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Alaska.
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Posts: 1402

Stourbridge, Wollescote Hall, Milward, Burslem Murder, Stafford, 1797.


Once again, I can't put this one on my " Foul Murders " page, it didn't happen in the Black Country, but the dastardly, cold blooded perpetrator, most certainly did. The Milward family, had long been denizens of Wollescote Hall, in the Parish of Oldswinford. They were a respected part of the local gentry, and had many interests in Farming. In the 1760s, one of the family, Prudence Milward, took a liking to a young man named Hungerford Oliver, much to her fathers disapproval. He was much given to new ideas, did not belong to the same class, and was concidered to be just a little eccentric. Nothing wrong with that, most of us will admit to being a little odd at times, I certainly will. ( strange name though, I thought all the weird names were fairly modern ) So, according to the family, much beneath her class,she eventual married Mr Oliver. Her father was still not happy, even when the first child, a son, was born, so when the second one came along, in 1767, she called it Thomas Milward Oliver. This seemed to do the trick. There was a fly in the ointment though, Thomas's elder brother Edward was the heir, his sisters Prudence and Jane came next, which meant he was unlikely to have any inheritance. That is probably the reason why he was sent away, to study medicine, and become a Doctor. He was good at it as well, and so in 1795, with the family help, a practice in  Burslem,Stoke-on-Trent, was secured. That Winter, the wife of a wealthy businessman, John Wood, fell very ill, and, knowing of young Doctor Olivers growing reputation and expertise, he was called in. During the treatment of the wife, Thomas was introduced to John Wood, and his daughter, Maria. Described as having dazzling looks, and a figure to match, young Thomas was completely bowled over, and while he may have cured her Mother of her ailments, there was nothing in his bag that could cure what now ailed him. Mr Woods, seeing the looks that passed between them, was not best pleased.


John Woods was what we would call a " self made " man. He started in the mining of agates, and expanded into saltware figurines, capturing a substancial portion of the market. In 1782, he purchased larger premise's, a Mansion, on the Tunstall Road, near to Burslem. In the large grounds, but shielded from the house. he constructed workshops and offices. John Wood, although very successful in business, had a weakness, he was a terrible social climber, a big snob, and jealously guarded his prize daughter, whom he hoped, would, through marriage, send him up a peg or two. The present situation was not to his liking, caused him much sleep loss and anxiety. When one day, his wife remarked that she would be happy to see the pair married, he absolutely exploded. The couple were in the garden, when her father, in a violent rage, ordered her back inside, and virtually threw young Thomas off the property, forebiding any further contact. As I said, he wasn't a happy man. He didn't just leave it at that either, sending one of his most trusted servants, in secret, to dig up some dirt on the by now hated Doctor Oliver. The " spy ", spent some time in Oldswinford, soaking up the rumours and the gossip, and, as in nearly all families, dragging so called "skeletons" out of the cupboards. To the Doctors claim, of close links to the landed gentry, there was no doubt, but he then added, that the family were a little bit tainted by "close breeding". This was followed by the eccentric behaviour of the Doctors father, and an implication that insanity was part of the families make-up. John Wood, fully satisfied with the report, sat back and bided his time, it was not long in coming.


Now you can't walk about, even today, where you live, without meeting someone you know. So it was with Mr Wood, who one day happened upon the young Doctor, visiting a patient. He proceeded to call him a "penniless pauper, and an offspring of lunatic ancesters ". As they say today, " thats when the fight started " . They exchanged several blows, but the old man was no match for the younger one, and, thanks to the Doctors friends, John Wood escaped serious injury. Frustrated in his efforts though, the Doctor turned to drink, and much to the detriment of what later expired, made some comments about shortening the life of Mr Wood. In 1797, while John Wood was away on business, his wife was again taken ill. ( a bit to convient for me, it looks like a ploy to get the young lovers back together, and if it was, she stands charged with part of the responsibility for what transpired )  When her father returned, Prudence urged Thomas to make peace, so that they could then marry. John Wood gave him short shift. Doctor Oliver returned to the bottle, except this time, he borrowed a pair of Pistols, saying he was off shooting on the moors. The next morning he made another attempt to talk to Mr Wood, but was rebuffed. Not to be outdone, he went to the rear of the house, where there was an office, in which Mr Wood's chief clerk worked. Hearing him in the house, John Wood shouted, " get out of my house you penniless drunkard, or I'll skin you alive... ". sadly. he got no farther, pulling out one of the Pistols, Thomas Milward Oliver shot Mr Wood in the chest, at point blank range. While trying to get out the second Pistol, he was overpowered, he needn't have bothered. John Wood died a few hours later.


The trial itself is of some interest, for Doctor Oliver was not short of friends, either in Burslem, or his home town of Stourbridge. The Rev John Parr had studied with Thomas, but had taken a different route in life. The Rev Matthew Booker, from Lye, Worcestershire, was instrumental in appointing a defence Lawyer,  Joseph Brettle, for the coming date Thomas had, at Stafford Assizes. There were many months of waiting and Legal arguments until at last, in August 1797, his time came. As already stated, he was not without friends. There were those who believed, that John Wood deserved what he got, there were those who believed it to be a crime of pure passion, and there were those who thought Doctor Thomas Milward Oliver was quite mad. There were those on the jury though, who found him guilty of Wilful Murder, and a Judge who sentenced him to be hanged by the neck until dead. So on 28th August 1797, he was, with his friend the Rev Parr at his side, reciting the Lords Prayer, on a rickety old scaffold, set up at Sandyford, near Stafford. There is a story, that he was taken back to the town of Stafford, to be dissected, but the truth was, that his ever faithful friends, had him cut down, put in a closed carriage, and taken back to Stourbridge. There is supposed to be an entry, in the Oldswinford Parish register for that year, that simply says,  Buried, Thomas Oliver, aged 29. No mention of his occupation, of his middlename, or indeed of his crime. Obviously, the Milwards still had a great deal of influence, in the Parish of Oldswinford.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 13, 2011 at 4:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1402

For the time, this case dragged on a bit. The cause of this delay, were the appeals made by his legal team about the conduct of the Judge when summing up for the Jury. Thomas Milward Oliver, claimed that the learned Judge had not given the jury, due weight to his submission that he never intended to harm John Wood. This of course, fly's in the face of the facts presented at the trial, and no amount of protestation will cover up the carrying of not one, but two pistols on the day in question. The Reverend gentleman, Matthew Booker, and John Parr, were constant vistors to his cell while he awaited his fate, and on the day of his execution, barely an hour before that last and final walk, wrote down his last message to the world.


I die unconscious of the imputed guilt for which I suffer. I am in perfect charity with all mankind, and repose that hope which becomes me, as a man, and a christian, in the justice and mercy of  my heavenly judge.


He walked, unaided to the Gallows, erected for the purpose of sending him into the afterlife, with a steady step, giving all those around him, and the crowd, his best wishes. You could say, that for all his fine words, he expressed very little sympathy for the poor victim, or his family.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

June 20, 2014 at 2:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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