Monday, 29 July 2013

Today in the Pace case: 29 July 1928

85 years ago today, the fourth instalment of Beatrice Pace's post-acquittal series in the Sunday Express was published, combining a continuation of her 'life-story' with elements of what could be seen as an 'advice column'.

Titled 'A Talk to Wives, by Mrs. Pace', the article is presented in part as a reaction to the letters that Beatrice has been sent by the public. (One chapter in the book deals with the fascinating and often poignant letters received by Beatrice Pace from her admirers.)

There are suggestions that some of these letters might have made some criticisms about the decisions she had made. 

Because it deals so extensively with the issue of domestic violence -- accusations of which featured prominently in the case -- and Beatrice's reactions to it, it is worth quoting a section of the article at length.

‘Since I began my story in the “Sunday Express” I have had hundreds of letters from women, all of them kind, but many of them saying what amounts to this:
You have had a terrible time in your married life: you have suffered terrible pain and anxiety in being accused of a murder you did not commit.
    Your husband treated you worse than an animal, and yet expected you to mother his children and keep his home.
    Why were you such a fool as to put up with it? We would not have done so for a week, let alone eighteen years. We would have run away.
That is the question I have been asked, and I think I can answer it.

I do not believe that the women who say they would have run away would really have done so.

There are things in married life which unmarried women cannot understand and which even married women who have kind husbands cannot understand. There are things deep down in us that only experiences like mine can make use realise—feelings and ideas that a happy life doesn’t bring out.
    It is easy to talk of running away when there is nothing to run from, when you are free, and have no responsibilities and no ties.
    A woman thinks then that she is going to be the master—that the can do as she likes, and that if anything goes wrong she has only to walk out like a cook giving notice.’

‘When you are poor and married and trouble comes, you begin to realise that you have got to light the world together, even if you are fighting each other at the same time. It is difficult for me to explain what I mean—I’m not a writer—but it seems to me like this:
    You feel that you mustn’t just turn your back and run away from things like a coward.
    You feel that you’ve got to fight for what you’ve got, to keep it and to make it better.
    And whatever love there is in your life you feel you want to keep it alive.
I felt I was keeping my love for Harry alive by sticking to him and putting up as best I could with the things he did.
Then there were the children […]
    Anyway, I felt that because I had suffered for them, it was a proof that I had something to love and to work for. Another thing was that they made me feel closer to Harry—not the Harry who beat me, but the Harry I thought of as my husband.
    They seemed to be the better part of him, and I often used to think as I held them in my arms, “Here I hold all that Harry might have been to me.”’

('A Talk to Wives, by Mrs. Pace', Sunday Express, 28 July 1928, p. 14. Emphasis in original.)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Today in the Pace Case, 22 July 1928

Sunday, 22 July 1928: the second instalment of Beatrice Pace's life story appears in the Sunday Express.
Sunday Express, 22 July 1928, p. 11 (Click for larger image)

Beatrice wrote about some of her new experiences...

Now, I realise that what takes my breath away is only ordinary to other people.

The other day, while I was at Windsor, one of my new friends said to me after dinner, “Mrs. Pace, will you have some coffee?” I thought, “Well, now, I’ve never tasted it,” and I said so. Everybody at table laughed and looked surprised.

I felt quite silly as they watched me drinking it smiling at me. … I thought about it afterwards and I decided to tell about it here, so that you will understand how different everything is for me now.

...her late husband's strange behaviour....

When the mood was on him he didn’t care what he did.

I have already said that all the years we were together he never once looked me straight in the eyes or called me by a soft name. I think that was one of the worst things in my life with him. To be treated like a machine, and to bear his children, and to feel all the time that he only thought about me as something that was his, and that he never cared about me in myself—that did make me feel horrible.


Often after thrashing me he would throw down his stick and start whistling and singing.

What Harry sang after beating me was always the same song: “I’m Henery the Eighth, I am,” Henery the Eighth I am, I am,” and the rest of it.

I can see it sounds funny now, and it makes me laugh, but it didn’t at the time.

...and her inability to leave him:

I am sure you will all say that if Harry was mad, I must have been madder to stay by him and put up with it, but as I said at the beginning, Harry was my man, and I had to stick to him. I had loved no other man, and he was all I had. I was not then as sad and bitter as I grew to be as time went on, and I had hope.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Today in the Pace Case: 15 July

Sunday, 15 July 1928: The second part of Beatrice’s serialised memoir appears in the Sunday Express.

Beatrice had many things to say in this lengthy, front-page article...

...about some of her new experiences:

‘I have been to a cinema for the first time in my life—for that matter it is the first time in life that I have been to any place of amusement.'

...about her new 'shingle' hair-style and fashionable late-1920s wardrobe :

‘It has made me feel so much younger and lighter, almost as if a lot of dark memories had fallen off with each snip of the scissors. I have also given up my black clothes—I hope no one will think the worse of me for it.’ ‘It is as if I ad taken off an old, dingy self and put on a new one—as if I had changed the old clothes of myself.’

...about her childhood:

‘We were poor, but not too poor to have plenty for everybody.’

...and about her late husband, Harry:

‘I began to love him—I cannot explain why or how—and once having begun I never left off, not even through all those years when he was terrible to me. He was my man, whatever he did. He had taken me as a girl, and I grew to be a woman with him. I suppose I was a great fool.’

Sunday, 7 July 2013

'The Strange Case of Mrs. Pace'

An editorial from the Daily Mirror comments on the events of the Pace case:

‘The Strange Case of Mrs. Pace’
Mrs. Pace was acquitted yesterday after an ordeal (before Coroner and Judge) that has lasted for weeks and has been watched by a huge crowd with every demonstration of intense excitement.

Our readers will have followed the evidence in our news columns; while our pictures have illustrated the accompaniment of public emotion.

We need not deny that the result will be saluted with popular approval, though it is wise always to deprecate the attempt to weigh upon cool justice by ‘taking sides’ in violent clamour.

It was obvious from the first that this woman’s tragic story had deeply impressed the crowd.

And it is indeed a pitiable thing that she should have been subjected to a preliminary torture, which seems, after the stopping of the case yesterday, to have been avoidable, as the Judge suggested.

The facts were reviewed in their first aspect, as we have said, for months. The trial suddenly ends—there is ‘no case.’ Mrs. Pace’s ordeal is over.

But what can compensate a hunted human creature for the anguish thus endured?

Evidently, some such conviction of needlessly inflicted suffering urged an emotional multitude at Gloucester to clamour, which was human enough, though deplorable as a precedent.

(Daily Mirror, 7 July 1928, p. 9)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Post-trial images

After her resounding acquittal in the closely watched murder trial, images of Beatrice and her children appeared in many British newspapers.

Here are only a few.

This is actually one of the first newspaper images I ever saw of the case, and it was one of the reasons I became so fascinated with it.

Daily Mirror, 7 July 1928
I like the emotion of joy and relief that is visible in these post-acquittal images:

Sunday Pictorial, 8 July 1928
Here are those photos in their full-page context:

Sunday Pictorial, 8 July 1928

And an advertisement for Beatrice's serialised life story:

Sunday Pictorial, 8 July 1928

'And that's that, Mrs. Pace'

A dramatic moment from the end of Beatrice Pace's trial for murder: an excerpt from The Most Remarkable Woman in England. 

In the dock, Beatrice remained unmoving, and it seemed to observers that she had little idea what was happening. She later explained that prolonged anxiety had badly affected her hearing and eyesight: she had only been able to follow a portion of the trial and the judge had been simply a ‘red blur’. ...

The jury was told to rise, and the foreman was asked the usual questions: ‘Are you agreed on your verdict – what is your verdict?’ After the briefest of pauses, he responded: ‘Not guilty.’

At first, there was silence. Then, the defence’s medical expert, Dr Bronte, turned to Beatrice and said, ‘You’re free.’ Birkett followed suit: ‘And that’s that, Mrs. Pace.’ 

Beatrice Pace and her daughter Doris
Word quickly spread. One reporter stated, ‘In the court we heard the big roar of cheers from outside.’  The courtroom remained orderly, but after the judge had bowed to the assembled barristers and retreated ‘with almost magical swiftness’ through a curtained door, ‘the whole decorum of the court went to pieces’ as wild cheering burst out.  (Several of the jury members were said to have joined in the applause. )

A woman raised a cry, ‘God Bless Her!’ which was soon taken up and
repeated ‘until it was a thunderous echo in the crescent-shaped court’.  Beatrice blew kisses to her friends. Unable to believe what was happening, she sought confirmation from the wardresses guarding her. As the result dawned upon her, she exclaimed ‘Thank God it is over!’ before retreating to the privacy of the grand jury room.

There, she was visited by Birkett and Purcell, whom she thanked profusely. She then immediately asked to see her children. Dorothy, Leslie and Doris came into the grand jury room for ‘a happy reunion of tears and smiles’. ...

The legal ‘martyrdom’ of the ‘tragic widow of Coleford’ had, it seemed, at long last come to an end.

Her story, however, was far from over.

(The Most Remarkable Woman in England, 109-110)

Friday, 5 July 2013

Glimpses of the Pace Trial: 5 July 1928

Excerpts from the coverage of the trial of Beatrice Pace for the alleged murder of her husband Harry from the Daily Mirror.

Inside the courtroom:

The greater part of the morning was occupied by the evidence of cross-examination of Chief Inspector Cornish, of Scotland Yard.

Chief Inspector Cornish
Describing his interview with Mrs. Pace, the inspector said it lasted from 11.15 a.m. to 9.15 p.m., with intervals for meals. “She seemed very anxious to tell us the story of her married life, and it was an hour before we reduced a word to writing,” he said.

In the statement alleged to have been made by the widow reference was made to her unhappy married life and her husband’s cruelty. Pace, it was stated, once tied her to the bedpost and left her like it all day.

“When he went to bed he took up a small pistol, which he put under his pillow. He came after me at two o’clock in the morning.” ...
Beatrice Pace

“I have been told by Chief Inspector Cornish that the organs of my husband contained arsenic and he has invited me to tell him if possible how it got there,” continued the statement. ...

“My answer is: I cannot account for it unless he has taken it himself. I certainly have not given him anything other than his ordinary and proper food, and although he has been very cruel to me at times I was very devoted to him and loved him to the end. He had threatened to do it. Three years ago he said he would do away with himself.” 

Outside the courtroom:

‘Vigorous steps were taken by the police yesterday to avoid a repetition of the disorderly scenes which have occurred daily at Gloucester since the trial of Mrs. Pace began.

 Mounted policemen drove the crowd out of the road behind the court and thus left a clear passage for the taxicab in which Mrs. Pace is conveyed to and from the prison.

They could not, however, prevent a large crowd from collecting at either end of the road. People shouted hurrahs and waved handkerchiefs to Mrs. Pace. During the interval four men who broke away from the queue were knocked down by a policeman’s horse and injured slightly.’ 

(‘Ten Hours’ Talk with Mrs. Pace’, Daily Mirror, 6 July 1928, p. 4.)

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Glimpses of the Pace Trial: 4 July 1928

Excerpts from the coverage of the trial of Beatrice Pace for the alleged murder of her husband Harry from the Daily Mirror.

One of the Pace jury members apparently begins feeling the pressure:

It was after Mr. Justice Horridge announced at the trial yesterday that he must take every precaution to ensure that the jury should not be overtaxed, that it was learned that one of the two women jurors had had a bad heart attack overnight and had to be attended by a doctor.

Both women are elderly, and the strain has obviously affected their strength. The Judge has arranged to adjourn each day for one hour at luncheon—an extended adjournment which affords the jury an opportunity of getting a little fresh air. 

Meanwhile, outside the court:

Scenes following the adjournment of the trial last night surpassed even those of the previous days. Elaborate precautions had been taken by the police to prevent disorder, but the crowd was so large that they had the greatest difficulty controlling it.

The road at the back of the Shire Hall was dense with thousands of people. A cordon of constables who stood shoulder to shoulder and held each other’s arms was drawn across the road to act as a human barrier. At last the road to the prison was more or less free of people and a taxi containing Mrs. Pace was allowed to come out of the Shire Hall courtyard.

It appears was the signal for the crowd to burst into cheering and a cry arose, “There she is, poor woman.” 

(‘Heart Attack of Woman Juror at Pace Trial’, Daily Mirror, 5 July 1928, p. 2.)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Today in the Pace case: 3 July 1928

Excerpts from the coverage of the trial of Beatrice Pace for the alleged murder of her husband Harry from the Daily Mirror.

A short excerpt from the cross-examination of Harry Pace’s brother Elton by Beatrice’s barrister, Norman Birkett, which took place 85 years ago today:

Norman Birkett
Mr Birkett...: You have told us that you are on friendly terms with the prisoner, your sister-in-law. Is that true or is it a lie?—It is true.

Four years ago did Mrs. Pace forbid you to come to the house?—She told me that very often, but I did not mind it.

Did she tell you you were a bully?—Yes, but we made it up. She asked me to be friendly.

I suggest that that is a deliberate untruth?—It is not. ...

Counsel: Did you tell your brother that his wife was calling him names?—Certainly not. He would have gone about my neck, that he would.

He was very fond of his wife?—He was overseeing in her.

Do you mean that he was seeing in her what was not there? (Loud laughter.)

The Judge (sternly): I will not have this silly laughter in this court. This
is not a laughing matter, and if I hear any more of it I shall order those who laugh to be turned out of the court. Those who laugh here should be ashamed of themselves for being such idiots as to laugh.

Counsel: Do you mean that your brother was devoted to the prisoner?—he could see no fault in her. 

(‘”Ordered” From Pace’s House’, Daily Mirror, 4 July 1928, p. 4.)

Glimpses of the Pace case: 3 July 1928

An image of the crowds gathered in Gloucester on 3 July 1928 to witness the Pace murder trial.

The photo in context:

I find the advertising slogan 'Where dirt is a crime' to be a nice coincidental juxtaposition.... 

(Daily Herald, 4 July 1928)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Today in the Pace Case: 2 July 1928

Monday, 2 July 1928: At the Shire Hall in Gloucester, Beatrice’s trial for murder (Rex v. Beatrice Annie Pace) begins.

Excerpts from the coverage of the trial of Beatrice Pace for the alleged murder of her husband Harry from the Daily Mirror.

Inside the courtroom:

As the clerk read the charge to the jury Mrs. Pace began to weep softly, and the Judge gave permission for her to be seated. Thus began the final act in the drama that commenced last January with the death of Harry Pace, who was a Forest of Dean sheep farmer, and the stopping of the funeral by the coroner.’

‘The most poignant incident yesterday was the giving of evidence by Mrs. Pace’s nine-year-old son Leslie. The boy smiled brightly at his mother, who burst into tears. “Do you love your mum?” asked Mr. Birkett, the leading counsel for Mrs. Pace. “Yes,” answered the boy emphatically. “Has she looked after you well?”—“Yes.” 

Outside the Courtroom:

When the police attempted to smuggle Mrs. Pace out of a back exit she was surrounded by hundreds of cheering people, and it was with difficulty that her taxi was able to move off.

Later an hotel to which the Pace children had been taken was besieged, and the crowd would not disperse till the children had shown themselves. An attempt to mob the car was foiled by the mounted police. 

(‘Pace Children Besieged in Gloucester Hotel’, Daily Mirror, 3 July 1928, p. 3)

Glimpses of the Pace Trial: 2 July 1928

A striking photograph of the crowds gathered in front of the Gloucester Shire Hall at the opening of the trial of Beatrice Pace for the arsenic murder of her husband, 85 years ago today:

Daily Sketch, 3 July 1928, page 1

What that scene looks like today from a similar angle:

Author's photo, June 2010

Flocking to Gloucester

Eighty-five years ago today, the trial of Beatrice Pace for the arsenic murder of her husband began at the Shire Hall in Gloucester.

The prosecution was led by the Solicitor-General, Sir Frank Boyd-Merriman, KC, and Beatrice was defended by Norman Birkett, KC. The presiding judge was Sir Thomas Gardner Horridge.

Alongside the tense legal duel that took place inside the courtroom, however, the case was notable for the near-carnival atmosphere on the streets outside.

The following passage from The Most Remarkable Woman in England gives an idea of the dramatic scenes on the streets of Gloucester 85 years ago today: 

Norman Birkett, KC
One of [Norman] Birkett’s later biographers was a young reporter in Cardiff at the time, and he later commented on ‘the anguished apprehension in everyone’s mind’. ‘Day after day’, he recalled with some exaggeration, ‘the newspapers were full of little else’ but the case.  Not only curious strangers flocked to Gloucester but also ‘villagers who have known the Pace family for many years’.

As the trial opened on Monday, 2 July, the Liverpool Echo reported, ‘what seemed to be the whole population of the little village of Fetter Hill today journeyed by motor omnibuses’ to view the trial.  ‘What all these people hope to do or see’, remarked the Daily Express, ‘is doubtful. The public space in the court is small, and only those who have privilege tickets will be admitted to the other part.’  Fewer than one hundred public spaces were available.  The police struggled to keep order as long queues – one each for women and men – formed on the first day of the trial at seven o’clock.

Mr. Justice Horridge
The court had been ‘inundated’ with applications for places in the public gallery, and among the successful applicants were ‘novelists and dramatists’, some of whom were ‘well-known’ (though, sadly, unnamed).  Despite sporadically poor weather on the first day, crowds of as many as 2,000 people gathered, the majority of whom were women.  A Daily Mail reporter stated: ‘Never have I seen so many women at a murder trial.’

On the second day, the crowds returned by bus and ‘obtained the foremost places in the separate queues of men and women outside the Shire Hall’.  (‘Among the crowd that surged about the hall’, it was noted, ‘were a number of American women tourists, who, having read of the case, halted in their motoring tour of the West Country to take part in the women’s demonstration.’ )

(The Most Remarkable Woman in England, pp. 92-93)

Monday, 1 July 2013

A 'most remarkable' summer reading suggestion

Tomorrow (2 July) marks the 85th anniversary of the opening of the trial in Gloucester of Beatrice Pace -- referred to as 'the tragic widow of Coleford' by many newspapers and as 'the most remarkable woman in England' by the Sunday Express -- for the alleged arsenic murder of her husband Harry.

In July 1928, the News of the World called the case ‘one of the most amazing within living memory’, while the Daily Mail described it as ‘one of the most extraordinary murder trials in the annals of English law’. Thomson’s Weekly News referred to it as ‘the most dramatic trial’ and the Daily Express as the ‘most astonishing judicial drama’ of recent years.

The trial itself is one of the many dramatic high points of my book on the Pace case, and in the coming week I'll be posting a few glimpses -- both in words and images -- from my research into the case.

And, as the summer holiday season is finally approaching, you may want to get your own copy of The Most Remarkable Woman in England to take along with you. As the following early reviews suggest, it makes a good holiday companion:

'Sometimes life is better than fiction. Is there any novelist who could have got this extraordinary story so perfectly right, inventing it: the violence at the heart of it, the suspense, the succession of revelations, the passions so raw and inchoate that they have a mythic force? And then there's the grand sweep of the narrative, beginning in the bleak poverty of an obscure cottage in the Forest of Dean, acted out finally on the national stage.' Tessa Hadley, in The Guardian (26 October 2012)

'Just for once, my crime book of the year isn’t a novel, but a factual account. ... A fascinating snapshot of interwar England, brilliantly brought to life.' -- crime novelist Nicola Upson, Faber website

'A fascinating analysis of one woman's domestic disaster, the power of the press and public opinion. Loved it!' -- Jenni Murray, host of BBC Radio 4's "Woman's Hour" (Click here for my interview on "Woman's Hour".) 
A full list of reviews and comments can be found here.

For more information, see the pages on the case and book at the top of the blog.

The book can be ordered from your local bookshop, directly from Manchester University Press or from online retailers such as Waterstones, Blackwells, and Amazon.