Ann Wycherly - her child was an encumbrance.


Ann was a twenty eight year old mother of two illegitimate children who in December 1837 was living with the children in the workhouse at Drayton (now Market Drayton) in Shropshire, just over the Staffordshire border.  She would have been described at the time as a dissolute young woman.  The older of her two children was a girl of three, also called Ann, who was not well treated by her mother according to the witness testimony of another of the workhouse’s inmates.  The younger child was an infant whom Ann had had conceived with her then lover, Charles Gilbert.


Ann left the workhouse with her two children on Thursday the 14th of December and the three were recognised early in the afternoon by a James Freeman.  By six o’clock Ann was exhausted and knocked on the door of the cottage of one Sarah Newbrook, asking her if she could rest there for a while.  Sarah allowed her to do so and noted that she only had the infant child with her.


On Friday the 22nd of December, William Poole, a farm labourer saw something floating in a pit on his employer’s land near Chipnal.  He went and informed the farmer, Mr. Butters, and between them the two men were able to pull the small object out of the pit and onto the bank where they were no doubt horrified to find it was the body of a little girl.


An inquest was held at the Noah pub and William Crutchley the governor of the Drayton workhouse identified the body as that of Ann Wycherly.  The inquest found that the cause of death was drowning but noted that the girl’s body and head had several bruises.  William Crutchley obtained an arrest warrant from the local justices of the peace and went in search of Ann.  He found her soon after in service at Baldwin’s Gate, where assisted by two local constables, he arrested her.  He showed Ann the girl’s body and noted her reluctance to look upon it and even greater reluctance to touch it.  He asked Ann why she had killed the girl and she told him that she would not have done so had Charles Gilbert not persuaded her to do so  According to Ann, Gilbert had helped get the poor girl into the pit and had then thrown tiles at her.  This may account for the bruising found on her.  Ann was remanded to Stafford Gaol by the local magistrates to await her trial.


She was tried at the next assizes which took place on Wednesday the 14th of March in the courtroom of the imposing Shire Hall in Market Square, Stafford, which can still be visited today.  Her case was heard by Baron Alderson with the prosecution led by Mr. Corbett.  William Crutchley gave evidence against her and told the jury how she had left his workhouse with the two children and of her confession to him.  Catherine Biffen, another girl from the workhouse, told the jury about Ann’s mis-treatment of her daughter and Mr. Hopkins the surgeon from Drayton gave evidence of the cause of the little girl’s death. 

In his summing up Baron Alderson told the jurors that even if someone else had been the instigation for Ann to carry out of the murder that did not in anyway diminish her guilt or responsibility for the crime.  The jury did not even retire before finding Ann guilty. 

Baron Alderson now proceeded to sentence Ann to death and asked if she had anything to say. She told him “she was with child”.  He therefore ordered the courtroom doors to be locked and empanelled a jury of matrons from the women in the public gallery to see if she was pregnant.  Ann and the other women were sent off to the Grand Jury room where after close examination that took best part of an hour she was declared not to be quick with child.  Before he left Stafford, Baron Alderson decided to respite Ann until the 5th of May just in case the matrons had been mistaken.  As they hadn’t been Ann was to suffer her punishment on that day.  Her execution was set for nine o’clock on that Saturday morning, instead of the usual eight o’clock to enable the London Mail coach to arrive, in case there was a reprieve.


After the problems experienced with the collapse of the gallows at Ann Statham’s hanging in 1819 a new portable gallows had been built, of similar pattern to the one used at London’s Newgate prison.  This was wheeled out in front of the prison in the early hours.


In the condemned cell Ann had told the Governor, Thomas Brutton that she was not afraid to die and again implicated Charles Gilbert in the killing.  On the Friday the gaol chaplain, the Reverend Buckeridge gave her the Sacrament.


A few minutes before nine on the Saturday morning the usual procession emerged from the main gate of the prison to the solemn tolling of the prison bell.  It was headed by the sheriff of the county, Thomas Brutton followed by the Reverend Buckeridge, Ann, two turnkeys and the hangman, Samuel Haywood.  Ann was able to climb the steps up to the platform unaided where she prayed with the chaplain before being pinioned, hooded and noosed.  As the chaplain read the burial service the drop was operated and Ann fell a short distance into the box like structure.  According to the local newspaper she struggled for less than a minute before hanging still. At ten o’clock her body was taken down and moved into the prison for burial in the small graveyard that was adjacent to the solitary confinement cells.  Unusually this execution only drew a small crowd as it was thought a reprieve was likely. 


It seems that the motive for the killing was that the child was an encumbrance to the new relationship and neither Ann nor Charles Gilbert wanted her.


Ann was one two women and two men who were condemned at the same assizes but the other three were all reprieved.  The other woman was fifty nine year old Hannah Heath who had also been convicted of killing a child.  It was reported that Baron Alderson was surprised by the jury’s guilty verdict in her case and obviously recommended a reprieve. 


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