Rumours and counter-rumours seemed to emanate from any one of the number of many Inns and Taverns in Nottingham town but the newspaper owners had the good sense to ignore most of them. Some of Nottingham’s Inns were known to stay open all night; specifically those used by Bacchanalian clubs. The convivial party was the highest source of pleasure to multitudes. The coarse song, the spicyest piece of scandal and the most wicked innuendo were richly relished. One such club met at the Union Inn on Long Row. The hour of assembling was four o clock am and if each member has not emptied his quart pot of ale before the clock struck six, he had to forfeit a gallon of ale for the benefit of his assembled companions.[i]
The three Nottingham newspapers and the numerous ballad sellers were enjoying a roaring trade with their printed details of the Colwick Murders. Friday evenings were eagerly awaited with the promise of yet more enticing features in any or all of Nottingham’s newspapers. Despite all the rumours and accusations however William Saville was not without friends and supporters. There were so far no accounts of any witnesses of the actual murders. One rumour held that Saville’s former wife had told a friend she would “rather die in the street than go back into the workhouse” and this only the day before she died. Despite gossip to the contrary, Saville had not made any kind of confession. Those rushing to buy the newspapers on Friday June 21st were in for a big disappointment. After the feast of the previous week there followed a famine; there was nothing new to report. A week later on June 28th the situation changed again with quite remarkable news about razors and a claimed prison-cell confession. The Nottingham Journal carried the most detailed report and it carried all the hallmarks of police intelligence.
Under a heading titled “The Colwick Murders” the Journal shed some light on the razor mystery and this was followed by something all of Nottingham and district had been waiting for.
The razor used in the murder will be traced to Saville. A report is also circulating that Saville made a confession on the morning after he was taken in custody, to a young man who was also in the lock-up for assault and whom having enlisted with the 32d Foot, left the town after being released from confinement. A letter has been received from this party, we are informed on undisputable authority, and contains information to the following effect;
The writer knew Saville from his master (a collector of debts), having been employed to recover some money from him; that on the morning of May 23rd being brought from the room where he slept, was put into a cell with Saville, who was about to be conveyed before the magistrates, and that he asked him what he was there for? Saville replied that people had said he had murdered his wife and children. The other advised him to employ Counsel but Saville said “It is no use to put myself to that expense when I know I’ve done it!” He further said he had killed his wife because she had got him three months imprisonment for leaving her and his children chargeable to the parish; that he had murdered her first but did not intend the kill the children, only they screamed out so much and he did not know what to do with them. That he now had but three chances; one to be hanged, one to be transported, one to get off, but that if he thought he should get hanged he would do it himself. He further said the party to whom he was speaking was his only friend and he hoped he would not betray him.
The conversation took place on the same day the bodies were discovered.[ii]
This reported confession became the talk of the town for the whole weekend and news spread out to outlying villages and nearby towns thanks to the newspapers. The Journal was the most conservative of all of the three Nottingham newspapers; it was the first to name Saville as the murderer and its well-heeled readership were most likely to accept its printed words. The Review and the Mercury were more radical and consistently allowed the Saville the benefit of the doubt and referred to him as the supposed murder and the prisoner. In the Police Office in the Exchange building, the latest news and rumours of a confession surprised some police officers, some of whom knew Saville well. Saville had indeed been imprisoned for three months at the House of Correction in 1837 but not for the reason given in The Journal. He had been convicted of stealing a coat from a Nottingham Inn and had been sentenced to hard labour. The police also knew of Saville’s habit of using an alias. When arrested he had been found with a pawnbroker’s counterfoil in the name of William Savage and not his real name. He had gone to some trouble to avoid being sent to jail when he put his wife and family into the workhouse; he had found work and lodgings on the far side of town and represented himself as a single man.
As the month of June ended conversation and conjecture turned to the coming assizes trial, which was always held towards the end of July. It was known that Saville was without Counsel after his Lodge had refused to help him. The newspapers had nothing new to report on Friday July 5th but a week later on July 12th The Journal had more news about the razor that had been found in the hand of Saville’s wife;
The razor responsible for the murder is finally traced to Saville. Saville once lived in the service of a person named Lynch in Arnold where also his wife (with whom his acquaintance there first commenced) lived at the same time. He left them and went to another place in Arnold but continued to go to Lynch’s to shave himself. When he left Arnold Lynch missed two razors. One is the murder weapon and the other is a white hafted one found in the prisoner’s box.[iii]
News about the razors and the confession were delighting the many thousands who were following the story with the greatest of interest. It was however causing problems for the numerous ballad sellers whose ballad sheets seemed to be becoming more dated and inaccurate as each week went by. One solution was to return the sheets to the printers and print off a verse or two more at the base of each sheet, should there happen to be room. Another solution was to print off new ballad sheets incorporating the latest news but sell off the older sheets to anyone they suspected who was either in drink or unable to read properly.
The newspapers of July 19th would be the last before the assizes trial which was to be held on July 25th. The Journal had no further information about Saville but gave brief details of the trial;
The upcoming assizes trial will be held at the end of July under Judges Lord Denman and Mr Justice Coltman. The former will handle the criminal trials and the latter the civil. The prisoners in the county number 28 and offences for which they stand committed are of the worst description indeed it is the blackest calendar the judges have had presented to them in Nottingham for some time.[iv]
In his cell below Shire Hall, Saville spent his final week before his trial. His mood and behaviour had reverted back to much as it was when he was first imprisoned. He sent out requests for his working materials and knitting frame to be taken care of. He also requested that a table he had stored with the Wardles in Wood Street was still available for his use. He was behaving like a man who expected to walk free. This transformation had been brought about by some good news conveyed to him by the prison chaplain. Dr Longstaff of Ilkeston had kindly offered to find a barrister in conjunction with Saville’s friends and Mr Flowers of London had been selected. Saville now had hope and belief for without counsel he would have little chance of avoiding Mr Roper!
TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright@ Michael Sheridan 2013 All rights reserved.
[i] Old and New Nottingham 1853, Wylie, William Howie
[ii] Nottingham Journal Friday June 28th 1844
[iii] Nottingham Journal Friday July 12th 1844
[iv] Nottingham Journal Friday July 19th 1844