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Two funerals and a wedding: Notes from the underground

27 March 2015

A wedding is taken place.  The couple kiss and swear to be soulmates. Rings are exchanged.  Family and guests surround the couple.  Marc is marrying Mikhail.  Well all right.  Gay marriage has been legal since 2014.

The couple kiss passionately and the cake is cut with a plastic knife.  A plastic knife? We are in …..  Full Sutton high security prison.  Mikhail Gallatinov’s mother says she his proud that her son had changed history.  Well…

The authorities says the couple would not share a cell.  A prisoner tells papers that they had sex in the library.

This is the first gay wedding in a British Prison.  An newspaper in the US comments that: “Britain (is) leading the way in depravity.”  Good to hear we lead the way in something…

And the happy couple?  Well they could each tell a story and one of them could tell a surprising story involving Blackpool.

Mikhail Gallatinov.  At the time of his marriage he had been in prison for 18 years.  In 1997 he had strangled a man he had met through a gay dating site.  He had barely finished an earlier sentence involving predatory paedophilia.  He told an undercover police officer that he intended to kill somebody.  He was under surveillance when he murdered Adrian Kominski aged 28.   The next day the surveillance team realised that something was wrong.  He was stopped in a service station and the body of Adrian Kominski body was found in the car boot.

The trial judges said  “This was a cold-blooded, well-planned, callous, chilling and apparently motiveless killing.”  He was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years, he was 23 years old.

 

o-MIKHAIL-IVAN-GALLATINOV-570

 

Mikhail Gallatinov

In the early hours of January 2007 a man Malcolm Benfold a chef was brutally killed on the Middle Promenade near the Imperial Hotel.  This is the  best known outdoors  gay meeting spot in Blackpool.  (A former Conservative activist claims that he met rent boys there to bring to sex and cocaine parties at the Imperial Hotel… much as I long to believe this I don’t).   The attack  was brutal and sustained and involved kicking and a bottle. Two other men had been threatened and robbed and it did not take long to identify three suspects.  They had been drinking all day and their leader, Marc Goodwin, had talked about “gay bashing.”

 

o-MARK-GOODWIN-570

Marc Goodwin

At the trial at Preston Crown Court Marc Goodwin  changed his plea.  His representative argued that the crime had involved robbery rather than homophobia.  Marc Goodwin looking the traditional “ashen faced” was sentenced to a minimum of eighteen years.  At the risk of rendering Daily Mail readers orgasmic  I have to say that Marc had three children with his fiancee and that he was living in a hostel for homeless people.

WENDY BRIDGE

Crime does not offer many examples of noble people but Wendy Bridge, Malcolm Benfold’s younger sister, is one.  Under a restorative justice scheme she talked to Marc in prison.  During the trial he was aggressive but when she met him in prison he was pale and shaking.  He said he was sorry and that he wished there was a death penalty so that he would die.  She was angry at this and said it was pointless and that Marc should take advantage of the chances offered in prison and come out a better person.  Marc said he had done courses in anger management and numeracy and literacy.  Marc also said that he had long thought he was gay and had sought counselling and had “come out.” Marc’s swaggering macho persona at the time of the attack was an attempt to deny his sexual orientation.    Marc said that he could not remember the incident because of his drinking but that there might be a connection between his sexual identity and his frenzied attack on a bisexual man.  Wendy spoke to warders who said that he was doing well in prison.

Wendy’s reaction to the marriage was measured.  She is not against prisoners getting married but she thinks that murderers are different and that marriage should be something that people work towards…  a goal to be achieved.  Wendy says that she does not hate Marc and hopes he leaves prison a better person.  She thinks that he is being manipulated by Mikhail who is nearing the end of his mandatory sentence and might seek to improve his eligibility for release. Wendy’s ability to put aside anger is instructive to me.  Tony Benfold,  Malcolm’s older brother takes a less tolerant view.  He says he hopes they strangle each other.

THE LOWER DEPTHS

Take Marc Goodwin at the time of the crime.  He has a fiancee and three children but he is living in a hostel for homeless people.  At some level it must be clear to him that he is not greatly valued by society.  One understandable reaction is to reject society … to rebel.  Marc is more likely to become an astronaut than get a job.  He is, not unlike a lot of people in Blackpool, within spitting distance of despair.  George Orwell was once somewhere impoverished god awful place  (Bolton??) in the 30’s and he asked the barman what was the quickest way out of here.  “Bottle of gin.”

This is why Blackpool has the highest rates of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, suicide, depression….   Could it be that in different circumstances Marc Goodwin could be writing letters in spidery writing  to government ministers demanding the retention of homeopathic medicine the the NHS?  With  persistent failure and poverty would we be Marc? I don’t know.  And Marc’s journey from homophobic killer to Gay Wedding?   It is an inevitable part of the career of US tele-evangelists who denounce sodomy to be discovered in motels with young friends.   Does homophobia mean repressed homosexuality?  My guess: sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

If I were not a half-hearted atheist I would say pray for Malcolm Benfold harmless victim and his sister Wendy whose nobility lightens a dark story.

malcolm benfold

Malcolm Benfold

 

thanks to the Local and Family History Centre for their help and patience.

 

 

 

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The lady in the fishtail coffin: The burial ground at St John the Evangelist Blackpool.

In 2009 Blackpool Borough Council undertook to pedestrianise the area outside St John the Evangelist a  burial ground.  At the time BBC believed that the burial ground had been cleared of all human remains and burial artifacts in 1927.   However removal of the surface revealed coffins, human remains and funerary objects.  Following recommendations the council commissioned Oxford Archaeology North to undertake a watching brief of further groundwork and to excavate and record any human remainst that were exposed.  This piece is  derived from that Survey.  It led me to read the burial records of St Johns and they  not unjaw-dropping.  Average life expectancy in  early nineteenth century Blackpool was in the twenties or early thirties.  Most people did not see forty.   As late as 1884 when sanitary matters improved  life expectancy was 35.   Many infants died.  Many children and young adults died.  Bodies were washed up on the beach and buried without a name… sailors or passengers.  Sometimes there is a moving note…  William Thornber, drunken, adulterous, pugilistic, half bonkers, wholly lovable Blackpool historian and sometimes vicar writes: “My niece” next to the registration of an infant death.  Some people did live to old age… the oldest I recall was 91… but very few.

It is tempting to look back and think that these people had grim lives but throughout the nineteenth century people were living longer lives with more leisure and greater prosperity.  The arrival of the railway in Blackpool in 1846 was a stunning phenomenon…  probably nothing in our own lifetimes has so vividly separated the present from the past.    In the later part of the century the addition of sewers and piped water increased life expectancy.  It is difficult to understand Blackpool’s reputation as a health resort given that life expectancy was low.  But people did come to Blackpool for health.  Friedrich Engels urged his friend Karl Marx to come to Blackpool when Marx was ill, sadly Marx went to Margate instead.

The original Church of St John the Evangelist of 1821 (when Blackpool’s population was 749) was replaced in 1878 when the population had increased ten times.  In 1927 the eastern side of the church near Cedar Square was made an Open Space.  This meant that tombstones were removed to Layton Cemetery and human remains uncovered were reinterred at Layton Cemetery at night to prevent distress.  As far as we can tell about 70 individuals were removed and reburied in Layton Cemetery… some of them known and many unknown.  Very likely many of the unknown individuals were buried together.  A monument in the Cedar Square area lists 336 individuals.  These names derive from headstones.  Since we know there are 1225 burials according to the Parish Records and Oxford Archaeology gives the number as 1800 , a small proportion of the remains in the churchyard were reburied in Layton Cemetery.  It seems that there was a good deal of jiggery and no little pokery behind the council’s claim that it believed that the site had been cleared of human remains.  It seems  unlikely that the remains of between 1255 and 1800 people were removed and reburied in Layton Cemetery in the 70 coffins they prepared for the event.    In 1927 the churchyard had not been used for new burials since the opening to Layton Cemetery in 1873.  In 1954 remains from eight graves on the Church Street end of the burial ground were reburied in Layton Cemetery.  The majority of the people buried at St Johns remain where they were buried. Poor people, and most people were poor, were buried on the unfashionable North Side… where St Johns Market is now. The cells… one remains under the fish stall… of the police station must have been at the same level as the coffins in the churchyard and only yards away from the Victorian prisoners.

A feature of the examination of remains by Oxford North is the poor state of peoples’ teeth.    A skull reveals false teeth.

skull

An exposed skull revealing false teeth on a copper plate

Taking the teeth of dead soldiers and reusing them  was a ghastly but profitable industry.  People boasted of having “Waterloo Teeth.” As late as the 1860s barrels of teeth were imported from the American Civil War.

To expedite work the team preparing the site tried to avoid uncovering remains or artifacts because each time a site was uncovered work would stop until the archaeology team recorded it. Evidence of 73 graves was revealed but 53 of these were grave cuts.  That is evidence of burial digging rather than remains or coffins.  Nine coffins were uncovered and three  coffins with remains exposed.  After recording these were  left in place since they were at or below the level of work.

The artwork  “The Wave” required a 2 metre deep trench to support it and it was in this trench that the most exciting discoveries were mad.    The partial remains of seven individuals were found.  The remains of a brick vault and eight coffins and skeletons were discovered including the intriguing  haunting  intact skeleton of the Lady in the Fishtail Coffin.

 

THE COFFINS

The coffins uncovered were usually of the conventional shape, the type we are familiar with… this is called one-break.

The three exceptions were two oblong shaped coffins which may have been used for children and the enigmatic fishtail coffin.

THE FISHTAIL COFFIN

fish coffin 1

Fishtail coffins are unusual but not unknown.  The fishtail coffin contained the skeleton of a young woman aged 25-35. fish coffin 2

The coffin was elaborate… made of oak instead of the more usual elm and it was polished.  The undertaker had taken steps to brace the coffin after the body was placed in the coffin using a simple frame.  The coffin itself was unusually intact as a result of the care that went into its preparation and there were decorative features including iron plates which probably identified the person.  Unfortunately these were corroded beyond recognition.  Everything indicates that  care had been taken over the coffin and that it was more costly and intended to be seen.  Poignantly the remains of what may have been a posy of flowers was attached to the lid of the coffin.  This piece of rough fabric may have been placed by a parent or friend and it is dizzying to think of its recovery a hundred and fifty years later.  If the fabric was associated with a posy it dates the coffin to the 1860s or later when this form of funerary decoration became popular.fish coffin 3 (1)

THE SKELETON

The evidence from the skeleton gives an unsettling picture of this young woman’s life. She was aged between 25 and 35.  She had lost half her teeth and her remaining teeth were in bad condition… she suffered from periodental disease and abcesses.  Given the pain it is surprising that she did not have all her teeth removed and replaced by false teeth.  She had broken her clavicle, her shoulder-bone, and it had not healed properly so that one shoulder-bone was longer than the other.  Her fifth vertebra had sacrilised… this means that it had fused and this may have caused back-pain, discomfort and difficulty walking.  And to top it all she suffered from scoliosis, curvature of the spine.  Unsuccessful treatment of scoliosis might have added to her problems.   All these conditions were apparent from the skeleton.  It may be that she had other problems.

It is tempting to conclude that this young lady’s life was hell on earth.   But we cannot know that and we do know that she was cared for, that her parents or relatives cared for her and took care over the funeral arrangements.  She was loved.  It may well be that she was mostly happy and content.

One detail which I cannot leave out.  An examination revealed matter inside the skull this was referred to an expert who concluded that it was the lady’s brain which in the special conditions had remained intact inside the skull.

WHO WAS SHE?

I am going to have a stab at naming the girl.

I have taken the arbitrary step of focusing on ladies aged 27-33 rather than the 25-35 parameters of the archaeologist.  The age is  likely to fall within those boundaries.

Since the coffin was elaborate and  expensive it is likely that the relatives would have wanted a headstone.  Most of the burials in St Johns did not have a headstone.  So if we look at the names of the people on the monument which lists the names on the headstones and correlate it with the names on the monument that will give us names of ladies who died between the ages of 27 and 33.

Here they are:

Hannah Bowker aged 28 buried 29 June 1857

Nancy Fallows aged 27 buried 27 August 1865

Ann Forshaw aged 27 buried 19 August 1849

Ann Nuttall aged 33  buried 12 May 1852

Thomasine Smith aged 32 buried 4 May 1858

Hannah Barratt aged 32 buried 23 March 1882

The use of fabric to attach a floral tribute  to the coffin lid was a funerary practice of the 1860s.  By the late 1860s fishtail coffins were less used.  The use of a polished wood coffin rather than a painted one points to a later date as the archaeology report puts it: “Well after 1825.”  The later date is unlikely because by that time Blackpool had its own newspaper and an unusual coffin might have caused comment, because fishtail coffins were becoming rarer after the 1860s but most decisively because Hannah Barratt is one of the named reburials in 1927.

It is likely that a lady whose health was as compromised as the lady in the coffin would not be married in Victorian times and that if she worked she would work at home at a career which would allow for her illness.

So if we focus on unmarried ladies buried around the 1860s and aged between 27 and 33 the name Nancy Fallows draws attention.  She  is in my  view the most likely candidate.  I would put the probability at less than 50%.

NANCY FALLOWS

If the lady in the fishtail coffin was Nancy Fallows for the sake of retrieving a story what do we know about her?

She came from Little Bolton.  In 1861 she is listed in the Census Record living with her father William and her mother Margaret.  Her father is a cotton spinner.  She is a dressmaker.  In 1871 Margaret and William still live in Little Bolton and Nancy  does not.  Her death is reported in the local newspaper published in Fleetwood where she is described as a “milliner.”

The rest is guesswork.  If she were the child of loving parents and in deteriorating health they may have hoped that Blackpool would help her recover.  We do not know where she stayed.  There is a Thomas Fallows, a boarding house keeper, at South Beach.  Could he have been part of the extended family? The fishtail coffin was an elaborate tribute to a loved daughter.   Possibly more loved because of her illness.  Her occupations, dressmaker and milliner, are jobs that could accommodate her illness.

On the other hand it might not be Nancy Fallows at all.

Something about the story haunts us.   One is an image of futility.  A sick lady dies and all the love in the world cannot save her.  Or is it an image of the triumph of love over adversity.  Her parents do all they can and their last act is to arrange an elaborate funeral.  Maybe their last act is to put a posy on the coffin.

Another aspect… like the grave scene in Hamlet… is the realization of the the strange physicality of death.   We do not normally feel like an assembly of organs and bones and other stuff..  we feel like a free mind but death reminds us that we are a collection of bits most of which we aren’t aware of and have no idea what they do… what is a spleen for?  Death reminds us that in some ways we are machines.

A body is buried in the 1860s and the coffin is reopened a hundred and fifty years later with the remains of a floral tribute attached to the lid. What does it mean, not in particular case but in all our cases.   To quote Larkin:

solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Beyond strange   is the piece of soft tissue identified as the remains of a brain found inside the skull and preserved in the special conditions.  Three pounds of substance are the most complicated known structure in the universe and  the thing that gives us consciousness.  Eighty six billion neurons enable you to read this and enabled the lady to understand the world in which she found herself…

And where is the lady now?  All the remains and funerary pieces were interred at a discrete ceremony at Layton Cemetery on 25 November 2009.    Speaking as a lukewarm atheist you have to admire the Anglican Church for coming up with a ceremony for any set of circumstances.  For those of us… I include myself… with a gothic sensibility  the  language of the report is often unintentionally and therefore more strikingly  gruesome .  When the coffins were moved in 1927 they had warped and leaked small bones into the soil below.  The contractors charged with the removals put down wood shavings… remnants of which remained to “absorb the coffin liquors.”  Phrases like “the last vestiges of seven individuals” and the “skeletal inventory ” cling in the mind.

I am massively grateful to David Law who helped me find the report.

Oxford Archaeology North have been exceptionally helpful.

The Local and Family History Service is always helpful.

And Carol Porter for helping me with reproducing images none of which I will ever understand.

The actual report is available here, thanks again David Law, I had seen it before but I was looking for it for ages until you helped me.  I welcome any comments or corrections.

 

The report is at this site.  I had to search within using Blackpool St Johns as keywords within the site.  It came up immediately.  It is an intriguing piece of work unjustly overlooked.

St. John the Evagelist Churchyeard, Church Street, Blackpool

From : Oxford Archaeological Unit unpublished report series
Publication Date: 2010
Author(s): J Griffiths

 

 

 

 

Billy Hughes: Blackpool Property Repairer. January 12, 1977

 

EVENTS AT POTTERY COTTAGEBH in pub

Billy Hughes

 

Wednesday 12 January 1977

Billy Hughes is being taken from Leicester Prison to Chesterfield Magistrates Court escorted by two prison officers in a minicab.  He is charged with stabbing a man in the face and raping his girlfriend at knifepoint.   He asks to use the toilet at Trowell service area.  Billy Hughes stabs  wounds both prison officers.  Hughes  handcuffs them together in the back of the minicab.

There is a snowstorm… the worst for 15 years.  The taxi driver and the prison officers are dumped  at Spitewell and Billy drives on the B5057 He crashes the taxi near Beeley  not far from Chatsworth House.  Billy heads north across Beeley Moors…  he walks and jogs for three hours in freezing snow until he comes to Pottery Cottage.

Pottery Cottage is an 18th century pottery  converted into three dwellings.  The middle cottage is empty.  At  one end live the Morans and at the other live two teachers, the Newmans.

The Moran family consists of 5 people, Arthur Minton,  72, a retired grocer and his wife Amy, 68,  their daughter Gill Moran, 38,  her husband Richard Moran, 36,  and the adopted daughter Sarah aged 10.  Richard Moran is  from Ireland and has a  successful career as a sales director. They are a well to do family living in a lovely cottage.  The unimaginable is about to happen.

Hughes arrives at Pottery Cottage.  He is exhausted and freezing.  He notices two axes outside the cottage, used for chopping wood.  With an axe in each hand he bursts in.  Amy is preparing vegetables.  With Amy and Arthur under control he makes a quick tour of the cottage.  Richard and Gill are at work and Sarah is at school.  Billy takes  a  5 inch boning knife from the kitchen drawer and pockets it.

Gill arrives  just after 3.00 pm in her Hillman Imp from Chesterfield where she works as a secretary.  Her mother lets  her in: “There’s a man here on the run from the police.  He’s got a knife but he’s promised not to harm us. ”

Hughes:  “I have stabbed two prison officers, but I did not kill them.  But I do know how to kill.”

About 3.30 the school bus drops Sarah.  Gill tells her that Hughes – is a motorist whose car has broken down and tells her to play in her room.

Richard comes home after 5.00pm to find Billy holding a knife to his wife’s throat.  Hughes cuts flex from a lamp, a vacuum cleaner and washing line and ties up his victim’s hands and feet with their hands behind their backs and their feet tied together.  Arthur resists and tells Hughes to leave the home. Hughes pushes Arthur to the floor.  Arthur has an artificial leg and struggles to stand.    Hughes gags all the victims.

Hughes slings 12 stone Richard over his shoulder and carries him  upstairs.  He does the same with the two women.  Then he carries up Sarah.  The four are all in different rooms.  Amy manages to free herself.  Hughes binds her more tightly and she cries out in pain.  He gags her.

Arthur, tied up in an armchair,  is the only person downstairs.

The next morning, Thursday,  a van visits the cottage to empty the septic tank.  Gill believes that the only way to survive is to obey Hughes and she signs the sanitation worker’s docket to confirm that the work has been done.

She glimpses her father covered by a coat through a glass kitchen door.  Hughes tells her that he is asleep.

Hughes tells her to ring her office and Sarah’s school to say they are both ill.  Hughes orders Gill to drive to Chesterfield to buy cigarettes and a newspaper: “I know you won’t do anything silly because I’ve got your family here.”

When Gill returns he says that Sarah is well but that Gill cannot see her.  At 9.30 Hughes carries Richard downstairs and orders him to phone his office to report sick.

gm and husband

Richard and Gill Moran

hen Hughes unties Richard and Amy.  Gill makes soup and toast.  Hughes takes toast and soup for Sarah and Arthur.  Incredibly Hughes and his captives read the papers and play cards.  Hughes says he wants to test drive Richard’s Chrysler 180 and Richard and Gill accompany him for a short drive.  He plans to use the Chrysler to escape and to take Gill as hostage.  He says he has a friend in Sutton in Ashfield with whom he has committed a robbery.  He wants to see his friend to take his share of the proceeds.  He packs a suitcase and  ties up Mrs Minton and Richard.  He gets in the Chrysler and sets off with Gill.  Hughes says he has forgotten instructions he has written down to get to his friend’s place and briefly returns.  They set off again and at Sutton in Ashfield they stop at a truck stop called Roy’s Cafe.  Hughes takes the ignition keys disappears and then returns.

Hughes says he has been disturbed by a policeman and shows a truncheon.  They return to Pottery Cottage.  They arrive at 2am on Friday.  Hughes says that he, Richard, Gill and Amy will all sleep in the same room so that he “can keep a proper eye on them. ”

In the morning they all wake up.  Hughes orders Gill to make tea and toast.  Then he tells her he wants to go shopping for supplies.  He wants tins of soup, stew, camping gas stove, gas cylinders, cigarettes, sweets, steak and lamb chops.  He gives Gill £25 that he has stolen from his search of the house:  “While you are out buy a nice present for Sarah.”  He tells Richard to drive his wife to Chesterfield to get the supplies.  Hughes clears snow from the drive.  Richard and Gill go to the supermarket to get the supplies.  They fill the car with petrol and buy an Enid Blyton from a book-store for Sarah.

They buy a copy of the paper where they see a photo of Hughes on the front page.  When they arrive back Hughes is with Amy Minton who has a job cleaning the cottage at the other end of the row.  Mrs Minton cleans for them every week.

Gill cooks a meal for them.  Richard, Gill and Amy hardly eat but Hughes wolfs down his meal.

Hughes says that he needs money to escape and asks Richard if there is any money at his office.  Richard tells him that there is.  “Right we’ll go and get it.”

At 6pm Gill and Richard and Hughes get into the Chrysler and drive to Brett Plastics at Chesterfield.  The night shift has started.  Richard goes in alone and tells a colleague he is working late.  He brings in Gill and Hughes from the car.  Hughes searches the safe and drawers.  He finds about £210 in wages and a cash float.    They go back to the car.  They return to Pottery Cottage.

He ties up Richard and puts supplies in the Chrysler.  He says he is leaving drives off with Gill.  At the roundabout he says he has forgotten a road atlas and they drive back for it.  He tells Gill to wait outside.  He says: “I am just going to check on Sarah and your dad.”

When he returns the car will not start.  Furious Hughes tells her to get help from the neighbours.  Gill, unsupervised whispers to  them that Richard is tied up.  The neighbours do not know about the prison escape.   Hughes is still trying to start the car.  Gill gets into the car.   Amy Minton, her throat cut,  appears at the driver’s windscreen and then falls dead in the drive.  Then a car starts next door.  The neighbours, the Newmans, who do not have a phone, race off to tell the Police.

Hughes says that they will have to make a run for it .  They come to a cottage belonging to mechanic Ron Frost and ask him to give them a tow with his pick-up to get the car started.  Gill manages to mouth to Ron’s wife, Madge, what is happening.  Ron starts the car.  Hughes drives towards Baslow.  By the time Ron gets home his wife has alerted the Police.

At 8.19 pm Hughes is driving the Richard’s  car with Gill as his hostage.   Gill’s state of mind is beyond  imagination.  She has seen her mother appear at the windscreen of the car and then fall dead in front of her eyes.  She has spent days with a terrifying stranger.  She has not seen her father or her daughter for two days.

The Police assume that Hughes, who had escaped three days before,  was out of the area but now they have  two phone calls from Madge Frost and from the other Pottery Cottage residents, the Newmans, who bravely drove off and contacted the Police from a neighbouring home.

Officers arrive at Pottery Cottage but Hughes has already driven off with Gill.  They find four murdered people.  Richard, Sarah, Amy and Arthur.

The blue Chrysler is moving at dangerous speed along the A619 shadowed by an unmarked Police car.  The shadowing car moves in front.  The Chrysler crashes into a wall.  Two officers run towards the car but halt when Hughes holds an axe above her head: “Back off or I’ll kill her.”

Hughes drags Gill out and demands the officers hand over their car.  He speeds away in the hijacked Marina.  He is heading towards Cheshire and police marksmen are  flood into the area.

At Rainow on the A5002 between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield police block the road with a bus.  At 10.00 pm Hughes tries to swerve round the bus but crashes into a wall.  Armed officers surround the car but dare not shoot because of  Gill.  Hughes demands another car and safe passage.  For half and hour they negotiate.   Hughes screams: “Your time’s up.”  He raises the axe.  A shot.   Hughes is shot  in the head but continues to move.  Another officer shoots Hughes two times through the body.  A third officer shoots Hughes through the heart.

It is Friday night.  Hughes has been at Pottery Cottage since Wednesday.  There are four murdered people:  Richard, Sarah, Arthur and Amy.

Gill is injured from the axe and from flying glass.  But then she is told that her mother, her father, her daughter and her husband are dead.   Arthur, Gill’s father was killed on the first evening.  Gill had glimpsed his body through a glass kitchen door and Hughes had told her that he was sleeping.  Sarah was killed while Gill drove to Chesterfield for newspapers and cigarettes for Hughes.

When Hughes returned for a map and goes into the house: “to look after Sarah and your dad” he cuts Richard’s throat and Gill’s mother Amy’s throat.  Amy had fallen through a window and survived for a time and bravely, mortally injured attempted a warning.

Let’s pause for thought.  The mystery of other people.   I long to be told that Hughes is insane.  That Billy Hughes, a father, would kill a ten year old girl.   He acted with cunning… making a charade taking soup to Sarah and Arthur who were already dead.  I want to think that Billy Hughes was insane: the alternative is unbearable.

BILLY HUGHES

A psychiatrist said that he was: “An explosive psychopath.” Billy Hughes had not lived a blameless life until the time that he was shot four times by armed officers.

When he escaped he had been classified as a low escape risk and not a danger.  This would be surprising except that it was based  on what Billy Hughes had told prison officers.  He had four convictions for violence two of them involving police officers and had been sentenced to a total of fifteen years.  He was on remand for stabbing and a knife-point rape.  While in the prison kitchen he had stolen a knife.  He was suspected of the theft but a search failed to find it and he concealed it when he was searched before the mini-cab journey to court when he escaped.

So who was Billy Hughes…  I want to say how did he get to be like that? But I think that is unanswerable.

Billy Hughes was born in Preston.  He appeared in court at the age of 14, his first of twenty one appearances.  His main crime was theft but he became more and more violent.  He regularly resisted arrest and once killed two police dogs with his hands.

BLACKPOOL INTERLUDE

Billy Hughes was living  in Grasmere Road, Blackpool, and working as a property repairer.  When Hughes escaped Blackpool Police, who had vivid memories of Billy Hughes,  moved to protect his separated wife Jean who lived in Loftos Road, Blackpool.

BH wedding

 

Richard and Jean Hughes

Jean had interesting things to say about Billy Hughes.

After Billy’s death she said: “He was very violent to me and the children but on the other hand he had some pleasant ways about him at times.”

Jean praised the kindness of Blackpool Police who had taken her to a secret location while Billy Hughes  escaped.  The Police had taken Jean’s two children to Revoe Infant School while Jean was in hiding.  Nicola kept asking where her daddy was: neighbours told her: “He’s been hurt… and gone to Baby Jesus.”

According to Jean Hughes, Nicola wrote letters to Billy asking him to come home quickly and she’ll give him medicine to make him better.  Nicola: “loved Billy with her whole heart. ”  So Billy Hughes was loved by Nicola and Jean Hughes: “I used to love Billy.  I don’t now.  I shall never forgive him for what he did but I believe he was ill and needed mental treatment.”

The couple had met in 1972 when Billy had come out of prison and he proposed when she visited him when he was imprisoned again.  She recalled that for the first eighteen months he had been: “Not too bad.”  But he became  violent.  Especially when he drank.  Did Billy Hughes make an effort when he married Jean?

Blackpool Police remembered  Billy Hughes.

He regularly resisted arrest.  In 1972 his car was stopped in Grange Park  and drugs were found in the boot of his car.  There followed a fifteen minute battle which sent two police officers to hospital.  Billy Hughes managed to wreck the back of a police vehicle and there was another struggle.  In the cells he wrecked his cell, wrecked the toilet and headbutted another officer.  He was called: “Mad Billy.”  He was sentenced to three and a half years and been free for less than six months when he was remanded at Chesterfield for rape and stabbing.er Nicola.  Jean said touchingly that Nicola keeps asking where her daddy is.

Billy painstakingly made models out of matchsticks and careful landscape drawings for Nicola.

FUNERAL IN BLACKPOOL?

THE POST DEATH ADVENTURES OF BILLY HUGHES

Billy Hughes…  so much trouble in his lifetime continued to cause problems dead.  First of all his wife Jean wanted him to be buried in Blackpool.  Jean was a practising  Catholic and wanted a service at St Cuthberts on Lytham Road in Blackpool.  The priest agreed to a service.  When he was criticised the priest said that if Billy Hughes was mentally ill he was not responsible for his actions.

Jean prayed every night for Gill Moran.

Billy was to be buried by the state.   Jean found that this would not cover the transport of the body from Chesterfield.  Billy Hughes was to be buried at Boythorpe Cemetery.  There were local protests, the cemetery gate was locked, the grave was filled in. A pub landlord said: “I was disgusted that that they planned to bury the carcass of that animal Hughes alongside the alongside the good living citizens we have here.”

As a result of the protests Billy Hughes was cremated at the same crematorium as the family he had murdered.

 

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Billy Hughes’ ashes were transported to Blackpool.  We do not know what happened next.  My guess is that in keeping with her  intention there was a discreet service at St Cuthberts  for family and friends who hadn’t been able to attend the funeral. If Jean followed her original plan:  the ashes were scattered at St Cuthberts.

Billy Hughes was possessed by rage.  He was not successful as a criminal.  He was impulsive and  strong.  My sense is of somebody not at home in the world.  Other people were there to do what Billy Hughes wanted and if they didn’t agree he could use his strength and menace to enforce his way.  With his  hours in the gym and his powerful physique there is  hyper-masculinity and entitlement.  He was awaiting trial for stabbing a man in the face and raping his girlfriend at knife-point.  What Billy Hughes wants Billy Hughes gets.

Linked to strength and entitlement Billy Hughes was… I don’t know what the pc term is nowadays…  he was  thick.  Or  given his power and capacity to intimidate he hadn’t had to think much…   His hopes of escaping were  hopeless… he couldn’t keep out of prison.  When the car wouldn’t start at Pottery Cottage he said to Gill that they should make a run for it.

Strong, thick,  menacing and in a world  beyond his comprehension Billy Hughes was like a wild creature unsuited to the world around him.  Something would have to go.  Can you feel sad for Billy Hughes?  I think you can feel sorry for Billy Hughes and also for his victims.  Maybe as Jean Hughes said he was let down by the Prison Services.  Jean Hughes attributed Billy Hughes’ crimes to his mental health.

Jean Hughes seems to me  noble.

My guess is that Billy Hughes’ actions were a response to a world which he didn’t understand.  What is the state of mind of a father who cuts the throat of a ten year old girl.

Other minds: how can somebody look and sound like us and be so different?

GILL MORAN

Of all the people I have ever read about none captures  attention like Gill Moran.  There are people who have suffered worse losses but not many  In two days she lost her husband, her father, her mother and her daughter.  There is a difference in tone in those days.  People don’t suffer from stress or have counselling.  People were stoical, didn’t dwell on things… carry on.

Gill Moran remarried.  Two years after the events she married Jim Mulqueen who was a cousin of her husband and looked  slightly like him.  In 1980 they had a daughter.  Things did not all go well… her husband took to drink.  Possibly tension and grief had an impact.  Eleven years after the events at Pottery Cottage he was jailed for two years for threatening a  publican with a shotgun.

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Some people say that suffering makes you better but they are mostly wrong.

When Gill came home on Wednesday  12 January, 1977 her world changed forever by circumstances beyond her control…

For a time Billy Hughes actions became a figure of speech:ill do a

Thanks as usual to Blackpool Local History Centre and also to Robert Wright who suggested Billy Hughes as a subject.

 

 

Ricardo Sacci, hunger artist. 1929.

This is not a crime but a man died.  If you live in Blackpool you have walked past the spot where he appeared.  You will have walked past the house where he died.

On Sunday November 3rd 1929 Richard Hans Jone died at 19 Cookson Street.  He was 48 years old.  Ricardo Sacci was internationally famous for his fasting activities.  He had spent 65 days in a glass case at 76 Church Street without eating.  He lived on soda water and 20 cigarettes a day.

Why?  Money.  People paid to see Ricardo  whose real name was  Richard Jone.  For his performance he used the name Ricardo Sacco  and I will call him Ricardo.   Ten thousand people a day paid a penny to see him.  He received letters from women all over the world and he was offered work in Philadelphia.  But he was planning to retire in Blackpool.  He was prompted to extend his fast by a week, possibly fatally,  in Blackpool to beat his French rival Moss le Blanc who was also fasting in Blackpool.

Richard Jone was trained as a baker in the Netherlands but as a young man he came to England.  He was a young man of great strength and endurance.  He discovered  fasting before the war where he appeared at Southend.  In 1913 when he was thirty one Richard married Mary Jane Sophia Gifford who was seventeen.

During the First World War he served abroad in the British Army.

After the war he continued fasting.  He made a career out of fasting probably in Europe as well as Southend and Manchester.   Why?  Well for money and because he was good at it and because there was an established tradition of “hunger artists” in Europe.  These originally claimed religious motives and were likely a mixture of frauds and people with mental illnesses.  In the nineteenth and twentieth century these became showmen and were exhibited at carnivals and circuses.  In most cases the motive was money although one American “hunger artist” was independently wealthy and did it as a challenge.  It is slightly jaw-dropping that at the time of Ricardo Sacci’s fast there was another hunger artist in Blackpool and it was rivalry which caused Ricardo Sacci to extend his fast.  The more suspicious amongst us will wonder how we know that Ricardo kept to his fast.  How do we know that when the show closed he didn’t pop out for a well-deserved packet of fish and chips and a nice pint?  We don’t but the evidence suggests that he didn’t.  Later shows…”the Starving Brides” were straightforward frauds, but in this case the impresario… the elusive Luke Gannon… may not have fully taken on the lesson that he later learned… you can exhibit anybody and make any claims…  people pay to gawk not to research.  In any case Ricardo had a reputation  which drew more people in and he was almost certainly genuine in his fast.

Ricardo as the photo shows was a personable gentleman and many of his followers were ladies.  As the West Lancashire Evening Gazette says: “he received hundreds of letters and photographs from women admirers.” Ricardo undertook his fast against medical advice and he extended it for a week because of his rivalry with another “hunger artist” Moss le Blanc.  His fast lasted for 65 days.  I cannot find a reliable record of a longer fast.   Whether it was a record or not it is close to the longest recorded fast.

After his fast Ricardo was unwell.  He had been advised against the fast on account of stomach trouble and more seriously an enlarged liver.  Possibly earlier fasts had compromised his health.  After a fast people are unable to eat normally and have died for  through eating after a  fast.  Ricardo went on a careful diet including milk and eggs.  But after some recovery he became ill again and died at his home at Cookson Street.

His death was headline news because of his celebrity and his adoring followers.  There was an inquest and the details are unpleasant.

At the inquest it was found that Ricardo  appeared in a glass case at Church Street.  The site, an arcade,  was owned by a gentleman called Cohen.  I assume that it was sub-let to Luke Gannon.  Luke Gannon is never mentioned in the Inquest although the Coroner, Harold Parker, makes disparaging comments about the circumstances in which Ricardo was exhibited.  Ricardo’s mother in law, Sarah Gifford, who stayed with him in Cookson Street, testified that he had not been in the best of health. Ricardo Sacco’s fast had started on 29 June.  A Blackpool doctor, Clifford Ward, had advised against the fast because of Ricardo’s known ill-health.  Ricardo’s fast lasted until September 1st when Dr Clifford Ward saw him again.  He was very weak and Dr Ward advised a diet of milk and water.  He was later able to eat custard and stewed fruit and then eggs and chicken.  But Ricardo’s health deteriorated: “I feel I will never get better.”

He died on November 3 1929 from cardiac failure, ascites, dropsy and his liver condition. Dr Ward said that Ricardo’s fast had contributed to his death.

The inquest revealed the squalid conditions at 76 Church Street.  Not only was Ricardo displayed in a glass case but other attractions included bears, monkeys and “funny cats.”  Ricardo  complained that it was a menangerie and was unhappy with the conditions.

The coroner was critical of the manager… the elusive Luke Gannon who it seems was: “Out of town.”  When he wanted to be Luke Gannon could be very present.  The chances are that being a money orientated person he detected an opportunity and was not  displeased by the publicity surrounding Ricardo’s death.  In future he would display the “Starving Brides” where the starving was  fraudulent.  If you don’t altogether like Luke Gannon you have to admire his audacity.  When Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike Luke Gannon wrote to him and asked him if he wanted to do it on the Golden Mile.  And the Empress of Abyssinia protesting against Italian Invasion… Luke Gannon…  well you can guess.  His assessment of the public: : “50% of them are certifiable 30% on the brink and the other 20% living on the others.” …  No sentimentalist Luke Gannon and his shadowy presence and his conflicts with Blackpool Council… who didn’t like him at all… went on for decades.  The Rector of Stiffkey… who was working for Luke Gannon was charged with attempting suicide and imprisoned in 1935.  He was later awarded damages against Blackpool Council (anyone who makes money from Blackpool Council…).   Surely Blackpool Council had Ricardo Sacci in mind.

Richard Hans Jone… Ricardo Sacci… was a pious Catholic.  Following a Requiem Mass at the Sacred Heart.  As the West Lancashire Evening Gazette says: “it was attended by a large congregation nearly all of whom were women! (sic) ” He was buried at Layton Cemetery on Thursday 7 November 1929.  His fifteen year old daughter Sadie  was present as was another “hunger artist”  Raymond Tac who came to pay his respects.

Fasting began as a religious custom and then became a commercial proposition and then it became a political act. Now even Ian Brady has got into the act…

There is a lot we do not know as there is with everything.  Where was Ricardo’s wife?  He seems to have had good relations with his in-laws and his daughter.  And was it more than a money-making proposition?  Was there was some inner compulsion.  But we will never know.

Spare  a second to think Ricardo Sacci when you walk down Church Street.

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Psychogeography of Fleetwood

Fleetwood.  I recommend depressives visit Fleetwood.  Visit it when the sky is leaden and a feeble sun plays on the mudbanks of the abandoned docks mocking  hope.    Gloom at this level is enchanting.

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There are architectural beauties… Queens Terrace, the North Euston.  And there are the neatest terraced houses I have  seen.

 

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A BRIEF DOOM RIDDEN HISTORY OF FLEETWOOD

Cardinal Allen who was born down the coast at Rossall Grange advised the Spanish Armada and hoped to become Archbishop of Canterbury when the Spanish Armada restored Catholicism.

Look at the OS map and you will see a Roman Road that is leading to… well possibly Fleetwood.  There is the strong possibility that the road did not exist.  Nobody has been able to find it.  There may even been a pre-Roman port at Fleetwood since there was a  link between Ireland and the Setantii tribe who occupied this area in pre-Roman times.  The mythical Irish hero Cuchulain was a Sentatii and his adventures may have taken place in the North West of England.  But then again they may not.   There may have been a hill fort at Bourne Hill.    The Roman Road on maps happens because Blackpool’s first and wonderful historian the boxing Clergyman William  Thornber managed to convince OS compilers that it was there.   Maybe he said he’d punch them if they didn’t put it in. Discussing the location of Setantiorum (the missing Roman port) is a graveyard for lunatics ( same league as the location of  King Arthur’s kingdom).  So here goes…  on the one hand there is a  lack of archaeological evidence, on the other hand there are three coin hordes and many individual coins found around the Wyre Estuary including at Rossall Point current location of  Fleetwood Golf Course.

Anyway if you like to think that Fleetwood was the location of Setantiorum it does add to the theme of abandonment.  There is in Fleetwood a street called Abbots Walk.  It is said that the name precedes the building of Fleetwood.  Abbots  crossed the Wyre to collect and supervise their holdings in the Fylde.  Rossall Hall was originally a Grange…  monastic land managed by a tenant.

Modern Fleetwood started with Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who was cursed with with the ability to foretell the future inaccurately.   He  believed that a Northern Seaside Resort served by that new-fangled railway  machine was a great idea.  He was wrong in thinking it was Fleetwood.  Decimus Burton was the architect and the beautiful buildings of Fleetwood… Queen’s Terrace where Burton lived and the North Euston.. have a Regency look.

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jan-2017-042 Long story short, Hesketh-Fleetwood near bankrupted himself, he was a bad money-manager and his political life… he was a Tory MP kept him busy while his charming steward robbed him.  At the time it was thought that the railway could not deal with the  gradients of Cumbria so that Fleetwood would be the Northern Terminus and travellers to Scotland would go North by Steamer.  More powerful engines made Cumbria and Scotland accessible.  Queen Victoria came to Fleetwood by rail to continue to Scotland by steamer.

Poor Sir Peter lost his wife and his beloved daughter Maria who is in a glass coffin in the family vault at St Chads, Poulton.  He had to sell off his land to pay his bills and became more reclusive.  To add to his troubles he lost an eye following an illness.

They built  a railway from Preston to Fleetwood in 1840.  A man from Preston drank too much and died falling off the train.    Fleetwood thrived although Sir Peter lost money.  Then they built a line from Poulton to Blackpool.  Fleetwood’s career as a holiday resort was over.

Sir Peter died a disappointed man.  He was a Tory and therefore a tosser but he was a  humane man, opposed to capital punishment and slavery and concerned for the welfare of workers.

Fleetwood still survived around the Port and the fishing industry.  The second biggest fishing port in England.  And then it declined.

FLEETWOOD: A PERAMBULATION

You realise the loss.  First it was the Romans, then it was the Northern Railway Terminus, then it was the fishing industry and the  railway and the ferry and the Roll on Roll Off Containerport…  Fleetwood is always being abandoned.  Trawlermen were well paid and in the terraced houses there is a feeling of a prosperous past, adornments you do not see in other towns…

 

 

 

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The feeling of abandonment is intense round the docks where the huge abandoned remains of the Roll on Roll Off Containerships lie next to the abandoned Fishing Docks in the track of the abandoned railway and all around there are abandoned buildings associated with fishing, the are is dotted with abandoned containers…  and the eerie connection  between abandoned human activity on a giant scale and the muddy Wyre.

There is something tragic about the god awful things that have replaced seafaring.  Freeport with its hair raisingly vapid sketch of a port with a couple of faux lighthouses and the strange empty new housing with skin crawling names like Trawler Close.

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System built houses are  engineered to give an illusion of individuality.  And the whole bloody thing is a kind of heritage based pastiche of what somebody thinks is a connection with the past when the houses could be in Shangai or Dar Es Salem or Milton Keynes as if a name confers an identity…

Well maybe it does.  I like to think of those weird unpeopled newly built housing estates with names like Fisherman’s Walk as a kind of Las Vegas.   Maybe this is the future and it is kind of funny…

Fleetwood may have its faults but at least it isn’t  Lytham and it is the most beautiful of the Fylde towns.  And before we get carried away with Fleetwood’s glorious past…   If you take a fishing port the most memorable in its history except tragedy.   There is a monument to the Gault which sank in a storm.  I was surprised to read that the crew did not come exclusively from Fleetwood… one was from Blackpool and one from Preston.  And there is something left over… something noble about Fleetwood.

It is this mixture of  abandonment,  tragi-comic  fake heritage and wonderful architecture that make Fleetwood a powerful antidepressant.  It is a metaphor of elements of melancholy that end up making you feel  elated.  Wherever you go there is the mysterious smell of fish.

I like to bring Marx into things because the old devil’s been abandoned like Fleetwood so let me try this.  Fleetwood workers were dependent for their lives on cooperation and were community minded where Blackpool residents thrived on competition and individualism.

I have been told that (this was in the seventies and eighties) that hard drugs were not tolerated in Fleetwood.   And that Fleetwood did not suffer from the drug fuelled crime that was characteristic of Blackpool.  A bank worker told me that when it was easy to get loans Blackpool people used to ask for a loan for a new kitchen and take themselves off to Benidorm for a month.  Fleetwood residents didn’t.  Of course all this tight knit community malarkey has a downside… intolerance of difference.

THE PIER AT FLEETWOOD

Fleetwood Pier along with the aurora boralis and the Taj Mahal is something that you have to see.  Well actually  more important.  You time travel seventy years back.  Mr Harry Allen the hangman who hanged Hanratty gave out change here after he retired from hanging.  John Lennon who took a great interest in the Hanratty case used to go on holidays here as a child.  I am not  unconvinced that Fleetwood Pier was not a creation of Salvador Dali.

 

WILFRED OWEN

Wilfred Owen the war poet spent two  months in Fleetwood in 1916, where he supervised the shooting range, which is where Fleetwood Golf Club stands.   His mother sent him a letter telling him to get a warm coat and he did.  Going to Blackpool (by tram?) to Rawcliffes (?).  There is something infinitely sad that Owen’s mother was concerned about the cold. As if that was the problem.  He died in action on 4 November 1918.

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There are many gymns in Fleetwood.  It is as if people try to recreate the physical life of the Port with activity.  And do I like Fleetwood… I don’t like it I adore it.

And who know something might  crop up.  A new port facility?  A hydro-electric barrier?  Here is what I saw walking round Fleetwood.

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And  there is Fisherman’s Friend.  It seems that trawlermen were often heavy smokers and that these helped clear there bronchials on deck in the Arctic.  I misremembered Paul Simon: “My father was a prominent frogman.  My mother was a Fisherman’s Friend. ”

With its inquisition supporting traitor Cardinal Allen and Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood’s daughter in her glass coffin, and its lost trawlers, and its jolly change giving hangman on the pier, and its doomed poet Wilfred Owen, those of a morbid disposition , such as me, can find a gothic element.  In February 1989 Harry Baines an odd job man and father of two had been playing snooker in a Fleetwood pub.  He left and he has never been seen since.

 

UNSOLVED MURDER OF FLORENCE PORT: FLEETWOOD 1947

I have gone off topic to write about a crime that happened in Fleetwood in 1947. Fleetwood and Blackpool  are like separate universes.   To a visitor from Blackpool Fleetwood is  industrial wastelands, good architecture with a Regency look, neat terraced houses, a  gloomy  uplifting seascape, mud and water.  Like Blackpool Fleetwood is a town that used to have a reason for existing.  I will write a psychogeography of Fleetwood later so that people who don’t like that kind of thing can avoid it.  But the bottom line is that Fleetwood’s decline is more recent and more catastrophic: there remains a lot of the former Fleetwood… a haunting and stark and doomed beauty.  For my money its the most romantic of the Fylde towns, England’s most beautiful ugly town.  Trawler fishing used to define Fleetwood and trawlermen were tough, hardy, daring.  The job was  well-paid and dangerous.  Deaths at sea or in the docks were everyday events and maybe not all of these deaths were accidental. If a trawler came back with less people then it set off with…  who’s to say? Spells at sea would be followed by explosive scenes in the pubs that lined the docks….    you can imagine.

Fleetwood people in a Marxist kind of way took their values from their trade and were cooperative compared to the insouciant dog eat dog attitude of Blackpool people.  Smuggling was a sideline in the town and people were close-mouthed with the authorities.

What follows is the saddest story.

On Thursday 23 October 1947  Florence Port, aged 10, had tea with her father.  She would not sit down for a meal as her father said but she took what she wanted. She lived at Heathfield Road, Fleetwood.  The houses are modern and well-built.  Then she went to see her married sister Mrs Edith Eagle at Flakefleet Avenue.  On the way she would have passed close to Flakefleet School where she was a pupil.   Her father was a trawlerman but had injured his leg and had been unable to work for seven months.  Her two brothers were at sea on trawlers.  Her mother had died the previous December.  Mr and Mrs Sumner were lodgers at the home, Mrs Sumner helped look after Florence.  florence-port

 

The first report when Florence Port is missing on Thursday 23 October 1947 from the Evening Gazette

 

Mr Port went to the British Legion.

Edith took  Florence  home shortly before 9.  Florence played the piano with her playmate Vera Parker.  Then Florence went out to play with some boys that she heard calling.  Mrs Sumner asked Vera to ask Florence to come in for her bath but Florence refused and ran off.  Mr Sumner looked but could not see her. Florence was seen talking to some young boys outside her home.  She was seen   at 9.10 alone at a street corner in Heathfield Road.   The man who saw her said he had often seen her but not alone or so late.

When Mr Port came back with a friend about 10.35 she had still not returned and he searched and then called the Police.  A search followed concentrating on a nearby brook.  In the early morning Mr Port and a neigbour found Florence’s wellington boots and some underclothing in the alley at the back of her house.  These alleys were used for dustbins , one alley would serve several houses.

On Friday the search continued and bloodhounds were brought.  During the day Florence’s body was found concealed  in a piece of wasteland off Fleetwood Road.  She had been interfered with.

A Police investigation revealed that Florence had suffered from asphyxia caused by shock, she suffered from congenital conditions including  an enlarged heart.  It was also found that she had eaten a meat an potato pie or hot pot within two hours of her death.  Since she had not eaten this at home and had no money she must have been given them.    A murder investigation followed.

13 year old George Kay said he was playing when Vera Parker called for Florence to come in but she took no notice.  She went into a back alley.  A man came running out.  He was holding his jacket round his neck and he had bushy hair tumbling down one side of his face.  He was middle-aged.  The same man had told him to “beat it” earlier in the evening, about 8.00pm.

“I think he was a stranger.  I have never seen him before.”

 

The funeral was conducted by Skipper H A Howes from the Fleetwood Seaman’s Mission and a choir sang “Safe in the arms of Jesus”   A forgotten world where trawler skippers are deeply religious.  Skipper H A Howes had also conducted the service for Florence’s mother.

After the service two thousand local people filed past the grave.

THE INQUEST

The most detailed account of the events came out at the Inquest when fifteen witnesses spoke.   Florence’s socks were clean.  This means that she had been transported to where her body was found and that she almost certainly died in the alley at the back of her house where her underwear and wellingtons were found.

A picture emerges of Florence.  Her father had described her as “rather backward.”  She was a happy child who sang songs from the radio.  She was unlike many little girls in that she preferred making catapults and bows and arrows and building with bricks.

There is a suggestion that she prefers the company of boys, for example she will not come in on the Thursday evening when when she was killed because she heard boys calling.

The most disconcerting thing said at the inquest comes from Florence’s 25 year old sister Edith Eagle: “when her mother was alive she told her that she had seen Florence standing in a doorway with some boys who were interfering with her.  That was about two years ago.”  When the Coroner asked if Florence had ever confided in her Edith Eagle replied that: “Florence would not have told her anything.”

The Coroner returns to this point with Mrs Sumner, who says she had no suspicions.

This Florence Port goes her own way, lives in her own world. She is tomboyish, preferring catapults and bows and arrows, to dolls.  She is obstinate when she will not come in for her bath.

The verdict of the inquest was that Florence Port had been murdered by person or persons unknown.

 

SUSPECTS

THE STRANGER

Going back to 13 year old George Pye’s viewing of a stranger who went into the alley before Florence and then ran out partially covering his face

It seems so improbable.  The man was already in the alley when Florence walked into it.  But if he was a stranger it is hard to see how he would go up a back alley in the dark to the back of Florence’s house (because of the arrangement of the alleys it is not obvious which entrance will lead to the back of which house)  and Florence coincidentally and for no reason go along the same alley.

Then he  sexually assaulted her.  Then he left the alley.   Then he must have gone back and moved the body without being seen along a ten minute walk to the nearest bit of wasteland in spite of being a stranger. In the dark.

And not be noticed by anybody else before or since.

Still anything can happen.

AN OLDER BOY

The Coroner had  in mind the possibility that Florence was “intefered with” by older boys.  We cannot know this.  It may be that there was sexual play on the part of Florence and older boys.  Florence died of asphyxia and shock after being “interfered with.”

So it is possible that Florence went willingly to the back of her own house to engage in sexual play with a bigger boy.  And she died of asphyxia.  There was no evidence that she was deliberately killed.

The problem is this.  Would a thirteen or fourteen year old lad who was accidentally present when a girl died have the presence of mind to move the body alone along a ten minute walk along a fairly busy road?  And could he do it without being seen?  And without help?

HELP?

What if he asked for help from friends or siblings. I find it hard to credit that a lad, say thirteen, in panic would have the capacity to move a body to the waste ground alone.  How was the body moved?    The alleyway system could be used for almost the whole route which would minimise the possibility of being seen.  The body was left on wasteland opposite Flakefleet Avenue which suggests this was the route.

I think this is the most likely explanation.  It must have happened on a  tight timetable.  Mr Port returned about 10.35 .  Florence was last seen at 9.10.   And the body must have been moved before 10.35.  The reason for moving the body was to delay an investigation and to change the interest of investigators from Heathfield Road.

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Apologies to cartographers.  This is my sketch map of the area.  Using the alleyways it would be possible to move Florence’s body from behind her home to the wasteland where it was found with only brief intervals in danger of observation…  most notably crossing Fleetwood Road.  The body was found opposite Flakefleet Avenue which suggests this was the route.

A PUZZLE

The most striking thing is that the crime is never solved.  How can this be?   If we discount the bush-haired “stranger,” or  if we include him, how many suspects can there be in a town like Fleetwood?  The more obvious suspects are “bigger boys.”  How many of them could have been on the streets in that area and how difficult would it be to account for them?

This is all so long ago that there are  very few people who remember the incident and what follows is speculative.

The Police either knew who did it or did not try very hard to find out.  Maybe  they wanted to spare Mr Port’s feelings and that a good number of local boys could have been involved in some way including a number with parents who were influential. At that time people would take a more condemnatory attitude towards Florence Port than now.

There is probably not much significance in the partly digested pie or hotpot.  Maybe a child had shared a meal from a fish and chip shop.

Suppose the Police decided that it was in the best interests of the people of Fleetwood that the murder of Florence Port remain unsolved.  What comfort would it be to Mr Port to learn that his daughter was involved in sexual activity and died as a consequence.  What would be the point of involving a young lad in a murder charge when the crime was  more likely accidental?   It is unlikely that a young lad would be convicted on the evidence because Florence’s congenital problems played a part in her death.

Florence would have been known to hundreds through Flakefleet School and her death must have been the topic of conversation for years.  Some people knew the truth and some people, friends and neighbours, who saw Mr Port, knew the truth and kept their secret.

 

It is easy to judge, speculation may be wrong.  What is true is that Florence was a happy little girl and enjoyed her life and her death is a cause of sorrow to her father and her sisters and brothers.

 

Thanks to the ever patient staff at Blackpool Family and Local History Centre