My fourth book, A Gallows Guest-List was published in December 2015.
As with my first three books, it is a collection comprising in the main a number of intriguing but relatively little-known cases, with one or two more-celebrated ones.
In this collection of true-crime cases from the 18th and 19th centuries, Grahame Farrell invites the reader to an in-depth look at a selection of murderers who were given an offer they couldn't refuse – a date with the hangman. It includes two who were convicted of a less serious crime, and concludes with two whose names, for different reasons, never reached the guest list.
Told with Farrell's usual clear and captivating style, these chronicles are sure to enthral all lovers of historical true crime.
Numbering about four thousand families, England's untitled social and economic elite – the landed gentry – were the dominant force in the countryside from the later decades of the Seventeenth Century to the First World War. They owned great swathes of agricultural land (often including a whole village) on which they themselves did not work but from which they received rents sufficient to afford them a lifestyle of staggering affluence.
Their annual income, supplemented from the mid-Eighteenth Century onwards by profits from investments in commerce and industry, ranged between £1,000 and £5,000 at a time when most families’ income was well under forty pounds a year. To the average labourer, life in the great houses of the gentry must have seemed like Heaven itself.
The gentlemen who owned these estates enjoyed the title ‘Squire', and in the Eighteenth Century, the squirearchy – almost exclusively Tory-voting (the titled aristocracy generally voted for the Whig Party) – had enormous political and social power, and made up a large percentage of the House of Commons as well as enjoying the status of magistrate or Justice of the Peace on a local level, a powerful legal position to which they were appointed by the Lord Lieutenant of their county, who in turn was (and still is) a royal appointment – often from among the squirearchy itself.
There were few if any men locally who could challenge the edicts of this privileged and powerful group. The basic unit of local government in eighteenth-century England was the parish, and the squirearchy ran the parish. They populate many of the great English novels of the Eighteenth Century, including Tom Jones, Joseph Andrews and Tristram Shandy.
I remind readers of these facts – familiar to many – because Mr. William Horne of Butterley Hall, situated near the small town of Alfreton in Derbyshire, had inherited his estate secure in the knowledge that these political, social and economic arrangements were firmly in place. Where possible, a squire's estate and the money attached to it would pass from father to eldest son. Squire Horne had three sons: his heir, William Andrew Horne, and two younger sons, Charles and Edmund, as well as three daughters. By the early years of the 18th Century, William Horne Senior was a widower.
In common with many gentlemen of great wealth and uninterrupted leisure, he was a man of considerable erudition and scholarship, and he endeavoured to pass such habits of mind on to his three sons. With Charles and Edmund, he succeeded to an acceptable degree, but with the eldest, William Andrew, he failed lamentably. William Andrew Horne knew the privileges to which his birth entitled him, and he resolved in early manhood to take full advantage of them. These included the right – unofficial, of course – to avail himself of the sexual favours of any local young female of marriageable age, irrespective of whether these favours were willingly bestowed.
Servant girls at Butterley Hall were therefore bedded at his whim – that is, when he was not engaging in his favourite country pursuits of hunting and shooting.
Had he resolved to take such a course, Squire Horne would have been wise to send his errant eldest son away from the temptations of Butterley Hall, to an institution where self-discipline could have been acquired, such as the army or navy, where a commission as an officer could have been purchased as a matter of course, and where William Andrew could have learnt habits which would make him a more socially-responsible individual. But the indulgent squire neglected to take such a course, and William Andrew's dubious lifestyle continued without let-up.
With so many female servants at Butterley Hall being obliged to accompany the young gentleman into his four-poster, the result, inevitably, was pregnancies out of wedlock, though remarkably only four of them. One of these unfortunate maids, who shortly afterwards died broken-hearted at her predicament, was the daughter of one of the squire's tenant farmers who, because of William Andrew's social position, could entertain no hope of redress for his daughter. Another unlucky girl had two children by him, one of whom – her marriage prospects blighted by her illegitimacy when she reached young adulthood – was unable, despite her entreaties, to get so much as a farthing in financial support from this most absent of biological fathers.
In fact, for anyone to succeed in prising money out of the young heir would have been tantamount to extracting blood from a stone; to compound his cavalier attitude towards matters of sexual morality, William Andrew Horne was pathologically mean.
Eventually, not content with seducing servant girls and farmers’ daughters, the young gentleman, who, needless to say, had remained unmarried, began to cast his lascivious eye on his several attractive sisters. Remarkably, each responded willingly to his overtures; after the port and sherry had been flowing liberally, and unbeknownst to Squire Horne, William Andrew enjoyed regular and uninterrupted sexual encounters with each of them over a number of years, and in particular with Anne and Nancy.
With remorseless inevitability, Anne Horne eventually found herself with child, and nervously broke the news to her eldest brother. In February 1724, by which time William Andrew was thirty-eight years old, his sister gave birth to a baby boy.
This was a very different matter from siring an illegitimate child by a mere servant girl. Although it ceased to be a capital crime in the Nineteenth Century, incest was in the Eighteenth nothing less than a hanging offence.
Anne Horne's position in the local community meant that the matter could not be hushed up and quietly dealt with by having the child farmed out to a childless couple. If just one servant decided to gossip, the news would spread like wildfire, and Anne – if she escaped being hanged herself – would almost certainly never find a husband. As for her brother, future squire or not, he would be arrested and very possibly hanged, and, to compound their grief, the family's reputation in upper-class society would be ruined. William Andrew began to worry, and to look for a solution.
Notwithstanding the bad blood that for several years had persisted between him and the more responsibly-minded middle brother, Charles, William Andrew decided to confide in him and to seek his advice. Such was Charles's concern that it was quickly arranged that he and his brother would ride unnoticed to the village of Annesley Woodhouse, five miles away and across the county boundary in Nottinghamshire, at dead of night. There, William Andrew would stealthily carry the child, wrapped in a blanket, into the grounds of a wealthy acquaintance, a Mr. Chaworth, and deposit it on Chaworth's princely doorstep before beating a hasty retreat and rejoining Charles, whereupon the pair would gallop home as fast as they could before they were missed.
But, as William Andrew crept towards Mr. Chaworth's front gates, the sound of the latter's barking dogs unnerved him, and he felt it prudent to look quickly for an alternative location on the estate in which to put his burden. Spotting a hay-barn, he ran over to it, and placed his son on top of some hay. To Charles’s anxious inquiry as his brother remounted his horse, William Andrew replied evasively that the child had been safely deposited, in the confident expectation that it would be found, and taken into the house, at daybreak.
The following afternoon, reports reached the village of Butterley that a baby boy had been found dead of exposure by some of Mr. Chaworth's farm labourers at the start of their morning's work.
William Andrew kept quiet on hearing the news, Anne Horne was instructed to keep her mouth likewise shut, but Charles, inevitably, put two and two together and realised that his older brother had been responsible, either by design or through taking insufficient precautions, for the death of his and Anne's son.
It was inevitable that some or all of the live-in servants at Butterley Hall had become privy to Anne Horne's pregnancy. At least one would surely have been in attendance when Anne gave birth, and even if none had been present, several would have seen the change in Anne's shape during her pregnancy. Accusatory rumours of unlawful paternity and worse were therefore soon whispered, and circulated, in the great house and in the village. But who was going to make an open allegation against the son and heir of the Squire of Butterley? Retribution would swiftly have followed; William Andrew, and the reputation of the entire Horne family, were safe.
William Andrew Horne's misdemeanours, sexual and otherwise, continued unchecked; eventually, both he and Charles married, while Edmund became a captain in the Royal Navy. While William Andrew's marriage (mercifully, perhaps) was to prove childless, Charles in time became a father – and a legitimate one – of a family of two daughters.
William Andrew owed his brother a huge debt of gratitude for keeping his secret. Unfortunately, the new squire seemed persuaded that his privileged position justified him in treating humanity with contempt. He had a sourness for his fellow man which today might indicate that he ticked many of the boxes of a psychopathic personality. The nearest target for that contempt and lack of empathy was his brother Charles. Finally, he angered Charles once too often and, partly as a result of that anger and partly through his deep misgivings about the events surrounding the death of the baby, Charles eventually reacted by revealing to his father his suspicions about his older brother's responsibility for the death.
Squire Horne remembered the incident well, as, no doubt, did all of Butterley. But whatever the old man's feelings on learning of his eldest son's responsibility for it, he feared above all else an open scandal, and he also had no desire to see William Andrew hanged for an event that had taken place years previously and had long been a fait accompli. He enjoined Charles not to open a can of worms by raising the matter outside the family. Charles, he insisted, must let it drop, and Charles had no option but to comply.
In 1747, twenty-three years after the incident on Mr. Chaworth's estate, old Squire Horne finally died aged one hundred and two, passing into history with a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest classical scholars in the country. William Andrew, with an equally-well-deserved reputation as a wealthy and high-born libertine and miser, became the new master of Butterley Hall. Charles Horne, denied the same economic and social privileges, inherited an inn just inside the estate walls and next to the main entrance-gates, at which he earned a living behind the bar – the son of a squire, but obliged to engage in trade, an occupation that excluded him from many of the activities of local society's upper echelons.
But the new Squire Horne failed to learn an important lesson, namely that if he were to continue to provoke Charles, then the latter might at any time abandon his promise to their late father and report William Andrew to the authorities. The new squire duly continued to take pleasure in publicly humiliating his brother, while his compulsive meanness prompted him to deny any help to Charles and his family when Charles hit hard times financially in the 1750s. When Charles Horne's young daughters approached their uncle for the gift of a little food, they were unceremoniously thrown out of the hall.
Finally, Charles could stand no more. Seething with rage at the latest instance of maltreatment, he travelled to Derby to keep a business appointment with a solicitor in that town, a Mr. Cooke. At the conclusion of the meeting, Charles finally spilled the beans to Cooke regarding the death of his brother's baby son, and asked the lawyer for his advice.
Cooke advised him to go straight to a Justice of the Peace and to expose his brother as an incestuous murderer.
Unbelievably, the JP chose to do nothing, and strongly advised an astonished Charles to do likewise. William Andrew, as Squire Horne, was a very powerful figure, practically immune from legal action; and it was, in any case, only Charles’s word against his brother's. The alleged crime had taken place nearly thirty years earlier, and where was the proof?
Even when, during a severe illness a year or so later, Charles thought he was dying and decided once again to unburden himself to another solicitor, no action was taken. Once Charles, contrary to his own expectations, had fully recovered, he was again advised to let the matter drop. He went back home finally accepting that William Andrew had got away with it.
But he had not.
Now his misanthropic treatment of his fellow-man intervened, and from that moment his downfall, long deferred, became inevitable.
He had picked a legal quarrel with a wealthy neighbour, one Mr. Roe, over shooting rights on their respective properties. Remembering the rumours that had circulated in Butterley many years previously, an angry Mr. Roe responded to the squire's boorish intransigence by publicly calling him “an incestuous old dog”. Had he known the squire's identity as the father of a dead baby, he might have added “Murderer” as a second accusation, but the allegation of incest was by itself too much for William Andrew. Furious at the slur, he commenced legal proceedings against Mr. Roe, prosecuting him for libel at Lichfield Ecclesiastical Court.
He won, and Roe was forced not only to publicly retract the allegation but to pay Horne's legal costs.
An angry Roe now wanted revenge. He made inquiries locally, and soon learned, most probably from the afore-mentioned solicitor Mr. Cooke in Derby, that Charles Horne had made an allegation, not only of incest, but also of murder, against William Andrew. He approached Charles, who not only confirmed it but also promised to support Roe if the latter took out a warrant for incest against the squire, although both men stopped short of bringing a charge of murder. Roe went straight to a magistrate and got his warrant.
Charles, however, had meanwhile got cold feet. Having at last succeeded, albeit indirectly, in pushing the authorities to take action against his brother, he found that he couldn't go through with it. If William Andrew didn't hang, he would assuredly receive a long prison sentence, and Charles didn't want either outcome on his conscience. It was too late now to stop a possible prosecution, so Charles instead asked his brother to come and see him, and offered him a get-out clause that would involve an enormous sacrifice on his, Charles's, part.
He announced that he was willing to leave Britain forever, taking his family with him, and to settle abroad in order to avoid having to give evidence against William Andrew. It was an extraordinarily generous offer, but it was tempered by Charles’s assertion that if he were to be approached by the authorities before his departure, then his conscience would not allow him to deny the truth of the incest allegation; and since the squire was rich, and he himself still badly-off, then Charles could only fulfil his offer if William Andrew gave him five pounds to help cover his travel costs.
But Squire Horne wasn't known as a miser for nothing. His pathological meanness blinded him to the obvious good sense, from his own point of view, of complying with what was clearly a very reasonable demand and a great personal sacrifice for his benefit alone. To Charles’s utter astonishment, and his despair, William Andrew refused to give him a single penny!
Charles had done his best, but had failed. The following day, in company with Mr. Roe, he was examined by a team of magistrates over the allegations against his brother, and he didn't hesitate to confirm those allegations; and this time, the two gentlemen told the magistrates that they wished to add murder to the indictment!
Again to Charles’s astonishment, however, the magistrates – just as others had done previously – refused to take matters further by arresting so powerful a figure as the Squire of Butterley. Charles and Roe walked out in despair, resolving to find a magistrate with a little more backbone.
They therefore approached a Justice of the Peace in Nottingham who, to their relief, responded by issuing a warrant for the arrest of William Andrew Horne on joint charges of incest and murder; and to banish any possibility of subsequent vacillation on the JP's part, a second magistrate, the locally-powerful Sir John Evry, based in Derbyshire, unhesitatingly added his own signature to the arrest-warrant. Now the legal ball was well and truly rolling – and in the direction of Squire Horne.
Horne now knew the game was up. He was seventy-three years old, and, though he couldn't run, he could hide. But where was his hiding-place?
He had some time previously left Butterley Hall for good – possibly to reduce his living-expenses and therefore part with less money – and he and his wife were now living in a large town house in Nottingham; it was here, at eight o'clock in the evening several days after the issue of the arrest-warrant, that Mr. Roe, accompanied by an Annesley constable and several local men, began their search.
They knocked on the front door, but got no answer. But if the squire were hiding in the house, it would be a simple matter for him to sneak out during the night and make his escape once his pursuers had gone home to their beds. The constable therefore asked Roe and one of the others to watch the house all night. The night-time hours passed slowly and uneventfully, and the following morning, by which time the constable had returned, the party rapped sternly on the front door again.
A few moments later, a servant announced through the locked door that her master had gone out in the early hours. This much, at least, the arrest party knew was not true. They demanded that she open the door immediately, or they would force it open. Reluctantly, she complied, the group marched in and the search began, with Mrs. Horne standing silent and poker-faced to one side.
Every room, every cupboard, was checked, but the search drew a blank; the arrest party eventually decided to give up the attempt, and resigned themselves to leaving empty-handed.
Mr. Roe, however, was not convinced. While the others waited, he resumed the search alone, and in one of the rooms he spotted a large trunk.
“What's in the trunk?” he demanded of Mrs. Horne.
“It's full of sheets and table linen,” was her instant reply.
Refusing to believe her, Roe kneeled down to force open the lid, whereupon Mrs. Horne dashed over and proceeded to unlock it to prevent any damage. The lid was lifted, and up popped William Andrew Horne, a look of resignation on his wizened face.
Even now he attempted to turn the tables on the original author of his arrest – his brother Charles. It was a knee-jerk reaction typical of a man who throughout his life had belittled and ill-used his brother.
“It's a sad thing to hang me,” he complained, “for my brother Charles is as bad as myself, and he cannot hang me without hanging himself!”
Ignoring Horne's accusation, the constable immediately placed him under arrest.
He was taken before Sir John Evry and his fellow-magistrate, and held on remand in Nottingham Jail to await his trial for murder. To save the reputation of Anne Horne, the charge of incest was quietly dropped. Not only would she avoid being publicly vilified for producing a bastard – and by her own brother – she would also escape a hanging.
Squire Horne's trial took place at the Nottingham Assizes before Lord Chief Baron Parker on 10th August 1759, and, like many, if not most, 18th-Century murder trials, was dealt with in a day. The chief prosecution witness was Charles Horne.
The murder – if murder it should prove to be – had taken place so many years earlier that there seemed little chance of a successful prosecution. But unfortunately for the prisoner, the farm labourers who had stumbled upon the body of the baby were still alive, and their evidence of finding the body confirmed Charles’s allegation that it had been knowingly left by William Andrew in an exposed place in cold weather on the fatal night. This alone was enough to satisfy the jury of his guilt. William Andrew was sentenced to death.
In typical fashion, he refused to acknowledge the seriousness of his crime as he sat in the condemned cell awaiting his date with the hangman. Unremorseful and unencumbered by guilt, he proffered the argument that since the events in question had happened so many years ago, he should never have been brought to trial for it! This spurious logic prompted him to write letters to influential acquaintances who, he mistakenly believed, could and would take steps to have him reprieved.
On 11th December 1759 – his seventy-fourth birthday – William Andrew Horne was hanged outside Nottingham Jail before a large crowd of onlookers.
Just as a prison sentence could be unbearable or comfortable according to the wealth of a prisoner, so the Eighteenth Century operated a similar hierarchy of comfort and style when it came to a condemned man's final journey to the gallows. A poor man would be made to travel in an open cart, his arms shackled behind his back, his person at the mercy of the insults, and the missiles, of a baying crowd.
A rich man, in contrast, acting as if he were making his way to a dinner party or a ball, could elect to make the journey in his own private coach – the macabre equivalent of first- and third-class rail travel in the next century. Squire Horne, needless to say, made his final journey in his coach, attired in all his finery, and with his coat of arms emblazoned on the doors of the vehicle. Jane Austen's Sir Walter Elliot would definitely have approved.
Should Squire Horne have been convicted of murder?
Ironically, it is unlikely that he set out to deliberately murder his baby son on the night of the child's death. In fact, he had placed the child on top of a haystack for the very reason that the heat generated from its centre would travel upwards to the surface and hopefully keep the child warm enough to survive the cold until the farm labourers came along. But it was hardly foolproof, and proved a tragic failure.
It was also typical of William Andrew's thoughtless treatment of his friends and acquaintances. Intent only on saving his own neck and possibly that of his sister, he gave no thought to the impact that the discovery of an abandoned baby would have on his friend Mr. Chaworth and his family.
Even if he had been acquitted of murder, however, it is likely that the magistrates, with or without the agreement of Charles Horne, would have reacted by bringing in a charge of incest against him, and that he would therefore have been sentenced to death anyway. He was just that unpopular.
Although it took thirty-five years for justice to finally catch up with Squire Horne, it seems clear that his misdemeanours were such that his name was inscribed on the gallows guest-list from early manhood. He had sown his wild oats indiscriminately – nothing terribly wrong with that, some might argue, but in the process he had ruined many lives and destroyed that of a baby son. There were few who mourned his passing. However, it was not his anti-social irresponsibility that finally brought him to book, but his other great defect, namely his obsessive meanness, when he made the scarcely credible decision not to take up his brother Charles’s offer to leave the country in return for a gift of a mere five pounds.
William Andrew Horne was the product of an over-privileged position which offered no constraints on his behaviour other than those that were feebly enforced by a respected but overindulgent father. He had never had to struggle or work for anything, and so whatever came his way lost value or interest for him very quickly. Hence servant girls finally had to be replaced by sisters as his choice of bed-partner. He had no moral fibre as an adult for the simple reason that he had never had to develop any in his childhood or youth. But there again, the same early privileges had been enjoyed by his two brothers, both of whom were estimable in their different ways.
In this respect, Horne resembles another spoiled squire, John Mytton of Halston Hall in Shropshire (which, like Butterley Hall, still stands), born in 1796 and known appropriately as “Mad Jack” Mytton.
Born, like Squire Horne, with a silver spoon in his mouth, Squire Mytton was able, through his privileged circumstances and lack of restraint or hardship, to indulge his human failings – in his case, gambling, drinking, squandering his enormous inheritance, and causing mayhem locally. Quickly bored, he sought ever greater excesses and diversions, as did William Andrew in sexual matters; and as with Squire Horne, it all eventually caught up with him – he was incarcerated in the King's Bench Prison in Southwark, London (which traditionally, but not exclusively, held debtors) for non-payment of his massive debts, and where he died in 1834 at the age of forty.
All that can be said in mitigation for Mad Jack is that, unlike William Andrew, he was affable, generous, and no murderer; and he didn't sleep with his sister. But he did keep a pet bear with which to frighten his dinner guests…
Having played so important a part in the story of his odious brother, Charles Horne lived to a ripe old age, just like their father. Inheriting the estate and title from the disgraced William Andrew after the latter's execution, he was succeeded on his own death by the husband of one of his soiled sisters, his life having been blighted – until his admission to Derby solicitor Mr. Cooke – by the terrible secret he had kept for thirty years.
As for the Horne brothers’ mutual friend Mr. Chaworth, the squire of Annesley, he was eventually succeeded by his son William, but the young man's story does not end happily. In January 1765, forty-one years after his father's estate became the scene of the lonely death of Anne Horne's baby son, Chaworth Jr. was enjoying a get-together with some fellow-sporting gentlemen in a private room at the Star and Garter Tavern in Pall Mall, London. The party included Lord George Byron, grandfather of the poet and a friend of Mr. Chaworth's, and whose estate, like Chaworth's, was in Nottinghamshire. His lordship was also William Chaworth's cousin.
Doubtless exacerbated by excessive brandy all round, a petty argument broke out between Byron and Chaworth regarding the relative amount of game to be found on their respective estates. Before long, the matter was dropped and the revelries continued.
As evening came, and the party broke up for each man to go his separate way, Byron and Chaworth happened to meet on the stairs. Lord George unwisely dragged up the matter of their game birds again, and the argument resumed. Chaworth ended it by retiring to a small room near the stairs, in order to get away from Byron. Moments later, an enraged and plainly drunk Byron burst in and demanded that Chaworth defend himself in a sword fight as the only ‘honourable’ way to resolve the issue.
Chaworth reluctantly took his sword out of its scabbard and brandished it, but he had not even got into his stride when Byron ran him through with such force that the blade emerged on the other side of Chaworth's torso. The squire of Annesley fell dead to the floor.
Lord George Byron was arrested and tried, not for murder but for manslaughter, on 16th and 17th April 1765 by a jury of his peers, as was the custom, which meant a trial in the House of Lords. Found guilty, he was sentenced to death, whereupon he immediately pleaded benefit of clergy, which required him merely to recite the first verse of Psalm 51. The thinking behind this was that a literate person might one day become a clergyman, and should therefore not be executed. This done, the judge was left with no option but to acquit Byron. A blameless man had been killed in consequence of a trivial argument, and his killer went unpunished because of a ludicrous legal stipulation.
Although no longer allowable in the Nineteenth Century as a way of avoiding execution, benefit of clergy remained on the Statute Book as a get-out clause for less serious offences until its abolition by Parliament in 1827. It continued in use, however, in America, which had inherited the principle from Britain, and was last pleaded (successfully!) in North Carolina in 1855.
Even had he wished to avail himself of the same statutory loophole, William Andrew Horne would have been unable, at his murder trial six years before the Byron incident, to get himself off the hook in the same manner, since murder, as opposed to manslaughter, had by then become one of the first crimes to be officially declared ‘non-clergyable'. Few among those who knew Squire Horne would have denied that that was fair justice.
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