Wizard Palmer And The Hand of Glory


Open lock
To the Dead Man’s knock!
Fly bolt, and bar, and band!—
Nor move, nor swerve,
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!
Sleep all who sleep! — Wake all who wake!—
But be as the Dead for the Dead Man’s sake.’

Magic – and the claim to practise it – is one of the most enduring of all mysteries. Does magic exist? Are there real witches and wizards, or are we taken in by myth, legend and scam? Enchantments, spells, potions, and talismen draw us into stories of the age-old battle between good and evil. Are they just tales, or do they contain some elements of truth? It seems that such confrontations really do happen, and in certain English counties and villages, we can find evidence.

This is the tale of the spell of the dead man’s hand associated with the English village of Winterbourne and a legendary Berkshire Wizard known as Wizard Palmer of Boxford during the early nineteenth century.

Our familiarity with fictional wizards such as J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard, Harry Potter, can blind us to the fact that wizards really did exist alongside the enduring cult of witchcraft and witches and many people today still claim such roles for themselves.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 1951 that British laws against witchcraft were fully lifted, and, as late as 1944, there was a trial at the Old Bailey under the original Witchcraft Act of 1735, in which a Scottish woman – Helen Duncan – was convicted of being a witch – the last woman in England to be so labelled and prosecuted. She received nine months imprisonment in Holloway.


Wizards of past times were also referred to as cunning men, and under that name they would offer advice and guidance to those seeking remedies against misfortune and the unwanted attentions of the supernatural. The practice could involve both curing and cursing and was accepted by many village communities as traditional, rural, folk magic. also called cunning craft.

As a practising Berkshire wizard, John Palmer would be asked to exorcise or banish ghosts, and, as a cunning man, to supply the descriptions of thieves who had stolen villagers’ property. For a fairly hefty fee of around two shillings, the victim of a theft could obtain a consultation with Palmer in his cottage by the River Lambourn, and by cunning means Palmer would write down the necessary description of the thief or thieves for the victim to trace. If the property had been lost rather than stolen, he could advise the owner where they might find it again.
Wizard Palmer’s cottage, Boxford, Berkshire.

By the late 1830’s Palmer had gained a reputation for solving mysteries in the English county of Berkshire. For example, he was purported to have banished a shadowy, animal-like figure that haunted a derelict cottage by Wickham church, terrorizing the villagers. Legend has it that he ordered heavy chains  from nearby Newbury, chained-up the cottage, and contained the spirit within.

By cunning, it is said, he traced a person responsible for the mysterious severing of barge ropes along the Thames at Reading in 1841. He is also recorded as upsetting many people in Welford when he cast a spell to silence the church bells because they got on his nerves and found himself evicted from his cottage by the squire for doing so – brave squire!

However, Palmer is best remembered for his role in successfully breaking the spell of the dead man’s hand. This happened in the Berkshire village of Winterbourne and involved  a gruesome device of the ‘dark arts’ known as A Hand of Glory.

Firstly we need to know how such a device as the hand of glory was actually created and all the magical powers it claimed to provide  [1].
Many claims to mysterious powers are associated with the scaffold and its grim product the dead body of a recently hanged or beheaded criminal. Such a body – or perhaps its fresh blood – was said to have mystical properties, and all over the world examples can be found that testify to this belief.
In many English counties, parents would attempt to take children onto the scaffold to have the hand of the corpse, (damp with ‘death sweat‘) rubbed against their skin as a cure for scrofulous diseases.
Women would do the same in an attempt to remove unsightly wens, cysts or warts. Fresh blood from such a corpse was greatly prized in Germany, for example, where executioners in the 19th century made money by selling blood-sodden handkerchiefs and in France, a miracle ointment was made from the fat of the executed.

In many cultures, including the U.K, keeping the fingers and thumbs of thieves as a talisman was believed to improve trade for a shopkeeper. Keeping a small bone in a purse was thought to stop it ever being empty. Even the rope that had choked the life  from the criminal was claimed to have magical properties and would often be sold by the inch after an execution.
However, these nineteenth century customs and many more besides. pale into insignificance when compared to the hand of glory. For such a device you needed to cut the hand from a freshly executed corpse, usually the ‘sinister hand’ which is the left-hand. More valued was a male hand (left or right) which was cut off at the wrist during an eclipse of the moon – but this was a rare and valuable commodity indeed.

It then had to be wrapped in fabric taken from the corpse’s shroud – a mort cloth – and squeezed hard to remove all of the blood and other bodily fluids. Once expunged it was placed in an earthenware jar with powered zimort (cinnamon), saltpetre, salt and special long peppers – all powered and dusted over the hand. After leaving it to marinate for at least fifteen days, it had to be allowed to dry in August sunshine, or possibly – if you were a wizard like Palmer or indeed a witch – you could dry it without it burning by using a cauldron  with flaming vervain and ferns [2]
GLORY WITCH_1To make it work for you, you then needed some fat – ideally from another executed felon or, if not possible, when you remove the hand, cut out the stomach lining of the corpse you obtained the hand from, i.e. human tripe as well as some of his hair mixed with ‘ponie’ (dung), sesame and virgin wax. From this you forged a candle with hair as a wick.

The most wicked and abhorrent recorded cases of such hand of glory candle-making, used the finger of an unborn child, cut from the mother’s womb. Using the hand of glory as a candle holder with the candle or finger wedged firmly and heat-welded between the stiff, lifeless grey fingers, you were now in a position to enter a house by the glory’s candlelight.

This candlelight was only for you as the protected holder of the talismen – lighting your way whilst at the same time casting a spell of deep slumber over the inhabitants. If anyone was still awake they would remain motionless, in a trance until you were gone – they became totally blind to their surroundings and more importantly to you as the hand of glory candle-bearer. You were then able to remove all the possessions you wished without being disturbed. Some robbers preferred to wax the fingers and the thumb of the hand itself and set all of them alight. If the thumb refused to light, it was a warning that someone was not asleep or had not yet fallen under its power after you had recited the entry spell.

‘Open lock
To the Dead Man’s knock!
Fly bolt, and bar, and band!—
Nor move, nor swerve,
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!
Sleep all who sleep! — Wake all who wake!—
But be as the Dead for the Dead Man’s sake.’

You would need to add:

Hand of Glory shining bright lead us to our spot tonight,
Bind all in sleep those now asleep. Bind awake those now awake.’

For a gang of thieves – the leader holding the glory might use another version of the spell:

‘O Hand of Glory shed thy light;
Direct us to our spoil tonight.
Flash out thy blaze, O skeleton hand,
And guide the feet of our trusty band.’

Cottage and farmhouse burglaries were a common occurrence across England as various rogues and vagabonds made their way from village to village, intent on stealing valuables in the dead of night. A series of such burglaries in the Winterbourne area lead the villagers to suspect the use of a hand of glory. Too many groggy villagers that had not been drinking cider and wine to feel that way, were being robbed. Not one of them heard, saw or suspected robbery – yet their valuables had disappeared – some not even known about until they went to check on their secret hiding places.

Wizard Palmer was consulted and he was able to offer some remedies to those wishing to protect themselves from robbery by a hand of glory thief. He told them to smear their thresholds with ointments made from the blood of screech owls or the fat of white hens. These were ‘warning’ ointments said to counteract the spell that rendered people motionless, but the only sure way was to ambush the robbers and extinguish the flame of the hand of glory with a bucket of ‘blue’. Nowadays, we call this skimmed milk!

This was the only substance capable of putting out its gruesome light and rendering the hand of glory useless until a new candle was inserted and lit. But Palmer needed information about when a robbery using such a device of the ‘dark arts’ was to take place. His skills of cunning were supplemented by the less mysterious technique of employing informers to lurk about spying on others and ‘eaves-dropping’.

This in itself was a tricky and risky business because during the 1840’s, lurking outside other people’s houses and cottages in order to overhear conversations by windows, walls and eaves was a criminal offence and you could be imprisoned for eavesdropping, and possibly ‘burnt in the hand’ with a white-hot poker so others would know – when you were released from goal – not to trust you.

Palmer, nevertheless, had his eavesdroppers and information reached him about “..some family men who had been marking a crib in the wild, which they were about to prig with a glory.” Palmer’s knowledge of this language used by criminals known as flash or can language, told him that a gang of thieves (family men) had been watching (marking) a house (crib) in the village (wild) which they were about to rob (prig) with a hand of glory (a glory).
See my blogs: https://wp.me/p8yqmi-1C

More work by his informants identified a farm just on the outskirts of Winterbourne near Westbrook.
GLORY FARM_SKETCHPalmer recruited a local village lad called Will Chamberlain who he judged could resist the power of a hand of glory long enough to defeat it. Some say he put a spell on the boy to make him immune.
glory-cottagePalmer and the boy hid in the farmhouse kitchen while the occupants feigned sleep. Will secreted himself by the kitchen door, a bucket of blue by his side, while Palmer crouched further back to get a clear view of the approaching intruders and to judge the correct moment to break the spell of the dead man’s hand.

As the night deepened, they heard approaching footsteps and a soft glow appeared at the farmhouse door, which swung open to the chant

‘Hand of Glory shining bright lead us to our spot tonight,
Bind all in sleep those now asleep. Bind awake those now awake.’

At Palmer’s precise command and just as the farmhouse threshold had been breached by two intruders, one of them holding their precious hand of glory in front of him, Will Chamberlain sprang forward and emptied the bucket of blue directly over the ‘glory.’ It fell to the floor, its thieving light extinguished and the two robbers, one also armed with a pistol, fled into the night.

It was all over in seconds – Palmer recognized the intruders who fled and would deal with them at first light with the watchmen, Meanwhile he took charge of the glory, and a much enhanced reputation as the Wizard of Boxford who rescued a village from total plunder. His fee was pretty much enhanced as well.

When J.K. Rowling wrote about her wizard hero, Harry Potter, accidently materializing in Borgin & Burkes, a shop specializing in the dark arts in Knockturn Alley, he saw a long coil of hangman’s rope, a staring glass eye, human bones, some evil-looking masks, a rusty spiked instruments and ‘a withered hand on a cushion.’ A hand of glory, no less. [3]

As I gaze at a real, grisly, withered and wrinkled, dirty-grey hand of glory preserved for all to see in Yorkshire’s Whitby Museum, I wonder if this could possibly have seen criminal service in a certain Berkshire village and encounted a real wizard, Wizard Palmer.GLORY_WHITBY

No one knows what happened to Wizard Palmer; he disappeared some time in the 1850’s, although not totally without trace. There is a tale about an old wooden post at Welford that was known locally as Palmer’s Post.

Legend has it that he had driven out an evil spirit from a local farmer’s son and nailed it to this post with a spell. Fanciful perhaps but very soon after the M4 motorway was opened in the 1970’s, stories began to surface about mishaps, silly accidents, cracks in a bridge, police cars and an ambulance suffering complete electrical failures. It was only later that it was spotted that all these events had occurred around the original location of Palmer’s Post, long since felled and its foundations buried under motorway concrete.

Old wizards are not that easily dismissed.


1] For a detailed account of how to make a Hand of Glory, see, Kidd-Hewitt, D., The Cato Conundrum, Publish Nation, 2016: [Amazon e-book £2.99] Paperback available (389 pages)GLORY_SPELLS_2




 [2] Kidd-Hewitt, D., ibid pp. 18-20; 192-4;  247-5

[3] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury Press, London, 1998, (see pp 43/4)

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Accidental Thoughts

On a nice cold morning ...It’s early.

Dawn has just broken and I am sipping hot tea and gazing at the wonders  of an icy morning from the warmth of my study.

Not that long ago I would be steeling myself for a daily motorcycle trip into London from this relaxing village idyll and forced to endure such inhospitable conditions.

Wrapped and cocooned like Wells’s invisible man and venturing out to the bitter cold of a frosty January morning now seems as if it happened to someone else.

The searing cold of a winter motorcycle ride cannot be described. You have to experience it.

Such dressing-gown, tea-sipping thoughts lead to one particular January morning around twenty years ago this very day.

Whatever the weather, the early stages of the ride to work took me through villages I never tired of seeing before the inevitably clogged arteries into London came into view and concentrated traffic weaving manoeuvres took over any thoughts of viewing the passing scenery.

I had always enjoyed circling around the village pond at Holmer Green, acknowledging the handful of stalwart bus travellers waiting at the bus shelter opposite.

This particular day I must have leant a little too far over as I approached the pond. Anyway, I hit black ice and then began the most extraordinary feeling.

I had this heavy motor bike lying on top of me, one leg trapped underneath, yet there was no weight. I remember sliding effortlessly towards the frozen pond as if showing off a new trick to my morning audience at the bus stop. It had a strange exhilaration to it.

I did not feel injured and just waited for it to end.

I had no means of controlling my trajectory.

End it did, balanced on the edge of the pond, cracking the icy rim so water began to creep across and leak into my trapped left boot.

Hands reached down and around, pulling and heaving and I was soon upright, safe and gazing gratefully at my bus stop regulars turned rescuers.

At that very moment, all turned on hearing the approaching bus. The engine gave an uncharacteristic roar, then went eerily silent, then came the crash.

It skidded on the same black ice that had welcomed me but instead of heading for the village pond the single-decker smashed into the modest wooden bus shelter, splitting it into matchwood. “My God,” someone cried, “we would have been killed.”

Horrified nods and murmurs of agreement all round.

“You saved our lives,” said a lady and hugged me, before they all went over to assist with the new accident.

I did not set out that day to save lives.

I did not engineer such an icy trick, but still cannot shake away the thought – was it meant to happen?

The phone’s ringing.

Damn, it’s startled me back to the here and now.

Before I pick it up to begin this new day of writing, I gazed up at the wintry sky.

It seemed the right thing to do.







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A Deadly Remedy: The Case of James ‘Cow- Leecher’ Inglett.

James_old man_1

Welcome to a happy New Year, 1841 which proved to be anything but happy for a certain James Inglett and the Harlett family who lived in the village of Houghton, near Huntingdon. This is one of those rare cases where all involved wanted nothing more than to assist each other, yet their plans went badly wrong.

Here’s a picture of Houghton as recent as 2007, and you can clearly see its picturesque rural heritage.(1)


Houghton On The Hill by Mat Fascione, 3rd June, 2007

First, we need to meet ninety-four year old James Inglett, a veteran farmer whose claim to fame in the local area was not only his longevity, but his talent for inventing and concocting medicinal curatives for sick cattle, as well as having a reputation for healing people when the local apothecary failed.

One of the skills that such a rural community needed was that of a practicing ‘cow-leecher.’ This was a skilled science, but was also a very personal brand of work because it involved creative recipes for cattle medicines of an experimental and ancient pedigree. There were those practicing this art who caused more harm than good but once established as a savior to sick cows, your reputation was sown and James ‘Cow-Leecher’ Inglett had such a reputation in the Huntingdon area. Other’s did not for example:


The Times (London) Monday April 5th, 1819, p.3

Other cases exist where a so-called cow-leecher ends up killing the cattle – the farmer is assured it is safe to sell to the local butcher who then discovers he’s poisoned his customers, some dying as a result. Indeed, our year of 1841, saw a very distressing example:


The Times (London) Friday September 17th 1841 p.3 

So given Inglett’s long, unblemished career as both cattle farmer and cattle doctor, he was well thought of in the village of Houghton. Indeed, there were rumours that so skilled was he in this art, that he owed his own remarkable age to a secret remedy and others would add, with a whisper, that he had discovered the holy grail of alchemy.

James_old man_2
It seemed natural therefore, when the local apothecary had failed to assist a local villager, thirty-year old Elizabeth Harlett, with her excessive stomach pains and vomiting illness, James Inglett might assist in finding a cure. He called to see her at Christmas time 1840, bringing with him a special medicine which he had used successfully within his own family over the years.

However, the medicine James left her made Elizabeth very sick indeed, but she persevered assisted by her younger sister’s careful nursing and gradually she started to get better. Her sister described her as “quite purely.”

james_sick woman

On the morning of January 11th 1841. James Inglett called to check on her condition and left some more medicine for her. That night Elizabeth became very ill again after taking the medicine and Elizabeth’s older sister spent the night comforting her, but she was in great pain.
james_sick woman_1

Early on Wednesday morning, January the 13th, having taken some opium pills, Elizabeth fell into a quiet doze but she never woke up and this was seen by her family as a natural release from her long sufferings.

Ten days after her burial, village rumours were very strong that she had been poisoned and the local coroner agreed her body should be exhumed. Two surgeons examined the disinterred body and found it to be in a generally healthy state, the organs sound and free from disease. However, her stomach and bowels were seriously inflamed and the jury, at the hearing, decided she had, in fact, died from the incautious and improper administering by James Inglett  of “…a certain noxious, inflammatory and dangerous thing to the jurors unknown.”

The ‘thing to the jurors unknown’ was discovered to be arsenic and left the medical men with no doubt that Elizabeth Harlett had taken this highly poisonous substance just prior to death. They decided that all the signs of her illness pointed to arsenic poisoning. It was also the case that James Inglett had been very honest and open about the fact he called at the house and left his medicine for her which did contain arsenic.

Elizabeth’s older sister did confront James with the accusation that it was “his stuff” that killed Elizabeth. His reply had been that it could not be the case, for he had only given her half a grain, whereas he had given his son and others a grain and more without any harm. Elizabeth’s sister replied that it must have been too much for her stomach.

James Inglett’s reply was ambiguous, “Like enough, poor thing, for her stomach was almost gone.”

On the day of Elizabeth’s funeral, he was distraught and said to the family, “I would not for twenty-shillings have given her anything if I had known it, for I would rather have done her good than harm.”


At his trial in March, the family spoke highly of his attention and honesty and his very genuine attempts to cure Elizabeth and could not support any accusation that he deliberately harmed her.
The judge reminded the jury that they had several important questions to answer;
(1) Had the deceased died from the administering and taking of arsenic? – Clearly the answer was yes.
(2) Was it the prisoner – James Inglett – that administered it? – Again, the answer was yes, it was James Inglett.
(3) In administering it – did James Inglett act with due degree of care and caution or did he act with rashness and negligence? – This is where the jury had a struggle with their decision.

They returned a verdict of “Guilty of administering arsenic incautiously.

The judge said he could not accept that as representing a legal verdict. They must acquit the prisoner unless they are satisfied that he acted not incautiously merely, but with gross rashness and want of caution.

The jury then returned a verdict of “GUILTY.”

The Judge admonished Inglett for dealing with such a dangerous drug without caution nor care but considered that it would be what he termed “A useless cruelty” at his time of life to be given the severe penalty that a felonious killed and slaying would normally invite. As he had already been in prison for six weeks he would be sentenced to a further two weeks and then released. The Times ended their report in a very magnanimous way as follows:


The Times (London) March 23rd 1841, p.5

I have not been able to find out what happened to James Inglett after his sentence had been served. I wonder if he made it to one hundred years old! Was he perhaps an alchemist after all?  If you do find anything out – please let me know.


(1) http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/7217

(2)  John C. Knowlson The complete cow-leech, or cattle doctor: Volume 8 January 1,            1820


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New Year Resolution : Depart Hence & Sin No More.


Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddock  (artist’s impression)

It’s Monday, January 1st 2018 as I start to write this and I’m late for my self-imposed deadline to publish it on the first day of the new year. Forgive my tardiness but I currently have no internet access and feel guilty – not for missing my deadline – but for finding it strangely calming to be so neutered and tweet-less.

I am literally at sea and it’s a blustery forty-five knots progress in the Atlantic ocean so maybe its time for thoughts to turn to New Year resolutions. One immediate one is that I will now write more with my late ’60’s Sheaffer “NoNonsense” fountain pen – I do hope newer generations will still find it quirky enough to experience such old-fashioned technology – and it’s still available today which says something about its longevity – but I cannot guarantee that I can live up to actually writing no nonsense!

I want to share with you the tale of one Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddock for no other reason than he was a man who really needed to heed the importance of making a serious new year resolution.

He was a medical student sitting his examination in London to become licensed as a certificated Apothecary and so be able to diagnose certain medical complaints and prepare and sell drugs for curative and healing purposes.

It was on Thursday, December 22nd 1836, that this somewhat arrogant, aristocratic ‘gentleman’, laying legitimate claim to hail from an honourable and highly respected family in the West of England (“The Penruddock’s don’t you know!”) arrived at the ancient and famous Apothecaries’ Hall in London.Apothecaries-hall
He was there to undergo the customary oral examination to test his knowledge of apothecary before five of the most eminent practitioners of this ancient and still burgeoning medical profession. Mr. Este, the Chief Examiner, assisted by Mr. Randall, Mr. Hardy, Mr. Ridout and Dr. Merriman.PEN_MEN
They greeted Mr. Penruddock with dignity and respect and bade him sit and discuss with them a series of challenging questions designed to test this young medical student’s knowledge of the science of Apothecary.

However, it seems that Mr. Penruddock was not in the mood to answer their questions – or rather – was unable to disguise his ignorance – so resorted to bluster and insult. Not a good start. Nevertheless, the Chief Examiner, Mr. Este, attempted to assist Penruddock by providing obvious clues and cues as to the answers that they were seeking.

Penruddock, in what was later described as ‘a considerable violence of tone and manner,’ asked how the Devil he was expected to answer when they kept badgering him with questions? Mr. Este politely persevered to get the examination underway by putting some other less difficult questions to him but Penruddock was unable to even attempt an answer, so Mr. Este found himself answering the questions for him in his kindness to assist.

Mr. Hardy was not impressed and suggested that this was not a proper examination and they must  make sterner efforts to determine Penruddock’s fitness to receive their certification as an Apothecary. New questions were put to him and again he was unable to provide any coherent answers. By this time, even Penruddock had worked out this was not going well, and he was unlikely to receive his certificate. He told them he had never been the sort of pupil that could answer questions – even at school he was unable to do so.

Mr. Ridout suggested that this was the only way they could determine his suitability to practice as a professional Apothecary. Indeed, they were compelled to determine the qualifications of the candidates for certificates and this was a strict procedure, insisting he should answer with some degree of proficiency for them to assist him in his goal of attaining their approval for certification.

Penruddock then requested that the examiners question him in anatomy which he claimed he had studied for many years and with great care. In fact he claimed he had almost “lived in the dead house“, so keen was his  study of the human body.

The examiners patiently explained that this was not an area of study within Apothecary. He did not require a knowledge of anatomy but chemistry; therapeutics; and most important of all “Materia Medica”
the legendary botanical treatise treasured by their profession.


Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk

It was obvious by now that Penruddock had never studied the most crucial texts and manuscripts integral to the professional certification he sought.
Instead of admitting this, however, he merely said that he did not require their approval to practice, he had money enough to set himself up as an apothecary in another country, nevertheless, it was of importance to his family that he should not fail otherwise he would be disgraced and he would not allow such a ‘set of fellows‘ as them to do this to him – he would rather die first and would, “swing for it.

This was now a very serious attack on the integrity of the examiners who were aghast at his threats and they moved back from his presence as he became more agitated. Penruddock turned and put his face close to that of Mr. Hardy and snarled, You are one of those who have been hard upon me.”

With that venomous comment hissed into the examiner’s face, Penruddock produced a ‘life-preserver’ from his pocket, which was a fashionable name for a cosh containing a high density of lead packed within fancy bone handle, often made of whale bone.


Two coshes or “life preservers” of whalebone and lead by Simon Speed.

He smashed his lead-laden cosh down onto Mr. Hardy’s forehead with as much power as he could, sending the poor man crashing to the ground. The other examiners rushed to control this berserk medical student and they also received blows from his so-called ‘life-preserver’. Cries for the police were quickly answered and Penruddock was arrested.
Mr. Hardy, Mr. Este and Dr. Merriman had sustained severe contusions and there was a great deal of blood flowing from their combined injuries. The newspapers were quick to cover this ‘exam-rage’ incident. Here is The Leicester Chronicle for Saturday, December 31st 1836.

So severe were Mr. Hardy’s injuries that there was fear he might never recover sufficiently to give evidence. It was now new year’s eve and Penruddock’s family pushed all the aristocratic buttons they could to have their son freed for new year celebrations, but Alderman Johnson at the Guildhall refused, especially given the serious condition of a key witness who needed to be heard. Indeed it was Thursday January 5th, that Penruddock was taken to the Guildhall for legal examination. He was charged with:

Having on 22nd December last, violently assaulted with a deadly weapon, called a life-preserver, three members of the Court of Examiners of the Apothecaries’ Company, because they deemed him unfit to be licensed as a medical practitioner.”

Now, Penruddock’s family were pulling out all the stops because it was very likely that this was going to be taken to the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey for a capital offence charge of ‘Wounding Mr. Hardy with intent to do grevious bodily harm.’ Evidence had also been produced by the police of a four ounce bottle of gin found in Penruddock’s pocket – so the disgrace he was likely to bring upon the family was growing in significance.

Pendruddock’s defence claimed that he had been ‘crowded in’ by the examiners who insulted him and so he was only reacting to harassment and claims that the examiner he assaulted refused to examine his skills in anatomy, merely saying “Pooh, pooh! Don’t examine him in that – turn him down.”

It was decided by the Aldermen at Guildhall, that Penruddock’s behaviour was indeed serious enough to have him committed to the Central Criminal Court.
He was given the choice of an immediate hearing before the Grand Jury, but little time to prepare his defence, or more time to prepare his defence but he would remain in custody until at least the end of February. The family opted for the longer option and so their son was once more kept in custody and the family lawyers consulted about getting Penruddock off.

We cannot know how Penruddock spent that evening but possibly he was now regretting his violent arrogance and maybe a hint of some new year resolutions were forming such as to leave off the gin, ditch the ‘life-preserver’, and read Materia Medica – but somehow I doubt it.

Penruddock’s legal team of Mr, Phillips and Mr. Bodkin appeared with their client at The Old Bailey on Wednesday January 30th as the first case for that day. They said it would be brief as their client was clearly not guilty! Indeed their client was  “a mild-mannered man known for the kindness of his disposition and the mild quietude of his manners.”
Just in case we have all forgotten the definition of quietude – it is “a state of stillness, calmness, and quiet in a person or place.”

They were out to get the rowdy, noisy, excessively rude and unreasonable set of examiners, especially the wounded Mr. Hardy who brought it all on himself. At this point I felt compelled to undertake some further research on whether there may be the vaguest ancestral connection to the Trump dynasty to explain such a maverick legal ploy.

It was almost confirmed when, not only did a highly qualified surgeon provide a glowing reference of Penruddock’s ‘humanity’,  but claimed the injuries to the examiners were not from the so-called ‘life-preserver’ – a much needed protection for such an aristocratic street-target as dear Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddock – but they had been merely grazed by the dear boy’s knuckles which had much pained him both physically and of course mentally, by these false claims of his so-called assaults and woundings.

Mr. Phillips, “Mr. Penruddock was a young man of most respectable connections in the West of England and had hitherto throughout his existence been remarkable for his extreme humanity and kindness of disposition.” He accused Mr. Hardy of deliberately calculated behaviour to “Flurry and alarm a young man placed in such a stressful situation.” This was a man who worked long and hard in hospitals, and leaving very late at night, required such a weapon for his defence. Indeed,  it was almost fortunate that his clients knuckles and not the weapon had struck Mr. Hardy otherwise he would be more seriously injured than claimed.

Yes, you are reading this parallel world view and how lucky Mr. Hardy really was.

He asked the jury not to pursue the route of death by hanging or transportation for life which this charge – if true – demanded,  but to say to his client: “Depart hence and sin no more.

Mr. Justice Williams summed up the case and the grand jury retired for thirty minutes to consider their verdict.

“NOT GUILTY.” announced the foreman on their return 

It was clear that given Penruddock’s “honourable and highly respected family in the West of England” this verdict would have been carefully orchestrated but the examiners were determined that at least he had committed ‘ common assault,’ and the prosecution immediately stepped in to claim so.

It was then clear to all that this was the deal – Penruddock would appear at the London sessions during early April for common assault – possibly serve a brief, but not unpleasant sentence in the local Compter where he could certainly purchase privileges, and then be summarily discharged in recognizance of a couple of hundred pounds to keep the peace – in other words:

“Depart hence and sin no more.”

With apologies to the 1980’s legendary TV A-Team – but this A-Team – (The Aristorcrats ) – must have expressed similar sentiments to Col. John “Hannibal” Smith at its conclusion.

Did William “Life-Preserver” Penruddock really say:

” I love it when a plan comes together.”


Apothecaries Hall by Elsa Rolle (24/03/13)/Photoshop by David Kidd-Hewitt( 04/01/18)

“I must not maim, disable, wound nor assault my examiners;
I must not maim, disable, wound nor assault my examiners;

“I must not maim, disable, wound nor assault my examiners;
I must not maim, disable, wound nor assault my examiners;

I must not waim, aisable, hound nor sault my examiners;
I must not daim, misable, mound nor wassault my examiners;

Blast it! – where’s the gin?”
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The Guardian Of Chapel Cottage: A True Ghost Story

GUARDIANI do hope you are having a joyful Christmas day, 2017.
I would like to recount my favourite true ghost story that I was told about fourteen years ago when I was writing Buckinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder (Countryside Books, 2003).

I had met up with Louise and Noel Dockstader who had recently moved to my neighbourhood and they kindly told me their fascinating story I’ve entitled ‘The Guardian of Chapel Cottage‘ and I have absolutely no reason to doubt its authenticity and I think you’ll see why.

Ghosts in popular myth tend to be depicted as transparent, often appear to float, or possibly walk through walls and perhaps make strange noises. In my long experience of thoroughly investigating tales of ghosts or apparitions and interviewing ‘witnesses’ at length, a different picture emerges time and time again.

Those who pass my tough and tricky interrogation who I can then consider to be reliable informants, rarely see semi-transparent beings. They have more usually been confronted by what appears to be a solid, three dimensional person. It then takes the brain a moment to register that there is something incongruous or out of place about what they are suddenly seeing, apart from why that person is there at all. The clothes are perhaps from another century, the whole appearance says this person is ‘out of time,’ and then they are gone. Sometimes instantaneously, sometimes fading away.

I always began my many such investigations as a skeptic but the following experiences recounted, checked and double checked make it difficult to do other than conclude that this story, ‘The Guardian of Chapel Cottage,‘ is as authentic as any ghost or spirit story can be.

The story begins when a young married couple, Louise and Noel Dockstader, decided to move to the picturesque Buckinghamshire village of Speen.
Noel, who originates from California, had met the love of his life, Louise from England, whilst in the States, and they had married and were now both living in California. Noel told Louise that he had ambitions to move to England and live in some kind of historic house. Louise was keen to return to England and for Noel to experience the English way of life away from what she called, “Shiny, new California.”

So in 1991, after their first year of married life in the States, they rented a farm cottage in Gloucestershire and set about looking for a more permanent home.

They wanted an area with hills and countryside and close enough to travel to London for work and so their research took them to the old Buckinghamshire village of Speen.


Speen village sign by Peter Jemmett

They took days out looking for ‘For Sale‘ signs and in January 1992 came across Chapel Cottage.


No one was at home, so they peeked through the windows and both knew immediately that this was what they wanted. At that moment the owners returned from a walk and invited Louise and Noel in. They sat them down for some tea by a roaring fire in the cottage’s original sixteenth century inglenook fireplace and it was at that moment Louise and Noel both realised this had to be their cottage.

By February 22nd, 1992, they were driving down from Gloucestershire in a rented van to move into Chapel Cottage. It was a mild February morning at around ten o’ clock in the morning when they arrived outside their new home. Their first job was to unload the many boxes that they had managed to cram into the van. Noel was anxious to return to Gloucestershire for their second load, whilst Louise agreed to stay and to sort out the first batch into some semblance of order.

The cottage was even better than Louise remembered it.

As you open the front door, you enter directly into a cosy living room, where, in the far left-hand corner, there is a small stairwell from which steep, narrow, polished wooden stairs spiral upwards. They look almost too vertical to climb safely and the stairwell entrance is enclosed by a small latched door.

Louise liked the way the  stairs looked as if they were escaping from a small cupboard. Also you couldn’t quite see where they were leading which made them quite exciting. A major attraction of the cottage for Louise and Noel was not only this amazing staircase, but all the nooks and crannies they could enjoy, as well as the authentic inglenook fireplace that was almost half the size of the living room.


Inglenook fireplace by Penny Mayes

It was an interesting design because it had an additional brick section right at the back, halfway down, that might have been there to throw heat forward into the room, or perhaps an unfinished attempt to open up the fireplace to serve the dining room behind.

Anyway that was a puzzle to solve another day. The both loved the built-in bread-oven and salt cupboard, all part of the original function of the fireplace when the early occupants would be busy cooking and baking bread over a log-fire. They saw the possibilities of perhaps  doing this themselves one day once they had settled in.

As they moved in on this February day in 1992, the first part of our story begins.

While Noel was busy unloading from the van, Louise carried her first box into the living room. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure standing on the stairs in the corner watching her.

There is always a split- second before the mind adjusts to what it has just seen and Louise’s immediate thought was, ‘Oh, the estate agent is here or someone Noel has asked to meet us but forgot to tell me.’

But no sooner had she thought this, then she released that the figure’s appearance did not support her reasoning. The figure was male, completely solid – not the transparent apparition of a traditional ghost story – and was wearing a type of farm worker’s smock and  a rather incongruous floppy hat over long curly black hair. In that split-second it was difficult to see his face clearly.

Louise’s recalled how her mind logged a bizarre similarity to how she would imagine Salvador Dali would look if you met him unexpectedly in your living room, but in an instant of recognition he was gone. Louise also recalls how she did not have any urge to scream.

GUARDIAN Arno_Breker_Dali_(1975)

Salvador Dali by Arno Breker (1975)

It seemed almost that he was supposed to be there. The cottage was welcoming and there was no sudden change in atmosphere or  a cold draught blowing across the  room we are told is supposed to happen if you are in the presence of a ghost. Also it was mid-morning and in all good hauntings, ghosts are not thought of as morning people.

Louise called for Noel and told him what she had seen. He knew Louise was not prone to imaginary episodes, and there was nothing to see, but he kept an open mind that it was perhaps a strange configuration of the light or something that could be similarly explained.

However, during the course of that day while they moved in scores of boxes, both Louise and Noel did encounter a strange occurrence that neither of them have been able to account for and only happened on that first day in the empty cottage.

They noticed something they have, on reflection, called a ‘reverse echo’ precede them into the living room. As they carried in a box, the sound of footsteps went ahead of them as if someone invisible was already walking into the room. This was then accompanied by the sound of a box being thumped to the ground before the box Louise or Noel was carrying was placed down on the floorboards. It was as if their movements were being mimicked just ahead of them.

As they both recall, “It was like the sound was coming before the thing that you had done – in advance – and that was really spooky.”

That might have been the end of a very brief, bizarre experience they both found difficult to explain but something was yet to occur that Louise will never forget.

But first there were to be seven years of incredibly happy times in their cottage home without the slightest hint of ghostly happenings. In fact the house was one with a comforting atmosphere that soon put behind any lingering thoughts that it was haunted. Louise recalls how there was always a warm presence.  She described it as “A wonderful house that had a really live feeling as if it were really taking care of us and we hated to leave it but it was tiny.”

Before any question of leaving Chapel Cottage arises, however, there is the happy event of the first of July 1997 to record. The birth of their son Joseph.
Noel and Louise were overjoyed and Louise’s mother came to stay at the cottage to help.

Noel, Louise and now Joe, enjoyed two more happy years in their cottage in Speen before deciding it was time to move. This cosy home was too small to bring up a family and the steep stairway and nooks and crannies were too tempting and possibly dangerous for a young toddler who was now a confirmed walker, zooming along with that toddling gait that youngsters use so effectively to reach quite remarkable speeds.

They settled on buying an old house with a large garden in nearby Prestwood, an ideal property to bring up a family and big enough to acquire a family dog as well.

The moving date was July 10th 1999 and Joe was now just over two years old and into everything. Eventually the cottage was cleared out ready for the new owners, and was completely empty again, just as it had been when they moved in. Louise undertook a final check to make sure all was clean and tidy for the new occupants.

She was carrying Joe in her arms back down the stairs after checking the bedrooms. Suddenly he made Louise stop and said “Mummy, who’s that?”

Who?”, asked Louise.

That man,” said Joe, “with the funny clothes.”

What man?”

That man standing next to you mummy,” said Joe, pointing.

Louise was half-way down the stairs holding Joe in front of her and anyone standing next to her would have been in exactly the same spot, when seven years ago, Louise saw her ghost as she entered the living room of Chapel Cottage for the first time.

Five years before Joe was born.

Louise felt goose-bumps begin, and, not daring to turn, she looked straight ahead and asked Joe what the man was doing.

He’s poking you mummy,” said Joe, demonstrating poking actions with his finger. Louise remembers how Joe was making eye contact with someone over her shoulder and even looked a little embarrassed at mimicking the stranger’s actions.

Louise, now quite unnerved, plucked up the courage to whip around, and confront the man but couldn’t see anyone or anything.
Joe, however, was looking straight at the spot where such a figure would be standing.
Louise mumbled something about how they ought to go now, as she didn’t want to alarm Joe, and continued quickly down the stairs, straight outside and locked the cottage door for the last time, never looking back.

Louise and Noel have thought about their ghost a great deal since, and Louise in particular is frustrated about not knowing more about Chapel Cottage and its history. She also feels that perhaps, the figure, or whatever it was, was only trying to communicate and now it is too late to find out why.

Joe never spoke about the incident as he has no reason to consider it is anything out of the ordinary. At two years of age he would know nothing of ghosts and wouldn’t be worried about about a man standing on the stairs his finger apparently prodding his mother. Louise and Noel did not discuss it with him either in case it frightened him.

Several things still puzzle Louise.

Why did someone or something only appear so briefly when they moved in and then on the day they moved out but inbetween the cottage felt so comforting and protective? Was this some kind of benevolent guardian?

Did it/he? watch over the family, generating the warm presence that both Louise and Noel felt in their home? Also why did she see him on the first day but only Joe could see him on their last day?

Why did  Joe say he was poking mummy? Louise has thought a great deal about this and wondered whether this was not what he really saw. It was more than likely that the apparition of Chapel Cottage was not poking at all – he was pointing.

But what, on the stairs, was he pointing at if it wasn’t Louise?

Had he a story to tell? Did something happen on that staircase? From his position he could perhaps have been pointing to the incongruous brick section that had been added after the original inglenook fireplace had been built. Also Joe had never, prior to this incident, or since that day, claimed to have seen anyone who wasn’t there as far as mum or dad were concerned.

Louise recalls, rather chillingly, that the stairs were so steep, rising up high into the roof space they were easily tall enough for someone to hang themselves or be hung. But then this would not accord with the friendly feel and happy atmosphere they always enjoyed in the cottage so it seems more likely that attention was perhaps being drawn to something hidden in the area of the stairway.

The only other unusual event that Louise recalls happening during their time at Chapel Cottage  – and on the face of it –  seems totally unconnected with these two appearances of the Chapel Cottage ghost – concerns a visitor to the cottage.

It was July 2nd 1997, Noel had popped out for a short while and Louise was resting upstairs having only just returned from High Wycombe hospital that very day, with their precious  one-day old baby. It was Joe’s very first time in his new home and Louise’s mum had come to stay for a while to help out.

There was a knock at the cottage door and mum answered. There was an elderly stranger who introduced himself as someone who had been born in that very cottage in 1900 and was back visiting his old village of Speen and his former home.


Louise could hear snatches of the conversation below as her mother chatted with him and it was clear that he fully understood that it was not convenient to come in and look around while mother and new baby were resting. He thanked Louise’s mother who suggested he called back in a few day’s time. She told Louise that for ninety-seven years old, he looked very good.

A few days later, a beautiful old photograph of Chapel Cottage was put through the letter-box with a brief note explaining that the young boy standing outside aged three years old was him in 1903. He never called by again, unless,….

Was this a coincidence?

Is there something that connects the unexpected visitor on Joe’s first day in the cottage with the apparition on  Louise and Noels’s very first and Louise and Joe’s very last day of occupation?

The mystery of the ghost of Chapel Cottage and the unexpected visitor remains to be solved. I will go and visit this cottage next year and somehow find out if the current occupants have any similar experiences but I dare not suggest their home is haunted if they have no knowledge of anything unusual. It’s a little tricky but it would be great to see what has happened there over the last eighteen years – especially if they had a certain visitor now aged one hundred and seventeen years old leaving them a photograph.










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Simply Bread

hollywoodBread is such a short simple word but goodness it takes on a myriad of meanings and aspirations.
From slang for money; for sustaining life; to providing religious & spiritual salvation; pleasure and friendship (breaking bread); freedom from hunger to ecstatic wonderment and to a form of visual and sensual stimulation like no other.
It transcends cultures and then absorbs them so it allows you to mind-travel using hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Anyone can mime that they would like some bread whatever the language of the mime-giver and and mime-receiver.

Even house-sellers are advised to try baking bread that will assist to waft their house-viewers into house buyers. “Many blogs and websites advising you about how to sell your property mention that smell is important.  A potential buyer walking in does not want to be hit with the aroma ‘soggy pet pooch’.” [Luke Corby-Owen: ‘Property Law’ June 1st 2017]

Bread is simple to make from water and a whole array of different ground natural foods pummelled to a flour or paste and then transformed to a dough. Wheat galore is out there whether spelt, einkorn, emmer, triticale, rice, coconut, nuts in general – but this is not the place to list how many edible items can be reduced to a basic flour or paste and then to dough – suffice it to say we all know how important is has been, still is, and will continue to be, for many millions of people’s lives across the planet.

It’s now increasing its availability in non-gluten forms, thereby finding new places in people’s lives whose digestive systems are unable to deal with its strong gluten presence.

Hence, wicked, deviant, tricky- swindlers have, from time immemorial, tried to profit from deception relating to this staple of life. Misrepresenting its quality, density, ingredients, size, age, origin, price & properties. I dare say modern tricksters will be charging more for supplying gluten-free bread that is, in reality not so, thereby endangering health but making their immoral gains.

In Criminology, therefore, there is a long, and dense socio-legal history connected to bread, and is a classic example of taking our understandings & perspectives from the people in the streets and communities (‘history from below’).

Messing with the provision of bread in hamlet; village; town; or city – to deceive local community customers in one way or another – takes either a very arrogant, greedy character or a complete idiot to think they would get away with it for long.BREAD HURDLEA legal process known as ‘The Assize of Bread”, was a key law-making arrangement of the Middle-Ages. Unfortunately for bakers, profit on bread-making was so very small for early morning, arduous work, many were tempted to try and pass off underweight bread to make extra profits. Because bread does actually lose weight when baked it was often given as an excuse to customers but under Assize weights and measures this was not acceptable. Customers would demand justice for such a misdemeanor – justice such as that depicted in the drawing above.

In the 4th year of Edward II, a baker named John of Stratford for making bread less than the Assize, was, with a fool’s hood on his head, and loaves of bread about his neck, drawn on a hurdle through the streets of the city.” (Text cited by The Millers’ Mutual Association, 1920.)

The hurdle had to be low to the ground and blocks of wood took the place of wheels to make the ride extra rough over the cobbles. All the town would turn out to jeer and shout and throw whatever they fancied at the rogue baker. His bread would all be given away to the poor – hopefully lesson learned for the future.

Very devious was the ‘trap-door’ trick described here by the Millers’ Mutual Association:

BREAD_ASSIZEThe Assize officers would regular call to weigh local bread supplied around the country to check no cheating was occurring


BREAD_WEIGHINGThis long and complex history inevitably involves massive political interventions effecting the prices of corn, wheat and flour as well as triggering riots and disturbances galore across the centuries that we cannot possibly explore in detail here – but I would like to take from this, the powerful political appeals of the Georgian period for fair prices and realizations that the people always deserved value for money when it comes to this staple of life. Here is a broadside from the 1820’s that provides an incisive account of the bread debate of that time in England.

In fact at this time, the price of bread was a regular reported item in the newspaper as well as the cost of flour and the profits being made on the use of these ingredients to make bread so the values were transparent to all able to access a newspaper, eg:


The Sunday Times (London, England),  Sunday, October 27, 1822;

This intelligence was crucial in gauging the likely mood of the public and whether public disorder and riots may be in the offing if the price of bread rose too much. We are nowadays so distant from breaking the law as a community because we are unhappy at the price of bread, yet there were many occasions during 19th England when local communities would engage in full-on confrontations with authorities and bakeries if something was not done to control prices thought to be unreasonable.
Here for example is a sketch of bread riots in Exeter across January 1854. Exeter had previous form in rioting in the late 1840’s and generally found this last-resort tactic was the only way to bring prices down. Women were said to be heading up much of the violent protest.



The Bread Riots at Exeter.Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, January 21, 1854; pg. 56;

It is worth looking at their report of the previous week concerning riots in Somerset because you can really get a feeling of how powerful the ordinary person in the street becomes, once prices are taken beyond any popular support:


Bread Riot in Somersetshire.Illustrated London News (London, England), Saturday, January 21, 1854; pg. 63;

There is an irony here, in as much as rioters who were sent to prison for hard labour found themselves in another very direct connection with bread. The prison punishment of the tread-mill meant that some local prisons would ensure that the treadmill punishment would also use that same relentless labour to turn grinding stones and make flour and the inmates would not be allowed any bread unless they had ground the flour satisfactorily first:


The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, February 02, 1823; pg. 2

I’ll end with a very powerful sketch of a bread riot that took place in 1847 (24th April) in the city of Stettin Germany (It’s now the Polish city of Szczecin) This sketch by an unknown German artist really conveys the power and sheer terror that such a riot about a basic commodity of life creates and its relationship with crime and disorder.




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Was The Assassin Disarmed By A Smile? The Truth Revealed.


The Assassin Disarmed by a Smile”  (Illustration by Phiz) 

Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882), a well known painter, famous for his illustrative work for Charles Dickens also provided much needed imagery for the popular “The New Newgate Calendar ” (1841). You might have come across his pseudonym of Phiz (you can see his famous scrawly Phiz trademark signature at the foot of the print above).
Here’s the man himself and his other signature.
PHIZFor those who like a worthwhile diversion – you can stop reading my blog at this point and go on an amazing journey courtesy of David Croal Thompson, but one hundred and thirty illustrations later, I’ll hope you’ll rejoin me!
The New Newgate Calendar itself was a series of brilliantly researched and written volumes, the full title of which explains it’s purpose

SCANLAN_NEWGATE Author, Camden Pelham, a barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple during the second half of the 19th century, saw his efforts as providing, “a catalogue of human weakness and at times downright atrocity.

Consequently the combination of Pelham’s incisive and no-holds barred writing, and Phiz’s illustrations, provided a heady and what many saw as an” X-rated” read not suitable for those of a delicate disposition!

This, of course, meant everyone wanted to read the gory details, if only in secret. I now have first-hand experience of how such concerns about the explicit nature of these volumes was sometimes dealt with.

For example – look again at the opening illustration by Phiz.
Okay what happened next?  Has she disarmed the assassin with a smile?

Well, I happily purchased this original 1841 copy of Vol.II, (published by Thomas Tegg, 73, Cheapside) in which this wonderful (tissue-paper protected) Phiz illustration rests. When I reveal I only parted with a ten pound note offering a rather indifferent picture of Charles Darwin in exchange for the promised fifty-two engravings by Phiz – you’ll understand what a joyous bargain this was.

 I was advised, however, that the price reflected a certain degree of censorship!

As if dealing in selling some illegal goods in the street, the book-dealer whispered that the original donor of both volumes had decided that before they were gifted to the Abington Free Library in Oxford,in 1845, they needed to take a razor to it – removing offending pages and – crime of crimes –  taking out some of the original Phiz drawings. B********!

(The middle building below was designated as the Abingdon Free Library in 1845)
SCANLAN_LIBRARY BUILDINGBelow is the full and selfish reasoning by someone called J.H. who, in their best writing left readers with a detailed note.
I bought the book, of course and today thought it would be an enlightening exercise to fill in some of the missing details to discover what J.H, thought was ‘Unfit for young people to peruse.’  Right at the foot of page fifty, there is an introduction to the case of JOHN SCANLAN ESQ; AND STEVEN SULLIVAN ESQ; that begins:
The case of these offenders exhibits the most reckless and horrible depravity.” 
But J.H.’s razor has garroted pages fifty-one and two, fortunately leaving Phiz’s “The Assassin Disarmed by a Smile” (also numbered page 52) – then, The End?
What? A blank page follows (i.e.’back of Phiz’), then page fifty-three begins a new case, that of James Nesbett executed for the murder of Mr. Parker and his housekeeper in 1820.

We don’t want that one, we want the assassin story. Was he really disarmed by a woman’s smile? Who is she? Why is she smiling at a man about to club her round the head? Did he throw the club in the water? What happened next?  Did he strike her after all? Did he hit himself over the head? Why is he referred to as an assassin? Did he molest her rather than kill her – for goodness sake – what is the ‘reckless and horrible depravity‘ you are saving me from knowing about J.H?  I need to know why you took the razor to this one to save young minds so my old mind can perhaps understand.A LIBRARIAN_2So this blog will complete the puzzle and now I do have the full story, you can decide whether J.H. should have your support for trying to protect the teenagers of the 1840’s? (although I cannot forgive anyone snipping out any original Phiz illustrations –  luckily J.H. did leave most of them intact)

The story is set in Ireland in the year 1819, and the lady with the disarming smile in the boat is Mrs. Ellen Scanlan. The man brandishing the club is Steven Sullivan.

Before he met and married Ellen, who hails from Dublin, Mr. John Scanlan, from the county of Limerick, had served in the military, leaving with a sinecure as a respected lieutenant. One of the men under his command was Steven Sullivan and so it was that Sullivan was also discharged on a pension and went to live with John Scanlan as his manservant. Scanlan was twenty-five and Sullivan thirty-two years of age.

Scanlan was on his way to Limerick when he stayed briefly in Dublin where he met fifteen year old Ellen, who lived with her uncle Conery, a rope-maker. Scanlan declared it was love at first sight and he wooed her constantly wishing to do more than she was prepared to – unless he married her, insisted Ellen. He hesitated about going as far as making Ellen his wife but she stood firm and demanded what she called ‘honourable terms’ for his love-making.

He agreed to marry her on condition she kept the marriage absolutely secret from her uncle and any of his own acquaintances. He was concerned about losing face with others who thought of him as a lady’s man but not a married man.

On an agreed night, Ellen fled from her uncle’s hospitality, stealing one hundred pound notes and twelve guineas in gold and disappeared into the night with John Scanlan.
Scalan had arranged for an ex-communicated priest to ‘marry’ them, thinking  it was not legally binding.

Pelham describes what happens next:

“When the fugitive lovers quitted Dublin, they took up their abode in the romantic village of Glin, situated on the banks of the river Shannon on the Limerick side. Scarcely, however, had the honeymoon passed over their heads, when Scanlan formed the dreaded resolution of getting rid of his wife.”

Scanlan had discovered that his marriage was legal after all, ex-communication did not bar the priest from declaring a legal marriage between them in Irish law. Pelham again:

 “Her beauty, her love, her innocence, appealed to him in vain; he persisted in his resolution and to fatally carry it into effect.”

What drove him to continue with his plan to get rid of Ellen was the discovery that his sister, who had married a very wealthy nobleman, had told him about an extremely wealthy heiress, who was also very beautiful and she said it was a match that would be accepted should he wish it.

He now saw Ellen as a block on his ambitions to advance his rank and opulence, so he hatched a plan with his manservant Steven Sullivan.

“Scanlan had purchased a pleasure-boat, in which they used to take excursions on the Shannon. Of this amusement, his wife was very fond; and it was during one of these moments of recreation, while she should be impressed with the beauty of the scenery, that the monsters resolved to rob her of that life which bloomed so exquisitely on her youthful and animated cheek.”

 In July 1819, Scanlan made excuses to Ellen that he had to work but John Sullivan would be only too happy to escort her on their planned river trip that evening. Sullivan, of course, was under strict orders to return alone after clubbing Ellen Scanlan to death. Scanlan had already prepared a rope tied to a large stone and secreted it in the boat so Sullivan could sink her unconscious body. Okay – now we now know why the word assassin was used because clearly he was ordered to assassinate her.

When the boat containing a very chatty and charming Ellen reached a small inlet that had already been decided as an ideally secluded part of the river for the clubbing frenzy ordered by Scanlan, Pelham brings Phiz’s illustration to life:

“When the boat had drifted to a secluded inlet, Sullivan prepared to execute his purpose; he raised the club in a menacing position, and was about to strike,when the lovely creature, thinking he was only intending to frighten her, gave him a smile of such innocence, sweetness and simplicity, that the assassin was disarmed. He dropped the instrument of destruction, conducted his mistress home, and told his unfeeling master that he had not strength to execute his commands.”

Scanlan – broody, unhappy and scowling at the disappointment that his manservant had let him down, said little more to Sullivan leaving Sullivan hoping his master had seen sense.

However, the next river trip along the river Shannon was to be a holiday and was taken by all three, but it was one year later before the truth was discovered. John Scanlan had, once more, left Sullivan, his failed assassin – alone to brutally kill his wife. He needed an alibi so told Ellen he was going ashore to seek comfortable lodgings for her for the night, leaving Sullivan once more to confront that ‘innocent’ smile.

 Scanlan had concocted a strange story to make out he was such a master of his house, that he was so frustrated with his wife’s misbehaviour and lack of attention in caring for him that, under the chaperon of a ship’s captain, he’d arranged to ship his wife into some form of exile overseas – but could not name the captain, the vessel nor the destination.

The corpse of Ellen washed ashore a few days later exposing his ridiculous lies.


River Shannon to the west of Glin where Ellen’s body was discovered: photograph by Philip Halling

“The corpse of Ellen was washed ashore mutilated in the most shocking manner. The legs were broken in several places, one arm had been knocked off entirely, and a rope was tied round her neck. Her skull was fractured in a thousand pieces, her eyes knocked out of her head and nearly all her teeth forced from her mouth. Horrid and deformed as was her once lovely person, still it was instantly recognized, when the murderers endeavoured to fly from justice. Of their guilt there could be no doubt; they were seen together in the boat; Sullivan had sold the murdered girl’s clothes; and he and his master had quarrelled about some money, in the course of which quarrell, Scalan had been accused of the murder.”

Sullivan ran for it but Scanlan was arrested and despite much legal maneuvering from his wealthy family was found guilty and executed. Twelve months later, Sullivan was discovered, arrested, tried and also executed. It was Sullivan who provide the full details of this tale used by Camden Pelham. Here is The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury report of August 11th, 1820 – it’s fortunate that J.H had no editorial control over their report on page 3:


So – Ellen Scanlan did indeed, disarm her assassin Sullivan but only to have this pathetically weak and morally deficient individual make another, successful attempt to savagely murder her purely for monetary greed and fear of ‘his master.’
Was J.H. right to omit the details I’ve taken back from Camden Pelham’s account? The newspaper held many more detailed reports of a similar nature.

I think not – next time when I’m in the market for another volume or two, I’ll look out for Phil Lindsay’s copies of the Newgate Calendar – he seems more relaxed about owning all of the book’s contents –  unabridged!

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