Murder or manslaughter on Church Street?

July 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is really part two of the previous post, Three Drinking Dens of Church Hill. Having previously shared with you the brief outcome of an inquest into the death of John Springthorpe in August 1858, I found the case to be intriguing and decided further research was required. The original charge of murder had been changed to manslaughter which, on the surface seems fair…..but is it? You decide.

I had my doubts as to how the authorities viewed a case of this description in 1858 but upon reading the extremely detailed newspaper reports I changed my mind. It would seem the police and the Coroner made a great effort to find out exactly what happened on that Tuesday morning in Church Street and I for one find the outcome to be anything but fair. This has nothing to do with the professionalism of the authorities in Walsall, the problem for me is the proceedings that occurred at Stafford Assizes a couple of months later.

Church Street today, just the cobble stones remain.

Church Street today, difficult to think this was once teeming with people instead of trees. In the middle of the picture the light area is approximately where the fight took place.

First the evidence against the accused; the prosecution had many witnesses who all told more or less the same story, the fight was started by Charles Welch verbally abusing Springthorpe and eventually finished by Richard Garbett who delivered the final fatal blow.

According to witnesses there was a verbal altercation the day before between Welch and Springthorpe although none of the witnesses could say what this was other than raised voices. Early on the Tuesday morning around a quarter to eight, witnesses Hannah Cooper and Isaac Whittick both of Church Street heard a commotion in the street and found a group of people including Welch who was rattling the closed shutters of Springthorpes lodgings and shouting “Now come out, there are two or three to be killed today”. Springthorpe was not at home but was seen walking down New Street in the direction of Church Street, when the two met Welch squared up to the deceased who did the same in return, neither party struck any blows and no words were spoken. After a few minutes Welch went into his own house and Springthorpe continued on his way home. As the deceased passed an entry leading to the back of Welch’s house Richard Garbett appeared, and threatened Springthorpe, who, according to witnesses, was unwilling to fight but Garbett compelled him to do so. Springthorpe then said, again in front of witnesses, “I am an old man and don’t want to fight”. Hannah Cooper, and others, then saw Garbett strike out at the deceased. Cooper stated they fought three rounds with the deceased defending himself over the approximate ten minute period. The witness heard that Springthorpe was in trouble and went to see him, he could not speak but put his hand to his throat indicating where he was injured.

The red spot marks the approximate site of the fight. Disappointingly, this 1885 OS map does not indicate where the Old Church pub was on Church Street.

The red spot marks the approximate site of the fight. Disappointingly, this 1885 OS map does not indicate where the Old Church pub was on Church Street.

Another witness, William Thomson, a cooper of New Street said about eight o’clock on Tuesday morning he was standing outside the Blue Pig pub also on New Street. He then heard a commotion at the junction of Church, New, Peal and Dudley Streets, around the area of the Paul Pry pub. Thomson saw Welch throw his waistcoat to the ground and square up to John Springthorpe, the latter also squared up to Welch who then ran into his house and proceeded to shout “Dick, Dick”,  meaning Richard Garbett. Welch, who was by now standing at the bar window shouted “Go in Dick, go in”,  whereupon Garbett threw a punch at Springthorpe that caught him on the right side of his face. A fight then ensued with both men trading punches freely until Garbett grabbed hold of the deceased by the collar and delivered the fatal blow. Both men fell over and another witness named Tomkinson helped to pick up the deceased who said he was hurt in the throat and did not want to fight. Welch again stepped in, after wiping blood from Garbett’s face he urged him to “Have another round with him Dick”, the deceased replied “I don’t want to fight Dick”. Witnesses said the fight was in no way unfair, presumably they meant “dirty” and no bad language was used. Springthorpe’s last words to his assailant were, ” I don’t want to fight with you, you little rogue”.

Another witness, William Bird a shoemaker from nearby Bott Lane, said he saw Welch waving his waistcoat in the air, he then went up to a woman and cursed her and said he would “win the day”. The witness said he heard Welch say to Garbett ” That’s right Dick, give it the bugger”.

The newspaper reports say nothing of the physical stature of any of the men involved but I am sure any readers of this post are getting the same impression as me regarding Welch……he did have a remarkably big mouth and very little else!

William Bird’s statement was as the other witnesses had said but added that Welch then went to fetch his son David and said “Little Davy is coming, he will clear the street of you”. Welch pulled his son onto the street and told the eighteen-year old to fight with the injured Springthorpe but David would not fight and walked away.

Other witnesses including one, Joseph Bartholemew, said Welch was shouting threats loudly in the street and using very obscene language prior to the events taking place. Bartholemew confirmed Bird’s statement in that David Welch was brought out to fight by his father but declined. After the fighting had stopped another witness asked Springthorpe how he felt after the fall and the deceased replied, “It is not the fall but my throat that hurts me”.

Aaron Rowe, a curb maker of Church Street was on his way to work in Dudley Street when he heard people shouting and went to look. He told the same story as all of the other witnesses had done. He did notice the deceased was having trouble breathing after one particulate blow and fell against a wall and spat out some blood he had coughed up. The witness then said a person named Henry Smith wiped blood from the face and lips of the deceased who then turned to Garbett and said, “Dick, I wonder at you when you know he has not a leg to stand upon”. According to this witness the fight continued quite ferociously for a few minutes before Springthorpe fell again and was exhausted by his exertions.

The final witness was Edward Joseph Marshall a surgeon of Bridge Street. He stated he was called five minutes past ten on the Tuesday morning and found the deceased having great difficulty in breathing. Springthorpe’s pock marked face was swollen as was his throat, the injury that eventually caused his death. By this time another surgeon had appeared, a Mr Edwards, who agreed with Mr Marshall that Springthorpe’s larynx should be opened in an attempt to improve his breathing. Unfortunately the procedure was administered too late and Springthorpe died after about three-quarters of an hour. Mr Marshall performed a post-mortem later that same afternoon, on opening the throat he found the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartilage crushed with much congestion of the muscles covering the larynx and with a great deal of swelling of the glottis. The lungs although congested were healthly as was the heart with all its cavities filled with fluid blood. Mr Marshall also noted slight congestion in the membranes of the brain but nothing that would cause any alarm. Springthorpe’s stomach was empty but healthy and Marshall concluded that the injury to the throat and its complications led to his death.

The view up Church Street from Dudley Street at its junction with New Street on the right. This picture dates from 1949 as it was at this time the spire of St. Matthews was being renovated.

The view up Church Street from Dudley Street at its junction with New Street on the right. This picture dates from 1949 as it was at this time the spire of St. Matthews was being renovated.

Police Sergeant Wood had arrested the two suspects on the day of the murder and they had both appeared before the Magistrates at the Police Court. The inquest began at ten o’clock on the Wednesday morning, a Mr Wilkinson defending Garbutt and Welch. Out in the street a large crowd had gathered outside the Old Queen’s Head and were becoming more and more agitated by the minute as they waited for a verdict. Their patience would be tried however as Mr Wilkinson intimated he wanted to interview several witnesses, on hearing this request the Coroner, for whatever reason adjourned the proceedings until 4pm the following day, Thursday.

When the inquest re-opened the following day it was clear Wilkinson was going to have to work very hard to get anything out of this case when it finally came to court. Witness after witness made his job all the more difficult as they all told the same story against Garbett and Welch. Things were dragging on to the extent the Coroner said he hoped neither the jury or Mr Wilkinson would not detain them any longer than necessary by calling superfluous witnesses. After Wilkinson called several witnesses, all prejudicial to his case, the Coroner finally wound up the proceedings. Mr A. A. Fletcher, the Coroner, asked the jurors to consider “The parties charged may be guilty of wilful murder or of manslaughter, or indeed they maybe innocent. Murder is defined to be when a person of sound mind and discretion unlawfully kills and reasonable being, by any means, with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied. The evidence before as points clearly to the parties charged [Garbett and Welch] as the persons who caused the deceased’s death, and upon this point nearly the whole of the evidence is conclusive. There are other points upon which the evidence too is singularly coincident, and which seems to tell us that the assault upon the deceased was NOT unpremeditated. The first point to which I allude this; – Charles Welch was seen in Church Street at an early hour on Tuesday morning in a state of considerable excitement and this seems to have had a connection with deceased as if produced by ill feeling towards him, and a desire for revenge. For him [Welch] to have gone to the home of the deceased and rattled the shutters and used language of the vilest kind toward him it would seem they were intent on damaging the deceased.”

Not too much doubt there then regarding the Coroner’s view of proceedings. Murder it is then.

George William Wilshere Bramwell 1808-1892. First Baron Bramwell.

George William Wilshere Bramwell 1808-1892. First Baron Bramwell whose father was a partner in the private banking company of Dorrien, Magens, Dorrien, & Mello.

The case opened at Stafford Assizes at the end of November with Baron Bramwell adjudicating. This is where things begin to go wrong, in my view anyway. In his opening speech at the Staffordshire Winter Assizes Bramwell made a specific reference to the case which must have made the defence think Christmas had come early. He advised the Grand Jury by stating that he had read the depositions against the two accused [Garbett and Welch] and certainly could NOT see that the case could be supported against them. His Lordship remarked the affair was a street quarrel where blows were struck and usually encounters of this kind rarely resulted in death. To quote His Lordship, “Fighting under such circumstances was not likely to bring about death; but if death did ensue, it should be regarded rather as a calamity than a natural result.”

It would seem that although we have a jury His Lordship thought they were so stupid that they would not be able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion without his learned help! So he virtually made the decision on behalf of the jury.

When the proceedings began Richard Garbett and Charles Welch, described as a miner and an innkeeper, were charged with the wilful murder of John Springthorpe in August. Acting on behalf of the prisoners were Mr. Motteram and Mr. Staveley-Hill and for the prosecution, misters Scotland and Holroyd. The newspaper report states the following: “It may be remembered that His Lordship, in charging the Grand Jury, observed, with reference to this case that it was clearly not one of wilful murder but a simple case of manslaughter.” On the opening of the case His Lordship once again reminded the jury of his opinion but this did not go down well with Mr. Scotland of the prosecution who stated that if death was caused by the prisoners’ hands in the manner that the death had taken place, at least one of the prisoners were responsible for murder and possibly both. Once again His Lordship directed the jury by saying the indictment for wilful murder could not be sustained.

Surprise, surprise, the fine upstanding members of the jury found the prisoners guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, Garbett and Welch were sentenced, amazingly, to three months each! As stated on the earlier post, a man found guilty on the same day as Garbett and Welch was sentence to four years imprisonment because he was caught stealing on the land of a member of the nobility!

I, like many others, watched the BBC television series of 2011 called Garrow’s Law. Although the series was set earlier, in late Georgian London, it featured the corruption and social injustice common place at the Old Bailey at the time. I now know where the writers and producers of series such as these get their ideas from……life, they read old newspaper reports!


The Walsall Free Press

Hitchmough’s Black Country Pubs –

Ordnance Survey





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