Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Mail Train

Postman William Windridge lived in Dean's Croft, Lichfield with his uncle. On the last day of 1894 he had not been to work due to illness but the next morning had left home at 4:50am, telling his uncle he was going for a walk.

At 10:30am that morning his Uncle William learned how a postman had been killed on the line and, not having seen his nephew for some hours, went along to see find his worst fears realised. Identified by the tobacco pouch he had seen him fill that very morning, for the mutilated remains were hardly recognisable. His skull shattered leaving the contents scattered along the line, one leg severed and missing. His remaining shoe, hat and marks on the body had also confirmed that New Years Day 1895 was the last for 27-year-old Postman Windridge.

At the subsequent inquest further details were revealed. While it had been his job to bring the mail bags to Lichfield Trent Valley Station, he had been suspended some six weeks earlier after the station master found him walking unsteadily and deemed him to have been at risk. While his uncle maintained this was due to illness, the landlord of the Blue Bell Inn, one John Oakley, stated he had been drinking heavily at his establishment the previous day. Indeed he had walked him home that day as he had been the worse for drink and had even been forced to wrestle him into bed and force him to stay there to sleep.

A thorough search did not reveal any blood an any of the engines to have passed through the station that morning. Nor did they ever find the missing limb anywhere near where the impact occurred, at the level crossing here used solely by the farm and not by the public in general.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death but strongly suspected this may well have been suicide.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Train Accident

On Saturday 3rd January 1885, 62 year-old blacksmith Francis Clay left home at 6:30am as he did most days. As a blacksmith he would tour the local farms to perform required tasks on site. He travelled on foot, always using a stick, and carried his tools with him to earn the money to support his wife, Emma, and their seven children - aged 17 right down to the youngest babe in arms. The next they heard was an hour later when a knock at the door told them Francis Clay was dead.

Hademore Crossing has only been provided with a bridge to cross the tracks in the 21st century, prior to that a level crossing sufficed for more than a century. At about 7am that morning the two signalmen, having manually set the gates to allow the train to pass, were conversing as the 6:20 from Stafford to Rugby passed them at about 45mph. As it did so they heard a thump and went to investigate and soon after a policeman was summoned.

At the inquest the three men revealed the gruesome evidence they uncovered that morning. The bloodied post at one side of the gate led them to the discovery of a body. The flesh had been removed from one hand, clothing thrown up and over the head. When they removed the blood-soaked clothing to identify the individual the discovered part of the face and head missing, with blood and brains smothered all over the top of the post. The remainder of the head was found on the other side of the gate lying on the road. Suspecting the identity of the man they continued to search along the line and, 60 yards away, they found the toolbox which confirmed his identity.

By the time of the inquest his wife had removed much of the evidence from the post at the side of the track. It seems Francis had attempted to cross after the gates were closed. This was not unusual, the signalman would often allow foot passengers across when the train was not in sight. On this morning they had not seen him, although there was plenty of light despite the early hour.

A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

D'Oyly Carte Week

Thursday June 13th 1884 had seen a minor altercation in Lichfield at St James' Hall. A production of Princess Ida had not impressed four paying customers and they most vociferously demanded their money back. The manager, not wanting these army officers to lead a mass demand for refunds, took the unusual step of locking these four INSIDE the lobby of the building, thus isolating them. Such extraordinary tactics seem to suggest the manager agreed and the performance had not been of an acceptable standard. The 'captives' were released soon after everyone had dispersed.

Next night, with the story of the Thursday night having spread around the camp, no less than twenty-one officers and a similar number of privates arrived at the hall and, after the Friday night performance, demanded to see the manager. Later the soldiers were spotted removing a ladder from the George Hotel, this used to reach up to the statue of Doctor Samuel Johnson in the market square and enabled them to paint the wordsmith's face black. This resulted in a squabble with police and the ladder was returned. Soon after the soldiers were making further trouble when forcibly removing the driver from a pony and trap and then a cab driver lost his vehicle. When a fight ensued between a man named Beans and trooper Smith, the former was arrested and the soldier returned to his billet after Major Graves was summoned to dispel the simmering crowds still in the streets at midnight.

On the Saturday remained quiet but late Sunday night and further troubles erupted when Colonel Bromley-Davenport and Colonel Levett MP departed the Swan Hotel for the home of Major Graves. With opposing soldiers and civilians lining their route. While Levett tried to talk down the civilians his travelling companion spoke earnestly to the soldiers, both pointing out how neither really wanted to fight. A couple of minor scuffles were promptly ended by those nearby and seemingly peace returned to the streets of Lichfield as the crowds dispersed.

An hour later Colonel Bromley-Davenport was found dead by local jeweller Mr Watkins and his wife outside the Robin Hood public house. When the doctor arrived, a Mr Welshman, surgeon to the yeomanry, he officially pronounced the man dead at the scene. As the news of the death spread it had the effect of cooling tempers, for the colonel was held in great esteem by all.

At the inquest it was shown that foul play could be ruled out, the cause of death being a massive heart attack.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

November 17th 1883

Emma Wilcox, daughter of Mr J. Wilcox, himself well-known as a Lichfield gardener who tended the gardens of many, including Dr Holland, had married and now lived at Orton-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire. Having married her cousin, a tailor by trade, she had not changed her name and still saw the rest of her family quite often as they still lived in Lichfield.

Walking north towards her home from Atherstone, took her to the River Anker which was in flood, as it still does to this day despite steps being taken to rectify the problem. Here she met a boy of just seven years of age, his passage also blocked by the swollen Anker. Although already carrying an umbrella and a bag, she lifted the boy and strode out towards where she knew the bridge to be. We should remember these were times when clothing was largely woollen and much bulkier than today. Thus it was likely the weight of her long clothing which, having absorbed the water, caused her to trip. Together they were washed away downstream.

Later that day a passer-by driving a trap saw her hands above water. Emma was already dead and her hands frozen in that position at the moment of her death and held there by the branches against which her lifeless form was pinned. Looking around he later spotted the boy, now washed up on a bank.

Later the young boy told of how Emma Wilcox had saved his life and continued to support him above water even though he could no longer see her head. Emma Wilcox left behind a husband and six children, the youngest of which was just five months of age.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Blood, Blood and more Blood

The following story was reported in the Lichfield Mercury on Friday October 3rd 1817. It is a tale of quite appalling violence and grief.

On Friday 26th September 1817, a Mr Owen went to visit his married sister and her husband at their home. Admitted by their maidservant, he burst through into the kitchen where his sister and brother-in-law were enjoying their evening meal. Without saying a word he produced a large knife and launched a frenzied attack on Mr Jones. Before long he was suffering from great blood loss due to significant wounds to the head and neck.In trying to restrain Owen, Mrs Jones and the maidservant were also bleeding from wounds to their hands and arms.

With blood still dripping from down her arms, the servant ran into the street screaming for help. Passing by was a Mr Hopkins, a former sailor, and he rushed to her aid. Together they ran back into the house where they found Owen on top of Jones and continuing to slash at his brother-in-law, the victim now bleeding freely from several wounds and in particular a deep gash to the abdomen.

After a brief tussle Hopkins managed to get Owen Jones out of the room and into the street. Meanwhile inside Owen pulled a second knife and began to set about his own sister. He slashed across her forehead, plunged the blade between two ribs, and then pushed the blade into her open mouth ripped her face open to the ear and also split her tongue.

As the maid ran to her mistresses aid, Owen turned his attention to the servant, her name was Mary Berry. Fresh wounds were opened up across her arms and face. Despite severe blood loss the two women managed to get outside to the street, where neighbours took them in awaiting much-needed medical attention. Their recovery seemed unlikely.

By this time Owen had barricaded himself inside the house. Should anyone approach he threatened them with the same butchery as had befallen his sibling and other members of her household. By this time there were hundreds outside the property, including the police who were already planning to storm the building amassing a small army of volunteers. Armed with pokers, clothes-props, and assorted bludgeons - an array of unlikely weapons more often associated with a mob than a rescue party - they poured into the building through front and rear doors and windows, even using ladders to enter through upstairs windows in a co-ordinated and simultaneously assault.

Witnesses outside reported seeing Owen appear at an upstairs window, he whetting one knife against another. Knocked down by a man wielding a clothes-prop, he continued to fight back until, under the sheer weight of numbers, Owen was finally disarmed. Still he raged and struck out at his attackers despite the now severe injuries to his hands and arms.

With hands and feet tethered securely, Owen was carried from the building. A thorough search revealed the young Jones daughter still asleep in her room. She was dressed and taken to the home of a neighbour, while the injured were conveyed to the hospital of St Thomas.

In the aftermath questions were asked as to why this horror had happened. What had Owen got against Jones? What had made a man with an unblemished record and a reputation as a good husband and father initiate such a frenzied and bloody attack?

The story began some months earlier. Jones and his wife had sued for custody of both the Owen family's sons. Thinking, and likely correctly, they would have a better upbringing with their more affluent aunt and her husband, they tried to show the children were in an unstable home. After a bitter and unnecessary court hearing, it was ruled that Owen and his wife were quite capable of bringing up their sons even if they did not have the finances of the Jones household.

While the Owens were successful, the stress proved too much for Mrs Owen and she died a few weeks later. After the funeral, Owen had been taken to a friend's house where, after food and perhaps an unwise amount of drink, had gone to the home of his sister and brother-in-law in Gibraltar Row armed with two sizable knives. He never saw his two sons again.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Joyce Lewis

Joyce lived with her husband at Mancetter in 1557. Both attended church together - and there was the problem, for she was a Protestant while her husband insisted she join him at the Roman Catholic church. Not to be completely outdone she spent the entire service with her back to the altar in protest.

Word of this bizarre situation reached the ears of the Bishop of Lichfield and, as one would expect during the 16th century, he was not a happy bishop. He sent his envoy to visit the Joyce family, with a letter demanding Mr Joyce put his wife in her place. But the husband was not pleased by the bishop's interference and forced the envoy to eat the bishop's letter! He was promptly arrested but released soon after making his apologies.

Attention then turned to Mrs Lewis. She was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death by burning. However the Sheriff of Lichfield refused to carry out the sentence and, rather than irritate the sheriff, it was decided they would put a hold on events until his term of office ended before the end of the year and his successor took over. The new sheriff had no trouble with the sentence.

Joyce Lewis died at nine on the morning of December 18th 1557.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Edward Wightman

In 1611 Mr Wightman petitioned none other than King James I of England. Edward, a Puritan speaker, was scathing in his criticism of the Church of England. He soon found himself imprisoned at Westminster.

March 9th 1612 saw him taken to the market place in Lichfield, where he was to be burned at the stake for his actions of the previous year. Shortly after the fire was lit Wightman cried out, appealling to his executioners for mercy and repenting for his earlier statements. While the executioners ignored his pleas, the crowd reacted swiftly and broke through to free him from his bonds and the flames, several being burned quite badly themselves. With order restored the officials forced Wightman to read out a statement, repenting for his sins whereupon his chains were removed and he returned to his prison cell.

Yet the bishop was not so easily convinced and he sent for Wightman and demanded he read the statement of repentance a second time. Wightman refused. On April 11th 1612 the bishop sent him back to the market place where he was once again tied to the stake and the fire lit. This time the cordon of officials had been strengthend and none of the watching crowd could intervene.

Edward Wightman would never know he was the last person to be burned at the stake in England for the crime of heresy.