Sweet Fanny Adams.

Poor Fanny's headstone which was erected by Public subscription and renovated a few years ago, is pictured here with her younger sister and Minnie Warner, and still stands in the town cemetery on the Old Odiham Road. It might have been our only reminder of the tragic affair had it not been for the macabre humour of British Sailors.
Copyright Hampshire County Council 2015.
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Fredrick Baker
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Some believe this is Fanny aged 7. Afraid not
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`I have heard asked the following words, ‘Who is or was Sweet Fanny Adams?’

There is a very well-known phase used quite often as ‘Sweet F. A.’ which tends to mean ‘’either nothing or very little’ It all sounds quite strange but it don’t seem to go together and so let us try and explain the saying to others.

Fanny Adams was a little girl who was born on 30th April 1859 in Alton, near Winchester, Hampshire to parents Mr. and Mrs. George and Harriet Adams. Fanny was a pretty little girl with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. They lived together with Fanny’s sister, Elizabeth, aged 8 years, Fanny was a year younger. They lived in a small cottage on the edge of Alton and close to the countryside.

Fanny asked her mother if she could go out and together with Elizabeth and her best friend, Minnie Warner, 8 years old, they went up a nearby lane towards Flood Meadow, a popular place within the vicinity of where Fanny lived.

While walking up the lane they met Frederick Baker who was walking the other way, towards them. Baker was a solicitor’s clerk and worked in Alton. They had had a chat for a few minutes in a friendly fashion.

After a while, he offered Minnie and Elizabeth three half pence to go to the shop and buy some sweets. The girls were reluctant at first but then accepted his offer and took the money. He also offered Fanny some money to go into a nearby hop field with him. She took the money but then refused to go into the field with him.

An argument started and suddenly Baker scooped up Fanny and carried her into the hop field and out of sight of the other two girls.

Frederick Baker

About 5pm the same day Fanny still hadn’t come home and the two girls told a neighbour, Mrs. Gardiner what had happened. She in turn went to Fanny’s home and told her mother the story. Both mothers were full of dread as to what may have happened to Fanny, being so late at coming home. The two women went up the lane to look for Fanny, on the way there saw Baker who was coming down the lane on his way back to work.

They questioned him about giving the girls some money and he readily agreed he gave the girls some money to buy some sweets but that was all he had done. Later the two women said that as Baker looked a very respectable man, he said he had spoken to the three girls but two went back down the lane while Fanny continued walking further up the lane.

About 7pm and still there was no sign of Fanny and a search was organised by the local neighbours, soon the badly mutilated body of poor Fanny was found in the far corner of the hop-field. Her body was unbelievably mutilated, people involved in the search turned away in horror, many were sick.

Horror and mutilation

Her head and legs had been severed, her eyes firstly having been removed from her head and were found in the nearby river Wey, where they were recovered from. The head, after the eyes had been gouged out was found stuck on a small hop-pole. As well as the gouged-out eyes, one of her ears had been torn off. The torso had been split open and all the inside organs had been removed and then scattered around the hop-field. Each arm was found in different places within the field, still clutched in one hand were the two half-pennies that Baker had given to Fanny. One foot was found in a field of clover. It was several days before every part of her body and parts had been recovered. Fanny’s remains were taken to a nearby surgery at No. 16, Amery Street, Alton where her body was put back together again.

Meanwhile Harriet had run to ‘Butts Field’, where her husband George Adams, who was a bricklayer, was playing cricket. Harriet, who by this time was in a terrible state, somehow managed to tell him the terrible story. Just as soon as she had finished her tale, she started to sway from side to side and then promptly collapsed at George’s feet. George left her in the capable hands of the other players and rushed home. He went to his bedroom where he grabbed his shotgun and left the house looking for the person responsible.

However, he didn’t get very far when the neighbours grabbed the gun from him and accompanied him back to his home. Meanwhile Harriet had been revived and she too was now back at home.

Arrested

By this time the Police had been informed and several constables were out looking for the suspect, Frederick Baker. Police Superintendent William Cheyney was put in charge of the investigation. Towards the evening Frederick Baker was arrested in his place of work and taken to the local police station. He had been working late in the offices of William Clement in the High Street. Baker was led through an angry mob, who were shouting, calling him names and threatening him with their fists.

At the police station he was asked about the heavy blood stains on his shirt and trousers. He said that he hadn’t noticed them before and had no idea how they could have got there. After a while in the Police Station he protested his innocence and told the police to let him go, as he hadn’t done anything wrong. He was searched and two small blood-stained knives were found in his pocket. He could not account for these bloodstained knives in his pocket. He wasn’t being very cooperative with the Police.

The police continued with their investigations and came across a witness who put Baker in the vicinity of the hop-field around the time that fanny was there. The witness continued that Baker returned to the office just after 3 pm. On his way back he had stopped off at the Swan public house and drank a pint of beer. Other witnesses verified the time he returned too. Soon after returning a witness said that he went out again. A fellow clerk who worked in the same office said that while drinking in the Swan public house that same evening, Baker had stated that he might be leaving the town sometime soon and possibly going to London. The clerk said to him, that should he move he might find it hard to get another job. Baker’s reply to this, was, rather chillingly and with hindsight, I could go as a butcher.’ “This didn’t make sense to him at that time, but it does now.

The diary

On the 26th August, the police, while searching a draw in his office desk found his diary at the back of one of the drawers. On examining the diary the police found some very damning evidence. An entry in the diary said’24th August, Saturday, – killed a young girl, it was fine and hot.’

All the evidence pointed to the fact that Baker had battered poor little Fanny with a large stone and then had butchered her with his two pen-knives.

On Tuesday 27th August an inquest was held at the Duke’s Head Inn, Alton. The Coroner, Mr. Robert Hartfield held an inquest on the remains of Fanny Adams. A painter, William Walker had found a stone with blood, long hair and some flesh on it. The Police Surgeon, Doctor Louis Leslie had carried out a full post mortem and he then conceded that death was caused by a blow or blows to Fanny’s head and that the stone was the murder weapon. Baker, who was present said nothing except that he was innocent. The Jury viewing the body but the gruesome details was read out to them. They returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder.’

On the 29th August 1867 the local magistrates committed Frederick Baker for trial at Winchester County Assizes. The police had great difficulty in protecting him from a baying mob, mainly women, who were gathered outside.

The court, where Frederick Baker trial was heard was in the main court room at Winchester Town Hall on Thursday 29th August 1867. He strongly protested his innocence as he had done right from the start.

The Trial.

Frederick Baker’s trial took place on the 5th December 1867 and the defence lawyer contested the evidence given by Millie Warner’s identification of Baker. He asked her many questions over a short period in the courtroom. He also claimed that Baker must be innocent as the two small pen-knives just couldn’t have cut up fanny’s body. When he thought that wasn’t being accepted he then argued that Baker must have been insane at the time he was alleged to have killed Fanny.

However, the prosecution Lawyer said that Baker had a strong violent streak, and was that sort of man. Further to that fact Baker’s father was a very violent man and one of Baker’s cousins had died from a brain fever. In fact Baker himself had attempted suicide on one occasion (an offence at that time.) after a love affair he was in packed up.

Baker’s defence lawyer then said that the diary entry was so typical of the ‘epileptic or forced way of entry ’and that the defendant used and the absence of a comma after the word ‘killed’ did not make the diary entry a confession.

Justice Mellor then invited the Jury to retire and consider their verdict and to return to court to inform us of your decision. He said to them that they must consider a verdict of ‘not responsible by the reason of insanity. The Jury left the court to consider their verdict and returned in just 15 minutes and informed the Judge they had reached a decision.

Guilty

The foreman stood up and said their decision was ‘guilty. The Judge sentenced Frederick Baker to be hanged by the neck until dead.

He was returned to Winchester prison to await the sentence to be carried out.

On the 24th December, Christmas Eve, Baker was hanged outside of Winchester Gaol. This terrible crime had reached notorious proportions and a huge crowd of an estimated 5,000 people gathered to watch as baker suffered death by hanging in public.

Before he was hanged Baker wrote to Fanny’s parents expressing his sorrow for what he had done and begged their forgiveness.

Fanny is buried in Alton Cemetery, the words on the headstone reads: –

‘Sacred to the memory of Fanny Adams aged 8 and 4 months who was cruelly murdered on Saturday August 24th 1867

Sailor’s rations

Two years after her death, in 1869 cans of mutton were introduced into the sailor’s rations. They were unimpressed by it, and suggested that it might be the butchered remains of Fanny Adams. The way her body had been strewn over a wide area presumably encouraged speculation that parts of her had been found by the Royal Navy victualing yard in Deptford, which was a large facility that included stores, a bakery and an abattoir.

As a result ‘Fanny Adams’ became a slang word for mutton or mutton stew and then later meaning ‘anything worthless’ – from which comes the current use of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ (or just ‘Sweet F. A.) to mean nothing at all It can be seen as a euphemism for ‘f*** all,’ which means the same.

This is not the only example of Royal Navy slang relating to unpopular rations, even today, tins of steak and kidney pudding are known as ‘baby’s head. The large tins then mutton was delivered in were re-used as mess tins. Mess tins or cooking pots are, even to this day, still known as ‘Fanny’s.’

Researched and written by David Rowland.

A member of OPCM.

Special thanks.  The Law’s strangest cases by Peter Seddon.
Published in 2001 by Robson Books, London.

Comments about this page

  • According to what I have read, Lizzie was Fanny’s younger sister, aged 5 at the time of the murder. You can see in the CDV of Millie and Lizzie at the grave site that Lizzie was nowhere near 8 years old, and Millie who WAS Fanny’s age was much older in the photo. I am curious how the only photo of “Fanny” was discredited, though it is pretty obvious that a photograph of one’s family would have been too great a luxury for a working class family at the time.

    By Steve Harrison (16/08/2018)

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