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The Execution of Nathaniel Mobbs (1853)

Murder Ballads
Secret London

Drunken bully cuts his wife's throat in a fit of jealous rage. Bungles his own suicide attempt, and lives long enough to be hanged at Newgate.

The Broadside
This A3 broadside, printed by Paul of Seven Dials, gives us seven verses above a long prose account of Mobbs' crime and execution.
As with many such ballads, the verses are presented as the criminal's last confession, complete with a moralising conclusion warning others not to follow his sad example. Supposedly written by the condemned man, these “last goodnights” were actually penned by jobbing writers in the print shops round Seven Dials and sold on the day of the execution itself.
The illustration is a very popular one, and appears on at least a dozen broadsides from the British Library's collection alone. It shows Newgate Prison on the right (now The Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court) and St Sepulchre's Church on the left. The artist's perspective puts him right outside what is now the Old Bailey's main entrance. St Sepulchre's is still standing, and those are the bells which we're told Mobbs heard on the gallows.

The Ballad
The fatal moments have arrived,
My wretched breast it throbs,
And no-one seems to sympathise,
With poor Nathaniel Mobbs,
A loving wife I murdered: base,
Inhuman, barbarously,
For which this fatal Monday morn,
I die upon a tree.

Oh what numbers flock to see,
Mobbs die upon the fatal tree.

In Goodman's Yard I did reside,
Despised by neighbours all,
Where drunkenness - how sad to tell,
Has proven my downfall,
Whitechapel Haynau I was called,
E'en children frowned on me,
And I am doomed - a wretched man,
To die upon the tree.

I had a second virtuous wife,
A woman good and kind,
A mother to my children whose
Good welfare she did mind,
Although a step-mother to them,
Would never on them frown,
But used them far more tenderly,
Than if they'd been her own.

But I was such a wicked man,
And cruel in every way,
At length I did determined feel,
My loving wife to slay,
I did in frenzy seize the knife,
And with a dreadful oath,
I took away her precious life,
And cut my darling's throat.

I killed my wife upon the spot,
She scarcely gave a groan,
And like a madman then I plunged,
The same into my own,
But Providence ordained that I,
For my barbarity,
Should live to die a death of scorn,
On Newgate's dismal tree.

Farewell my friendless children dear,
A wretch to you I've proved,
I killed a wife - a mother kind,
Who tenderly you loved,
And now I'm going to leave you,
Adieu - God bless you all
The bolt is drawn and I must go,
Oh Lord, receive my soul.

Oh men I pray a warning take,
By my unhappy fate,
And think upon Nathaniel Mobbs,
Before it is too late,
Shun drunkenness and jealousy,
Remember one and all,
Those awful deeds the world may read,
Have proven my downfall.

The Facts
Mobbs and his wife, Caroline, lived at 7 Enoch Court, off Goodman's Yard in Whitechapel, where they shared a single upstairs room with four young children from Nathaniel's first marriage. Both in their early thirties, but trapped in this area of notorious slum housing, they were far from a contented couple.

'I stood before her to try to hide her, because she did not wish her husband to see she was there'

Mobbs, a Cooper by trade, was fine when sober but known to be a mean drunk. One account claims he flogged Caroline nightly and subjected her to other abuse. “The prisoner and his wife did not live happily together when he was drunk,” one neighbour testified at the murder trial. “She was not a quarrelsome woman at all, and I never saw her anything else but sober.”
On the night before the killing, Tuesday, August 23, 1853, Mobbs returned home from work, and called for his daughter to bring him some beer out into the courtyard. Seeing his neighbour Catherine Scott across the yard, he threw the beer into her face. “He was very tipsy,” Scott later said. “I treated him as a drunken man.”
After the incident with Scott, Mobbs went back inside number 7, where his family's room was sandwiched between John Reorden's room on the ground floor and the Lancaster family above. Reorden got home from work to find Mobbs shouting at Caroline in the room he - Reorden - shared with his father. Mobbs pushed his wife out of the room, yelling at Reorden's father not to let her in there again. “He appeared to be rather under the effects of liquor,” said Frances Lancaster.
As soon as she could get away from Mobbs again, Caroline went up to the Lancasters' room, where she stayed for the next three hours. “From what she said to me, I allowed her to remain there until about half past nine,” Frances Lancaster testified. “Then I lent her a cloak to put on and she left the room. I saw nothing more of her after that.” Scott confirmed that she'd seen Caroline up in the Lancasters' room and then, later, alone in the courtyard. At about 10:00pm, she noticed Mobbs sitting in his window, with only the children for company.
Julia Angling, who shared a room with her mother at 4 Enoch Court, took up the tale from there. “On the morning of the day she died, Mrs Mobbs was at my place,” Angling explained. “She had been there all night. She came about twelve o'clock at night, and remained until morning. She slept in my room.
“About half past five on the Wednesday morning, the prisoner came to my place and asked if his wife was there. I stood before her to try to save her, to hide her, because she did not wish her husband to see that she was there. When he saw her, he asked her to go and get a pint of beer. She said would not go and fetch him no beer, because she was going up before the Lord Mayor in the day for proof - that he should not murder her.
“He then got up from the chair and dragged her out the room by her clothes, out into the court, and dashed her up against the gates where they lived.”
Reorden woke up briefly as he heard the pair passing upstairs again, Mobbs berating Caroline all the way, but then drifted back to sleep. Angling, fearing for Caroline's safety, followed the screaming couple up to their room. “Only a few words passed between them while I was there,” she said. “I recollect him saying she was with a policeman all night. She said that she was not, that she was at my place. I said nothing about that to the prisoner - I made my way and came downstairs.”

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