Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Tragedy On Werneth Low 'Update'


 Jeffrey Stafford

      The case came to light on a chilly Friday afternoon, 23rd October 1903. Fourteen years old local boy Alfred Booth was playing in a field near his parent’s cottage on Werneth Low, about a quarter of a mile along the road in the direction of Romiley from the corner of Joel Lane, Hyde. He got bored and decided to walk over to the old quarry in the field adjacent to Werneth Low Road. The quarry was not fenced off, except for a few wooden posts and some strands of broken barbed wire in between them. The water in the quarry formed a pond about ten yards across and about six to seven feet deep. In June the water is cold, in October its freezing. Striding over the barbed wire, Alfred walked innocently around the edge of the quarry, as he had done many times before; suddenly he noticed a dark bundle floating on the surface. A dead dog maybe? His curiosity aroused, he broke a branch off a tree, and reached out and turned the object over; to his horror, he suddenly realized that it was a dead child. Horrified and almost incoherent with shock, Alfred ran home to tell his mother, who was ill in bed. Later that night, when his father arrived home from work, Alfred told him about his horrific discovery at the quarry.
         The pair went directly to the police station in Gee Cross, where Alfred was interviewed by Sergeant Thomas Bright. A pin could have been heard dropping in the police station that night, as the distraught boy told Bright about his gruesome find in the quarry on Werneth Low.  When questioned, Booth said that he had not been near the quarry for about a month, and knew nothing about a child’s body being there until he spotted the bundle lying in the water, less than a yard from dry ground.
        It was ten minutes past eleven when Sergeant Bright left the police station and hurried to the spot where the child’s body was lying. Then as now, there were no houses on Werneth Low Road beyond the Hare and Hounds Inn, the nearest habitations were a handful of small isolated farms and cottages below, and a lonely cottage on the brow that leads to Romiley. At night the road was lonely and dark, and as creepy as a graveyard.  When Bright reached the quarry, in the half light, he could just make out the body floating in the murky water, about a foot from the side. Finding a short branch, he eased the dead child towards dry ground and lifted it gently from the water.  On examining the clothing of the child, Bright found that it was stamped “Stockport Workhouse, Female Hospital.”  Finding the one who’d dumped the tiny body in the quarry was not going to be a problem.

        The body was taken to the mortuary at Hyde Police Station, where the following morning, Saturday, 24th October, Mary Greenhough, a young nurse at Stockport Union Workhouse Female Hospital, was brought to identify the body lying in the morgue. When taken down to the mortuary to view the dead infant, she was able to identify it as being the baby girl born to twenty one years old Elizabeth Davies, on 23rd September. She had been present at the birth, and had noticed a small birth mark on the child’s spine. Greenhough told the police that the mother had stopped in the ward from 21st September to 9th of October, when she was discharged at half past eight in the morning. With these facts established, it was plain that the child found drowned in the quarry on Werneth Low was the infant daughter of Elizabeth Davies. Further investigations went on over the weekend when it was learned that Davies had gone to stay with her mother, Emma Davies, at her home in Culmington, Shropshire.
        At about 7:30 am on Monday, 26 October, Police Surgeon, Thomas Francis Daniels carried out a post mortem on the dead child in the presence of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr.Bennett. Dr.Daniels confirmed that the child was a female about three weeks old, and that death was caused by drowning. There were no external marks of violence, and no signs of disease.
        That same day, Inspector William Moore of Hyde Police Force travelled to Shropshire and arrested Elizabeth Davies at the residence of her mother, Ivy Cottage, Culmington, Shropshire. She was brought back to Hyde and charged with having caused the death of her infant daughter by drowning on or about the 9th October. By all accounts Elizabeth Davies was a very attractive young girl with fair, curly hair, a full breast and a nice complexion.
        The following day a special session of the borough court was held, presided over by Councillor J. W. D. Barron and the other magistrate on the Bench was Mr. S. N. Brooks. Elizabeth Davies was a 21 year old servant girl, a native of Culmington, near Ludlow, who had been in service in Stockport and Hyde. She appeared a quite, respectable girl, and she seemed to keenly realise the serious position in which she found herself.
         The Chief Constable, J. W. Danby, said the prisoner was arrested on Monday night in Ludlow, Shropshire, and brought back to Hyde by Sergeant Moore.
          Dr. Thomas Francis Daniels, of Hyde, surgeon for Hyde Borough Police Force stated: Yesterday, October 26th, I carried out a post-mortem examination on the body of a child. It was apparently about three weeks old. As a result of my examination I came to the conclusion that death was caused by drowning.  
           The Magistrates Clerk then asked Davies if she had any questions to ask herself. She replied: No sir.
           Inspector William Moore said: At 4 10 p.m. yesterday I found the prisoner at her mother’s house at Culmington, near Ludlow, Shropshire. I arrested her, and brought her back to Hyde Police Station. I cautioned her, and charged her with “feloniously with malice and aforethought did cause the death of her illegitimate child by drowning at Hyde, on or about the 9th October.”  Davies replied, “I am guilty.”
           Councillor Barron: Do you understand the seriousness of your position?
           Davies: Yes.
           Councillor Barron: And you heard what the inspector said: is that true or not?
           Davies: Yes sir.
Sergeant Thomas Bright was the next witnessed and he was able to shed some light on the recovery of the child’s body from the quarry. He said at 11 10 p.m. on 23rd of October I recovered the dead body of a female child from the disused quarry on Werneth Low. The quarry was full of water. Where the child’s body was found the water was about four feet deep. The child was in the water about a foot or so from the side. I took the body down to the mortuary at Hyde Police Station. On examining the clothing of the child I found that it was stamped “Stockport Workhouse, Female Hospital.” The dead infant was fully dressed. I produce the clothing of the child.
       J. W. Danby, the Chief Constable, said the Assizes were next week, and he wanted the prisoner to be tried there. In the meantime he would have to get in touch with the public prosecutor, for there were a lot of formalities to be gone through.
       Asked by the Magistrates Clerk if she had any objections to being remanded to Saturday morning?
Davies replied, “No, sir.”
          The inquest on the body of the illegitimate infant daughter of Elizabeth Davies took place in the afternoon at Hyde Police Court; Mr. H. Newton, deputy-coroner for the district of Stockport, hearing evidence from Sergeant Thomas Bright and Dr. Thomas Francis Daniels.
           In opening the inquiry the Deputy Coroner said: I propose to-day to take evidence of the finding of the body, and then to adjourn till Friday afternoon at four o’clock. There is little evidence that I think the police will be able to obtain before that day, which will be, in my opinion, very important material, and under those circumstances I think it would be wiser and better to postpone the enquiry until Friday afternoon.
           The first witness was Sergeant Bright, who recalled the events of Friday, October 23rd.
            Dr. Thomas F. Daniels, surgeon, of Hyde, was the next witness. The room fell quite when he presented the results of his post mortem:

            The body was that of a child of about three weeks to a month, with no signs of external violence, except for a depression at the bottom of the spinal column which had been there since birth. The child was well nourished. Froth and blood was coming from the child’s mouth, and putrefaction was just beginning at the face and neck. The cause of death was asphyxia caused by drowning.

          The Deputy Coroner then adjourned the inquest until 4 o’clock the following Friday. 
           When the inquest was reconvened on Friday, 30th October, again at Hyde
 Police Court, the first witnessed called was Alfred Booth. He stated that on the previous Friday afternoon, between two and three o’clock, whilst playing near the quarry he saw something floating on the water. He went round to the other side to see
what it was, and broke a branch off a tree, with which he turned the object over in the water. Then he noticed it was a baby. He hurried home and told his mother, who was ill in bed, so he waited while about half past seven for his father to arrive home. His father took him immediately to the police station in Gee Cross, where he told Sergeant Bright what he had seen.
           The next witness called was Mary Greenhough, a nurse at Stockport Workhouse Female Hospital. She told the inquest that the first time she saw Davies was on the night of August 16th, the day she was admitted. She testified that Davies was the same woman, who on 23rd September gave birth to a female child, and stayed in the hospital until 9th October, when she was discharged.
           Margaret Singleton, a portress at Stockport Workhouse was the next witness. She said she remembered Elizabeth Davies leaving the Workhouse on Friday, October 9th, at 9-55 a.m. She had a new born baby girl in her arms, and wrapped round it was a brown shawl. After brief testimony from Margaret Singleton, the Deputy Coroner called Edith Bowden to the stand.
           Edith Bowden, wife of Harry Bowden, an oil and tallow refiner, living at Back of the Hill, Gee Cross, said she remembered Friday, 9th October. Between 12-30 and 1 pm, dinner time, she heard a baby cry outside. She was in the house at the time, and there was a knock at the door. Her daughter Edith answered the door, and shouted “Mamma.” A woman was on the doorstep, and she asked if she could come in out of the rain to feed her baby. She had the baby in her arms; no one else was with her. I told her to come in, and she did so. She stayed fifteen minutes, and breast fed her baby, and I give her a little dinner. She told me that her home was in Shropshire. I then asked her if she had travelled by car or train, and she said she had walked from Stockport.
             The Deputy Coroner then asked Davies to stand up, which she did. He informed her that she could make a statement if she wished. “Do you desire to say anything to the jury?”  She responded by saying, “No, sir.”
               In summing up, the Deputy Coroner, pointed out to the jury that they would first have to be satisfied that the dead child found in the quarry was the child of Elizabeth Davies. I they thought the evidence not sufficient on that point, then there could be no charge against her. If, on the other hand, they were satisfied that it was the child of Elizabeth Davies, then they would have to consider, first of all, how the child met its death, and who was responsible for the death. The evidence was circumstantial. There was no direct evidence that Davies was seen to put the child into the water; but they had evidence that on Friday, the 9th October, she was discharged from Stockport Workhouse Hospital with her new born baby; that she was next seen between half past twelve and one o’clock on Werneth Low by Edith Bowden, and she had a child with her, and she was in Mrs.Bowden’s house for about fifteen to twenty minutes; and that according to Mrs.Bowden’s statement, she was in considerable distress. If they were satisfied on the points, then the verdict could only be one of wilful murder. The law on those facts was perfectly plain; it must be either wilful murder or nothing. The court was then cleared while the jury considered their verdict. The jury then deliberated for in private for fifteen minutes and returned with its verdict, Elizabeth Davies was found guilty, but with a strong recommendation for mercy.
              Davies was then asked to stand again by the Deputy Coroner, while he conveyed to her the verdict of the jury, adding that it was his duty to commit her to take her trial at the next Assizes to be held at Chester. She was held in Knutsford Jail, which had facilities for female prisoners. The trial was set for November 5th, 1903.

                When the case against Elizabeth Davies’s reconvened before the magistrates on Saturday, 31st October, the streets around the court building were thronged with people, fighting to get the best seats in the court room.
                 Mr. Joe Cooke, of Messrs J. and E. Cooke, solicitors, Hyde, opened the proceedings with a lengthy speech, in which he traced all the facts of the case, laying stress on the most salient points, though throughout his speech he exercised great fairness towards Davies, and the concluding portion of his speech was uttered under evident emotion. The circumstances of the case are familiar to every one reading this, so I need not reproduce any of the evidence given at the magistrates’ court.  The hearing of the case lasted from about a quarter past nine in the morning to half past three in the afternoon.

            During the hearing of Inspector Moore’s evidence a point of law was argued by Mr. Cooke as to whether the magistrates would accept the admission made by the prisoner to Inspector Moore at Culmington as evidence. Mr. Cooke cited several cases showing that it had been done, but the magistrates decided in the prisoners favour not to admit it. At the end of the hearing, Elizabeth Davies was committed to Chester Assizes to stand trial on a charge of wilful murder.  

              The trial of the young domestic servant, Elizabeth Davies opened at Chester Assizes on Thursday, 5th November, before Mr. Justice Bruce and a jury. Mr. Colt Williams and Mr. Ralph Banks prosecuted, and by the direction of the judge, Mr.Trevor Lloyd defended. During the day a string of witnesses testified to a series of events that left no room for doubt about Davies’s guilt.  They included all the witnesses who had testified at Hyde, with one or two additional ones, including Davies’s mother. The first witnesses testified concerning the events at Stockport Workhouse Infirmary on the morning of 9th October. All testified as to Davies’s fine character and her fondness for the child. The second set of witnesses described events after the recovery of the body from the quarry at the top of Werneth Low. The most compelling testimony again came from Dr. Thomas Francis Daniels.  The case for the prosecution was straightforward as the facts were hardly in dispute. Despite an impassioned plea for mercy by defending council Trevor Lloyd, the jury returned after an hour and a half to deliver a ‘Guilty’ verdict, with a strong recommendation of mercy on account of the prisoners age.
     When asked why the sentence of death should no be passed upon her, Davies made no reply.
       His Lordship then donned his black cap, and amid deep silence in the court,

                       he said: Elizabeth Davies, you have been found guilty of murder. The jury recommend you to mercy. That recommendation I will send to the proper authorities. He concluded by pronouncing the sentence of death.
         On hearing the sentence Davies swooned in the dock, and had to be supported by two warders.

          Immediately upon hearing that Davies had been sentenced to death at the Assizes, Councillor J. W. D. Barron, who had been the presiding magistrate at the Police Court proceedings at Hyde, orchestrated a vociferous campaign for her reprieve. The first thing he did was to arrange for petition sheets to be printed, these were done free of charge by Joseph Maloney, Printer and Stationer, 145 Mottram Road, Hyde. The petition sheets were then distributed at the mills and workshops throughout the town, also at many other places, including public houses and places or worship. On Saturday evening, 7th November, along with two men he had hired for the purpose, Councillor Barron had a stall on Hyde Market Ground containing petition sheets, and in this way alone about 2,000 signatures were obtained. The expense of all this work Councillor Barron bore himself.  Between the 7th and the 11th of October, over 20,000 signatures had been obtained. The petition sheets were distributed in Hyde, Denton Stockport, Glossop and Hadfield, in this way over 25,000 signatures were collected. It seems that, throughout the district, Elizabeth Davies had gained mass public sympathy.
           The following is a copy of the petition prepared by the Town Clark, Mr. Thomas Brownson:-
                               (1) ---  That Elizabeth Davies was on Thursday, the fifth day of November, 1903, sentenced to death by the Honourable Justice Bruce, at Chester Winter Assizes for the murder of her illegitimate child, aged sixteen days, at Hyde, on the ninth day of October, 1903.
               (2) --- That your petitioners desire to submit for your consideration with a view if it shall seem to you to meet after the inquiry into the circumstances attending such, that you maybe pleased to advise His Most Gracious Majesty The King to exercise in favour of the said Elizabeth Davies his high prerogative of mercy, and to respite the said Elizabeth Davies from the sentence of death under which she now lies, and to deal with her as otherwise may be thought fit.
                (3) – That the petitioners respectfully submit to you as grounds for the exercise of such prayed clemency the facts. That the prisoner is only 20 years of age. That she gave birth to the said child at the Stockport Workhouse Hospital on September 23rd, 1903, and left that Hospital on October 9th, 1903 only sixteen days after the birth of the child. That she then had no money and was at a long distance from her home and friends. That she walked with her child to the Borough of Hyde a distance of four or five miles in heavy rain and that having regard to her recent confinement she was not in a fit condition to undertake such a journey or to be left alone. That there was evidence to show that she was an affectionate mother but was greatly depressed in spirits shortly before committing the crime of which she was convicted. That there was no evidence of premeditation, but that on the contrary the evidence tended to show that the action was an impulsive one, due to the prisoner’s depressed condition and to her recent confinement. That the prisoner did not seek to hide her crime by removing the clothing of the child, which was stamped with the official mark of the Stockport Workhouse, or in any other way.
                 (4) – That under all the circumstances of the case your petitioners humbly and respectfully submit that after due consideration you may be pleased to advise his Most Gracious Majesty the king to exercise his prerogative of mercy with the result that the sentence of death will not be carried out.

       During the morning and afternoon of Sunday, 8th November, hundreds of sightseer visited the scene of the tragedy, the quarry on Werneth Low Road. The spot is six to seven hundred yards beyond the Hare and Hounds Inn.

        On Thursday, 12th November, 1903, the Town Clerk, Thomas Brownson, received from the Home Office the following important communication, written in response to  a telegram sent by him on Wednesday, 10th November :-
                                                                      Whitehall, 11th November, 1903.

   Dear Sir, With reference to your letter of the 10th inst., respecting the case of Elizabeth Davies, who is lying under sentence of death in His Majesty’s Prison at Knutsford. I am directed to acquaint you that the Secretary of State has felt warranted under all circumstances, in advising His Majesty to respite the capital sentence with a view to its commutation to penal servitude for life. I am sir, your obedient servant, C. E. TROUP.
      The news of the reprieve was received in Hyde, and elsewhere throughout the district, with great satisfaction. It was felt that it would have been extremely cruel to have kept the sentence of death hanging over the young girl any longer than was absolutely necessary, and the promptness of the Home Secretary was most commendable under the circumstances.

     Before news of Elizabeth Davies’s reprieve had reached Hyde, Councillor Barron had penned the following letter for publication:-
                                                         Garth House, Ridling Lane, Hyde,
                                                                                     November 12th, 1903.

Sir, -- The Mayor (Mr. Councillor Sherry) has kindly informed me he has written a letter thanking all those who worked to make the petition for the reprieve of Elizabeth Davies strongly representative of the feeling of the Borough, and I also wish, in conjunction with my friend the Mayor, to offer my grateful personal thanks to the many kind friends who so nobly came forward to help in the efforts made to obtain the reprieve of one more sinned against than sinning, yet who in the solitude of the condemned cell has to bear the burden of her crime alone.  Although my name has been so prominently associated with the movement for a commutation of the death sentence of the law, I feel that the honour of being privileged to take part in so worthy a movement is not mine alone, but must be shared by those whose self denying, indefatigable labours have resulted in my being able to secure nearly 13,000 signatures to this just petition. My grateful thanks are due to my friend ex-Councillor Maloney for printing the petitions free of cost, to Mr. Pearson, of Matley, for opening his stall to receive signatures, for the hundreds he was able through this and other means to add to the petition; to Mr. Waring for lending me his stall on Saturday night, and Mr. Hindley for so kindly providing the lights. I an also most deeply indebted to Councillors Knowles, Gee, Williamson, and Pope, and Messrs. Gregory, Cain, Barton,, and Sallis, for circulating the petition through the various mills  and workshops; by which means thousands of signatures have been obtained; to all those who took petitions and obtained signatures whose names I do not know ; and last, but not least, to my young friend Eric Tinker, for his splendid effort in going from house to house, and by this means securing some hundreds of signatures. To all these and many others whose names I cannot enumerate, not forgetting those who signed the petition, I desire to give that praise which is their due more than mine. If the efforts put forth by the Mayor, those I have mentioned, and myself, only accomplish our desires (and I have every reason to believe from an authorative source they will) our hearts will be gladdened and we shall each feel we have contributed something towards comforting and relieving one who now sits in darkness and the shadow of death, and saving from the gallows somebody’s child, feeling sure that our petition will be granted in the interest of justice and mercy.
                                                      I remain yours faithfully, J. W. D. BARRON.  
              P.S. – Since writing the above I have received an important (private) communication stating that the Home Secretary is advising His Majesty to exercise his Royal clemency. 

           A few days later, Councillor Sherry (the Mayor of Hyde) received the following letter of thanks from the sister of Elizabeth Davies:

         I think it is my duty to thank you for your kindness in having raised the petition on behalf of my poor unfortunate sister. My Mother and all our family are most grateful to you, and to all the gentlemen who have taken such an interest in her. It lightened our burden when we knew she had been granted a reprieve. I have not heard yet what her sentence is. How thankful we are that her life has been spared. I hope that at some future time she may return to the home of her birth. She has begged for forgiveness from us, and we give it her if only God is as ready to forgive her, and I think he will if she will put her trust in him. Thanking you for your kind letter to mother, which was a great comfort to her, and for all you have done for us.
                                                                                         Ealing, London

     Following the commutation of the death sentence Elizabeth Davies was conveyed to Aylesbury Prison in Buckinghamshire, where her conduct was exemplary. Throughout her incarceration the Mayor of Hyde (Councillor J. W. D. Barron) campaigned vigorously for her release, and in October 1908 he visited the Home Office, and was told that the case was to be fully reviewed by the Home Secretary. Elizabeth Davies was destined to spend only another five months in prison until she was released in February 1909. We know absolutely nothing about Elizabeth Davies after she was given her freedom. She may have returned to Culmington, or she may have married. In either case, after her release from Aylesbury Prison she vanished into obscurity.       


Tom said...

I would like to thank Jeffrey for the information above and for then allowing us to share it here on our site.
What a moving story this turned out to be.. never will I go by that spot again without this story being in my mind...

Gerald (Hyde DP) said...

The one thing that is missing in all this is any mention of any attempt to establish who was the father of the child.

Werneth Low said...

This is heartbreaking beyond belief. I hope Elizabeth Davies found happiness after her release from prison, though one thing is certain - she will never have forgotten her baby girl who died on Werneth Low. That stone in the wall now has a real story to tell.

Hydonian said...

Wow, what a moving story of hardship and heartbreak.
Thank you so much Jeffrey for sharing this story. It is so well written,too.

Dave Williams said...

'Back of the Hill', where Edith Bowden invited Elizabeth Davies into her cottage to feed the baby, is probably that group of buildings near the Hillside Road end of that path leading from Lord Derby Road from where I took that photo of Jodrell Bank recently. It's shown as 'Back-o' th'-Hill' on the map.

Anonymous said...

Great to read that story Dave Davies, ex Hyde, family Cheshire and Shropshire so guess I have some digging to do. Thanks

Tom said...

Hi Dave
Glad you found the story of interest... if you find anything out while digging please let us know..

David said...

In the Stockport index of births for 1903, I have found the following entry: Davies Ethel mother's maiden name Davies. It would appear that when the infant daughter of Elizabeth Davies was born in Stockport Workhouse Infirmary in September 1903, it was registered with the Christian name Ethel. So now we have the full name of the child drowned in Werneth Low Quarry, Ethel Davies.

I would also like to take this opportunity to respond to the comments made by Gerald (Hyde DP).

To try to estabish the paternity of Elizabeth Davie's illegitimate daughter after a period of 109 years have passed would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Obviously, Gerald Hyde DP is unhistorical, he has no notion of ancestry, chronology or historical record. One might think that, being at the bottom of the social pile, Elizabeth Davies would have had less reason than most to keep secret the name of the child's father. But that is to misread the situation. Respectability and secrecy was important, even to a 21 year old domestic servant. However, if Gerald Hyde DP would like to try to establish the paternity of the child, there are a very large number of possible candidates. He might first start looking at most of the adult male population of Stockport for January 1903.

Tom said...

Thank you for the up date David..
I think Gerald was only voicing what a lot of folk must have been thinking after reading the story... and can you imagine the talk of it in 1903... I bet the finger was pointed at many...

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