Friday, 1 May 2020

The Case of Elizabeth Mary Louisa Kirkbride of Helton, Westmorland, in 1877

Elizabeth Mary Louisa Hayton was born in West Derby, Liverpool, on 24th May 1834 and baptised on 13th August at nearby Sefton, Lancaster. The parents of Mrs. Kirkbride were very respectable people. Her father was the late Mr. John Hayton, a former surveyor in Her Majesty's Customs in Liverpool, who lived at Everton until he retired. Elizabeth got a very good start in life and was privately educated at a lady’s boarding school called Owlet Ash, at Milnthorpe, Westmorland. The head mistress was a Hannah Hayton, a widow, who due to the surname, could well have been a relation of Elizabeth’s father’s family.
Elizabeth’s parents then went to reside in the small village of Helton, near Penrith, in a property her father owned; he was originally from the parish of Barton, Westmorland. This was where he was to die, aged 79 on 26th November 1860 and left probate to the value of under £1,000. Elizabeth Kirkbride was an only child, and after her father's death her mother, Mary Ann (nee Peters Coxon), became afflicted with an illness that confined her to the house. Thomas Kirkbride, who was to marry Elizabeth, had held a situation in the Liverpool borough gaol, and resided in Litherland Park in that city. Their marriage date is unknown, although this was most likely prior to 1856 as they are shown in the 1861 census as living in the Kirkdale area of Liverpool. By then they had three children, Marian, aged 5 years (who would later die), Sydney, than aged 3 years, and Thomas aged 8 months. The husband Thomas’s occupation was given as an ‘Agent of Reformation.’
On 20th August 1864, Thomas, at the age of 35 years, died in the West Ward area of Westmorland, so most likely Helton. It suggests he had a known ailment and had come to the cleaner air of Helton to either recuperate or knew he was dying. Elizabeth had then continued to live with her mother Mary Ann Hayton at Helton, Westmorland until Candlemas 1876, a period of 12 years.
Following her husband’s death, she had most likely fallen upon increasingly hard times and had gone to Langwathby to try and begin a school but had only obtained one pupil and this venture closed; her mother died in February that year. That strain on the family budget may have been caused by an attempt to live a similar lifestyle, rather than cutting the cloth to suit, as a young servant girl called Mary Agnes Forsyth also moved with the family. Whilst at Langwathby she asked a favour of a Mr. Jameson who was the landlord of The Griffin Inn at Penrith. Elizabeth was to eventually return to Liverpool, but just prior to doing so she had paid a carter to take two boxes, a cask, and a hamper, to Penrith and they were stored by Mr and Mrs Jameson, at The Griffin Inn in agreement to that favour.
In the first week of June she arrived at Aintree Station, Liverpool, and left four boxes and a basket at the station whilst she stayed short term at Aughton, near Ormskirk, then Walton, and finally at the premises of Emma Oberti at 21 Sutton Street, Tuebrook, where she joined with her son John Sydney Kirkbride; her other son William was also in lodgings there with her. She returned to Aintree Station on 29th July for the luggage, paying 14s 2d for the warehousing of it.
Some of the trunks at Liverpool were from the Griffin but at least one had been left there. On 25th January 1877 Mr. Jameson and a servant had become concerned at an increasingly bad odour coming from the remaining trunk he had put in the lumber room and because of this it was broken open. What was revealed caused a chain of events that would shock the nation, particularly the communities around North Cumbria and Liverpool. Discovered within an internal box which was opened, was something wrapped up in six or seven different coverings; it was the decomposed remains of an infant, the features of which were not recognisable, but the head was covered with an abundance of white hair. The linen it was wrapped in was very dirty, being saturated with blood. Since June last Mr Jameson has received two letters from Mrs. Kirkbride, addressed from Liverpool. Information was given to the police, and the box from within and body was removed to the police station by Sergeant Fraser. He was present when an inquest was commenced, and the mummified infant on examination appeared to have a tight knotted ligature round its neck which the doctor could not put his fingers behind. After the conclusion of the inquest, and at the request if the doctor, Sergeant Fraser then emptied the remaining contents of the trunk and examined the rest of the property within. On doing so, and to his horror, a second mummified body was found in another section which appeared to have had its throat cut and a heavy weight appearing to have crushed the infant. A second inquest was then held and a verdict of, ‘Found Dead’ was recorded. A warrant was issued for Mrs. Kirkbride’s arrest for having concealed the birth of a child.
At 10:45pm on 28th January 1877 Elizabeth Kirkbride was detained by Sergeant Robinson at 21 Sutton Street, Tuebrook, on the warrant issued at Penrith. She had said, “There must be a mistake as to the date.” but asked if she could leave a note to her son, which told him to do as well as he could while she returned to Penrith and she would be back in a few days. She told the sergeant that she would go quietly, as she expected the matter would be hushed up when she got to Penrith, and she also wished to keep it as secret as possible at Tuebrook, as no one knew anything about it there. He then held her at the police station at Old Swan, Liverpool.
On 29th January Mrs Oberti found that Mrs. Kirkbride had unexpectedly left, although her luggage was still on the premises. Originally, when she had arrived in June, she did not have it and appeared to Mrs Oberti to be unsettled until it arrived in July. Mrs. Kirkbride’s two sons had gone about their business and on the return of Sydney she questioned him as to the whereabouts of his mother and he informed her that she had needed to go to Penrith. Mrs. Oberti was missing a coat and he said he would see that she was righted. The son broke open one of the boxes and found a strong smell and rags inside. He then took it into his bedroom, had dinner and then broke open the other box; again, no coat of his landlady was inside. Later, Mrs. Oberti saw the boxes in the room and opened one and a terrible stench was revealed to her. She took it into the yard and, calling Sydney they turned the box out. On seeing the contents, they were horrified and quickly replaced them, and a police officer was called. When Sergeant Shepherd and Constable Griffiths attended, at the bottom was revealed a quantity of small bones and a shelly substance. They then undid a bundle of rags and a package of wrapped paper; inside was what appeared to be a small doll; it was a further mummified infant corpse. Without disturbing the contents further, the officers removed the box to the mortuary and Dr. Pitts was called to examine the bodies.
The next day the box was inspected by the doctor and Inspector Walsh. They first found the body of an intact but mummified child, then a second headless body and separate skull, and finally bones in the base of the box, a total of three dead children. The inspector then went to the police station where Elizabeth Kirkbride was still detained and said to her, “In addition to the charge already against you, namely, that of concealing the birth of two children found in a box at Penrith, you will be further charged with concealing the birth of three other children, which we have found in a box at your lodgings in Sutton Street”. She replied, "Yes. they are all my children; I admit that I concealed them and neglected them, but I deny that I murdered any of them”. The inspector would tell the courts that he had made no mention to her of murder. An inquest was held at Liverpool and an Open Verdict was recorded.
On the night of 1st February Inspector Walsh received a message that she wished to speak to him in the cell, so accompanied by two other officers he did so. She said to him, "Yes; I want to tell you the father of all the children I am here about. His name is Thomas Moss; he is a tea and ham and bacon dealer at Askham, near Penrith. He is the only man I have had anything to do with in any way, and I think it is only right that he should be exposed, as it is entirely by his persuasion that I am placed as I am. He has always promised me that he would make me his wife and instead of doing so, when he was in a position, he married another." He took the statement into writing, read it to her, and she agreed it was correct.
In the Magistrates hearing at Penrith in early February the above evidence and inquest results and statements of Mrs. Kirkbride were given. Present was Mr. Smith, a solicitor who was acting on the interests of Thomas Moss. He asked to say something on his behalf, namely to prevent the press prejudicing public opinion against his client, but the magistrates stopped this saying that at present, it was not evidence against him, but it was so against Mrs. Kirkbride.
At the Magistrates hearing at Penrith, Dr. Pitts had attended and said he had found that the first body was that of a child who had been dead at least two years. Around its neck was a tightly tied rag. The second body had the head detached, and the third was just bones and had clearly been dead longer than the other two corpses. It was impossible for him to give an age to the first mummy, but the other skeletal remains were of a newborn child. Crucially, he could not confirm if any of the children had actually lived.
Mary Agnes Forsyth was a domestic servant, and at the time of the magisterial hearings she was residing near Burnley. She said that about eleven or twelve years ago she was in the service of Mrs. Hayton of Helton for about twelve months and had moved with them to Langwathby. The prisoner (Mrs. Kirkbride, nee Hayton) at that time resided with her mother and kept a school. She remembered one Sunday evening at Helton when the prisoner was in bed with a child. She could not state the age of that child, but it was a young child and able to walk about. The other inmates were not in bed at the time. She could not remember what time in the evening it was. The prisoner was not well during the day and was in bed. She herself heard a cry, and the sound was like the cry of an infant. Mary said she was very young at the time, about twelve years of age. She mentioned the circumstance to her mother soon after. The Chairman questioned this point, asking whether she meant to say it was the voice of a child other than the one which could walk? She replied, ‘I think so, but it is so long since I can’t remember very well’.
William Ernest Kirkbride, another son now 18 years old, gave the court some family background following his father’s death. He lived at Helton with his paternal grandmother Mrs. Hayton. He occasionally visited his mother at Helton, who lived in the village with her mother also. About 5 or 6 years ago he and his brother Alfred had found a tied white bag on a midden heap at his mother’s garden and when he had opened it there was the mummified body of an infant inside. He told his grandmother and two aunts, but they said not to speak of it and not to go back. He disobeyed and did return, where found the body now under a little earth; they mounded more soil over it. When they went to reside at Langwathby, his mother had taken a tin box in the cab with her. After the discoveries of these bodies at Penrith, then Liverpool, he was visited by the police and he then showed them the place in the garden at Helton where he had last seen the infant’s body. Constable Reid said that he had dug up some bones, but on medical examination they were not the bones of a child.
This concluded the evidence and after the prisoner declined to call any witnesses, or make any statement on her own behalf, she was then committed on the concealment charge to Westmorland Assizes, which were to be held on Wednesday 21st of the month.
At the Assizes court the judge Mr. Baron Huddleston opened the court and commented in particular on the contrast to 1875 when there were neither any matters of crime, nor civil litigation. Here however were four people on serious charges, three were of bigamy, arson, and forgery. The fourth case against Elizabeth Kirkbride was the most serious and was of the concealment of five infant bodies in her luggage boxes and most likely the further concealment of another, which had not been found at the home at Helton. He took particular time to describe to the Grand Jury the circumstances and that the bodies were so far decomposed that the medical men had been unable to say how they had met their deaths, or whether any were born and lived separate lives from the mother. He accepted that it was only due to this vagueness of evidence that the magistrates had put her forward on a charge of concealment of births only, and not a far more serious charge. It was decided to go ahead with three charges of concealment, one being the undiscovered child at Helton, one being a body found concealed in a box at The Griffin, Penrith, and one being found at Tuebrook, Liverpool. She wore a thick veil over her face, which the judge told her to remove, and she did but kept her eyes locked to the floor. The case itself was to be heard by Mr. Justice Manisty the next day but after discussion with the counsel for the defence, Elizabeth Mary Louisa Kirkbride, aged 41 years, pleaded Guilty there and then to all three charges.
The next day Mr. Justice Manisty sentenced her saying,
“You have pleaded guilty of concealing the bodies of three of your children. You have done so no doubt because you knew perfectly well that there was not a shadow of doubt as to the course you had pursued, at all events, as regards concealing their birth, and I much fear you know a great deal more. About twelve years ago your husband died, and you would then be not quite thirty years of age, and during the interval that has elapsed since that event, you have perpetrated crime after crime with regard to your own offspring. You have acted as a mother so inhuman that the case is almost without a parallel, and you confess that you have acted in a manner which no humane person, still less a mother of her own offspring, could possibly have acted - at least one would have thought so. Well, during that short period of time it is clear upon the evidence that has been given that you have acted in that manner towards at least five of your children. It may be that is not all in respect of whom you have so conducted yourself, and it has been a matter of grave and serious consideration by my brother judge, Mr Baron Huddleston, and by myself, as to whether this was not a case in which you should have been tried for murder. It is only after grave considerations and seeing the difficulties, technical more than substantial, but difficulties of such a nature and in all probability a conviction—in point of law and with regard to the rules of evidence—could not have been obtained, that it was deemed wiser and more prudent not to prepare a bill for murder. But I have read the depositions carefully, and l am bound to say that morally I have no doubt, neither has the learned judge before whom you were arraigned yesterday any doubt morally, that you have been guilty of violence towards those children, when they were alive. In three cases out of five it is perfectly clear that violence was resorted to, and in two cases there is evidence and there are clear marks of violence which would have caused death, and it is difficult to arrive at the conclusion that that violence was not used and resorted to while they were alive, because one can scarcely find, in fact, I cannot discover any reason why in two cases cord was tied around the necks of those children deep enough and tight enough to cause death. You must answer to your own conscience whether you did tie those cords and did cause the death of those children. The punishment which I am about to inflict is far short of that which would have been inflicted had you been tried for and convicted of murder. At the same time l am going to pass a severe sentence. In another of the cases there are marks of fearful and awful violence, the head severed front the body of the child, and you know that the umbilical cord had been improperly tied. Again it may be that circumstances would have prevented a conviction for murder of that child, but what I cannot for a moment doubt is that you are party to the most inhuman act of which a human being can be capable. I therefore feel that it is a case in which I ought to pronounce a sentence upon each of the three indictments to which you have pleaded guilty, and the sentence will be one of imprisonment with hard labour, for a period of time which makes it a sentence of great severity. I have come to the conclusion, and my learned brother judge entirely agrees with me, that we ought in this case to mark it by something more than the extreme punishment which is awarded in the case of a conviction for one of concealment,—the extreme punishment for one case being two years' imprisonment with hard labour. But to mark the sense we entertain of this case we must add something to that. Two years is a very severe sentence; but to mark the sense we entertain of this case, I now pass sentence on you of nine months' imprisonment in the case of each of the three indictments to which you plead guilty. That in the aggregate will be two years and three months with hard labour. The second term will commence at the expiration of the first, and the third will commence at the expiration of the second. I only wish to make one observation, which, perhaps, I ought to make not with respect to you, but what is reported to have fallen from my brother yesterday. He did not for a moment mean to convey the notion that he had not read the depositions sufficiently to deal with the case, because he was prepared to deal with it to the extent of sending in a bill for murder, if it had been found advisable, but it was not the right course to take, unless it had been in some manner suggested by the grand jury, who carefully investigated the case. It must not be thought for a moment that he and I had not studied the case with the greatest anxiety”.
The prisoner, who maintained a demeanour of greatest composure throughout, was then removed.

The mitigation put forward by Mrs Kirkbride was that Thomas Moss of Askham had promised to marry her and in the end disregarded this promise and married another woman. Quite rightly the courts of the day would have been wrong to have accepted this at its face value, made by a woman who the evidence showed had most likely killed at least six of her own offspring, many newborn. Following the passage of time, it is now perhaps worth dispassionately and logically considering the evidence for the likelihood of that allegation. Thomas appears to have been born in the second quarter of 1838 the son of the head blacksmith to the Lowther Estate and himself moved into that trade. Due to eye trouble he had to relinquish this and instead took up the tea and bacon trade, taking on a premise in Askham and erecting a grocery establishment. He would later add to this with a newsagents and post office; Askham is only one mile from Helton. He was a 25 or 26-year-old single man when Thomas Kirkbride had died in 1864; Elizabeth would have been around 28 years old and of course well educated, so would have borne herself well and was of good education. The circumstances were certainly there for a relationship to develop in a close community and Elizabeth would find advantage in re-marrying with a man to provide for her and her family; she was a widow, but a young widow. Against this of course is that any promise of marriage, one would have expected to have been honourably carried out upon her becoming pregnant with her first illegitimate child; no marriage occurred of course, yet the pregnancies continued. It is possible however, that Thomas, as a provisions dealer, was aiding Elizabeth in the maintenance of her and her children, perhaps also her extended family, and himself gained a personal ‘benefit’ for that. It has to be considered that Elizabeth would fall upon hard times, with her children, mother, and mother-in-law, dependant on anything she could obtain. Her mother-in-law and the aunts had cautioned the boy William Ernest about returning to the body he had found, so were fully aware of the deaths, and acquiesced to them; her own mother had to be similarly aware and remain quiet about the births and deaths. Why would they do that unless they all benefitted from any immoral, but perhaps necessary arrangement for their wellbeing and provision? It was either that or possibly the workhouse for them all if this possible state of affairs ended. The other notable point to consider is that finally Thomas married another woman in the second quarter of 1875 and any association with Elizabeth would likely end, as would any assistance he had provided her. It is just after this time that she tries to gain remuneration by teaching, although that failed; perhaps that was out of dire need. Finally, she reached the stage of living with her two sons, John Sydney, and William Ernest, who was now 18 years old, in Tuebrook.
Thomas Moss’s marriage did not last long, his first wife, Jessie Loban died at Askham on 27th May 1877; they had no children. He remarried Frances (Fanny) Rose in November 1887 and they had one daughter, Annie Rebecca, born in the first quarter of 1889. He outlived his second wife Fanny, who died in the second quarter of 1920 aged 72 years; he also outlived their only child who had earlier died in the third quarter of 1914 aged 25 years. He died on 24th April 1924 at the age of 85 years and was buried at Askham on Monday 28th.
Of Elizabeth Mary Louisa Kirkbride, (nee Hayton) it is difficult to conclusively establish what happened to her. An Elizabeth Kirkbride died at West Derby (Liverpool area) in the first quarter of 1881, aged 41 years. The age is perhaps younger than expected, but that discrepancy was not uncommon for those early days of registration, which began nationally in 1837.