Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Years ago, I used to take my sons to France and Belgium on Great War battlefield pilgrimages. Now, they are all grown men, but one son recently decided that he would like to go back and trace our footsteps from years ago, when he was little, and I was able to walk more than a mile without the joints creaking and the lungs working overtime. In the previous blog, we returned to Ploegsteert - 'Plugstreet' to the occupying Tommies - but there was another special place which we needed to visit.

This part of our pilgrimage was to a place which, in terms of Western Front visitors, was relatively forgotten twenty years ago. This is mainly because it had become a proud but infamous name to Australian historians and veterans, but had little significance for British enthusiasts.

Fromelles is a relatively insignificant village in northern France, between the conurbations of Armentières and Lens. The land is almost unremittingly flat, apart from a gentle ridge which runs SW - NE. On this ridge sit the villages of Aubers and Fromelles. As modest as the ridge is, it gave the German defenders a commanding position once the trench lines had been established in late 1914. In two battles of 1915 - Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge -  the British tried and failed to take the high ground. 

There was also a military disaster at Loos in September 1915, and General Sir Richard Haking (1862-1945) had, in various ways, been associated with these setbacks. He was regarded as a 'thruster' - a commander who would press ahead with an attack, even if common sense and military logic weighed against it.

By the summer of 1916, plans were in an advanced stage for what was intended to be the decisive break through astride the River Ancre, north of The River Somme. It was decided that a diversionary attack should be made well to the north, in order to prevent German reserves being packed in front of the anticipated attack on The Somme. Haking was in charge of this diversion, and it was decided once again to try and assault the Aubers Ridge. This time the attack was to be by three British brigades - the 182nd, 183rd and 184th (61st Division), and three Australian - the 8th, 14th and 15th (5th Division)

The preparatory British artillery bombardment was ineffective, and when the attack began on the evening of July 19th 1916, the three British brigades were easily beaten back, but the Australians had more initial success. Unfortunately, what were depicted on captured trench maps as German support trenches were little more than indefensible water-filled ditches. With no support on the flanks, the advancing Australians become fatally isolated. The Germans came out from the safety of their dugouts and swiftly wrapped up the Australians in a deadly trap. The casualties for the Battle of Fromelles were horrendous. A total of 1547 men were killed or wounded from the 61st Division - 50% of strength. The Australian 5th Division suffered 5533 killed or wounded - a staggering 90% of total strength.

Part of the debacle was due to the amazing complex of tunnels and surface blockhouses the Germans had built. The tunnels were deep underground, and kept dry from the waterlogged land by constant pumping. In a dry summer in the 1990s, these tunnels were pumped dry and explored by local military historians. Within 24 hours, they were waterlogged again.

When we first visited Fromelles in the late 1990s, one of the entrances to the tunnel system was still open - provided you were equipped with an aqualung - and a death wish. Now, the area has been sanitised, tidied up, and made into a 'Battlefield Park'. The deep tunnels still exist. Until time and geology absorb them, they remain beneath the feet of the villagers. waterlogged and inaccessible, but a tribute to German engineering.

After July 1916, the opposing front lines at Fromelles remained static. It wasn't until the afternoon of November 11th, 1918, that Australian observers were able to wander into the narrow strip of No Man's Land beyond their parapet. They found skeletons, clothing, rusted equipment and other tragic reminders of those fatal days two years earlier. Some of the dead were to know known grave, but those who died behind German lines were buried in mass graves by the defenders. 

In 2008, archaeologists discovered a burial site in a location known as Pheasant Wood. Many of the 250 soldiers buried there were later identified by DNA analysis, and during the early months of 2010 were buried with full military honours in a new cemetery.

We were privileged to watch several of these burials on a grey and icy day in February 2010. When we visited in October 2014, the headstones had been put in place, the turf laid, and the landscape restored. After 98 years, brave men had been accorded the last resting place that their heroism warranted.

On that day, there were no headstones. Just the cold dark clay in which the soldiers had perished. 98 years earlier, their burial had been even more perfunctory. perhaps a few words in German. Perhaps a sign of the cross. There would have been no names, no blessings. No tears. No regrets. In 2010, the final resting place of those 250 brave souls was little more than a muddy field on the gentle slopes beneath a village which Britain and her allies failed to capture in four years of bitter conflict.

But time does wonderful things. It destroys, but it also creates. Four years after those cold February burials, we returned. And we saw a green field, with white marble headstones, row upon row. And we saw a young woman explaining to her daughter what a sacrifice these young men had made. What lives they had left behind. What dreams and ambitions would never be fulfilled.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


Let's take a temporary break from the criminal history of Wisbech and district. Tonight's blog has little to do with the town, but is more personal. Years ago, I used to take my sons to France and Belgium on Great War battlefield pilgrimages. Now, they are all grown men, but one son recently decided that he would like to go back and trace our footsteps from years ago, when he was little, and I was able to walk more than a mile without the joints creaking and the lungs working overtime. He had visited Chartwell, the former home of Winston Churchill, and had been fascinated by one of WSC's paintings. - that of a scene near Ploegsteert, in Belgium. How did someone so eminent as Churchill end up near the front line in The Great War?

Following the ill-fated Gallipolli campaign, Churchill resigned from the Government on November the 12th 1915. He had made up his mind to serve overseas, and stated in his resignation letter "I am an officer, and I place myself unreservedly at the disposal of the military authorities, observing that my regiment is in France." Churchill was appointed Commanding Officer of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was based at Ploegsteert for some time with this unit around early 1916. 

Churchill was a great wartime leader, and a man whose grasp of the English language was second to none. The celebrated American broadcaster, Ed Murrow, had this to say:

"He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle to steady his fellow countrymen and hearten those Europeans upon whom the long dark night of tyranny had descended."

Great man that he was, I think that his paintings brought him more joy than it did those who were to look at them in later years. We found the location of Battalion HQ for the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers - it is near a modest farm, just to the south of Ploegsteert Wood - and tried to match up Churchill's painting with the actual scene. Suffice to say that the great man's imagination was as vivid as his use of language. The painting appears to be from high ground, and there are hills in the distance beyond the ruined church. The landscape around Ploegsteert (which the soldiers renamed 'Plugstreet') is even flatter than our Fens, if that is possible.

In the village of Ploegsteert, Churchill's time in the area is commemorated by a plaque on the wall of the church, the destroyed tower and spire of which he sought to capture in 1916. There is an interesting but effective anachronism in the plaque. Churchill is shown as the man he became in World War II, not the man he was in 1916. His hat is jammed determinedly on his head, his jaw juts out, and between his lips is the obligatory cigar. 

There is much more to see around Ploegsteert than the Churchill memories. It was on this stretch of the Western Front that the celebrated truces of December 1914 first occurred. Thanks to a diagram and a diary entry from Bruce Bairnsfather (the creator of the 'Old Bill' cartoons) we can trace almost exactly where that spot is, and today a wooden cross marks the location. In the distance, across the flat fields, is the village of Messines, with its distinctive 'pepper-pot' dome. It is alleged that a certain Corporal Hitler was treated for wounds in the church crypt during the war. If all the Great War locations for AH are to be believed, however, he would have to have been the most widely traveled German soldier of the war.

In the quiet depths of Ploegsteert Wood today, there is still a sense, within the silence, that this is a special and hallowed place. Tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops would have lived - and died - here. Small cemeteries are dotted here and there in gaps in the trees. They are quiet and sad places, but still visitors come and pay tribute to the young men for whom this was their last resting place. Within the wood, the visitor can still find the crumbling remains of bunkers. Most have been swallowed up by the unsentimental power of nature, but here and there, a pile of moss-covered stones reminds us that young men joked, laughed, existed - and suffered - under the vast canopy of the trees.

Geoffrey Winthrop Young, a writer, poet and teacher, wrote a prophetic verse in 1909 which has become linked to these silent graveyards. He wrote:
                          There will be voices whispering down these ways,
                                  The while one wanderer is left to hear;
                                And the young life and laughter of old days
                                          Shall make undying echoes.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Wm. Chas. Sullivan, medical officer at Holloway Prison, said Mrs. Rowell was brought to the prison from Cambridge. He had frequent interviews with her and kept her under observation. She was very depressed at first, and it was impossible to get her to attend or to answer questions. She was afraid of the other prisoners in the ward, and said she did not like to eat her food because she had not earned it, and did not deserve it. She had a good memory, and was able to give an account of the crime with which she was now charged. She said that whenever she was pregnant she was unable to do her work, and the children got out of control. She stated that the child Emma worried her, and she took her upstairs to punish her. She locked the child in a room, and as she continued to cry she placed her on the floor and put her foot on her. When she removed her foot the child did not come round, and she tried to revive her and failed to do so, so she left her and went downstairs. She did not in the least recognise the seriousness of her own position, and when it was pointed out to her she said she did not mind.
When the last child was taken away from her while she was in prison she did not to mind, and did not even ask about it. She got brighter as soon as the child was weaned, and this improvement had continued. In reply to Mr. Brodie. the witness stated that it was by no means uncommon for a woman’s mind to be affected as the time of child-birth drew near. In his opinion the prisoner was insane three weeks after the birth of the last child.
Mr. Brodie, addressing the jury, urged that there could not be the slightest doubt, after the evidence given, that prisoner was insane at the time she committed this act. The evidence of Dr. Sullivan, who had doubtless had a great deal of experience in such cases, must be regarded as conclusive. In summing up, Mr Avory reminded the jury that in law everyone was presumed to be sane until they were proved to be otherwise. There was a legal definition of insanity which alone could excuse crime, and the jury must be satisfied that at the time the woman committed this act she either did not know the nature and quality of the act - in other words she did not know that she was killing the child or was doing something likely to kill it. The jury must be of the opinion that she did not know when she committed the act that she was doing wrong. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the prisoner was guilty, but at the time she committed the act she was not responsible for her actions. Mr Avory ordered that she be detained as a criminal lunatic during His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Note well that Rebecca Rowell gave birth to her latest child while she was under arrest in Wisbech Police Station. It is hardly surprising that the baby was taken away from her. By the press reports, it seems that Rebecca Rowell was in an almost constant state of pregnancy. The un-named infant was her tenth. 

Skipping on a couple of years, we look at the 1911 census. Husband Harry Rowell is bringing up four children - Harry junior, George, Elizabeth and Robert. Poor, dead Emma makes five. The un-named child born in Wisbech Police Station makes six. We can only assume that four other children have either died or been taken into care.

On August 3rd, 1914, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey uttered the words which have become the stuff of legend. He said,
"The lamps are going out all over Europe.
We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime"

Sir Edward Grey
Across the country, in hamlet, village, town and city, young men from humble backgrounds queued for hours around the block, some lying about their age, all desperate to be part of the greatest adventure for a generation. Men who were better connected called in favours via their parents, and went off to train as officers. Meanwhile, the tiny regular army, designated the British Expeditionary Force, reeled from the onslaught of overwhelming German forces in the fields and towns of Flanders. It seems that young Harry Rowell, sixteen in 1911, enlisted as a private in The Norfolk Regiment, and joined what was called 'The New Army', or 'Kitchener's Army'. His battalion, the 9th Norfolks, were not involved on that bloodiest day in British military history - July 1st 1916 - but as the fighting on The Somme stretched throughout that long hot summer, and into autumn, they were part of the 71st Brigade during what was officially known as The Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 
Their main objective was a heavily fortified German redoubt east of the village of Ginchy, known as The Quadrilateral. On the morning of September 15th, the attack began, but despite an artillery barrage, and conscientious planning, the attack failed. The Battalion diary records that four officers were killed, and twelve wounded. It also notes that among 'Other Ranks', there were 431 casualties.

One of these 'Other Ranks' casualties was Harry Rowell, from Foul Anchor, one of the surviving children of poor, mad Rebecca Rowell, possibly still languishing in a mental institution, at His Majesty's Pleasure.
Harry's name is on the simple but dignified Foul Anchor war memorial. It is also inscribed on the overwhelming and powerful memorial at Thiepval, along with 72,193 other men whose bodies were never found. 
There is a trend among modern historians to view the carnage of The Somme as an unfortunate, but necessary ingredient which led to the collapse of the German Army in 1918. The casualty figures, however, are astonishing. Between July and November 1916, the total casualties for the Allies was 623,907, of which 146,431 were killed. The German losses were 465,000 including 164,055 dead.

So ends a story which begins with a poor, mentally fragile woman, driven mad by constant pregnancy and worry. The story ends seven years later with her son, probably scared out of his wits, climbing out of a trench at the officer's whistle, and walking headlong into a hail of enemy fire which was to end his life.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

                             A HEARTBREAKING TALE (part one)

THE WORD TRAGEDY is over-used, but tonight's tale fits the bill like none other. We have a woman living in an isolated hamlet, mother of many children due to the constant demands of her husband. She is mentally unstable, and her children cause her more grief than happiness. She lives in the bizarrely named settlement of Foul Anchor. 

Locals will know it as a place that is more driven past than visited. It is a virtual island. To the south, huge empty fields. To the east, the tidal River Nene. To the north, the main outflow of the North Level Main Drain with its sinister sluice. To the west, more fields. 

There is one road in, and one road out. It is the same road. Even today, it is a secluded and silent place. To add another adjective - sinister - would be a step too far, but in 1909, it was no place for a sick woman and her children. In 1909, there was actually a neat little railway station for passengers wishing to use the The Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, popularly known as the 'Muddle & Going Nowhere'. The station building was, until the 1970s a presentable place, but is now a shambles of incomplete work and rusting used cars. Should anyone need lessons in how to destroy a pleasant and evocative group of buildings, please contact the current owners.

Regarding the unfortunate woman central to our story, let the newspapers of the time take up the narrative.

THE FEN TRAGEDY. Rebecca Rowell, Foul Anchor, Tydd St. Giles, in the Fen district on the borders of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, who, accused of murdering ring her four year-old child under circumstances already reported, has been further remanded for a week, not being able at present to attend and answer the charge. Mrs. Rowell and her child who was born at Wisbech Police Station on Sunday, the 10th inst, are doing well. The mother, it is reported, making excellent progress.

1909 CAMBS. SUMMER ASSIZES. WISBECH CHILD MURDER: AN INSANE MOTHERS CRIME.  The Summer Assizes for Cambridge. were opened at the Shirehall, Chesterton, Saturday, before Horace Avory Esq. His Majesty’s Commissioner. The calendar included a charge against Wisbech woman of murdering her infant child, The Commissioner, giving the charge to the Grand Jury, there was only one charge of any gravity to come before them, and that was a charge against woman named Rebecca Rowell, aged 39, of murdering her infant daughter, at Tydd St. Giles, on January 7th. The Jury would see whether there was “prima facie” evidence that she did take the life of this child by violence, and if they were opinion that there was such evidence, was their duty to return a True Bill against her for murder. They would find that she herself called the attention of a neighbour to what she had done, and invited her to upstairs to a bedroom, using the expression "I'm afraid I have done for Emma.”

The child was found upstairs, dead, from suffocation, apparently the result of pressure being applied to the throat and chest, and probably to the mouth. The Jury concern was merely to impute whether this woman did take the life of her child. It had been suggested that she was insane at the time when the act was committed, but they had nothing to do with this question, which would be investigated by the Petty Jury. 

INSANE MOTHER’S CRIME. Rebecca Rowell, aged 39, a married woman, of Tydd St. Giles’ Wisbech, was charged with the murder of her daughter Emma Rowell, aged 4 years, on January 6th. This was postponed from the January Assizes. The woman pleaded not guilty when charged. She hung her head and did not utter word during the proceedings. Mr. Theobald Mathew and Mr. W. R. appeared for the Treasury, and Mr. Brodie for the defence. Mr. Theobald Mathew said he did not think that as to one part of the case the Jury would have any difficulty, for he believed that his learned friend was not going to dispute that :his poor woman did kill her child. He thought the evidence was too plain to enable them to suppose that she did not do so, and what they had to determine was as to the state of her mind at the time, whether she understood nature and quality of the act she was committing, whether she knew the difference between right and wrong. If they came to the conclusion that she did not, they would return such a verdict as would enable her to taken proper care of. 

The court was informed that on two occasions before this crime was committed, the prisoner had been confined in a lunatic asylum. In 1904 she was confined in the county asylum, and while she was there was born the child into whose death they were now inquiring. She was apparently released from the asylum cured in September, but in January,1905, it was again found necessary to confine her there. They would hear what the condition of her mind was on that second occasion. She was subject to delusions, made strange accusations against her own relatives, and spoke of self-destruction, saying she had intended to destroy herself before she came to the asylum. She left the asylum in January 1906. and so far as he knew there was nothing wrong with her from that time until the date of the crime with which she was now charged.
In January of this year she was expecting her confinement, and the neighbour (who would be called) would say that from time to time they noticed something strange in her manner. The rest of Mr. Matthew’s statement was, borne out in the evidence of the witnesses. 

Mrs. Green, wife of John Green, stated that she lived near Mrs. Rowell, and knew her well. The deceased child frequently came to witness's house for her meals. She asked on the morning of her death if she might stay that day, and the witness replied in the affirmative. Later in the day witness heard the child crying in Mrs. Rowell’s house, and recognised the voice of little Emma. She knew then that prisoner was about to be confined. She was neglectful in her ways, and used lie in bed during the daytime and neglect her work.
Mr. Brodie said that the prisoner had had four children previously, since the witness had known her, and on each occasion she had seemed strange her manner, previous to her confinement. Mrs. Sarah Jane Betts, wife of William, stated that she lived near the prisoner. She had intended to nurse the prisoner in her confinement. She visited the prisoner’s house the morning of 6th, to see how she was. After seeing the prisoner she left the house, returning about quarter to 12. She went into the house and saw the prisoner, who came down stairs to speak to her. Mrs Rowley said "Go upstairs and see what I have done.’’ Witness asked her several times what she had done, and eventually she said, "I believe I have done for Emma." 
The witness then went outside and fetched her sister,  Mrs Colbey, who went upstairs and said, when she returned. “It is too true.” The prisoner was then sitting quietly the fire, nursing another of her children.
Mr. Brodie said, "The prisoner did not appear to realise in the least the seriousness of she had done. She was nursing the other child as if nothing unusual had happened."

Mrs Colbey, wife of John Colbey, said she went to Mrs. Rowley’s house on the day in question. When the prisoner said, "I've done for Emma”, the witness asked her why she did it, and she replied that she did not know. The witness went upstairs and found the child Emma lying the floor on her back. She was quite dead and cold, and there was froth upon her mouth. Upon going downstairs witness asked prisoner if she should fetch the child’s father, and she replied “I don’t know,” this being the only reply she would give to any question.
The father was fetched and the police were afterwards informed. Witness corroborated what had been said by the other neighbour as to the strangeness of Mrs. Rowell s behaviour at the approach of her confinement on previous occasions. PC Dunmore said he was called to the house on January 6th, and found the prisoner there, went upstairs with her husband and found the body of the deceased child. He ascertained that the child was quite dead, and then went down and spoke to the prisoner. He told her that he would arrest her for the murder of her child, and she replied, “I can’t think what made me do it.”  PC Dunmore took her to Wisbech police-station. She went very quietly, but cried almost the whole of the time. 

Florence Barnes said she was the female searcher at Wisbech police station. The  prisoner was brought to the police-station at 6.30 on the evening of January 6th. She asked the prisoner if she knew what she had done, and the prisoner replied that she did not know much about it. She said "I don’t think I can tell you.”
The prisoner eventually stated that she had killed her little girl, and added that she did not know what made her do it, and when she found out what she had done she tried to bring her round again. She said the child worried her and she took her upstairs to punish her. She said she had had a lot of trouble, and the child about to be born would her ninth. Prisoner was confined on January 10th, and the child was still alive.
The prisoner had been very quiet while under the witness’s care, and did not seem to realise the nature of the act she had committed. She quite thought she was going home when she got better. Dr. Crofton of Sutton Bridge, said he was sent for to prisoner’s house on January 6th. In the back bedroom he found the deceased child, which had then been dead for some time. Going downstairs he asked the prisoner, who was nursing another child by the fire, if she felt ill, and she replied that she did. He afterwards made a post-mortem examination of the dead child. He found the child to be fairly well-nourished. There was a bruise upon the neck and a scratch below  the left ear, and a mark between the ear and the chin looked if it might have been made by a finger. There was also a bruise upon the chest, made before death. The cause of death was undoubtedly suffocation caused, by pressure upon the chest.
The Commissioner asked, "How long would such pressure have to be maintained in order to produce the symptoms you found? The doctor replied, "l should say for at least five minutes.

IN PART TWO - the conclusion to the trial, and a sad link to The Battle Of The Somme, 1916 .

Sunday, 5 October 2014


After the last tale where the unfortunate Mr Pygot came to a fiery end for his religious beliefs, we are back tonight with good old fashioned murder. 

WISBECH, Spring 1895. What was happening in the world? What did the town look like? If we were transported back in time, what would we recognise? Here's an OS map of the town, dating from 1900. 
 Queen Victoria was nearing the end of her wonderful reign, Wilde's The Importance Of Being Ernest had premiered in London, Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery was Prime Minister, and Arthur Brand was MP for Wisbech. Leach's Mill still towered above the town, the canal was still open for business, and Robert Godard's high class tailor shop first opened for business. You could also walk along Norfolk Street and not hear another language except English - or at least NE Cambridgeshire's strange version of English.
Arthur Brand M.P.

Meanwhile, unaware of the golden glow of an empire on which the sun never set, a deluded and mentally fragile local man was on the verge of murdering his dear old mum. He and said mater lived at 26 Upper Hill Street, more or less where Prams  & Toys is now. Let the newspapers tell the lurid tale.

MARCH 1895 - MURDER OF A MOTHER. The Press Association's Wisbech correspondent telegraphs that David Bullamore (35), hairdresser, was arrested there this morning charged with murdering his mother, an old woman aged 70, evidently by strangulation. Bullamore is subject to fits of mental derangement, and has been in an asylum. At five o'clock on Saturday morning, a neighbour - a man named Dunn -  heard shrieks and summoned the police, who forcibly entered the house and found the woman dead, having been strangled. Another witness, Porter Smith said that Bullamore was so strange in his manner that he had sat up with him until the early hours of the morning.
26 Hill Street
The inquest on the body of the woman was opened on Saturday. Robert Bullamore, brother of the man in custody, deposed that David had been queer in his manner all the week. He was an inmate of asylum eight years ago. Brant Smith, a porter, said he saw David at ten on Friday night, and he asked the witness whether he had seen a doctor go in his house. He was strange in his manner, and would not enter the house unless the witness went in with him. Witness did so, and then Mrs. Bullamore went to bed, but afterwards got up owing to the noisy behaviour of David. Mrs. Bullamore made some tea, and when witness left at half-past two the morning, David being then quiet, the table was set and a large bread knife was upon it. The knife was afterwards found on the floor near the dead woman. The inquest was adjourned.

The inquest was resumed on Monday. Dr. Groom deposed that death was due to asphyxia, which must have been caused by the son standing on her throat The arteries were gorged, and the symptoms were not compatible with death from natural causes. On Tuesday the police produced a shawl which was found near to the deceased, and also a large carving knife. Dr. H. Groom declared that the shawl had been placed over the deceased’s mouth with sufficient pressure that it would produce the asphyxia, which was the cause of death. There would then be no marks on the trachea or larynx. The police evidence showed that a struggle had taken place near the window, that some flower pots were broken, that a small table was smashed, that chairs were overturned and broken, that the window blinds were torn down, and that a part of a curtain was over the deceased’s face.
The coroner, in summing up, referred to the tardiness of the neighbours in rendering assistance when the shrieks of the deceased were heard, and said that in the face of the medical evidence there was no alternative but to return a verdict of wilful murder. After twenty minutes’ deliberation the jury unanimously returned verdict of Wilful Murder” against David Bullamore, and added a rider to the effect that the proper authorities were greatly to blame in not having had David Bullamore taken care of.
MARCH - WISBECH MURDER. PRISONER AGAIN BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES. David Bullamore was again charged with murdering his mother at Wisbech today. P.C.'s Green and Jacobs repeated their evidence and Dr. Harry Groom, Dr. William Groom, and Dr. Wherry, of Cambridge, gave evidence as to the cause of death, which they all agreed was to asphyxia. Dr. Wherry stated that he had made a fresh post mortem examination on Friday. Bullamore appeared perfectly calm and rational whilst before the Court. The magistrates committed him for trial at Cambridge Assizes. 

THE WISBECH MURDER, APRIL 1895. The man Bullamore, who is awaiting trial for the murder of his mother in Wisbech, is confined at H. M. Prison at Chesterton. He Is being closely observed by the prison doctor, as there is no doubt that the defence of insanity will be set up. Bullamore will arraigned at the next Cambridge Assizes which open on the 1st June.
Fulbourne Hospital
MONDAY 3 JUNE 1895 - THE WISBECH MURDER PRISONER DECLARED INSANE. David Bullamore, accused of murdering his mother. Bullamore, of 26, Upper Hill Street, Wisbech, on  9 March last, was brought before the Lord Chief Justice at Cambridge Assizes on Saturday. The circumstances of the case were reported in these columns at the time of the murder. Since he was committed for trial Bullamore has been carefully watched in gaol by medical men, and at the trial on Saturday it was decided that his mental condition was such that he was unable to plead. Medical gentlemen were called to give evidence as to the state of the prisoner's mind, and they declared that be was insane. Under these circumstances the Lord Chief Justice ordered Bullamore to be detailed at a criminal lunatic asylum during her Majesty's pleasure. As was leaving the dock Bullamore explained that be would rather be tried, as he was perfectly sane. Bullamore probably went for a prolonged stay in Fulbourne Hospital, and the exact nature of his illness is not known, but as the register of patients shows, there were only a few conditions recognised by medical science in those days, one of the most catch-all being 'mania'

The title of this latest blog? Well, it comes from a dire sentimental song from the early years of the twentieth century. Clearly David Bullamore had never heard these plaintive tones, or if he did, they meant nothing to him.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Tonight's tale of doom and death is a little different. The victim was a Wisbech man, but he actually died in full view of the public on Ely's picturesque Cathedral Green - and there wasn't an American or Japanese tourist anywhere in sight. For this was October 1555, and the whole country was suffering the righteous anger of a woman who came to be known as Bloody Mary. And, before anyone asks, she didn't invent the rather delicious cocktail made from vodka, tomato juice, celery salt and Worcester Sauce. 

So, who was Bloody Mary? Well, we may have to have a quick history lesson. As you know, Henry VIII was not known for his success as a husband. He went through wives like most of us go through socks, except that few of his ladies lived long enough to wear out. After giving birth to a son, Jane Seymour died from postnatal complications. 

That son went on to rule as Edward VI, but he was a sickly little fellow, and died of a lung disease. He had a big sister Mary, or rather half-sister, who was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon. She seized the throne, and she was an extremely ardent Roman Catholic,  so she set about restoring England 's religion to what it had been before her father started defying The Pope. This meant a fair amount of trade for firewood dealers, as her favourite penalty for heretics was to set fire to them.

And this is where we come back to Wisbech, and a rather unfortune gentleman called Robert Pygot. Pygot and another man from Upwell were arrested for not attending church, and they were sent to appear before a religious court in Ely.  The story continues in the words of a contemporary account.

Queen Mary

In court, the judge, Sir Clement Higham, asked him: “How chance ye came not to the church?”  
Pygot, who believed Jesus was always present in a believer’s heart, replied: “I am not out of church, I trust in God.”  
“This is no church,” said the Judge. “This is a hall.”
“I know very well it is a hall,” answered Pygot. “But he that is in the true faith of Jesus Christ, is never absent, but present in the Church of God.”  

On 9th October  1555, Wolsey and Pygot were brought before a Commission which included John Fuller and the Dean of Norwich, John Christopherson, who tried them both for heresy.
By now, Fuller had already dismissed Wolsey as “an obstinate fellow” but he believed that Pygot could be persuaded to recant.  So Christopherson called for a pen and paper and Pygot was asked to sign a document saying he believed the catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

When questioned about the sacrament of the altar (the Mass), the two Wisbech Martyrs, Wolsey and Pygot, made the following answer: “The sacrament of the altar is an idol and the natural body and blood of Christ are not present in the said sacrament.” He refused, and the two men were sentenced to death.  
They refused to recant their denial of the sacrament, believing this was not heresy, but the truth, and were condemned to death.

A week later, on 16 October, they were executed by burning on the Cathedral Green at Ely, the same day that Bishops Latimer and Ridley were martyred at Oxford. The sentence of condemnation was read and a sermon preached, and then they were led out to the stake. With them were burnt copies of the Bible in English, and Wolsey and Pygot seized copies of these, reciting Psalm 116, and imploring all present to say, ‘Amen’. And so, records Foxe, in his Book Of English Martys, they ‘received the fire most thankfully.’