Article MT203

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No.  28: Norfolk printings of murder and execution (3)
The Gressenhall cache, part one1

The Gressenhall cache differs considerably from the Millenium library material already discussed principally because most of its contents are generally late in issue in respect of the century - although a printing on the murder of Maria Marten (1827) is included.  The main import of this article is to see how ballad printing conventions were prolonged right through the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, thus indicating not just a continuing fascination with the subject-matter but how there was a seeming reliance by printers on forms that would elicit a continuing response in respect of broadside balladry as we have come to know it; and where changes occurred in presentation.  A second point to make is that the Gressenhall cache does not include familiar imprints except for the name of Such that appears once - and it looks as if much material comes from newspaper sources, underlining what is something of a curious survival in a different form of presentation to that to which we have become accustomed.  The particular format appears to be generally consistent though not, of course, absolute - a four-page booklet around twenty-five centimetres deep on the page and eighteen centimetres wide.  There are illustrations as well as the odd header-block.

Another important factor about the cache is that the subject-matter is not local except in five out of seventeen cases, more possible indication that the source of material may well have been a newspaper that itself collated news from across the country and contrasting vividly with material examined in the two previous articles.  In one sense, then, it is not accurate to describe these as 'Norfolk printings' although the inclusion of the five Norfolk cases and the very existence of the archive in Gressenhall invite a concession.  In respect of the presence of the ballads in Gressenhall efforts are still being made to trace the source of the material; and until a clearer picture emerges any comment must be seen as interim since we cannot be sure that the material was, indeed, put out by a newspaper or whether the format could be found in other repositories.  Perhaps the Gressenhall cache is a one-off.2

We begin with two Maria Marten pieces but neither are contemporary 1827 (murder) or 1828 (execution) issues nor ballad printings as we have come to expect them.  They are, quite clearly, newspaper products under an umbrella title of Maria Marten: The True Story of The Red Barn Mystery as it was written up in two separated sheets, the first a lurid résume of the events with illustrations as header of a cottage, a barn, of the principals, Maria Marten and William Corder and of Bury St.  Edmunds jail.  A second piece is but a portion of what was a weekly serial - its opening page(s) missing - and, in this case, the name of the journal, Weekly Welcome, is clearly marked.  The prose makes no pretence to be other than a florid telling of a tale.

Typical of the prose element of the first piece is the following, describing Corder's hanging:

A minute more, and a long-drawn sigh wrung from the breasts of the assembled multitude tells us that William Corder had been launched into eternity.  Slowly the crowd disperses, though not before a spirited bidding takes place for the rope used by the hangman.  Inch by inch it is sold, and as it gradually dwindled towards the end the price rises higher and higher, until in their feverish anxiety for a gruesome relic of the scene men are paying a guinea for an inch of the rope.
The piece goes on to suggest that, although 'Years have passed', men still talked of the hand of Providence 'laying bare the secret of William Corder', how 'With diabolical deliberation' he laid plans to get rid of Maria Marten - 'A simple, trusting country girl'.  And here we find a ballad embedded:
She struggled hard, she struggled long,
      And fearful was the strife,
For now she saw his wicked aim
      Was nothing but her life.
Corder, in prose, is described as an 'inhuman monster' who 'strained every nerve' to hide the body…
With superhuman strength, he tore at the flags beneath his feet, and with great drops of sweat standing on his forehead he feverishly dug into the hard soil.  Then, when all trace of the foul deed was hidden, he slunk into the silence and darkness of the night.
No comment is necessary except to remark a change from our more usual ballad perception of events that the embedded ballad, more conventional in nature, highlights - though one may just add that the hand of Providence would seem to have been the three successive nights of dreaming by Maria Marten's mother that revealed the nature of the crime long after it had happened (as we are told!).

The narrative in the second piece is, perhaps, not quite so hysterical in tone although there is some heart-tugging stuff in it.  When, for instance, Corder persuaded Maria to wear men's clothes as she was leaving her home to get married to him, her mother was upset and somewhat suspicious, and

“Mother, mother!” sobbed the poor girl.  “If I've ever given you cause for grief and sorrow in the past, promise me you'll forget it now.  I'll make William a good wife, and help to keep him happy and straight.  And when we come back to the Red Barn Farm there'll never be a more honoured visitor than yourself.  William has promised me I may ask you to come and see me just whenever you can come.  Say goodbye, and bless me, mother before I go.”
At the end of the piece, in cliff-hanger style:
…William Corder stepped forth from his hiding-place in a thicket not far from the Red Barn, and in his hand he carried two things.  One was a short sharp sword… and the other a little two-chambered revolver, with the trigger cocked and ready.  He wore a mask over his face, and what could be seen of the latter was deadly pale, with great drops of moisture standing on brow and chin.
Cue: 'For Continuation of the Thrilling Dramatic Serial see the Weekly Welcome Of Friday First and Following Weeks.  Of all Newsagents.  Price - One Penny.' According to the British Library Weekly Welcome was a magazine that ran from February 15th 1896 until October 1st 1938 after which it was transmogrified into Woman's Welcome.

If we consider the presence of a ballad in the first piece described above this does give us an inkling of how ballad convention survived whether the printers were fully aware of the heritage or not.  So, to link the piece with this heritage - perhaps even in the end to disassociate it - whilst no attempt is made here to survey all known Maria Marten ballads, we can contrast the relative styles and tones of the passages quoted above and those of one or two other printings.  It is necessary to point out, firstly, though, that the ballad contained in the first prose account described above is not one discussed below.  Its origin remains with those of the prose articles - undiscovered, as it were.  We turn instead to a Catnach issue that begins in strict ballad style:

COME all you thoughtless young men a warning take by
And think on my unhappy fate to be hanged upon a tree,
My name is William Corder to you I do declare,
I courted Maria Marten most beautiful and fair…
Corder later 'fetched my gun, my pickaxe and my spade' and then the viewpoint changes - 'He' murdered her and 'Her bleeding mangled body he threw under the red barn floor…'

Later still, Maria's 'jawbone was brought to prove'; her mother in grief tearing her hair; and the piece ends before Corder, 'My sentence past (sic) I die at last to be hang'd upon a tree'.3

Copy from Pitts begins:

Hark! 'tis the dreary midnight bell,
      That breaks the gloom profound,
It seems to toll my Funeral knell,
      Ah! horrid is the sound…
Further on in the piece:
Of all the crimes recorded,
      In History from the first,
The horrid crime of Murder,
      It is the very worst.
To murder poor Maria
      Whose life to her was dear
It would fill the eyes of sympathy,
      With many a flowing tear.4
In the matter of contrasting possible like with like, it is notable that, given that the Gressenhall pieces are substantially in prose, in language use they are less direct than are ballads as discussed throughout this series, depending heavily instead on drawing out the easier emotions.  In contrast, Catnach and Pitts rely more on worn phrases that are, in essence, a kind of shorthand; and the very compactness of the usual ballad form does not usually allow for greatly elongated description, indulgent dwelling on details.  The two conventional ballads discussed here appear in form and content to have been followed by most later printers (Hodges after Catnach, Harkness after Pitts, for example) although one printing begins as follows:
Good people I pray draw near
A shocking story you shall hear
Committed on a female dear
By my own hand I do peclare (sic)…
Even here, though, the formulaic style is clear.5

Ultimately in terms of comparison, whilst we do encounter echoes, one with another, in all the pieces noted above, it is worth stressing how a newer, prolonged and perhaps more titillating process of description and comment was followed in Weekly Welcome and associated printings.  It would be temptingly facile merely to relate this to supposed changes in mores and fashions but those changes deserve more careful attention, not possible in this article.  Suffice, for the moment, to remark the actual change in morphology, where - as intimated above - one is not so much comparing like with like as exposing differing language use; the kind that, in a similar way, emerges in 'scribbledom' in contrast to broadside ballad convention.  And we will see how the newer language use does, in fact, penetrate ballad convention itself as found in other pieces discussed below.  In the end, too, we note that the Maria Marten material is wholly retrospective and that at a considerable remove.

However, the second piece issued in historical time and to be found at Gressenhall deals with a murder that occurred in 1845 and, in contrast to the Maria Marten pieces discussed above, is solidly within the murder and execution ballad conventions already examined in the respective stocks in the Millenium library, of Robert Walker and of other Norfolk printers.  The title of the piece is Particulars Of The Trial And Execution Of William Howell…with the further information that he underwent 'The Sentence of the Law' at Ipswich on Saturday January 25th.  The presentation is large-scale, Mayhew's half-sheet (this form occurs elsewhere as in the Snelling piece described below).  The printer was one Scoggins of Ipswich.6

The textual content consists of a long prose introduction and some additional stanzas - Advice To The Living - which, as a title, implies that hanging had already taken place.  There is a small header block of a hanging male figure.  He is accompanied at the scaffold by another male figure carrying something that probably marks him out as a javelin man.  The prose introduction opens by surveying the case from the moment that Howell's trial began on 13th December 1844 at Bury St.  Edmunds, but reaches back to explain the circumstances of the murder, the result of an attempted robbery.  It is worth noting that two other men, Walter Howell and Israel Shipley, were also tried for the murder of James McFadden, a policeman, at Gislingham, 'on the morning of 30th of July last' (1844).  There follow references to depositions, the jury's verdict of 'GUILTY' is given 'against all the prisoners', and there is an outburst from Walter Howell who declared that he could prove all witnesses to have lied whilst his brother, William, told him not to say anything although 'God knows we are innocent'.  All the prisoners were then respited until January 25th 1845.  The order for execution was then reconfirmed but a 'Memorial' was got up which 'we are happy in saying' had the effect of offering further respite to Walter Howell and Israel Shipley.

William Howell, though, as the piece then describes, was hanged 'At Ipswich' on 25th January 1845 in front of 'crowds of persons' - 'men, women, boys and children'.  Howell's character is then reviewed, how affected he had become in view of the 'awful situation'; but that 'we cannot learn that he has made any confession of his guilt'.  The account ends with a quotation, without acknowledgement but likely to have come from a newspaper report, in which it was 'presumed' that Walter Howell and Israel Shipley would have their sentences commuted to transportation for life in Norfolk Island (it has not yet been possible to trace this aspect of the case).  The main sources of the particular piece seem to be clear enough: reports of trial proceedings.

A Norwich Mercury account notes that Howell's body was to be cut down and buried at night within the precincts of the gaol, a slight variant on the known fate of other bodies already recorded in this series.  Also, 'It was estimated that there were above 12,000 spectators present' at Howell's hanging, 'the majority of whom were females and boys', the latter a slight contradiction of the view expressed on the ballad printing issue and, in the end, a hardly credible observation.

There is but a brief set of stanzas: Advice To The Living - that breathes a certain amount of hellfire:

Hear, ye sons of dissipation,
      Who your nights in riot spend;
Soon will fail your boasted pleasure,
      And in grief your revels end.
It is obviously assumed that all men are sinful…There is no concession made here.  Everyone is urged to 'Flee from sin, and come to Jesus'.  At once, then, that religiose tone adopted in Norfolk printings as discussed in previous articles emerges.  There is no reference at all in the set of stanzas to the case in view.  The set needs the accompanying prose account in order to make sense: another feature encountered previously.7

A third ballad is the only one of the whole Gressinghall cache and, indeed, one of a rare breed of relatively modern murder pieces, that turns up in sung repertoire.  The Folkestone Murder concerns Dedea Redaines (his name is spelt variously) who killed two sisters, Maria and Caroline Back, near to Shorncliffe camp, not far from Dover in Kent, and was hanged for his crime at Maidstone on January 1st 1857.8 It is an entirely conventional ballad alone - no accompanying prose account - although lacking the familiar image of the 'fatal tree' and any appeal to God or Heaven.  It begins with characteristic ballad lines:

Kind friends you'll come before me now,
            and listen to my song,
I'll tell you of a murder.  I won't detain
            you long,
It was near the town of Folkstone (sic) this
            shocking deed was done,
Maria and sweet Caroline were murdered
            by Switzerland John.
Redaines asked Caroline to walk with him and her mother made a condition:
You had better take your sister to walk
            along with you,
And then I have no objection dear daughter
            you may go.
However, early in the morning 'before the break of day', the 'villain' drew a knife and 'took away' the lives of Maria and Caroline.
He kissed their pale cold cheeks as they
            laid upon the ground,
He took the capes from off their necks
            which upon him were found…
The parents 'pulled and tore their old grey locks' - 'Until the tears they fell like rain'.

The 'villain' was taken, brought to Maidstone, and 'there condemned to die'.  He says farewell to Caroline 'for now I am alone' and must die 'far from my native home'.  The piece concludes with 'the dreadful bell' tolling, preparation of the scaffold; and

Now all young men take warning through
            this sad fate of mine,
And remember poor Maria and sweet
Clearly, the piece is full of well-worn images ('before the break of day', 'pale cold cheeks', 'grey locks', 'dreadful bell', 'take warning').  There are the usual journalistic touches such as when the girls' capes were removed.  The ballad fits the profile adduced in so many cases discussed here and in previous articles.

But it must be stressed that the piece appeared in the four-page booklet form already described, as retrospection.  The particular booklet concentrates its headlines on a murder that took place in Diss, Norfolk, in 1899 (discussed below) and also contains a selection of some eight texts once issued as a group by Sheard of High Holborn, London, none of these eight concerned with murder cases.  Whoever put the booklet together - late in time - was relying on commercial instincts for success and The Folkestone Murder would appear to have been offered not for its intrinsic impact but simply as part of a package.  It might, though, be said to provide a link with previous ballad literature in that its presence in the booklet could suggest that the printer was aware of precedent - in support of the Diss ballad, it seems.  There must surely remain the possibility that it was reprinted from an earlier printing still.

As far as sung versions are concerned, whilst this is not the place to discuss them at length, the most prominent is that from George Spicer, published and recorded several times.  This version differs little in textual context from the ballad in the Gressenhall cache except for the following two additional stanzas that must surely, then, indicate an accretion through oral dissemination.  Firstly:

Down on the ground the sisters fell, all in their blooming years
For mercy cried, "We're innocent", their eyes were filled with tears.
He plunged the knife into their breasts, their lovely breasts so deep,
He robb'd them of their own sweet lives and left them there to sleep.
Early next morning their bodies they were found
At a lonely spot called Steady Hall, a-bleeding on the ground.
And if ever you go unto that spot, these letters you will find
Cut deeply in the grass so green: Maria and Caroline.
Otherwise text is, bar a few small changes in wording, commensurate with the ballad printing described above.9 We are left with the usual chicken and egg situation.

Finally, in connection with The Folkestone Murder, it should be noted that this is the last ballad in the cache dating from before the abolition of public hanging.  This and the Howell piece, then, are the only ones that can be directly located in the first half of the century given that the Maria Marten pieces are of a different order as described above.  There is, of course, some murder and execution material from Norfolk printers and elsewhere that dates from the second half of the century and accords with ballad convention.  But The Folkestone Murder as discussed here underlines the rather special nature of the particular cache, suggesting even that it is, in a sense, incomplete, depending on the whims and methods of whoever assembled it and offering the possibility that there may even be more such material from the same source as yet undiscovered.

Mysterious Murder at Richmond, dating from 1879, is presented in four page booklet-style, with measurements defined as above.  A cover illustration shows a standing woman stirring a copper from which protrude limbs.  Inside pages consist of a prose account that looks to have been lifted directly from a newspaper and that begins, as it were, in media res

Mrs.  Thomas, the deceased, was a widow of about 55 years of age, and settled at Richmond some two years ago…
Mrs Thomas had offered lodgings and the account says that 'A woman lived with her whose name was Kate', pretty vague until the course of the case is unfolded.  A neighbour, for instance, seeing a furniture van outside Mrs.  Thomas' door, went to investigate and was given an 'evasive' reply to questions by a woman named 'Kate'.  A boy who had been requested by a woman to help carry a box which was dropped into the river at Richmond Bridge, later overheard his parents reading the facts of the case including the information that a box - there is no other clue - had contained human limbs.

Then we learn that a servant by the name of Catherine Debb (sic), 'aged 30', had absconded…and may have gone to America.  In something of a rush, then, we discover that there was never any information about the death of Mr.  Thomas, or of the identity of the encased limbs, and that the remains of a body are supposed to have been thrown from Hammersmith Bridge.  Further, 'a man named Porter' had a son who accompanied the 'servant', Kate, as she is now described, 'when she threw, the box (sic)', supposed to contain the remains of her mistress, into the river.  Porter explained that he had known 'Kate' previously, then lost sight of her for some time until she returned to ask if he could accompany her to board a train.  His son, Robert, carried a heavy bag belonging to the woman.  The three went to a beerhouse and she then went off to visit a friend with whom, she declared on her return, she had left the bag.  She showed Porter and son some valuables, said that she had a house to sell, asking Porter to find someone to purchase the furniture.  Porter's son accompanied the woman to Richmond where she retrieved a box - to be taken to 'a friend' - persuading Robert to assist her carry it.  At Richmond Bridge she told him to walk on and he heard a splash.  The woman reappeared without her box…A bag and a box, then…

This detail is somewhat tedious to recount and is duplicated to quite an extent in the first of two ballads that accompany it - although the following lines are more direct:

The story of the crime near London,
      Now to you we'll relate.
The shocking death of Mrs.  Thomas,
      And her cruel, untimely fate…
And Mrs.  Thomas, declares the ballad, had been murdered for her money, a first essay at motive.

Then, whilst it is not separated from the body of text, there are four lines acting as chorus that get - again, directly - to the heart of the murder:

For the barbarous, cruel wrethes (sic),
      Not a spark of sympathy remains:
They boiled the body of their victim,
      And threw it in the Thames…
The identification of more than one murderer is absolutely clear.

The ballad continues by recounting some of the details of the prose account - with the odd change - how, for instance, Mrs.  Thomas 'engaged her cruel servant' who was, 'Perhaps to commit the crime of murder', how the neighbour missed Mrs.  Thomas, the servant said that she was ill, tried to sell goods; and then that the body of her 'mistress' was 'in the river'.

In a box they put the body,
      They had boiled the flesh from off the bones…
The 'cruel' servant - the word 'cruel' is the only description in this piece - went to her father's home in Ireland, but was brought back and 'confess'd upon the way'.  If, then, 'they' are tried and found guilty, 'they' would deserve all the law could give and 'will not leave one friend behind'.

In this account, somewhat breathless at times, we arrive at a familiar stage in such material, before sentencing and a possible execution.  Epithets are very limited in scope.  The narrative is mundane.  The ballad is distanced by words like 'perhaps' and some speculation.  The outstanding feature is that identification of more than one murderer whilst only one such person is, at the same time, mentioned.  Otherwise, the ballad lies well within ballad convention and it is clear that the abolition of public hanging has made not a jot of difference to interest.

A second ballad - there is a header block of a group of well-dressed gentlemen, perhaps surgeons, bent over a mutilated body - reminds us, in its opening lines, of previous material discussed (my italics):

Oh, what an age this is of murder,
      In town and country everywhere,
As daily we the papers read
      Some shocking tragedy we are sure to hear,
Scarcely as one, suffered on the scaffold, (sic)
      Then another dreadful crime we read,
Some poor soul alas has fallen
      A victim to some foul deed.
The distancing here is familiar.10 A chorus follows and then another familiar reference emerges:
We make our boast of Christianity
      In this our native land,
And go to civilize the savages
      On some far and distant land.
While we many thousands yearly spend,
      And Missionaries sent among savages to
I think with me you will agree,
      OEe (sic) require their services at home.11
Mention is then made to the Wainwright, Blackburn and Penge murders - prominent during the previous four years12 - although this present one is 'the worst of all'…
A widow lady, there has been murdered,
      And mutilated, as by the papers has been
And her remains placed in a box,
      And in the river Thames have been thrown.
That is the case in a nutshell and a further stanza speculates that the author of the crime will be brought to justice and punished, a 'disgrace to this our country…'.  There follows a unique reference to 'A woman named Catherine Webb' who was taken up for the crime; and, next, the name of a lad, Porter, as in the prose account cited above, appears and he it was who was engaged to help her carry her box.  A final stanza laments 'poor Mrs.  Thomas' but declares that justice 'will avenge her fate' and the guilty 'A felons (sic) death will surely die'.

In the totality of material on the particular case assembled here there is some slight confusion in the naming and the recounting of the course of events but an essential story does emerge.  Later lists and information from web sources give the name of Catherine Webster who was hanged for the murder of Julia Martha Thomas on 29th July 1879 at Wandsworth.13 As for form and content this ballad, like the Richmond one discussed above, does have direct links with earlier material.

In appearance The Trial and Sentence of John Thurston For The Wilful Murder Of Henry Springall, At Hingham… (1885) continues to parallel the booklet format discussed above and its amalgam of prose account and ballad is now familiar enough.  After an illustrated cover there are two pages of prose account indicating how Thurston, aged 36, a 'smart-looking young man' with a moustache giving him 'a military' stamp - and he had, apparently, served in the army - pleaded 'Not Guilty' to indictments.  Witness statements are quoted in detail as they might have been in a newspaper.  The learned judge summed up; and the jury retired, returning to pronounce 'a verdict of guilty'.  The Judge's address to the prisoner is also quoted at length and the formalities of sentencing appear.  Thurston, it may be added, was to be buried within the precincts of the prison.

A Copy Of Verses…follows.  This, given from the viewpoint of an observer, begins:

Kind friends list awhile to me,
Some facts I'm about to relate:
How an old labourer was cruelly murdered,
The truth unto you I will state…
It continues by saying that 'Sad is the news to explain' and that Henry Springall was killed 'in a most cruel way'.  There is a chorus:
Poor Springall was cruelly murdered,
And Thurston is sentenced to die;
By the laws of the land on the drop he must
From Justice he now cannot fly.  [stand,
A narrative account follows: Springall, having 'Killed in a most cruel way', apprehended, taken to trial and sentenced…Then, 'In a condemned cell he now is waiting' to be 'hurled' into eternity, hopefully to 'make peace with his Maker' and, perhaps, to think of his victim.

The piece is unpretentious, perhaps even flat especially where the same brief phrase characterises the killing, without detail, but we can recognise features present in other murder and execution balladry: the address to an audience, the claim of truthfulness, the somewhat religiose tone (a Norfolk speciality), the chorus.  The point at which the ballad stops is a regular feature is such balladry - sentence passed but no execution having yet taken place.

The booklet is priced at 'One Penny'; obviously, then, sold entire as older ballad stock was.

The Norfolk Chronicle reported on the events at Hingham although its second report, describing the execution on 5th December 1885, gives us the name as Thomas Thurston.14

Continuing the Norfolk connection: there is a ballad entitled Lines On The Cruel Murder of An Old Man Henry Last By Name…(1886) by one George Harmer that is presented in the manner of the previous ballad discussed, the like of which we have encountered many times before:

Good people, give attention,
      To this my simple rhyme;
The facts to you I will mention,
      About this shocking crime…
This 'cruel' murder 'makes the Blood run cold'.  A brief chorus allows that the 'victim' will 'rise at the Judgement Day'.

The crime itself, 'shocking to relate' was committed on August 14th and the victim met 'a sad and dreadful fate' with 'streams of blood' round him.  Harmer was 'committed' for the crime and will no doubt 'suffer in his prime'.  The motive was that of robbery 'we are told' - enough 'to make the heart to bleed': familiar phrases abound.

Evidently Harmer had just been released from prison and went, uttering threats, to Henry Last's house 'With a bosom filled with murderous strife'.  A final stanza issues a warning to 'Young and old' not to give way to 'evil passions'.

'Tis wrote thou shalt not murder,
      The Holy book has plainly said.
No doubt his friends shed a tear
      For the victim lying dead.
It is, indeed, a 'simple Rhyme', full of familiar images, reasonably complete in its summary, ending predictably before the absolute conclusion of the case, all very much along expected lines where single ballad issues are concerned.  There is, though, no imprint and the piece, a single sheet offering only the ballad itself with no attendant prose account or header block, does not look like any of the Norfolk printings discussed previously in this series but with type-face like that of the four-page booklets under review here, yet another puzzle in attribution but also cementing connection with familiar ballad format.15

Full Account & Commital Of The Shocking Murder Of Henry Baker An Inmate Of Kenninghall Workhouse…, the title itself already slipping up grammatically in its referral, like the material on Springall above also contains 'Copy Of Verses' and was 'Price One Penny'.  The printing follows exactly the same format as that concerning Thurston, to the extent that the print-face and the enclosing decoration are the same.  This murder took place in 1887.  There is a two-page prose account of how one Jonas Rivett (also spelled 'Revett' in the piece), an inmate in the Workhouse, rose in the night and severed the jugular vein of a fellow inmate, Henry Baker.  Rivett's actions immediately subsequently, running through the ward shouting, were also described as was his eventual apprehension by other inmates who saw that Rivett had a knife in his hand.  The Master and a nurse examined Rivett and sent for a doctor and for the police.

The account then indicates one of its sources - 'A later despatch from our Kenninghall correspondent states' that a post-mortem examination of Baker had taken place when it was revealed that the victim had suffered several 'blows' with the knife after his jugular vein had been cut.  Rivett, one who had spent much time travelling as he worked on railways, and now suffering from a heart disease, was not taken into police custody but a police escort remained at the workhouse.

There follow descriptions of both men; and then the piece turns to the inquest on Baker and some evidence is recounted.  The Coroner's summary suggested that Rivett's state of mind was of some concern, although the jury found him guilty of 'the wilful murder of Henry Baker'.  'Revett' was, therefore, committed to stand trial at the next Assizes.

The copy of verses is a little more extensive in fashioning than, say, the Catnach and Pitts lines on Corder and, by association, much other such literature that lingers at a basic level of communication and concentrates on narrative and speculation…

Again the crime of murder has been committed,
      And again another victim's fell (sic) beneath its cruel hands;
Sad was poor Baker's fate, by all must be admitted,
      Such crimes are a disgrace to our Christian land…
The last phrase echoes several found in surveys of murders that appeared on this site in 2005 and in this article above.16

There is a chorus:

Charged with the crime of murder, Jonas Rivett is lying,
      For killing Henry Baker from Justice cannot fly;
So sad is Baker's fate let me hope he's with the angels,
      At rest from this world, with his Maker on high.
The narrative indicates that Baker was kind ('we do read' - so no interviews with other inmates than those who had known Baker had transpired…and the piece is distanced); that it was hard to give a motive although Rivett, 'to his evil passion he must have given way'; how the alarm was raised and 'many of the inmates were shedding tears of sorrow'; how the writer hoped that Baker had 'gone to rest in Heaven with his Maker'; and how Rivett 'for his crime may have to atone'.

'Good people all' are warned against 'evil passion'…

In the end Rivett will repent for what he has done,
      In taking the life of a poor fellow man,
And for the cruel crime he has committed,
      Before the bar of justice he may have to stand.
The piece clearly offers ballad convention although, like the previous piece discussed, using a slightly slack manner of expression.  And, following the line of the prose account, it hedges in that repeated use of the word 'may'; just as well considering how the case turned out.

This can be gauged from other sources.  The Norwich Mercury recorded that:

The facts of the case were not in dispute, and the issue, which was principally or almost solely left to the jury to decide, was whether the prisoner was insane at the time of the murder.
The Jury, as indicated in the prose account above, 'gave a verdict of Guilty' and the Judge passed sentence of death, as the Norwich Mercury reported:
He entertained no doubt that at times the prisoner suffered from depression; but the circumstances attending the case satisfied him, as they had satisfied its Jury, that at the time prisoner put that man to death in the way he did was perfectly aware that he was doing a wrongful act, and that he was committing a crime with the full knowledge of its nature, for which he must bear the consequences.
However, as Mackie in his Annals… noted, Rivett 'was subsequently respited, and removed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum'.17

Next in historical time is Shocking Murder At Woolwich, a Such piece concerning the murder by Frederick Marshall of his sweetheart, Laura Wilson.  This is in straightforward single ballad form - no prose account, no header block; and a tune is suggested: 'Teddy O'Neale', a tune found scattered on other ballad sheets and part of a song, a sentimental pseudo-Irish concoction, at least pre-1868, apparently composed by a Shamus O'Leary.18

The murder piece in question begins, 'How sad it is at this festive season', and, rather clumsily, that:

'Tis a sweetheart murder there seems to be no reason
      But until that is proved we of course cannot say…
There is a chorus:
Jealousy, the cause of crimes without number,
      Poor Laura Wilson its victim may be,
Young Frederick Marshall is charged with the
      Such a sad crime in Woolwich we don't often see.
The ballad goes on: ''tis said' that Fredrick Marshall and Laura Wilson had been lovers and that Marshall, 'it seems' had become jealous of 'another', thinking that Laura Wilson might marry this man, and so came to stab her 'to the heart'.  There is then a recapitulation of events as described in the prose account and of how the girl had 'retired to her bed', not thinking of her 'sad doom'.
Some one then entered the room by the window,
      A scuffle was heard and the crime it was done,
“I am stabbed to the heart,” she cried to her
      And died at her feet as for help she did run.

The alarm was given and her parents rushed in from next door - 'Who knows the feelings of father and mother…'.  Marshall was suspected:

Some people say that it could be no other,
      But that must be proved by the law in good
Brought up he's been and then remanded,
      The crime we are told he does firmly deny.
A final stanza suggests that the girl is now 'resting in heaven' and there is a quite unusual image (in such balladry): 'Over her tomb plant sweet summer flowers'.  She is now with the angels.
When a young life like here so suddenly closes,
      God bless the poor victim is the least we can say.
The piece is like others in the panoply of murder and execution balladry, concentrating, as it does, on the murder itself and clearly, therefore, identifying a period of issue just before trial and sentencing.  It has to have been a piece bringing 'news', a pot-boiler of sorts, and the minor surprise is that, as far as is known, Such did not issue more printings that would pursue the course of the case.  For, at the head of the piece, underneath the title, Such does add that Marshall had been 'charged with the wilful murder of his sweetheart' - nothing more - so indicating the possibility of more knowledge, more news, to come.  We note, in this connection, that Marshall, sentenced to be detained in Broadmoor, actually escaped that institution before being recaptured.19

Another (Norfolk) piece that we would recognise as the sort that would be likely to have had an imprint - but there is no imprint - is that of Trial And Sentence Of Elijah Snelling For The Wilful Murder Of His Mother-In-Law…in Pulham St.  Mary, south of Norwich, in 1890.  The character of the piece, a large-scale issue without header block with a short prose account, fits the format of several other similar issues as found in the Millenium library such as that of Howell as described above.  We might even suspect a Norfolk printer as progenitor but, at the late date of 1890, no identification has yet been possible from the list of Norfolk printers already canvassed or from other lists.

Snelling, a thatcher, according to the printing, murdered Maria Brown, his mother-in-law, on the 8th of January.  The account cites court procedure - 'Mr.  Mayd, in opening the case…' - which reveals that no real motive could be found.  Witness statements are recounted in some detail, as we have come to expect from several such accounts and, more particularly, from newspaper reporting.  One witness stated that she had found the body of Mrs.  Brown and the head 'lay in the ditch and was covered by the water'.  Moreover, 'the feet were on the bank on the field side'.  Another witness recounted how she had told Snelling of the murder and that he had replied 'I hope she's at h- by this time'.

The Jury, without leaving the box, found the prisoner
'The Learned Judge' pronounced the death sentence and the execution date was fixed for 25th March (but see below).

The stanzas that follow are in pedantic style, long lines including step-by-step detail:

IN a condemned cell at Norwich, a wretched man is lying,
      At the last Assizes for murder he was tried,
His crime was most cruel, there is no denying,
      When we read in the manner how the old woman died…
There is a chorus repeating the fact of Snelling's confinement in prison, expressing hope that the victim is in heaven 'with the angels' and that Snelling might be able to make peace with 'his Maker on high'.

There is a particularly ponderous stanza beginning:

It appears at the trial by the audience given;
      That Snelling was seen near the place at the time…
and giving 'evil passion' as a motive.  Mrs.  Brown, apparently, was kicked to death - which would not appear to have been so judging on the witness statements noted above.  The piece continues: 'It was not very long before the crime was discovered' and the law took its course, giving Snelling time for repentance, and expressing the hope that Mrs.  Brown was at rest with her Maker, 'Free from this world…' without 'troubles or cares'.


Young and old should take warning against evil passion,
      For often it causes much misery and strife,
And think of the tale of Elijah Snelling,
      Who through it for murder must soon pay his life.
This is a classic of murder balladry in its phraseology and, save for a failure to mention any 'fatal tree', relies on ballad convention, especially in its somewhat sententious posturing, its invocation of the Maker, the issue of a stern warning and the incorporation of journalistic detail - 'Her basket was left, with blood stains on it, in the roadway'.  Yet there is no clear delineation of sequence; and stopping short of execution itself the piece presumably, then, acts as continuing report after which one might have expected a further episode (hithertoo undiscovered).  In all these aspects it sits despite its irregularities comfortably enough within the panorama of murder and execution balladry in general and with other Norfolk ballads already discussed on this site.

The Norwich Mercury reported the case, revealing that

The prisoner, whose age is 38, was convicted some years ago of the attempted murder of his wife, and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, with hard labour, and about two years ago of stealing wood, and fined…
The newspaper, in a long final report, confirmed the sentence of death.  Mackie, though, in his Annals…, recorded that 'The sentence was afterwards commuted to penal servitude for life', thus indicating some uncertainty about Snelling's state of mind.20

Continuing in date order - the murder of two gamekeepers at Albury, in Hertfordshire, in 1891 was one of several following a similar pattern of conflict.  As already noted on this site, gamekeepers and poachers often engaged in scuffles but there were comparatively few shootings; more often deaths through bludgeoning - the cases of William Graham and James Rutterford are good examples.21 In the Albury instance there is a ballad (one of three examples) that discloses how three poachers were put on trial for the murders of 'Puddephat and Crawley', gamekeepers on the Pitstone estate, on December 13th 1891.  A very brief prose account indicates that Walter Smith, Charles Rayner and Frederick Eggleton told a witness that they had killed one man 'and did not know how the other had got on'.  A tune, Log Cabin, is suggested.

That is all.  There is evidence in several lists of executions that Rayner and Eggleton were hanged outside Newgate but no mention of Smith.  What, in fact, happened was that Raynor and Eggleton had been found guilty of murder and sentenced to death (Buckinghamshire Assizes at Aylesbury, February 23rd 1892) but that Smith had been found guilty of manslaughter and given twenty years in gaol.  The execution date for Raynor and Eggleton had been set for March 17th and despite a change in public opinion that resulted in petitions, the then Home Secretary did not change the verdict and the executions took place.

The material here is set in slightly puzzling fashion, a prose account appearing at the foot of a completely separate ballad, a cover (depicting a child and also one man in respectable dress attacking another…the clothing suggests adoption of a much earlier illustration: narrow-waisted long coats and billycock hats) noting the titles of the other ballad and the booklet title of Brutal Murder Of Two Gamekeepers; and with the particular ballad stanzas set on the back of the four-page issue and entitled Lines on the Murder And Mutilation Of Two Gamekeepers….

There follow some startling passages beginning

The Game Laws of this country are the cause of
                        many crimes,
As many a man unfortunately does know,
Some hath lost liberty, while in youth and prime,
Others to the gallows have had to go.
Two men have been killed in West Hertford-
Who were engaged preserving of the game,
They have been cruelly murdered tho' they were
                        not to blame,
'Tis the Game Laws has caused this crime we
There is a chorus; and then a further criticism of a current situation where one Williams, a landowner '…believes he has the right to all round him…' whilst 'scripture another story does tell'.
Everything is free on land or on the sea,
Then why should men of money claim it all…
Some details of the crime are given including the fact that brains had been scattered around and there is a lament for the keepers who were out 'to preserve the lives of paltry birds'.  The search for the poachers is noted but, continuing in the same critical vein as before, there are lines as follows:
Some will have to suffer for what they did do,
It always is the case, I think you'll say,
The man who is most guilty you'll find it most
Is almost sure to get clear away!
We cannot mistake the tone here and although there is then a stanza that offers sympathy to the keepers and their families, the piece ends with a ringing declaration:
Is there any other Narion (sic) professing to be free,
Where Game Laws are made in such a way,
Even out in Russia it's not allowed to be,
So this is Darkest England we must say,
Rich men we're told by the power of gold,
Any luxury in the world they can buy,
But it's beyond the power to purchase life & soul,
Or else none but the humble poor would die.
There is nothing else quite like this in the panoply of murder, execution and poaching balladry examined so far.  Perhaps the social climate was such that these things could be said.  In the context of the particular case and the particular ballad these lines depart from the actual case in extraordinary fashion.

However, there are two other ballads on this case in the cache, again printed along with different ballads, the first entitled Trial And Sentence For The Murder Of Two Gamekeepers At Albury, Hertfordshire.  A tune - Cast Out - is suggested (see also below in connection with Frederick Deeming).  And in the piece, the tone approaches that of the first Albury ballad considered although the opening is more obviously condemnatory:

Two Poachers have just been convicted,
For murder in West Hertfordshire,
The murderous blows they inflicted,
Alas now has cost them so dear…
Again, though, as in the first ballad, a note of criticism emerges - 'The cursed game laws alas is the cause' (sic).

Interestingly, in a four-line chorus, whilst Eggleton and Raynor 'On the scaffold will die' their 'comrades' 'must lie in prison 'for twenty long years'.  The use of plural reference is clear but inaccurate - as has already been established.  One notes also the spelling of the names.  In the first ballad the poachers are not named at all and in the third, as will be seen, the spelling of the names is different.  All this is from the same four-page booklet printing although it is quite possible that the booklet had been assembled from different sources.

This second piece goes on to recount the details of the encounter between poachers and keepers 'Upon Squire Williams' land', how 'In the woods the struggle was ended' when the keepers met their deaths - 'we are told'; how the keepers ere found the next morning with 'Their skulls battered in' and covered in blood.  Once more criticism emerges:

For the game laws to day (sic), five families can
The cursed game laws we despise.
'Three' men are again cited who 'At Buckingham Assizes they're tried' and the name of the third man is given as 'Smith'.  It is worth quoting the final stanza as being in character with the sentiments in the first ballad on this case:
As the poachers sad end so distressing,
Approaches they will surely say,
England may boast of the blessings,
We're supposed to receive every day,
But the man with his bags full of money,
Claims everything on land even the air,
At nothing they pause, they make their
                              own laws,
And prison's the poor poachers share.
The absence of apostrophes and slightly clumsy construction are marked in this stanza but are less evident elsewhere in the ballad.

A third ballad, Double Execution At Oxford (to the tune of Log Cabin), last in a sequence that actually mirrors the progress of the case, from the same apparent source, contains similar criticisms as have been found in the two other ballads:

Had there been no game laws there'd been no cause
No occasion for this suffering and pain.
Gamekeepers and poachers will never see the door
Of their cottages in the green and flowery lanes.
A four-line chorus emphasises the grief and adds brought about 'Thro' the game laws and tyranny combined'.

The rest of the ballad moves ponderously through details and the following stanza gives a flavour.

Three men were quickly taken and just as quickly
But one was sent to penal servitude,
There is no doubt the keepers in their duty died,
Each side stood with fortitdue (sic),
But Raynor (sic) and Eccleston (sic) by the setting of the
Were condemned on the gallows both to die,
The law is satisfied and vengeance has been done,
But down with the game laws is the cry.
Further, concerning the poachers:
As Englishmen they died in obedience to the law,
A law that would disgrace a foreign land,
That takes the food from children because they
                              are poor…
(the 'disgrace' can be found in other ballads as cited above and in previous articles).  And, in fact, the progress of the case is quite erased in favour of more complaint:
The rich men think a poacher has no right to live
But is only an encumbrance to the land,
Would'nt (sic) it be better if assistance they'd give,
By taking the poor labourer by the hand,
We are all flesh and blood and our forefathers stood
For the liberties that have been stole away,
What to us was given, to us is little good,
This is less than slavery to-day.
It is, of course, very easy to flinch from the crudity of such lines and the vague sentiments that they carry.  Yet although, in the present context of murder, these lines leave behind the ostensible reason and matter for printing, the details of the case that emerge in the three ballads would appear to have been reasonably accurate even if the fate of Smith had not been made clear.  The ballads as a group also give us a time sequence.22 And although these Albury ballads stand out for their direct criticism of pervading social conditions in their form of presentation (one wonders how near to disaster the particular printer may have come afterwards in the face of possible pressure from parties interested in preserving game for the rich), they can still be easily related to previous ballad material.

The next ballad to be discussed follows at something of a distance in historical time and the next ballad after again has some daylight between it and the one discussed immediately below but in both precedent is upheld whilst ballads from the intervening periods depart markedly from that precedence and will be discussed later.  We seem to be encountering a period when the exception tends to prove the ballad rule of convention and after which the tenor of utterance changes.

Thus, firstly, we can continue by considering a piece entitled Lines on the Double Murder At Wiltshire that refers to the case of John (alias Louis) Gurd (alias Hamilton) who, jilted by his sweetheart, Florence Adams, in 1892, took his revenge by shooting her uncle and then, to compound the felony, shot a police sergeant sent to apprehend him.  As a four-line chorus in the ballad puts it:

Two men have been shot down in Wiltshire,
A police sergeant and young man as well,
They both lost their lives from children and wives
By a sweetheart lover the (sic) fell.
The piece concentrates on narrative although it has none of the familiar devices of previous murder and execution balladry - the fatal tree image, the warnings, appeals to God and the introspection.  Gurd shot the 'girls Uncle' (sic) 'We are told' after banns had been published twice but Florence Adams had had second thoughts.  The uncle was 'laid low' in Milksham (sic).  Gurd escaped and visited Bath 'we are told' before he went back on the Frome and Warminster road and appeared to give himself up.  One policeman 'seized' Gurd but, as the sergeant came forward, Gurd pulled out a revolver:
“I am shot and Oh, I am dying,”
      As the shot from the pistol was heard,
The capture was done, the handcuffs were on,
      At the moment the murder occur'd.
Gurd 'was so tightly bound I am sure', and Inquest was held 'as you know' and to the gallows Gurd would 'surely go'.  In the final stanza, there is a summary of the fate of Sergeant Molden (first) and then the 'young man', Florence Adams' uncle (second).

The ballad is unremarkable and appears to rely on existing knowledge of the case amongst its audience much, perhaps, as a regular newspaper issue might.  It cannot be seen as other than a pot-boiler and hardly breaks the strain of basic narrative - there is no speculation, for instance, as to what may have passed through the murderer's mind.

In more specific terms, since the ballad concentrates so much on narrative it is interesting to compare its story with actual events.  Evidently, John Gurd, an attendant at a local asylum, paid court to Florence Adams who worked there as a housemaid but, three weeks before the wedding, she sent a letter breaking off the engagement because Gurd owed money to other men (a total of three pounds!).  He immediately resigned his position and went home to Shaftesbury but returned to Melksham convinced that it had been Harry Richards, Florence's uncle, previously giving the strongest impression of his dislike for Gurd, who had prompted the letter.  Having found Richards in a pub, Gurd waited until Richards left for home and then shot him in the back.  A woman witness gave a good description of both Gurd and the events to the police.

Here there is something of a divergence between ballad and actuality.  Gurd tried to gain entry to a pub in Corsham where a lock-in was in progress and, when refused, shot a tethered horse in the yard.  The police set out after him and, when confronted, he grappled with a constable and shot in the general direction of the constable's colleagues, mortally wounding Sergeant Enos Molden who died later.  A crowd of mourners, including a hundred ands twenty policemen and the chief constable, were at Sergeant Molden's funeral in Christchurch, Warminster.

Gurd, at his trial, actually pleaded guilty but, because there was some evidence that he had been drinking heavily before the murder and, in any case, was in a state of depression after the engagement had been called off, his defence counsel persuaded him to plead 'Not Guilty'.  Nonetheless, the jury took but eight minutes to make up their minds.  Gurd was found guilty of double murder and was hanged on July 26th 1892.

The discrepancies between actuality and the printed ballad are not surprising…The former as description was put together from various sources well after the event (in this case, from on-line sources, with the object of lauding police activity) and, almost inevitably, is far more comprehensive.  However, this does underline the propensity amongst printers to put out their material before all relevant details were assembled, as a matter of commercial exploitation, as breaking news - almost as newspaper copy.  In the case of this Gurd ballad, too, the narrative is not only in the forefront but is particularly basic as well with no piecing together of events, no searching for true motive.  Printers were not, in this respect, policemen.

Finally, though, this Gurd ballad, although its phraseology is a little removed from previously discussed ballad convention, does still remind us, if only by its very presence and overall form, of the potency of that tradition.  Perhaps the more interesting aspect is that the ballad is found in a four-page booklet mostly concerned with the exploits of Frederick Deeming (considered later) and helps, rather like the Folkestone murder in its particular printed context, as discussed above, to illustrate how older and newer forms of presentation were being juxtaposed.  It might even be argued that the appearance of the Gurd ballad was a little gratuitous, that the main thrust of the booklet was towards exploitation of another case, presumably more lucrative, that of Deeming.  23

Nonetheless, the Gurd ballad, with some link to ballad convention, is similar in respect of convention to a piece that refers to the murder, by George Nunn, of Eliza Dixon - Nunn was hanged on November 21st 1899; and the immediate context of presentation.  Dastardly Murder Near Diss, Norfolk is the headline on a four-page booklet that has only one ballad pertaining to the event in it, the rest being given over to a selection from an issue by Sheard of Holborn and a ballad on The Folkestone Murder (already discussed).  The latter inclusion, in particular, underlines the retrospective nature of this assembly although there is no reason to doubt issue of the Nunn ballad itself contemporaneously with the particular murder.  The seeming principle of gathering murder ballads per se together, as in the Gurd booklet, is upheld.  Further, here there is no single ballad accompanied by prose description as sole issue.  We do, at the same time, recognise some of the language and imagery:

Once more we have to tell of a cruel and wicked
Committed on a Norfolk village green,
Where a country butcher's wife has lost her life,
All wonder what the motive could have been…
According to the ballad Eliza Dixon, after a hard day's work, went to fetch her supper from the 'village inn', whilst an 'anxious husband waits', not dreaming of the fate that befell 'his darling wife'.  In the end the husband went to the 'Dolphin' inn to fine his wife and a search was instigated culminating in the finding of the body.
Her smiling face they'll miss in the neighbour-
                        hood of Diss,
Respected by her friends both far and near,
And sympathising friends a helping hand will lend
To comfort those that's (sic) left behind in tears.
Nunn was 'taken': 'He must have a heart as hard as stone'.  He now faces trial and, if found guilty, 'Upon the scaffold for his deeds he'll pay'.  He was 'a villain so vile' and 'hanging's far too good for him we say'.

Once more, the text is couched more or less in familiar if unremarkable terms, very much reliant on basic narrative impetus, with only a few of the familiar features of previous murder and execution balladry; and stopping before trial, sentencing and - presumably - execution.  There is no sign here of strict religious imperative as is the case in much Norfolk-issued balladry.  The final lines sum up the level of communication, throwaway in the manner of ordinary conversation:

A villain so vile should be quickly brought to trial
Though hanging's far too good for him we say.
The beginnings of change, as in the previous ballad discussed, seem, then, to be clear enough although these changes do not reach the relatively spectacular heights (or depths) of other material as will be seen in the next article in this series and, given this sort of neither and nor, there is no real suggestion here that this ballad is necessarily setting a pattern.24 For the moment instead we note how many features of conventional murder and execution balladry have emerged in the particular cache, albeit inconsistently, so proclaiming some sort of belief in the efficacy of the form in commercial terms late on in the nineteenth century.  There is no need for recapitulation at this point.

What follows after, though, in the Gressenhall collection - that is in terms of kind rather than strict historical continuity - marks a radical change from what we have come to expect always acknowledging that in part there are still echoes - parallels - between older, conventional balladry and the current compositions.

Roly Brown - 8.5.07
Oradour sur Vayres, France

Appendix: a list of the murders, hangings and other sentences discussed above, all verified as having taken place

1.  William Corder
2.  William Howell
3.  Dedea Redaines
4.  C(K)atherine Webster
5.  John Thurston
6.  George Harmer
7.  Frederick Marshall
8.  Jonas Revett
9.  Elijah Snelling
10.  Charles Raynor and Frederick Eggleton     
11.  George Henry Wood
12.  John Gurd
13.  George Nunn
hanged August 11th 1828 Bury St.  Edmunds
hanged January 25th 1845 Ipswich
hanged January 7th 1857 Maidstone
hanged July 29th 1879 Wandsworth
hanged February 2nd 1886 Norwich
hanged December 13th 1886 Norwich
sent to Broadmoor 1884
sent to Broadmoor 1887
penal servitude for life 1890
hanged March 3rd 1892 Oxford
hanged April 4th 1892 Lewes
hanged July 26th 1892 Devizes
hanged November 21st 1899 Ipswich


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