A summary of deaths in Brighton.
2nd August 1742.
The Druid’s Head public house, Market Street.
A Smuggler, name and age unknown.
A smuggler was chased by Custom’s Officials down one of the smuggling tunnels connecting various buildings in the Lanes, in this case the Druid’s Head Public House. He tripped and fell to his death down a set of damp steps. It is claimed that even now his ghost moves bottles around and at times breaks glasses in the basement of the Public House.
4th June 1759.
The Old Market Place, Bartholomews.
Baby Boon, aged 3 days.
Anne Boon smothered her infant until it died and she then threw the body into a pig sty behind the market in the hope that the swine would eat the corpse. This is historically the earliest extant, publically reported Brighton ‘Common’ murder made close to the actual date.
25th May 1794.
The Public Well by the Sussex Tavern, East Street.
The unknown Prostitute.
20th August 1826.
Mrs. Young’s House in Carlton Hill.
Shoemaker John Burt beat his pregnant wife Harriet with a fire-poker when she refused to show him the contents of a letter she was writing. Her mother advised her to leave Burt because of his constant violence and live at her house. She did and her baby was born there. Three months after the birth, Mrs. Burt noticed that her husband was walking towards the house. At this time she was alone in the house with the baby and immediately became scared. She ran into a neighbour’s house.
Burt followed her to a first floor room where he then stabbed his wife with a very sharp shoemaker’s knife. She suffered a stab wound in her left thigh, under an eye and her temple. Burt then punched her very hard in the face knocking six of her teeth out. However, she survived.
Next, Burt turned his attention to the baby and stabbed him so hard that the handle came off the knife. The honed blade was impaled in the baby’s knee. The baby died due to internal bleeding and Burt was arrested and charged him infanticide.
The head of a murdered prostitute was found by men who were cleaning a well. It was rumoured that she had serviced the Prince regent; foul play was her final reward.
14th July 1831.
No. 11 Donkey Row, (which was off Edward Street.) and No. 7 Margaret Street.
Celia Bashford aged 35 years.
John Holloway was eighteen years old when he met Celia Bashford, a dwarfish woman, working as a servant. She had a malformed head. He said that he was ‘ashamed to be seen with her until after dark.’
Nevertheless, he made her pregnant. The Town Overseers locked him up in Lewes Prison for five weeks until he agreed to marry and support her.
He agreed and the baby arrived still-born. Holloway felt himself trapped now in a marriage he didn’t want. To him this was a futile marriage.
He spent four years away on Blockade Service, tracking smugglers. At this time he met and bigamously married Ann Kendell. They returned to Brighton and lived at No. 7, Margaret Street while his other wife, Celia lived with her sister in nearby Cavendish Street.
On the 24th July Holloway enticed Celia, with all her belongings, from her sister’s house on the pretence of starting a new life in London… Despite his very poor financial state, Holloway had rented a second house at No. 11 Donkey Row and that was where they both went to.
In his own words, “I asked her to sit down on the stairs and then in the pretence of kissing her, I passed a rope around her neck and strangled her”. Then his ‘other’ wife emerged from the shadows and helped him to hack off Celia’s head and limbs. They later dropped these items in the outside toilet at their home in Margaret Street. They placed Celia’s torso in a trunk which they managed to bury in some woods near Lover’s Walk near Preston Park.
This murder became known as ‘Brighton’s Trunk Murder’, the first of three Trunk Murders.
13th March 1844.
Brighton Town Hall, Bartholomew Square.
Henry Solomon aged 50 years.
Henry Solomon was appointed as Brighton’s Chief Constable in 1838 and his office was situated inside the Town Hall.
On the 13th March 1844, John Lawrence was arrested for stealing a carpet from a shop in St. James’s Street and taken to the Town Hall where he was interviewed by Solomon. Lawrence was extremely distressed and so the Chief Constable induced him to sit by the fire to calm down.
There were three other officials in the room at this time, but they failed to keep an eye on Lawrence. He suddenly stood up, a poker in his hand and smashed Solomon’s skull with it.
1st October 1857.
Corner of Codrington Place and Montpelier Road.
This is now the site of Waitrose Supermarket.
James Botting, aged 58 years.
James ‘Jemmy’ Botting fell out of his wheelchair. No-one would come to his aid and there, lying on the pavement is where he died. He was born in Brighton and had been appointed the nation’s Public Executioner at Newgate Gaol, London in 1817.
When approaching paralysis affected his work he retired and returned to Brighton. Botting was said to be ‘a pitiful object who shuffled about the streets. He was shunned and disliked by his fellow townsmen.’
1st June 1862.
Church Street, now the site of the Prince Regent swimming Pool.
John O’Dea aged 23 years.
John O’Dea, a cavalry sergeant with the Eighteenth Hussars, was murdered by his fellow trooper, John Flood in the Guard Room of the Church Street Barracks, strategically located near the former Royal residence of the Pavilion.
O’Dea had taunted Flood constantly. On the night in question he committed Flood to a secret Court Martial – imposed unofficially by the Lower ranks – for failing to clean a saddle acceptably.
Flood came off duty at 7 o’clock in the evening and drank heavily in the guard room. He placed a cartridge in the breach of his musket. At 9.15pm O’Dea entered. He heard Flood say,’ Is that you, O’Dea?’ This was followed by a burst of fire; He was killed with a shot through the heart.
14th February 1863.
No. 14, rock Street, Kemp Town.
Mary Ann Day aged 45 years.
Mary Ann Day was a mother of eight children who died after eating a mince pie that was laced with arsenic.
She had been enjoying a relationship with William Sturt, a profoundly deaf 46 year old house painter. Sturt was comparatively a wealthy man while Mary was basically destitute. He promised to look after her and her children if she would agree to marry him. However, the family claimed that Sturt killed her with a poisoned mince pie he had bought for her from a well known Kemp Town pie shop, and did so in order to avoid the marriage.
It was suspected by several other people that one of the daughters had served her mother with the pie when they ate bread and drank gin together before Sturt came to take her out on that day.
1st February 1866.
The Jolly Fisherman, 35, Market Street.
Harriet Harton aged 26 years.
Harriet Harton was the wife of the landlord of the ‘Jolly Fisherman’ public house. Her sister was married to John William Leigh, who was known in those days as ‘Mad Leigh.’ He was the son of the American Consul who was stationed in Brighton, and had fought in the Crimea War. It is said that he often acted in a rather disturbing manner socially and that he treated his wife in a very brutal manner. He routinely threw her out of their home. Her sister, Harriet advised her never to see Leigh again and to keep away from him altogether.
It was for this reason that Leigh entered The Jolly Fisherman public house on the night in question and promptly shot Harriet Harton through the head with a six-barrelled revolver. He then fired a second shot as she ran out of the room, shouting out loudly, “He has killed me, he has killed me” several times. She fell down the cellar steps. On examination, the doctor found four bullet wounds in her corpse.
9th July 1866.
The Bedford Hotel, Kings Road.
Doctor Alfred Warder aged 43 years.
Mrs Ellen Warder was murdered by her husband, a doctor who administered to her, over the period of a month, quantities of the poison ‘Aconite.’ This is also known as ‘Wolf’s bane.’
Ellen’s brother was a local surgeon, and as his sister’s condition became worse he suspected that her husband was not dispensing to her the correct medicines to remedy the mysterious illness.
When Mrs. Warder died another doctor considered the circumstances to be so irregular that he actually refused to sign the Death Certificate. A Coroner’s inquest was therefore constituted which was then held at The Rockingham Public House in Sillwood Street.
Her widower husband went off to London but returned discreetly and booked himself into the Bedford Hotel where he committed suicide by drinking ‘Prussic Acid.’ Staff found his naked body in bed the following morning. It transpired that he had been married twice before. Each of these wives had died in unnatural circumstances.
4th August 1871.
Numbers 39 – 40 West Street.
Sidney Barker aged 4 years.
Sidney Barker died from eating a poisoned chocolate bought from J.G. Maynard of West Street, wholesale confectioner and lozenge maker.
The story began at No. 64, Grand Parade in 1870, the surgery of Doctor Beard. Christiana Edmunds, aged 43 years, but she always pretended that she was 34 years of age, fell in love with the married doctor. During a visit one day to the Doctor’s surgery, Edmunds gave the doctor’s wife a chocolate cream, which she found tasted strange and spat out. Doctor Beard examined the sweet and then accused Edmunds of trying to poison his wife.
Christiana thought that, if she demonstrated that somebody else was responsible for the poisoned chocolate, she would regain the doctor’s affection. So she began a campaign of trying to discrediting the chocolate creams sold by Maynards sweet shop in West Street.
She did so first of all by purchasing strychnine from a chemist’s on the pretence of killing some stray cats. Then, she stood from time to time at the corner of Cranbourne Street and West Street and got boys to go to Maynard’s to buy chocolate creams for her. She would then send them back again to be replaced; apparently wishing to change her choice of sweets but in the meantime she had inserted poison randomly into the chocolate creams.
Beginning in the spring of 1870 Maynards started to receive complaints from diverse members of the public that their chocolate creams had made them ill after eating them. Edmunds was one of those who went to the shop complaining that their chocolate creams had made her ill. She actually complained to Mr. Maynard himself.
Sidney Barker, 4 years old, was very unlucky. Sidney’s uncle had bought him some of the poisoned chocolate creams as a treat, obviously not knowing these sweets were poisoned.
The result was that Sidney died a terrible death, in absolute agony.
Eventually, Edmunds was charged with the murder of Sidney Barker.
At her trial in 1872, Doctor Maudsley, who gave his name to the eminent psychiatric hospital – testified that in his view Edmunds was insane and as a result spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane.
25th May 1879.
84, Edward Street and the Banjo Groyne, seafront.
Charlotte Hill was a baker and George Perrin’s assistant and was stabbed to death by him during a fierce row concerning a bowl of flour. The murderer, Perrin, fled from the shop to the beach by the Banjo Groyne. While he was there, he stopped a minute before slitting his own throat and bled to death on the beach.
9th July 1887.
No. 10 Cavendish Street.
Sarah Wilton aged 35 years.
On the morning of the day in question, wheelwright William Wilton smashed his wife’s head in with a hammer and then slit her throat with a table knife. She was often drunk and they had frequent quarrels and violent rows.
27th June 1880.
The New Oxford Theatre of Varieties, New Road.
George Smyth, 18 years.
George Smyth had his head blown off while sitting in the front row of the gallery of the theatre. This theatre was situated just a few yards north of the Theatre Royal in New Road.
He had been watching a Chinese juggler, Ling Look, balance a small canon on the tip of his sword. The blade of this sword Ling Look had thrust down his throat. Ling’s assistant lit the cannon’s fuse and stood back, while Ling – who had performed the trick many times before, warned the audience who were sitting in the front row of the gallery to duck their heads. The audience thought it was all part of the Act.
Smyth dutifully ducked his head but the canon had been pointed too low. The blood was pouring from Smyth’s neck and then spilled onto the members of the audience who were sitting close to him.
Smyth’s brains splattered the audience members who were sitting the closest to him in the Gallery.
Note: – This summary of deaths in Brighton was adapted from the work by Richard Witts in 1999.