Attacks and murderous goings on
1850- Child Drowned at Little Hereford
An inquest was held on the body of William Griffiths, the five year old son of John Griffiths, a gamekeeper.
William was the eldest of five children and went to Little Hereford school every day, usually accompanied by his younger brother.
One morning William went off to school as usual, and later his father was told that he had drowned by the canal bridge.
John Griffiths stated that he had no idea that William was in the habit of taking off his shoes and stockings and going into the water, but the body was found in a deep and dangerous part of the river Teme. His schoolmaster said that William had been at school in the morning, then went with his friends to play; he said that he had often cautioned the boys never to go near the water but when crossing a bridge over the Teme in the early afternoon he saw the children on a rock. He shouted to them to get back to school, but William never turned up either there or at home.
When William was found he was in the water and quite dead with no shoes or stockings on.
The jury returned a verdict of “deceased found drowned in the Teme, but how or by what means there is no evidence.”
The Coroner expressed a hope that this tragedy would serve as a caution to the schoolmaster to exercise a greater degree of watchfulness over his boys.
Yes……….and no parent these days would let two very small boys walk to school along the river on their own!
1859 – Man killed at Little Hereford Turnpike
Susan Bradford, wife of Richard Bradford, kept the Little Hereford Turnpike gate, and at the inquest on the body of James Owens she said that she had known James for eight years.
James used to work for a Mr. Lane of Upton, and one evening he was driving Mr. Lane’s horse and cart when he came to the turnpike.
The attack on James Owens
Samuel Hodgkiss who lived close to the gate came out and asked “what do you want with my boy?”. It seems that there had been some sort of misunderstanding between the men on a prior occasion.
James Owens said that he didn’t want anything to do with Samuel or his boy, but Samuel swore and then hit James. Apparently James didn’t strike back but adopted a fighting attitude; however Samuel hit him twice more.
James asked for a policeman to be called, but was hit several more times by Samuel Hodgkiss. Susan then told James to go home, thinking that he wasn’t badly hurt, although his face was bleeding badly, and others who saw him on his way home thought that he seemed cheerful and okay if a little drunk.
However later on a lady named Mrs. Blind came across the horse and cart down in the road near the turnpike……the bed of the cart had left the wheels and was overturned; the horse was attached to the shafts and wheels which as well as the horse were turned completely over. The horse was lying on its back, and a man was under the bed of the cart but when he was dragged out he was found to be dead.
Post Mortem on James Owens
Mr. F.L. Thomson, surgeon said that he found no marks of violence on the body with the exception of a very severe contusion on the right side of the head, also another on the left, but neither serious; there was a blow on the left eye, and another on the forehead which may have been caused by a fight. The most serious blow was behind the right ear; there was a corresponding effusion of blood beneath the scalp, and on removing the skull there was a quantity of blood on the surface of the brain; the blow may have been given in the fight, and it is possible that the blows on the forehead, behind the right ear and on the right side of the face took place at the same time.
His impression was that the upsetting of the cart might have inflicted them; there was so much effusion of blood on the brain that he did not think that the deceased could have walked from the turnpike to where he was found.
The surgeon felt that death was instantaneous and that the deceased died from extravasation of blood on the surface of the brain.
The jury found a verdict of accidental death, but accompanied this with a censure upon the conduct of Samuel Hodgkiss as being cowardly and inhuman.
1863 – Murderous Attack at Little Hereford
Abraham Steed who had been remanded on bail came to the court to answer the charge of assaulting Richard Spiers with intent to cause grevious bodily harm.
Richard Spiers was a labourer living at Little Hereford, and said that whilst in a cider shop known as Halls in the Wood, Abraham Steed came into the room in a beligerent mood, and not wanting to fight, Richard went outside with his drink.
Later, after calling at several cider houses, Richard and his friend came across Abraham Steed in the road. Unfortunately the friend, Johnson, had fallen down drunk and Steed proceeded to hit him with a stick, and shortly afterwards Richard also collapsed unconscious whereupon Steed attacked him.
The policeman said that when he found Richard Spiers, there was half a pint of blood in his mouth, and the surgeon, Francis F. Thompson said that Richard was dreadfully injured about the face, with a deep wound above the left eyebrow which in his opinion was caused by a stick. There was also a deep wound beneath the eye, and the corner of the mouth was cut through. Three teeth were broken as if by a kick. Marks on the forehead seemed to be from the toe of a boot; one rib was broken on the left side; many blows must have been given with great violence.
The defence lawyer tried to say that the wounds could have been caused by Richard falling on a stone, and some of his witnesses claimed that Steed was nowhere near the scene at the time and had never been alone. One witness was Abraham Steed’s 8 year old illiterate son who didn’t know what the bible was, but he was sworn in and gave evidence which suggested that his father was absent for some time that evening but there was nothing that placed him at the scene of the crime.
After some consultation the Bench decided that Abraham Steed should be committed for trial for assault with intent to commit grevious bodily harm.
Later at the Quarter Sessions, after much deliberation, the Jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
1891 -Murder at Little Hereford
(contains graphic details of hanging)
This is perhaps the saddest story that I have researched for this site.
Charles Saunders was tried for the murder of Walter Frederick Steers at Little Hereford, but he vehemently denied being responsible despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
Walter Frederick Steers
Walter Frederick Steers was born in March 1889, the son of an impoverished couple living in London but he was well cared for and much loved. Unfortunately, his mother fell ill when he was around 9 months old and in desperation she made arrangements for him to be looked after by friends in Walsall. For over a year things went well for the little lad, he was well fed and clothed, but then things changed and he was pushed from pillar to post.
He was an extremely attractive child, and one day he was noticed by one Elizabeth Caldwell and her lover Charles Saunders – begging tramps who thought that the pretty child would prove very useful as they travelled the country. The unsavoury pair managed to procure Walter and from then on the poor lad suffered dreadful cruelty and misery. It became known that Walter was regularly beaten and tortured and growing health problems including a painful skin complaint meant that his life was unimaginably dreadful.
There was a time when a stick was thrust down the child’s throat, and an instance with a lit pipe was pushed into his mouth. He was held in front of a fire until his skin blistered.
One night after Caldwell and Saunders had been to Ludlow Fair they went to sleep in an empty cottage, but Walter – starving and in pain – wouldn’t stop crying – Saunders shook him again and again and although he later stated that Walter accidentally hit his head on the floor, he had also made a different confession that he had dashed the child’s head on the floor until he died.
The body of the little boy was left in the cottage as Caldwell and Saunders fled, and only found weeks later when decomposition made it impossible to discern the exact cause of death.
Caldwell and Saunders disappeared for a while, but some time later Saunders was taken to gaol on a different charge of aggression against a woman named Burton. Caldwell then “shopped” Saunders and gave evidence regarding the killing of Walter.
The Judge urged the jury to consider carefully the difference between manslaughter and murder, and to put aside their natural revulsion when coming to a decision, but they took little over 20 minutes to come to their verdict, and that verdict was GUILTY.
The Death Sentence is Carried Out
The sentence of death passed at Hereford Assizes on Charles Saunders, 31, Blacksmith, for the murder of a child, Walter Frederick Steers, at Little Hereford on 1st May was carried out on a Wednesday morning in December within the walls of HMP Commercial Road.
A group of people began to assemble well before the appointed hour of 8 o’clock to witness the raising of the black flag which would announce that Saunders was dead; a sharp frost was in the air and there was a heavy fog which obscured the surrounding buildings.
The crowd increased as the hour of execution drew near, but it soon became apparent that the execution had been postponed – unavoidable given that the Executioner, Billington of Bolton, had not yet arrived. The previous day he had been in the North of England carrying out his grisly duties there, but he managed to miss his train South and therefore his connection at Worcester.
Billington duly turned up on a later train from Worcester, and arrived at the prison at a quarter past nine where he soon went to the prisoner’s cell. The work of pinioning Saunders’ arms took a mere seconds, and he was led out in the clothes that he wore to his trial – presenting an appearance of dreadful haggardness, but composed nonetheless.
As the procession progressed Saunders had a Warder for support, but there was no need for physical help, although the rest of the procession included the Chaplain who read some of the burial service.
The crowd which had dispersed when the black flag was not raised, reassembled at Barr’s Court Station to gawp at the Executioner as he arrived, then rushed back to Commercial Road to once again await the raising of the flag.
In the yard the gallows were in the form of a pit dug into the ground covered by trap doors; upon these the prisoner was stood and his legs were quickly strapped together while the only sound to be heard by the waiting crowd was the cracked tones of the prison bell tolling mournfully in the fog. Billington touched the lever, the doors fell, and all was over.
The body swayed backwards and forwards once or twice, and a few twitchings of the arms were perceptible but they only lasted for a few moments and were thought to be just muscular reaction. Then the corpse hung as a dead weight on the rope. Billington had given a drop of eight feet, and death appeared to be instantaneous.
The crowd dispersed quietly, and there was nothing left to indicate that something unusual had happened, “except the omen of death which floated over the prison”.
1899 – Memories of Mr. Strangward, Superintendent in the Police
Amongst other grim tales was a horrible child murder at Little Hereford.
A cottage belonging to Mr. Froggatt had been uninhabited for some time but the garden had been cultivated. A man was sent after harvest to dig up the potatoes and store them in the cottage.
When he went into the cottage he discovered the decomposed body of a child with evidence of foul treatment.
Inquiries made by Mr. Strangward revealed the fact that two tramps with a sweet child had left Ludlow on May Fair night and gone to Little Hereford. Six months had passed since then, but suspicion fell on these tramps and a thorough search was ordered.
Eventually the male tramp named Sanders was found at Worcester and arrested, and the woman was found at Thornbury. Sanders was executed.
1906 – Sad Death of Little Hereford Sub-Postmaster
John Lane aged 60 had become rather depressed after the death of his wife, and also his sister. Also one son was due to emigrate to Canada, although the other lived with him along with a housekeeper. To add to John’s melancholy, he had a pending County Court action.
John went to church as usual one Sunday and gave no indication of his intentions, but at some point he wrote a suicide note; locked the house and put himself into a water tank where he drowned. He was later found by his son, Harry Lane.