Ann Webb and the 26th July 1865
It was a normal Wednesday in July 1865 in the village of Northmoor in Oxfordshire. Living in this village is mother of five Ann Webb, nee Beecham, the wife of a carpenter, George Webb, and the paternal aunt of the first Baronet Beecham, a family of pharmacuetical and conducting fame. On that afternoon Ann is with some or all of her children (accounts seem to vary), when she sends her eldest daughter, 9 year old Sarah Ann, out to buy bread. Upon Sarah Ann's return she cannot get back into the family cottage, so she alerts a couple of the neighbours, who put one of the children through a window so that the child could open the front door from within. They then went into the cottage, and upstairs, where they found Ann on the bed with her two youngest children, Ellen and Frederick Thomas, laying near her. Ellen and Frederick Thomas were both dead, and both had injuries to the throat that suggested they had been strangled. Ann would tell one of the neighbours "I loved them so, that is why I did it". Ann was my 3xGreat-Grandmother, the children who died were older siblings of my 2xGreat-Grandmother, Louisa. Perhaps suprisingly given this incident, Louisa wasn't born until after the incident, in 1869 in fact, and had three younger sisters, in addition to the three older siblings who survived that day and the two who tragically perished. The following are a series of pieces from several local newspapers who reported the incident, both at the time, and later in the year when the case was heard in court. I have typed the transcripts myself from the original articles found in the Newspaper archive on findmypast, and have attempted to reproduce exactly what was printed in each case, although italicism and enboldenment seem to have been lost in transfering the text from MS Word to this site.
Saturday, July 29, 1865 – The Oxford Times pg 6 - Witney
PETTY SESSIONS, JULY 27.
Before L. Pickering, Esq.; W.E.Taunton, Esq,; C.C.Dormer, Esq.; T. Bizley, Esq., M.P., Esq. ; and Revs. D.W. Goddard and F.M. Cunningham.
WILFUL MURDER – Ann Webb, the wife of George Webb, of Northmoor, carpenter, was charged with the wilful murder of her two children, aged respectively four years and nine months. It was stated that the woman was too ill to be brought into Court, and she was therefore formally remanded until the 3rd proximo, and sent to Oxford for safe custody. From what could be gathered it appeared she was left alone with the children in the house on Wednesday afternoon, and when her husband returned home about five o’clock an entrance had to be effected through the window, and the wretched woman was lying on the bed with the children beside her. They were quite dead, and had evidently been strangled. No doubt seems to be entertained that the woman is insane.
July 29, ’65 – Oxford Times and Berks and Bucks Gazette pg 8 – Witney
JUSTICE ROOM, JULY 27. – (Before L.Pickering, Esq., W. E. Taunton, Esq., T. Bazley, Esq., M.P.. the Revs. W. D. Goddard, and T. M. Cunningham.) – Ann Webb, of Northmoor, the wife of George Webb, was taken into custody by Superintendent Howarth, on the night of the 26th of July, on a charge of murdering Frederick Thomas Webb, aged 8 months, and Ellen Webb, aged 5 years. When he was discovered by the police, she was lying on the bed by the side of the two children, both of whom had been strangled, and she appeared to be quite unconscious of what she had done. She is supposed to be insane. She is remanded till Thursday next.
Thursday, December 7, 1865 – Banbury Guardian – Oxfordshire Winter Assize – Trials Of Prisoners – Tuesday
MURDER OF TWO CHILDREN BY THEIR MOTHER
Ann Webb, 39, labourer, was indicted for feloniously killing Ellen Webb and Frederick Thomas Webb, at Northmoor, on the 26th July. – She pleaded not guilty. Mr. Stavelley Hill prosecuted, and Mr. Harington defended the prisoner.
Mr. Harington at the outset, called Mr. John Briscoe, the surgeon of the gaol, to speak as to the prisoner’s state of mind, but that officer said his opinion was at the present time, that she was fit to plead, and the case proceeded.
Mr. Hill, in opening, said the prisoner was at the time of the murder, living with her husband and five children. On the 26th of July she was at home with her five children all well between one and two. At three o’clock in the afternoon, the prisoner sent her eldest girl out for some bread, and on her return she was unable to get into the house. The child called the neighbours, who got into the house, and found the prisoner lying on the bed with the two youngest children. The two children were quite dead with marks of pressure on the throat. There was no doubt that the prisoner had killed them, but the question for the jury would be the state of the prisoner’s mind at the time. Those were the facts of the case, and it would be for the jury to say if the death of the children was by the hand of the prisoner, and in the second place what was her state of mind at the time.
Ann Wiggins examined – Was wife of Thomas Wiggins, and lived at Northmoor. Knew where the prisoner lived. Was in her cottage with a Mrs. Halesworth, about one o’clock on the 26th of July. The prisoner’s children were then all in good health, when witness left at one o’clock. Some time in the afternoon two of the children came to her, and in consequence of what they said she went back with James Trinder. They got into the house, and she and Trinder went into the bedroom. There saw Ann Webb and the two children all lying on the bed. The children were both dead. Asked the prisoner if she knew the children were dead, but she made no reply. Afterwards she said to Mrs. Trinder that they were gone to heaven. That she loved them and that was why she did it.
Cross-examined by Mr. Harrington – Before going to the house met with James Trinder, had called loudly at the door. Before she observed that the children were dead, the prisoner took hold of James Trinder’s hand and placed it on one of the dead children. Had known the prisoner for some time. Had known the prisoner for some time. She was always very kind to the children.
James Trinder examined – Lived at Northmoor and was a neighbour to Webb. On the 26th of July went to Webb’s house about five o’clock. Knocked for some time at the door, and at last got in. When he got up stairs, saw the mother and the children lying on the bed, and the children both dead. She threw herself about and seemed in great distress. She said “They are both gone to heaven James,” and took hold of his hand and put it on each of the children. Asked her how it was done and she made no answer. Asked her if she had given them anything or used any instrument to do the damage. She replied that she had given them nothing but their victuals. She said “I done it for love.” Stopped with her till he got some assistance.
Cross-examined – Had known her for five or six years. Considered her a person of weak mind. Had seen her in a poor low way. She was a very fond mother of children.
John Harris examined – Was a sawyer and lived at Northmoor. Passed by the prisoner’s cottage at three o’clock on the afternoon of July 26th. The cottage was then open and the children playing.
Cross-examined – Knew the prisoner was a person of weak mind.
Sarah Ann Webb examined – Was the prisoners eldest child and nine years old. Remembered her mother sending her out for some bread. When she went out her sister Ellen was out of doors at play, and Frederick was in the cradle. When she returned could not get in, and went to Ann Halsworth and Mrs. Wiggins.
Cross-examined – When she could not get in, called out loud to her mother, but could get no answer.
Hannah Trinder examined – Was the wife of John Trinder. Remembered going to the prisoner’s cottage, and stayed there from half-past five till twelve at night. Found the prisoner and the children on the bed. Prisoner said “She loved her children and that was why she did it,” and asked witness “Why she let her do it.”
Cross-examined – She was throwing herself about. Had known her for some years. Prisoner was always of weak intellect.
Thomas Moorley examined – Was a surgeon. Was called in to Webb’s house about nine on the evening of July 26th. Saw upstairs the bodies of the two children. There was a bruise on the throat. Made a post mortem examination next evening, and consider the cause of death was suffocation produced by pressure on the throat.
Henry Spencer examined – Was a physician. Saw the prisoner about three years ago. She came to him saying she was of weak intellect. And said she feared unless some restraint was put on her she would injure her children. Believed her to be insane, and signed a certificate to that effect.
Mr Harington briefly addressed the jury in support of the plea of insanity.
His Lordship in summing up explained to the Jury that if they acquitted the prisoner on the ground of insanity, she would be confined during her Majesty’s pleasure.
The Jury immediately returned a verdict of not guilty, and the prisoner was ordered to be detained during the pleasure of the Crown.
December 7, 1865 – Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette
OXFORD ASSIZES, Dec. 5. – Ann Webb, 39, labourer, was charged with the wilful murder of two of her children, Ellen Webb, aged three years, and Frederick Thomas Webb, aged eight months, at Northmoor, on the 26th July last. – It appeared that on the 26th of July last two neighbours called on the prisoner, and dined with her, leaving her about one o’clock in the day with her five children with her, all in good health. Shortly after, the prisoner sent the two elder children to a shop to buy some bread, and on their return they found the cottage shut up, and were thus unable to obtain admission; accordingly, they went to some of the neighbours, who proceeded to the cottage, and by taking out one of the casements succeeded in unlocking the door and obtaining admission. On reaching the bedroom they found the prisoner lying on the bed with the two children by the side of her, quite dead. She was asked if she was aware that they were dead, when she replied that she was, “That they were gone to heaven, and that she loved them, and that was why she did it.” – Evidence was adduced to show that she was very fond of her children, but that she was labouring under insanity, and irresponsible for her acts. The jury accordingly Acquitted her on the ground of insanity, and the judge directed that she should be properly taken care of.
Thursday, Dec. 7, 1865 – Banbury Advertiser
OXFORDSHIRE ASSIZES, MONDAY & TUESDAY.
Before Mr. Justice Keating.
Ann Webb, 39, for the murder of her two children at Northmoor, was acquitted on the ground of insanity and ordered to be detained during her Majesty;s pleasure.
Saturday, December 9, 1865 – The Oxford Times pg 8 – Oxford Winter Assizes – Tuesday
THE CHILD MURDER AT NORTHMOOR
Ann Webb, the wife of George Webb, labourer, was charged with the wilful murder of her two children – Ellen, aged three years, and Frederick Thomas, an infant – on the 26th July, at Northmoor.
Dr. Staveley Hill and Mr. Rowden appeared for the Crown; the prisoner was defended by Mr. Harington.
On the prisoner being called upon to plead, Mr. Harington, instructed by Mr G. Mallam, defended, and raised the preliminary objection that she was not in a fit state to plead.
Mr. Briscoe, however, the surgeon of the gaol, one being sworn, gave it as his opinion that the prisoner was not now so insane as to be unfit to plead.
The prisoner the pleaded “Not Guilty.” and the case proceeded.
Ann Wiggins, wife of Thos. Wiggins, of Moreton, near Northmoor, deposed – I know where the prisoner lived. I was with a neighbour, Mrs Aldworth, and dined there. Her five children were with her and all in good health. Mrs Aldworth and I left together about one o’clock. In the afternoon two of the children came to me, and said they could not get into the house. I went for James Trinder, and proceeded to the cottage, which was locked up. We put a child through the window, and she unlocked the door, and we went in. On going to the bed-room we found the prisoner in bed, and two children lying by the side of her quite dead. I asked her if she knew the children were dead? She said they were gone to heaven. I heard her tell Mrs. Trinder afterwards that she loved them, and that was why she did it.
Cross-examined by Mr. Harington – I called out Mrs. Webb’s name to awake her, but she took no notice. That was when I went to the house and found it locked. I knew her well. She was always very fond of the children, but was of very weak intellect.
James Trinder lives near to Webb’s. Went to the cottage on the 26th July, at five o’clock in the afternoon. I got in when the door was opened, and on going upstairs saw the children dead by their mother. She appeared quite distressed. I said, “How sorry I be for you.” Have you given them any thing or used any sort of instrument to do them any damage. She added she had given them nothing but victuals. I have done it for love.
By Mr. Harington – I have known her five or six years, she was very fond of her children, but is a person of weak intellect.
Sarah Ann Webb, deposed – I am nine years old. Was sent to Mr. Neal’s to fetch some bread. When I came back the door was locked.
By Mr. Harington – I am very fond of my mother. She has always been kind to me.
Hannah Trinder deposed – I recollect going to the house on the 26th July last. I asked her why she did it. She said, “ Because I loved my children,” adding, “Why did you not stop me and prevent me laying on the babies.”
Thomas Smallhorn, a surgeon practising Eynsham, deposed – I made a post mortem examination of the bodies and found the faces congested, and the necks very much contused. Death was caused by suffocation from pressure on the throat.
Henry Banks Spencer, a physician, residing in Oxford – Saw Ann Webb, three years ago, he then was fearful unless some restraint was placed on her that she would do some mischief to the children. Believing her fit to become an inmate of a Lunatic Asylum, he signed a certificate to that purpose.
The defence was that the prisoner was insane, in support of which her general conduct was said by several of the witnesses to have been habitually strange, and the medical men spoke to a decided tendency to “homicidal mania.”
She was found not guilty on the ground of insanity, and ordered to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Saturday, December 9, 1865 – Reading Mercury, Oxford Gazette, Newbury Herald and Berks County Paper pg 6 – Winter Assize
OXFORD, DEC. 5.
MURDER – Ann Webb, 39, was charged with the wilful murder of two of her children, Ellen Webb, aged three years, and Frederick Thomas Webb, aged eight months, at Northmoor, on the 26th of July last.
It appeared that on the 26th of July last, two neighbours called on the prisoner, and dined with her, leaving her about one o’clock in the day with her five children with her, all in good health. Shortly after, the prisoner sent the two elder children to a shop to buy some bread, and on their return they found the cottage shut up, and were thus unable to obtain admission; accordingly, they went to some of the neighbours, who proceeded to the cottage, and by taking out one of the casements succeeded in unlocking the door and obtaining admission. On reaching the bedroom they found the prisoner lying on the bed with the two children by the side of her, quite dead. She was asked if she was aware that they were dead, when she replied that she was, “That they were gone to heaven, and that she loved them, and that was why she did it.” Evidence was adduced to show that she was very fond of her children, but that she was labouring under insanity, and irresponsible for her acts.
The jury accordingly Acquitted her on the ground of insanity.
Saturday, December 9, 1865 – The Salisbury And Winchester Journal, and General Advertiser pg 3
WILFUL MURDER OF TWO CHILDREN BY THEIR MOTHER -
At Oxford Assizes, on Tuesday, Ann Webb, the wife of George Webb, labourer, was charged with the wilful murder of her two children – Ellen, aged three years, and Frederick Thomas, an infant, on the 26th of July, at Northmoor. It appeared that the unhappy woman was seen by some neighbours in her cottage between one and two o’clock on the day in question, with her five children about her. The eldest child, a little girl of nine years old, proved that her mother afterwards set her and two of the others away on an errand, and while they were away the dreadful event must have happened, for on their return the door was found locked, and on the cotage being broken into by the neighbours, the wretched woman was found lying on a bed with the two little children dead by her side, having been evidently suffocated. She was in a very odd state, and remarked that “the children were gone to heaven” and that “she loved them so, that was why she did it.” The defence was that the prisoner was insane, in support of which her general conduct was said by several of the witnesses to have been habitually strange, and the medical men spoke to a decided tendency to “homicidal mania.” She was found Not Guilty, on the ground of insanity, and was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.
The Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette pg 2 – Oxfordshire Winter Assizes – Tuesday
Charge of Murder at Northmoor.
Ann Webb, 39, labourer was indicted, and also charged on the coroner’s inquest with the wilful murder of Ellen Webb and Thomas Frederick Webb, at Northmoor, on the 26th of July. Mr. Staveley Hill and Mr. Rowden prosecuted and Mr. Harington defended.
On the prisoner being called on to plead, Mr Harington suggested that Mr. Briscoe, the surgeon of the gaol, should state whether she was in a fit state to plead, as his instructions were that she was not.
Mr. Briscoe was accordingly called and in answer to the Judge, he said that the prisoner had been under his charge, and he considered her in a fit state to plead.
The prisoner then pleaded not guilty, and the indictment charging her with the murder of Ellen Webb was proceeded with.
Mr. Hill, in opening the case, said the circumstances were of a very painful character. The prisoner, on the 26th of July, was living with her husband, George Webb, a labourer, at Northmoor, in this county; they had five children, all of whom were with her at home, and in good health. After stating the facts which he should prove, the Learned Counsel said he thought the Jury would have very little difficulty in finding that the two children were deprived of life by the prisoner, but there would be another more serious question, for when they found an act committed which violated the laws of nature, and the thence derived laws of man, the only question would be whether the person committing such an act could at the time have been conscious of the existence of such laws, and was capable of appreciating the quality of the act. It would be for the Jury, after hearing the evidence and the observation of his learned friend Mr. Harington, to say whether this child met its death at the hands of the prisoner, and if so, she was in a state at the time to know what she was doing, or whether she was in a state in which that reason which might have been her guide was not only no guide at all, but was actually a false guide, leading her to do an act which she might think not criminal, but meritorious.
Ann Wiggins deposed – I am the wife of Thos. Wiggins of Moreton, near Northmoor. I know Ann Aldsworth, and she was with me in the prisoner’s cottage on the 26th of July. We had dinner together. The prisoner was there and her five children; they all appeared in good health. One was named Ellen, and was about three years old. Mrs Aldsworth and I left together. We left about one, and in the course of the afternoon two of the children came to me. In consequence of something they said, I went back to the cottage about four or five with a man named Jas. Trinder; he opened the window, put the child through, and the child opened the door. Trinder and I then went into the bedroom; we saw the prisoner and her two children lying on the bed, both the children were lying together on their backs. I asked her if she knew the children were dead. She did not speak for some time, till Mrs. Trinder came in. She then said they were gone to heaven. Mrs. Trinder asked her several questions, and the prisoner said she loved them, and that was why she did it.
Cross-examined We called out loudly when we went to the cottage. At first I thought the children were asleep, but she took hold of Trinder’s hand and laid it upon the eldest child’s face, and then I discovered they were dead. It was 20 minutes before she spoke, and Trinder stayed with her while I went up and down to see if I could see anyone else. She was always very kind to the children. I don’t know whether her husband treated her well or ill. We took our dinner with us. I don’t know if she was very poor; much the same as the rest of us. I had not seen much of her except from working on the same farm.
James Trinder I live at Northmoor, and know the prisoner. On the 26th of July I went up to her house about five o’clock. Knocked for some time at the door, and at last got in and went upstairs. Saw the mother and children lying on the bed, and the children both dead. I said, “Anne, are you sleepy.” She made no answer. I lifted her up in the bed by the shoulders. She threw herself about, and seemed in great distress, and enraged because she could not make me understand they were dead. At last she said. “They’re gone to heaven, James.” and that made me understand they were dead. She took my hand and put it first on one child’s face and then the other. I said, “Well, Anne, how sorry I be for you; how did this happen?” She made no answer. I said, “You haven’t given them anything or used any instrument to do ‘em damage.” She said she had given them nothing but their victuals. She said, “I have done it for love.” She seemed very much distressed. I stopped with her till I could get assistance. Hannah Trinder came up, and I left with her.
Cross-examined I had been in every day for five or six years. I considered she had been a person of weak mind and that was why I asked if she had done any harm to the child. I had seen her several times in a poor low way, and had seen a good deal of alteration in her several times. She was a very fond mother. I observed no marks on the children.
John Harris I am a sawyer at Northmoor. I remember passing by the prisoner’s cottage about three o’clock on the 26th of July. The door was open and I hear the children laughing and playing.
Sarah Ann Webb, who gave her evidence with great intelligence, deposed My mother’s name is Ann Webb, and I am her eldest child. I am 9 years old. I remember my mother sending me on the 26th July at three o’clock to Mr. Neale’s for some bread. Freddy was in the cradle asleep when I went out, and Ellen out of doors at play. My brother John and my sister Elizabeth were at school. I was gone about an hour. I found the door locked. I went to Anne Aldsworth, and she and Mrs. Wiggins came with me. They opened the window and put my brother through it, and we all went in.
Cross-examined – My mother has always been very kind to us, and I am very fond of her. I called out when I got back, but got no answer.
Hannah Trinder I am the wife of John Trinder, and the daughter in law of the former witness. I remember going to the prisoner’s cottage about half-past five on the 26th of July. I stopped till nearly 12. She spoke to me, and I asked her how she did it. She said , “I loved my children so, and that was how I did it.” She was then on the bed. Afterwards I spoke again, and she said, “Why did not you stop me? Why did you let me lie on my babies?” I stayed till a policeman came.
Cross-examined – She seemed distressed at first, but was afterwards calmer and seemed reconciled. We moved her down stairs. She was throwing herself about when I first saw her, and James Trinder tried to keep her quiet. As far as I know she had always been a kind mother. I have known her more than six or seven years. She has always been a person of weak intellect.
Thos. Smallhorn – I am a surgeon, and live at Eynsham. On the 26th July I was called into Webb’s house. Went about 9 p.m. The prisoner was downstairs. Went upstairs and saw the bodies of two children. One was a female child, between three and four years old. The face was very much congested, and there was a bruise on the neck, on the right side of the windpipe; it was oval, and about the size of a shilling. I made a post mortem examination the next evening, and found the lungs congested. In my opinion the cause of death was suffocation, produced by pressure on the throat. I found no other unhealthy symptoms.
Cross-examined – Any hard substance on the neck might have caused the bruise. The symptoms of suffocation by something over the mouth would be much the same.
Re-examined – There was no mark on the mouth.
Henry Banks Spencer – I am a physician residing at Oxford, and formerly practised at Eynsham.
Cross-examined – I saw the prisoner about three years ago. She came to me and said she felt very weak in intellect, and felt that unless some restraint was placed upon her she should injure her children. I believe her insane, and fit to be placed in a lunatic asylum. I signed a certificate to that effect. I have not seen her for two years.
By the Judge – A homicidal mania would be very likely to recur. – This was the case for the prosecution.
Mr. Harington then addressed the Jury, observing that it was never the intention of the defence to deny that the prisoner was the means of destroying her children. Whether she committed the act with her fingers, or as she seemed to intimate to one of the witnesses by lying on them, really made very little difference. The only object of the defence was that she should be put where she would be prevented from doing any harm for the future. After the evidence of Dr. Spencer, who stated that the prisoner went to him, and stated that she was afraid she should destroy her children, and that such a homicidal mania was likely to recur, he thought they could entertain no doubt of the prisoner’s insanity. A person intending to kill the children out of malice would certainly have endeavoured to escape, but the prisoner, though she had ample warning that people were coming, lay on the bed with them, and the first thing she did on being found was to signify that they were dead. If the jury found her not guilty on the ground of insanity she would not be set at liberty, for Government provided asylum for the case of persons in that melancholy state, and he believed that those guilty of homicide were never again let loose. At all events, she would have the best medical attendance and care, and he confidently appealed to the Jury to say that at the time she committed the deed she was not in a state to distinguish right from wrong.
The learned Judge, in summing up, observed that the law presumed all homicide to be murder, and it lay upon the accused to prove either that it was less than murder, or that she was in a state of mind which made her not responsible for her actions. By some forms of other of that mysterious disease which assumed so many shapes and forms, a person might be incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and it was often the case that such persons were aware of a fit of insanity coming on, for they had been known to go out of their own accord to an asylum, and place themselves under restraint. Why the prisoner, after Dr. Spencer had signed a certificate of her being insane, was not placed under restraint, did not appear. Probably, being in poor circumstances, it might not have been deemed convenient, and if that fit of homicidal mania were of temporary duration, they might have hoped that she would have recovered without such restraint. The Jury would probably attach some weight to the opinion of her friends and neighbours as to her mental condition, but what spoke even more loudly was the nature of the act itself. Here they had a mother who was kind and affectionate to her children up to the very moment of committing the act, and the first statement she made was that she had done it because she loved them, and that they were now in Heaven. If the Jury were satisfied that she was at the time incapable of judging the quality of the act, they would find her not guilty on the ground of insanity, the effect of which would be that she would be confined during Her Majesty’s pleasure, every care being of course taken that no homicidal act was repeated.
The Jury at once found the prisoner not guilty on the ground of insanity, and the learned Judge ordered her to be confined during her Majesty’s pleasure. She was then removed, having during the trial shown the utmost composure, betraying scarcely any emotion even when her child was giving evidence against her.
The other indictment was not proceeded with.
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