At precisely half past ten on Tuesday morning, Christopher Swann flanked by two magistrates, marched into the court room at County Hall and took his seat. All present rose to their feet and the room was plunged into a temporary silence. The prisoner was already standing in the dock, the jury were seated in front of the prisoner on benches with some sitting at the side of the room. The small number of seats allocated to the public were packed and the newspaper men were ready and attentive. As the room settled down the third day of the Coroners Inquisition began. The first witness was brought into the room. Mary Watson, a widow of Carlton was sworn in and then took her seat to the right of the court and facing the jury. Her deposition was read out by the jury foreman.
“I did not see the bodies until Friday morning, they were in Mr. Parr’s barn. I undressed the woman and children and Jane Rolleston came in to help me. I saw her gown torn out of the gathers, thought it had been done with dragging her. Her black worsted stockings were dirty down the back of her leg as if the deceased had been dragged along the ground.”
The witness was holding a piece of clothing which she now held up. The gown was saturated with blood and had a green mark upon it. The stays were bloody and on the flannel petticoat which the witness now held high was the mark of a man’s hand. There were gasps all around the courtroom, immediately silenced when the coroner insisted the petticoat should be taken to the prisoner in order that he might place his hand upon the spot. The Court Usher took the petticoat over to the prisoner. The prisoner first turned up the cuffs on his coat, put his left hand on first and then the right, and the latter corresponded in appearance with the mark. There were now more gasps around the courtroom and the newspaper men were seen to be writing quickly. The inference of this evidence was clear; whoever had committed the murder had put his hand up underneath the petticoats and emptied her pocket from the under her clothes instead of putting his hand in the pocket hole. The deposition of the witness was completed by another juror.
“I have lived in Carlton all my life and do not know of the prisoner having any relations living at Carlton. I never heard he had any relations at Carlton.”
The coroner asked the prisoner if he wished to ask any questions and he declined to do so.
Mary Watson left the court room and was replaced by the next witness. Absalom Barnett, master of the Nottingham Union Workhouse was sworn in and his testimony began.
“I do not know the prisoner. A woman named Anne Saville and four children were admitted into the house on 2nd January by an order of Robert Heazel, receiving officer to the Union. Immediately after admission to the house I put several questions as to her cause of coming here. She stated she was destitute in consequence of her husband having deserted her. She told me his name, I think it was Thomas Saville but I am not quite certain. I do not know how long it was after she had come into the house that her youngest child died. When she came in, she and her children were exceedingly filthy and severely afflicted with the itch, they were very bad cases. They were a fortnight in the itch ward. The mother was then removed to the sick ward for a disease of the leg, where she remained several weeks. The person who came to see me was a Mrs Brownsword, a widow. Both told me they were sisters. On the 18th May she wanted to go out without the children to find her husband. She had heard he was at Bloomsgrove and she wanted to prevent him from selling a bed, as she had been informed he had sold all the other furniture. I refused her permission to go out without the children. On the Monday morning she went out, taking the children with her.”
The witness then described the woman, mentioning she had one eye. The Coroner asked the prisoner if he had any questions. He did not and the witness left the room.
The next witness was John Barker, of Potts Square, Pierrepoint Street. A brickmaker and maltster, latterly working as a boatman, he was sworn in then took his seat and his testimony began
“Last Tuesday between eleven and twelve o’clock I met the prisoner in Colwick Lane. I was coming from the Trent and had a mare with me. I saw that young man in Colwick Lane near the gardens, against the wall, carrying a child. I saw the prisoner trying to get some blossom. As he could not I pulled down a bough for him and got the blossom and gave it to him. I have known him by sight for several years or I should not have stopped to pull the bough down.”
The witness now looked steadily at the prisoner and addressed him directly,
“Why don’t you speak and say you were there?”
The prisoner made no reply but shed a tear. The foreman now took up the deposition to complete the testimony.
“I do not know that I met anybody besides the man, woman and children. I have drank ale in company with the prisoner at the Fox public house. The woman had only one eye. It was twenty minutes to twelve when I went into the Sinker Makers Arms with William Stanland who was with me when I met the prisoner.”
With the testimony complete the coroner told the prisoner he could put any questions you please to the witness. He had not challenged the previous witnesses but wanted to have words with Jon Barker.
“ I never had above three pints of ale at the Fox in my life.”
John Barker was quick to respond,
“I have been several times, more than ten times at the Fox with you, now haven’t I Bill?”
“ I never saw you before in my life.” came the prisoner’s reply.
John Barker continued,
“Didn’t I pull the bough down for you?
“No you never did, nor anybody else and that I would swear if I was going to die the next moment.”
The debate over, the witness left the court to much shuffling and whispering. Something this last witness said had seemed to agitate the prisoner.
The next witness, a young boy was brought into the room. George Matthewson 14, son of James Matthewson and living in Pierrepont Street was duly sworn in. His deposition was taken up and read out by a juror.
“I was at Colwick on Tuesday between eleven and twelve o’clock. I was in a plantation going in a direction to Carlton Hill. I was there alone. I went for a walk and to get some dandelions for my rabbit. Whilst I was there I saw a man and some white bonnets; they were not moving about. I was about a dozen yards from the white bonnets. I did not see a woman. I could not tell if the bonnets were on the heads of the little girls. I was run after by a man as if he wanted to drive me away. When he was running after me he did not shout to me or say anything. He ran me nearly out of the plantation and then turned back. I went direct home and got there about two o’clock. The white bonnets did not move about but were standing still. The man was standing about five yard off where the bonnets were found. I was ten yards in the woods when he ran me. I think the man had a brown coat on but I am not positive.”
The young witness left his seat and the court without being troubled by any questions from the prisoner. It was now time for a previous witness to return to the court room. John Brown a milkman from Sneinton was sworn in again. He was now re-examined and the coroner asked him if he had ever met the previous witness to give testimony?
“ I met the last witness on the road which leads over the closes to the plantation between eleven and twelve o’clock before I met the prisoner and the woman and children; the latter were about a quarter of a mile from Matthewson.”
John Brown proved to be the final witness. The coroner asked the jury if they required any more medical evidence, to which they replied no.
The case was now closed as regarding the evidence, The Coroner now turned to the prisoner and cautioned him that he would now like to ask him some questions and anything he said would be written down as evidence. The Coroner reminded the prisoner that the witnesses had given evidence that he was at the plantation at Colwick. He then asked the prisoner if he wished to explain anything about the mixed tea found in his pocket? The prisoner replied with a lengthy statement;
“ I have nothing more to say than what I have said. I said before the Town magistrates that I left my wife nearly at the top of Stanhope Street. I never was near the spot where the murder was committed. I have not been that way for a good three years now. I bought an ounce and a half of tea and half a pound of sugar the week before Christmas, intending to send it into the workhouse on Easter Sunday but I did not send it. I have never sent any since the week before Easter. I put it into my box for two or three weeks and I kept fetching a bit when I wanted. The reason I had it in my pocket was I had tea two or three times a week with John Bamford and I wanted to give him some on Tuesday morn. He did not take tea with me as he was away from home so I put it in my pocket. I do not call any witnesses.”
The Coroner made an enquiry as to his true name, he replied his name was William Saville, he had no other. The statement he had just made was now presented to him by the court recorder and he made his mark, not being able to write. As he did so he shed a few tears.
The Coroner now began his summary of the case. He said,
“The jury has now arrived at the close of evidence it was his duty before they considered their verdict, that he should read over the whole of the evidence, making remarks here and there as he went along. These were certainly the most brutal and outrageous murders that had ever come under his notice, perhaps unparalleled in the history of crime, a least of those he knew about in this county since he had the honour of being coroner. There was only one that came anywhere near it, and that was committed by Greensmith of Basford, who murdered his own four children. In that case, it was certainly not so bad as this, none of the cruel spilling of human blood. There was one circumstance in this case he was sorry to say that they had not got, and that was a full and free confession on the part of the unnatural father of the whole facts connected with four murders which went so far to convince the jury that they were not returning a guilty verdict against an innocent man. Here they had no confession but were led to suppose that the crime of murder had not been committed by the individual charged but by the unhappy woman herself with the razor that was in her hand. The case the jury had to deal with was whether the murders were committed by the woman herself or by sine other person and in order to come to a fair and right conclusion they must take into consideration the whole of the evidence.
The coroner concluded his four hour summary by stating that the case could not be reduced from murder to manslaughter as that left the jury to decide whether in their judgement or not they thought the prisoner was the individual who had committed these bloody and dreadful murders.
The jury retired and consulted for just over ten minutes, returning to the court room where the Foreman delivered the verdict;
“We return a verdict of wilful murder against the prisoner William Saville for the murder of his wife Anne Saville and three children and we are of the opinion that the prisoner William Saville was of sound mind at the time when he committed the deed.”
This prompted scenes of jubilation in the crowded public gallery but the Coroner quickly restored order as he closed proceedings by committing the prisoner to take his trial before the next Assizes court in July and in the meantime he would be held in the County Gaol, in a cell some distance below the court room. Saville was quickly removed and taken down flights of stone steps to his cell. His clothes were now exchanged for standard prison dress and he had his shoes taken from him. Above him the court emptied slowly into a packed street full of excited and curious spectators, all eager for news. Cries of “Wilful murder!” rang through the crowds who now melted away down High Pavement towards Narrow Marsh and the Market Square. The inquest had reached its conclusion at exactly five o’clock and had lasted almost three full days. There had never been an inquest like this before in Nottingham and the excitement and interest it had generated had been unprecedented. The third day had not disappointed those who wanted more and more detail of the murders and now the talk was all about the bloody hand print and the apparent robbing of a dead woman!
As evening turned into dark night a man deep in the bowels of County Hall was contemplating his fate. At the inquisition he had been allowed to speak out and ask any questions he chose of the witnesses. This was not a luxury that he would be afforded at the assizes trial where he would not be allowed to question a single witness. He knew he needed to find a defence counsel if he had any hope of avoiding Mr Roper. He had no money to pay for a costly defence but yet he still had hope as he had joined a lodge whilst he had been working in Radford. He must now get word out to see if his lodge would fund a legal representative for him.[i]