The Durran Hill Murder

  > On the morning of Friday, 22nd November, 1861, Carlisle was startled and horrified by the news of a barbarous murder that had been committed during the previous night at the Botcherby level crossing on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway. The crime differed from others of its kind in the mystery by which it was for several weeks surrounded, and in the dramatic incidents leading up to the detection and conviction of the murderer.

The victim was Jane Emmerson, an old woman, seventy-two years of age, who was the crossing gatekeeper. She was the widow of Anthony Emmerson, an old servant of the railway company, who had preceded her in the post; and she had performed its duties during his long illness, and for six years after his death. Notwithstanding her advanced age, she had enjoyed robust health, and had always been most attentive to her task.

The cottage in which she lived is still standing, and may be seen, in crossing the bridge over the railway at Durran Hill, by the side of the North Eastern line, east of the bridge. But in 1861 there was no Midland Railway there, and the cottage, a pretty rose-and-honeysuckle covered building, was as lonely and secluded as though it had been miles from the town. Instead of the wide network of railway sidings which now lie in front of the cottage, there were then only the two lines of permanent way of the North Eastern Railway, extending westward about three-quarters of a mile to Carlisle. There was no bridge or elevated roadway from which the railway could be surveyed; and the road from Botcherby to Harraby which led over the railway by a level crossing - was more like a quiet country lane, lying between high hedges. Part of that lane may still be seen leading up northward from the cottage; to which, at the period of the crime, a small garden was attached. A portion of one of the hedges, and remains of the roadway, are also visible on the south side.

The isolation of the cottage may be more fully realised if it is remembered that, in 1861, there were practically no houses on the east side of Botchergate beyond South Street; the site of St. John's Church and the adjacent streets, away eastward to Warwick Road, forming the whole of Messrs. Little and Ballantyne's then nursery grounds.

A married daughter of the old woman, with two children, lived with her, but they had gone to Liverpool on a visit in the beginning of the week, so that she was left alone.

It was her duty every night, after the last train had passed at half-past ten o'clock, to close the gates across the line, and to take into the house two lamps, one of which hung on a signal post on the Botcherby side of the line, and the other in a small wooden cabin on the Harraby side. Between half-past ten o'clock at night and four o'clock next morning she had nothing more to do.

About half-past six o'clock on the Friday morning she was found lying murdered beside the line, within a few yards of the cottage porch. William Blaylock, a man employed in the Newcastle and Carlisle railway station at Carlisle, was on his way to work when he made the discovery. He lived at Botcherby, and usually took a short cut across the fields; but, as the meadows were flooded with heavy rains and the overflow of the Petteril, he had gone by the crossing.

The poor old woman was lying with her face covered with blood, one eye having been driven in with a sharp instrument, and there being several cuts on the face, one of them apparently inflicted with a stone. The body was warm, but, in the opinion of medical men, death might have taken place some hours before.

Both of the lamps were under the body, one of them having been broken by a stone found near the wooden cabin. The garden gate on the east side of the house was open, and in front of the window was found a hedge slasher with a wooden shank about four feet long. The blade was covered with blood, hair, and stone dust, and here and there were small pieces of glass. The window had been broken in three places, and it was clear that this had been done with the slasher, which was lying below. There was an indentation in the wall, and it seemed as if some one in striking a blow at the window had grazed the stone. The diamond framework of the window being of iron had prevented further damage being done, and had evidently baulked the murderer, who had probably fancied that the divisions were of wood. He would then appear to have turned his attention to the door, which had been burst open; and on it was a footmark, as if from a kick, and also the mark of a pick-axe, which, although usually kept in an outhouse in the garden, was found under a bed in the room, and was covered with blood.

The drawers in the bedroom had been broken upon, and it was supposed that a considerable sum of money had been abstracted; as the old woman was known to have had twenty-five shillings put by for her quarter's rent, as well as between 5 and 10 which she had saved to provide for her funeral expenses. Some silver spoons also had been stolen, and likewise a pair of linen sheets.

A man's footprints were traced from behind the post of the south gate, on the Harraby side, along the line, and across to the window.

Although dry, the night had been wild and stormy, so that a passer-by on the "military road" might not have heard a cry.

The County Constabulary, under the personal direction of Mr. Dunne, the Chief Constable, made every endeavour to discover any circumstances that might lead to the apprehension of the murderer; and in this they had the co-operation of the city police, as it was believed he was connected with the city. Superintendent Carson, Inspector Taylor, and Inspector Douglas, of the County Constabulary, were actively engaged in the investigation, and a reward of 150 for the discovery of the culprit was offered conjointly by the Directors of the Railway and the Home Office.

An inquest on the body of Jane Emmerson was opened at the Plough Inn, Botcherby, on the day following its discovery, under Mr. William Carrick, the County Coroner. It may now be of interest to some of their descendants to put on record the names of the jury who were sworn :- Mr. John Norman (foreman), Mr. John Clark Ferguson, Mr. W. Hogarth, Mr. John Nichol, Mr. Richard Nichol, Mr. Thomas Hamilton, Mr. George Graham, Mr. John Robinson, Mr. Thomas Pearson, Mr. John Holliday, Mr. Joseph Bulman, Mr. George Eccleston Firley, Mr. Isaac Kitchen, and Mr. George Black.

Neither on that occasion nor at adjourned inquests was there any evidence available pointing to the identity of the murderer, and it began to look as though the tragedy was going to pass into the list of undiscovered crimes. Suspicion fell on several persons, some of whom were arrested, but, on their innocence being conclusively proved, they were in turn discharged from custody.

Everything pointed to the conclusion that the crime had been perpetrated by some one who was well acquainted with the locality, including the interior of the cottage, and even the precise place where the victim kept her little store of money.

This uncertainty continued for more than a month, by which time the chances of bringing the criminal to justice were fast diminishing, although hope was not altogether dissipated.

Such was the belief of the citizens in general, but it transpired that, during all this time, the police held in their hand certain clues, leading to the implication of a man who was known to possess all the required information regarding the duties and habits of the victim, as well as being intimately acquainted with the locality, and the hours when she had to attend to the crossing gates.

But, beyond all this, the police had in the interval been patiently accumulating evidence which, if, as they expected, it could be brought home to the suspected individual, would prove beyond doubt that he was the guilty man. Moreover, they took into their confidence the representatives of the Press, giving them information regarding their discoveries and their portents, but binding them to secrecy. The Press, on their part, loyally kept faith, and so, until everything was ripe for the suspected man's apprehension, although there was gossip and rumour about his connection with the affair, nothing definite was allowed to leak out. In particular, the most direct and incriminating piece of evidence was carefully guarded, it being realised that, should it be prematurely revealed, an important link connecting the criminal with the crime might be destroyed, and the course of justice be thwarted.

It will be remembered that, both on the ground, from the south gate, along the line, and across to the cottage window, and also on the door, there had been found the marks of a man's footprints. Closer examination showed that the "sparables," or nails, in the shoe soles, were arranged in a peculiar pattern; and it was at once seen that, if the shoes worn by the murderer could be traced it was important that there should be irrefutable proof of their corresponding with those footprints.

At last the time came when the police could give effect to the conclusions at which they arrived; and accordingly, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, 22nd December - thirty-one days after the murder - the man upon whom suspicion had fallen was arrested, at his house in Harraby Street, London Road Terrace, Carlisle.

William Charlton, the man in question, was an engine driver on the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, thirty-five years of age, and a married man, with three children. He was brought before the County magistrates at the Court House, in Carlisle, on Saturday, 28th December. He is described as having been a slenderly built man, with sharp features, about 5 feet 9 inches or 5 feet 10 inches in height, and of fresh complexion. Throughout the examination he was cool and unmoved, but appeared to feel the position in which he was placed. His behaviour was probably due to the fact that he suffered from deafness, and so was unable to follow the proceedings with intelligence. He was represented by My. John Reed Donald, solicitor, and the prosecution was in the hands of Mr, T. H. Hodgson, Clerk of the Peace for the County.

At this inquiry there was made a revelation of the steps taken to secure evidence connecting the footprints with the case. The police official most actively employed had been Inspector Alexander Taylor, and he testified that, on discovering the footmarks, he immediately protected them with buckets and pails from the station until the arrival of Mr. Joseph Pickering, a Carlisle sculptor, who took casts of the footprints with Plaster of Paris. When arresting the prisoner, Inspector Taylor found in his possession a pair of shoes, which he produced in Court, together with the plaster of Paris casts, and the panel of the door bearing a footprint. A number of the nails had been removed from the shoe soles, but the holes left exactly corresponded with the prints shown in the casts. Evidence regarding this was given by Mr. Pickering, and ultimately the prisoner was remanded till the following Thursday.

In the interval, Charlton was guilty of a piece of dastardly conduct, in seeking to throw the guilt of the crime upon an innocent man; and the vileness of this was made greater, because the charge implicated his wife's brother.

At the time of the murder there was living with Charlton and his wife a young man named Thomas Robinson, a brother of the latter. He was twenty-five years of age and a bricklayer by trade, and it was upon him that Charlton sought to cast the burden of guilt.

It was obvious that whoever wore the incriminating shoes on the night of the murder was the man who committed the crime. They had been recently soled, and the pattern of the nails was so peculiar as to be unmistakable. Round the front part of the soles there was a double row of nails, and there were also two curved rows which formed with the sides of the shoes two ellipses. One of the semi-circles was carried up further in one boot than the other, and that accidental difference was shown in the plaster casts, as was also a peculiar mark of triangular shape, imprinted by three nails in the heel. Fifty-four of the sparables had been removed; and, concealed under the slates of an outhouse belonging to CharIton's house, fifty-two similar sparables were discovered, wrapped up in a paper parcel.

It was therefore necessary, if Charlton wished to clear himself, that he should endeavour to inculpate someone else, and that was what he tried to do, in a written statement, signed by him in the presence of Superintendent Carson and Inspector Taylor. As by that statement Charlton practically signed his death warrant, I quote it in full:

On Thursday night, the 21st day of November last, I went home from my work about 5-20 p.m. Afterwards I came out, and went into the Reading Room, and went over to the engine sheds. When I came from there Thomas Robinson, my brother-in-law, was standing at the railway yard gates. We spoke to each other. He asked me if I was going up street [into town]. We came up street, and went into Mr. David Hall's public house, and had each a pint of ale. We sat there a few minutes, not very long. While in there, he asked me to lend him my shoes as the roads were very clarty [muddy], and his boots were rather tight. So I lent him my shoes. They are the shoes which the police showed on Saturday at the Court House. We then came out and I left him at the door. He went down Crown Street. He said he was going to Ivegill. I went down Botchergate. I called in at Mabel Andrew's in Union Street, and had two pints of ale, which I did not pay for until Saturday night. I then went home and went to bed. Chambers called me up on the following morning (Friday) a few minutes past three o'clock. When I was coming out of the house Thomas Robinson came out of our petty [privy?] and gave me my shoes back again, and I gave him his own. I went into the house, and tied my shoes. He did not go in with me. When I opened the door again I asked him where he had been till this time in the morning. He said, "I have had a bloody good spree." He gave me threepence, which I spent at Hexham. I saw him no more till the Saturday night following, at the Earl Grey Inn. When I gave him (Thomas Robinson) my shoes in David Hall's the nails were in the sales, and I did not observe them out until Saturday night, the 23rd November, when I was cleaning them.

I have told Thomas Robinson never to come near my house again, as he was such a bad 'un. I wish I had never seen him.

This is correct.-Wm. CHARLTON.

Witness: W. CARSON, Supt., and ALEX. TAYLOR.

The young man, Thomas Robinson, had been in trouble before, having bean imprisoned for obtaining goods under false pretences; so, in meeting the charge, he had that earlier conviction standing against him. Fortunately, however, he could prove a clear alibi, when, following upon Charlton's statement, he was arrested, and, on the 4th of January, appeared alongside Charlton in the dock at the Magistrates' Court, charged with being an accessory to the murder.

At that inquiry Robinson was represented by Mr. Thomas Wright, solicitor; and through a succession of independent witnesses, he was able to prove precisely where he had been from the Saturday before the murder until the Friday following the date of the crime.

On Saturday, 16th November, he went to his wife's sister's marriage at Ivegill, nine miles from Carlisle; remaining there until Monday, the 18th. He returned to his father-in-law's house at Ivegill Mill, on Tuesday, the 19th, and stayed there till the afternoon of Friday, the 22nd.

On the evening of Thursday, the 21st - the night of the murder - he accompanied a friend named George Rayson, to Mr. Longcake's, at Roe Hill, where they and other friends played cards until half-past ten o'clock. They then adjourned to a "jerry shop" at High Bridge, kept by Thomas Jordan. By the time they left there - about midnight - it was so late that Rayson invited Robinson to sleep with him at High Head Castle, where his father lived. They went there, and slept - three in a bed - with William Baty, Rayson's head man.

Next morning, at six o'clock, they were awakened by Baty, because he wanted them to help him to secure a stallion that had broken loose. Further confirmation of the date was given by one Boustead, a timber merchant, who had been at a timber sale at Richmond Plain on the 21st November, and saw Robinson and his friends in Jordan's "jerry" that night.

Robinson was thus exculpated; and, on being discharged, he gave evidence before the magistrates, contradicting statements made by Charlton. He said he did not see Charlton until Sunday, 24th November; and neither then, nor at any time, had Charlton spoken to him about the murder. It was a fortnight after that event that they had been at David Hall's together, as mentioned by Charlton in his statement.

At an adjourned hearing before the magistrates on 15th January, 1862, Charlton was committed to the ensuing Assizes, and in accordance with the verdict of the Coroner's jury at the inquest on 13th January, he was also committed on the Coroner's warrant.

The Assize trial took place in the Crown Court, Carlisle, on Monday, February 24th, before Mr. Justice Willes, when William Charlton was indicted for the wilful murder of Jane Emmerson, at the Durran Hill Crossing of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway, near Carlisle, on the 21st November, 1861; and he was also charged with the said crime on the Coroner's inquisition. As the prisoner was hard of hearing, there was some difficulty in getting him to understand the charge but ultimately he pleaded "Not guilty." When he entered the dock, his face seemed flushed - but as the case proceeded he became calm, and stood motionless.

Counsel for the prosecution were Mr. Price, Q.C., Mr. Maule, and Mr. J. H. Fawcett; and the prisoner was defended by Mr. T. Campbell Foster, who had with him, as junior, Mr. W. C. Gully; that being one of Mr. Gully's first appearances in the city with which he was later to become so long, and so honourably, associated.

Mr. Campbell Foster had been, and for many years continued to be, the leading defending counsel on the Northern Circuit; his peculiar gift lying in that direction, in which he had great success,

In charging the Grand Jury, Mr. Justice Willes said, "All the evidence in the case seems to revolve about certain footprints." It may therefore be well to recapitulate what was proved in evidence, connecting the shoes belonging to Charlton with the incriminating footprints.

Inspector Taylor - who before the Assizes were held had been promoted to Superintendent - arrived on the scene of the crime at half-past seven o'clock; at which time only three other men had been there. He immediately took precautions to protect the footprints from injury. He then ascertained that two of the three men were wearing clogs, old that the other man's shoe-soles in no way corresponded with the footmarks. Plaster casts of the footprints were made showing their perfect correspondence with the shoe-soles. The sculptor who made the casts explained the resemblances in detail, and the jury afterwards compared the casts with the shoe-soles. In no one instance was there found to be any difference. The panel of the door marked with a footprint was produced in Court, and it also showed the same identical marking.

The paper in which the sparables were found wrapped contained some tobacco dust; and dust of exactly the same kind was found in Charlton's coat pocket, together with a loose sparable similar to the others.

Marks on the nails showed that they had been removed with pincers and a chisel, belonging to the Railway Company, which should not have been in his possession.

Apart from the footprints, the evidence for the prosecution contained many circumstantial details which pointed in Charlton's guilt. Among these were:

(1) He was intimately acquainted with the locality, including the interior and surroundings of the cottage. He know the victim well, and was familiar with her duties, and the hours when she would be occupied with them.

(2) He had used the pick-axe in his garden, hard by, had taken it back to its owner, and knew where she kept it.

(3) On the morning after the murder he went to the engine shed soon after three o'clock, but did not take his breakfast with him as usual. He then left the engine shed, saying to one man that he was going back for his breakfast, and to another that he was going for a knife. He was, however, seen by a witness between half-past three and four o'clock, coming from the direction of the cottage, quite away from his own home. The gate across the line, which another witness saw open at half-past eleven, was found to have been closed when the first train passed at a quarter-past four. There was a footprint in coagulated blood, showing that the murderer had been there hours after the commission of the crime; this corresponding with the time when Charlton was seen returning.

(4) He left for Newcastle on his engine at half-past four, and, when passing the crossing, diverted the fireman's attention, by pointing out, and talking about cabbage plants in Hamilton's gardens.

(5) At Newcastle, when told about the murder, he said he saw a light at the crossing as they passed, that it was being carried from south to north, and that, in fact, he "saw the old woman in the porch."

(6) Charlton had said that the nails in his shoes were burnt out on the engine; and, again, that they were taken out by Thomas Robinson. His counsel admitted that the prisoner's story about his brother-in-law was unfounded.

Mr. Campbell Foster evinced much zeal in the defence, and showed great tact in his cross-examinations, but called no witnesses; and, although his address to the jury lasted for more than two hours, it was confused, and less effective than a closely considered speech of shorter duration would have been.

It being eight o'clock before the speech for the defence was finished, the Judge postponed his summing up until the next morning. His Lordship's address, which occupied two hours, was strongly against the prisoner; and in it he spoke highly in favour of the police, saying they had acted with great skill and discretion.

The jury retired to consider their verdict at a quarter past eleven, and were so engaged until five minutes past five; when they returned into the Court, and, through their foreman, returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against William Charlton, but strongly recommended him to mercy. The Judge elicited that this recommendation was founded upon the prisoner's previous good character.

The Judge, in passing sentence of death, was greatly affected, but warned the prisoner that he could give him no hope of the sentence being commuted. In due course a petition was put forward by Charlton's solicitor; but, as had been anticipated, it proved to be of no avail, and the dread sentence was accordingly fulfilled at midday on Saturday, 16th March.

This was the last public execution in Carlisle, and was carried out at the usual place, on the prison wall, southward from the entrance. It was observed that, on making his appearance, Charlton for a brief moment turned his gaze down Botchergate. He met his fate firmly, and while admitting that he had had a fair trial, and that he did not see how the jury could have come to any other conclusion, he somewhat inconsistently maintained that he was innocent.

Notwithstanding the clearness of the alibi proved by Thomas Robinson, gossip continued to cast aspersions upon him; and therefore Mr. Page, the prison surgeon, feeling that something further was due to Robinson, and to the public as well, went to Charlton before the execution, and earnestly questioned him. The reply be received was that the statement made by Charlton was untrue, and that Robinson "knew nothing about the murder " - the implication being that Charlton knew all about it.

The execution was witnessed by a large crowd, estimated as numbering from six to eight thousand people. The drop was only partly elevated, thus rendering the gruesome sight as inconspicuous as possible.

For some reason which I now forget - possibly that the boys might be kept indoors - there was no school that morning; and I bravely set out in good time, moved by the same spirit as actuated my Lord Tomnoddy on a like occasion; but before the fateful hour my courage evaporated, and I stole away by Citadel Row. As one o'clock approached, I ventured on the scene once more, just late enough to find that all had been cleared away - for which I was then, and have ever since been, devoutly thankful.


James Walter Brown, Round Carlisle Cross, 1921




It's interesting to speculate on whether this is the first recorded case of a plaster of Paris cast of a footprint resulting in a conviction. Any experts on the history of forensic science out there ?

19 June 2015

Steve Bulman