Murder in Lambeth, 1778

Richard Pendleton, a fisherman or waterman living in the parish of St Mary’s at Lambeth on the banks of the Thames, was a cruel man and often rained down blows upon his poor wife Elizabeth’s head. Eventually, after his frequent rages and ill treatment of her, she saw her own opportunity for revenge.

Her husband had returned home drunk, and he tumbled into their bed where he fell asleep. Waiting a while to be sure that he was senseless, Elizabeth then took up her needle and some thread, and proceeded to sew him securely into one of the blankets on the bed. When Richard awoke, he found his arms and legs were so confined that he was incapable of movement. Even more worryingly, Elizabeth stood over him with the hearth brush in her hands.

And so, in return for all the cruel punishments she had endured, Elizabeth began to beat him unmercifully until her husband begged for forgiveness, in the humblest of terms. Upon obtaining his promise never to ill-treat her again Elizabeth ceased and, taking up her scissors, she cut him free from the blanket.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

There the matter should have ended, Elizabeth had taken her revenge and was satisfied with her husband’s apology and his oath not to strike her again. But Elizabeth had fatally underestimated Richard Pendleton’s rage.

Elizabeth too was fond of a drink and on the 1st July 1778 Richard Pendleton returned home to find his wife tipsy and no supper ready for him. Shouting “blast your eyes, you b___ch, I’ll murder you!” he punched her several times on her head and she fell to the floor: one source asserts that he then beat his wife’s head against the stone floor, another that he gave her prone body a kick. Leaving her lying on the flagstones, he went out, presumably looking for his supper, whilst a woman who lived in the house carried Elizabeth to bed, where she lay senseless.

Pendleton returned home and slept in the bed next to his wife; in the morning he got up and went to work as usual, leaving Elizabeth lying, still senseless, in their bed. She was still there when some of her neighbours found her later that day, close to death.

Elizabeth Pendleton died in her house on the 2nd July 1778. She was buried three days later in the grounds of St Mary’s church at Lambeth. An inquest found that she had died of a contusion of the brain, caused by her husband’s blows to her head.

Lambeth Palace and St Mary's Church with St Paul's by William Marlow, c.1770 (c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church with St Paul’s by William Marlow, c.1770
(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Richard Pendleton stood trial for her murder, and was found guilty: on the 3rd August 1778, at the gallows on Gangley Common near Guildford, he hung for his crime. Before he swung he was sullen and obdurate, but the Reverend Mr Dyer ‘expostulated with him in the most servent Terms, which brought him to some sense of his future State’. He then addressed the crowd assembled to watch him die, advising them to avoid drunkenness and the heat of passion.

His sentence had stipulated that he should be anatomized after his death, and so his body was carried to the surgeons at Guildford in order to be dissected.

Sources used:

Capital Punishment UK website

British Executions website

Derby Mercury, 31st July 1778 and 7th August 1778

Northampton Mercury, 10th August 1778

Stamford Mercury, 6th August 1778

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 6th August 1778

 

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