Edith Morrey – A Cheshire love triangle.


Edith was born Edith Coomer and married George Morrey, a farmer’s son on Tuesday the 18th of April 1797 at St. Chad’s Church in Wybunbury in southern Cheshire.  She was then about nineteen years old and the daughter of a well to do farmer.  Initially the marriage was happy and they settled in the Cheshire town of Nantwich.  George opened a grocery store there and the couple made a reasonable living over the next four years.  In early 1801 they returned to the village of Hankelow, near Audlem to take over George’s father’s farm when he retired.  They were blessed with seven children, three boys and four girls, although one of the girls died in infancy.  George tended the farm whilst Edith made cheese for sale locally and looked after the family. 


The Morrey’s were wealthy enough to have servants and by Christmas 1811 they had a maid, Hannah Evans who had been with them nearly a year and a twenty year old farmhand called John Lomas who had just joined them.  At this time Edith was once again pregnant but was to have a miscarriage in February 1812. 

We have no means of knowing Edith’s emotional state at the time, so soon after a miscarriage, but it was quite possibly rather fragile. For whatever reason Edith quickly fell for John and they began having an affair.  Over the next two months or so Edith started to think in terms of marrying this young man, some fifteen years her junior, however there was one obvious impediment, George!  No doubt Edith was not prepared to give up her children and comfortable life style by simply running away with John, nor was she willing to face the social disgrace that this course of action entailed at the time.  So another way had to be found to keep John’s affections and rid themselves of George.  Edith determined that John should kill George and afterwards they could be together.


On Saturday the 11th of April 1812 George had been to Witton Wakes, a major fair in Northwich and did not return home until midnight.  Edith and Hannah Evans were still up at this time and George had supper before he and Edith retired to bed.  Hannah went a little later after she had cleared away the supper. Hannah was soon awakened though, by the sounds of a commotion from inside the house.  She and John Lomas ran to the house of a neighbour to raise the alarm.  The pair then returned to the farm with a couple of neighbours, Thomas Timmis and John Moores.  The two men found Edith sitting by the fireplace and then opened the door into George’s bedroom where they made a grim discovery.  George was laying face down on the floor with an axe handle projecting from underneath him.  He had several axe wounds and in addition had had his throat cut, so there was blood everywhere.  Timmis and Moores decided that George’s brother, Jem, should be sent for and told Lomas to go to his house.  Returning with Jem, John Lomas told him that the house had been burgled, with one hundred and fifty pounds missing from George’s desk and that his master had been killed by the intruders.  However aspects of this story did not ring true.  John was wearing a clean shirt on the Sunday morning which raised suspicion and there were no signs of any forcible entry into the house.  When questioned on this John showed unconvincingly, how easy it was to open the front door from the outside.  Unconvincingly, because it relied upon the nail that was the bolt not being fully inserted.


The police arrived in the shape William Dooley, the Parish Constable and John Groom who was a special constable and also a solicitor.  John Groom questioned Edith and got the same story that John Lomas had given.  He also noticed that John had dried blood on his nose and on his wrist.  He asked John to produce his dirty shirt and John refused saying that he had worn the present one all week.  Groom began a search of the house now that it was getting light outside and they could see a little more.  As they got to the bottom of the stairs they noticed a hand print in dried blood and looking carefully were able to follow a trail of blood spots which went back through the kitchen to John’s room.  The constables examined John further and noticed blood stains on the cuffs of his jacket.  They then demanded that John open his box which he kept in his room.  They all went to his room only to find Edith already there and were in time to see her take something from the box and attempt to conceal it.  This was of course the blood stained shirt. Constable Dooley now arrested John on the strength of this evidence.  John told the constable that the shirt had been bloodied due to having to bleed George’s mare at the blacksmiths earlier in the week.  Dooley took John back to his house in Audlem where he made a confession and implicated Edith as the principal in the killing, telling the constable that she had given him the signal to enter his master’s bedroom when she was sure that George was asleep and handed him the axe.  She held a candle for him whilst he struck the blows and passed John the razor when it became clear that George was still alive.  William Dooley asked how long Edith and John had been planning the murder and he told the constable that it had been some time. 

Back at the farmhouse Constable William Hall, from Hankelow having heard John’s confession and allegations against Edith decided to arrest her.  He told her that he was taking her into custody and she asked to be allowed to get ready which he allowed.  She slipped into another room and moments later returned with blood pouring from a razor wound to her throat.  Fortunately the local surgeon was on hand having come to view George’s body for the inquest and he managed to staunch the flow of blood and sew up the wound before Edith bled to death.

Constable Dooley had a full search made of the premises and as part of this drained the pond which revealed the murder weapon.  Lomas had closed the blade before throwing the razor into the pond and it was seen to have blood and hair on it.  Edith was placed under the guard of Richard Thursfield, who was constable Dooley’s deputy and he had been told to record anything Edith said when she came to.  She told him she wished she had not lived and that she had not been in her right mind of late. 


As was usual at the time the inquest on George was held at the village pub, The White Lion, on the Monday afternoon following the killing, before Chester Coroner, Mr. Faithful Thomas.  Also as normal, witnesses were called to give their accounts of the murder, a practice which tended to prejudge any subsequent trial.  Edith and John were both declared to be guilty of murder and committed for trial.  George’s body was buried on April the 15th at St. Chad’s Wybunbury.  John was taken to Chester Castle to await trial and Edith transferred there on the 4th of May when she was sufficiently recovered from her suicide attempt.


Chester was part of the Welsh Circuit and thus its assizes were known as the Great Sessions.  The court sat at the Shire Hall in the outer bailey of Chester Castle.  Edith and John stood trial on Friday August the 21st before Chief Justice Robert Dallas and Francis Burton, a more junior judge.  They were both charged with Petty Treason rather than murder, as the deceased was the husband of one defendant and the master of the other.  The prosecution was led Samuel Benyon, assisted by David Jones.  Edith was represented by John Cross and John Hill, John being represented by John Lyons.


The evidence and witness testimonies from the inquest were repeated, lasting some four hours.

John Cross questioned Hannah Evans as to the state of the Morrey’s marriage and as to whether she had noticed any impropriety between mistress and servant.  She confirmed that she thought her employers were happily married and that she had not seen any intimacy between Edith and John and that there seemed to be no tension in the house when George returned home on the Saturday night.  John Cross also tried to introduce the jury to the possibility that burglars had killed George rather than the defendants.  John Lyon suggested that William Dooley had put pressure on John Lomas to make a confession but he refuted this and assured the court that had neither bought pressure upon John nor promised him leniency in return for his confession.


The jury returned a verdict of guilty against both prisoners after just a few minutes discussion.  Judge Dallas then addressed both of them, suggesting that although he believed that John had actually carried out the killing it was Edith whose guilt was the greater for planning and organising the destruction of her husband.  Asked if had anything further to say before he was sentenced John told the court that he deserved his execution and hoped to be quickly forgotten.  On Edith’s behalf John Cross told the court that she was pregnant and thus could not be sentenced to death at this time.  A panel of matrons were sworn in from the married women in the court at the time and they were taken with Edith to the house of Matthew Hudson the governor of the county gaol at Chester Castle where she was examined and determined to be “quick with child” to use the contemporary expression. She was about five months pregnant. 


Robert Dallas proceeded to pass the death sentence on them both and John was removed to the condemned cell to spend his last three days.  Edith was respited until after she had given birth and also housed with the County Gaol in the castle.  The governor of the gaol allowed Edith and John to meet twice over the weekend before he was hanged and even allowed them a final embrace.


Uniquely in Britain, Cheshire county executions were not carried out at the county gaol at all, but rather at the Chester City Gaol which had opened in 1808, under the jurisdiction of the Chester Sheriff.  On the morning of execution John had thus to be transferred to the City Gaol where the gallows was erected on the flat roof of the gatehouse.  John’s hanging took place there on Monday the 24th of August 1812.  He spent sometime with the chaplain, the Reverend William Fish, before being led out up to the roof for his appointment with Cheshire’s hangman, Samuel Burrows.  A large crowd had gathered to witness the event and the usual broadsides were sold.  John made a short speech from the gallows warning others not to follow his example.  His body was dissected after death by Owen Titley at the infirmary next door to the gaol.


Edith remained in the County Gaol and on the 21st of December 1812 gave birth to a healthy male child who was taken from her a week later for adoption.  In law Edith could now be hanged within a month but in fact this was not to be so.  Her execution warrant was signed by Robert Dallas, her trial judge, at the next Great Sessions on Wednesday April the 21st 1813 and her hanging scheduled for two days later, on Friday the 23rd.  Edith slept quite well on the Thursday night and got up at five on the Friday morning.  She dressed in her least valuable clothes, as these would afterwards be the property of the hangman and drank a little coffee but refused any breakfast.  She went to a service in the prison chapel at eight o’clock which lasted nearly an hour.  Matthew Hudson, the Governor, then had her taken into his parlour to await the arrival of the under sheriff.  He arrived a little before noon and Hudson personally led Edith out to the cart waiting to take her to the City Gaol.  She was accompanied by John Robinson, one of the turnkeys, in the cart which was flanked by constables for the short journey of around a hundred yards between the two prisons. 


On arrival at the City Gaol she was taken in through the gatehouse and then up on to the flat roof where the New Drop gallows was waiting for her.  Here she ascended the platform without assistance and knelt in prayer with the Reverend Fish before submitting herself to Samuel Burrows.  He tied her wrists and arms and also tied a cord round her legs before placing the noose around her neck.  She was given a handkerchief to drop by Burrows as the signal for him to release the bolt before he pulled a white night cap down over her face. Chaplain Fish exhorted her “to dismiss all worldly thoughts and fix her whole being on the Redeemer”.  Edith thanked John Robinson for the kindness he had shown her and addressed the crowd thus " My dear Christians, I hope you will take warning by my melancholy situation. My crime has been of a double nature. In the first place I have broken one of God's commandments, by committing adultery, and defiling the marriage bed ; and in the next I have committed a most inhuman murder by imbruing my hands in the blood of an affectionate and indulgent husband." Her final words were " Lord unto thee I commit my spirit.".  She then gave the signal just after one o’clock in the afternoon and the drop fell, plunging her through it to knee level.  For whatever reason the black screens that usually surrounded the platform were not erected for Edith’s execution so everyone was able to witness her struggles over the next two and a half minutes or so as she fought her loosing battle against the noose.  At length her body became still and was left on the rope for an hour before being removed for dissection.  Her hanging had attracted a crowd estimated at ten thousand people.


Edith’s dissection was carried out the next morning by Owen Titley. He only opened her thorax and abdomen and removed her heart for preservation.  After having done so her body was sewn back up and left on display for a short while before being taken for burial.


Edith’s baby was adopted by her parents, William and Edith Croomer and christened Thomas.  At the age of twenty he was convicted of theft and sentenced to transportation to Australia for seven years.


One wonders how Edith’s miscarriage affected the balance of her mind and her judgement in early 1812.  She seemed to be on good terms with George even on the Saturday evening but what were her true feelings for John Lomas, her junior and in every way her inferior?  In those days the miscarriage would not have been considered a factor in her defence and there were no psychiatrists to examine her and bring forward expert testimony.  One may remember that much was made of the miscarriage that Ruth Ellis suffered in 1955 and the effect upon her mind and subsequent actions.


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