Home Crime Murder The Wombwell Tragedy – Trial of Hazlehurst – Wombwell’s Wild Beasts.

The Wombwell Tragedy – Trial of Hazlehurst – Wombwell’s Wild Beasts.

May 1887

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday 09 May 1887

The Wombwell Tragedy.

Trial of Hazlehurst.

Wombwell’s Wild Beasts.

A Present from The Bench.

In the Crown Court Leeds Town Hall on Saturday, before Mr. Justice Grantham, Isaac Hazlehurst (43), a collier, living at Wombwell, indicted for the wilful murder his wife, Mary Ann at the place  named on the 20th of March last.

Mr. West and Mr. G. Hardy were retained for the prosecution, and Mr. and Mr. Bairstow defended the prisoner.

The Court, which was crowded at early hour, was speedily cleared of women, who had assembled in large numbers, no doubt in the hope of hearing the revolting details of one of the most digusting cases ever brought before a court in this county, if not in the kingdom.

Hazlehurst, on being placed in the dock, gave the impression that he had gone a world of suffering during the two months he had been incarcerated. He sobbed bitterly from the moment he entered the dock till the conclusion of the trial, which lasted nearly six hours. In tones broken with emotion he pleaded not guilty to the terrible charge about to investigated.

Very impressively Mr. West, the leading counsel for the prosecution, opened his cane and disclosed the horrible details which led the execution of the crime, not sparing even his own witnesses from the righteous denunciation their conduct deserved. Witness after witness was then called, who, with no trace of mantling his countenance, spoke to his participation in one the grossest outrages ever committed. During the recapitulation of the horrible evidence not only the learned Judge but the counsel engaged on either side commented in the severest terms on the conduct of some of the witnesses whose revelations caused little sensation among the throng of spectators. The conduct of these men was justifiably likened to that of wild beasts. The evidence as to six gallons of beer being drunk in the prisoner’s house on the afternoon of the day on which the crime was perpetrated, elicited the fact that the drink bad been supplied after hours, and that after the drunken carouse at Hazlehurst’s house some of the more prominent witnesses in the case were provided with liquor two her public-houses in the district, called forth indignation of the Judge, who expressed the hope that the licensing authorities would take notice of the breach of the Licensing Act committed by the landlords.

The men who stood calmly by and heard the cries of the prisoner’s wife whilst Hazlehurst was visiting vengeance her was the subject of the severest strictures from the Judge, who said barbarians would not have acted as they did. The evidence, Mr. West urged the strength of his case, after which Mr. Mellor addressed the jury for the defence in a passionate and eloquent appeal.

Then followed the Judge’s summing up, which, in the opinion many, seemed to incline to the theory manslaughter rather than to the view the capital charge having been substantiated. The only fitting punishment for the “wild beasts,” his lordship described the witnesses already referred to, was to restore the pillory, place them in it, and let them pelted with stones and every filth “equal their character.”

Twenty-five minutes the jury deliberated the question what their verdict should be, and then returned with one reducing the crime to that of manslaughter, expressing the opinion that the time Hazlehurst did his wife to death reason had not resumed her sway over in. They asked also that mercy might extended to the wretched culprit who, with bowed head, stood before the court, his frame shaking with convulsive sobs. His Lordship expressed his acquiescence the verdict the jury, and, having regard to the jury’s appeal for mercy, sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, the decision causing some slight applause in court.

But the proceedings had by no means ended with the sentencing of Hazlehurst, for the judge, turning to one of the officials, ordered the attendance of Samuel Guest, one of the witnesses, a miner, who, dressed in his best for the occasion, wore in his button-hole a simple flower, which had attracted the notice of the learned judge. With the reappearance of Guest in the witness box came the performance of an act as graceful as it is rare in the annals of a criminal court. His Lordship explained to the witness that had felt it his duty to condemn the conduct of many who had stood in that box during the day, but from the category witnesses so denounced he had to exclude him. He was glad to think that the prisoner did not find his pleasures in drink, but that which had a most civilising influence on people —flowers. He had noticed the simple flower Guest wore in his coat, and he now handed the surprised man a beautiful bouquet of flowers which had adorned his Lordship’s table since the morning. Guest expressed his thanks to the learned judge, and the smile of satisfaction which illuminated his features seemed to find its way to the countenances all in court, the spectators showing the liveliest interest in this part of the proceedings.

Thus, in an unexpected manner, was brought to a termination a story of drink and crime revealed in a court, which has, perhaps, previously had no parallel.

Mr. West, in his opening statement, said that painful all cases involving the issue of life and death were, this case was perhaps more painful than any ever known in a court of justice, by reason first of the juries inflicted on the deceased woman, and still more for some abominable revolting circumstances it was they would have to hear behalf the Crown, and to what led up to the act, and which might suggest the defence to be advanced. While avoiding details in explaining the circumstances, he should omit to call no witness who would tell either for or against the prisoner, and would leave to his granite friend, my cross-examination, to get out the details what a must foresee would be the main topic urged for the defence. The prisoner and his wife lived at a colliery village called Wombwell, near  Barnsley. They had been married some twelve or 13 years, and had passed an unhappy married life. He feared the deceased woman was drunkard, and was unfaithful to her husband. Evidence would come out that she had left him time after time to live with other men; and whether from affection or kindness towards her, prisoner had time after time taken her back again. Coming to the crime, he said that what had to relate seemed almost incredible. The Hazlehurst’s lived just opposite the Junction Inn, Wombwell, in a cottage of the ordinary collier class, consisting only of living room, and a bedroom above, reached by an enclosed staircase. On Sunday afternoon, March 20th, a lot of colliers met at the Junction lnn with reference to some handicap, and remained until half-past two, the time tor closing, Hazlehurst, he believed, being also present part the time. At closing time, seeing Hazlehurst at his door, some of the men asked if would allow them take some beer into the house to drink. He consented, overruling the objections of the deceased woman by saying was master. Ten or twelve men went into the house, taking with them two gallons of beer, which was succeeded by two other lots of two gallons each. Prisoner and his wife joined in the drinking, and all became more or less under the influence of drink. At this time there was some wresting between the woman and a man named Sam Leather, but nothing improper occurred. The woman became more affected by drink, and Hazlehurst ordered her upstairs to bed.

The learned counsel then related how, while prisoner’s attention was diverted by others, a number the men went up the bedroom, and what there happened until prisoner, becoming suspicious, went upstairs, and ordered the men down, and out of the house. Two men named Hyde and Leather were the last go, and they said to prisoner, “Don’t hurt her,” and he replied that would not. Angry words between prisoner and deceased seemed to have followed their leaving; then prisoner went out, and had some conversation with a man named Guest, who was not one of the gang, who would say that prisoner spoke somewhat collectedly what had happened, and what he should do. That evidence would supported by a woman named Sarah Rhodes, who saw the interview between prisoner and Guess and saw the former return his house. Deceased was then standing at her doorpost in a state of heavy drink, and she persuaded prisoner to return the house.

The evidence of Hyde would be corroborated a new and independent witness named Bowler, whose evidence had only come to the knowledge of the prosecution yesterday; and two or three men would be called who heard and partly saw the prisoner , commit the acts of violence on his wife. Prisoner and his wife had a furious altercation in the foulest language; he threatened to murder her, and for fifteen or twenty minutes committed a wild and brutal assault upon her.

He (Mr. West) did not understand the character of the people WombwelL who could see the kicks given, and hear the piteous cries of “Murder ” from the woman, without breaking open the door and interfering. Nothing more was known positively until between two and three o’clock in the morning, when prisoner went to his brother’s house, about a quarter a mile sway, at a time when there was snow upon the ground, and broke in with the admission that had killed his Mary Ann.

The prisoner’s account was that seeing misconduct between his wife and Sam Leather aroused the angry passion in which he killed the deceased. The medical evidence would show that there were nine severe wounds the woman’s head, one over the right ear being sufficient probably to account for death; the chest was bruised to the consistency of sponge; two ribs on either side were broken, one penetrating the lungs, while there were 16 cuts and kicks on the lower part of the body. These injuries could by no possibility because by a fall downstairs, such as had been suggested by the magistrates. A graver part of the story for their jury to consider was what was really the character of the crime with which he was charged? Did it come absolutely to murder, were their circumstances which so provoked the wronged husband is in his rage to make him beside himself? That might, of course, entirely depend upon the circumstances – the length of time that elapsed, the fact of the nature of the death, that the woman was kicked piecemeal from life to eternity, whether he had had time to let his passion cool and his reason return, so that he could tell right from wrong. He was more or less in drink, but that was no excuse. The question was how far a man’s natural vehemence and rage excused the fact, or lessened it from murder to any less fearful charge. He had talked with Leather, and gone out and talk with Guest, It must have been after seven before the first kick was given.

Gordon Wraith, the father of the deceased, residing at Wombwell, said his daughter was married to the prisoner 15 years ago and when he saw her last she was in a healthy condition.

John Robinson, surveyor, Wotnbwell, described the house which was occupied by the prisoner and deceased. The place was opposite the Junction Inn.

John Hyde, a trammer, living at Wombwell, said he was at the Junction Inn on the 20th March, shortly after one o’clock. There were 12 or 14 men present. The prisoner was not there in his company. At closing time he and about 12 other men left. He saw Hazlehurst at his own door. Some man asked him whether he could take some beer into his (Hazlehurst’s) house, and the prisoner acquiesced. Mrs. Hazlehurst said she was not going have them there. Prisoner said he was the master, and they could in, and they went. There would about a dozen. The landlady of the Junction Road some drink in. Prisoner and his wife both had some. Six gallons of drink were brought in during the afternoon —about half a gallon for each.  The house was full of men, and there was room for all sit down. Leather and the deceased wrestled. Prisoner told Mrs. Hazlehurst to bed; she was intoxicated. After the woman bad gone upstairs he went upstairs. It would be a quarter hour after she had gone. He found four or five men upstairs. He witnessed acts, of adultery, and then went downstairs again. He saw Dobson and Greaves come down. He saw the prisoner go upstairs. Before he went up be said there was something wrong upstairs, and witness followed him half-way up the staircase. Prisoner brought his wife, who was still “beerified” part of the way down stairs, and she sat down, and he left her. Prisoner told the men to leave the house, and nearly all of them went. Witness and Leather remained and asked prisoner whether they could wash their faces, and he allowed them to do so. When they left the House they went to the Junction Inn, and the landlord refused to serve them.

Cross-examined by Mr. Mellor: They all had had plenty of drink. He did not remonstrate when saw the conduct of the men upstairs. When he came downstairs he told some of the men what he had seen. After being refused drink at the Junction Inn they went to the Guide Post and the Anglers’ Rest house.

Sam Leather, trammer, High street, Wombwell,’ gave similar evidence to the last witness. The prisoner’ encouraged the deceased to wrestle with him (witness). He succeeded in putting her down twice. At that time she would not be “fresh.” Afterwards she did get “fresh.” Prisoner was the worse for drink. He went upstairs after the prisoner sent his wife to the’ bedroom. Witness admitted the woman’s infidelity, and said seven or eight men went upstairs during the afternoon. The deceased was drunk during the afternoon. He saw the prisoner go upstairs, and followed him to see what he was going to at her. They said to the prisoner, ” Don’t hit her, Charley.” said he said he was not going to so. They were refused drink when they went to the Junction Inn in the evening.

Mr. West: I am rather afraid that not your favour.

His Lordship said it was very much favour of the landlord of the inn, because it was really scandalous the way in which landlords of public-houses gave men beer when they knew they had had too much. The landlords of the Guide Post and the Anglers’ Rest ought be ashamed themselves; both of them were a scandal to their trade. He hoped the licensing authorities would take notice of the next licensing meeting. If men this kind had their licenses taken away regularly directly they were found serving half the crime in the country would be stopped. ” They ought,” added the Judge, to be put in the dock themselves.”

Cross-examined by Mr. Mellor, the witness said did not remember offering to take the prisoner across to the Junction and stand him a drink.

On being re-examined Mr. West, Mr. Mellor objected that the learned counsel was treating Leather a hostile witness, and be was not entitled to be so treated.

His Lordship: I do not think it signifies much how you examine a man who is not worthy the name of a man. As a wild beast would be better way examine him.

William Bowler, boot riveter, Barnsley, gave similar testimony to the last witness, but added that prisoner said he should throw his wife into the street after what she had done. Leather told him be must not do anything the kind, and said prisoner and his wife would be “good pals “in the morning. Leather then offered treat the prisoner whisky.

Cross-examined: The prisoner was very excited, and called his wife bad names.

John Guest, collier, Wombwell spoke to having conversation with the prisoner the Sunday night in question. Hazlehurst asked him he had ever known him (prisoner) do anything wrong, and witness replied in the negative. Prisoner told him what condition he had found his wife in during the afternoon, and cried. Although the worse tor drink he talked sensibly.

In reply Mr. Mellor the witness said he had known the prisoner 17 years, and was a harmless, quiet man. Prisoner and his wife bad not lived very happily together. Prisoner’s wife left him times, and he had taken her back. Two or three years ago prisoner joined the Salvation Army, and he took his wife back and see joined the Army. She left him again, and she had been back only seven months before her death.

Sarah Rhodes, wife of George Rhodes, collier, Wombwell, said she saw prisoner talking to Guest. Mrs. his eyes ran out and collared him by the neck. Prisoner was ” fresh;” his wife cursed him and told him to go in. He bade her go in and then took her by the waist and put her in the house. They went in, and the door was locked. She heard the deceased scream, and heard the noise of scuffling taking place in the house.

George Henry Smith, miner, Wombwell, said that about ten minutes to seven he heard prisoner abusing his wife in the street, and saw him strike her three times in the face. He then got hold her by the neck and pushed her into the house.

Cross-examined: .The blows prisoner struck were not violent.

George Finney, collier, said he passed prisoner’s door about five minutes to seven, he saw prisoner on the doorstep, and the deceased lying on the floor. She said, ” I’ve done nothing wrong.” Prisoner replied. “Tha’s done nowt reight.” Subsequently he heard he sees say, in a low voice, “Oh, murder,” and prisoner responded, “I’ll gie thee murder,” after which heard sounds, which he took to be  kicking, six seven times.

Mr. Mellor: You thought was none of your business if woman was being kicked to death.

Witness: if there had been anybody there besides myself I should have gone in, but there was nobody but three women.

His Lordship: You were afraid to in?—l did not like to go in.

Mr. Mellor: You thought the women should go in, perhaps.

His Lordship: You were afraid to go in, and you would rather let the woman be murdered than in.

Witness: I did not think was coming to that. Someone said there was nothing fresh; they were always quarrelling.

His Lordship: You heard six or seven kicks; yet you were such an arrant coward that you dare not go in. You are a disgrace to the country.

Samuel Unwin Round, tailor, Wombwell, gave similar evidence. Mr. West: How long did you hear these blows? About a quarter of hour. Prisoner left her from time to time walking across the room in a temper, and then abusing and striking her again. He knocked off when I left.

His Lordship: .You waited all the time this brutal scene was going on, and when there was no more to interest you you went away.

Mr. West: You, a strong man, why didn’t you break the door and stop this scene.

Witness: I should have done, sir, if the wife had shouted murder. It was suggested we should make the door fly.

Mr. West: Then there were some other person?

Witness: There were six in the street. (Sensation.)

His Lordship listening this. Who suggested that you should make the door fly?

Witness: I said I thought we should do wrong your Lordship unless she shouted “murder.” Then I thought we should have authority to do so.

Mr. Mellor: When the kicking ceased you had no curiosity to know whether the poor woman was dead or not?—No, sir. I thought there was someone else in the house, because heard the prisoner say, Has she been a wife to me?”

Mr. West : I shall not examine the witness.

His Lordship: The sooner the Court ‘s saved from presence these inhuman creatures the better. That great hulking fellows like that should stand by while all this was going on passes all comprehension.

William His eyes, brother of the prisoner, said on the morning of the 21st March be was called and went his brother’s house. He found there the prisoner, who said, “This is a rum job, ain’t it?” He asked prisoner how it occurred, and his brother replied, “I don’t know. I really can’t tell. I can’t remember anything after I pulled a man off the bed.” He further said that he woke up in bed and found his wife was not there, that he called out Mary Ann,” and that as she did not answer he went downstairs and found her dead the floor.

By Mr. Mellor: When went see the deceased prisoner fell on his knees and embraced her, saying, “Poor Poll, lass, it’s come to summat na’. I ne’er thought it would come this.”

Police sergeant J. Williams said when went to Hazlehurst’s house prisoner pointed to deceased, who was lying the floor, saying, “She is there.” The woman was quite dead. He found several marks of blood on the lower floor, and on some of the steps leading to the bedroom. The bedstead was broken down on one side. On the way to the police station prisoner said, “I remember throwing her downstairs and afterwards kicking her. She threatened me to do it, and I was in drink at the time.”

Elizabeth Tyler, a neighbour, said that about half- past one on the morning the 21st March she was called up by the prisoner who said, “ Get up, my wife’s dead on the floor.” She replied that if he had killed her be had better fetch a policeman. He then called out, “Oh God, do come. What shall I do?” He was crying bitterly.

Dr. J. N. Millar, surgeon, Wombwell, gave evidence bearing out the opening statement the learned counsel for the prosecution. The injuries, he said, were sufficient to cause death. The edge of step might have produced the injuries to the rooms by a great fall, but a fall from the top to the bottom of the stairs in prisoner’s cottage would not, in his opinion, be sufficient.

By Mr. Mellor: Concussion of the brain cause death.

This closed the case for the prosecution, and in reviewing the evidence he had adduced Mr. West denounced the conduct of the men who had heard the woman shriek and had made no to effort stop the brutality that was going in the prisoner’s cottage. He contended that the evidence showed that sufficient time had elapsed for the prisoner’s temper to cool down before he committed the crime with which was charged. The character of Wombwell seemed to him for drunkenness, vice, and cowardice as bad as bad could be— they were beasts almost. But even the life of these people should be protected as there was law. A wild beast at any rate did not kick his own mate death. He would rather the punishment had fallen on the twelve ruffian who went to his Hazlehurst’s house than on prisoner’s poor wife. Concluding, the learned counsel said he trusted they might not hear the  like of that case again.

Mr. Mellor then, in an eloquent and forcible speech, addressed the jury for the defence, and ex- pressed toe hope that the infamy of the men who had given evidence in the case would cling to them as long as they lived. He could not tell what motives had influenced such brutes and cowards as those who had been in the witness-box that day. Proceeding, he argued that at the time the prisoner committed the act for which was being tried he was entirely irresponsible for what he did.

In support of his argument he pointed out that it was not till the man found his wife dead on the floor that he became sobered, and he described the agony betrayed by the prisoner on realising what had happened as a proof that previously he had not been in his right senses. The jury, he said, might search fiction, and they would not find so appalling a tragedy as the one they were investigating. He suggested that the woman, becoming half sobered sooner during the night, and finding her husband beside her had decided, that he might have thought he would renew his attack upon, and been afraid, and attempted to make away from the room, and falling downstairs, had fractured her skull and her ribs. The jury must remember that the prisoner at the time he has assailed his wife was not suffering under provocation of one day but the provocation of 15 years and that the proceedings of that day at culminated in outrage that no language will be found to describe, which the heart of man will understand and appreciate.


His Lordship, in summing up, said that was a case of very great importance not only, of course, to the jury who had to try the case, and on whose verdict the fate of the present defendant, but also of enormous importance to all those who either had heard the sad tale which had unfolded that day I might read the sad record of that trial. He certainly brought to light a state of existence amongst people which he thought few even of those who were accustomed to deal with people living in those districts must hardly be aware of and must be appalling to those who are not been ardent to similar circumstances.

His Lordship severely commented on the conduct of the men who went to prisoner’s house and upon the cowardice displayed by some of the witnesses who heard the blows given by Hazlehurst, adding that the door ought to be broken open even if barred with bars of iron. He seen almost incredible that the affair should have happened without efforts being made to prevent it. It would have been prevented if the witnesses had only acted in a manner worthy of the name of man or woman in this country. He should think they might search in vain the record of this or any other country or of any State where there was no civilisation at all to find an equal to that which had been disclosed to them that day. He believed that even in countries inhabited by barbarians men would not have been found to act as these men had acted to the poor woman of those unhappy countries who not living either even in a state of matrimony as we were accustomed to hear, still lived under the protection and the care of their lords, as they were called, and masters.

The administration of the law of past times have been vastly improved in the present day, but the only way to treat such men as they had before them would be to restore the old pillory and let them be stoned or thrown at with every filth, which would only be equal to their character.

There was only one punishment for such brutes and beasts as they had there. The learned judge then remarked that it was for the jury to consider whether at the time the man’s mind was more or less weakened either through from the influence of drink from the wretched life he had lived for 15 years, adding that they saw the state the prisoner was in that day. It might have been brought on the fearful position he stood in now – his life hanging as it were between life and death. He had cried constantly in speaking of her and of himself, and that he (the learned Judge) thought betokened a weakened intellect.

The smoke of the great collieries in those these district had its blighting influences over vegetation, and it might have the same effect on the minds of men; often it seemed to stump the civilisation if not the intellect of those who lived there. That seemed to be the characteristic of the men they had had there that day; their only pleasure seemed to be in drink. Until some other means were found, either by our clergy are some other influences to effect these men, he was afraid it was almost hopeless to effect improvement. These unhappy people are left to themselves, and not mixed up, as in other portion of England where all classes were mixed together. Drink was the beginning of this case, as it had been the beginning and end of so many crimes. Where the drink came from that afternoon he did not know, but he suppose it was supplied by the publicans after hours.

Mr Mellor said the landlord had been fined for supplying drink during prohibited hours.

His Lordship: I am glad to find one they have opened this hopeless case. Continuing, the learned judge described Leather as the arch find amongst the fiends, remarking that it was fortunate for him that the prisoner did not wreak vengeance on him instead of the deceased, for in protecting the honour of himself and his wife, he would not have been guilty of murder. So heartless seemed they all to be who lived in this blighted atmosphere, that Mrs Tyler seem to have lost the womanly sympathy that ought to have been uppermost in her mind.

His Lordship then explained the law bearing on this case, and left it for the jury to say whether at the time prisoner committed the crime Reason had resumed her sway over him.

The jury then retire, and after nearly half an hour’s absence returned into court with a verdict of not guilty of murder, but that “the jury are unanimous in thinking that sufficient time and not elapse for the prisoner to regain his reason, and for the great provocation he had received, I’ll verdict his manslaughter.” The jury asked his Lordship to show mercy to the prisoner.

Mr Mellor, before sentence was passed, respectively reminded the Judge that the prisoner had been in gaol two months.

Prisoner, on being asked whether he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him, simply shook his head and sobbed bitterly.

His Lordship then delivered sentence. He said the jury had taken a very compassionate view of the case, but, he thought, a proper one. They had also asked him to deal mercifully, and to bear in mind the great provocation prisoner had suffered before committing the fearful crime. Although there was no doubt prisoner had very great provocation – in fact such provocation as was almost unheard of in this country; quite unheard of in this country he might say – still at the same time the brutality which the prisoner must have used in kicking his wife in the way he did, showed that he had placed himself more on the level of the beast by the drink he had imbibed than reserving to himself the power to think as he ought to have done. The men who satiated their guilty purposes were the persons upon whom prisoners vengeance should have been wreaked, instead of punishing her who, though to a certain extent was equally guilty, was outraged whilst under the influence of drink.

He must pass a severe sentence on the prisoner to show what the law felt in reference to crimes where great cruelty was shown, even when it was done under provocation. In mercy to the prisoner himself it was necessary to pass such a sentence. It was quite clear the prisoner had given way to drink, and the only hope for it was that he should be taken away from his bad companions – men like those who had been there that day. If left with then the prisoner would go back to his old haunts and give way to drink. He must send him to prison in order that he might be saved from himself. The sentence of the court was that he be imprisoned for 12 calendar months. (The sentence was received with applause by the spectators in court.)

“When you come out of prison,” added the judge, “you take the pledge never to touch drink again; the only thing that can save you.”

The prisoner having been removed from the dock, his Lordship sent for the witness Guest. Addressing him, his Lordship said he had spoken very strongly about many of the witnesses, but he was glad to leave him (Guest) out of the category of those to whom we had addressed the strictures. He was pleased to notice that the witness did not take pleasure in drink, but in something calculated to give much happiness, and which had the most civilising influence. He had observed that the witness won a a simple flower in his buttonhole, and he had now great pleasure in handing him a bouquet. The Judge then handed to Guest a beautiful bouquet of flowers, which had occupied a place on his Lordship’s table during the day.

This graceful act of his Lordship seem to give the greatest satisfaction, but on to Guest himself, but to the spectators in court