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Jones and Harwood (1851)

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Two Surrey men repent on the scaffold after a local clergyman is killed while they're burgling his house. But did the real murderer escape?

The Broadside
This A3 sheet printed by Powell of Spitalfields in East London describes an 1850 murder in the Surrey town of Frimley. It's topped by a picture of the two culprits hanging in front of a large crowd at London's Horsemonger Lane gallows. Jones and Harwood is my own title for the 13 verses accompanying Powell's prose account of their crime and execution. The ballad's narrated by the two killers themselves.

The Ballad
Of all the crimes on Earth the worst,
Foul murder is of all accursed,
Assassins are by all abhorred,
Despised by men, condemned by God.

We are condemned and death is nigh,
And in two dismal cells we lie,
James Jones and Harwood: it is true,
We've murder done, no pity knew.

A minister of God we've slain,
For sake of gold, man's curse and bane,
Poor Mr Hollest kind and good,
We left him weltering in his blood.

To Frimley Grove, 'twas there we went,
On robbing we were fully bent,
The rector's house we soon broke in,
And then to plunder did begin.

With faces masked, disguised to all,
And pistols loaded well with ball,
Like vile assassins on we crept,
To where the good old couple slept.

But Mrs Hollest struggled brave,
And nobly fought their lives to save,
Undaunted, boldly bore her part,
A woman with a warrior's heart.

Her husband had one ruffian down,
And held him firmly on the ground,
The coward wretch for help did call,
'Twas then the other fired his ball.

Thy wound was fatal, good old man,
Thy blood in streams around it ran,
We both escaped while thou didst bleed,
And now we suffer for the deed.

How could we thus such monsters prove,
To murder those whom all did love?
To want thou didst assistance lend,
And ever was the poor man's friend.

Widows weep thy loss: they mourn,
The only friend they had is gone,
And orphans' tears they quickly fall,
For thou a father's been to all.

And Mrs Hollest? She was kind,
Distress in her a friend did find,
Her sole delight it seemed to be,
To dry the tears of misery.

So we confess the crimes we've done,
Is there no hope on Earth? There's none,
Grim death will drag us to the tomb,
A scaffold is the murderers' doom.

The Facts
James Jones, Levi Harwood and Hiram Smith were all members of a notorious gang of burglars which plagued the Surrey countryside in 1850. The Illustrated London News described them as "three young men of bad character [who] are well-known to the local police as very daring thieves, and each of them has been several times in custody". On the night of Reverend George Hollest's murder, the gang was completed by Samuel Harwood, Levi's younger brother.

The burglars fled and Reverend Hollest, not yet realising he'd been shot, gave chase

The Hollests lived in the parsonage at Frimley Grove, a village of some 40 or 50 houses about a mile and a half from Farnborough Station in Surrey. Hollest, who was 54 years old, had been the curate there for 17 years. The house, which stood on the western edge of the village about 100 yards from its nearest neighbour, was also home to Mrs Hollest and three live-in servants. Both the Hollests were well-liked in the neighbourhood for their many charitable works.
Smith and Samuel Harwood first called at the parsonage towards the end of September 1850, posing as tradesmen hoping to sell their earthenware dishes there, but actually studying the place for a potential break-in. On Tuesday, September 24, they briefed Jones and Levi Harwood on what they'd found, and the four men agreed to rob the Hollests that Friday night. As it happened, this was the same Friday night the Hollests' two teenage boys would return home from boarding school for the Michaelmas holidays.
When Friday came round, the four thieves met about 9:00pm on a hilltop about two miles from Frimley Grove, where they loaded their two pistols with marbles. A little after midnight, they were gathered on the grass outside a Mr Mayberry's house in Frimley Grove, where one of Mayberry's servants spotted them and later identified Smith and Jones as two of the men she'd seen.
Reaching the parsonage, they slipped round to the rear of the house and broke a scullery window. They then cut away at the woodwork anchoring an iron bar which blocked the window's access and took that bar out, leaving Samuel Harwood as a lookout outside while the other three climbed in. Everyone in the house had retired to bed by that time, leaving the gang to move through the empty ground floor with no interference. They took two shillings from a workbox there, plus two watches and whatever else they could find worth stealing. As they moved from one room to the next, they jammed each internal door open behind them in case they needed to make a quick exit. They called Samuel Harwood inside, donned linen masks to conceal their faces, and then it was time to move upstairs.
"About three o'clock in the morning, I heard lootsters in our bedroom," Mrs Hollest later testified. "And I saw two men at the foot of our bed. One of them put his left hand on me, and his right hand held a pistol, which appeared to be levelled at my head. One of the men was a little taller than the other.
"The tallest seized Mr Hollest in the same way, and levelled a pistol at him. As nearly as I can recollect, both of them said together that, if we made any noise, they would blow our brains out.
"Mr Hollest at first thought it was our boys playing a trick upon him, and he told [them] to go to bed. I saw at once the terrible reality and sprang out of bed on the left-hand side to ring a bell, the rope of which hung down at the head of the bed. On my doing so, one of the men rushed towards me and pushed me down with so much force that the bell rope broke in my hand. The man continued to press me down, and held a pistol close to my eyes.
"While in this position, I heard my husband, who had also got out of bed, scuffling with another man on the other side of the room and presently afterwards, I heard the report of a pistol." Mrs Hollest couldn't see it at the time, but her husband had reached down to grab a poker by the bed, hoping to use it as a weapon, and that action had panicked his assailant into firing.
Apparently fearing that it was his comrade who'd been shot, the man restraining Mrs Hollest let her squirm free and reach a hand-bell, which she started ringing as loud as she could. The burglars ran out of the room and Mr Hollest, not yet realising he'd been shot, gave chase. He seized a loaded gun - whether his own or one dropped by the robbers is not clear - and fired a single shot after them as they fled across the front lawn.
Mrs Hollest opened the bedroom window in time to see two of the men disappearing, and then started ringing her hand-bell again to raise the alarm. "I went to my children's room and, on the landing, I met Mr Hollest coming upstairs," she told the court. "He said to me 'The fellow has shot me', and at the same time showing his wound." She sent one of the servants to fetch William Davies, the local doctor, who arrived at about 3:30am.
"I found Mr Hollest in bed," Davies later said. "He did not appear to suffer much at that time. He was perfectly collected and related to me the circumstances that had previously occurred. He showed me his nightshirt, which was saturated with blood [...] The wound had every appearance of being caused by a gun or pistol. I remained with Mr Hollest till 8 o'clock Saturday morning. I considered from the appearances and the direction the body had taken that the wound was mortal."
Sure enough, Hollest died at about 8:20pm on Sunday. "I was with him at his death," Davies testified. "He suffered the most excruciating agony." A post-mortem found a grey marble lodged under Hollest's bladder, just like those the robbers had loaded in their pistols on Friday night. The angle of entry confirmed he'd been stooping over when the shot was fired.
The murder caused a great deal of consternation in Surrey, where many householders in rural areas feared their homes were beyond the reach of the city-based police. "It would be difficult to describe the state of fear and alarm that prevailed in the county in consequence of the dreadful event [...] at Frimley," the ILN reported. "Few murders have excited greater horror," agreed The Spectator. The UK Government offered a £100 reward (about £10,000 today) for information leading to conviction of the guilty men, and Hollest's family added a further £50 to the pot.
All this must have added to the pressure on police to catch the culprits, and a detective sergeant called Kendall was sent down from London on the same night Hollest died. Later that evening, Smith, Jones and Levi Harwood were arrested on suspicion of the robbery at a Guildford pub called The Rose & Crown. Samuel Harwood followed them into custody a few days later.
At an inquest hearing on Monday, September 30, Mrs Hollest said that she'd seen only two men in her bedroom that night, both of whom wore linen masks. She suspected a third must have been present too, as that was the only way to account for a missing watch which she'd have seen being taken if either of the first two men were responsible. Of the three men in custody so far, Levi Harwood seemed particularly familiar to her, convincing Mrs Hollest by his general appearance and his squeaky voice that he had been the man holding her down while someone else shot her husband.
The inquest jury found that Smith, Jones and Levi Harwood had a case to answer for wilful murder, but that there was not enough evidence to lay a similar charge against Samuel Harwood. The three accused were known to have been absent from home on the night of the murder, had already been caught in several lies about what they claimed to be doing that night, and Mayberry's servant had seen two of them near the Hollests' home shortly before the break-in.
There was other evidence against them too. One of the Hollests' servants had found four or five round pieces of green baize in the parlour after the robbery, which matched the material used in two discarded masks discovered nearby. A matching piece of baize was found at Samuel Harwood's house, suggesting perhaps that he had supplied the material for their masks and cut out the necessary eyeholes when already in the Hollests' house.
Footprints on the lawn and gravel outside the parsonage showed marks where one of the fleeing robbers seemed to have stumbled and fallen to the ground. These matched the size of both Smith and Levi Harwood's feet, and Levi had an injured toe which could have been caused by just such a fall. A scrap of stocking worsted recovered from the scene matched stockings worn by Samuel Harwood.

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.
   You can reach me with any questions here