Black Country Muse


Black Country Murders.


Throughout time,the subject of murder, has facinated a great proportion of the population. Victorian Newspapers were eagerly and avidly read, and, just like today, sightseers were soon at the scene. I offer a small selection of stories, that hopefully, will cover most of the seven deadly sins of mankind.


Jabez Pugh was a strange young man, fond of the drink, a bit of a show off, and a married man with young children. At the start of the Boer War, in 1898, he had joined the Bloxwich company of  the 2nd Volunteers, South Staffordshire Regiment. By 1900, the unit had not been used, instead they had, as one man put it, " spent the time marching around, going nowhere, and getting drunk ." So it was, on Sunday 9th June 1900, that after a route march, they were, with much ceremoney, dismissed duties in front of  " The Bulls Head." Instead of heading home to his expectant wife, Pugh, who lived in Field Lane, joined his comrades for a drinking session, and a bit of lively dancing. During the course of the evening, he was seen to buy a drink for a woman, Mrs Sarah Anne Walker, who was, by all estimates, 67 years old. They were later seen at " The George ", following which they went to Mrs Walkers house, to collect a whiskey bottle. Pugh then asked Mrs Walker, if she would " wait on " his wife during the confinement, and the both left, being seen again, filling the bottle, at " The Thatched House Tavern ", in the High Street. One of Pughs neighbours, Eliza Allen, keeping her eye on his wife, popped in at 1.40am, and found her alone. Early next morning, Daniel Poole, a farmer, heard a noise coming from a ditch, and discovered Mrs Walker, bruised, and covered in blood. She died before any assistance could arrive. Jabez Pugh was arrested, his Uniform and Bayonet scabbard having been found to have blood on them.  Open and shut case you may think, not so. At his trial, the medical evidence was questioned, leading to an admission, that it would have been possible to get such injuries from barbed wire and a fall. Worse was to come, when the Judge discovered that the Constable, PC Dodge, had altered his statement, and further more, he couldn't read or write either. The real bombshell exploded, when it became clear, that Police Inspector Oakden, had failed to " Caution " the prisoner, and also, not read out the warrant or the charge. Oakden upset the Judge further when it again became clear, that he had taken Pugh to the Police Station, without telling him why. Astounded, and almost speechless, the Judge, Mr Justice Bucknill, ordered the Jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. He also expressed the wish, that Inspector Oakden's police career, would not extend beyond this travesty of a trial. Jabez Pugh, guilty or not, and he must have thought himself a very lucky man, turned smartly, military fashion, and saluted the Judge. Justice Bucknill made no further comment.


Born in 1881, in Butchers Lane Cradley, Halesowen, Enoch Cox followed in the footsteps of a great many others, and became a Chainmaker. Like his father Solomon, the trade being hard and thirsty work, he became a drinker. Unlike them however, he also drank a bit too much. Sometime in 1900, he met Amy Hingley, the daughter of a Blacksmith, who lived in Newtown, on the border of Cradley Heath, and Netherton. They were married in her parish Church, Saint Andrews, Dudley, in 1901, and went to live at his fathers house, in Butchers Lane. As well as the drinking, Enoch also had an eye for the ladies, which naturally, caused a few rows with Amy. Records suggest, that two children were born at the house, and it was from there, that Amy fled back to her parents, in June,1906. Very late on the 26th, Enoch arrived, and begged Amy to return, she refused, and to her families astonishment, Enoch took out a revolver, and shot Amy three times. For good measure, he also stabbed her several times as well. He fled the scene, back to his fathers house, where at about 4am the next day, having fired at the police, he stood at the top of the stairs, and put a bullet through his own head. Unknown at the time, a young woman from the Delph area had disappeared. A witness, who came forward later on after a search had found no trace of her, stated that the missing woman, Caroline Pearson, had met Enoch Cox at  'The Birch Tree' public house, and had left with him about 9pm the same day, 26th June. The body of Caroline Pearson wasn't found until July 10th, in a cornfield, when it was in such a state of decomposition, the cause of death could not be ascertained. The inquest verdict on Enoch Cox, reached the conclusion of, 'Suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity'. Amy survived the attack, thanks to some excellent work at the 'Dudley Guest Hospital. Enoch was quietly buried at the bottom of Saint Peters Churchyard, in Cradley, unmourned, and unmissed.

 QUARRY BANK HORROR.  I've mentioned earlier, that the fear of the Workhouse was strong in our ancesters. This next little story demonstrates, just what a powerful influence it really was.

 Edmund Clarke was born and raised in Quarry Bank, as was his wife, Ethel Jones, whom he married, at Christ Church, in 1900. He was an industrious and ambitious man, having decided to rise above his families traditional Chainmaking. He purchased, with his brother as his partner, a Horse, a Wagonette, a Gig, a heavy Cart, and began a career as a Haulier. In 1900, he, and his wife, moved into his father-in-laws house, at 18, Victoria Road. Joseph Jones was also a hard worker, but unlike Edmund, he played hard as well, and was very frequent visitor to the local pubs, drinking and gambling. In 1902, having lost his wife some years before, he now lost his job as well, and it wasn't long before he was short of beer money. Having had to live with his own in-laws, Joseph knew it was important to have some form of security, in times of need, as a hedge against ending up in the dreaded workhouse. Thats why he had scrimped and saved to buy the house, the house he then sold the interest in to Edmund. 1906 must have been a bad year allround, for Joseph was soon in trouble again with a money shortage. Having to ask his son-in-law for pocket money must have galled him, for it prayed on his mind, and he was heard to say, " I'd sooner swing, than die in the work'uss". The rows continued, and most of the neighbours were in sympathy with young Edmund. On December 1st,1906, after taking supporters to a local Football match, Edmund arrived home and put his feet up. Ethel and the Children went off shopping, and when she returned, about 30 minutes later, was greeted by a scene of sheer horror. Edmund, his throat slit from ear to ear, covered in blood was lying on a sofa. Joseph quietly gave himself up, admitted what he had done, and was charged with 'Wilful Murder'. Transferred to Winson Green Prison, and then to Stafford, the verdict was no suprise. In March 1907, the sentence " Death by hanging ", was pronounced, and was carried out a few months later. An appeal against the sentence was made, but refused, and that was no surprise either.    


I can think of a few painful ways to shuffle of this mortal coil, but this one, is truely gruesome. Alice Roleson, ( spelt a few other ways,one report says Robinson )  left her small son Stephen with a relative, and went off to her work in a Rowley Nail Shop, her husband, also Stephen, went to his work in a local Quarry. The 20 September 1802 started just like any other day, niether of them could have predicted what would happened later. Several neighbours, men and women , all worked in the same shop, including one James Smith, who was just turned 18. As was the custom at the time, the Ale houses opened early, and some of the young men had already availed themselves of refreshments. Mid-afternoon, and a violent argument began, causing the women to retreat from their hearths, towards the end of the Nail shop. James Smith, exceedingly angry after being pushed around, seized a red hot Iron Nail bar from the forge, and flung it, like a spear, down the shop. It struck Alice Roleson in the chest. Her terrible screams of pain could be heard around the village, and with a cry of MURDER, soon bought people running to the scene. Taken in charge by the parish constable, and in mortal fear of his own life, James Smith was quickly transported from the area. At the Coroners Inquest, the verdict of ' Wilful Murder ' was returned, and the villagers expected that Smith would duly face the Hangman. They all had a shock, when at the Trial, in Stafford, Smith was only found guilty of Manslaughter, and to their amazement, he was fined 1s. A stunning result given the times, and such were the feelings against Smith, that he left the district. Alice's son, Stephen, went on to marry Ann Parsons from Kingswinford, in 1825, and fathered 5 children. Poor Alice never got the chance to see them.


WEDNESBURY'S MANIAC,  There have been a few rough citizens of the Blackcountry over the years, not all of them male, as this next pretty gruesome Murder demonstrates.                                                       

 Eliza Bowen was, to put it mildly, a woman with a less than wholesome reputation. She lived with her husband William, at 'The Green ', Darlaston, was well known for drinking, and at the time of her death, he was in Prison for stealing poultry. On the night of the 27th February, 1869, she had been seen in the company of one William Hall, who lived in Bull Piece, at the 'Victoria', Walsall Road, ' The Dragon Inn ,' Wednesbury, and ' The Horse and Jockey ,' at 11.30 pm The last sighting was at 1.30am, in the vicinity of Mud Lane, near the Patent Shaft Company. Her body was found, by an employee of the firm, about 7.00am, lying in a field. It was conveyed to  'The Blue Ball ' where her horrifiying injuries came to light. " She had been violated, and sixteen pieces of cinder, and a brick, had been forced into her body ". William Hall was arrested at his works, (Slater and Rubery ) and after questioning, placed on an identity parade, where he was picked out as the man last seen with Eliza. In spite of all the damning evidence, Hall continued to protest his innocence, but was sent for trial at Stafford. There then followed some legal wrangles which delayed proceedings, and a strange twist to the story. James Owen, aged 18 confessed to the Murder, but later on denied any involvement. This so mudded the waters, and, as there was no evidence directly linking Hall to the murder, he never, as far as the records go, stood trial. No matter what Eliza Bowens reputation was, she deserved better justice than that. So, for 142 years, no one has been held to account for this horrible crime, and, I suppose, no one now, ever will.




 This next one is not so much a murderer, more a mass murderer, but without getting any blood on his hands. We all admire a clever crook, but in the end, they all slip up. As near as I can find out, John, ( or Jonathon )  Wild,came into the world in Clun, Shropshire, in 1682. From an early age, ( his own words ) he was a prolific thief. Clun, a small village, soon became tired of his antics, so he moved to the much bigger Shrewsbury, the County Town, and then to Wolverhampton, in Staffordshire. He married the unsuspecting Joan Cooper, in Clun, in 1705, she no doubt, believing him to be a quite successful Buckle maker, in Wolverhampton. He wasn't. Finally, yearning for more, he deserted her and his young child, and headed off to better things, in London. It didn't take him long to learn how the underworld of the big city worked, he was a very clever and crafty individual. Still though, he managed to get into debt, and wound up in Wood Street prison. Here, he met a prostitute, Mary Milliner, who would be a linchpin, in his future plans. He set himself up. as a receiver of stolen goods, not illegal then, and began to do quite well. The secret to this success, was that he arranged most of the thefts himself, and then charged a finders fee. He kept a ledger, detailing all his dealings, which satisfied the authorities that he was running a clean business. I did say he was a clever man. Then, by an act of William III, the law changed, and receiving became a criminal offence. Trust Mr Wild, he found a loophole, and began to exploit it. With such a large criminal gang, it was enevitable, that arguments over payments would arise. His solution was simply to have them arrested, caught in the act, or turn them in himself. This went on for many years, he had a few close scrapes, but always came out best. Then in 1724, he was caught out, accepting £10 for the return of some goods which was illegal. Twist and turn as he might, this time he was well and truely snared. People now came forward, and the whole scheme unfolded. The charge read thus; " For many years, he has been a confederate with great numbers of Highwaymen, Pickpockets, Housebreakers, Shoplifters, and other thieves. He has often sold human blood, by procuring false evidence, to swear persons into facts, of which they were not guilty."  At a conservative estimate, about 120 Men, Women, and young Children, were convicted on his evidence, a large portion of them, being hung at Tyburn. Having made peace with his maker, he expected, and got, no mercy. He was taken to Tyburn, on the 24 May, 1725, and duly hanged. His body was dissected, as ordered, and the remains buried at Saint Pancras the next day. Which I suppose, was the only time he would have got blood on his hands.



Swindon, near Wombourne, doesn't strike you as a place for a nasty murder, especially one concerning a poisoning. There's something about this method of killing, that always leave you a little shocked. Perhaps it's the cowardly, sneaky way it's carried out. William Hawkeswood, was born some miles away in Pedmore, near Stourbridge, the son of a " Funeral Undertaker ." He was a very bright young man, quickly learning, from an early age, his fathers business. Some say that this led him to have a morbid interest in corpse's, and he did indeed have a few strange habits. For instance, he liked Chemistry, and obtained a post with the local Doctor, helping with the dispensing of medicines. He was not always in agreement with what the Doctor ordered, so to speak, and left under a bit of a cloud. He took to studying Alchemy, and to further his medical knowledge, collecting bones, human bones. It was this that landed him in trouble, for it was where he obtained the bones, that was the problem. From the Charnal grave, ( an open pit ) at Saint Giles, Rowley, a number of skulls and other bones were found to have been taken. When it was discovered that William was in possesion of a skeleton, one that moved, articulated by wire's, the word " Wizard ", and the reputation as a dabbler in the dark forces began to circulate. It soon became clear that his fathers business was suffering, and Pedmore, as superstition grew, was not the place to be. So the family moved, to Swindon, and hopefully, a new start. William found employment as a Coachman, with a Mr Parker, who owned a Forge on the banks of the Smestow, was also a Farmer, and lived at " Chasepool Lodge ". Thinks went well, Mr Parker was impressed with the young mans knowledge, and it was soon rumoured, that the old man had named William in his will. Meanwhile, a spate of " Boby snatching " had broken out in the district, so much so, that an experienced investigator from Worcester was sent for. Putting two and two together, suspicion soon fell on Hawkeswood, and there was a very angry exchange with Mr Parker. No ones knows what was said between the two, but next morning, following his morning cup of tea, Mr Parker fell ill and shortly after, died. The Surgeon who was called, detected White Murcury in Mr Parkers stomach, and Hawkeswood fled the scene, and hid. When declared, at the Coroners inquest, of being a murderer, Hawkeswood caught a Coach to Bristol, with the intention of signing on as a Seaman. Alas, he didn't make the Ship, and on 4th April 1808, he stood trial at Stafford. Found guilty, they didn't waste any time in carrying out the sentence of death. On 6th April, William Hawkeswood was taken to the scene of the crime, and hanged from a nearby tree. His body was given over for disection, and what remained , was bagged up, and buried at the four points of Treosle Crossroads. Some say he did it, others say not, ah well, such is life, or in this case, death.



 My grandparents, and to some extent my own parents, always worried about getting into debt. There are many ways today, to deal with the matter, but I wouldn't recommend the following method.

 Not far from Halesowen, lies a little place called Witley. In the 18th century, it was a very rural area, a quiet Farming community, where not much happened, and people went about doing what they could to earn a crust. One of the local Farmers, Joseph Darby, was one such man, until, in 1759, he got into debt. Unable to meet the payments, he was Summoned to appear in Court, and, failing to convince his creditors that more time was needed, faced ruin. Together with his two married sons, Joseph and Thomas, he returned home, and prepared to recieve the Warrant, which was now inevitable. John Walker, the Court Bailiff, was not a man to argue with, he had no sympathy for anyone he dealt with, and decided to serve the warrant, on the Friday, which happened to be Good Friday, and a Holiday. Whether there had been any dealings, prior to this, with the Darbys, isn't clear, nor if there was any dispute between them. Walker duly took the document, and went off to carry out the Courts order. He did not return home that day, and surprisingly, this did not cause any alarm. Mourners, at a Funeral next day in Saint Johns Church in Halesowen, were shocked to see a Dog in the Churchyard, with what looked like, part of a human leg in it's mouth. It was a human leg, complete with a boot. They failed to catch the Dog, who, thinking it was a game, ran off, followed by a crowd of curious people. It didn't take long to find the scene of the dogs gruesome morsel, the fields around the Darbys Farm. The remains of John Walker were quickly recovered, and the Darbys were arrested and taken away. It soon became apparent, that the unfortunate Bailiff had been hacked to death with a variety of farm implements, including  a Scyth and Bailing Hooks, before being dismembered, and buried around the Farm. A clear case of wilful murder, and all three Darbys were taken away for trial in Shrewsbury. Now you may wonder, why Shrewsbury, well, at the time, Halesowen was adminstered by Shropshire, not, as would be assumed, by Worcestershire. Found guilty, all three were hanged, giving rise to the legend, that the place was locally named after the crime, Fatherless Barn. (see, Murder Case Reviews )


The year was 1862, and it had been a good day for Mr Baggot, one of Bilstons oldest Pawnbrokers. Since his wife had passed on, he had lived alone, apart from an older woman he employed as a domestic servant. Saturday evenings was the time he relaxed, counting his money, taking stock, and enjoying a few quiet drinks in the comfort of his home, behind his little shop. Out in the Town meanwhile, were a great many of the locals, spending their money in the usual way, getting drunk. Amongst the crowds were three young miners, all of whom worked at Lunts Pit, and their hard earned money, was fast running out. No one is sure whose idea it first was, but foremost, in their planned venture, was David Brandrick. Together with one Israel Jones, and another, all three made their way to the rear of Mr Baggots shop, and broke in. They found the old man, in his usual state for a friday night, partly befuddled by drink. Not so drunk though, as to be unaware, just what they were going to do. The old Pawnbroker put up a struggle, he had, after all, worked hard to earn what he had, and he did not intend to part with it easily. Brandrick siezed a iron poker, and to prevent the old man crying out, placed the poker on his throat, and applied some pressure. The old man died. Some panic set in at this stage, as the other two had not counted on being involved in a killing. Hastily taking what was on the table, and in his pockets, the trio fled the scene. No attempt was made, to open the safe, which, had they but known it, contained a great deal of money and valuable's. But for the dilegence of a patroling policeman, who saw them in the vacinity of the shop, and it should be remembered, that unlike today, he would have known all the local rogues, they may have got away with the crime. Later, on the Sunday morning, Mr Baggots lifeless body was found, and the suspects were quickly rounded up. Taken to Stafford prison, as there was very little solid evidence, and seperatly questioned, the truth came out. At the trial, all three were found guilty and sentenced to death. The autorities however, had a change of heart, and as two of them were not involved in the actual murder, they were spared from the hangman. Not so David Brandrick, much to his displeasure, he faced the penalty alone. Protest on his part, that the others should be hanged as well, fell on deaf ears, and he went to his maker, a very unhappy man. I suppose, if Mr Baggot was watching from a lofty position up above, his thoughts would have been different.


It could be said, that Bilston has had it's fair share of problems over the years. And of course, that statement would be correct. It was blamed for the great Cholera epidemic, in 1849, and it was true to say, that living conditions in the Town were some of the worst in the Black Country. Samuel Twigg was born in about 1824, and witnessed the distress first hand, he may have even lost a child during it. He worked, as did many others, in Iron making, living until he married, in one of the many squalid little courts that comprised the main accomodation of Bilston. He married Mary Walton in 1845, and hopefully moved away from the unsanitary family home, to begin, what they believed, would be a better life. Sadly, it was not to be, from out of one slum, to a bigger house, which was still a slum. Samuel took up the trade of a Bricklayer, which paid well, when work was plentiful, but given the slump which decended on the region, they began to struggle to feed the mouths of an ever expanding family. He took to drinking, which turned him into an agressive man. Following one such violent bar-room brawl, Samuel was injured by the solid staff, wielded by a Policeman. He was not to be the same again. The years rolled by, and poor Mary's suffering, during his many bouts of wrath, steadily got worse. He did not have many friends around the area in which he lived, Coseley Row, being well known for his arrogant and threatening behaviour. He was also well known in the local Police Station, and a frequent visitor to the Cells. Mary Twigg had, by the time of this story, 1860, given birth to 13 children, and she was now 35. I have no idea how many of then reached working age, the rate of deaths among young children was at a scandalous level in Bilston. When he failed to return from his work, on 24th July, Mary was unconcerned, she knew he was off drinking somewhere, and was much to used to his habits to protest. The next we hear of Samuel Twigg, was at the Union Inn, in Coseley Street, and as normal, he was drunk. Where, or how many Pubs he had been in prior to this, is anyone's guess. The Landlord said he left, alone, at around midnight, hardly able to stand. At some stage during his rather staggered way home, he met up with a stranger, and invited him to his home for some supper. Rousing Mary from her bed, he demanded a couple of steaks for himself, and his " friend ."  There was of course, no meat in the house, and Mary did not like the look of the stranger. She was right as well, as in front of her drunken husband, the stranger tried to assault her. Samuel ignored it, and continued to argue with his wife, at one stage threatening to cut her throat. The stranger, according to one of the children, then left. Young Samuel, then 16, went downstairs to help his father and found him passed out on a seat in front of the fire. Making him as comfortable as they could, Mother and son then went back to bed. About an hour later, Twigg called his wife again, this time she went down to see what he wanted. Mary Twigg was used to her husbands moods, and when he then got a bit amorous, she pushed him away, she had obviously had enough of his antics for one day. He never really explained why, but at that point, Samuel Twigg took out his clasp knife, and stabbed Mary in the stomach. All hell broke loose, as Mary fled from the house, streaming blood and crying out murder. Despite medical help, and being taken to the Hospital, poor Mary died at 11pm the next day. At no stage before, or during the trial, did Samuel Twigg display any emotion, or show any remorse for what he had done. He had at first denied having committed the act, he was drunk he said. Then he told the arresting Officer, Constable John Moffat, that his Cousin had done it. His Lawyer, Mr Motteram, did his level best to get the charge reduced to Manslaughter, but the Jury were having non of it, and found him guilty of Wilful Murder. Only after sentence of death had been passed, did Twigg cry out what a sinner he had been, and show some repentence. The Judge was unmoved, so too was the Home Secretary when dismissing Twiggs petition for clemancy. And so it was, that on a cold January 5th, 1861, in front of a crowd, estimated at 4,000 strong, George Smith, the Rowley Hangman, placed a rope around his scrawny neck, and launched him into eternity. Bilston would be a better place without him, many thought, although a few Public houses, would see their takings drop slightly.

Wolverhampton Outrage. 1865.


Now I can't leave Wolverhampton off the map of Foul Murders, and this one, from 1865, although not a true classic, certainly illustrates a deadly sin. It concerns a young man named Christopher Robinson. For one so young, he had a deeply disturbed outlook on life, which was strange, as he had avoided the more nasty aspects of others, being born into a fairly weathly family. His Parents had died when he was young, but had left a substancial legacy for him. The only problem being of course, that like the young, he would have to wait until he reached 21. He was an impatient youth. His appointed guardian, Josiah Fisher, had almost given up on the young man, who it has to be said, was a lazy, drunken, arrogant, and, at times, violent person. The Fisher's had done their best, in trying to raise him in a respectable manner, in their home at 48, Ablow Street, off the Penn Road. They were no doubt looking forward to his majority, when he would inherite upwards of £4,000, and no longer have the responsibilty of caring for him. Christophers main fault was the beer, and it was just doubly unfortunate, that at the rear of where he lived, was a Beerhouse, " The Queen ", in Sidney Street. In fact the backyard joined the pub, so it was only a matter of nipping over the wall.The other unfortunate fact, was that the place was owned by Josiah, and run by his son, Isaiah Fisher, and young Christopher was never refused. In early 1865, he began to spend even more time in the Beerhouse, not you understand because his thirst had increased, oh dear no, Isaiah had employed a new domestic servant, and she was a cracker. Harriet Segar was just 19, and had been born in Compton, to a respectable family. At the age of 13, she had, like many others, gone into service. She had worked for some of the best Wolverhampton and Willenhall families, was well liked, and had excellent references. Josiah Fisher decided that young Harriet was wasted in the Beerhouse, so he employed her to work in his own home, A fateful and tragic decision. It was not long, before even the nearly blind could see, that the two were getting very close, and rumours of an impending marriage abounded. Harriet however, did not like the temper tantrums, they were far to frequent for her liking, and understandable,backed  off. On the 26th of August, Mr & Mrs Fisher went out visiting, leaving young Christopher Robinson, and his friend George Wilson, in the house. While Harriet got on with her work, the pair borrowed Mr Fisher's Pistol, and spent most of the afternoon shooting Sparrows. I did say he was a strange young man. Wilson was later to say, that Harriet appeared to be upset, and swore he had heard her crying, but didn't know what about. He left the house about 4.30pm, leaving the supposed " love birds " together. The new servant at the Queen, Emma Silitoe, heard a shot, but was used to the antics of the petulant Christopher, and was not alarmed until around 5.00pm, when an excited Christopher Robinson, appeared in the back yard. Yelling out " Iv'e done for her " , he then dashed back into the premise's, and by now, very alarmed Emma bravely went after him. She was horrified to see the young man, in front of a large mirror, slash his own throat with an open Razor. Even worse, the now lifeless body of Harriet Segar, lay at his feet, her head practically severed from her body, and on the floor, a huge spreading red stain. Not unaturally, Emma Silitoe fled the gruesome scene, but only as far as getting help, which soon arrived, at the bloody shambles that was the Fisher's brewhouse. Two police Officers, Wood and Stanley, were soon there, as was Doctor Summers, whose practise, was in Worcester Place.  He pronounced poor Harriet dead, but the self inflicted wounds of Robinson, were merely superficial, and dispite a pathetic attempt to make them worse, they were dressed, and he was taken into custody. Caught red handed you might say, but Robinson, when Mr Fisher returned, blamed him, for being the cause of his downfall. ( presumably for employing such a pretty girl in the first place ) The real truth of course, lay in what another young man saw, Harriet pushing away Robinson, when he tried to kiss her. Rejection can be quite a shock I know, but to then approach her from behind, and almost cut her head off, is a bit of an over reaction. The shot that Emma Silitoe had heard, was Christopher Robinson trying to blow his own head off, in his bedroom. He claimed to have missed, but the shot had been fired into the ceiling, a cunning way of trying to show he didn't mean to do it. For the time, his Trial was a long one, it took 2 days. His defence Lawyer, made a valiant attempt to show his client was quite mad, but failed, and the proper sentence for such a heartless and dispicable act was passed. Death by Hanging. The case was taken to the Home Secretary, but Sir George Gray was well versed in the circustances, and refused. Christopher Robinson continued to lay the blame at the door of his guardian, right up until he stood face to face with George Smith, dressed as usual,in his Top Hat and Smock, on the Gallows outside Stafford Gaol. So, in front of a rather cold, but excited crowd of almost 4,000, on 9th January,1866, after convulsing and jerking for seven minutes, Christopher Robinson set off to meet his maker. Don't be upset that he had such a hard and agonising death, he richly deserved it, and the crowd, who had come many miles, had a good days entertainment, poor Harriet Segar did not. Mercifully, she had died instantly.


Not so far back in time this time, just to 1931 in fact. Although this muder displays a rather gruesome use of a wood axe, it's the conflicting accounts that gave rise to to a lot of interest, including, it has to be said, yours truly. The Victim, was a 27 year old ex-Guardsman, William Hill, who stood 6 foot 3inches in his stocking feet, At one time he had concidered a carreer in Boxing, but drinking and womanising held far more attraction for " Big Billy ". At the time of his death, he was living in Wood Street, Wollescote, and some people thought him an bit of an arrogant bully, especially when he'ed  had a few, which was frequently the case. While drinking in a Pub in Brookmoor, Billy came across a woman who caught his eye. If only he had looked the otherway, as the woman in question, Frances Rowbottom, was already married. Such goings on, were frowned upon at the time, and were concidered a bit of low moral behaviour. Frances was not popular in her neighbourhood, she always dressed smartly and wore a lot of make-up, so aquired the reputation as a " bit flighty ", or as others would say, " a trollop ". It only took a short while for news of the affair to reach Frances's husband, who, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, up'ed sticks, and left the house in Station Road Brockmoor. There was no way he could take on Billy anyway, only being of slight build and 5 foot 7 inches tall. Surprisingly, Frances was a bit upset, and, with her child in tow, sought the help of her sister, Edith Millward, who lived in Bull Street. Ediths husband, Thomas, who saw trouble coming, was not at all happy, when she offered Frances a temporary place to stay, while the matter was sorted out. He was perfectly correct, for Billy Hill then started to visit the house, and carry on with Frances as though nothing had happened. This caused tongues to wag, and poor old Thomas could only stand by in dispair, as his home gained the reputation as a " dirty house ". Billy began to spend nights with Frances, in the tiny 2 bedroomed house, and Thomas got more and more angry at a situation he could not sort out. Having tackled Billy about it once, he was told by Hill, that if he tried to stop him calling, " I'll put your lights out ". Billy Hill finally got lodgings in Hawbush Road, and Thomas breathed a sigh of relief, little did he know, it would be a short lived respite. About 5 am, on Sunday 16th July, a neighbour, Katherine Pratt, was awoken by screaming, and when she arrived at the scene, found Edith in a state of shock, and Frances Rowbottom, unconcious in the rear doorway. She had a deep wound in her forehead, and was bleeding heavily. Into the Brewhouse went Mrs Pratt, to fetch water, and instead, found Big Billy with huge gashes on his head. The Police were quickly on the scene, sending both of them to Hospital, but William Hill, died a few hours later. Thomas Millward was nowhere to be found.                                                                                                                                                    Now this is where the conflicts started to appear, with the witness statements. Mrs Millward, shortly afterwards, said that she had woken up about 4.30am to find her husband missing from the bed. Without looking, ( she said ) she rushed screaming to her neighbours, fearing that something awful had happened. When they retuned they found her sister badly injured, and she remembered no more. Edith Rowbottom, after she had recovered somewhat, told the Police she had spent the previous night with Hill, sleeping on a pile of old clothing in the Brewhouse. At about 4.00am, they had an argument about their future together. She remembered that Hill had said " If I can't have you, nobody else will ", and the rest she said, was a complete blank. She never said who had attacked her. Meanwhile, Thomas Millward had been found, in an old disused Smithy in Ambelecote. He appeared dazed, a bit incoherent, and said, when he was charged with Wilful Murder," I must have been mad then ". When making a formal statement, he declared that he had woken up at 4.30am, and finding his wife missing, had gone to see what was amiss. Thinking to make up the fire, he went to the Brewhouse with the Axe, intending to cut some wood, and had seen his wife kneeling beside Hill, who was pulling at his wife garments. An argument ensued, and Hill came towards him in a threatening manner, so in self defence, he struck him with the Axe. Not just once mind, but a second time when he fell down. Now it really started to get complicated, as Thomas's wife made another statement. This time she said she had woken up at 4.30am, and gone to the Brewhouse to get a drink of water. She was surprised to see Hill there, as she thought he had gone back to his lodgings. Grabbing her, Hill pulled off her coat, and thats when her husband came on the scene, and she then rushed back into the house. She claimed Thomas followed her, chased her round the bed with the Axe, made no effort to hit her with it, and then ran away with a mad look in his eyes. She went on, that only when she went back to the Brewhouse did she realise that William Hill had been attacked. What to make of it all, thats the question. Was Billy Hill having it off,? as they say, with both sisters. Did Thomas Millward catch all three of them at it ? Maybe the Trial would clear it all up, I wouldn't have bet on it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          At the trial in November that year, Mrs Millward swore that her second statement was the truth. She was subjected to some intense cross examination, as it was quite clear she had not been telling the truth, in either statement. That she was trying to cover her husbands actions, there is no doubt, and in this, she was aided by her sisters " memory loss ". It was also pretty clear who the neighbourhood had the most sympathy for, poor Thomas Millward. The two sisters, Edith and Frances, were vilified in the district, crucified in the press, and it was all self inflicted. Not surprising really, it came out at the trial, that Thomas's wife, seemed to have had a much closer relationship to Hill than she had let on about. Whatever the whole truth of the matter however, nothing could change the fact, that Thomas Millward had Axed to death William Hill. The Judge, in summing up, made a point to the Jury regarding the conflicting evidence, and left them to make up their own minds. It took them just 50 minutes to find Millward Guilty as charged, and the Judge another 5, to pronounce the death sentence. The Jury did Thomas Millward a favour though, they recommeded a degree of mercy should been shown, which the Home Secretary duly took note of. Millward exchanged the Gallows, for a life sentence instead. If there's a lesson in all of this tale, it's this, allways chop the firewood before you go to bed.

The Halesowen Axeman.

February 1878 was a very cold month. Poverty and starvation stalked the Black Country, and unemployment was running at record levels. James Jones and his wife Phoebe, in their little cottage, on the hill overlooking Coombes Wood tube works got on with life as best they could. James was a hard worker  at the Coombes Wood Brickworks, and Phoebe made nails in the little nail shop at the back of the house. Living with them, was their daughter Amelia, her husband, Joseph Harris, and their 2 children, Alice who was 7, and Eva, just turned 4. Also in the house was Amelia's brother, Adam Jones, a name familar to many who have lived and worked in the area in subsequent years. During the Christmas just passed, when the house was full of the couples other children, an argument had ensued involving Joseph and his wife, (bought on by the family quarrels which seems to be a tradition in this part of the world) by James's warring offspring. As usual, drink had been a major factor. Joseph was not a happy man, he had only recently been released from the Lunatic Asylum at Powick, near Worcester, and now he began to brood over the insults that had been thrown at him. Joseph Harris worked as a miner at the Black Waggon Pit in Old Hill, that is, when the bouts of depression allowed. When not down the pit, he was to be found helping out in the nail shop, he was most certainly not a shirker. For some reason we shall never know, he suspected Amelia, of indulging in a bit of hanky-panky while he was under treatment, and there were frequent quarrels. At one time, Amelia had threatened to run a hot nailing rod through his body. It was after such a row, that on the morning of 5th February, Joseph had one of his " off " days, and, ignoring his father-in laws heavy hint that he should get up and go to work, went back to bed. It had snowed heavily, and the drifts were fairly deep, but this did not deter Phoebe, from taking her husbands breakfast, at 8.30am, to his place of work. Amelia urged her mother not to be long, for the night before, she and Joseph had started an argument that lasted til near mid-night, and Mrs Jones, who understood all to well the moods of Joseph, said she would be as quick as possible. She was gone less than an hour, and when she returned, was surprised to see the door of the house open, it was freezing cold. Her heart must have skipped several beats though, when she saw red bloody footprints in the virgin snow.    

The scene inside the house though, would haunt her thoughts for the rest of her life. Her frantic screams of " Murder " bought out all the neighbours, some of whom ventured into the little house of horrors. First on the scene was Samuel Harris, ( no relation to Joseph ) a farmer from the nearby Coombes Farm. On the floor of the small kitchen, lay the battered and mangled body of Amelia Harris, her head  unrecognisable, and badly chopped up. Beside her was the terrible mutilated remains of young Eva, and to complete the appalling gruesome spectacle, when he and Phoebe went upstairs, still in her bed, young Alice. Amazingly, despite her horrific injuries, she was still alive, but died a few hours later. Samuel Parkes, another of the neighbours, and the quickly on the scene, had the foresight to send for both the local Doctor, Mr Walker, and a Policeman from Cakemore, PC Knowles. While the police, under Surerintendent Kemp, were trying to sort out the circumstances, Samuel spotted the wanted man in a nearby field. Securing the help of another neighbour, Silas Plant, they approach Joseph Harris, and held on to him until the police arrived, PC Knowles, wisely applying handcuffs, and took him to the Police Station in Halesowen. On the 6th of February, he was sent to the County Gaol in Worcester. On 7th February, having been bought back to the New Inns, Halesowen for the Inquest, evidence was heard that implicated Harris as the murderer, and the Axe and his bloodstained clothing were produced. Joseph offered the reason for his actions, as having been caused by the argument at Christmas. He had been taunted, as to his having been kept at Winson Green Asylum, and then at Powick, and then, finding out his wife had been seeing another man had been the last straw. He was sent back to Worcester County Gaol, charged by the Coroners Jury with three wilful murders, to await trial at the next quarter Assizes. The trial, on the 20th March, which lasted 5 hours, and at which he was expected to receive the death sentence, surprised many. It was clear from the start, that Joseph Harris was not himself when he carried out the crime that wiped out his family. Evidence from the medical men indicated that he had been under treatment, first at the General Hospital in Birmingham, then at the Asylum in Winson Green, before finally being moved to Powick near Worcester, as a dangerous Lunatic. Just like today, someone decided, that after a few months treatment, ( unspecified and not recorded ) he was cured, and so released. After deliberating for approximately two minutes, the Jury found him to be unfit to plead, a not guilty verdict was bought in, and under the Law at the time, was ordered to " Be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure " and confined to Powick, a place he would be happy at, as he knew it well. I have done some research and he doesn't appear on the Powick records, so he must have been concidered to be so dangerous, that he ended up at Broadmoor. It's a great shame that they let him out in the first place, having also given him a document that declared him sane, the year before. Further research shows, that the Harris's lived at number 23, towards the end of Cocksheds Lane, right at the top of Gorsty Hill. A picture of some of the old cottages can be seen in the Gallery.


It's hard to imagine now, but way back in time, a large part of where we all live was mainly rural. Some places were very isolated, even though a large town was just a few miles away, as the only transport available was your legs. In 1824, at a small cottage near Bushbury, Wolverhampton, these conditions were ideal for a casual thief to exploit, and on the 22nd December 1824, exploit them someone did. John Beech, a servant to Colonel Vernon Graham, had been sent to a remote cottage, the home of one of his employers estate workers, with a Christmas gift. It was a large sack of Malting grain, as the workman, Edward Spencer, like many in his day, brewed his own beer. Beech took the Toll road, today it's the Cannock Road, and by accident, met Spencer, who was taking a break, from work in the Colonels Timber plantation. Beech was asked to deliver the Malt to Spencers cottage, and I have to asume, that the servant had a horse and cart with him. He arrived at the cottage about 3.00pm, and was expecting Edward Spencers wife Ann to be there. There was however, no response to his knocking on the door, which was slightly ajar. Knowing that the Spencers were valued employees, he decided to put the sack of Malt in the cottages parlour. As he went through the door, his eyes were drawn to a dark patch on the quarried floor. It looked like blood. He called out, but the house was silent, and with some trepidation he began to follow the trail of blood. From the parlour, a staircase led to the upstairs rooms, the walls of which were smeared in blood. Reluctantly, fearing what he was going to find he mounted the stairs. And he was correct, for a womans body lay on the floor, on her back, her hair covering the truly awful injuries to her head and face. His rushed outside and divested himself of the lunch he had devoured some hours before. The nearest house was almost a quarter of a mile away, the occupant, a Mary Spicer, was deeply shocked to hear what he had to say, as Ann Spencer had only left her cottage, about half an hour before. Together, they went back to the cottage, just to make sure that what John Beech had said was correct. Ann Spencer, whose body was still warm, was decidedly dead. John Beech went off to fetch Mrs Spencers husband, and a message was sent to the local Constable with the dreadful news. According to Edward Spencer, they had been robbed twice that year, although they had never seen the burglars, and had come to no harm. There were several items of clothing missing from the cottage, and the Colonel wasted no time in posting a £50 reward. As the old lady had been attacked in the palour, it was apparent that more than one man was involved, and the task of finding them, fell to the assistant Wolverhampton Constable, Richard Diggory. He did not waste anytime in the matter.

I shall digress a little at this stage, because the site of the murder is, in my view, a little confused. The local Coroner, Henry Smith, quickly summoned a jury to the Mitre public house in Essington. If the cottage was on the Cannock Road, the nearest public house was the Pear Tree, so why the Mitre. The answer could be, that the Mitre, well it's celler, was used as a Mortuary for the locals of Essington, and that the cottage was in this location. Best guess would be on what is now Bognop Road, between the old Essington Windmill, and the Village. The old map also shows several plantations in this area, which bordered on the Hilton Estate, and a few remote cottages. Sadly, non of them named "Gorse Cottage", the scene of the murder.

So back to the hunt for Mrs Spencers vicious killers, and information was flowing in thick and fast. A vital witness, John Stubbs, came forward to say he had seen two men, one that he knew, heading towards Wolverhampton shortly after the murder, with a bundle under his arm. Later that day, 32 year old Thomas Powell, deposited, at Moores the Pawnbrokers in Darlington Street, Wolverhampton, the same clothing that was missing from the house. By 7.00pm the next day, Powell was under arrest, having been caught in Wolverhamptons Market place. William Edwards, a known accomplice of Powell was also apprehended, as was a man called Owen. Powell told the police that Edwards had given him the clothes, plus some money, to take them to the pawnbrokers. Both Edwards and Owen denied being involved, and due to a lack of any other evidence, were released. Powell was not so lucky. He had been seen by Mary Harding, who lived at Caribee Island, Wolverhampton, with blood on his hands and clothes.Mary Nicholls, another witness, saw him at the Leather Bottle, Wolverhampton, with the bundle half hidden under his smock.This, and even more damning evidence, was heard by the jury at the Mitre, and it was no surprise when he was charged with Wilful Murder. He was sent for trial to the next Staffordshire Assizes. Somewhat unusually for the time, the names of the Mitre jury were recorded for posterity. John Clowes, who lived at Mogridge, William Wood who came from Keel, John Cook, who resided in Brewood, William Smith from Bilston, John Bate , Thomas Hodgetts, Humphrey Nash, all from Wolverhampton. Thomas Cartwright and Joseph Hemingsley from Willenhall, Thomas Wood from Darlaston, Daniel Knott from Yoxall, and James Bate from Dunstall. It sounds like they were all in the pub when Henry Smith the Coroner, swore in the jury.

Thomas Powell's alibi at the trial that he was elswhere at the time, was easily destroyed when his employer, the landlady of the Three Crowns in Wolverhampton, could not recall him being at work during the hours of the murder and robbery. The man he named as his accomplish, William Edwards, also known as "Codsall Will", produced several witness'es who placed him elsewhere at the crucial time. At no stage did Powell ever change this story, that Edwards had struck the fatal blows with a Hammer found at the scene. Two weapons though, had been used in the attack, the other being a heavy Potato Fork, so it couldn't have been down to just one man. In February, Powell's wife died, but it made no difference to the inevitable verdict, Death by Hanging. It was only when awaiting the end, did he even show any remorse for the crime. Mind you that may have only been because when dead, his body was ordered to be dissected and anatomised. For some reason this produced more fear in the accused, that the actual hanging. So, on 17th March, 1825, Thomas Powell bade farewell to this world, and with a request to be allowed to say his prayers, he swung his way into the next. By the way, the Old Mitre is still going strong, and for those interested, It's on Bursnips Road, Essington. They serve good food and a wicked pint of real ale so I am told. There's a recent picture of it below. I'd stay out of the Celler though, they haven't reported any restless shades, but you never know.

There are many other Murder stories around the site. ( See, More Nasty Murders. )