Wednesday, 26 June 2013

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

On 12 October 1880 Sarah Ann Flowers, wife of James Nelson Flowers, publican of the Ship Inn in Bridge Street was found dead. This blog post - part two - covers the surgeon and coroners findings, from the inquest at Beccles and the following trial at the Suffolk and Norfolk Assizes in Norwich. The London Daily News of Saturday 16 October 1880 reported:

The coroner's jury at Beccles last night returned a verdict of 'Wilful murder' against James Flowers, publican, of Beccles, whose wife was found dead in the tap-room. The medical evidence showed that many of the woman's ribs were broken, probably by some person kneeling on her chest. The deceased was addicted to drink.

Ship Inn, 1912

Mr Edward Bowles Crowfoot, surgeon, said he made an external examination of the body of the deceased (Sarah Ann Flowers) and also performed a post mortem examination. He found bruises on the arm, thigh, and face. On post mortem examination he found ten ribs had been broken on her left side, the fracture being continued in four of the lower ones. On the right side eight of the lower ribs were fractured, and he attributed these injuries to compression in the chest, perhaps by kneeling. Crowfoot attributed the cause of death to shock, consequent of the serious injury to the ribs, which could not have been merely from a fall. The anemic condition of the brain, the pale and healthy appearance of the lungs, and the emptiness of the right side of the heart, all pointed to sudden death. Death probably ensued very quickly after such injuries, especially considering the condition of the brain, and the commencing fatty change of the heart. Mr William Taylor McComb, assistant to Messrs Crowfoot, corroborated.

At the magesterial inquiry Mr EB Crowfoot repeated the evidence he had given before the Coroner at Bccles, detailing the results of the external and post mortem examination he had made. He found the heart presented signs of fatty degeneration; the lungs were healthy; the liver was softer and more friable than it is in a state of health; the stomach, spleen and right kidney were healthy, but the left kidney was undergoing fatty degeneration. He found about 3ozs. of serous fluid in the arachnoid cavity of the brain, and the cortical surface of both hemispheres were covered with a layer of coagulated lymph. He was of the opinion that death was caused from shock consequent to the injuries to the ribs.

In cross examination Crowfoot said he noticed no disarrangement of the clothes nor any appearance of a struggle. The fatty degeneration of the heart might have caused death, and it was very likely that the serous fluid on the brain might cause death, coupled with a fall. Deceased was a person perculiarly liable, from the condition of the brain, to a fit of serous apoplexy. All the injuries might have been caused by a fall, except the fractured ribs and the position in which the deceased lay when he saw her was quite consistent with the theory that she fell from a chair in a fit.

It was proved that Sarah Ann Flowers was drunk shortly before she was found by Hannah Willingham (housekeeper to Alfred Francis, a neighbour) and that she (Flowers) was in the habit of getting drunk, and it was sought to be shown in defence that she fell down the step from the bar to the cellar, and so received the injuries to her ribs. While the medical man (Crowfoot) could not say this might not have been so, he was of the opinion that the injuries were the result of greater violence than a mere fall. Willingham believed that Sarah Ann Flowers died shortly after she put her on the chair, she having seen her head thrown back and her eyes and mouth wide open. There was no proof that the prisoner (James Nelson Flowers) had ever struck his wife, while his closing the house so early was explained as the result of his desire to prevent his wife being seen in a state of drunkeness. For a more detailed account of this trial I would strongly recommend to anybody interested, that you read the lengthy article (which spreads across two pages) in the Ipswich Journal of 13 November 1880, found at The British Newspaper Archive online. It makes for very compelling reading.

The jury, after an absence from Court for five minutes, returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY, and the prisoner was discharged.

On 25 January 1881 the East Suffolk Gazette reported that the licence of the Ship Inn was transferred from James Flowers to William Bell. The census return of that same year shows James Flowers was a boarder (at his brother George's) in Swines Green, Beccles and he was a hay dealer by trade. James Flowers died in 1888, aged 60.

Ship Inn, 2012
Today its a Holiday Cottage

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...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Piper of Beccles

Last week, whilst researching for tweets, I found an entry in the Beccles Almanack for the death of William Piper, "an old inhabitant of Beccles", who died in 1902, aged 84. The East Suffolk Gazette newspaper of 9 December 1902 also printed a small piece about the Piper family. I honestly think William wanted me to find him and write a blog post about his family because not long after, I found a piece about Frederick Piper which I discovered was William's son.

Frederick Piper was reported in the Beccles Weekly newspaper of 9 August 1864 for the Beccles Petty Sessions, chaired by Mayor S. Wilton Rix (see my two-part blog about Samuel WIlton Rix) and attended by Revs R.C. Denny and J.C. Safford:

Frederick PIPER, pipemaker, was charged with trespassing on the Great Eastern Railway, at Beccles, on the 12th July. Benjamin AYDEN of Beccles: on Tuesday the 12th July, I saw Frederick PIPER walking on the Railway, between the Black Boy Street, and the Ingate Road crossings; he was walking in the four foot way in front of the down train from Ipswich to Beccles, about half-past eight. I asked him what he was there for, and requested him to leave. He refused to do so. Defendant had no right to be there.  It is part of my duty to keep people off the line.
Charles FARMAN: I am gate-keeper of the Ingate Street crossing, of the Great Eastern Railway, at Beccles. I have repeatedly cautioned defendant against trespassing on the Railway.
The Mayor said the bench was quite agreed that it was absolutely necessary to put a stop to this most dangerous practice of walking on the railway. The present offence was aggravated by the facts that the accused had often been warned, without effect, was abusive to the officer, and had absented himself when summoned.  Frederick PIPER must pay forthwith a fine of 20 Shillings, with 9 Shillings and 6 Pence costs, or be imprisoned for six weeks. 

Going through the 1841-1911 census returns for the Piper family, I discovered Frederick Piper's parents were William Piper and Mary Ann (nee Woolner). Frederick was found on the 1851 census aged 8, living in Northgate Street with his maternal grandfather George Woolner as well as his parents and two younger brothers.
In 1861 Frederick was a lodger at "The Race Horse Inn" at Ingate Street (James Debbage). There is a possible link with the Copeman family of Beccles here as Frederick was a Pipemaker at this time, and the Copeman's were well-known Pipemakers in Beccles in the first half of the nineteenth century. Another lodger at "The Race Horse Inn" in 1861 was David Copeman (Pipemaker, aged 50).

Image from

In 1871 however, Frederick had moved to Lowestoft - working as a labourer - and was a lodger of John Mummery (who was a Fish Merchant and Publican of "Rose Shamrock & Thistle" in Bevan Street). In 1881 we find Frederick working as a Fruiterer, lodging with Fishmonger Thomas Powell in Grimsby, county Lincolnshire. It would appear that Frederick returned to the Lowestoft area by 1884 where he died, aged 42.

Frederick Piper's father William was not Beccles born but he lived in Beccles all his life and was well known in the town during the later half of the 1800s, along with his father Isaac Piper (not to be confused with the Beccles tailor of the same name). The East Suffolk Gazette of 9 December 1902 reported the following:

DEATH of William Piper, aged 83, son of Isaac Piper an old-time carrier or “tanner” as he was dubbed when making prolonged halts at roadside inns. [William was] rope-maker on north side of a field in Gaol Lane (adjacent to Bowling Green). Removed in 1858 when Station Road was made. Then field in Ravensmere, but had to move when Denmark Road was made. Then took meadow in Caxton Road “where he remained undisturbed until he gave up spinning hemp”. Trade connections: merchants, farmers, wherry owners & yachtsmen”. Familiar face at Beccles Corn Market, attended for more than half a century.