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Cruel Lizzie Vickers: continued

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Part way through the night, Hammond was woken by a heavy thud from next door. "It appeared as though he had either fallen out of his chair or off his couch in the back parlour," she testified. "I did not hear more than one fall, and after that there was dead silence. [...] I then heard someone go out of the house - it appeared as if to get some assistance."
That must have been about 4:45am. PC John Grant was on duty outside Springfield Cottages at that time when he saw Vickers come out and go to Edward Evans' house at 1 Springfield Cottages. Evans was a carpenter who occasionally did some work in Jones' house.
According to Evans' own testimony, Vickers told him Jones was dead and asked him to come back to the house with her. He said he sent her back alone while he got dressed, and then followed five minutes later. PC Grant was still there as Vickers crossed back to her own house. "I spoke to her and wished her good morning," he told the court. "She made no reply. She seemed to me as if she had been drinking, or was very much agitated."
When Evans arrived, he found Jones lying dead on the sofa, with his hands arranged neatly across his chest. He called his son over to wait with Vickers and went off to find Key. The doctor was delayed by another overnight death, but arrived at Jones' house around 8:00am, where he confirmed that Jones was dead.

'Vickers became so vehement and violent that her own solicitor had to beg her to be quiet'

When Key asked Vickers what had happened, she told him Jones had been too weak to get up to bed the previous night, and asked her to sit up with him while he remained on the sofa. At about 3:30am he'd asked her for some water, she said, but had died just as she gave it to him. Asked how long Jones had been on the sofa, she was evasive at first, but eventually said he'd been there since 4:00 o'clock on Sunday afternoon. "It was a very confused account that she gave me," Key told the trial.
When he examined the body, Key found a whole catalogue of injuries, including:

* Bruising on the right temple. Key estimated this had been done sometime in the past week or so, and it may be the same "teacup sized" injury which Allen noticed on January 1. When Key removed Jones' scalp, he found bleeding underneath this injury, which had released as much as two ounces of blood. That amount of blood pressing on the brain would have been enough to cause death, he said, but cautioned that the bleeding may not have started until some time after the bruise was inflicted.

* Bruising to the back of the head. This was a more recent wound, dating back at most five or six days. Neither Key nor Thomas Hillyer, another doctor who testified at the trial, could be certain which of these two blows had killed Jones. Both suggested, however, that the first blow may have left the blood vessels in that area congested, and thus more likely to rupture when the second blow was delivered.

Key also found injuries to Jones' nose, which he said could have been caused by either a fall or a blow, and which dated back two weeks or more. When he asked Vickers about this particular wound, she said Jones had fallen on the stairs. He was "always falling about," she said, and had recently fallen in the garden too. Key asked her about the other head wounds, but got no reply. "She made no answer, but walked out of the room," he later testified. "I did not ask her any other questions about him".
On January 13, just three days after the old man's death, Vickers pawned a silver snuff box, a silver watch and some other items at a shop in Kennington Road, getting 3 for them. William Jones later testified that these items had belonged to his uncle, but Vickers insisted he had bought them as gifts for her, and that she was therefore pawning her own property.
Police searching the cottage found Jones' will, which valued his estate at 3,000. He'd left 200 each to his two favourite nephews, 100 to a third nephew and 300 to Key. Vickers got everything else, leaving her with 2,000 even after the funeral and other expenses had been cleared. That 2,000 would be worth about 190,000 today.
Jones' inquest was held on January 14. It called Collins as a witness, who described the fall he'd seen Jones take while trying to close his shutters on the night of News Year Eve, saying that the old man had hit his head badly on the side of the house as a result. According to The Times, this corroboration of Vickers' evidence "had much weight with the coroner and jury", an impression which was reinforced by reports that Key had said the fall "fully accounted" for Jones' death. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.
The police decided to arrest Vickers anyway, dispatching Superintendent John Lund and PC George Quinnear to Springfield Cottages on January 31. They found Vickers outside the house, giving a bottle and some money to Edward Evans.
The two policemen hustled Vickers inside the house before speaking with her. "I then told her that I took her into custody upon the charge of being concerned in the death of her late master, Mr Jones" Lund said. "She was very violent indeed before she got into the room. She resisted him (Quinnear) in getting to the door. She certainly was very strong."
As they bundled Vickers away, she asked Quinnear who would be brought against her, and he replied it would be William Jones, Maria Hammond and others. "I know Miss Hammond never saw me ill treat Mr Jones," Vickers replied, and then asked what William Jones had to do with it. "He charges you with causing the death of his uncle, your late master," Quinnear said. Vickers replied: "I expected that. I wonder that you did not come before."
There were rumours in the neighbourhood now that Collins and Vickers planned to marry, but he was not her only suitor. Two days before her arrest, a Coventry man known only as "CH" wrote to her proposing marriage. The letter was intercepted by police, and later appeared in the Weekly Dispatch. "I have applied to you because I am in want of a good domesticated wife," CH writes. "As you have lost your master, no doubt you would like a good home and a good partner."
In fact, Vickers was about as far from a "good domesticated wife" as it's possible to get. "The prisoner bears a shocking character in the neighbourhood, and has been frequently led home quite drunk by different and strange men," PC Quinnear told her Lambeth committal hearing. "We found the house in a shocking state. In fact, it stank most offensively. Heaps of soiled and half-washed clothes were in every part of it, and in my opinion, not a single article had been washed there for five or six months. I was told it by Miss Allen, who informed me that, for several months, she had not observed a single article hung out to dry."
There was an outburst from Vickers at this point, who shouted "Miss Allen had better mind her own business!" Later in the hearing, she became equally angry at the pawnshop charges. "The prisoner here became so vehement and violent that her own solicitor had to beg of her to be quiet, assuring her that by her conduct, she was doing herself much mischief," The Observer noted.
Despite these outbursts, and despite her committal there to an Old Bailey murder trial, Vickers left the Lambeth courtroom with what the Weekly Dispatch called "a carelessness amounting to levity".
The Old Bailey trial came on April 4, and revolved round two key issues: first, whether it was a fall or a blow that had caused the bruise to Jones' right temple and, second, which of the two head wounds it had been that killed him.
On the first question, Vickers' defence made much of Key's reported comments at the inquest about the fall Collins described fully accounting for Jones' death. PC White had already said he'd seen Jones fall on to his hands that night, not, as Collins' claimed, hit his head against the wall. PC Quinnear had taken Collins back to the garden after hearing his story and asked him to point out just where he'd seen Jones fall. Quinnear concluded that it was quite impossible for anyone to hit their head against the wall from the spot Collins chose.
Still the doubt persisted. Key denied saying the fall "fully accounted" for Jones' death, but his denial ended up giving more comfort to the defence than the prosecution.
"I said very likely a fall against the wall might have produced the bruise - that is, the bruise on the temple," he told the Old Bailey trial. "My evidence before the coroner was that the death arose probably from the bruise on the temple. The matter which Collins described, I said, might have occasioned the bruise on the temple." Asked if Jones' condition would - as Vickers' claimed - make him likely to fall over, Key said: "He might be prone to tumble if left alone. I cannot say he would not tumble down."
The court found him equally unhelpful when trying to identify which had been the fatal wound. Asked again and again for a clear, unambiguous answer to whether the injury on the right temple had killed Jones, the best Key could do was this: "I firmly believe that was the cause of death, although it may have been the effect of the blow at the back. It is impossible for me to say which of these two blows caused it." Hillyer, the other doctor called in court, added: "I think it is impossible to say absolutely what was the cause of death in this case."
Faced with an eye-witness account which insisted Jones' death had been an accident, and unimpressed by Key's convoluted attempts to put forward any alternative cause, the jury found Vickers not guilty and set her free.

Going through the evidence at Vickers' various court appearances, it's striking how different Evans' estimate of her character is to that given by everyone else.
All the other witnesses described her as a vicious drunk, but Evans praised her care of Jones and told the Old Bailey jury that he had never known her to mistreat him. "I never saw anything of the sort," he said. "Neither did I ever hear Mr Jones make any complaint". He was equally generous about Collins, calling him "a decent, respectable man in his vocation".
Perhaps I'm being too cynical, but it does make me wonder if his evidence was bought. Just why did Vickers choose Evans as the first outsider to see Jones' dead body that Monday morning? And what exactly did he do to earn the booze and money police saw her giving him on the day of her arrest? Collins evidence was crucial to convincing the jury that Jones had hit his head in the garden, so perhaps Vickers thought it worth purchasing a generous character assessment for him as well.
The Vickers case produced an interesting footnote in 1860, when Ebenezer Starnes, Georgia's attorney general, published his book The Slaveholder Abroad. The book is a series of letters from Starnes to the fictional Major Jones of Pineville, Georgia, describing what he sees in England. The early letters, dated 1851, are quite complimentary, praising the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace and various other aspects of English life.
All that changes with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. This novel, which describes the trials of a kindly old slave at the hands of the cruel plantation owner Simon Legree, became a huge best-seller in the UK and created a lot of abolitionist feeling throughout the country.
Starnes was evidently irritated by this, and devotes all his book's later letters to criticising what he saw as England's hypocrisy in condemning slavery abroad while permitting such cruelty and crime at home. Often, these take the form of a lengthy court report, reproduced verbatim from the London papers, with a few words of commentary from Starnes tacked on at the end. In the case of Lizzie Vickers, he chose a Weekly Dispatch account of the evidence at her Lambeth hearing.
"Uncle Tom and his persecutors are fictions," Starnes writes. "And this people, men, women and children are weeping over these fictions, supposed to have happened in the far-off valley of Mississippi, whilst they have no tears to shed over the facts here related, and which expose the hell of torture to which this old gentleman was subjected in this city of London by a monster as odious as Legree."

To hear The Jetsonics perform Cruel Lizzie Vickers, please visit the band's Soundcloud page here. They've written their own music and lyrics telling Lizzie's tale to a full-on rock backing. Watch them play it live at The Scream Lounge in Croydon on this YouTube clip.

In August 2013, The Jetsonics released Cruel Lizzie Vickers as one of the tracks on their fourth EP. The studio production gives it a much punchier, crisper sound, and you can find full details on the band's website.

In February 2014, The Jetsonics released their own official video for Cruel Lizzie Vickers. Watch it on YouTube here.

* Horrid Murder, by E, Hodges (Pitts Printer, 1853).
* Old Bailey transcripts (
* The Times, February 9, 1853.
* The Times, February 4, 1853.
* The Times, February 8, 1853.
* The Times, February 9, 1853.
* The Slaveholder Abroad, by Ebenezer Starnes (JB Lippincott & Co, 1860.)

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Songs menu: A feast of facts and all the lyrics

The menu below lists a few of my favourite ballads from the British Library's collection and elsewhere. Click on any title to find the full lyrics and my account of the case that inspired them. And, if you haven't already read it, do take a look at my background essay describing the London industry which produced these songs.

Part One (April 2010)

Mary Arnold, The Female Monster

The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs

Mrs Dyer, The Old Baby-Farmer

The Gallows Child

Part Two (June 2010)

The Life and Trial of Palmer

The Silent Grove

The Liverpool Lodger

The Unnatural Murder

Part Three (Oct 2010)

Murder at Westmill

Streams of Crimson Blood

The Murdered Maid

Cruel Lizzie Vickers

Part Four (Feb 2011)

Jones and Harwood

The Sister and the Serpent

Jealous Annie

The Foreigner's Downfall

Bonus songs

The Tyburn Jig

Corkery's Farewell

The Gallows Ballads Project: Musicians wanted
If you'd like to help PlanetSlade bring these gallows ballads back to life as fully-performed songs, why not set one of the 16 ballads' public domain lyrics to your own music and record yourself singing and playing it?
   Any music you write would remain your own property, of course, as would the recording itself, and I'll make sure that all writers and performers are fully credited.
   There's no money in this for anyone - least of all me - but I think it's a worthwhile project nonetheless. There are several ways to get your song heard:

1) Send a digital recording to me, and I'll post it online with the other free downloads listed in PlanetSlade Music, together with a link from your chosen song's page here.

2) Post the recording online at your own site or the hosting service of your choice. Let me know where it can be found, and I'll add a link telling people where to go. Please remember that some hosting sites allow access to members only.

3) Film yourself performing the song, and post the video to YouTube. Once again, I'd be delighted to add a link here telling people where to find it.

4) Write your own song from scratch, based on the true story that inspired one of the ballads, then follow whichever of the above options suits you.

   Check PlanetSlade Music for a taste of what I have in mind. I spent all of 2012 recruiting contributors for this little project, and I've now accumulated at least one new recording of each of the 16 original ballads I selected. You can find links to all this audio on the PlanetSlade page above, or hear the whole "album" in the Soundcloud set here.
   The styles people have chosen range all the way from unaccompanied traditional folk singing via acoustic guitar ballads to full-on rock workouts with a whole band.
   Contributors so far include Sean Breadin of Rapunzel & Sedayne, The Jetsonics, Pete Morton, Fred Smith, Tim Radford, Big Al Whittle and South County.
   Three continents are represented in all, and at least one of the songs has already made it into the contributing band's live set. None of the tracks have achieved a commercial release yet, but I dare say a couple will make that leap eventually.
   We've already got multiple versions of several songs up there, including Nathaniel Mobbs and The Murdered Maid, so please don't feel you're too late to make your own contribution.
   I'm all for people adding second, third or even fourth interpretations of a single song, using as many different musical genres as we can muster. Many, many thanks to all those who've already taken part.
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