Documenting a tragedy

An early eighties image of The Anchor Inn as viewed from the canal, posted by The Navigator on Panoramio.

I’ve already had some great contributions on the subject of the 1908 Anchor Inn shootings. I’m pleased and relieved to see that the subject is of some interest and readers haven’t been unduly upset. I try to tread carefully around these things. Paul Ford – top archivist at Walsall Local History centre, and Brian Stringer, The Clayhanger Kid, have both written excellent contributions, so over to them… The subject is still open, it would be nice to see if we can get a copy of the postcard somehow, just for completeness. If you have anything to add, please do drop me a line – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Hi Bob

I found this in the Burntwood FHS newsletter – if you haven’t seen it already. The Ruth referred to was my former colleague at the Lichfield Record Office; Ruth Hanslow (I knew this rang a bell, Ruth told me about it some 10 years back).

Meanwhile, a book about Brownhills revealed a Maria Hanslow as licensee of the Anchor Inn, Catshill, so Ruth began to do some digging about Maria, who had been born Maria Seedhouse in 1867. She had married Thomas Humphries in 1887 and had six children. Thomas died in 1906 of cirrhosis of the liver. In his will he left everything to Maria, so long as she remained a widow. Nevertheless, in 1907 she married Hyla George Hanslow.

When Ruth finally received the death certificates, Maria’s certificate showed she had died of a gunshot wound, wilfully murdered by Hyla George! George’s revealed that he had ‘suicidally shot himself with a gun while of unsound mind’! There had been an inquest for both, so Ruth, in great excitement, investigated the local newspapers for that time.

She found the event recorded in June 1908 as a domestic tragedy in Brownhills in which a husband and wife had been shot. They had quarrelled the previous day because Maria wanted to visit the grave of her first husband at Stonnall and George could not understand why she wanted to do this. They had only been married the previous November.

A very self-pitying letter was found after George’s death. It suggested he had meant to commit suicide, so the shooting of his wife must have been on impulse. In the letter he stated that he had known no peace since his marriage; he apologised for his ‘rash act’, but insisted he could not help it. His wife was said to be ‘the best on earth if she would keep herself right’. She would not let him go back to work, though people said he was a ‘rodney brother’ (an idler). He felt hated and thought he ‘would settle it’. He believed himself to be ‘put on by everybody’, and signed the letter ‘George Nobody’.

The Coroner summed up that both had been in a hysterical state, and George had, in the spirit of the moment, ‘shot his wife whilst suffering from a temporary insanity’.

Ruth managed to obtain two excellent photographs of the hearse setting off for Maria’s funeral from outside the Anchor. One newspaper photo, from the Brownhills Gazette, December 1992, was labelled ‘The Brownhills Tragedy’. The other had been used to illustrate a postcard, with the comment that ‘it is the picture of Mrs Hanslow’s funeral’. Rather a tasteless subject for a postcard, we thought!

Hyla George and Maria were buried at Stonnall, and Ruth later discovered that the murder is still a subject of conversation in the Anchor Inn today.

There is nothing in the Walsall Observer, so next time I am in Staffs RO I will chase this up. The original Coroner papers don’t survive for the SE Staffs District – but will see if I can unearth anymore.

Paul

Paul has, as usual, has excelled himself. I’m beginning to wonder what I’d do without him!

I also had this interesting comment from Brian Stringer, whom I didn’t know had been the editor of the legendary Brownhills Gazette. I must talk to him about that. It was the first publication I’m aware of that covered solely Brownhills, and in many ways influenced a younger BrownhillsBob. It was a campaigning publication, which is sadly missed. Brian has this to say:

Hi Bob.

I think I can shed some light on the Anchor pub tragedy. When I was editor of the Brownhills Gazette 88 – 93, one of our most popular pages was The Archives.

One edition featured a postcard sent to me by a Mrs Hollender of Brownhills. It was a scene of a double funeral at the Anchor pub. It appears that postcards were made on any subject in those days and this one was made by Albert Mills studios in Brownhills High St.

With the help of Walsall Local History Centre and the diary of George Fullelove provided by his nephew Reg, we discovered the date as March 30 1908.

With the right date, Chris Latimer who worked at Essex St at that time, soon delved into the archives and sent me the press report of the whole event.

George Hanslow did in fact fatally shoot his wife Maria,in the pub bar, and later himself in the kitchen. The quarrel was over his wifes insistence that she visited the grave of her first husband who was buried in Stonnall.

According to the press report Hanslow was also incensed because his wife had called him a ‘rodney’ which was an term used in those days to describe someone as idle.

I can’t lay my hand on the press report but I’m sure Stuart or Paul would soon be able to find it for you.

I don’t know what happened to the postcard but I remember it showing two horse drawn hearses, and a crowd of people watching, 3 of which was described by the sender, to Mrs Hollender mother as, “mother is on it, and Rose and the baby”.

 Fascinating stuff, hope it helps.

Brian

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6 Responses to Documenting a tragedy

  1. Paul Ford says:

    Hi Bob,

    I have found a press report in the WO, 4th April 1908, as you supplied the exact date of the incident – it has a transcript of the alleged ‘suicide note’. The Coroner’s court is ‘open’ so anyone can go and usually newspapers give almost ad verbatim account of evidence and witness statements presented.

    Double Tragedy at Brownhills

    Catshill [Brownhills] was the scene of a distressing tragedy, George Hanslow, a miner, shooting his wife, as is alleged, and afterwards committing suicide in a most determined manner. The affair occurred with startling suddenness at the Anchor Inn, of which Mrs Hanslow was the licensee. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon, quite a number of men were in the smoke room drinking and conversing… people in the house had observed that relations between Hanslow and his wife were somewhat strained. The man is said to have been a little excited.. owing to a quarrel on the previous day… suddenly, however, Hanslow took hold of his wife’s arm and dragged her into the passage. She shouted for help and two or three men went out to see what was taking place. They were horrified to find Hanslow in possession of a gun, which, before anyone could intervene, he deliberately shot his wife in the right side…The woman at once collapsed, but still alive when picked-up. She was assisted into the smoke room and placed on the sofa…Hanslow was found lying on the floor. He had apparently reloaded the gun and placed it to his own temple, the injuries being so severe that death must have been instantaneous. Police-sergeant Parsons rushed in, but [she] died in his presence.

    …[The couple] had only been married a few months, had not recently been on the best of terms… The woman’s mother said her daughter complained that her husband had found fault with her because she visited her first husband’s grave at Stonnall. A quarrel over this took place Sunday and Monday, on which day the man was seen greatly agitated and distressed. After dinner he sat on the sofa and cried, and said ‘he felt he should burst’. Afterwards he took down a double-barrelled gun..loaded it…calling his wife into the room to wish him goodbye. She was much put about and replying ‘no’ walked into the bar, he followed and attempted to bring her back by force. A scuffle ensued and a servant girl, who had been an eye-witness up to this stage ran out of the house. The next minute a report of a gun was heard [and Mrs Hanslow was shot]

    Parsons spoke as to finding in the man’s pocket the following letter:-

    My Dear wife – I know have the pleasure in writing the last few lines to you and my mother and brother and sister. I have no peace since I came down here, and I hope you won’t think nothing of me for committing this rash act, but I can’t help it. My wife, she is the very best woman on earth if she would keep herself right, but she won’t do that and if I talk about going to work she won’t let me go, and what can I do? And they say that I am a ‘rodney’ brother. That’s what I have never been since I was born. But never mind, I came into the world without anything, and I will go out the same. I am hated all the days that I live, and I thought I would settle it. So good night my dear wife. God bless you and all of you – from your loving husband George

    On the back of the letter was written George Nobody

    The coroner said the note conveyed the impression that the man contemplated suicide, and attacked his wife on the spur of the moment. Verdicts were returned that Maria Hanslow was wilfully murdered by her husband, and the latter committed suicide whilst temporary insane

    • Paul, you’ve done it again. Thanks for your wonderful information. I had got your email, and was going to serve it as a post, but you beat me to it. The answer to your query the other day has also just been answered.

      Thanks again,

      Bob

  2. Nick says:

    Hi Bob,

    I came to live in Brownhills in 1980 (so am almost naturalised) and remember the old Anchor well.

    My wife had elderly relatives who at one time lived in the row of terraced houses (?cottages) which stood adjacent to the pub, roughly where the present building stands now. They gave a slightly different version of the tale in which George Hanslow came home unexpectedly from the pit (suggested it was the Coppice) to find his wife behaving inappropriately with a drayman. It was said that whilst the drayman made good his escape, Maria Hanslow was shot and killed in the rear-most bedroom on the first floor by her incensed husband who then took his own life in the gentlemen’s toilet outside. It was further alleged that the blood stain on the floorboards of the back bedroom was so bad that it would never scrub clean and the room was never again used for human habitation. However, the ghost of Maria Hanslow could often be seen looking down from the window of that room.

    My own recollection is that the view of that room from what was then the car park wasn’t inconsistent with the tale, the window appearing totally uncared for with dirty curtains which couldl have been there for years, although I never personally had the privilege of a glimpse of Maria’s ghost.

    This story has all the makings of a good urban myth, lending a little drama to an otherwise sad and tragic episode.

    I am sure I remember seeing more than one postcard depicting the funeral but cannot think where – possibly at the old Brownhills library where there was often a display of items of local historical interest.

    • Hi Nick

      That’s an interesting angle. I’m always intrigued by the legend aspect of this stuff, and how stories mutate in the telling. Thank you. It’s so good that we’re getting this stuff down in writing.

      Cheers

      Bob

  3. diane says:

    Hi Bob,
    can I just say a big thank you to you and all the people who have taken the time to dig out stuff regarding this double tragedy. I am the lady who sent you the original request and I can see that people have lots of interest in the story. All the info provided by your followers is amazing , but, I am still trying to find the elusive photo of Maria Hanslow. If there is anyone out there with a photo of this lady please post a copy on here or send it to bob, he will then hopefully forward one to me.

    Thanks once again
    Diane

  4. Pingback: Going back | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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