A granny’s tale

June 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Prison Warder William Henry Fellows (1882-1970)

Prison Warder William Henry Fellows (1882-1970)

Many years ago when I was a small boy my grandmother, Elizabeth Moseley (neé Fellows) used to tell me a tale about her cousin Bill from Bridgnorth.

Bill was born William Henry Fellows on 3rd March 1883, the fourth of nine children born to Benjamin and Isabella of Bernard’s Hill, Bridgnorth. Bill’s father Ben was the brother of my gran’s father Thomas who lived in Hospital Street, Walsall.

Bill began his working life as a bricklayer’s labourer in Bridgnorth according to the 1901 census but 10 years later he was living in lodgings in Islington, North London and was now a prison warder at Pentonville Prison.

The tale she told of Bill was his connection to the infamous wife murderer, Dr. Harvey Crippen. The tale my gran’ told was of her cousin Bill finding Dr. Crippen with his wrists slashed, using the broken glass from his monocle in an attempt to cheat the hangman from performing his duty. As the old adage goes “never spoil a good story with the truth”, that’s being a little cruel to my dear old gran’….she was almost right!

Although Crippen was hanged in November 1910 it took until 1993 for the Public Record Office to release the details of the case, why the secrecy for a wife killer I don’t know. In an attempt to confirm or deny the story I contacted the PRO at Kew and received the appropriate documents a week later. It stated that Warder Fellows was escorting Crippen through the jail when the prisoner broke down and began crying for a full ten minutes and protesting his innocence at the same time. Crippen briefly went into a small recess out of sight of the warder who heard the sound of something breaking. He asked the prisoner, who had removed his spectacles (not monocle!), to empty his pockets which revealed a broken pair of glasses.

Another interesting comment from gran’ was that Crippen, minutes before the noose was placed around his covered head, spoke to Bill Fellows. Try as the family did, Bill never revealed to them what Crippen had said to him in the last minutes of his life. An even stranger occurrence happened in a film which I think was the 1963 production Dr Crippen starring Donald Pleasance as the evil doctor. At the end of  the film one of the two warders escorting the prisoner leaned over towards Crippen who appeared to whisper something into his ear! How would the film production company in 1963 know of this fact if the documents appertaining to the case were still hidden away for another thirty years? Bill Fellows died in Wolverhampton in December 1954 so that information did not come from him.

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