Death at the ‘Shop’

The Hagg was a tiny, isolated little village near to Wadsley Bridge, Sheffield which was just made up of a cluster of little cottages. In one of these cottages lived a 23 year old girl called Betsy Jacques, who lived with her mother, brother and step father John Green. Also in the cottage lived Betsy’s illegitimate son, a two and a half year old little boy called John Henry and a lodger, a man called Thomas Pennington. The family were forced to take in lodgers in order to increase the family finances, but sadly Betsy had unfortunately fallen for young Pennington’s charms and as a result she found herself pregnant in July of 1856. When she told her mother that she was going to have another illegitimate child, her mother was appalled at the news.

She condemned her daughter for the scandal it would cause, but when she spoke to Pennington he was unrepentant. What the family did not know was that by the time Betsy found herself in that condition, Pennington had already transferred his attentions to another woman. He left the house and in October 1856 he married the other woman, and they went to live in Wadsley Bridge. Mrs Ann Green continued to worry and more so when Betsy talked about killing herself. She tried to keep up her daughters spirits, but it was hard. Meanwhile Betsy went out doing washing for other people in the village in order to earn some money to add to the family finances.

Life in the household continued and just before Christmas of 1856 another lodger moved in, a man called John Marsden. Meanwhile Betsy increasingly felt the shame which she had brought on the family for the second time, and she became more and more depressed. She had always been a still quiet woman who kept herself to herself, so it was hard to know what she was thinking about at the best of times. On Monday 5 January 1857, around 8 am Betsy had cleared away the breakfast things before she went out, carrying little John Henry in her arms wrapped in her shawl. She said that she was going to the ‘shop’ which had previously been a small file makers shop, and was still owned by the family. Since the family owned it, it had been used as a pig sty and was covered in straw, but was now empty of any stock.

When Betsy didn’t return after nearly twenty minutes, her mother became concerned. She sent the lodger, Marsden to the ‘shop’ and as he pushed opened the door, he found the body of Betsy and her son on the floor. Both their throats had been cut with a razor. Little John Henry was dead, but Betsy was still alive, and she told him to go away and leave her be. He ran for help and soon a local farmer called Mr Samuel Eyre went to the shed and instructed the lodger to hold Betsy’s head down on her chin in order to stem the blood. Meanwhile, he ran for a surgeon, but by the time surgeon Mr Roberts arrived, Betsy too was dead.

An inquest on the bodies of Betsy and her two and a half year old son John Henry Jacques was arranged by the Coroner Mr T Badger Esq., on Tuesday 6 January 1857. It was held in the large farmhouse belonging to Samuel Eyre. A jury was empanelled before being taken to view the two bodies, which were still in the ‘shop’ which was said to be a low building around forty yards away from the parental home. It was noted that when the jury returned back to the room where the inquest was being held, that they were all visibly shocked. Mr Badger too appeared to be quite shaken, as he told the jury that he had seen death in every shape, but he had never seen a more painful and shocking sight than that presented by this poor woman and her child.

Mr Badger shook his head as he told the jury that they were the victims of the unsupportable scandal which had over taken the mother. Then the first witness to be heard was the lodger, John Marsden. He described finding the bodies and said that Betsy was laid on her left side and was very still, but he could see that she was still alive. Marsden said that she lived for about 30 minutes after finding her. He said that it was only when he went to move her, that he found the body of the child laid under her right arm and saw that its throat had also been cut. Betsy’s mother Mrs Ann Green was the next witness and she told the inquest that her little boy was ‘the delight of her daughters heart’ as well as being a great favourite with all the family.

Mrs Green claimed that not one unpleasant word had passed between herself and her daughter, about her second pregnant condition. However the witness stated that on the previous Sunday that Betsy had been more quieter than usual. However she put this down to the fact that her daughter had a cold and was felling ill as a result. Mrs Green then described the lodger telling her that her daughter had gone to the ‘shop’ and she told him he must be wrong. She said that she thought Marsden meant that Betsy had probably gone to work doing some washing. However, he told her that when he last saw Betsy she was still wearing her slippers.

Mrs Green told the inquest that when her daughter first told her she was pregnant about six months previously, she had told her that it would cause another scandal for the family. Her daughter’s response was to threaten to drown herself, so after that the witness resolved never to say an unkind word to her. Her account was confirmed by her husband John Green, who told the coroner that he too had never spoken an unkind word to his step daughter regarding her condition. When asked about the razor he claimed that the one the girl had used, had been left at the house by yet another lodger, a man called James Turner. He said it had been kept well out of sight as it had been placed at the top of the clock, but added that his step daughter knew very well that it was there.

Mr Samuel Eyre was the next witness and he told the inquest that he had heard about the girl’s suicide around 8.15 am on that Monday morning. The witness said that he had last seen her previously two days before when she went came to his farm to fetch some milk. It was on Saturday evening, and he noted that she kept her head down and barely spoke. Eyre said that after hearing about the death, he went to the little cottage rented by John Green and he saw that outside was a group of people including Mr and Mrs Green and Mrs Green’s other daughter, Mary Cheetham. He said that Mrs Green was in a terrible state and was crying that Betsy was dead and that they had left her all alone.

The farmer said he went into the shed and saw the two bodies on the ground and noted that Betsy was still alive. He was followed in by Mr and Mrs Green. The witness told the coroner that he said to the dying woman ‘whatever have you been doing Betsy?’ Mr Eyre said that she looked at him but she could not speak. He then tried to stem the bleeding by holding her head onto her chin. The farmer then asked Marsden to continue to hold her in the position until he could fetch Mr Roberts, the surgeon. However by the time he and the surgeon arrived back the girl was dead. The deceased woman’s sister, Mary Cheetham was the next to give evidence and she said that on the Monday morning the lodger Marsden rushed into her house saying ‘Mary, Betsy has cut her throat!’

The witness said she ran after him into the ‘shed’ and there she saw her sister lying there, covered in blood. Mary described how, as she ran in, her sister Betsy held out her hand to her, but she never said a word. The coroner asked her when she had last seen her sister alive, and Mary told him that she had seen her on Saturday, but had not noticed anything unduly wrong in her appearance.
George Jacques, the deceased woman’s brother then described hearing the news about his sisters death. He said he had been poorly in bed, but as soon as he heard, he got up and immediately went to the ‘shed’. He described the scene and how he had noted the razor lying on the straw.

He too knew that it had been left by a lodger called James Turner about six months previously. The witness said that he had heard that his sister was pregnant for the second time, but he had not said anything to her about it. After hearing all the evidence Mr Badger summed up for the jury and told them that they would have no trouble in coming to a verdict. He said it was clear from the evidence that Betsy had murdered her child and then committed suicide. The coroner told the jury that the evidence was straightforward enough and therefore they should not have any difficulty in reaching a verdict. The coroner said:

‘It is very easy to understand that when the poor woman approached her second confinement, more especially as the man who had brought her to that state had married another, that her circumstances would have greatly depressed her spirit. There is no doubt that she would feel most keenly the scandal which had come upon her, and that her feelings had led her to commit these shocking acts.’

Mr Badger concluded his summing up and the jury retired to consider their verdict. They returned with a verdict that ‘Betsy Jacques had first murdered her child and then committed suicide’.

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