Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reasonable cause to suspect...

Having described the context in which the coroner's inquest into Harry Pace's death got under way, here a couple of more related details.

One of them is the relevant passage on the duties of the coroner from what was the main guide for coroners, known as Jervis on Coroners.

The duties of coroners were regulated by the Coroners Act of 1887, as modified by subsequent legislation (the most recent amendments before the Pace case had been in 1926, which had necessitated a new edition of Jervis the following year).

‘Where a coroner is informed that the dead body of a person is lying within his jurisdiction, and there is reasonable cause to suspect that such person has died either a violent or an unnatural death, or has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown, or that such person has died in prison, or in such place or under such circumstances as to require an inquest in pursuance of any Act, the coroner, whether the cause of death arose within his jurisdiction or not, shall, as soon practicable issue his warrant for summoning not less than seven nor more than eleven good and lawful men to appear before him at a specified time and place, there to inquire as jurors touching the death of such person as aforesaid.’
 -- F. Danford Thomas, M.A. Sir John Jervis on the Office and Duties of Coroners with Forms and Precedents (Seventh Edition, London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1927), pp. 20-21
There were, in the event, nine jurors on the inquest jury.

To accompany this passage: a photo of the coroner who would handle the Pace inquest, Maurice Carter. (This is the only picture of him that I managed to find.)

Maurice Carter
Sunday Dispatch, 8 July 1928

Some aspects of the way that he handled the case became very controversial indeed.

At this point in our timeline, however, he was still waiting for a forensic report.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Cornish...of the Yard

It's nice when friends get the attention they deserve: our copy of the London Review of Books arrived today, and what should I find but a review by John Pemble of The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England by Haia Shpayer-Makov.

Having long been an admirer of Haia's work (like this co-edited collection here), I'm very much looking forward to reading her book, which in some ways can be seen as describing one important part of the pre-history of the Pace case: the rise of the detective. 

By the inter-war period, the mystique around those magical words 'Scotland Yard' was fairly firmly in place, and there was something of a craze for detectives' memoirs in the period.

Among them we would find one by Chief Inspector George Cornish, the lead detective in the Pace case.

Here is he is, rather living up to the image of the detective, I would think.

This image comes from his autobiography, Cornish of the ‘Yard’: His Reminiscences and Cases (London: John Lane, 1935).

We'll be hearing more about him, don't worry.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Harry Pace's funeral

While I'm laying out the initial order of events, I thought it might be appropriate to post this image, which is the only published picture that I found of Harry Pace's funeral, which took place in Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Dean Forest Guardian (20 January 1928), p. 5

In search of lost timelines

One of the things that I thought might be an interesting feature to pursue on this blog is to lay out the actual series of events that composed the 'Pace case'.

Since the main occurences and key dates occurred from early January (with the death of Harry Pace) through August (with the final installment of Beatrice Pace's 'life story' in the Sunday Express), it occurs to me that this fits in quite nicely with the publication schedule of the book, which is due to be published on 20 August this year.

Of course, like most of my good ideas, I'm getting on this one a bit late.

But, better late than never, as the saying goes.

I won't be giving detailed discussions of each of the events on the blog (that's what the book's for, after all!), but I will be marking -- 84 years to the day -- some of the key milestones in the case as we go along this year.

As I think about it, this process might help to provide a sense of the scale of the case in 'real time'. As with any historical event, reading about it in retrospect makes it too easy to lose sense of the actual 'feeling' of the time as it went by. For instance, one of the key complaints of Beatrice's supporters was that she had been subjected to an 'ordeal' of grinding suspense as a result of a lengthy coroner's inquest. Perhaps pointing out some key signposts (or, perhaps 'timeposts') as we go along this year, might help to regain that sense of what they meant.

All the posts in this series can be called up by clicking on the 'timeline' label at the bottom of each post.

So, at first, a little catching up, as there was a flurry of activity in mid-January (that is, in a manner of speaking, over the last couple of weeks):

Tuesday, 10 January 1928: Harry Pace -- a quarryman and sheep farmer -- dies at his home ('Rose Cottage') in Fetter Hill, a small hamlet in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, after a long and mysterious illness that began the previous summer. His physician, Dr. Du Pré, confirms a death from natural causes.

Wednesday, 11 January: several of Harry's suspicious family (i.e., his side of the family) meet and decide to take their doubts about the naturalness of Harry's death to the police. The local police, stationed in the nearby market town of Coleford and led by Inspector Alan Bent, begin their investigations.

Inspector Alan Bent
Thursday, 12 January: Inspector Bent and Sergeant Charlie Hamblin visit Beatrice at Rose Cottage and inform her of their inquiries.

Friday, 13 January: Sgt. Hamblin tells Beatrice that Harry's funeral (planned for Sunday, 15 January) will have to be postponed.

Saturday, 14 January: A post mortem examination is carried out on Harry Pace (at his home) by Dr. Charles Carson. Blood samples are taken and several organs are removed and sent to Professor Isaac Walker Hall at the University of Bristol for analysis.

Sunday, 15 January: Several mourners, who were not informed about the delayed funeral, arrive in Fetter Hill, resulting in 'considerable consternation'.

Monday, 16 January: The inquest into Harry's death, led by the coroner, Maurice Carter, opens at the nearby 'George Inn'. A few necessary formalities are taken care of. Carter then adjourns the inquiry for a month, pending the results of the forensic analysis.

Tuesday, 17 January: Harry Pace is buried in the nearby village of Clearwell.

Wednesday, 18 January: Bent resumes his investigations, visiting a chemist in Coleford, who -- among many other things -- sold 'sheep dip'.

What followed was a bit of an official pause, as the inquest could hardly get going in the absence of forensic results.

But, as we shall see, this case was only getting started.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Fame, Fleet Street and the tragic widow

Along with being a book about crime and justice history, The Most Remarkable Woman in England explores aspects of the 1920s version of what today is known as 'celebrity culture'.

In many ways, clearly, the last couple of decades have seen a dramatic expansion in the ways for people to become 'celebrities', even if only briefly: 'reality' TV, casting shows and the Internet.

But while there is much that has changed in how unknown people now become well-known 'celebrities' overnight, the phenomenon itself is far from new. For example, the second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of a 'new journalism' which focused on dramatic, emotionally reported 'human interest' stories. This style was pioneered by the Daily Telegraph (founded in 1855) and the later growth of tabloids such as the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Mirror. Here lay the origins of Britain's sensationalist (and prurient) press culture that has often gone under the shorthand term of 'Fleet Street'.* 

The 1920s and 30s were in some sense a 'golden age' of press reporting: newspaper circulations were growing rapidly (especially among women readers) and the press did not as yet face competition from radio and television news. By this time photography had become a common feature in the papers, which may have helped to establish a more immediate (though imagined) connection between readers and those reported upon. Crime -- the more sensational the better -- was a favourite topic, and probably the main vehicle whereby 'ordinary' people became nationally-known figures. This is, of course, something that remains true.

Whether the subjects of these stories became popular or merely notorious depended a great deal on the specific circumstances of the case as well as the ways that journalists decided to spin the case. Beatrice Pace was fortunate in that, although suspected of (and then charged with) murder, she was consistently depicted as a sympathetic figure, even before her eventual acquittal and the sale of her life story to the Sunday Express.

Why and how that was so is a rather long tale and a major focus of my book.

But this is a good example of how the case was presented to the public at the more sensationalist end of the press spectrum, in the World's Pictorial News. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

To give some context: this article appeared in the midst of the lengthy coroner's inquest into Harry Pace's death: Beatrice at this point was (officially) not a suspect in the case. As was often true, the papers didn't get everything right: for example, the caption referring to the lad feeding the lamb refers to 'Kenneth' Pace when his name was actually Selwyn (often called 'Teddy'). This sort of error recurred often across the year or so that the case was in the news. The story about the 'suddenly' interrupted funeral is also not entirely accurate (as I explain).

I aim to present further such images in the future, but I thought this time around I'd also give some background.

My research into the newspaper reporting on the case was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the book, and it led me to other projects that I've been working on in recent years, such as a study of police powers, civil liberties and the term 'the third degree' in the 1920s: a couple of these articles can be seen here and here.

*Interesting overviews of this history can be found in Kevin Williams, Get me a murder a day! A history of mass communication in Britain (London, 1998) and Adrian Bingham, Family newspapers?: Sex, private life, and the British popular press 1918-1978 (Oxford, 2009)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Family history

One of the nicer experiences I had while writing The Most Remarkable Woman in England was having the chance to personally get to know -- first via email then in person -- a few of Beatrice Pace's descendants. I found them quite by chance via the Internet (how does anyone find anything these days otherwise?) when one of her...wait, let me get this right...great-granddaughters had made an offhand comment about her family history at a web forum on a completely different topic (a popular television game show, as I recall).

This is what led me to writing her.  

(After I became the member of an internet forum regarding a show I'd never at that point watched. My devotion to historical research, clearly, knows no bounds.)

In any case, emails were passed along and exchanged, and I was soon communicating with one of Beatrice's grandsons. After years of research via newspapers and official files, it was quite an experience to finally be in touch with someone who had personally known the main person profiled in my book. As 'Gran'. (Beatrice had a long life after her trial.)

A couple of trips of mine to Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean followed, and I am very grateful, both for the information I received and the hospitality I enjoyed there.

Later, I corresponded with another grandson who provided me with a few of the pictures used in the book.

As to the information about Beatrice's post-trial life, you'll have to, as they say, read the book.

However, I thought I would share an aspect of how it came to be written.
When I first decided to get in touch, I had, I must admit, some qualms. In fact I debated with myself for some weeks before making initial contact. Of course, I wanted to find any relevant information for my book: most of all, I was aiming at filling in the story of what happened to Beatrice Pace after she disappeared from the headlines...and therefore from the historical record.

On the other hand, I wasn't quite sure what reaction to expect.

I mean: someone shows up out of the blue and says he's writing a book about your grandmother who was accused of murder? How would you react?

I am pleased to say that the family members I have dealt with have been nothing but friendly and have all been very supportive of the project, providing me with helpful details about the later life of the 'Tragic Widow of Coleford', as she was known in the late 1920s. In return, I am pleased to have been able to fill in many details for them about a striking aspect of their own family history.

That was nice enough.

However, a couple of weeks ago this story took another twist.

While we were on holiday, I was contacted by another of Beatrice's descendants: the grandson of a different one of her children than the people I had to this point spoken to. He had heard rumours of this book online last year and then found this blog.

Very kindly enough he sent me a few family photos that I hadn't yet seen, and, even more kindly, he said I could share them here on the blog.

Although I have very few details about either of them, I estimate that they're both from the mid-to-late 1930s. The first is of Beatrice with her youngest daughter 'Jean' (actually Isobel Jean). Jean, sadly, was a sickly girl and died during the Second World War aged 14. She had, as I describe in the book, been a prominent focus of coverage of the Pace case in 1928 and was frequently mentioned in letters Beatrice received from her supporters and admirers. (One of the aspects of the case that I consider was the way the public responded to press reporting of it.)

Along with any information that I received through getting to know the family the experience very much helped to bring something home to me: that history is about real people. This may sound banal, but when you spend large amounts of time getting to know people through reading documents (and even printed pictures) their reality becomes a bit abstract.

Speaking to people who had known Beatrice Pace personally -- had seen her, heard her voice, touched her -- certainly helped to give my own perspective on the case a new vividness.

One that I hope I have been able to impart.