A Most Horrible Murder in Hankelow, Cheshire

On April 18, 1797, George Morrey, from the village of Hankelow, near Nantwich, Cheshire married Edith Coomer, from the neighbouring village of Wybunbury. The couple went on to have six known children, the first, Elizabeth, born in 1798, followed by William, James, Mary (who only lived for a year), Edith and finally, George in 1810.

Marriage of George and Edith 1797
Marriage of George and Edith 1797

Clearly, despite George being a successful farmer, their marriage was not as happy as it ought to have been and as the saying goes ‘while the cat’s away …’ it was whilst George was away selling his wares, that Edith began an affair with a younger man, their former farmhand, John Lomas late 1811. It was in the Spring of 1812 that things came to a head when Edith found herself pregnant with John’s child. Things had to change and with that, John and Edith hatched a plan to murder Edith’s husband, George.

Between two and three o’clock in the morning of Sunday 12 April, the family servant, Hannah Evans, who slept with the children in the room adjoining the parlour heard a noise which sounded like several blows being delivered in her master’s room.

She quickly got up and could hear groans coming from the bedroom. She opened her chamber window to get through it, and, as she was putting her head out of the window she heard the door open, and turning her head saw her mistress come in with a lit candle, and caught hold of her, saying, she must not go out, as there was a murder in the house, and if she went through the window she was likely to be killed. After a few minutes, all went quiet, Edith sent Hannah to fetch John Lomas, their servant. Hannah then told him to wake the neighbours which, after some persuading, he agree to do.

Having gathered some neighbours and George’s brother they went upstairs to George’s bedroom, where they found him lying in dead on the floor, his throat having been cut through the windpipe, a left temple bone fractured. A large, blood-stained axe, covered in blood was found underneath his body. Claims of a break-in were made, but on checking there were no signs of any sort of break-in.

When daylight appeared, one of the neighbours noticed that Lomas had blood on his nose and on one of his wrists, creating suspicion of guilt. The room in which he slept was also found to have traces of blood on the floor and the stairs leading up to his bed. Also, his bed showed traces of blood and he was wearing a clean shirt. On finding the one he had worn the previous day, needless to say, other items of clothing were found with had blood on them too. This was hardly a well-thought-out crime as he had left evidence of his crime, everywhere.

British School; The Port of Chester; Grosvenor Museum
British School; The Port of Chester; Grosvenor Museum

Once the search was complete Lomas was taken away by the constables to await his fate. Whilst on the journey not only did Lomas confess to the crime but also implicated his mistress, Edith as his co-conspirator, saying that it was she who had administered alcohol to her husband to get him drunk and that she had urged Lomas to kill her husband so that once he was out of the way she would inherit the farm and the money they had and she would be free to be with Lomas.

When Edith was questioned the constable went to arrest her when she produced a razor and attempted to cut her own throat, but as a doctor was already present in the house examining George’s body, he was summoned and quickly sewed up the wound.

After the trial at which both pleaded not guilty, after just a few hours deliberation and, with a packed courtroom, the like of which had never been seen before, the death sentence was passed for the pair. Lomas immediately said ‘I, John Lomas, deserve my fate’. He was taken from the County to the city goal in Chester, and at midday ascended the drop and met his maker.

According to the Criminal Registers, John Lomas was executed on 31st August 1812 and that prior to his execution, it was agreed that both he and Edith should receive the sacrament together at which time the pair made a full confession of their guilt.

But what about his accomplice, Edith. She pleaded ‘the belly‘ i.e. that she was pregnant, a fact that was substantiated by a jury of matrons who confirmed that she was between four and five months pregnant and therefore permitted to live until the birth of her child, once born she would then suffer the same fate as Lomas.

On 23 April 1813 Edith was taken to the scaffold. She walked from the Castle to Glover’s Stone, having hold of Mr Hudson’s arm, with the utmost firmness, amidst an unusual pressure from the immense crowd assembled. She then got into the cart, and immediately laid herself down on one side, concealing her face with her handkerchief, which she has invariably done when in public, from her first appearance before the judges to her final dissolution, and we venture to affirm that no person obtained a view of her face out of the Castle since her commitment. She remained in prayer with the Rev. W Fish till one o’clock when she ascended the scaffold with a firm and undaunted step, with her face covered with a handkerchief and she immediately turned her back to the populace. When ready Edith dropped the handkerchief as a sign that she was ready to die.

By the time Edith died, her son Thomas was now aged four months, having been born on 21 December 1812.

But what became of this ‘love child’? He was raised by Edith’s brother, Thomas Coomer, but this child had his own story to tell. He was baptised in 1814, his baptism showing clearly that his parents were dead.

Life was not to be plain-sailing for this young man, who frequently found himself in trouble for thieving and according to the Chester Chronicle, 12 April 1833, yet again young Thomas found himself in trouble with the law –

A Jail Bird

At the present session, a youth named Thomas Morrey, only 20 years of age, appeared before the court for the third time, charged on this occasion, with stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, and some fowls, from his uncle, Thomas Coomes, of Basford, who had humanely taking him into his house, in the hope of snatching him from a career of crime which must end in bringing him to the gallows. This ill-starred boy is the son of Edith Morrey, who was convicted at the August assizes of 1812, of the murder of her husband and whose execution took place in April 1813, was stayed on account of her pregnancy until after the birth of this boy.

The court despaired of ever being able to reform young Thomas, so opted for having him transported to Tasmania, for a period of 7 years.

Following his sentence, he was removed to the prison hulk, Cumberland, moored at Chatham, Kent, where he remained until being transported the following year on board The Moffatt. On arrival in Tasmania, he was appointed to ‘public works’ and received a ticket of freedom in 1846.

Certification of Freedom for Thomas Morrey
Certification of Freedom for Thomas Morrey

As to what became of him after that is lost to history, so far, perhaps someone out there knows!

Sources

Leicester Journal 24 April 1812

Chester Courant 27 April 1813

Lancaster Gazette 20 April 1833

Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 1

England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892. Class: HO 27; Piece: 31; Page: 72

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 82, Part 1; Volume 111

The full story of this family’s life has been told in a book, ‘Rope Dance’ by Maureen Nields.

Featured Image

Stanfield, Clarkson Frederick; Prison Hulks and Other Shipping; University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust

Cheshire’s Wizard in Stone, Guest Post by Sue Wilkes

We are thrilled to welcome back the author of Regency Cheshire, Sue Wilkes who explores the county during the age of Jane Austen and Walter Scott; Regency Cheshire is now available on Kindle. Here’s a brief look at one of Cheshire’s most famous Regency-era architects.

Thomas Harrison (1744–1829), a Yorkshireman of humble origin, learnt his craft in Italy during the early 1770s.

Harrison’s works brought a restrained classicism to the city. His first major project was the Castle site, home to the civil and crown courts, county gaol, and an army garrison. Prison reformer John Howard, who visited in 1788, likened conditions in the cells (which housed debtors and felons) to the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Harrison’s Chester Castle works. The Propylea Gate is on the very far left. The county gaol, jury rooms and prothonotary’s office are in the building on the left. The Shire Hall with its Doric columns is to the right. The east wing (left) of the Hall was the military barracks; the west wing was the armoury.
Harrison’s Chester Castle works. The Propylea Gate is on the very far left. The county gaol, jury rooms and prothonotary’s office are in the building on the left. The Shire Hall with its Doric columns is to the right. The east wing (left) of the Hall was the military barracks; the west wing was the armoury.

In the summer of 1784, Cheshire magistrates, following a country-wide typhus epidemic the previous year, held a design competition for a new gaol within the castle. Thomas Harrison, now in his early forties, won the 50-guinea prize for his plans. Preliminary work began on site in 1788.

Harrison’s new gaol was laid out in the shape of a half-octagon fanning out from the Shire Hall. When the building was finally completed in 1801, conditions had greatly improved. The gaoler’s house looked out over an exercise yard; the cells, nine ft. by seven ft., were built in two-storey blocks along the inside of the perimeter wall. Robert Southey commented on how comfortably the jailor was housed:

The new jail is considered as a perfect model of prison architecture… The main objects attended to are, that the prisoners be kept apart from each other, and that the cells should always be open to inspection, and well ventilated so as to prevent infectious disorders… The structure of this particular prison is singularly curious, the cells being so constructed that the jailor from his dwelling-house can look into every one…The apartment from whence we were shown the interior of the prison was well, and even elegantly furnished; there were geraniums flowering upon stands, – a pianoforte, and music-books lying open – , and when we looked from the window we saw criminals with irons upon their legs, in solitary dungeons: – one of them, who was intently reading some devotional book, was, we were told, certainly to be executed at the next assizes…

Although Harrison’s design was very beautiful, it wasn’t necessarily secure; five prisoners escaped in the spring of 1802, and another five absconded in November 1807.

Harrison’s beautiful Propylaea Gateway, inspired by the Acropolis in Athens, was the crowning glory of the Castle complex. The gateway, with its Doric porticos and massy columns, is a high point of Greek Revival architecture in England.

Harrison’s new Shire Hall, with a grand façade of a Doric portico in fine ashlar stone, formed a harmonious whole with the prison buildings. Work continued on the Castle site for the rest of the decade; a new Armoury and Barracks (the present day Regimental Museum) for the garrison was added.

Harrison was also asked to revamp the city’s last surviving medieval gate, the Northgate. It housed the city gaol and had a dire reputation. This mouldering pile had a dreadful dungeon thirty feet below street level.

The Northgate was demolished and replaced by Harrison with a ’light, elegant structure of white stone.’ He also designed a new city gaol and House of Correction, built between 1806 and 1808, close to the medieval walls, but these buildings no longer survive.

Chester Grandstand
Chester Grandstand

Harrison was a very busy man in Chester during the Regency era. Thomas repaired the crumbling fabric of Chester Cathedral and refurbished the Exchange. His elegant Commercial News Room on Northgate St was a quiet haven for gentlemen wishing to peruse the daily newspapers.  At Chester’s famous racecourse, the Roodee, he designed the first permanent grandstand to give genteel race-goers some protection from the weather. His skills were also greatly in demand for private homes.

South east view of Chester Cathedral
Southeast view of Chester Cathedral

Harrison’s works form a wonderful legacy for Cheshire architecture. His obituary in the Chester Chronicle (3 April 1829) called him a ‘highly distinguished artist,’ who ‘in his professional character, had few equals.’

Regency Cheshire by Sue WilkesAbout the Author

Sue Wilkes is the author of several history and family history booksA Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England explores life in Austen’s day.

Regency Cheshire is out now on Kindle,  and her latest family history book, Tracing Your Manchester and Salford Ancestors, is available from Pen and Sword.

She blogs at Sue Wilkes and A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.

Joseph Edge, the Macclesfield Pedestrian of 1806

Joseph Edge was aged either 61 or 62 years of age when he set off to walk from Macclesfield in Cheshire to London (a journey of 172 miles) in fifty hours or less in the summer of 1806. Several large bets had been placed on his progress, amounting to upwards of 2,000 guineas.

Joseph Edge: The Macclesfield Pedestrian by R Bradbury; Silk Heritage Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/joseph-edge-the-macclesfield-pedestrian-103349
Joseph Edge: The Macclesfield Pedestrian by R Bradbury; Silk Heritage Trust

His first attempt ended in disaster – he set off from the Angel Inn in Macclesfield’s Market Place (it’s now the site of the NatWest Bank) at midnight on Monday 28th July and, eleven hours later, he arrived at Kegworth in Leicestershire (a distance of 51 miles). There he took some refreshment and drank a pint of beer, a bad mistake! The beer disagreed with him and after walking just a short distance further he became very ill and fell to the ground. His expedition was abandoned.

Two days later he was sufficiently recovered to attempt the feat again. At midnight on Wednesday 30th July he once more set off from the Angel Inn, accompanied by two gentlemen in a gig (one of whom may have been Mr Jones, Postmaster of Macclesfield, their purpose being to verify his attempt for the gentlemen who had placed money on Edge being able to complete his mammoth journey in only 50 hours, or not).

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

He just made it! After walking for 49 hours and 20 minutes Joseph Edge arrived at the designated finishing line, the Swan with Two Necks coaching inn on Lad Lane (now Gresham Street) in London, at 20 minutes past 1 o’clock in the early hours of Saturday 2nd August. A convenient destination, the Swan with Two Necks was where the coach heading out of London to Macclesfield departed from, giving Edge an easy journey home.

Several mail coaches gathered in the courtyard of The Swan with Two Necks, 1831.
Several mail coaches gathered in the courtyard of The Swan with Two Necks, 1831. Wikimedia

Sources:

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal – 29th July and 8th August 1806

Sporting Magazine, volume 28, 1806

Wicked William – Principal Departures for London Coaches (1819)

Header image:

Macclesfield Park, Cheshire by George Stewart, 1866 (via Art UK)