Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Distant early warning

A couple of weeks ago, I received an advance copy of Manchester University Press's 'New titles, Spring/Summer 2012' catalogue. I was very pleased to see The Most Remarkable Woman in England make its first appearance in a catalogue of this kind. 

The book is coming out a bit later than I expected: late summer (August) rather than late spring. All the more time for some anticipation...

I also noted that the book has made its appearances at Amazon in the UK, USA and Germany (and perhaps elsewhere as well).

So, we're one step closer. Keep watching this space for further details!

Mid-week trio: Mystery writers, Major Armstrong and arsenic eating

In a recent post at her interesting blog on the science of poisoning, Deborah Blum mentioned a few things that caught my eye, as they were also relevant to the Pace case.

First, she comments on the use of poisoning in the crime fiction of the inter-war period, particularly that by Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. I refer to that background in The Most Remarkable Woman in England, as the case was often styled by the press as something on a par with the murder mysteries of the age.

My own use of one of the books Blum cites -- Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) -- is however to highlight the sensationalist (and often intrusive) role of the press in reporting crime in this period. (The recent follies involving The News of the World et al. would not have surprised the crime reporters of the 1920s: if they could have hacked phones, many of them would have.) 

The narrator in Styles captures the mood: ‘The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue’. ‘Screaming headlines in every paper in the country’, one character complains: ‘damn all journalists, I say! Sort of Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors business that can be seen for nothing’.[1]

(Interestingly enough, Christie's fellow mystery writer from the period, Dorothy Sayers, is one of the things that connects my work hitherto on crime history with my developing research interests in Christian social thinking in Britain in the inter-war period. Along with murder mysteries, she wrote articles and books like this.)

Second, Blum refers to what was probably the most famous poisoning trial of the early 1920s, that of Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong for the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of a fellow solicitor. (Armstrong remains, I believe, the only solicitor hanged for murder in British history. Which actually strikes me as rather surprising.)

Major Armstrong
The Armstrong case was raised many times during the Pace case in a variety of contexts both inside and outside the courtroom. One of the more striking connections was that William Willcox -- a pioneering forensic expert -- testified in both cases. (Willcox had also testified in the famous Crippen trial.)

Willcox's testimony had been crucial in convicting Armstrong, and, as the main expert witness appearing for the Crown in the Pace case, he did his best to put the case that Beatrice Pace had poisoned her husband Harry. In that case, though, he was unsuccessful.

(The account of the Pace case given in a biography of Willcox gives a rather one-sided version of the trial: Willcox apparently remained convinced of her guilt until his death.)

The ghost of the Armstrong case definitely haunted the proceedings in Gloucester; happily for Mrs. Pace, however, her own trial turned out quite differently.

Third, Blum makes a brief reference to 'arsenic eating'. Arsenic, though highly poisonous, has a long history of being associated with various positive, healthful properties; one of them was its allegedly aphrodisiacal nature.

In a book written in the early 1930s on the history of poisoning, there is a short section on the Pace matter (which would have then still been recent and well remembered). It raises the curious issue of 'arsenic eating' in the region where the Paces lived, the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

A suggestion was made after the trial, that Pace might have been in the habit of taking arsenic and a lady living at Newport wrote to the Home Secretary, stating that she know of people living in the Forest of Dean who were addicted to the habit of eating arsenic.

She stated, that she knew that the dangerous habit prevailed in the neighbourhood of Coleford and around Tintern. “People get fascinated with the idea that arsenic taken in small quantities at regular intervals will benefit them. They become known as arsenic eaters, and knowing that the habit is condemned by doctors, they try to keep it as quiet as possible.”

Another person living in the district corroborated this statement and stated that arsenic eating was a habit well-known in the Forest of Dean. Her aunt, she declared, used to make up a secret preparation of herbs and poison. “In the district arsenic is believed to have wonderful powers and people get gripped with the idea of its potency.”

There was, however, no evidence to show that Pace had been addicted to arsenic so the suggestion that he met his death through taking an over-dose can hardly be entertained.[2]

On this latter point, my own research on the case is in agreement.

Nonetheless, speculations were rife at the time about what 'really' happened in the case, so this kind of notion was anything other than unusual.

Sadly, though, I never did find the alleged letter to the Home Office from 'a lady living at Newport'....


[1] A. Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (London: HarperCollins, 1994 [1920]), pp. 120-1, 135.

[2] C. J. S. Thompson, Poisons and Poisoners: With Historical Accounts of Some Famous Mysteries in Ancient and Modern Times (London: Harold Shaylor, [1931]), p. 350

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A family in the spotlight

One of the many photos of the Pace family that featured in the press coverage on the case. (There were dozens more, some of which will be making their appearance here in the months to come.)

This would have appeared even before the inquest into Harry Pace's mysterious death properly began.

From left: Leslie, Dorothy, Selwyn, Beatrice and Doris Pace.
(World's Pictorial News, 5 February 1928.)

Sunday, 27 November 2011

"Hustling Horridge" and the "Ladies"

One of the things I’ve tried to do in this book is to trace some of the key figures beyond their roles in the 1928 murder trial of Beatrice Pace.

A number of them were figures of some public renown both before and after the trial.

For instance, the Daily Mirror mentioned the Pace case in its report on the death of High Court Judge Sir Thomas Horridge in July 1938, almost exactly ten years after he presided over Beatrice’s trial in Gloucester.

Judge Told Jury “Free Mrs. Pace” 

High Court Judge twenty-seven years, Sir Thomas Gardner Horridge died at Hove yesterday, aged eighty.

Sir Thomas figured in the trial of Mrs. Pace, tragic widow of Coleford, Glos, acquitted on his direction on the charge of murdering her husband. He was also one of the Judges who tried Roger Casement.

In the Divorce Court he was known as “Hustling Horridge,” because of his speed in dealing with cases.

On one occasion he remarked: “If women cannot get their lunch in three-quarters of an hour, they are not fit to be jurors.”

Here are other [sic] of his views on women: --“The word ‘woman’ is disappearing from the English language. A charwoman is no longer a charwoman, but a ‘charlady.’ There are lady typists, lady hairdressers, lady shop assistants and lady everything else.”
Daily Mirror, 25 July 1938, p. 18

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Science against criminality

I ran across this image today and downloaded the image. Unfortunately, I can't now recall where I found it.

In any case, somehow relevant to the topic of this blog (click for a larger image).

Though I wouldn't for a moment claim that I'm better than Sherlock...

[UPDATE:] Thanks to Ray at the Gloucestershire Local History group, I found the source. Apparently the archives of Popular Science are fully available and searchable. There're rather a lot of references to Sherlock Holmes. This one was this top result...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Images of the Past

One of the things that I'm glad about with this book as opposed to my first one is that this time around I'll have images in it.

One of the sources I used was the company Mirrorpix, which found a great photo of Mrs. Pace and the family's sheepdog (inevitably named...I kid you not...'Rover') in their collection.

Mirrorpix had a blog going for a while, but it then went dormant (which I noted before on my other blog).

So I'm pleased to see that they've gotten active again, via Twitter. There are some gems in there, such as this picture of the Ministry of Information...well, informing people about something in late 1940.

Lots more to be discovered there.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Selling the story: 'Eighteen Years of Hell'

Starting from the period in mid-January 1928 when the name 'Pace' hit the headlines in connection with the mysterious death of Beatrice's Husband Harry, the case remained a fixture in the sensation-hungry press of inter-war Britain.

The high point in press and public interest was, however, the trial itself in early July and the period immediately following it. I'll be posting more images and descriptions related to those events at some point. But for now something slightly different.

On the day after Beatrice's acquittal, the rights to her 'life-story' were sold to the Sunday Express (The story of how this came about features in one of the chapters of the book.)

This image shows an advertisement for the serialised autobiography which appeared in the Daily Mail.

Daily Mail 13 July 1928, p. 19. 

Not only did '18 years of Hell' become one of my chapter headings, but the text in the opening paragraph contained the phrase which is now the book's main title, 'the most remarkable woman in England'.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The early word is in

About half a year before the resease of The Most Remarkable Woman in England, a first review has appeared!

Andrew Hammel, Assistant Professor for American Law at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf and the author of Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective (and, in the interests of full disclosure, a good friend of mine) noted this blog on his own, commenting:

I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of the book, which is a fascinating history of a poisoning case that gripped England during the 1920s: Did Beatrice Pace slowly murder her husband with arsenic? John's book is written in crisp, accessible prose and studded with priceless quotations from contemporary news reports and court documents. It has as many plot twists as any detective story, and also casts fascinating sidelights on everything from early forensic science to press ethics to the status of women in inter-war England. Highly recommended!

Many thanks for the kind words to Andrew, whose own book is also highly recommended!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sense and Sensibility...and arsenic?

Since the Pace case revolved around a death caused by arsenic (this was not in question though how the poisoning took place definitely was), some of my researches took me into the broader history of this type of poisoning.

(The book I'd recommend for those interested in the more general history of poisoning and, specifically, the nineteenth century, is Katherine Watson's, Poisoned Lives.)

In any case, the Guardian today reports on claims by crime novelist Lindsay Ashford that Jane Austen may have died from arsenic poisoning.

I have no idea whether this might be true or not, but I can imagine it might make for a good plot....

Saturday, 12 November 2011

'Besieged' by admirers

One of the things that came up again and again during the various ‘trials’ of Beatrice Pace -- the inquest, her appearance at the magistrates' court, the trial at the assizes -- was the fascination that not only she but also her children held for the public. This became something of a public order problem during the trial in Gloucester, as these excerpts from the Daily Mirror suggest.

The first:

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. [...]

As the Pace children, Doris, Leslie and the little boy known as Kenny, were taken to an hotel for tea they were followed by a large crowd which waited outside. The place was besieged, and on several occasions people forced an entrance. At last, to satisfy their curiosity, Doris and her brothers went out to the entrance and showed themselves to the people, who cheered them loudly. Doris was carrying a doll which had been presented to her by sympathisers.[...]

Visitors have thronged Gloucester from all parts of the country in the hope of hearing Mrs. Pace tried, and the hotels are full. 
 ‘Pace Children Besieged in Gloucester Hotel’, Daily Mirror, 3 July 28, p. 3

The second:

Doris, the pretty little daughter of the accused woman, was again the centre of attraction after her mother had been taken to the prison. The hotel where she has her meals was besieged by thousands of people. There was a demonstration against the police, whose task was one of great difficulty.

The superintendent of the mounted police, in trying to clear the pavements, was almost thrown from his horse, and even the tactful efforts of the constables on foot aroused much resentment. So difficult was the situation that the superintendent appealed to the hotel proprietor to keep the girl out of sight as much as possible and to get her away quickly.

Doris herself is blissfully unconscious of the seriousness of the situation, and regards the whole thing as a great adventure. “I think it is very funny,” she said. “I am enjoying myself very much, and everyone is so kind to me.”’  
 ‘Heart Attack of Woman Juror at Pace Trial’, Daily Mirror, 5 July 1928, p. 2

And, yes, as the title of the second report suggests, and as if the near riot outside the courtroom wasn't exciting enough, one of the 'elderly' women on the jury had a heart attack.

No shortage of drama here.

And we will be hearing more about little Doris (Beatrice's youngest daughter) and her dolls.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Most Remarkable Woman

Beatrice Pace, 1928 (Family photo: Thanks to Tony Martin for this image.)
This is the person around whom this book revolves: Beatrice Annie Pace.Tried (and acquitted) for the murder of her husband Harry in 1928.

Police history recommendation

As noted, I intend this blog to also deal with broader issues relevant to crime, policing, justice and the media in the 1920s and 1930s. Coincidentally, I just received a notice that my review of Joanne Klein's Invisible Men: The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester,and Birmingham, 1900–1939 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010) has been published.

Regardless of a few minor criticisms, I recommend the book highly.

A couple of excerpts from my review:

A key issue—which takes up three of the book’s ten main chapters—concerns police relationships with the public. These were characterized by patterns of conflict and comity that varied by class and gender. The working classes were most likely to respond to police interference with violence, while the middle and upper classes were more prone to be “patronizing” and send letters of complaint. Klein sees a general improvement in police and public interactions, noting an increased civilian willingness to assist constables in trouble and, more generally, to cooperate with investigations. Constables had friendly relations with the public through gossip, assistance, favours, perks, and charity. Such contacts show, Klein argues, that constables “remained part of the working-class community” (221). One tricky issue, however, involved police relationships with women, which took both consensual and coercive forms. One of the book’s most interesting aspects concerns the multifaceted relationship between policing and new transportation and communication technologies, particularly the growth of motoring and the expanding use of the telephone. Both sorts of tasks—whether directing traffic and ticketing motorists or responding to telephone requests for assistance with a myriad of (often petty) problems—not only interfered with what officers saw as their main duty (i.e., fighting crime) but also contributed to tensions between police and public: notably, the growth of motoring meant the “higher classes” had more encounters with (working-class) police officers. [...]

If one of Klein’s goals was to break down the public’s view of the police (perhaps held as much now as then) as a “monolithic entity” (110), she has succeeded magnificently by offering a complex portrait of how everyday policing was experienced as a mixture of boredom, excitement, violence, humour, tragedy, and, at times, absurdity. In a strikingly original chapter, the extensive institutional supervision to which constables were subjected even allows Klein to provide insight into police officers’ domestic lives. An effective combination of detailed research and clear writing, Invisible Men joins the ranks of the must-read books about British policing.

John Carter Wood, review of Joanne Klein, Invisible Men: The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester,and Birmingham, 1900–1939 in the Journal of British Studies, Vol. 50, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 1016-1017 .

First things first

Those who know me personally are aware of what working on this book has meant to me, and they also have an idea about the ups and downs that I've encountered while seeing it through.

Thus, it is a great pleasure to be able to say that the final manuscript of my second book, The Most Remarkable Woman in England: Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace, left my desk a few months ago and is now very definitely wending its way through the production process at Manchester University Press. Last week I returned the first batch of responses to the copy-editing queries and, if all goes well, the next couple should be coming through this month. (According to my copy editor, I haven't made many of the 'usual' mistakes. This, of course, has not kept me from making some rather unusual ones. Ah well.)

For specifics about the book and the case it was written about, you can consult the links just below the title. In short: it's about a mysterious death and a trial for arsenic poisoning in 1928 that turned into one of the most remarkable--though today almost forgotten--press sensations of early twentieth-century Britain. 

Given the book's likely appearance in MUP's Spring/Summer catalogue, I thought it was a good time to begin introducing it not only to other historians but also to a wider public. This is because--although the book is certainly of high-grade academic quality--I have definitely aimed from the beginning to write a book that would appeal to people who are not historians but who are interested in the history of crime, the media, and the culture of the 'inter-war' period in general and that of Britain in particular (i.e., the 1920s and 1930s).

This was, as is well known, the 'golden age' of British crime fiction associated with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham and many others, and the story of the 'Pace case' (also known as the 'Fetter Hill Mystery') had more than a touch of some of the creations of such authors. This period was also an era of relentlessly sensationalist press reporting and a time in which issues such as women's roles, the nature of marriage and threats to civil liberties were incessantly discussed.

I've aimed to use this specific case--the trial of Beatrice Pace for the alleged murder of her husband Harry--as a way into understanding various aspects of the late 1920s: the worlds of Scotland Yard, the courts, Fleet Street, and Parliament. For the amazing thing is that the death of this otherwise obscure man and the tribulations of his impoverished widow became a matter of pressing interest in all these contexts. The late 1920s already had an extensive and well functioning 'celebrity culture' that--often in the context of crime and justice--transformed 'ordinary' people into household names within a matter of days.

This book is about many things, and I hope, over the coming months, to introduce you to some of those things. Furthermore, I'll be using this blog to post other things related to the themes of the book, particularly about the inter-war period, whether with relation to crime, media or the broader culture of the time, things that have come to fascinate me since I (almost literally) stumbled over the Pace case several years ago.

I hope you will find it as interesting as I do!