue an element of shame that England should be subjecting their women to such rampant brutality, thereby likely to encourage ‘foreigners’ to think less of us as a nation, but it is also careful to leave a hint of a generous nation willing to donate money if only we could capture this evil devil.


Criticisms of the police for failing to protect women  were a common media theme, but the lyrics took these even further by castigating them as useless in not using the bloodhounds Burgho and Barnaby – a plan promoted by Warren but not followed through. Who knows – they might have been the answer?


We know of course that he – assuming it was a single he – was never caught but in the fervor of the second half of 1888 in London, the fear was tangible, the exploitation of the sexual nature of the attacks was used constantly as a perverse titillation by certain sectors of the media – no change there then – but hidden amongst all this was pathos and concern and of course humour at the plight London found herself in.

First the pathos and concern:


Now the self-deprecating humour:


Are you ready?

All together now:

















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This true tale of endurance, injustice and corruption, refused my prose to tell its story – so it made me write a poem instead to try and bring its message home.


‘Twas November time as midnight struck

and ale was supped in the forest at Staples Hill.

Three Loughton men – Willingales all – began their winter lop,

for the custom was long in the making to gather the boughs

of this firewood crop, and assert their annual rights to this Epping


From St. Martin’s Day to that of George, so Royal Charter decreed,

all the parish people could take their common woodland need.

‘Twas their hard won right for long cold winter nights

and the warmth that their bodies would plead.


By two of the clock, the custom had been skilfully pledged.

Only boughs above the head,

seven feet it is said by ancient charter rules,

lay stacked in the sleds bound for Loughton.

But there was a difference in this year of 1866.

A clergyman’s fancy to call the forest his own had led him

to enclose the woodland, and fences had grown where fences

had no rights, so the sledges had left them broken and mown.


So it was this clergyman clad in his duplicitous skin

of Lord of the Manor of Loughton, shouting ‘Malicious Trespass’

to Willingale, his sons included – ‘you’ve flouted my

rule,  my patience is thin, my Bench will deal seriously

with your misdemeanours and malicious sin.’

His complicit cronies – of Lady Justice deluded –

had long ripped away their blindfolds in arrogant disdain,

their prejudicial gaze incensed by honest labourers bereft

yet threatening their days for forest theft and personal gain.


Two months hard labour was their wicked revenge for

actions justly clad in ancient custom’s robes.

Common right garments stitched by time immemorial,

unable to avenge such greedy corrosion

were torn from the back of all in Loughton.

More so for Thomas Willingale and sons.

Their cottage abode was snatched away as in

prison they lay cold and feverish across harsh winter days.


Outcries of anguish reverberated in the frozen air,
no thawing of injustice even near,

its icy grip squeezing all who cried foul

for this clergyman called Maitland had made his solemn vow

to steal and degrade all his parishioners lives,

for it was of no consequence for him and his profiteers

how his parishioners survived.


The cell’s damp horrors took one young Willingale to his eternity,

his brother and father left to mourn in perpetuity,

thrown out to a homeless winter on this new bleak January.

But with an inner strength Thomas held his head high

his resilience clearly to deny Maitland such blatant thievery,

but how to arrest the oppressing tide

of this clergyman’s greedy acquiescence to felonious trickery?


It was stage left from whence the allies came,

bearing the same indignation towards Maitland’s claim.

The Commons Society had strength of name and

embraced Thomas Willingale for all his anguish and pain

and now the odds had been re-stacked,

it was Willingale versus Maitland in the courts they would back.


Four long years, the thrust and parry of legal swords clashed.

Loughton’s figurehead Willingale stood it all –

but outcast from honest work, he suffered distress from

imposed conditions of labouring idleness

which was never dispatched from his thoughts.

Society funds of a mere one pound a week

was something and nothing to cherish.


Whereas Maitland’s men baited their trap

with five hundred pounds to see the suit perish

and Willingale’s resolve fade to nought.

He turned his face from this preposterous bribe

So stalwart was his renown,

but death had decided, time need be sought

to journey to his son.


The suit now aborted, death’s dagger carefully thwarted

Maitland’s plans to trample common rights.

Epping Forest was safe till time gave the place for a

new protagonist supported.

The legacy they gained was at Willingale’s pain but

his sacrifice was amply rewarded.

His ethereal spirit and defiant lead would

now for ever be recorded as

The Man Who Saved Epping Forest.

Truly a task never courted but fate

awarded  it to Thomas Willingale

a lopper of Loughton at rest.




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Forensic Detection & The Horton Vendetta

SECRECY_CROPTucker, James. “Secrecy rules in village of fear.” Sunday Times [London, England] 15 Apr. 1984: 4. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. (Web. 21 June 2017.)

This extract from James Tucker’s 1984 ‘Village of Fear’ scenario may have started out as a snappy headline for a quirky piece of Sunday Times journalism, hinting at dark deeds and perhaps even darker relationships in a remote English hamlet, but I wager even he, who went on to craft his own excellent crime novels under the pseudonym, Bill James, was staggered by the audacious plot line and denouement of this true murder mystery. Here is the crime story that proves Mark Twain’s adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

The small hamlet of Horton, near Chipping Sodbury, England, was buzzing with news of the explosion. Neighbours and villagers wished Maggie Backhouse a speedy recovery and were aghast at the news that this appeared to be a deliberate act of murder. Indeed, the detective leading the inquiry, Detective Inspector Tom Evans, was reported in the media as saying, “There has been a recent history of anonymous phone calls to the home threatening the husband and family.

It was assumed by all, that the intended victim was forty-three year old Graham Backhouse, but on that morning of 9th April, 1984, it was Maggie Backhouse who set off from their home at Widden Hill Farm to collect supplies from the local vet.

Her husband, Graham had lent Maggie his car as her own had suddenly developed a fault. She turned the ignition key which triggered the bomb that nearly led to her death. She had managed to stagger away from the car before collapsing in agony and was then rushed to hospital.

volvo.JPGPolice examining Backhouse’s Volvo after the explosion  (Weston Media Publishing)

Graham Backhouse was distraught as he had his doubts about how seriously the police had been taking the previous telephone threats to his family. He had made constant calls to them about these threats to his life and the explosion now proved how deadly serious they had been, not only to himself, but to his wife and their two young children, Harry aged ten and Sophie aged eight. They could have all been in that car that morning – it did not bear thinking about.

However, over the proceeding weeks, Detective Inspector Evans had been taking Graham Backhouse’s claims very seriously, that he was a victim of a conspiracy to murder. He had told the police of anonymous telephone calls, and showed them some letters clumsily printed in block capitals that threatened his life in no uncertain terms. It was reported that Backhouse admitted to having had a number of affairs with local married women and, as a result, certain people perhaps had reasons to dislike him intensely, but to want to murder him would seem to be excessive.

Prior to the car bomb, what had really brought home the gravity of the threat was an extremely gruesome discovery. On his rounds, a stockman at the farm had discovered the severed head of a sheep carefully impaled on a stake close to  the farmhouse. There was a note attached. Written in block capitals were two words:

                                   YOU NEXT

Apart from the prospect of an irate husband wanting revenge on the farmer for seducing his wife, there was, Backhouse claimed, a dispute over land boundaries and rights of way with a neighbour, Colyn Bedale-Taylor aged sixty-three. It is well-known for arguments over land rights to far outweigh any falling-out over sexual indiscretions.

This appeared to the police to be the strongest motive to explain the threats to Backhouse’s life. However, Colyn Bedale-Taylor denied any knowledge of such behaviour and there was no evidence against him whatsoever.you next.JPG

A forensic detective holding up the threatening letters Backhouse claimed to have received (Weston Media Publishing)

With Maggie Backhouse injured in hospital, and not knowing what the next action of the attacker might be, Graham Backhouse and his family were given twenty-four hour police protection while the investigation continued.

The analysis of the home-made bomb, believed to have been planted to kill Graham Backhouse, revealed two sections of metal pipe packed with powder extracted from around a dozen or so shotgun cartridges. Loaded with thousands of lead pellets, the bomb had been carefully positioned to face upwards through the driver’s seat. It was a miracle Maggie Backhouse had survived such a deadly booby-trap.

Now revealed by the local press as a village vendetta, locals awaited the next episode in the story with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.

On April 18th, when Detective Inspector David Edwards called to see Graham Backhouse, he told D.I. Edwards, rather ungratefully and curtly, that he was fed-up with the police presence and wanted to get back to normality. He suggested that while his wife was safe in hospital, and the children were with relatives, the police should withdraw their surveillance and this might tempt the ‘bomber’ out into the open and more likely to be caught. He was willing to take this chance to end the uncertainty. The police agreed to withdraw their surveillance on condition that they fitted a panic alarm button linked to the police station. Backhouse agreed.

On the evening of April 30th, the newly installed alarm did indeed alert the police to the fact that something was happening at Widden Hill Farm. When they entered the farmhouse they were confronted by a bloody scene.

The body of Colyn Bedale-Taylor was lying in a passageway and with a large bloody hole in his chest. He was clutching a craft knife tightly in his right hand.

Police constable Richard Yeadon recalls;

I stepped over the body and saw Mr. Backhouse lying in a curled-up position in the entrance to the lounge. He was sobbing.”

The police constable could see extensive injuries to Backhouse’s chest and face. Backhouse looked up at the police officer and said several times, “I did not kill his son.

Colyn Bedale-Taylor was clearly dead. He had been shot through the chest with a double-barrelled shotgun.

It seems that the vendetta had reached its climax – Backhouse’s mysterious, would-be assassin had been slain and Backhouse had survived. He and his family were now safe. But why had Bedale-Taylor attacked him like this? Why was Backhouse repeating over and over, “I did not kill his son.”?

Backhouse needed skilled medical attention to deep cuts to his face and body. In fact, one wound ran from ear to chin, and required eighty stitches. He explained to the police that Bedale-Taylor had called with a craft-knife claiming, rather oddly, that he had been asked to come and repair some furniture. Backhouse felt very threatened by this bizarre and unexpected visit and told him there was no furniture to repair.

He then claimed that Bedale-Taylor had said that God had sent him, and then accused Backhouse of being the cause of his son’s death in a car crash eighteen months previously. Bedale-Taylor then confessed that he had been the person who sent the threatening notes, rigged up the sheep’s head warning, and made and planted the bomb in Backhouse’s car.

Bedale-Taylor then lunged at him with the scalpel-sharp craft knife.

Backhouse had run inside, grabbed his gun and demanded that  Bedale-Taylor leave immediately. He refused and continued his frenzied attack on Backhouse, accusing him of killing his son Digby.

Backhouse had then shot Bedale-Taylor in self-defence. He told the police, “I ran into the hallway and grabbed a gun; Bedale-Taylor was still after me. I shouted I had got a gun but he still kept coming and I shot him. He fell back and I shot him again and that was it.”

It all fitted the scene that had confronted the officers that night. It seems the case was closed.

For one man, however, Home Office forensic detective, Geoffrey Robinson, it was not as clear-cut as it appeared. He had been to the crime scene and made a painstakingly detailed investigation of that scene and the evidence left behind by the two men in their bloody, murderous confrontation.

In Robinson’s analytical mind was an image of Colyn Bedale-Taylor, a man possessed with extreme anger, according to Backhouse, a man clutching a craft-knife and lunging at his victim to slash and kill. Then there was Backhouse himself, a man taken aback by such a frenzied attack, running to grab his gun and, after first warning Bedale-Taylor to end his knife attack, shoots him as the only means to stop any more injuries to his face and his body.

Robinson was truly puzzled. He had a dilemma to solve between the physical scene and the forensic scene. What had really happened that evening was so vivid as a result of his investigation it was as if he had been there himself.

The key to his understanding was his expert analysis of the pattern of the many blood spills across the crime scene. He examined every single drop of blood wherever it lay. He knew that during frenzied fights, particularly when one person is being attacked with a knife, that by defending your face and body with your hands, blood will spurt, drop and splash in all sorts of ways that reflect the intensity and direction of fight and flight, or the desperation of the fleeing, twisting victim, trying to prevent death or serious injury.

For him, blood drips, oozes, sprays, smears and gets flung – so what is called blood spatter analysis (or bloodstain pattern analysis, BPA) will give a unique view of something that was not witnessed, yet leaves a picture almost as clear as if it had been.

spattersBlood spatter analysis : typical patterns found at a crime-scene

Robinson also looked at how the furniture had been disturbed, fallen over or damaged as happens during a fight and its relationship to the sequence of events will show if a chair fell onto the blood, or the blood onto the chair, or gun butt, or knife handle or whatever was used. It depicts movement very clearly.

The puzzle for Geoffrey Robinson was that the blood droplets showed a victim who seemed to have stood still whilst being cut with a knife, rather than fighting off his attacker. Blood flung from such a fight such as Backhouse described would appear in exclamation mark shapes everywhere whereas the blood evidence in the room was in the form of circular drops, allowed to fall from someone standing still.

Kitchen chairs had been knocked over onto the perfectly formed droplets with ‘crenated’ or toothed edges. There was no blood splashed onto the chairs, except a long smear left on a chair back by Backhouse’s hand. Yet, despite this evidence of a bleeding hand, no blood at all was found on the gun he grabbed in desperation to shoot his attacker.

Geoffrey Robinson’s suspicions were confirmed by the position of Colyn Bedale-Taylor’s body in the passageway from the front door to the kitchen. There were no blood droplets along the passage to link with the those in the kitchen. The forensic picture was therefore, of Backhouse shooting Bedale-Taylor at point-blank range with no suggestion of any attack to support a claim of self-defence.

Backhouse then, (following Robinson’s forensic analysis), must have inflicted the craft-knife wounds upon himself while in the kitchen. Robinson conjures up an image of Backhouse standing still and steeling himself against the intense pain as he cut deeply into his own face and body, the blood dropping into tell-tale perfectly formed circles rather than the splashes, smears and exclamation marks of a genuine victim fleeing and fighting. Lastly,thought Robinson, Backhouse would have toppled the chairs to give the impression of a fight.

In addition to the forensic detective’s discoveries, Dr. Kennard, a pathologist, explained that one of Backhouse’s wounds – a cut that ran diagonally from his left shoulder to the right side of his waist – could only have been inflicted by an attacker if Backhouse had remained completely still while the perfectly formed arc was cut into him by his assailant. Also there were no ‘defence cuts’ on the backs of his hands received when you attempt to ward off a thrusting or slashing knife attack.backhouse

GRAHAM BACKHOUSE (Weston Media Publishing)

The clincher – if one were needed – was the fact that Colyn Bedale-Taylor’s right palm was covered in his own blood which could only have got there immediately he was shot as he instinctively clutched at his chest. If Bedale-Taylor had been clutching the craft-knife after he’d been shot, a portion of his right palm would have been less bloody where the knife had been held. More likely – had he been holding the knife when he was shot – it would have fallen from his grasp as he was blasted backwards. The craft-knife had obviously been placed in Bedale-Taylor’s hand after his death.

Detectives had also uncovered additional information about Graham Backhouse that swiftly turned into a motive for engineering the whole threatening letter scenario, and much more.

Their suspicions had been aroused from the moment he called the ambulance immediately after the car bomb went off. As detectives were to reveal later, Backhouse made a serious error when he telephoned for an ambulance. He told the control centre that his wife had been injured ‘in an explosion,’ yet at that time when news reached him from those working on the farm that  his wife had been injured, no one had mentioned to him exactly how she had been hurt until after he had called for an ambulance and went to the scene and saw the the bomb damage to the car himself.

Graham Backhouse was seriously in debt, owing £70,000 or so, and needed money. Just prior to the car bomb incident, he had substantially increased his wife’s life insurance from £50,000 to £100,000. Mysteriously, her car had broken down and on that April day it was Graham who suggested she took the car he had booby-trapped deliberately to murder her.

Unfortunately for Backhouse his wife had survived, and now he had a problem to ensure the police had a suspect for this attack. No one knows how he enticed Colyn Bedale-Taylor to Widden Hill Farm on 30th April, to be murdered in cold blood, but it was planned and plotted just as all the alleged threatening telephone calls, notes, the decapitated sheep’s head and the attempt to murder his wife had been planned and plotted.

Backhouse was charged with the murder of Colyn Bedale-Taylor and the attempted murder of Margaret Backhouse. Right up to the end he continued to try and substantiate his original story. Even in custody at Horfield Prison, he persuaded another prisoner to smuggle out an anonymous letter to the editor of the Bristol Evening Post stating it was Colyn Bedale-Taylor who had been responsible for the vendetta against him. Unfortunately for Backhouse, the power of forensic analysis stepped in once more and proved the so-called anonymous letter had, in fact, been written by Backhouse. They had already discovered a note pad in Backhouse’s farm office that bore the impression of the words YOU NEXT.

A question posed by a neighbour in Jame’s Tucker’s original, speculative journalistic piece when all of this had only just began was now well and truly answered:

SECRECY_new crop_resizeTucker, James. “Secrecy rules in village of fear.” Sunday Times [London, England] 15 Apr. 1984: 4. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. (Web. 21 June 2017.)

Graham Backhouse was given two life sentences at his trial on the 18th February 1985.










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Royal Indiscretions, Bathroom Spies, Hypocrisy And Death From A Broken Heart.


Sex, sex and more sex. Caroline knew exactly what she wanted and she certainly went for it. Bedding her lover in sumptuous apartments around the world, as well as enjoying modest ‘bunks’ on a boat and a naughty night or two in a tent in the Syrian desert. And of course, bath-time was always a riot.

However, the issue that had to be faced was that Caroline was married and her lover was married. “So what!” you might say, “lots of people have affairs.”

True, but Caroline’s husband was King George III’s son, the Prince of Wales and, of course, heir to the throne, and her lover was an Italian servant, married with children, and she was cavorting around the continent – all expenses paid –  with a royal entourage of titled chaperons and household staff to satisfy her every whim.

When Caroline visited Naples in 1814, her only whim became that of bedding  Bartolomeo Pergami who worked for the household as a servant. However that desire needed a little subtle planning given her on-going ‘motherly’ duties towards a young lad named William Austin.

William Austin, a lad of six or seven years of age, regularly travelled with Caroline and shared the royal bedchamber (his own bed of course, it’s not that kind of story). He was the son she never had, and she looked after him as if he were. Rumours did abound that it really was her son and various fathers were the subject of speculation, but it was never proved and Caroline claimed she had adopted him from a Sophie and Samuel Austin who wanted their son to have a better life given their impoverished situation. Caroline did have a daughter already – Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) and even she believed ‘Willy’ was her mother’s illegitimate son. Tragically she was to die three years later in childbirth.

At the sight of Bartolomeo, Caroline soon got to work, organizing her lusty Italian to move from the domestic quarters to an adjoining room and young Mr. Austin –  suddenly too grown-up to continue sharing the royal bedchamber –  immediately inherited his own room within the domestic household. It seems Caroline had experienced love at first sight while her maid-servant discovered a perfectly made royal bed at first sight the next morning compared to Bartolomeo Pergami’s excessively rumpled, double-indented mattress.

A Pas de Deux  or Love at first Sight

OVER THE HILLSHow I ‘d love you all the day , Every Night, we’d Kiss and Play. If with me you’d fondly stray, Over the Hills and far away.”

Fast-forward six years, to the death of George III on January 29th, 1820, Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was now constitutionally, “Queen of the United Kingdom” being the wife of the new King George IV. Caroline arrived back in England on June 5th 1820 eager to attend her husband’s coronation and thereby receiving ceremonial confirmation of her new royal status as Queen Consort. However, her husband had other ideas and, having failed with a bribe of £50,000* for her to stay out of England and out of his life, he decided to introduce a bill into Parliament known as ‘The Pains and Privileges Bill.’   *(£1 then = approx. £42 today)

This was shorthand for a bill that proclaimed its purpose “to deprive Her Majesty Queen Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the Title, Prerogatives, Rights, Privileges, and Exemptions of Queen Consort of this Realm; and to dissolve the Marriage between His Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth.” 

Its passage  through parliament  would reveal to all, via the rapacious media, the claimed long-term adulterous behaviour of his wife and –  with witnesses called by its protagonists – aim to prove her sexual depravities and therefore George’s entitlement to a divorce. It was, in effect, to be a public trial of Queen Caroline.

The hypocrisy behind this is staggering in as much as Caroline had certainly enjoyed a extra-marital sex-life with Bartolomeo Pergami, but George, as Prince of Wales and then Prince Regent, was more sexually rampant across those same years with many mistresses such as Lady Jersey and Lady Hertford. Indeed a large number of mature woman were in his sights and his bed.


Having already been in an ‘illegal’ marriage at the age of twenty-three with the older, divorced Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, he made it clear from the outset of his arranged marriage to Caroline in 1796, that he will abandon any  ‘unnecessary’ sexual contact with her, claiming she smelt, was disgustingly unhygienic and also repulsive to look at and he could only have conjugal relations with her when hopelessly drunk.

Thus began a media soap-opera of incredible popularity.

The Attorney-General’s next task was to address The House of Peers, and, on behalf of the new king, manipulate the law and religious morality to ensure that this marriage was ended. Consequently, on Saturday, August 19th 1820 he informed them that:

The highest individual, as a subject, in the country is charged with one of the most serious offences both against the laws of God and man – it is that of an adulterous intercourse carried on under circumstances of the greatest aggravation.” (Source: The Attorney-General’s charges against the late queen: brought forward in the House of Peers, on Saturday, August 19th, 1820, p.2)

It was reported that as he spoke these words, a loud peal of thunder burst in rapid succession over the buildings in a freak August storm. It certainly set the atmosphere! And so it was, the full scandalous tale of Caroline’s sexual adventures since she left England to travel the world in 1814 was read out to a stunned House of Peers, who as a body, gasped in horror at tales of kissing, shared bath-times, public nudity and sexual encounters in a tent to name but a few ‘indiscretions.’


“Soon after, her majesty proceeded to Aum, a place in Syria,” explained the Attorney-General, “where again Pergami was treated with the same extraordinary familiarity. A tent was erected for her royal highness, and, a bed fitted up for her within it. While she was in bed in this tent, Pergami was seen sitting in his shirt sleeves and almost undressed on the side of the bed. From this tent he was afterwards seen coming in a state of undress.” (Source: The Attorney-General’s charges against the late queen: brought forward in the House of Peers, on Saturday, August 19th, 1820, p.12)

So a long and tedious process was put into gear to create what was called ‘laying a foundation‘ in anticipation that the King would gather enough evidence to legally divorce Caroline by proving an adulterous relationship with Bartolomeo Pergami, “a foreigner of low station.”

This is where the spies come in. Compelled to give evidence in this process was Theodore Majocchi, and Louisa Demont, household servants to them both in their sleeping chambers and daily ablutions. You can see them depicted in the very first caricature at the beginning of this blog (Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath) peeping around the bathroom door.  Majocchi is also seen handing Pergami a candle through the tent flap in the Aum ‘Tent -ation’ depiction.

The whole procedure became a muddle with both these witnesses (and some others) claiming that had overhead love-making between the couple and also glimpsed occasions of inappropriate nudity – but then obfuscating under questioning, to claims of, “Non mi recordo,” translated as, “I can’t remember.”

Claims of fake news were given by witnesses who undoubtedly knew it was not so, but they flapped and floundered under examination within these austere parliamentary walls. Caroline was gaining many fans among the general public as this circus of disenfranchisement of her rights by a womanizing, alcohol-fulled Prince Regent turned King, dragged on and on until November 9th, by which time the prime minister realized it was a lost cause to pass The Pains and Privileges Bill through the House – so it was abandoned and the King was speechless with anger and excessive brandy! Plus it is interesting to note Lucy Worsley’s claim that he also had an addiction to laudanum – a tincture of opium – of which she claims, “He’d take 100 drops in preparation for a public appearance, enough to knock most people senseless.” (Worsley, L., The Naughty Prince Regent, (2015) See http://www.lucyworsley.com

As for Caroline;

She thereupon became the unlikely beneficiary of a wave of indignant public sympathy, being perceived as a ‘wronged woman’ who was bravely struggling to uphold her rights against a callous political establishment.” (Source: Jenkins, T., The Queen Caroline Affair:  http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org)

Now Caroline set her sights on attending her husband’s coronation scheduled for July 19th 1821, and so a ‘soap-sequel’ soon got underway for the further entertainment of the public, as she continued her long battle to attend and put forward her plans to settle down to her perceived queen consort duties.

 In answer to her request to be involved in his coronation she received the following reply from the Attorney-General, that..”his Majesty having determined, that the Queen should form no part of the ceremonial of his Coronation, it was his royal pleasure that the Queen should not be allowed to attend the said ceremony.”  (Nightingale, J., Memoirs of Her Late Majesty : Consort of King George the Fourth, Vol.3. London 1822. p.9)

The day of the Coronation almost seemed to have been designed to throw a military cordon around the new King, lest Caroline dared to show up. “The dawn of day saw the metropolis of England in military occupation; and had a stranger not possessed of any previous knowledge of the events which had been passing, approached at that moment, he might have mistaken London for a conquered city, in which the governing powers were at war with the people.” (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.124)

But show up she did;

Her Majesty was followed by a crowd to the platform, some of whom were approving and some disapproving her conduct. On entering her carriage, there was considerable disapprobation, intermingled with cries of “shame, shame,” “off, off;” but other parts of the populace repeated the cries of “the Queen, the Queen,” with great enthusiasm. Her Majesty was elegantly dressed in a muslin slip, on a petticoat of silver brocade. She wore a small purple scarf, and had a splendid diamond bandeau on her head, with feathers. Lady Hamilton and Lady Hood were likewise elegantly dressed, and seemed to participate in all the feelings of her Majesty.’ (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.129)

There follows the most bizarre episode imaginable as Queen Caroline attempts to enter Westminster Abbey as a spectator to her husband’s coronation: I make no apology for providing the full text of this extraordinary encounter written by Joseph Nightingale (1775 – 1824)  who followed the whole debacle:

On arriving at the place where tickets were received, Lord Hood demanded admission for the Queen. The door-keeper said, that his instructions were to admit no person without a Peer’s ticket. Lord Hood — “Did you ever hear of a Queen being asked for a ticket before? This is your Queen.” The door-keeper said that his orders were general, and without any exceptions. He had never been in a similar situation before, and could say nothing as to the propriety or impropriety of refusing her Majesty admission. Lord Hood. — “I present to you your Queen, do you refuse her admission ?” Her Majesty added, that she was his Queen, and desired to be permitted to pass. The door-keeper repeated that his orders were peremptory — and said, however reluctant he might be, he could not suffer her Majesty to pass without a ticket. Lord Hood. — “I have a ticket.” Door-keeper. — “Upon producing it I  will permit you to pass.” Lord Hood then took from his pocket one ticket for the Abbey, for a Mr. Wellington, which he tendered to the door-keeper. The door-keeper said that it would admit but one individual. Lord Hood then asked her Majesty if she would enter alone ? Her Majesty hesitated — upon which Lord Hood asked, whether there had not been some preparations made for her Majesty’s reception. The door-keeper answered in the negative. Lord Hood. — “Then I am to understand you refuse your Queen admittance to Westminster Abbey ?” The door-keeper said he was ready to admit her Majesty with a ticket, but not without. After a short consultation with her Majesty, as to whether she would go into the Abbey alone, or not — her Majesty declined — and it was resolved, having been refused admission to the Cathedral church of Westminster, that she should return to her carriage’ (Nightingale, J., ibid, p.127/8:

A rather cruel caricature followed this episode:


Indeed, it was very cruel.

Just over two weeks after Caroline’s futile attempt to attend her husband’s coronation and make her brave stand – she died. The prognosis was a bowel problem, but public emotion preferred to think it was a broken heart.*

“On earth denied the imperial crown,

Though form’d to share her husband’s throne.

 Heaven pitying viewed her, and, in love,

 Gave the celestial Crown above !”


*Lucy Worsley has written a wonderfully informative blog about the little known daily battle Caroline had endured with a mangled bowel operation way back in 1737. The stench of a daily operation that interfered with her digestive system was truly horrific and Caroline endured it all with humour – so in truth, she ‘died of the doctor’. (Worsley, L. Poor Queen Caroline and her horrible death, 9th May 2014, www.lucyworsley.com)





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The Six Minute Murder Trial of ‘Love-Triangle’ Killer.


(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.

SHACK(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.

SHACK_1Daily 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.

SHACK_3Source: 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:

BROTHER_1_crop 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.

SHACK_4Winter in Hanham woods (2004) by the  river Avon in the heat of Bristol

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Beaten To Death At Eton College

ETON COLLEGE_enhance_sharp_crop

Eton College –  its elite status, educational attributes and vast complex of historic buildings, founded by Henry VI over five hundred years ago, are world famous and so is a certain question, asked again and again?

Here is the BBC asking that question in 2010 when David Cameron was elected prime minister. “David Cameron has become the 19th prime minister of Great Britain to have attended Eton College near Windsor. Why have so many leaders come from this one school?” (BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight Wednesday, 12 May 2010).

One key opinion, voiced in their programme was, that despite its Victorian-era uniform, and rules dating back through the centuries and a perception of Eton as a rigid, conformist institution, “Eton also allows a degree of dissent and, to a certain extent, encourages it. That’s very helpful to anyone who wants a leadership role.” (Palash Dave speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight Wednesday, 12 May 2010).

Hidden in its past, and way before the Victorian-era uniform, certain kinds of dissent were certainly encouraged and this blog recalls a particularly tragic episode that, reading between the lines, may go some way to answering the BBC’s question. This was the Eton of 1825 and the Eton ruled by the legendary disciplinarian headmaster, Dr. Keate.

At this time in the history of Eton College, there was a great deal of scandal concerning the standard and conditions of teaching at the school. Discipline was a major problem with the pupils often left to their own devices, especially at night when they were locked in their dormitory. Dr. Keate, whose reputation for flogging the pupils was legendary, was also known for wearing was described by a contemporary  as ‘fancy dress,  partly resembling the costume of Napoleon and partly that of a widow woman.’


Dr. Keate’s mission was to bring order and discipline to the boys in his care. He took it upon himself to teach from one hundred to two hundred boys at any one time, using the spacious upper school as one massive classroom.

On Sunday, 27th February, 1825, around two o-clock in the afternoon, an altercation took place in the school playing fields between two boys. Because we are talking about Eton, the intricacies of social class, family pedigrees and notions of honour rise to the fore, whereas two village boys fighting on the common would be ignored.

Here we have the Honorable Ashley Cooper, son of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and Charles Alexander Wood, son of Colonel Wood and the nephew of the Marquis of Londonderry. It is not clear what insults were being traded but they soon led to blows being exchanged. Although both lads were nearly fifteen years old, Wood was much bigger than Cooper.

They fought five minutes or so until the school captain was summoned to deal with them. In the Eton tradition, it was decided that they should meet the following afternoon for an agreed pugilistic contest to settle their differences.

At this time, boxing was a sport with rules laid down in 1743 by a certain James Broughton. Fights were with bare knuckles and each round lasted until one fighter was knocked down. The fight ended only when one of the opponents fell to the ground and failed to get up within thirty seconds.  Broughton’s rules were tough, but then so was an Eton education.



On Monday, 28th February, at four o’clock in the afternoon, in front of a large crowd of cheering, jeering and shouting boys, the combatants stripped to the waist and began fighting. The smaller boy, Cooper was very agile and, shouting that he would never give in and the honour of his family was at stake, he fought hard against the much taller Wood.

As Cooper fell and then got up again, the rounds were counted and when they reached ten, it was clear that Cooper was in considerable distress. Both fighters had boys acting as ‘seconds’ and they had brought large quantities of brandy with them for ‘medical assistance.’

By the eleventh round, Cooper’s ‘second’ Alexander Wellesley Leith, a senior pupil, began pouring large measures of brandy down Cooper’s throat, which did revive him, albeit briefly. However, Cooper was repeatedly struck on the head by Wood, one heavy blow in particular hit his temple and Cooper collapsed in agony.

Wood’s supporters cheered, proclaiming their man the better fighter, but Cooper was revived once more by Leith and the fight continued. It had begun at four o’clock and now two hours later, they were still attempting to fight – both of them utterly exhausted.

Wood who had the physical advantage from the start, was not at all badly off compared with Cooper who was unable to focus or move with any degree of precision. Each time a round was declared, they would both be plied with more brandy.

At one point, rather bizarrely, Wood declared he had to attend a tutorial with his tutor, Mr. Ottery and so would continue the fight with Cooper later. Cooper’s ‘second’ Leith,  said they should go another round as the fight had not been concluded. He appealed to Cooper’s ‘second’ who declared , “We will have another round, we are in no hurry.”

And so they continued. In that round, Wood struck a severe blow to Cooper that not only felled him, but Wood also toppled with the exertion and collapsed heavily on top of him.

Some reports claim that the boys fought an astonishing sixty rounds before it was finally over for Cooper who crashed to the ground and lay quite still. Leith now insisted they made up their differences on the spot. Wood lifted Cooper’s head but seeing he was knocked senseless, said nothing and left the scene of the fight with his supporters.

Cooper had two brothers at the college. They picked him up and carried him to his lodgings at the house of the Reverend Knapp, where they put him straight to bed. One of Cooper’s brothers stayed by his bedside, but it was four hours before any medical advice was sought.

By the time a doctor did arrive, Cooper was dead. The Coroner and his jury all visited the deceased boy at the Rev. Knapp’s house on Tuesday March 1st at two o’clock in the afteroon. They found Cooper’s temples, eyes, and the upper part of his cheek bones were jet black with bruises and many of his face bones were broken. His ribs and breast were severely damaged. When the autopsy took place, it was found that he had sustained a rupture of the blood vessels in the brain.

The police were informed, and it was decided that Cooper had been unlawfully killed and that both Wood and Leith should be indicted for his slaying.

We do not know what Dr. Keate had to say about this tragic episode involving his boys, but he had organised some unusual legal arrangements on behalf of Charles Wood. At a somber roll call on the morning of Wednesday 2nd March, the pupils answered to their names in the traditional manner. All were conscious of the fact that one name would never be called again. The Honorable Ashley Cooper had been literally struck from the register. When Alexander Wellseley Leith’s name was called, there was silence. He was absent, and others offered the information that his family had withdrawn him from the college.  So Leith, Cooper’s enthusiastic ‘second’ in the fight, had been spirited away.

However, when the name of Cooper’s opponent was called, Charles Alexander Wood answered in the affirmative. He was immediately advised that he must consider himself in custody, but special arrangements had been made to keep him from being sent to the county gaol.

He was to remain in the college, living at his tutor’s house, together with a police officer, who would accompany him at all times. It seems that Dr. Keates’s view was that, as Cooper’s death occurred on college grounds in what he chose to call an ‘honourable settlement of differences’, the immediate requirements of the law could be accommodated within his personal jurisdiction. Now we begin to see the so-called ‘Eton factor’ sought by the BBC coming into play, for Cooper’s father, the Earl of Shaftesbury, had agreed with this arrangement.

His son’s funeral was to be that Sunday at the college chapel, so he did not wish to pursue an indictment against Charles Wood and Alexander Leith at that time but to leave them cited on the coroner’s warrant as having unlawfully  killed his son. He knew an indictment for Manslaughter would follow in due course.

The Morning Chronicle in reporting the funeral and Wood’s interment in a vault in the isle of the college chapel beneath the organ loft, expressed surprise that none of Wood’s family were present, “not even his Noble father.”

They went on to say, “The students crowded round the vault in which the body of their late associate was enclosed for ever.” (Morning Chronicle March 7th, 1825). Even in letters to the press about the event, we see the ‘Eton-factor’ whereby Eton is seen as a place for leaders rather than followers and so more care should be taken to protect them for themselves and provide role models for the ‘inferior’ classes, for example:

OLD ETONIANOn Wednesday, 9th March, 1825, Wood aged fifteen and Leith aged seventeen, appeared at Aylesbury Assizes, charged with the ‘killing and slaying’ of Cooper, but they were not alone in the dock!

With them as ‘friends’ were Lord Charles Fitzroy, Lord Nugent, Colonel Brown, Colonel Wood, Sir John Dashwood King, (the County Magistrate) Mr. Rickford, M.P., the Rev. Edward Craven Hawkey, and the Rev. Okes and the tutors of the accused;  around twenty students of Eton  and several other, ‘gentlemen of distinction’, all linked together as ‘Etonians.’

The charges were read:

You Charles Alexander Wood, Gent., stand indicted for having, on the 28th February last, in the Parish of Eton, in this County, unlawfully and feloniously assaulted the Honorable Francis Ashley Cooper, and that you, Charles Alexander Wood, with both your hands, did beat the said Honorable F.A. Cooper on the head, and strike him to the ground, and did thereby cause the rupture of a large blood-vessel, of which mortal wound he died; and you, Alexander Wellesley Leith, was then and there present, and did the said Charles Alexander Wood comfort and assist in the felony and manslaughter of which he stands charged – Are you guilty or not-guilty?”

The prisoners replied, “Not Guilty.”

This is the moment in all trial procedures that the prosecution would rise and begin their case, calling witnesses to prove the authenticity of the charges  made. Moments passed, and the judge, Justice Gazelee waited patiently, but no-one rose. The promised prosecution witnesses were not there. It was remarked on by the judge as very unusual that the three named witnesses for the prosecution, charged on a Coroner’s inquest to attend and give evidence, found themselves unable to be present in court. Information about mysterious and sudden ‘changes of heart’ by the prosecution witnesses was passed to the judge.

In an attempt to continue with the case, the judge ordered the following proclamation to be read out by the Officer of the Court:

If any one can inform my Lord the King’s Justices of any murders, treasons, felonies, or misdemeanors etc. done by the prisoners at the bar, or either of them, let them come forward and give evidence.”

Silence, no one moved. Justice Gazelee spoke with incredulity;

Does no Gentleman appear to prosecute?”

The Officer of the Court replied:

No Gentleman at the Bar is instructed my Lord.”

The judge quickly commanded that the constable of Eton, Christopher Teasdale, who had guarded Wood, be instructed to give evidence.

The constable was called – but did not appear despite having being subpoenaed to attend the trial by the Coroner, but when further questioned by the judge, the Coroner could not confirm that the constable had been given the subpoena as he chose not deliver it in person and had left it to another to deal with.  Other names were called who had been subpoenaed by the Coroner to attend and give evidence – none were present.

Mr. Justice Gazelee had no option left but to say to the jury,  “It is my duty to state to you, that as no evidence has been called to support the charge, they are entitled to an acquittal and you will say they are Not Guilty.” The jury instantly acquitted them as instructed.

The two boys bowed to the judge and immediately left the dock with their ‘friends’.

What was that BBC question again?

“Why have so many leaders come from this one school?”

 A puzzle indeed!


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The Curse of The Haunted Vinegar Bowl


A man suddenly in Rosemary Lane’ 8th May,1665.

This anonymous man dying ‘suddenly’ in east London’s Rosemary Lane (re-christened Royal Mint Street), has the dubious distinction of being the first recorded, unnamed victim of the infamous Great Plague of 1665 as pictured above: (oil painting on board by Rita Greer, history painter, 2009).

When the fast-spreading disease hit London that scorching summer with around one hundred deaths every three to four days, those who could afford to do so, fled the city for the countryside. Protecting oneself from this invisible horror became a fixation. Trades people who valued their life more than their money, locked up their premises and posted a hasty sign;

Closed at the Behest of the Dreaded Plague

The majority, with no choice but to stay in affected areas, would struggle to maintain bonfires night and day in the belief that only the power of fire could swallow the stench and eat this evil pestilence knocking at their door. Children would be encouraged to sniff sponges soaked in vinegar and even take up smoking, actively encouraged by “plague doctors”. (Note: Greer’s painting above depicts a plague doctor with the distinctive beak mask of Italian origin (Il Medico della Peste ) which was stuffed full of herbs soaked in perfume to combat the foul air –  the so-called miasma theory of protection)


No one could possibly know that knocking at their door was something so virulent, that once the headaches began and the swelling armpits, groin and neck were accompanied by vomiting and fever, death was likely to be only a few weeks away. The flea that infected them with its tiny bite merely continued doing what it was designed to do – cosy in its home, deep in the fur of black rats, scurrying around delivering the bacteria Yersinia pestis in exchange for blood. Ironically the slaughter of cats and dogs thought responsible, allowed the plague-carrying rats and their tiny passengers to increase in numbers.

The countryside was seen as a safe haven by many who could afford to rent or buy a cottage, thereby isolating themselves from the contamination – or so they thought. Although the spread of the bacteria was slower – it was still moving around thanks to its efficient black rat transportation system.

Slowly, but surely, the disease reached out its putrefying hand and claimed victim after victim, supplementing this horrifying bubonic plague with pneumonic plague attacking the lungs, and spread through sneezing. For some, the diagnosis was septicaemic plague, as the bacteria entered the blood stream.

Plague pits became a common feature everywhere, each county burying its dead in designating areas where bodies were slaked with lime to speed the process of rotting and disintegration.


As fire, lime and country air were not enough to halt the plague’s steady progress, so grew the practice of using vinegar bowls. Outside your farm or cottage you would arrange a stone bowl, or sometimes a small trough filled with vinegar.

All the money that you owe a local tradesman would be placed in the vinegar filled receptacle, so it could be taken out by those delivering your milk, eggs and bread etc, hopefully cleansed from plague contamination. Any change would be left in the bowl for your later collection or merely to soak until needed again.

At this time, in the Buckinghamshire village of Priestwood (now Prestwood) in the long lost Back Lane, was sited one cottage and two farms, Greenland Farm and Hampden Farm.

The cottage is no longer there, but a farm building remains to this day in what is known as Greenlands  Lane. Also to be seen, close to Hampden Farm, set in an old brick, flint and stone wall, is an original plague vinegar bowl.

The wall is near the old footpath that would have led you straight to the small thatched cottage, but the vinegar bowl is very easy to miss. It retired many centuries ago from performing its battle with the plague virus and is now overgrown with ivy. But if you take the time to part the dense leaves carefully, you can, if you concentrate, just make out what appears to be a worn, skull-like, leering face indelibly etched  in the darkly stained stone at the back of the bowl.



Not everyone, it must be confessed, can see it however long they stare. But be warned, whatever you do, do not place your hand into its depths, for this vinegar bowl is said to be haunted.

Long after the plague had been swept away and the vinegar had dried to a dark crimson stain, it still came in useful for leaving the milkman a note and his weekly milk money. So its life continued, hands going in and out exchanging money and messages.

One stormy Monday morning on May 8th 1865, the local horse-drawn milk cart clattered its way down the muddy track to the cottage footpath. Bill Cherry, a cheerful man whatever the weather, whistled as he reined in his horse alongside the bowl.

Admittedly, the facts are a little confusing about the events that followed, but there is no doubt, as the weather records tell us, that a fierce, freak thunderstorm broke out across the morning sky. Ferocious jagged lightning cast an eerie glow across a still visible moon, its fingers pointing out a destructive path, breaking boughs and crackling threateningly around the thatched roofs and stable yards.

Bill’s horse started nervously at what The Times newspaper was later to describe as, “…incessant and vivid lightning, followed by peals of thunder of corresponding intensity.” Bill’s calming voice quickly settled her, “..hold steady girl, we’ll soon be away and warm.”

Still whistling, Bill clambered down from the cart, grabbed the dispensing churn and ladle from the back and, as if impervious to the sudden lashing rain, measured out his milk delivery into the waiting cottage urn. The lightning continued in its fury.

Bill quickly placed the churn and ladle back on board and automatically reached into the vinegar bowl for his money.

At that very moment, a bolt of lightning shot its jagged arm towards the very same spot. It lit up the leering, evil face etched on the inside stone of the bowl. Bill had never even noticed this before and he felt uneasy. His horse reared up terrified and, as he glanced away quickly to calm her, he felt his hand being grabbed and squeezed as if in a vice.

Crying out in pain, he tried to pull away from the vinegar bowl, but to no avail. A second flash of lightning then revealed the horror he was never to forget.

A withered, festering, putrid hand, as if from a corpse, was clasped around his in a bizarre handshake. His own hand was slowly but surely being pulled down into the bowl, his fingers crushed and in agony.

Then, as suddenly as it began, his hand was freed. He screamed in relief and bewilderment, leaping onto his cart and shouting, “In God’s name go girl, GO, for God’s sake, GO.”

The terrified horse needed no encouragement and flew; the milk churns falling and rolling from the cart as they escaped. Bill’s mind was in a turmoil.

It was true that later that morning when the storm had cleared, several of Bill’s churns were found strewn about the lane. It was also true that he had neglected to collect his money from the bowl that morning. But even more strange, was the addition of two farthing traders’ tokens lying amongst the milk money. They bore the date 1665, an engraving of a set of scales and the name of the trader called Mealeman.


[Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)]

They also bore the designation, Rosemary Lane in London’s east end.

It was also true that from that day onward, after a terrified Bill had told his tale, his mental state deteriorated so he was no longer able to work. He took to sitting in his cottage mumbling, the fingers on his right hand weeping raw stumps.

This was not from any disease as far as anyone could tell, but hour after hour, day after day and year after year, Bill tried every means to scrub them clean from the putrid stench that was always with him. He was literally rubbing his fingers away. The strange thing was that no one else could smell it, but Bill took no heed and it always seemed to him to be much worse in the early summer, especially in May.

 May 8th to be exact, Bill’s birthday.

Bill had not always lived in the country; in fact he was born in East London.

plague handimages@wellcome.ac.uk

In Rosemary Lane to be precise.



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