MEMORY LANE: A vile Victorian killing in Hartlepool

TRANQUIL SCENE: Hartlepool at around the time boilermaker William Simpson killed his partner Jane.
TRANQUIL SCENE: Hartlepool at around the time boilermaker William Simpson killed his partner Jane.

“PEOPLE should not kill their wives when they get angry with them” - that was the advice of a learned judge following the brutal killing of a Hartlepool woman in Victorian times.

But, as nostalgia writer Sarah Stoner discovered, the victim received no justice. Her violent partner was jailed for just a few months.

WHEN Maria Cranney’s husband Henry rolled home fighting drunk on a balmy evening in August 1878, she swiftly opted to avoid the brewing violence by seeking shelter with a neighbour.

After pulling on a shawl, she made her way to new pal Jane Turner, who lived next door at 18 Thorne Street, West Hartlepool. It was a decision Maria would regret for the rest of her life.

“Turner was a hard-drinking Scots-born woman, who shared rooms with William Simpson and her two teenage children,” said local historian Norman Kirtlan, a retired police inspector.

“Her husband, a chain-maker, had died some 12 years before in Jarrow - leaving her a widow at 36. After that, she moved to Hartlepool and took up with Simpson, who worked as a boilermaker.

“Simpson was another chap who liked a drink and, when Maria arrived, she found both he and Turner “totally insensible” in the sitting room – as she later revealed in court.

“Indeed the only person who knew Maria was in the house was Jane’s 14-year-old son but, regardless, she made her way to a bedroom and prepared for a peaceful night’s sleep.”

At around 2.30am, however, Simpson barged into the bedroom and demanded to know who Maria was. Abandoning all attempts at sleep, she followed the angry man downstairs.

Once in the living room, she noticed her friend lying on the floor, fully clothed and drunk. Simpson then lay down beside Jane, who immediately kicked him repeatedly in the face.

“As Maria watched, obviously wondering why she hadn’t stayed at home, Simpson simply fell into a deep sleep, remaining quite still until six in the morning,” said Norman.

“After a brief visit to her own house, Maria returned to Jane’s home at 7am to check on her condition.

“She found her friend lying on an upstairs bed, still tipsy and wearing her day clothes.

“Maria told her to wash and get to the grocer’s shop, in order to feed the bairns. Jane obeyed, albeit unsteadily, sitting down on a bench to wash herself from a wooden pail.”

At that point, however, Simpson re-appeared - running up to Jane and slapping her face without warning. As Maria made a dash for home, all hell broke loose in Thorne Street.

Neighbour William Palmer, an iron worker from 9 Thorne Street, was just getting ready for work as “Round Two” of Simpson versus Turner spilled out into the cobbled road.

“I saw Turner ejected and the door slammed shut behind her. She threw stones at the door, rolled up her sleeves and screamed for Simpson to fight her,” Palmer told a court hearing.

Simpson responded to Turner’s offer of a fight by rushing out into the street with the water pail and emptying the contents over her head. He then walloped her with the empty bucket.

After that, he stalked inside but was enticed back out by Turner’s name calling. This time, he struck out at her with his fists. causing Jane to stagger and fall to the ground.

Her daughter, also called Jane, told the court: “When my mother was attempting to pick up stones, and was bending over, Simpson kicked her, either in the side or breast.

“He struck her after this with a stone which he had in his hand. She bled from the head after being hit. She never spoke, but breathed once and then died.”

Finally, as the battle subsided, Amy Hewitt, a barmaid from the Saddler’s Hotel, dashed out to see if the fallen woman needed her assistance. Sadly, Jane Turner was “quite dead”.

“Her body was dragged into the pub and Sergeant Bowman summoned to the scene.

“But, when he knocked on Simpson’s door, all he got was a great deal of profane language,” said Norman.

“Simpson admitted he had struck his wife, but claimed Jane’s family was to blame. The judge at Durham Assizes that October, however, felt very differently after he had heard the case.”

Indeed, Simpson had to be told on numerous occasions to stop laughing, keep quiet and pay attention during the hearing. eventually prompting his Lordship to tell the boilermaker: “People should not kill their wives when they get angry with them!”

But, after Simpson was sentenced to just 15 months with hard labour for manslaughter, he had good cause to laugh once again.

“That sentence was a total joke,” said Norman.

“It’s no wonder Simpson never took the trial seriously. Indeed, he had been jailed at least once before for assaulting Jane.

“I wonder what happened to him – or to Jane’s poor children. I hope they ended up with happier lives than hers.”

• Are you related to Jane’s family? Contact Norman via sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk