Blackpool: Murder at the Foxhall

cernunnos

The Foxhall Hotel

The Fox Hall was the first substantial new building in Blackpool. It was built in the later 17th Century. Edward Tydesley was the son ot Thomas Tyldesley a leading Royalist who was killed at the Battle of Wigan Lane in 1651.  The Tyldesley family  hoped to benefit from the Restoration.  Charles 11 has promised to reward his followers who had suffered in the Civil War for their support of the King.  The family  hoped that they would be awarded Layton Hawes the common land shared by Layton and Marton.  Charles 11 did not carry out his promise, probably distracted by affairs of state.

The Foxhall became a centre of Catholicism and of Jacobite resistance when the Stuarts were Unrestored.  The obscurity of its location discouraged attention and the Fylde was amongst the most Catholic areas of England. The adventurous Thomas Tydlesey the son of Edward besides supporting Catholics and Jacobites was involved in smuggling from the Isle of Man where duty was not charged on spirits and wine.

The building became a hotel.  It was demolished as recently as the 1980s and replaced by a distressing “Fun Disco”.

cernunnos 1The Foxhall “fun disco.”

There is something poetic about the fact that Blackpool’s first major new  building is the site of almost  its first murder.  John Gretrix was murdered in 1819 in Old Meadows Lane just off Whitegate Drive.  But the murder in 1895 is  fully recorded. There is  a novelistic quality.  Does life imitate art?  I haven’t got the foggiest notion but the reporting of the crime does seem to be influenced by detective novels.  The “detective” was becoming a literary device and there were detective stories where the problem required abstruse thinking.

Although it is distant in time the people who suffered were as real as we are and their sorrows and dismay at their fate were as real as our feelings.  Over the whole affair there is a veil of melancholy.

John Toomey was fifty six  years old.  He worked with his wife at the Foxhall Hotel.  It was October 1895 and the end of the season and John Toomey was given his notice.  His wife Sarah was not given her notice.  They had been married for thirty years.  It had not been a happy marriage and John had deserted his wife a number of times and co-habited with other women and travelled to the United States.  In spite of this they had six children.

John had worked as a packer in the Hulme area of Manchester.  He was very jealous of his wife and believed she was cohabiting with two of the waiters at the Foxhall.  He was regarded as a good worker and their quarrels were not apparent to other workers. On Friday 11 October John Toomey bought a knife at a shop in Foxhall Road.  He explained that he was going to the United States and that he wanted it for hunting.

October had been a month of exceptional storms.  The bodies of three people were washed up near the Imperial on Saturday October 5.

On Sunday  13 October there was a merry lunch for the staff at the Foxhall.  In spite of the fact that it was the last day for some of the workers the atmosphere was good humoured and John and his wife Sarah were the most jovial.  After lunch the staff went for a nap.  Sarah went upstairs around 12.35 pm.  John had a cigar and a glass of stout before going upstairs.  He was last seen at 2.35pm.

Sarah usually made tea for the staff and when she didn’t appear the staff made their own tea which they enjoyed as a novelty.  They laughed that Sarah had overslept and one of the waiters, Joseph Smith,  went to wake her at 5.50.

In her room she lay on the floor.  It was assumed that she had fallen until it was realised that her throat had been cut and she had nearly been decapitated.

John was young looking for his 56 years and had a luxuriant moustache.  From later witnesses we know that he walked to the Red Lion at Bispham where he had a drink and a cigar.  This is a considerable walk for anybody.  It is about five miles.   What thoughts went through his mind on that strange journey?  Did he regret his act?

At the Red Lion at about 5.00pm  he asked the Landlord if he could entrust someone with an errand.  The errand was to deliver two pounds and fourteen shilling plus his watch to his daughter Lucy Morris in Freckleton Street.    William Brooks a cellerman at the Palatine Hotel who  lived in Moon Street  volunteered to perform the errand and set off to Revoe where John Toomey’s daughter lived.  John Toomey said that he was going to Fleetwood to catch a ferry to Belfast.   After an hour he left.

William Brooks arrived in Revoe just about the same time that Sarah’s body was being discovered at the Foxhall.  When William Brooks delivered the money and his gold watch she feared the worst and said: “I don’t want the money, I want my mother.”  She hurried to the Foxhall Hotel.

Later at the inquest Lucy said that John had threatened to cut Sarah’s head off and throw himself in the sea.  This had happened a few times and it was not a happy marriage.  John had seemed a bit strange lately. He was especially upset that she would not link arms with him when they went for a walk on the Promenade the previous Sunday.  John Toomey, the son, said: “There never was a better woman.”

John Toomey Senior’s fellow workers said he was: “a steady hard working reliable fellow though rather strange at times.”

It was clear that John had murdered Sarah and a watch was kept on ships at Fleetwood but no trace of John appeared.  His jacket was discovered in a field at Bispham.  It was thought that he might have thrown himself in the sea.

Rumour had alternative explanations.  One was that John had taken spare clothes on his flight from the Foxhall and his talk of catching a ferry to Belfast was a red herring.  He had left the jacket to confuse his persuers.  Another theory was based on the fact that John had a connection with in amateur theatricals.  John had disguised himself as a woman and caught the ferry or otherwise escaped in disguise.

On Thursday 17 October Sarah’s funeral took place.  She was carried from her daughter Lucy’s house to the Promenade and then to Talbot Road and Layton Cemetery.

There were developments.  On  Friday 18 October  a man fitting John’s description was found at Clarence Gardens in London.  He had shot himself through the left temple.   John’s brother lived in London where he sang in a Catholic Choir.  He had not seen John for years and another  friend identified the body at St Pancras Mortuary as John Toomey.

At Blackpool Chief Constable Derham, who had recently been in trouble with the Council for appointing his son as a P.C. asked for further identification. John had injured his toe in his job as a packer and this would provide more conclusive identification.

But it was not to be because John Toomey’s body was washed up at Rossall on Monday 28 October.  It was taken to Fleetwood Mortuary and identified by his daughter.  John’s features had been distorted by the sea but he was identified by the injury to his toe.

The inquest on John Toomey found that he had committed suicide.  John’s son, also John, gave evidence that suggested that he might have been mentally ill but the Coroner said that there was no evidence that this was the case.

Something about this case fills us sadness.  It is the thought of John Toomey tramping to Bispham to stop off at the Red Lion for a final drink and a cigar before drowning himself.    Did his mind go back thirty years to when he married Sarah.  At one time they must have loved one another.  And when he sent money to his daughter was he trying to tell  his children that he still loved and cared for them?  He was not a good father and he was not a good husband but  he was surrounded by circumstances out of his control.   His brother was a Catholic and sang in the choir at his church.  Did John recall his Catholic youth and  the words: “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

If he went straight from the Red Lion to drown himself at Bispham he would be dying at about the same time that his wife’s body was discovered.

He was buried without a ceremony at Layton Cemetery on Thursday 31st October.   The unidentified man in St Pancras Mortuary… what was his story?  We will never know but we guess that he had an interesting if not a happy life that led him to that strange place.

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