Month: March 2016

Lawrence Leach and Gypsy Ned. 1865.


dunes hotel

Thanks to Robert Leach for this early picture of Lytham Road and the Dunes.  The actions described happened in this area.  In 1865 the Dunes was the site of John Pearson’s coffee house.


What do the following words have in common?  Chav, cash, pal, lollipop.  The answer is that they are all derived from Romany.  Gypsies have contributed to the culture of Blackpool.  Landaus, fortune-tellers, ladies selling white heather.  And Gypsies were involved with early circuses and entertainment on the Golden Mile.

In 1782 a fourteen year old girl was hanged for associating with Gypsies.  Gypsies were “the other.”  Heathcliff and Mr Rochester were associated with Gypsies.   Barbara Cartland agitated for legislation  to protect Gypsies.  Elvis Presley had Gypsy heritage.  Nevertheless there  are elements of traditional Gypsy life would have the Guardian reader spitting out her croissants.

Gypsies have a longer history in Blackpool than most  residents.  First in the early 19th Century they  camped at North Shore and later at Starr Hills near the Pleasure Beach.  Among the families were the Boswells who were close to being Romany Aristocracy.

I am grateful to Robert  Leach for drawing my attention to a case that happened in 1864/1865 and involved his fourth grand uncle Lawrence Leach.   It is intriguing because it involves “Gypsy Ned”, Edward Boswell.  Sadly the facts are incomplete but it reveals a Blackpool which is almost a village surrounded by areas such as Marton which were  rural.  It is  Blackpool on the verge of transition.

In 1864 Blackpool was overshadowed by its neighbour in the Fylde, Kirkham.

Lawrence Leach was a master builder employing six men and he was in the right place.  The growth of Blackpool after 1846 and the coming of the railways was unique.  Early pictures of Blackpool show a number of tall chimneys.  These are brickworks.  Blackpool was built from bricks made from clay dug from the ground in Blackpool. If you live in an older house it might have been built by Lawrence Leach.  Farmers in particular benefited when agricultural land became building land.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) led to a Cotton Famine as a result of the Union blockading Southern Ports.   Lancashire Mill Towns, formerly prosperous, saw unemployment and hunger.  Blackpool was partly dependent on these mill-workers.

What do we know about Lawrence Leach?   In 1850 he was charged with assaulting his wife’s sister and brother.  It was settled out of court.  Later he won a race for small boats at Blackpool.  He was a member of the Society of Oddfellows.  We guess that he was sociable, athletic, strong, sometimes aggressive  and a tad on the wild side.


On Friday 3 December 1864  Lawrence Leach left his home in Warbrick  Street and his long-suffering wife Eleanor.  According to Eleanor he had been “on the spree for a fortnight.”  He had “a considerable sum of money.”  This seems to have been 20 sovereigns.  A  Police Constable would earn a pound a week. Lawrence Leach was aged 40 and was one day from his death.

He went to Mrs Blundell.  She had a farm on Layton Hawes.  Layton Hawes is surprisingly in Marton.  It’s name comes from the fact that people from Layton had common land there until it was  confiscated by enclosures in the later 18th Century.

Lawrence arrived at about 5.00 pm.  There he had his tea and some beer.  He gave Mrs Blundell the twenty sovereigns to look after.  Between 6 and 7pm he left.  A witness says: “He became rather wild”  His fortnight’s spree might be catching up with him.  Mrs Blundell says she gave him the twenty sovereigns back.   George, one of Mrs Blundell’s sons says that he fell over some mugs outside the house.  He went to John Pearson’s coffee house. While he was there he demonstrated his athleticism by standing up from a stool with crossed legs without using his hands.  He had two drinks and set off back to Mrs Blundell’s but he could not find his way and Mr Pearson’s son , Richard, showed him the way.

About 9pm he knocked on the door at Mrs Blundell’s.  There was on answer so he threw a stone and broke a window.  John Pearson’s son ran away.  Mrs Blundell sent one of her sons for the police and another for Gypsy Ned.  According to Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach raised his fists.  Ned pushed him and he fell over.  He lay on the ground for three quarters on an hour until the  Police arrived and took Lawrence Leach to the Police Station.  According to one of Mrs Blundell’s sons one of the Police “bobbed” him, that is kicked him.  Lawrence Leach was abusive and PC Geddes  struck him with his cane.  The Police Officers took Lawrence to be drunk and incapable.  In fact he was in pain and  drifting in and out of consciousness.gypsy ned


Edward Boswell “Gypsy Ned” dressed as a fisherman.


The next day Mrs Eleanor Leach turned up early at the Police Station.  She took Lawrence his breakfast and called Doctor Cocker.   Lawrence complained of pain.  His face was marked.  He did not mention Gypsy Ned but said that “a tall Policeman” had hit him causing the marks on his face. He told Eleanor that Mrs Blundell was keeping 20 sovereigns for him.  Mrs Blundell also visited him and said she was not charging him over the broken window.  Was there was a deal where she did not charge Lawrence in return for the 20 sovereigns?   .

Lawrence was taken by train to court at Kirkham.    At Kirkham he was not charged and when he returned to Blackpool he took a carriage home.   He complained of pain all the time and at  8.30 on the Saturday evening he died.  Doctor Cocker examined the body and found bruising and that death had been caused by a rupture of the bowels and that disconcertingly his scrotum was black with bruising.

Lawrence Leach was a well known popular figure and the inquest at the Police Station in Abingdon Street was crowded.   The Preston Pilot writes darkly about  “imputations against the Police. “The Fleetwood Chronicle says that: “Many people believing that he had died of ill usage at the hands of the Police.  ”

Inquests in those days involved the jury viewing the body in the mortuary.

On Saturday 3 December at 7.00 pm, at the Royal Oak,  Gypsy Ned said of Lawrence Leach: “I gave it the bugger right.  I have marked the bugger right.”  At that time Lawrence Leach was dying at his home and died at 8.30pm.

Doctor Cocker said it was possible that the fatal injuries could have been cause by falling over the mugs.

In spite of the Coroner’s advice that there was no clear evidence the Jury’s verdict was “Manslaughter by Edward Boswell.”

The case was to be tried at Lancaster but it was found that there was no case to answer.

There  wasn’t any evidence that Edward Boswell,  “Gypsy Ned”, had struck a fatal blow.  There was the alleged fall outside the farm, and the blows by the Police and the lack of an accusation from Lawrence Leach.

So that is what is known to have happened.  What really happened?  It seems probable that Mrs Blundell stole the 20 sovereigns.  Her evidence, and that of her sons, was in  Ned’s favour.  Were they acting together? Gypsy Ned  was acting as her protector.  The evidence that Lawrence Leach fell and that Mrs Blundell returned the money relied on Mrs Blundell’s son.  The only other witness, Jane Webster, did not confirm that the money had been returned.

The evidence of the Police Officers is self serving.

All we really know is that a man “on the spree” was arrested and died in Police custody.  Blackpool Police did not cover themselves in glory.

And that was it.  Lawrence Leach was buried in St John’s churchyard. His funeral was well attended and the Society of Oddfellows were represented.   The odds are that his remains are still there, not very far from where he would have been in a cell in Abingdon Street.  If  you have walked around the church you may  have walked over his remains.   There is a  possibility that his remains were amongst the minority  moved to Layton Cemetery in which case he shares the same ground as Edward Boswell.





The Boswell family became well-known.  His daughter Ada met Queen Victoria who had an interest in spiritualism and fortune-telling.  She was known as: “The Queen of the Gypsies.”

About a year later George Blundell, the son of Mrs Blundell appeared in the Fleetwood Chronicle on 15 September 1865.  He eloped with Derelia Boswell the daughter of Gypsy Ned.  They had taken fifteen shillings.  They were spotted in Fleetwood.  Gypsy Ned pursued them and they were apprehended in Knott End.  Gypsy Ned declined to prosecute over the missing fifteen shillings.

The American Civil War ended. President Lincoln was assassinated on  April 4 1865 by a distant relation of Cherie Blair, the wife of the former Prime Minister.  The Cotton Famine ended.

There is still a Romany presence in Marton.  The Boswell family are  involved in fortune telling. Sylvester Boswell  born in Blackpool, was known as “the Gypsy Scholar” and wrote the first Romany autobiography: “The book of Boswell.”

Eleanor Leach had lost her husband.  Her story is the saddest.   Her husband went out and the next time she saw him he was in a cell and the time after that he was dying in their home.    Blackpool was a small place and Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach, Mrs Blundell and Lawrence Leach must all have known one another.

Where did these things happen?

Blundell’s farm is approximately the current  site of the BLESMA home.

072  The farm may have been closer to the sea.  Gypsy Ned was camped on the property.  Mr Pearson’s Coffee House about the site of the Dunes.075

Lawrence and Eleanor Leach lived in Warbrick Steet which is now part of Dale Street and amazingly the house is still standing although much changed.

6 Dale Street

Now 6 Dale Street this is where Lawrence Leach lived with is wife Eleanor. Many thanks to Anne Charlesworth for permission to use this photo.



Abingdon Street Police Station where Lawrence Leach was taken is now the market.


I have been told that there is still a cell underneath the fish stall.  Future archaeologists may uncover it.  The Police Station is also where the inquest took place.


Thanks to Robert Leach for all his help.  He made the  point that Lawrence’s sister drowned in a well near Foxhall in 1837 and that his brother Richard was burned to death near the site of the Grand Theatre in 1855.  The sheer lethality  of early Blackpool gives you pause for thought.   Lawrence Leach is Robert’s fourth great uncle.    It was his Facebook entry in History of Blackpool (thoroughly recommended) which made me aware of this story.   I repeatedly got the locations wrong.  Thanks also to the ever patient staff at Blackpool Local History Centre.





Robert and Elizabeth Shaw. 1905.

On Wednesday, 3 May 1905 at 1.15 am the bodies of a man and a woman were  were found off Watson Road (at that time it was called Watson’s Lane)  near to Watson Road Bridge.  They were lying on their backs foot to foot eyes open  as if looking at the sky.  Their hats were  placed together.  They had been shot through the mouth with a revolver.  The revolver was near by.Scan

Robert Rushton Shaw was 27 and his wife Elizabeth Shaw was 24.  Robert had inherited many thousands of pounds from his father. He had no need to work.   Elizabeth’s family  were also wealthy.  Elizabeth was from Pennsylvania.    How does a lad from Colne  come to meet a lass from Pennsylvania?   The answer is probably cotton.  Robert’s father was a wealthy mill-owner.  Robert was a cousin of Elizabeth who  had an uncle in Burnley.

There was no mystery about what happened although there is a mystery about why it happened.  Robert had been agitated for weeks.  He had been drinking a lot at the Belle Vue .  He had been married for five years and he and Elizabeth had a boy aged four and a girl about one.  Elizabeth Shaw was strikingly attractive.  The couple had recently moved from living with his mother to living at a house called Fairleigh in Reads Avenue.  His mother lived at 25, St Bedes Avenue.

So a rich man,  in the prime of life with a beautiful wife and two children went into a field and shot her through the mouth.  And then he shot himself.  And there is no doubt that Elizabeth consented.  Go figure.

Robert had been agitated for weeks.  On the day he died he was being followed precisely because his mother feared he would harm himself.  In fact he made many allusions to to suicide.

There was a difficult relationship with Elizabeth.  One time he said he wanted her to go back to the United States.  Another time he wanted to go with her.  Things had become so difficult that she had gone to stay with her uncle in Burnley with the intention of returning to the United States.  Robert had followed her to Burnley and persuaded her to return.  A clue to his habits and state of mind is that he had three brandies for breakfast before he met her in Burnley.

Robert left a suicide note:

“We have arranged to die together.

We love each other but the differences which have unfortunately come between us are apparently insurmountable. ”

There was an inquest at South King Street.  Inquests were grim businesses in those days.  The jury went to the Police Mortuary where the bodies lay side by side almost as they had done in the field of Watson Road.

The inquest revealed the cause of Robert’s agitation.  To our minds it is somewhat gobsmacking.  His mother asked him why he was agitated: “Mother you know I made a point of marrying a pure girl?” His mother Alice asked if that was not the case: “No she was not a pure girl.  I have found out and I can never be happy again.”

According to Robert he had asked Elizabeth and she had confessed to an indiscretion before she met Robert.  What constitutes and indiscretion in 1900 we can only guess. And this seems to have sent Robert loopy.  He is drinking, he is buying tickets to New York (a receipt is found in his pocket after his death) he is buying a revolver at an ironmongers in Bolton Street.  He is is falling out and making up with Elizabeth.  The drinking and the travel plans and the revolver are all indications of a  wish to change, to escape.

They had resolved to die together.

Elizabeth said to Alice, Robert’s mother: “Now you must be brave for the children’s sake and keep calm.  We are going for a walk around Marton.”  She seemed excited.  And she said to the lady next door that she was leaving.  She cancelled the milk.

Robert’s mother asked a neighbour to follow them.  They went to the Waterloo and then they walked towards Watson Road Bridge along what is now St Annes Road and was then called Middle Lane.  The neighbour went back to ask for more help and two neighbours searched the area around Watson Road Bridge.  Two shots were heard seconds apart and the bodies were found in a field off Watson Road.

A phrenologist called Herr Louis Cohen said that Robert had been treated emotional problems some time earlier.

The inquest found a verdict of Suicide and Murder.


On Tuesday May 9 1905 Elizabeth and Robert were buried at Layton Cemetery side by side as they had been in the field off Watson Road and in the mortuary at King Street.



Nothing can really be explained but this is an attempt to understand why Robert Shaw was so agitated at Elizabeth’s “indiscretion.”  Robert Shaw was illegitimate.  He had his father’s name but his mother was called Alice  Rushton.  Presumably Robert was the result of an affair between his mother Alice and his father Mr Shaw, a JP and a cotton magnate.  Mr Shaw, the father, had pre-deceased his son.  Is this the key to Robert’s horror of “impurity?”  Without work and with  few friends, a neighbour said he was only seen alone or with his wife he had nothing to distract him from his thoughts.

And Elizabeth could have lied.  She only died along with Robert because she was truthful.  Across the century we can still feel a kind of pity for the couple lying together in Layton Cemetery.

Many thanks to Blackpool Local and Family History Service for the use of their newspaper archives.






Stephen Akinmurele


Stephen Akinmurele

One of the UK’s most prolific serial killers worked in Blackpool.  I may have seen him although I don’t recall.

Blackpool residents who are old enough may recall Rumours.  You had to be a member.  It had three main attractions.  One was that because of restricted membership it was a peaceful town-centre venue.  Second was that it was very tightly watched by security staff.  And last you had a very good chance of being served by a girl in her underwear.  Obviously I spent much of my life in there.  The clientele tended to be a tad older than the nightclub crowd so it was a place so it was sophisticated by Blackpool standards. There used to be a joke: “Llandudno for people who find Blackpool too sophisticated.”

Any road up I digress.  The incidents also reflect a time when the civilised organised crime since the War gave way to a chaotic crime landscape driven by drugs and violence and poverty.  Blackpool’s decline after the early seventies was fast and remorseless.  Streets that had been filled with moderately prosperous boarding houses were turned into flats and an people who were on the run or had problems filled these flats.  Murder which had been a rarity in earlier days became a weekly event.  It was in these years that the protection gangs of earlier years became the security companies of today.  Often with the same staff.  Organised crime had often aspired to become law enforcers.  When Holy Family School was robbed and damaged by fire a group of local parents approached Mixie Walsh who sent one of his intimidating colleagues to talk to the perpetrator.  There was no violence.  The perpetrator was told not to do it again.  And he didn’t and nor did anyone else.  It is conceivable (I don’t know that details) that Mixie Walsh did this for free because it enhanced his reputation… kind of “pro bono” as they say.  It is possible (again I have no idea) that the fact that guns were rarely used in Blackpool as opposed to Liverpool or Manchester was because organised crime had such a tight grip.

But I digress.

Stephen Akinmurele had killed at least five people and very likely seven by the time he was twenty.  The last person he killed was himself.

Every story is part of another story.  A love story involves  Eric and Joan Boardman.  They had been friends when they were young.  Both had married and then divorced and they met again on Blackpool Promenade.  Eric ran boat trips from Blackpool in the sixties and when they met again they were soon married and lived happily for twenty seven years.  Until  30 October 1998 when they were murdered at their home by Stephen Akinmurele at their  home, 2 Seafield Avenue, North Shore.

Joan was 74 at the time.  She had got a full boatman’s licence.  Stephen Akinmurele broke in and concealed himself for sometime. Whilst the two were apart in the morning he strangled Joan.  He then coshed Eric using a sock with batteries inside,  they call this PP9ing somebody.  Eric who was 76 put up a terrific fight. He probably hoped to save Joan not knowing that she was already dead.  His brave fight led to the the discovery of evidence.  Stephen Akinmurele, his plans disrupted, tried to make the deaths appear as an accident by toppling a wardrobe on the couple.  However the cosh was discovered and fingerprints led to Stephen Akinmurele.  Had his plans not been disrupted it is likely that Stephen Akinmurele would have started a fire to destroy evidence.  Joan and Eric were discovered by Joan’s daughter Marelyn.   Investigators soon found fingerprints which led them to Stephen Akinmurele.


Stephen Akinmurele was twenty.  He had killed at least five and probably seven people when police questioned him.  Photographs show a good looking young man and Stephen Akinmurele was an industrially  active bisexual.  He liked the company of down and outs and drug addicts of whom there are many in Blackpool.  And he gave things he had stolen from his victims to lovers.  A contemporary  who went  to school with him recalls that he was often in trouble but came across as a nice friendly lad.

His background is unusual.  His father was Nigerian and his mother came from the Isle of Man.  When he was six his mother took him to the Isle of Man where he was brought up first of all by his grandmother and then by his mother.  He was often in trouble at school and had some mental health problems.  However he went to the mainland when he was eighteen and was able to get a job as a civil servant working in Benefits and also the much envied job working as a barman in Rumours.  He was living in Cheltenham Road in North Shore when he was arrested.

When he was arrested he told some cock and bull story about being hired to carry out a hit on a drug dealer in Caunce Street.  This was nonsense but it did lead the investigators to look at his earlier residence in Caunce Street.  His former landlady Jemima Cargill aged 75  had died in a fire.  Because of the destruction of evidence it was assumed that she had died in the fire probably through smoke inhalation.  Investigators now began to investigate other house fires.  There were two fires in the Isle of Man that were similar to the Caunce Street fire.  68 year old Dorothy Harris and 72 year old Marjorie Ashton had both been found after separate house fires in Ballasalla in the Isle of Man.  They had died in 1995 and 1996.

When he was questioned Stephen Akinmurele’s demeanour was liable to change.  He could be quiet and polite and then he would have terrifying rages.  DS Bob Denmark who interviewed him describes him as: “One of the most dangerous men I have ever met.”

In prison he attacked and wounded a doctor and the threatened to kill others.  He also confessed to other crimes including the murder of a rambler in the Isle of Man.  Some aspects of this confession were corroborated by evidence.  Investigators did find a concealed firearm.  But no body was found and it was  concluded that the confession was false and intended to mislead.


Why did Stephen Akinmurele confess to a crime he did not (or probably did not) commit?  The answer is odd.  All Stephen’s murders involved older people.  Not only that but he did not profit by his crimes, or at least he only profited very little.  If he had intended to burgle the Boardmans why bother to kill them at all?  Why not just take what he could while they were asleep.  The investigators believe that Stephen Akinmurele confessed to conceal the true motive for his crimes which was a homicidal hatred of older people.  This is unusual although you do wonder if it was part of the motivation in the case of Doctor Shipman, the most prolific UK killer of all time… a man so lethal that his crimes affected the statistical murder rate by several per cent.  (I met somebody who worked with him but another story.)

Stephen Akinmurele was only to be charged with the three Blackpool murders.  This is because the unusual status of the Isle of Man meant that he would have to be tried there for crimes committed there.  In addition to the two murders in the Isle of Man Stephen was also suspected of two other murders which involved similar circumstances: fires and older victims.

The trial was set for October.

The trial never took place.  Stephen was found with a concealed weapon, a sharpened toothbrush.  His girlfriend  Amanda Fitch told the prison authorities that he was suicidal.  On Saturday 28 August 1999 he hanged himself using a ligature made from a bedsheet tied round the bars of his window.

He left a note for his mother part of which said:”I couldn’t take any more of feeling like how I do now, always wanting to kill.”

The absence of a trial means that Stephen Akinmurele’s crimes are not so well-known as other criminals but here was a man who killed five people and probably seven by the time he was twenty.  And he could have gone on to kill more if it were not for Eric Boardman.


Of course we can never know.  It is possible that he puzzled himself as much as he puzzles us.  Here was a man not all that far from normal and  within him this incomprehensible lethal ferocity.  Maybe much of the time he felt much like we all feel.  Hungry or bored or enjoying himself.  One aspect of his crimes which may be linked to his mental health is that he spent a long time in the Boardman’s house and also in the house in Caunce Street.  It is possible that in Caunce Street he made himself a meal  after he killed Jemima Cargill and before he set the house ablaze.

Young lads who are brought up without a father are disproportionately likely to go to prison. Whatever it was like to be Stephen Akinmurele we should be grateful we are not him.

Stephen Akinmurele was the most dangerous kind of killer.  He was normal enough not to attract attention but capable of ferocious violence.


I often go for walks around Skippool.  It is within cycling distance and the walk by the river changes with the seasons.  Also although I like walking I am not extremely bothered where I walk.  I put my bike in the car-park and I sit on a bench and put my boots on.  I glance at the bench.  Like many benches along this part of the estuary there is a plaque.  Something catches my eye.  Here it is.  The gallant old sailor lost his life trying to save his wife Joan and now his plaque looks over the sails of the estuary.