42 year old Margaret Allen was a transgender lesbian who dressed in men's
clothes and preferred to be called "Bill." She lived in a two room dwelling at 137 Bacup Road
in Rawtenstall, a former police station. Margaret was born in 1906, the 20th of 22
children in her family and had since her early 20’s rejected her femininity and
wanted to be a man. She claimed to have
had a gender change operation in 1935 which is unlikely, but afterwards behaved
as a man, cutting her hair short and wearing masculine clothes. Her mother had died in 1943 and she took her
loss very hard. She smoked heavily and did not eat properly. In 1945 she
received medical treatment for attacks of dizziness and depression. She had worked as a bus conductress for the
local Rawtenstall Corporation bus company but had
been dismissed for her rude and aggressive behaviour towards passengers. At the
time of the murder she was unemployed.
Two photos remain of Margaret Allen - this younger
one and a later
Around 9.20 am. on the morning
of Saturday the 28th of August 1948, 68 year old wealthy but eccentric neighbour,
Nancy Ellen Chadwick, called at Margaret’s home, wanting to borrow a cup of
sugar. The two women did not get on well,
Margaret found her to be very irritating.
At some point Margaret battered Nancy
to death with a coal hammer, leaving blood stains on the wall inside the front
door of her house. She put Nancy’s body in the coal cellar. Margaret then went out with her only real friend
Annie Cook and later had a couple of drinks in the Ashworth Arms before going
to bed. She couldn’t sleep thinking
about the body in the cellar and finally got up and decided to drag it to the
road at the junction of Fallbarn Close and Bacup Road
where it was noticed by Herbert Beaumont, a passing bus driver at 3.35 am. on Sunday the 29th. Nancy was lying face down
with her grey coat drawn up partially covering the head wounds. Another bus driver, Arthur Marshall told
police the body had not been there when he passed 15 minutes earlier. Had it been placed there in the hope that
authorities would believe that Nancy
was the victim of a hit and run accident?
A post mortem was carried out by Dr. Gilbert Bailey of Blackburn.
Police responded to the discovery of the
body in the street and noted that Margaret was taking a keen interest in their
search. She pointed out Nancy’s handbag floating in the River Irwell
across the street to them. It was noted that Nancy’s purse was missing. Margaret was formally interviewed by
Detective Chief Inspector Stevens of Scotland Yard on the 1st of September and
it was then that the blood stains were discovered in her home. She then confessed to the murder, telling
officers "I didn't do it for money, I was in one
of my funny moods." She told them
“‘I just happened to look around and saw the hammer in the kitchen. Then, on
the spur of the moment I hit her with it. She gave a loud shout and that seemed
to start me off more, and so I hit her a few times more, I don’t know how many.”
She was arrested and appeared before the local magistrate’s court on Thursday
the 2nd of September 1948, her 42nd birthday.
The magistrates remanded her in custody and
she was committed for trial at Manchester Assizes. The trial, before Mr. Justice Sellars, took place on the 8th of December 1948 and lasted
just five hours. The prosecution was led
by A. Dennis Gerrard.
This put forward robbery as the motive and also relied on Margaret’s clear
and lucid statement admitting to the crime.
Her defence, led by William Gormann K.C., was
one of insanity but this was rejected by the jury after just 15 minutes
deliberation. Margaret chose a man’s
suit for the trial, an action that did her no favours with the jury. A petition to commute her death sentence, got
up by her friend, Annie Cook, received just 162 signatures.
Annie Cook visited Margaret in Strangeways on
the Monday (10th of January) and found her to be cheerful and still expecting a
reprieve. On Tuesday the 11th of January
it was made known that the Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede, saw no grounds for a
reprieve. The decision was communicated
to Margaret by the governor, Mr. C. T. Cape.
Margaret was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint,
assisted by Harry Kirk, on Wednesday the 12th of January 1949. This was the
first female execution in Britain
for over 12 years (since Charlotte Bryant in 1936) and only the third female
hanging at Strangeways prison in Manchester. Margaret was not permitted to wear her
preferred men’s clothing and was given a prison dress instead
. It was reported that she kicked
over her breakfast, exclaiming “I don’t want it and no one else is going to
The chaplain of Strangeways who witnessed
the execution, the Rev. Arthur Walker, testified before the Royal Commission on
Capital Punishment in 1950 that Margaret had met her end bravely but that he
felt that no woman should be hanged. The
execution had taken a serious toll on his health and that of others present.
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