An Autumn Freebie…

Autumn has landed with a vengeance in my little corner of Gloucestershire.  In true Hygge fashion, I’m snuggled on the couch covered with a wool blanket, sipping a hot drink and letting the smell of cappuccino truffle waft around the room from a burning candle. The research for my next novel is almost finished; just the small matter of writing it now. Set once again in Victorian England, the new book mixes true crime and historical fiction in the blended genre of faction. Or rather it will once I’ve removed myself from the comfort of the sofa and away from cosy distractions.

In the meantime, Vote for Murder is currently free on Amazon Kindle until Wednesday 21st September. Click this link for your copy.

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Opium – “Mother’s Friend.”

Glass Pharmacy Bottles with old  Labels

A number of poisons are referenced in Vote for Murder, as one might expect in a murder mystery.  Mary Cage, despite her poverty, was an opium eater.  This use of drugs, among the poorest in Victorian society, might seem unlikely but opium was, in fact, readily available and extremely cheap.  To put it in context, it was possible to purchase a quarter of an ounce of opium for the same price as a pint of beer.  In East Anglia, opium was widely sold in pills and penny sticks.  In other parts of the country it was dispensed as “poppy tea.”

Opiates or laudanum, caused episodes of euphoria, but these highs were followed by bouts of depression, slurred speech, restlessness and poor concentration.  Long term use of laudanum caused addiction but there were other short term symptoms including muscular aches, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Perhaps the most concerning use of opiates, was as a ‘quietener’ for children.  Mary Cage used opium pills to subdue her children in Vote for Murder:

“…two nights with no sleep has a remembering effect and I crushed the pills down and the children lay torpid and quiet about me, as Mary Ann and James had done those many years before.”

The use of opiates to subdue children was common place in working class households. Proprietary medicines were manufactured for the express purpose of calming children.  Godfrey’s cordial, a preparation of opium, water and treacle, was known as “mother’s friend.”

With the sale of drugs unrestricted and little or no direction on how to use opiates, deaths of children were inevitable.  The article below, from the Nottingham Evening Post 22 June 1907, recounts the sad demise of Aubrey Samuel Barnes:

Nottingham Child’s Death

An inquest was held at Leen-side this afternoon touching the death of Aubrey Samuel Barnes aged ten months, whose parents live at 144, Portland Road, Nottingham.

Kate Elizabeth Frances Barnes, the mother of the child and the wife of Frederick William Barnes, lace manufacturer, said deceased had suffered from bronchitis and constipation and had been under Dr. Roberts’ treatment.  She had also given it a cordial which she obtained some time before for herself.  On the label of the bottle was inscribed, “Infants’ Cordial. Poison.”  She obtained it from Mr. J.G. Wildgoose, chemist, of Alfreton Road.  There were no directions on the bottle.  She gave the child a dose at midnight on Wednesday.  On the following day she sent for Dr. Smith, who paid frequent visits, but death took place in the evening.

Dr. Smith stated that when he saw the child on Thursday morning it was in a state of collapse from narcotic poisoning.  It was a puny infant, and had evidently suffered from bronchitis.  Witness ascribed death to bronchitis, accelerated by narcotic poisoning.  The cordial referred to contained opium. Opium was very detrimental to children under twelve months, although it was a common thing for parents to give it.  In some parts of Nottingham, the common use of laudanum amounted to an abuse.

John Wildgoose, chemist, of Alfreton Road, said that the cordial which he sold contained a preparation of opium.  A spoonful of the cordial would have about a sixth of a grain of opium.

The Coroner suggested to witness that he ought to put the prescribed dose on the label, especially as the cordial was taken by both adults and infants.

The jury found that death was due to misadventure, and expressed the opinion that the chemist should state in future on the label the amount of the dose that should be taken.

Murder & Suicide in Great Waldingfield

Great-Waldingfield-SignWhen Joshua Bowers left for work in March 1881, he did not expect to be summoned home to be told that his second wife had taken her life and murdered two of their children.  The day began like any other with Joshua walking to the farm of J Walter Hills where he was employed as a horseman. Around midday he was called back to the village to be told the awful news.

Born in Great Waldingfield, Suffolk in 1836, Joshua was the son of Peter Bowers, an agricultural labourer. He married his first wife, Emma Bird in 1859 and they moved to Upsher Green a small hamlet of red brick houses just outside the village. Their first child Henry Bird Bowers was born in 1859 and his brother Phillip Edmund Bowers followed shortly after in 1861. In 1863 Emma gave birth to her third and last child Elizabeth Sarah Bowers. The little girl died after a week and was buried on 24th March 1863. A week later Emma also died aged just 24 years.

With two small children to take care of, Joshua did not spend long looking for another partner and by May of 1864 he had married Susannah King, another resident of Great Waldingfield.

Their union produced six children, two boys and four girls. They lived together with the sons from Joshua’s previous marriage. Susannah’s health had been poor since the birth of her daughter Laura in 1880. She was both weak in body and prone to severe bouts of depression which, if treated today, might be diagnosed as post natal depression.

On Saturday 26th March 1881, Joshua Bowers left the house at about 9 o’clock to go to work. He was joined by his sons while his four daughters stayed at home with his wife. She had been complaining of a pain in her head and was lying upstairs in bed when he left.

The previous month, Susannah voluntarily admitted herself to St Leonard’s hospital in Sudbury. She had only recently come home. Her mother, Sarah King had cared for her since her return. Sarah was at the house that morning but left to collect her parochial relief just after Joshua departed. Susannah remained upstairs with the three younger girls while the eldest Elizabeth aged 13, scrubbed the floor downstairs.

Shortly after her grandmother left, Elizabeth was interrupted by her sister, 7 year old Ruth. Susannah had asked Ruth to fetch a razor to trim her corns. Elizabeth refused to let her younger sister have the razor so her mother came downstairs to collect it herself. Unconcerned, Elizabeth carried on with her chores. Moments later she heard a piercing scream coming from the upstairs bedroom.

She rushed upstairs to see two of her sisters covered in blood with their throats cut. Her mother was standing over the baby with the open razor, ready to cut its throat. Elizabeth tried to take the razor from her mother and her hands were badly cut in the struggle. She pleaded with her mother to stop but Susannah just said “Leave me alone, Lizzie”. Then she cut the throat of Laura, the youngest child. She turned towards Elizabeth who jumped from the top to the bottom of the stairs in fright.

Elizabeth’s screams alerted the next door neighbour, Mrs Carter, who ran upstairs and into the bedroom where she saw the three children with their throats cut. Susannah Bowers was still alive and walked towards Mrs Carter with her arms outstretched. Mrs Carter ran downstairs as fast as she could and ran straight into the path of another neighbour, Thomas Day, a beer house keeper.

By the time Day arrived upstairs, Susannah Bowers had cut her own throat and was dead on the bed beside her children.

Although two of the children were lifeless, Ruth Bowers was still mobile and required urgent medical attention. Mr Joseph Horsford, a surgeon of Long Melford was called and he tended to Ruth who was eventually saved. Nothing could be done for the other children who had died quickly. Susannah had cut both the trachea and jugular veins of baby Laura so her death was virtually instantaneous. The left hand jugular vein of four year old Emily was still intact so she may have lived for two or three minutes.

An inquest was held on Monday 28th March 1881 at Thomas Day’s Beer house in Great Waldingfield. It ruled the deaths of the children as “wilful murder by the mother”. A second inquest was held immediately afterwards in front of the same jury to decide on the cause of death for Susannah Bowers. The jury returned a verdict of “Temporary insanity”.

By the time of the 1881 census on 3rd April 1881, the surviving members of the family were living apart. Joshua was still living in the same cottage at Upsher Green with his eldest son Henry and his injured daughter Ruth. The other three remaining children from his marriage to Susannah King were staying with different relatives within the village. Elizabeth, who had been so brave during both the killings and as principle witness at the inquest, was living with her Uncle James Bird and Aunt Mary (nee Bowers).

On the night of the census, Phillip Edmund Bowers, second eldest son of Joshua from his marriage to Emma Bird was living with his grandparents George and Elizabeth Bird. His aunt, recently widowed Anna Maria Gallant, was also staying with her parents George and Elizabeth. Once again Joshua Bowers selected a new partner quickly and by May 1882 Anna Maria had given birth to the first of five children that she had by Joshua. Registered in the 1891 & 1901 census as his housekeeper they applied to the local vicar to marry. Under the 1835 Marriage Act it was against the law for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister so the vicar refused the marriage and entered his decision into the parish records where it can be read today.

Joshua and Anna Maria lived together as man and wife until her death in 1902. He died in 1914 at the age of 78. Frances Ruth Bower survived her ordeal and married John Butcher in 1893. She died in 1958 at the ripe old age of 85 despite her earlier trauma. For Elizabeth Bowers, the memory of the loss of her mother and two younger sisters never left her. In 1888 she married Albert Edmund Day at Great Waldingfield. Her eldest daughter was born shortly after. She was christened Emily Laura Susannah Day.

To find out more about about this family, follow the link below

Joshua Bowers

Double booking for the hangman….

NooseDuring my research for Vote for Murder, I came across the following extract  in a letter from P Jones to his friend and cousin Major Jones in which he mentioned murderess Mary Emily Cage, my inspiration for the book.  The letter entitled,  The brutality and cruelty of the British people , describes several British murders during 1851 including two Suffolk murders & the Chelmsford poisoning.  He claims that “such occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our southern states”.

A HIGH-SHERIFF IN DIFFICULTY; OR, A HANGMAN WANTED

“It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield. The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned woman two days before that on which her execution was to have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State’s office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman’s demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution.”— The Times, August 17th, 1851.

It must have been rare for an execution to be delayed for want of an executioner, but there were an unusually high volume of death sentences that year.  Somewhere in the region of 50 death sentences were handed out in 1851, resulting in the public hanging of 3 women. Despite the delay recorded above, Mary Cage was ultimately executed by William Calcraft – the longest serving executioner.  Calcraft executed approximately 450 people,  34 of whom were women.

Location #1 – Christchurch Park

View of Ipswich from Christchurch Park GainsboroughVote for Murder is set in two main locations; Stonham Aspal during 1851 and Christchurch Park, Ipswich in Edwardian times.  Suffragette Louisa Russell, cousin of Millicent Fawcett, lives in Ivry Road on the outskirts of Christchurch Park.  These two areas, together with Henley Road and Fonnereau Road, account for many settings within the book.

Christchurch Park was the former site of an Augustinian Priory disbanded by Henry Viii during the dissolution of the monasteries.  It was acquired in 1545 by Edmund Withipoll and later in the 18th century, by Claude Fonnereau.  In 1892 Felix Cobbold gave it to the City of Ipswich.

There are various monuments set within Christchurch Park, both the Brett Fountain donated in 1863 and the Burton Drinking fountain, gifted in 1895.  The same year The Cabman’s shelter was moved from Cornhill to Christchurch Park.

Vote for Murder was set in 1911.  One scene in the book describes Louisa walking past the Martyr’s Memorial:

“…The cross-topped monument stretched skywards casting a lanky shadow over the path ahead. Recently completed, the carved round pillars caught the light of the morning sun and the carved inscription stood fresh and clear.”

The Martyr’s memorial was erected in 1903 following a campaign through The East Anglian Daily Times to provide a symbol to remember the protestant martyrs.  The Ipswich martyrs were a group of men and women put to death during Queen Mary’s reign for their refusal to recognise the Roman Catholic doctrines.  Many were burned at the stake.  There are nine martyrs named on the memorial, all of whom are mentioned in Foxe’s book of martyrs.  They were reported to have met their deaths with bravery and spirit.

A cenotaph dedicated to the men and women who fell in World War I was placed in Christchurch Park in 1924 joining the Boer War memorial erected in 1906.  Further features of the park include a fountain, an ice house and an Arts and Crafts shelter known as ‘The Bandstand’.  Prince Albert visited Christchurch Park in 1851, the same year that Mary Cage was hanged in Ipswich Gaol.

Christchurch Mansion, a red brick Tudor House, still houses the museum in which furniture, paintings, and pottery can be found.  Exhibits have a strong Suffolk theme with displays by John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough and cases of Lowestoft porcelain.

Nowadays Christchurch Park is a busy, family orientated area, ideal for indulging in outdoor pursuits, sports and the Arts.  The Park enjoys strong support from The Friends of Christchurch Park.

“Oh may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia.”

(Inscription on the memorial to the Ipswich Martyrs)

Mary Emily Cage – Murderess or victim?

Front cover snipOn 23rd March 1851, James Cage took his last breath, poisoned to death by his wife, Mary.  The Press were quick to report on the murder and  before long produced damning reports of Mary and her ‘depraved’ character, as evidenced in the extract from the 9 August 1851 Norfolk Chronicle, below:

“It will be remembered that just before the last Assizes, Mary Emily Cage, at Stonham, was examined on a charge of murdering her husband, by poisoning him.  The case was remanded until the Summer Assize, and at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday last, the wretched woman was placed at the bar to take her trial for the offence.  She exhibited little alteration in her appearance.  It is not our intention to lift the veil from the domestic history of this woman, any further than the trial itself removed it, for unfortunately there is not a feature in it that is not degrading to our common humanity. – Messrs. Power and Mills prosecuted; Mr. W. Cooper defended.

The case presented features of great depravity.  The deceased was an agricultural labourer, and with his wife, the prisoner, lived at Stonham Aspal.  They had a family of seventeen children, but one of them, now a lad of twenty years of age, was not the result of wedlock.  The deceased was imprisoned twelve months, and during his incarceration she cohabited with another man, and the result was the birth of the boy.  During the last eighteen months, she left her husband not less than three times, and exposed her daughter, sixteen years of age, to be debauched.  In other respects she led a very dissolute and depraved life…”

Vote for Murder” is a murder mystery based on Mary’s life . It takes a more sympathetic view of her behaviour than the Victorian press, taking into account the abject poverty in which she found herself.  The murder of James Cage contrasts with the second (fictional) murder set in a comfortable, middle-class household close to Christchurch Park in Ipswich.  Both lead female characters are headstrong; Mary determined to behave as she sees fit despite the social conventions of the time and Louisa, a suffragist campaigning for the right of women to vote.

Vote for Murder is a work of ‘faction’, where historical fact meets fiction.  From the first moment I read the Mary Cage story many years ago, the circumstances of the crime did not ‘feel’ as black & white as the press implied.  Vote For Murder is my fictional interpretation of Mary’s life and times.

Vote for Murder is now available through the Amazon Kindle Store http://tinyurl.com/pbpzehr

“There can be no peace until women get the vote”

Bath Hotel FelixstoweIn Vote for Murder, Louisa Russell witnesses the unedifying spectacle of Clara Delaney enduring force-feeding in Holloway prison.  Though a work of fiction, this is based on numerous true accounts of the tortuous force-feeding of suffragettes who resorted to hunger strikes, willing to die for their cause.

The Bath Hotel in Felixstowe was completely gutted on 29th April 1914 when suffragettes Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks burnt it to the ground.  The women, who refused to give their names to the police, were arrested in Felixstowe on suspicion of being involved in the fire.  When the fire was investigated, evidence of arson was soon found.   Cotton wool had been carefully placed on the broken edges of the glass window of the kitchen at the east end of the building.  It was assumed that the cotton wool was placed to avoid injury while undoing the latch. Once inside, the arsonists started fires in the bedrooms and corridors of the empty hotel.

Evidence against the suffragettes was found in the form of tie-on labels bearing inscriptions in ink in large capital letters with the slogan – “There can be no peace until women get the vote” and other similar declarations. These labels corresponded to similar labels in the possession of the suffragettes.

Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks were tried at Bury St Edmunds in June 1914.  The women, described as ‘of superior education,’ were disruptive in court, making frequent outbursts.  Hilda Birkett “refused to recognise this Court, a Court which is entirely of men.  It is absolutely wicked and wrong that they should dare to try women.  Women are not recognised under the law.”

In the course of the trial it transpired that Hilda Birkett had been convicted in Birmingham in 1909 for damaging a railway carriage by throwing stones.  She was imprisoned again in 1912 for damaging plate glass windows and was awaiting trial for setting fire to a grandstand in Leeds in 1913.  Florence Tunks had not been convicted but she was under suspicion for other matters.

While Florence Tunks had nothing further to add before passing sentence, Hilda Birkett spoke passionately.  The Bury Free Press of 6th June 1914 reports her address to the judge thus: “…Whatever sentence you impose, I shall not serve because I have made up my mind that I will not take any food or drink while I am in prison.  I cannot stand the torture of the feeding tube for a great length of time … and if Mr McKenna does not release me I shall die in prison…”

Despite her eloquent address, Hilda Birkett was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and Florence Tonks to 9 months imprisonment.

Following letters of support in the weeks following the trial by Ursula Hartley, member of WSPU, it transpired that before their trials both Hilda Birkett and Florence Tunks endured weeks of forcible feeding while in prison.  Ursula Hartley wrote again on 17th June 1914 to make it publicly known that the father of one of the suffragettes had been unable to locate his daughter, despite having applied to the Home Office for advice of her whereabouts.

Hilda Birkett was finally released on 1st September 1914 following the Home Office amnesty.  During her imprisonment, she was forcibly fed 292 times.