Thursday, 20 June 2013

Suspected Murder at the Ship of Sarah Ann Flowers : Part One

On Tuesday 12 October 1880, Sarah Ann Flowers was found dead on the floor of the tap-room at the Ship Inn, in Bridge Street. Her husband, James Nelson Flowers, was charged with her murder and sent to trial in Norwich the following month, where he was found not guilty.

I have extensive notes on the inquest at Beccles in October 1880, held before C.W. Chaston, Esq., County Coroner, the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief-Constable and Mr E.B Crowfoot, surgeon and the Magisterial Inquiry before R Dashwood, Esq. (Chairman), WE Crowfoot, Esq., and the Mayor. Mr F.J Dowsett appeared for the prisoner. I will dedicate the next blog post to the Coroner's findings.

Alfred Francis, engine driver, in Samuel Darby's employ, who lived next door to the Ship Inn told the court that he called on James Flowers every morning at six o'clock. On Wednesday 13 October Flowers was up when Francis went by, and called him in, and said, "There's a rather bad job happened here; the poor old girl lay here dead". Francis then went into the tap-room and saw the deceased (Sarah Ann) lying on the floor with her head nearly on the threshold of the cellar door, and her feet towards the window of the tap-room. Francis could not stop to make a close examination but sent his children for a doctor and a policeman. Francis was unable to say whether Flowers and his wife lived comfortably together, but he had seen the deceased the worse for drink many times. Later Francis told the magistrates court that he had occasionally heard deceased and the prisoner (James Flowers) quarelling but he never saw any blows struck.

Alice Francis, aged 11, (daughter of Alfred Francis) said she went to the prisoner's house on Tuesday evening, about five minutes past five, when she saw the deceased lying in the cellar. She was frightened and went and told Hannah Willingham (boarder of the Francis family). Willingham told the court that she found deceased lying on her face in the cellar, she picked her up and sat her in the chair in the bar. When she was sat up in the chair her head fell back and her mouth and eyes were wide open. At the magisterial inquiry, Willingham said the deceased was helplessly drunk, but she managed to walk with her support and totter over the threshold separating the cellar from the bar and set her on a chair. Afterwards they (Hannah Willingham and Alice Francis) went for Mrs Beane (Harriet Beane, charwoman to the deceased for eleven years) because they thought Mrs Flowers was dying but when they got back to the Ship Inn they found the house closed. On tapping at the window, James Flowers opened his bedroom window and said that Mrs Flowers was in bed.

More on the inquiry and surgeon's evidence will be in part two. I did some background research on Sarah Ann and James Flowers to get a feel for who they were before this shocking incident occured that fateful October night.

It took me longer to find out about Sarah Ann because, as it turned out when she married James Flowers she was a widow. I discovered this when I found their marriage entry in the Beccles St Michael's Church parish registers.

Sarah Ann Barrett was christened at St Nicholas Church in Great Yarmouth on 14 May 1814, the daughter of Samuel Barrett and Sarah, late Archer [source:]. Sarah Ann married Benjamin Youell from Beccles on 29 March 1832 at St Nicholas Church. Benjamin was a waterman by trade, residing in Ravensmere. He and Sarah Ann lived in Ravensmere up until his death in 1855. On 18 July 1858 Sarah Ann Youell (widow) married James Nelson Flowers (batchelor) at St Michael's Church.

James Nelson Flowers was baptised on 12 November 1827 at St Michael's Church, Beccles, the son of Richard Flowers and Sarah Susannah, late Algar. This last piece of information piqued my curiousity as I have Algar - from Barnby and Beccles - in my family tree. My 5xg/grandmother was Sarah Algar (not the same Sarah but possibly related, I would need to research the Algar family tree much further). Richard Flowers was from Worlingham, and he was married previously to Eleanor Warnes.

More next time...


  1. Intrigued!

    Do you know when The Ship ceased being a PH?

    1. No, I don't know exactly when but I think it was some time in the 1980s.