William Frederick Horry – History in the making.


With special thanks to Monty Dart for providing contemporary newspaper reports from which to research this case.


28 year old Fred Horry made history when he became the first man in England to be hanged by the measured drop method.


William Frederick Horry was born on the 17th of December 1843 at Boston in Lincolnshire and was generally known as Fred.  He met Jane who was working as a barmaid at a hotel in Burslem in the Staffordshire Potteries and they soon fell for one another.  He married her in 1866 and with financial help from his father was able to purchase the George Hotel.  He soon established himself and was held in very high regard locally. Click here for a photo of him.


Fred and Jane had been married for some six years, having three children whilst running the hotel.  Initially all went well but Frederick began drinking heavily and the marriage started to fall apart to the point where in early 1871 Jane left him and moved to Boston in Lincolnshire where she lived with his father at the Red Cow Inn.  In March of 1871 Frederick believed that Jane had been seeing another man and decided to initiate divorce proceedings.  Frederick’s father had taken Jane’s side in all this which probably didn’t help the situation.


Fred sold up in Burslem and moved to Nottingham where he continued to drink heavily.  He purchased a revolver (quite easy to do at this time) from a gunsmith in Nottingham and had it sent to Nottingham station for his collection.  On the afternoon of Saturday the 13th of January Frederick went to the station and enquired whether his parcel had arrived, which at this time it hadn’t and also bought a ticket to Boston.  He departed for Boston, travelling as far as Grantham before returning to Nottingham later in the afternoon by which time the gun and ammunition had reached the station.  He stayed the night in Nottingham before setting off for Boston on the Sunday, now armed.

Thomas Knell who was the inspector of the Great Northern Railway at Nottingham station knew Fred and was aware of the marital problems.  Examining the package he realised that it contained a gun and immediately sent a telegraph to Fred’s father in Boston.


Fred tried to see Jane on the Sunday but was refused admission to the house.  He returned the following morning but Jane was out.  Sadly he found Jane at home at around 3 o’clock on the Monday afternoon and immediately shot her from behind, the bullet penetrating her rib cage passing through her lung and lodging in her aorta, injuries which caused a very rapid death.  Family members and servants heard the shot and raced to the drawing room to find Frederick standing over Jane’s dying body.  He made no effort to escape and told one of them to fetch a constable.  He handed the gun to his brother, Thomas, telling him “You have no notion, Tom, how I loved that woman, but I could not stand the jealousy.”  He was arrested at the house by Sgt. Glover and admitted the shooting, telling the sergeant “I did it and am only sorry that I have not shot Dr. Oldham, Mr. Tomkinson and Mr. Pearson, who have had connection with my wife.”


An inquest into Jane’s death was held the following day at the Red Cow, presided over by the Coroner, one Mr. Clegg.  (It was normal practice at this time to hold inquests in pubs and inns)
Betsy Wingate the housemaid, described the events of the fatal afternoon to the coroner and the inquest jury as follows.  She was in the kitchen when she heard the shot and rushed out to see Jane collapse in the breakfast room around 3p.m.  She ran into the yard for help and by the time she returned Jane was dead.  Fred was standing by Jane’s body and told Betsy and the two men “I have done for her”.  One of the men that Betsy brought from the yard was William Sharp, the brewer, who told the inquest that Fred still had the revolver in his hand and told him to fetch a policeman.  Fred’s brother Thomas arrived at the house at around 3.15p.m. and asked Fred to give him the revolver which he did.  He had said to his brother “Oh, Fred why have you done this?  Fred replied “Its no use now, Tom, it can’t be helped, its done”.  Thomas told the coroner’s jury that he was aware of Fred’s jealousy of Jane.

After a brief retirement the jury bought in a verdict of wilful murder against Fred and he was remanded to prison to appear before Boston magistrate’s court.  Fred made a lengthy statement in his defence detailing Jane’s unfaithfulness to him over the previous year.  He was committed for trial by the magistrates to the Lincolnshire Lent Assizes.


His trial opened at Lincoln Assize Court on Wednesday the 13th of March before Mr. Justice Quain.  The prosecution was led by Mr. Sergeant O’Brien assisted by Mr. Cave, with Mr. Digby Seymour and a Mr. Lawrence facing a seriously uphill struggle to mount a credible defence.  Insanity was the only real option open to them, in view of the prisoner’s admissions and the physical evidence.  Mr. Seymour did his best to argue that the excessive drinking combined with his all consuming jealousy were sufficient to unbalance Frederick’s mind.  The jury did not accept this and bought in a guilty verdict.  The judge sentenced Frederick to hang and he was removed to one of Lincoln Castle’s two male condemned cells to await execution.  He was reportedly “quite resigned to his fate” although he was concerned about the future if his three children. There would be no reprieve and the hanging was set for Easter Monday, the 1st of April 1872.


The murder, trial and forthcoming execution were big news locally and also made the national papers, the trial being reported in The Times.  However one resident of Lincolnshire was rather more interested in the story than most people.  He was William Marwood, the local cobbler in the village of Horncastle. 


Fifty four year old Marwood had taken a great interest in the process of execution by hanging over the years and knew that he could improve on the way it was carried out by Calcraft et al.  He had never hanged anyone or even assisted at or witnessed an execution but had read a great deal on the subject including the work of doctors in Ireland which had convinced him that if an accurately calculated drop was given, that related to the prisoner’s weight, then their neck should be broken and death be fast and pain free.  Amazingly he persuaded the authorities at Lincoln to let him carry out Frederick’s hanging.  Perhaps after the execution of Priscilla Biggadyke, the previous hanging at Lincoln in 1868, the governor there, Mr. Foster, was only too willing to give Marwood a try so as to avoid the wholly distressing scene that he had had to witness on that occasion.  He and the sheriff were able to select the hangman as there was no Home Office (Prison Commission) list of approved persons at this time.


In the Condemned Cell Fred wrote a lengthy and penitent letter to a friend over the weekend telling the friend how he had found God.  He received the sacrament from the prison chaplain, the Rev. Richter on Sunday afternoon, who arrived at 7am on the Monday morning and stayed with Fred for some 45 minutes.


The existing “New Drop” gallows was erected in the Castle Yard, behind the Assize Court.  William Marwood pinioned his prisoner’s arms just before 9am and Fred thanked the governor and the chaplain for the kindness that they had shown him.  Reportedly he told the under-sheriff of Lincolnshire that had the jury recommended him to mercy that they would have been exceeding their duty.  The normal procession then started off across the Castle Yard with Fred escorted by two warders, walking unaided and with a firm step.  At the foot of the gallows Rev. Richter read the burial service and Fred thanked him and one of the accompanying warders before climbing the steps up to the platform where his legs were strapped.  Here he said “Good bye Mr. Foster, God Bless you.  God forgive my poor dear father.  God bless my poor children. ”His final words as Marwood was hooding him and adjusting the noose were “Lord have mercy on my soul”.  When the trap doors were released Fred dropped through the trap leaving just the still, taught rope in sight of the officials on the platform.  He death was reported as being virtually instantaneous. There was no agonised struggling and writhing, no choking sounds, the whole process was far less distressing for all concerned.  The prison surgeon, Dr. Broadbent examined the body and certified death.


After the formal inquest Fred’s body was buried in the Lucy Tower and a simple headstone bearing his initials and the date placed over the grave.  This is still visible - click here for photo.


On Sunday the 7th of April at 10a.m. some 60 of Frederick’s friends in Burslem held a gathering at the George Hotel to commemorate his life and (good) character and his death as “a martyr”.  They then walked in procession to St John’s Church, the parish church, carrying an empty coffin with an estimated three to four thousand people lining the streets.  Here a memorial service was led by the Rev. A. Watton, who in his sermon talked of the penitent letters that Fred had written awaiting execution and described him as “a man, and a martyr, more sinned against than sinning.This was extremely unusual if not unique for an executed murderer to be honoured in this way.


Although this execution was judged a success the sheriffs of other counties didn’t immediately move en masse to appoint William Marwood.  In fact several newspapers erroneously credited George Smith of Dudley as being the hangman and none of those that I have read actually saw the significance of the “long drop”.
William Calcraft, Thomas Askern and Robert Anderson still continued to be appointed and so it was not until Calcraft retired in mid 1874 that Marwood was appointed executioner for the City of London and Middlesex and then effectively begin to take the national role.

There were seven other hangings in England during 1872, all using a short drop, all eight executions in England in 1873 used it, as did ten of the nineteen hangings in 1874.  It was not until 1875 that the measured drop method became universal.



Jealousy has often been a motive for murder and it certainly was in this case. Had Fred been tried post 1957, he may have been able to convince the jury that he was only guilty of manslaughter, on the grounds of diminished responsibility, a defence introduced by the Homicide Act of 1957.  It is unclear, at least to me, whether Jane’s alleged “dalliances” with the three men named earlier were real and if so to what extent, or whether they purely in Frederick’s mind, as both his and her families maintained. 
As the law stood in 1872 a defence of insanity was governed by the McNaughten Rules.  These came into being in 1843 and stated that : "To establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must clearly be proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing was wrong".

It is clear that Fred did know what he was doing.  It was clearly premeditated.  He ordered a new revolver and ammunition, made sure he got it before travelling to Boston and called at the Red Cow three times to see Jane.  He also knew that what he was doing was wrong because immediately afterwards he instructed the police to be sent for.  In law I cannot see how it would have been possible for the jury to bring in any other verdict but guilty at the time.  Would we now find Fred to be delusional?  Compare this case with that of Ruth Ellis in 1955 who committed a similar murder and was also hanged for it.


Back to Contents Page