Copyright@ Mike Sheridan 2014 All Rights Reserved
Feelings were running high in Nottingham and the surrounding villages. A church service in Mansfield at the Unitarian Chapel proved so popular that hundreds were turned away, unable to obtain admittance. Inside the chapel Reverend Linwood delivered an elegant sermon concerning Saville’s execution and the dreadful events which followed. He also used his sermon to point out the utter inefficiency of capital punishment. The sermon proved so popular that Reverend Linwood agreed to return and deliver it again the following Sunday.
In Nottingham the new week was dominated by talk of both the execution and loss of life. Tales soon spread of a hero who had died whilst trying to save others. The name of the hero was sought but none could find it. In the hospital most of those who were admitted with injuries were making good recoveries. The most seriously injured had required one of his legs to be amputated.
When Friday came the three newspapers had plenty to report and the copies were eagerly seized and read. The Nottingham Journal had two unusual and very different letters published in the correspondence section on page 1. First came a letter of complaint titled The Murderer Saville and written by W Butler, Chaplain to the County Gaol. He complained bitterly about the newspapers publishing what he insisted were his private notes which he had lent to the newspapers. The Chaplain received a salary of £60 a year and only the Gaoler received more at the County Hall. The appearance of his private notes in two of Nottingham’s three newspapers seemed most unusual and his letter made no mention of any payments changing hands. This was followed by another letter written anonymously but with a name given of “Spectator”. This was another letter of complaint and lamented the unfairness of Saville’s trial. It questioned whether the razor produced at the trial was actually the murder weapon and questioned also the truth of Freeman’s statement. It dismissed the bloody shirt as a mere “old woman’s fancy”. There were claims of inaccuracies in the medical examination for failing to find two small cuts in Saville’s throat as per his confession and that the body could move. This letter seemed to have come from within the camp of Saville’s supporters and possibly from either the London counsel or the Ilkeston doctor who paid for his services. It seemed impossible that it could have been invented by the Editor and unlike the letter from W Butler, this one may have been printed after a consideration was paid. It certainly did not appear in either of the two rival newspapers.
On another page of the newspaper under a heading of Late Awful Catastrophe, Another of the sufferers dead, came some details from the Inquest. This concerned the testimony of Isaac Meldrum, Inspector of Police at Nottingham. He pointed out the width of the street on High Pavement by the gallows was 35 feet and eight inches but pointed out that a large barricade had been erected in front of the gallows so not all the street could be used. At Garners Hill the street narrowed to 29 feet eight inches. The distance from County Hall to Garners Hill was 100 yards. Isaac Meldrum completed his testimony by stating the accident arose from pressure in the crowd. The column of news concluded with some very sad information. John Spink aged 70 had been admitted to the hospital with seven broken ribs, and had made a recovery after having a leg amputated. His condition worsened on Tuesday and he died on Tuesday evening. The death toll now stood at thirteen. The execution of Saville and thirteen deaths following his hanging did not diminish the interest felt by the masses. In a column of news titled The Villages and under a heading titled “Colwick Murders” came a report of continued interest in the case.
“The spot where the murders were committed is still visited by a considerable number of persons.”
The Nottingham Mercury took a different line in its edition of Friday August 16th, it printed some news about the relatives of the dead and their suffering. Under a heading titled The Awful Catastophe, it immediately set a solemn tone.
“On no occasion has the sympathy of the public been so powerfully excited as upon this distressing event. Of the twelve persons who lost their lives most of them were in humble life and miserably poor, particularly the parents of Mary and Thomas Easthorpe of New Lenton, the former was 14 years old and the latter 9”
The article explained how the father, a framesmith was employed in the factory of Mr John Hill, New Lenton, and in the week before Whitsuntide he fell through a trapdoor in an upper room of the factory and had not been able to work since. The Rev G Brown, Vicar of New Lenton suggested setting up a subscription to Mr Oldknow, lace manufacturer of New Lenton. This was responded to immediately and supported by the kind-hearted residents of New Lenton. In a short time, upwards of £20 was collected.
Next came news of some of the Sunday funerals. The bodies of Eliza Smithurst of Daybrook and Mary Stevenson were interred in one grave at Arnold, the funeral procession was followed by hundreds of persons bathed in tears. Here also a liberal subscription was raised for the mother who was supported by her two daughters. The same day the remains of Susannah Smedley an orphan aged 14 were interred in Gedling Churchyard. The procession was followed by the scholars of the Sunday School and villagers of Carlton and Gedling, several of whom dropped a sprig of thyme into the grave. The preceding Friday, Elizah Hannah Shuttleworth aged 12 years, the daughter of Wm Shuttleworth Boatwright, of Albion Street Nottingham was interred in the burial ground of St Peters church. Another victim laid to rest was James Fisher of Bulwell, interred in Bulwell church yard amid a concourse of upwards of two thousand persons.
“Never in Bulwell was more sympathy shown; the deceased by his unassuming manners had won to himself the affections of all the villagers, who availed themselves of this opportunity to testify their regard. The members of the Odd Fellows club, to which he belonged, also attended and paid every respect to his memory. Notwithstanding the vast number of persons the greatest order and regularity was preserved; in fact much credit is due to Holmes,of the rural police, who exerted himself to the utmost.”
Below this column came another titled The Adjourned Inquest and this carried the details so many were wanting. The Inquest begun on the Thursday afternoon had resumed Friday in the Grand Jury room of the Town Hall before Mr Browne, Gent. After the jury all answered their names the first witness called was one Henry Hickling, publican, explained how he had watched the execution from a window in Mr Corden’s house on the corner of Garners Hill. He explained how he saw a female knocked down near Mr Brewsters door on High Pavement immediately Saville was turned off and then a number of others fell on her. He reported about sixty down and all trampled by the crowd. Immediately as the woman fell, a boy fell on the opposite side, near to Mr Barretts door, and a great many others fell on him. He reported seeing the female extricated and she appeared quite dead, she was carried on a man’s shoulder to Garners Hill, appeared to be a young woman with a striped printed dress on. He then provided his own explanation for the catastrophe.
“I did not observe any sticks used, but the pressure I believe commenced near to the Judges Lodgings was continued down the pavement. I believe the pressing down the street caused the people to fall. I called out a many times to the people to hold back and I am of the opinion if there had been any barriers across the street they could have prevented the rush. I do not think all the police in Nottingham could have prevented the rush. I have formerly seen barriers and at the execution of the men for the riots in 1832¸there was one across the street”
Some of the jury who had themselves witnessed the execution declared the witness was mistaken, claiming that planks were placed across the narrowest parts of the pavement.
William Fox, bricklayer of Brook Street was next to be called. He explained he was on the cornice of the house next to Mr Higginbottom’s on the morning of the execution. This gave him a very good view; he could see as far as the church yard and to Market Street corner. He explained how he saw first a woman fall near Mr Higginbottom’s door, then a boy fall opposite.
“I saw her picked up and she appeared to be dead; she wore a light printed gown and a black coloured bonnet on. I should think she was down ten or fifteen minutes. The other female I saw thrown down was near to Mr Beecrofts, and I should think she lay 17 or 18 minutes, people walking over her as though there was no-one there. I saw a great many others down. I noticed the crowd but did not see anyone try to create a disturbance; but I believe the people were anxious to get away as quick as possible. The rural police were in front of the scaffold, and about seven in the church yard, that was Mr Barnes and the Town Police. There were about fourteen police in front of the scaffold. It would have been impossible for any police to have prevented the accident. I did not see any javelin-men. I think the front of County Hall a very improper place for executions.”
John Morley, servant to Mr Morley of the Marquis of Granby Drury Hill, being sworn in explained how he was standing near the Judge’s Lodgings and how he was swept off his feet,
“ When Saville was turned off the crowd turned round and rushed down the pavement carrying me with them. I never felt the ground until I got to Mr Higginbottom’s when upwards of one hundred fell together, and amongst them I saw a boy named Henry Marshall, in a blue checked shirt who laid hold of my coat. I got him and in a minute or two he was knocked down again.”
A man called Greensmith was called back to give testimony again and explained how he saw a young man standing opposite the gas office.
“He was dressed in drab trousers, light waistcoat and grey coat, he appeared about 19 or 20 years of age, he was carried away with the crowd. Afterwards I saw him pull up a man and wife from under the mass of people lying on Garners Hill. I am sure he might have saved himself if he had not stopped to assist the man and his wife. I afterwards saw him lying dead at the Watch-house, I was told his name was Fisher.”
William Ellis, butcher of Narrow Marsh was called next and after being sworn in, explained how dense the crowd was, extending up Market Street to Mr Greshams, pawnbroker.
“About a minute after Saville dropped, I saw a mass of people moving down the pavement, towards me, hundreds were yelling and screaming. As I was running up the hill, they appeared to have been forced down by the crowd from the street. I should think there was between two and three hundred all lying on the steps, and below them and on each other. We took seven of them into the mayors yard, dead. I saw the seven bodies lying at the Watch-house, all of which were picked up on Garners Hill.”
Mr James Meldrum, Inspector of Town Police explained he was on duty the morning of the execution and was stood opposite County Hall steps near Mr Soars door.
“I did not see any wilful disturbance amongst the crowd. The moment Saville was turned off the great mass of people turned and moved down the pavement. The force was resistless, I could not move for more than one hour. There was not the least violence; it is true there were shouts but they were made by people who were hurt. I assisted in carrying the bodies from the Mayor’s yard to the Watch House. I do not consider the front of County Hall a suitable place for an execution. There are no outlets from County Hall to Garners Hill; if there had been there might have been some chance of escaping. I never saw so dense a crowd in my life. My arms were quite black in consequence of the pressure. There were many of our police among the crowd; nearly every man we had was about. I never knew an execution in the county before without javelin-men; but on this occasion there were none. We went to prevent robbery, we had nothing to do with the execution, as it belonged to the county. It would have been impossible for the Town and County Police to have prevented the pressure. I am of the opinion if there had been barricades, the rush would have been prevented.”
At twelve o’clock the inquiry was complete, the room was cleared whilst the jury considered their verdict. At one o’clock the reporters were informed the jury had agree that the deceased were killed accidentally in consequence of pressure of the crowd, but that some of them refused to sign the Inquisition, unless the Jury censured the proper authorities for not having taken the necessary precautions to prevent mischief, and the majority of the jury were of the opinion that a memorial to Sir James Graham requesting that no public execution might in future be permitted to take place in front of the County Hall. The censure upon the proper authorities was put to the vote and carried by 8 to 6, the foreman declining to vote on the ground that the censure was not sufficiently strong. At two o’clock a decision and statement was finally released;
“ The jury are of the opinion that the deceased were accidentally thrown down, in and by a crowd of people, who had been attending a public execution, in the town of Nottingham, and were then and there trampled to death or suffocated. A majority of the jury at the same time expressed .their opinion that considering the extensive excitement which prevailed, sufficient precaution was not taken by the proper authorities to prevent accidents. This censure was carried by a majority of two. At two o’clock the jury separated and a very stormy consultation”
Another column in the newspaper finally brought the readers of the Mercury a short history of Saville’s life, some one week after the two other town newspapers The heading of “Saville’s History of Himself” introduced a story most of Nottingham already knew. The account was somehow familiar yet different with some parts never mentioned by either Journal or Review. It was also printed as if Saville himself was telling the tale. The piece was concluded by a summary, evidently from the hand of the Editor,
“The Rev. J.W.Butler, Chaplain to the Gaol, having promised our reporter, that he would furnish the three Nottingham papers with such information as he was in possession of, respecting Saville, “if he wrote anything at all,” we were surprised to find the above in the columns of a contemporary, this morning, and therefore make no apology for copying it.”
In one long sentence, the wily editor of the Mercury had provided his readers with news they were clamouring for. At the same time he clearly showed his contempt for the chaplain and washed his hands of any inaccuracies in the account, of which there were a number. The latter part of this concerning claims about several injuries to Saville’s head certainly did not appear in print elsewhere!
Amongst all the bad news there was at least some good; the hero who had been the talk of the town was now identified. James Fisher of Bulwell had died selflessly trying to save others and had definitely saved a husband and wife. The proper authorities had now been censured by a Coroners Inquisition and blame was laid at their door for the deaths of thirteen witnesses. A number of witnesses and even the Inspector of Police had commented on the total lack of javelin men. These were an honour guard, used only when the Assize Courts were sitting and also at times of public executions. They were employed and paid for by the Sheriff or Under –Sheriffs. The question was; why were they not deployed at the execution?