Saturday, 31 March 2012


FELO DE SE;   THE ANCIENT ART OF PREVENTION.



    There are several ways that a body may raise after death and burial, one is if they had been murdered and are seeking revenge. Another is if they are a murderer and cannot rest, as if possessed by their evil deeds.
    Other ways of ensuring a restless demise would entail the practice of Witchcraft and of course committing suicide which was illegal under English law.

     “Felo De Se” literally means a “felon of himself” and was punishable by staking the unfortunate body in a grave dug at a crossroads. 
    There are many instances of this practice from all over the country, to qualify for a staking it had to be proved in court that the person was sane when they took their life, but why stake these bodies at all and why bury them at a crossroads?
 
    Some will argue that to stake a body speeds up the decomposition process this, however, seems a little odd because the fastest and least gruesome way of disposing of someone’s remains is by covering the body in quick lime (calcium oxide). 
    This highly caustic material will burn a corpse very quickly and it was used in the burial process particularly during the time of the Resurrectionists when the robbery of graves was a lucrative business. 
    A famous case of this was the burial of Dick Turpin at York. When robbers tried to steal his corpse it was retrieved, covered in quick lime and re-buried.
Body snatchers at work.

    I do not believe this practice was only to aid decomposition, the majority of cases in which there was a staking took place during the 17th to early 19th centuries. 
   This was the time of the Vampire epidemics in Europe. Even though here in Britain such fears were scorned by academics and the medical profession, but this was still a very religious time in Britain. 
    Unlike more modern times the reality of Heaven and Hell for the ordinary person was unquestioned and to kill oneself was a crime not just against the law of the land but also against God. So when it came to the Judgement day God would reject you and you would be damned to walk the Earth forever. 

    To stake someone to the ground would ensure that the remains could not walk and the reason this had to take place at a crossroads is two fold. One, the cross is a religious symbol and would contain the evil and two the spirit of the restless dead would be confused as to which direction to go.

    Of course this kind of treatment could not go on for long and in June and July 1823 amendments to the Felo de se law came before parliament spurred on by Lord Archibald Hamilton, Mr Brandling and Mr Knight. 
    The staking of corpses was immediately banned as was the custom of burying at crossroads, instead a discussion took place about handing suicides over to the Surgeons colleges for dissection, this was also abandoned.

      Finally it was decided that the corpse should be interred in a church yard, on the North side and only between the hours of 9pm and midnight, today there are no such restrictions.
    If the punishment of Felo de se worked and now the bodies of suicides can be buried without any preventive measure at all just how many undead and restless souls walk amongst us!

Cases of Felo de se.

    I suppose one of the most famous cases would be that of Maude Bowen in Gloucestershire, made more popular by the band Incubus Succubus on their “Wytches” CD, but here are a few other stories from the age of “Felo de se”;

    The first is set in Liverpool in 1680 when a farmer murdered his wife then drank her blood before killing himself, at the inquest the farmer was judged to be sane.
   His body was then buried face down at the crossroads of Rupert lane, Breck lane, Heyworth street and Everton road and a “huge” stake was driven through his heart, it is believed he is still there today.

    Betty’s ghost haunts Clack mill in Gloucestershire, in life her name was Betty Wilkins and in 1788 she was a servant to a miller. 
   On Tuesday 23rd September Betty died in agony, her stomach burned by arsenic, the inquest heard she had been pregnant but not by her husband who she had not seen for some time.
   The verdict was guilty of felo de se and she was buried at a near by crossroads with a stake through her heart, possibly at a site called Coffin Tyning. Other crossroads in this area have suspicious names such as Tucker’s grave and Webber’s grave.

    On the 14th August 1800 Charles Smith alias Jermiah Clay hanged himself in Giltspur compter in central London.
   He had been arrested for passing fraudulent cheques and had been concerned in illegal transactions in the lottery. 
   At the inquest many of Smiths friends and relations tried to influence the jury into believing him insane but to no avail. The inquest lasted until 9pm at which time the judge declared “the deceased should be buried at the crossroads at the head of the Old Bailey and a stake driven through the body”.
   As directed Charles Smith was staked and buried at the crossroads of Old Bailey, Hart row street, Giltspur street and Newgate street.

    And finally, the most famous case happened to able seaman John Williams who had served on the Dover Castle East Indiaman ship with a Mr Marr, in 1810 they both left the ship when it docked in London.
   Mr Marr opened a shop on the Radcliffe Highway during 1811 and he lived upstairs with his family, one night it was alleged that John Williams murdered Marr’s family and another family, seven people in all.





Williams was arrested but hanged himself before his trial. The inquest before J. Unwin esq returned a verdict of felo de se and so at midnight on 30th December 1811 John Williams body was processed by cart from Cold bath Fields to the crossroads of Cannon street and Cable street, pausing for a time outside Marr’s shop.


     At the crossroads in front of a huge crowd and 259 policemen Williams was thrown into a pit and a stake was driven through his heart, he was also covered in quick lime and buried. 

    Thomas de Quincey later wrote “and over him drives for ever the uproar of unresting London”. However, in 1911 the water board dug up this piece of road and disinterred Williams body, his bones went to an unknown destination but his arms went to the criminologist Professor Churton Collins.

    This article was very kindly published in “The Chronicles”, the magazine of the London Vampyre Group.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The English Impaler.

    John Tiptoft (1427-1470) was promoted to Earl of Worcester at the age of twenty-two on the death of his father in 1449. 
    He married Cicely Neville, the daughter of the immensely powerful Yorkist Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and the sister of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, the "Kingmaker", Cicely sadly died in 1450.

    Tiptoft was an extremely intelligent and cultured young man who had travelled to Rome and impressed Pope Pius II with his enthusiasm to learn. 
    He was well thought of at home too, as well as being created Lord Treasurer for the Lancastrian regime he was also Royal councillor between 1452 and 1454.

    After the first battle of St Albans in 1455 power shifted to the Yorkist party, being the former son-in-law of one of the most powerful Yorkist families in the land, he continued to work for the Yorkist protectorate becoming the Deputy for Ireland from 1456-1457.
   Between 1457 and 1459 Tiptoft travelled again to Italy and went on the Spring Voyage pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He then returned to Italy and studied at Padua, this delayed his return to England until 1461.

    The Wars of the Roses had been in full swing for two years by then and the Yorkists were now in complete control since the huge battle of Towton fought on Palm Sunday 1461.
    This battle saw the total defeat of King Henry VI and his Lancastrian supporters. The new Yorkist King Edward IV immediately placed Tiptoft back into his old roles and added Constable of England to his titles.

    During the 1460's he remarried, this time to Elizabeth Greyndour, but this did not last long and he eventually settled on Elizabeth Hopton.
   In his duties as Constable he presided over trials for treason and he was very zealous in implementing the punishment of "hanged, drawn and quartered". 
   For this he gained the nickname "The Butcher of England", but it was another form of punishment that would lead to his undoing.

    Tiptoft certainly had a cruel streak and enjoyed terrorizing his enemies. During his tenure as Constable of England he could not indulge his bloodthirsty fantasies as he was subject to the law and to what punishments the law advised. 
    But an event in 1469 gave Tiptoft the excuse he was waiting for, this was an attempted coup by Lancastrians and Yorkist traitors.

    The rebellion was orchestrated by Richard Neville (the Kingmaker) and the Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV's brother.     There were several battles at this time but the event in which Tiptoft was to become infamous happened in Southampton. Several ships were at Southampton waiting to take the rebels to France, however, King Edward's men got their first and a fight broke out.

    Clarence and Neville escaped but some of their men were captured and handed over to the tender mercies of John Tiptoft and here I quote from a chronicle from that time; 
   "and so twenty Gentlemen and Yeomen were hanged, drawn and quartered and then beheaded, after which they were hung up by their legs and a stake was sharpened at both ends.
   One end of the stake was pushed between their buttocks and their heads were stuck on the other. This angered the people of the land and forever afterwards the Earl of Worcester was greatly hated by them."


    In 1470 the Lancastrian King Henry VI was back on the throne and Tiptoft's luck ran out.
    He was arrested, charged with treason and with the murder of the Earl of Desmond's two sons, along with his over-zealous method of executing Neville's men the verdict was inevitable. 

    He was sentenced to death by beheading at 3 o'clock on the 7th October 1470 but his execution could not go ahead because so many people had gathered to see this hated man die.
   He was held in the Fleet prison over night and early the next day he was taken to Tower hill and executed.

    His body was then taken to Ely cathedral in Cambridgeshire where he lies to this day his effigy is flanked by two of his wives.


Saturday, 17 March 2012


THE CROGLIN VAMPIRE.

    The story of the Croglin Vampire is said to be true and the places mentioned in the story do certainly exist. The story was told by a Captain Fisher and published by Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (1834-1903) in his book “The Story of My Life” (London, 1900). 

   Croglin Grange (or low hall) belonged to the Fisher family and it is curious that this grand home was built only one story high, the Fisher’s out grew the Grange and moved to Thorncombe near Guildford.

    The Grange was rented to two brothers and a sister on a seven year lease, the new tenants were warmly accepted in the village of Croglin and even during the harsh Cumbrian winter they shared in all the social pleasures of the district.
Croglin Grange.

    The summer of 1876 was very hot, on one particularly hot day the brothers were lying around as their sister fanned herself on the veranda, it was just too hot to be active. 
    That evening they sat outside watching the moon bathe the lawn and the neighbouring grave yard in silvery light.

    On retiring to bed the sister locked her bedroom door and secured the window, but she did not close the shutters. As she lay in bed gazing out at the stars and moonlit garden she noticed two specks of light in the trees located between the Grange and the grave yard. As she looked the specks seemed to be getting closer, soon she could make out a figure coming closer and closer.

    The door was next to the window and in her terrified state she could neither move nor scream. The horrible figure then seemed to pass by her bedroom and taking this as a chance to escape she ran for the door. 
    Before she reached it she heard the creature scratch at the window, when she heard a pecking sound she realised to her horror the creature was removing the lead from the window pain. 
    When the glass fell in a bony arm reached in and opened the window…..as the Vampire bound in he grabbed her by the hair and threw her onto the bed, she was so scared she could not even cry out.
Croglin Vampire by Les Edwards.

    As the Vampire bit into her throat she found her voice at last, she screamed for all she was worth. The brothers rushed to her aid but the door was still locked.
    By the time they broke the door in the Vampire was gone and their sister was lying on the bed unconscious with a vicious wound in her throat.
    A doctor was called and the sister tried to relay what had happened, saying; “what has happened is most extraordinary and I am very much hurt. It seems inexplicable but of course there is an explanation and we must wait for it, it will turn out that a lunatic has escaped from some asylum and found his way here.”

    To get over the shock they all went on holiday to Switzerland, whilst there the sister grew in strength and was soon her old self and thoughts turned to going back to Croglin Grange.
    On their return the sister kept her old room but the brothers moved closer and kept loaded pistols ready.  
    The winter passed quietly but in the following March the sister was woken by a scratching on the window.
    This time she had closed the shutters but a pain of glass was visible at the top and at that pain was the Vampire with his glaring eyes.

    This time the sister did scream and the brothers ran outside with pistols drawn, as the Vampire ran towards the church yard one of the brothers fired his pistol and hit the creature in the leg.

    The next day the good people of Croglin opened the vault which was full of coffins that had been broken into and the bodies horribly mangled and distorted. 
    Only one coffin was undisturbed, opening it they discovered the same hideous creature that had attacked their sister. The mark of a recent pistol wound in it’s leg was proof enough to have the Vampire dragged out and burned………and so ends the legend of the Croglin Vampire.
   

    

Saturday, 10 March 2012


The Tale of WILLIAM WINTER.

    William Winter was born in the North East of England, his family were Gypsy’s and hardened criminals, both he, his father and his brother were in and out of prison for a variety of crimes.

     In 1784 William was sentenced to 7 years aboard the Thames prison hulks for stealing an ass and on the 6th August 1788 his father John and brother Robert were both hanged at Newcastle having been found guilty of breaking and entering.

Thames prison hulk
                                                       .

    Winter was released on 14th August 1791 and he quickly made his way back to the North East.
    In the last 18 years of Winters life he had spent only 6 months a free man. 
    On his return he fell in with two sisters by the name of Jane and Eleanor Clark, the Clark’s were an unfortunate family, their father Walter had been hanged along with a Margaret Dunn also on 14th August 1791 for breaking and entering.

    The Clark sister’s association with Winter was to be a short and brutal one. On the night of 29th August 1791 the trio found themselves at Raw Pele, a very old stone house a few miles north of the village of Elsdon in Northumberland. 
    The house belonged to Margaret Crozier and it is alleged that Winter had been watching her and noticed she had few visitors, on that rain swept windy night he knocked on the door and begged the old lady to give him shelter.

    As soon as he entered he attacked her, punching and kicking the poor old woman, causing a fracture of her right temple, it is alleged that her throat was cut but she was most likely strangled. 
    While this murder was taking place the Clark sisters were busy ransacking the house, stealing everything they could carry.

    Soon they were off into the night, however, they hadn’t got far by morning and they were seen by a local boy called Robert Hindmarsh. He recognised the objects they were carrying having belonged to Margaret Crozier and that Winters boots had an odd pattern of nails in the soul.

    Hindmarsh tipped off the authorities and Winter’s unusual boot marks were found in and around the house.  All three were arrested in Newcastle, they were held in Newcastle’s Newgate prison and condemned to death on the strength of Hindmarsh’s testimony. 
    On the 10th August 1792 William Winter, Jane Clark and Eleanor Clark were executed at Westgate, Newcastle.
 Newgate prison, Newcastle.


    The hangman was William Gardener another criminal who had been sentenced to death for sheep stealing but had his sentence reduced to transportation for agreeing to be the executioner.
    The Clark sister’s bodies were handed over to Surgeon’s Hall for dissection while Winters corpse was to be hung in chains on Whiskershield’s common (steng cross) a few miles south of Elsdon.


    Robert Hindmarsh fled the Elsdon area fearing reprisals from the Gypsy community. 
    He returned in 1803 and died aged just 22. 
    Margaret Crozier’s house was never lived in again and it became a farm storage building.

    The gibbet we see today was erected in 1867 when the original had decayed and vanished, its wood was said to cure toothache when rubbed on the offending tooth!
     It is a lonely and bleak place even today, on the approach road Winters gibbet can be seen from a long way off with it’s grotesque wooden head dangling from it….a haunting and chilling reminder of days gone by.
    The song "The Ballad of William Winter" can be found on the album "Tales from the Jago" by Gladstone, available on download here; Tales from the Jago.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


Bram Stoker and Sir Henry Irving in Northampton

    On Thursday 28th January 1903 Sir Henry Irving and his company of actors arrived in Northampton for a three day visit, they had travelled by special train from Euston and were courteously received by the station master.
    As Sir Henry walked down the platform other passengers bowed and a crowd gathered as He and Bram Stoker bordered a Brougham in the station yard and were driven to the George hotel in central Northampton (now the Lloyds TSB building).

    There was no grand ceremonial welcome as they had arrived much earlier than expected this was due to doubts as to whether the stage at the Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house was big enough to accommodate the production, so both Irving and Stoker went to the theatre to ensure everything was in order.

The George Hotel.

    The official welcome took place the following afternoon at 3.30 in the Council chamber and was attended by the ex-mayor Mr F.G Adnitt and ex-mayoress Mrs G.Adnitt (as the Mayor was unavoidably absent) and many other dignitaries including Mr Henry Martin J.P who presented Sir Henry Irving with a mulberry walking stick the wood of which was cut from a tree planted in Abington park by the famous actor David Garrick 130 years previously.
    This act of kindness was his way of saying thank you for an earlier meeting when, back in 1893, Mr Martin and a few other Northampton gentlemen had seen "Becket" at the Lyceum and Sir Henry had invited them to an after show supper on the stage. He then arranged carriages to take them to Euston in time for the midnight train.
    During the reception Irving was asked to plant a sapling by the side of David Garrick's tree but due to his tight schedule he declined this time, but expressed his willingness to come back and comply with their request (sadly he died before he could fulfil this honour).

    Irving's first performance at the Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house was "Louis XI" and he played to a packed house.
    According to a review from a local news paper when Irving made his first appearance quarter of an hour into the play the audience broke into "enthusiastic cheers and it was some time before Sir Henry Irving could proceed with the play", which, of course, was a great success.
The Bells.

   On the Saturday afternoon Irving was again on stage this time as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" for which he got "long and sustained applause" and he was joined on stage with his son Mr Lawrence Irving who played Bassanio (who received a standing ovation) and Miss Mable Hackney who played Portia.
     This performance began at 2.00pm but a queue had formed along Guildhall road as early as 10.00am, the theatre was so packed Gentlemen had to accept seats in the Gods!

 Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house


    That evening Northampton was treated to performances of "Waterloo" and "The Bells", again to a packed and enthusiastic house.
    At the end of "The Bells" Sir Henry Irving addressed the audience, as a local news paper reported;
   "he briefly expressed his oft-repeated assurances of his deep gratitude for the kindness shown to him during his brief stay in Northampton, both at the theatre and at the civic reception at the town hall, he also intimated that he would certainly return to Northampton at the first convenient opportunity".

    A large crowd gathered outside the George hotel and at Castle station where Sir Henry, his son Lawrence and Bram Stoker waved to the crowds many of whom lifted their hats and cheered.     Just after 12.00 noon on Sunday 1st February Sir Henry Irving and his company left Northampton by special train bound for Portsmouth.

    However, as they steamed south between Willesden and Kensington a tube in the trains boiler burst spraying water onto the fire. As the water flashed to steam the fireman was injured and the driver (Mr J. Blake) was badly scalded on his face, at that point the train came to a sudden stop.
    Always aware of the importance of deadlines Bram Stoker jumped from the train to find out what had happened. According to the news paper report "gave the railway officials a lively time in hurrying up a fresh engine and assured the ladies of the company that there was nothing to fear". A message was sent from Portsmouth later that night to say they had arrived safely, but late.

    The Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house opened in 1884 and nearly burned down in 1887. The building saw many of the leading Victorian actors including Miss Ellen Terry, it was re-named The Repertory theatre in 1927 and in 1933 Errol Flynn was a member of it's company for seven months.
    On it's 30th anniversary of being The Repertory theatre in 1957 Mr Lawrence Irving returned and presented the mulberry walking stick which had been presented to his Grandfather back in 1903, it can now be seen in the foyer of the theatre which is now known as the Royal theatre and opera house once more.

Interestingly in the shoe museum opposite the theatre there is a shoe on display which was part of the Mephistopheles costume worn by Irving in Faust which was an inspiration for the character of Stoker’s Dracula.

Friday, 2 March 2012


 Bram and the Ripper‏.


    The Whitechapel murders of 1888 sent shock waves around the country, but what effect did these events have on the mind of Bram Stoker and did Jack the Ripper have an influence on the novel Dracula?


    First we must examine Stoker’s knowledge of the murders up to the publication date of Dracula in 1897, obviously he would have read the newspapers of the time in all their lurid detail. 
    But of those involved in the case Stoker met Dr Forbes Winslow at the Cab Drivers benevolent fund dinner on 17thJune1895. 

    Winslow, like his father before him, was a doctor of lunacy and he went on to become an alienist (a doctor who assesses the mental state of witnesses in criminal trials). 
    Winslow joined his father at his practice in a large asylum and by the 1880’s he had gained many qualifications in both medicine and law and was quite outspoken in his opinions concerning sanity and legal responsibilities.
Dr Forbes Winslow

    In 1889 Winslow was approached by a Mr Callaghan who told him of a suspicious lodger who had resided with him and his wife at 27, Sun Street, Finsbury Square  during the time of the murders. 
    The suspects name was G. Wentworth Bell Smith. Mr Callaghan told Winslow that Smith had a religious mania and was obsessed with prostitutes. 
    After the murders Smith was thought to have fled to Canada but during 1889 he was seen back in London and Callaghan went to the police, but Inspector F. Abberline could later find no record of this report. 
A still from the film The Lodger

    Feeling let down by the police Callaghan then went to Winslow and told him the whole story. Soon letters began appearing in the press from Winslow declaring that he knew the identity of the killer and with a little help he would catch the Ripper.
    Winslow was interviewed by Chief Inspector Swanson and the story was investigated but soon dropped, and no further action was taken. 
    But Winslow would tell anyone who would listen that he knew who the Ripper was and that his investigations had caused the man to flee the country. With Dr Forbes Winslow’s back ground in the field of sanity and his stories of pursuing Jack the Ripper through London could Bram Stoker have used him as a template for Dr Jack Seward?

    Our next character with a story to tell is Thomas Henry Hall Caine who met Bram Stoker on 30thDecember 1878 at the opening night of Henry Irving’s management of the Lyceum. 
    Hall Caine was born in Runcorn, Cheshire but his family were from the Isle of Man, a place Hall Caine would see as home and he would write several books with Manx themes. 
Hall Caine
Hall Caine married his wife Mary in 1886 and they had a son, Ralph, his family lived in Keswick but Hall Caine had a flat in Victoria Street, London.
     As he was always worried about his health Hall Caine would sometimes come into contact with doctors of dubious character, one such doctor was Francis Tumblety with whom Hall Caine had an affair.
    Later during that autumn of terror Tumblety was arrested for being caught in an “act of gross indecency” with a man, he was put on bail for £300 (£24,000 today) but he fled the country on 20thNovember 1888. 
    He was suspected of being Jack the Ripper by Scotland yard and when Tumblety arrived in New York he was put under surveillance, but as there was no proof he could not be extradited.
Francis Tumblety
    If Hall Caine knew anything he certainly did not “go public” with his story as his double life would have impacted on his family not to mention his liberty. 
    But did he tell Stoker his suspicions, as one good tale deserves another is this the reason Stoker dedicated Dracula to his “dear friend Hommy-beg”.
    The fact that the Whitechapel murders were an influence can be seen in Stoker’s introduction to the Icelandic edition of Dracula in 1901, he writes;
     “This series of crimes has not yet passed from the memory, a series of crimes which appear to have originated from the same source and which at the time created as much repugnance in people everywhere as the notorious murders of Jack the Ripper”. 
    Tying in fact and fiction had happened before when, during August 1888, the Lyceum was staging the play “The strange case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde” by R. L Stevenson and starring the American actor Richard Mansfield.
Richard Mansfield

    Many people thought there was enough real horror in the east end already and so the play was cancelled. 
    We see in the book that Dracula chooses 197 Chicksand Street, Spitalfields, Whitechapel as one of his hide-a-ways, in reality this street is very short only going to number 67, but it places Dracula directly in the vicinity of what is now known as "Ripper country".
Chicksand Street today.
    After Dracula was published  Chief Constable Sir Melville Macnaghten, who had taken over Scotland yard and the Ripper case in 1889, wrote to Bram Stoker saying that he had “revelled” in the book, he was particularly interested in Mina being forced to drink Dracula’s blood!
    Of course all that is published about Jack the Ripper is pure speculation and conspiracy theory at best and one theory actually ties in both Sir Henry Irving and Bram Stoker. 
    This theory relies on the findings of “Ripperologist” Stephen Knight who postulates that Prince Albert Victor married the Roman Catholic Annie Crook and had a child, which was and is still illegal.
    This child was secretly brought up by artist Walter Sickert while Crook is thrown into an asylum and Prince Albert is whisked away to Scotland
    Crook’s prostitute friends find out the truth and plan to blackmail the establishment, to silence this threat the Prince’s Masonic order, the Royal Alfa Lodge, decide to kill off the luckless ladies and so Jack the Ripper was born, with me so far!
    Master Mason at the Royal Alfa Lodge in 1890 was allegedly Sir Henry Irving and as master he would have known about and condoned the killings. 
Henry Irving and Bram Stoker

    Another member was Bram Stoker who was sickened by the murders and so from then onwards their friendship cooled dramatically. 
    It has even been suggested that in Dracula when Harker is waiting outside the castle doors it is described as the “darkness” then after meeting Dracula he is shown into a “windowless room” and then he moves into the light. 
    This, it is said, reflects Masonic ritual with Irving as Dracula who by the end of the book is responsible for five female victims, just like the Ripper! Or so they say............................................