Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 12

Concluding my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year or so...

There has been no particular ranking of the reviews in this list; however, the excellent review The Most Remarkable Woman in England received from Tessa Hadley at the Guardian is one of my favourites.

This is not only because it was a particularly high profile positive review, but also because Hadley praised precisely some of the things that worked very hard to achieve in the book, such as capturing both a sense of drama and the authentic details of the language used by various figures in the case.

The image of the crowd outside the Pace trial used in the Guardian review
 
It really is hard for me to imagine a better opening line to a review of my book: 

'Sometimes life is better than fiction.'

I mean...really. That's a great start.

And then it just gets better from there:

'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. [...] John Carter Wood's book about the Pace trial works because of his sober and scrupulous assembly of the evidence, quoting the words that were spoken and written at the time so we can feel the textures of the material for ourselves – the found poetry of precise reportage.'

The rest of the review is very well worth reading.

Perhaps it -- or the other reviews that I've considered in this series -- will convince you to take a closer look at The Most Remarkable Woman in England.

And whether you do or don't: Merry Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 11

One of the highlights of the period shortly after the publication of The Most Remarkable Woman in England last year was being interviewed on BBC Radio 4's venerable show 'Woman's Hour'.

I had never previously been interviewed on radio before (though there were several years in an earlier life when I had radio shows of my own on minor, local stations, but that's another story).

Moreover, it was certainly exciting to actually enter what has long been one of my favourite buildings in London: Broadcasting House.



Although there had been some preparatory discussion with the show's producers about possible topics, I went into the interview with Jenni Murray without really knowing what I would be asked.

So I was certainly fairly keyed up when I got into the studio.

Jenni Murray, though, is a very skilled interviewer: although she makes it seem easy, she manages to ask very well crafted questions and to subtly shape the discussion.

As interviewee, I had the sense of being offered a very well-defined space to fill. This all helped me to stay succinct and not begin endlessly waffling on, as is occasionally...well, OK, often...my wont.

As to the interview, you can judge for yourself: my segment is still available from the BBC Radio 4 website.



In the brief period of time we had to chat after the interview, Jenni said some very nice things to me about the book. I asked later whether she might be willing to make a public summary of those statements, and she agreed.

So, she described The Most Remarkable Woman as:

'A fascinating analysis of one woman's domestic disaster, the power of the press and public opinion. Loved it!' 

The whole experience was very rewarding (also for getting the chance to chat with Martha Wainwright who gave a live performance on that show); the same can be said about my second BBC interview, with Anna King for BBC Radio Gloucestershire.

Sadly, though, that one is no longer online.

So if you can't quite get enough of hearing my voice, I suppose you're out of luck.



 

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 10

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year...

Another one of the more academic reviews of The Most Remarkable Woman in England appeared at the open-access crime history journal Law, Crime and History.

There, Tony Ward opened his review of my book with a striking comparison to a television crime drama:


I started reading this book on the evening when the TV crime drama Broadchurch reached its finale, and the parallels are readily apparent: a suspicious death in a small community brings family conflicts to the surface, rumours abound, an arrogant policeman from London comes to investigate, the national press scent a good story, and the family of the deceased find themselves briefly famous.

Ward concludes:

The Most Remarkable Woman in England is a scholarly book and Wood resists any temptation to ‘solve’ the case, though he argues that the suicide theory was plausible and Beatrice was rightly acquitted. He urges historians to take ‘into account both those women who were demonised by the public and unfairly condemned and those who received public support and were – all things considered – treated fairly’ (195). In this respect his work usefully complements studies of women convicted of murder, such as Anette Balinger’s Dead Woman Walking (2000). But if one sees early twentieth century murder trials as a kind of morality play in which the moral invariably serves to reinforce the subordination of women, Beatrice Pace’s trial fits the mould as well as any of those that sent women to the gallows. -- Law, Crime and History, 3.2 (2013), 193-94. (PDF version of the full review)


Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 9

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year...

The issue of attitudes toward gender in the 1920s is a central issue in The Most Remarkable Woman in England, hence it's been gratifying to see the book receiving positive comments from historians experienced in that field. 

At Gender & History, Gwyneth Nair (co-author of a book on the Victorian poisoning murder trial of Madeleine Smith) thought that the book could have emphasised analysis more than narrative, and she suggests that I might have made more comparisons of the Pace case with even more trials of women than I do.

Nonetheless, she concludes that The Most Remarkable Woman in England is

'a thoughtful, readable account of an intriguing case, and has valuable things to say about the nature of interwar English society.' (Gender & History, 25.2 (2013), 385-86.)

I hope to have more to say about the issue of inter-war gender, as I'm currently reading Lucy Bland's fascinating book Modern Women on Trial.

We'll see how the Christmas season goes, time-wise....


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 8.

Among the various academic reviews that have appeared of The Most Remarkable Woman in England, that by Matthew Houlbrook was especially nice:

What became known as the ‘Fetter Hill mystery’ was one of the most sensational criminal cases of the 1920s. Then ‘still relatively new’, the media frenzy that surrounded Beatrice Pace allows John Carter Wood to tease out an engaging and suggestive analysis of the relationship between crime, culture, and politics in a formative historical period (5). The Most Remarkable Woman in England draws on an impressive body of archival research: an extensive survey of local and national newspapers, records of courts, coroners, and police, and (most strikingly) the hundreds of letters Pace received from her supporters at the trial’s conclusion. The result is a rich and textured archeology of a case that unfolded as much through new forms of mass media as the institutions of criminal justice. If the detail sometimes becomes overwhelming, it is hard to imagine a more thorough account of the processes through which crime became news.  (Media History, 19.3 (2013), 391-92.)

I've never met Matthew, but he's the author of some excellent things about crime, media and sexuality in early twentieth-century Britain, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 7

Among the positive reviews The Most Remarkable Woman in England received was one in the Literary Review from historian Dominic Sandbrook (probably known best recently for his books on 1970s Britain and a number of BBC television documentaries).

There is no version of it online, however, I have a few excerpts below. 

Among other things Sandbrook observes: 

Today, of course, Beatrice Pace is almost completely forgotten. It is to John Carter Wood’s credit, therefore, that in this splendid piece of historical detective work he not only brings her story alive but casts new light on the life of England in the 1920s, a land desperate to return to normality after the First World War, but terrified of the demons lurking in the attic.
[...]
Like Kate Summerscale’s prizewinning book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Wood’s account is an engrossing exercise in historical reconstruction, slowly peeling back layer upon layer of the story of Harry and Beatrice Pace.
[...]
Wood’s achievement is to use the case to explore the troubled world of the mid-1920s, a period when, as the Daily Herald remarked, ‘nine people out of ten follow the meagre official details and the billowing rumours of an actual murder mystery more eagerly and breathlessly than the most devoted detective “fan.”’
[...]
Wood thinks the jury came to the right verdict, though it is a measure of his immaculately researched, fluently written and utterly compelling book that he allows readers to come to their own conclusions. For my own part, I rather think there was more to Beatrice Pace than met the eye. Who really killed Harry Pace? You had better read the book and decide for yourself.

'Decide for yourself.' Hmm. Sounds about right.

And I believe there is a holiday coming.

(Quotes from the Dec-Jan 2012/13 issue of the Literary Review.)

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 6

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year...

A couple of very positive things were said about the book even before it was actually published: in the 'blurbs' that were gained by sending out a pre-publication version of the main text to a couple of experts in the field.

So, while they're not technically 'reviews' they certainly have review-like qualities and, in a spirit of Christmas generosity, can be included here.

The two back-of-the-book blurbs we succeeded in getting were from two renowned historians, Clive Emsley (Professor Emeritus of History at the Open University) and Joanna Bourke (Professor of History at Birkbeck College).

I happened to meet Joanna for the first time in 2007 when I was actually giving one of the very first conference papers based upon my then still quite early research into the Pace murder trial. She was enthusiastic about the story from the beginning, becoming one of the many people who were very encouraging along the (long) way from the start of the project to publication.

For her blurb, she wrote: 
'This is history as murder-mystery. John Carter Wood tells a spellbinding story of murder, using the trials of the accused (Beatrice Pace) to reflect the nature of celebrity culture, the legal system, and gender relations in 1920s Britain. The fundamental question remains: did Beatrice Pace kill her husband? You will have to read the book to find out!'

For anyone interested in crime and policing history, Clive of course needs no introduction. (You can find a review of his latest book -- on the history of crime and the British military -- here.) And he also said some characteristically kind things about my book:

'The trial of Beatrice Pace was one of the most sensational news stories in inter-war Britain. In this thoroughly researched and clearly-argued study, John Carter Wood is not solely concerned with the usual question of whether or not Mrs Pace was guilty. Rather he also focuses on the period's celebrity culture, the role of the press, the development of public interest and the police. In so doing, he has produced a model for modern social and cultural historians.' 

High praise indeed from someone whose work has been influential on my own development as a historian of crime and justice.

Clive also very generously gave a speech at the shared book launch event for The Most Remarkable Woman in England and two other crime-history related titles from Manchester University Press last year. 

Seems like ages ago now, but it was only last year...

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 5

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year...

While there's something great about all positive reviews, of course, getting them from friends is even nicer.

And it's hardly as if that's a foregone conclusion: among academics, sometimes your friends can be your worst critics.

So it was a relief to see Andrew Hammel's Amazon.co.uk review not only so positive but also so clear about why it was positive:

Yet the Pace case was more than a headline-grabber. The long interrogations of Mrs. Pace prompted outrage at Scotland Yard's 'third-degree' tactics, contributing to an emerging wave of civil-rights activism in 1920s England. The trial also highlighted the binds of economic dependence and discrimination which kept working-class women trapped in abusive marriages. John Carter Wood writes with verve and elegance, weaving insights into the broader social ramifications of this trial without losing the thread courtroom drama that makes the book such a compelling read. He has also done much original research, clearing up questions that previous accounts left unanswered and providing dozens of illustrations, some of which have come from previously-inaccessible private archives. The result is a vivid portrayal not just of one woman's fate, but of a society in transition. Highly recommended! 

Andrew's own book -- Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective -- is also 'highly recommended' if I do say so myself.

As is his blog.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 4

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year... 

The shortest comment in the Twelve Reviews of Christmas appeared, appropriately enough, on Twitter not long after The Most Remarkable Woman in England appeared.

It was written by Harvard psychology professor, Steven Pinker, who tweeted:

'A fascinating  real-life murder story: John Carter Wood's The Most Remarkable Woman in England.' 

I had had the great pleasure of being able to tell Steve (quite extensively) about the case and my research into it in person when we met at a violence history conference in Switzerland the year before that.

We had come to know each other starting in about 2007 via an extensive email  correspondence while he was working on his bestselling book The Better Angels of Our Nature, a signed copy of which arrived here shortly after the conference. 

I was therefore very pleased to be able to give him a copy of The Most Remarkable Woman in England in return.

It's not every day, after all, that your book gets recommended by one of the world's leading thinkers






Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 3

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year... 

One of my favourite comments about the book came unexpectedly shortly before last Christmas, when crime novelist Nicola Upson selected The Most Remarkable Woman in England as her 'favourite crime book of the year':

Just for once, my crime book of the year isn’t a novel, but a factual account. In 1928, a quarryman called Harry Pace died of arsenic poisoning and his wife, Beatrice, was tried for his murder. John Carter Wood’s account of the case and trial has it all: suspense; surprise; and a searing account of one woman’s life, marriage, and journey from poverty and obscurity to celebrity and notoriety.

Wood is brave enough to allow much of an incredible story to tell itself through newspaper accounts, letters and Beatrice’s private papers, and the book is all the richer for it. And because it’s a true story, he has no choice but to include some of the more incredible plot elements that a novelist might lose courage with! A fascinating snapshot of interwar England, brilliantly brought to life.

I wasn't familiar with Upson's writing before then (for a crime historian I read very little crime fiction, actually...somehow I feel it'd be a bit of a busman's holiday), but her historically set novels certainly sound intriguing.

So they're now on my list.


In any case, I was (and remain) very pleased by what she had to say about my book.  


Monday, 9 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 2

Continuing my pre-Christmas round-up of reviews of my book over the past year... 

One of the early reviews of The Most Remarkable Woman in England appeared in the Times Higher Education (...despite their name change I still can hardly resist mentally adding 'Supplement'...) by June Purvis.

She wrote:

The Most Remarkable Woman in England is an intriguing book. It not only raises pertinent questions about the use of “evidence” to build a criminal case but also reveals how debates about gender roles, domestic violence and justice for the poor erupted at one particular cultural moment in inter-war Britain.

The review does a good job of summarising the main points of the case and my analysis of it, and then concludes:

And so, dear reader, did Beatrice Pace really do it? Wood believes the decision to acquit her was correct and that it is plausible that Harry committed suicide in a fit of depression. But, like all good mysteries, it is up to you to make up your own mind after carefully reviewing the “evidence”, sometimes contradictory, presented here. This book will be an invaluable aid to those interested in the history of criminal justice and British society in the 1920s.

Yes, I must agree: I think it will!

One minor quibble: Purvis wrote in the opening of the review that I became interested in the case 'nearly five decades later' (i.e., after the trial). She meant nearly eight, I presume: five decades after the Pace trial I was still in primary school.

An easy mistake to make, and certainly forgiveable considering the positive verdict.

But I feel old enough as it is, let's not make me any older.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Twelve Reviews of Christmas, part 1

This is only the second Christmas season since the release of The Most Remarkable Woman in England, and I thought it an opportune time to revisit some of the very nice things that have been written and said about the book since it was published late last year.

Coincidentally, a new review of the book appeared today, and since it was so thoughtful and positive, I thought I would make it the first of my (cleverly seasonally themed) feature: The Twelve Reviews of Christmas.

At her blog, Nose in a Book, Kate Gardner finds much to praise in my history of the Pace murder trial, and I was particularly pleased that she emphasised some of those things that I had specifically aimed for in writing it.

It's nice, after all, when you work very hard to achieve a certain kind of effect and then succeed.

For instance, she writes:

[T]his is a really well written book. ... I have tried to read a few historical books written for a popular audience and generally I’ve struggled. Even the super successful The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which it’s hard not to compare this to, didn’t entirely get it right in my view.

The way in which Wood does get it right is, to begin with, his identifying what it was about the case that made its players instantly famous. He has some very smart things to say about celebrity culture being tied to social and political changes, such as women’s liberation or distrust of the police force. Wood quotes extensively from original sources, which serves two purposes: you are left in no doubt as to where each fact/opinions comes from, and you get a real flavour of the time and place.

But perhaps my favourite comment is this one:

I know that this book worked in a narrative sense because for most of the time I was reading it I felt a prickling at the back of my neck that I only get from a good crime book, whether true or fictional.

That, dear reader, is high praise indeed.

And -- perhaps -- it's just the thing for the crime-story fan on your Christmas list. Don't you think?

After all: according to her blog, the author of this review received the book last year as a Christmas present.

So, spread the joy, I say.

Please do read the rest of the review at Nose in a Book. And, while you're there, check out the other reviews.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Generation gaps and girly men

One of the central background issues in my study of the Pace case are the changes in the ways that femininity, masculinity and marriage were seen in the inter-war period in Britain.

The current issue of the London Review of Books has a fascinating review by Alan Allport of a new book by Melanie Tebbutt, Being Boys: Youth, Leisure and Identity in the Interwar Years. 

It emphasises the new opportunities for young men in the 1920s and 1930s.

And also some of the new challenges:

Together, the cinema and the dance hall transformed courtship. Film provided instruction in manliness and the dance hall was where young men put what they had learned into practice. But it could be an unforgiving venue. [...] At the approach of a 16th or 17th birthday, dancing, in the words of one young man, ‘assumed, quite suddenly, a devastating importance, an arcane significance’. There were just as many male as female wallflowers at the Hammersmith Palais, self-conscious boys shuffling awkwardly at the periphery of the dance floor.

Unfamiliarity with the latest dance steps was only one of many sources of unease for the new young man. As courtship moved beyond neighbourhood circles, so appearance and deportment acquired a heightened importance. The availability after the war of good quality off-the-rack suits from Burton’s and Fifty Shilling Tailors created an expectation that men would dress smartly and fashionably in public, opening up a possibility of embarrassment hitherto unknown to working-class men. [...] Advertising of personal hygiene products was aimed mainly at young women, but boys were also swept up in the new insecurity about perspiration and bad breath. As working-class men became more visibly indistinguishable from the middle class, so they acquired all the hang-ups of embourgeoisement.

And they also became the target of a good deal of criticism from the older generation:

With his ‘constant combing of well-oiled locks of long hair, tidy clothes and well-kept hands and nails’, as one exasperated army physical training instructor put it, the new teenager was symptomatic of a greater national effeminisation that was undermining Britain’s ability to defend itself in an ever more dangerous world.

And here lies a great historical irony. For while at the beginning of the 21st century our fading ‘Greatest Generation’ is lauded for its hardscrabble upbringing and its stoic sacrifices, on the eve of the Second World War it was being lambasted by its elders for being spoiled, self-absorbed and dandified.

‘By comparison with the French, or the Germans, for that matter, our men for the most part seem distressingly young, not so much in years as in self-reliance and manliness generally … they give an impression of being callow and undeveloped,’ General Auchinleck was to warn the war cabinet in 1940. Not so long before Dunkirk, Britain’s heroic Tommies had been its wayward youth.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

'The illusion of freedom shrouds this city of dreadful delight'


Only about a decade later after the Pace case filled the sensation-hungry press--but seemingly a world away from its rural, isolated Forest of Dean setting--James Curtis published his debut novel, The Gilt Kid, a gritty crime thriller of London's mean streets.

At London Fictions, Stefan Slater explores Curtis's dingy, dispiriting and disillusioned vision of the British capital, one that both does and doesn't sound all that distant:

PictureSuffused with an aura of decline, the Gilt Kid’s home life is centred around the shabby gentility of his cheap furnished lodgings in Pimlico – ‘the houses, for one thing, had been built for far wealthier people than were living in them’ – and the cheerful vulgarity of the environs of Victoria, a downmarket red-light district on the wane, a step down from the Lisle Street janes, patronized by soldiers stationed at the many local barracks and commuters. All that glitters is not gold:

The market stalls in Warwick Street, which at night added a vivid gaiety to the street scene, looked by day merely squalid. The ground around them was littered with bits of paper and cabbage leaves. Pale, harassed-looking women, for the most part with string-bags hanging from their arms, stared either at the stalls or into the windows of the cut-price shops; spinning their money out as best they could, they would be buying cheap tinned salmon, condensed milk, hard soaplike Canadian cheese, and salt-encrusted, badly cured Empire bacon. Those who scorned margarine would purchase imitation imported butter at tenpence a pound. On Saturdays they could get cheap scraps of dusty meat from the stalls. Few, if any, ate real food.

Hardly the glam of the smash-and-grab kings Ruby Sparks and Billy Hill. Hill has much to answer for. An imaginative man. Watch out for Duncan Webb too. You can’t trust a journalist. Or a policeman. 

There's a lot more of this at London Fictions that is very worth reading. 


Sunday, 29 September 2013

Modern Women on Trial

I'm very pleased to draw your attention to the release of Lucy Bland's new book, Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper.

I hope to get a chance to read it soon and post some comments here; however, having spoken to the author several times about the book during its later stages, I'm eagerly looking forward to it.

From the Manchester University Press description: 

Modern women on trial looks at several sensational trials involving drugs, murder, adultery, miscegenation and sexual perversion in the period 1918–24. The trials, all with young female defendants, were presented in the media as morality tales, warning of the dangers of sensation-seeking and sexual transgression. The book scrutinises the trials and their coverage in the press to identify concerns about modern femininity. The flapper later became closely associated with the 'roaring' 1920s, but in the period immediately after the Great War she represented not only newness and hedonism, but also a frightening, uncertain future. This figure of the modern woman was a personification of the upheavals of the time, representing anxieties about modernity, and instabilities of gender, class, race and national identity. This accessible, extensively researched book will be of interest to all those interested in social, cultural or gender history.
As I discuss in The Most Remarkable Woman in England, when Beatrice Pace first came to the attention of the press in January 1928, was in many ways not the image of the 'modern woman' that proved such a magnet for comment and controversy in the 1920s. Indeed, her image as a 'traditional' woman -- a faithful, caring wife and a doting mother -- positively inflected her treatment in the press accounts surrounding the 'Fetter Hill Mystery'.

However, after her acquittal, Beatrice underwent a 'makeover' of sorts, in a sense 'becoming modern' while building her 'new life' away from the shadow of the gallows.

In her new book, Bland provides a broad contextual analysis of the narratives of 'modernity' that surrounded women on trial in the early 1920s. 

Careful readers of The Most Remarkable Woman in England will note the many citations of Lucy Bland's previous important research on images of women on trial in inter-war Britain (especially Edith Thompson and Marguerite Fahmy). This was work that I found very helpful while constructing my own analysis of the 'tragic widow of Coleford'.

Not least for that reason, I'm very pleased to see the book's release, and it certainly deserves a wide readership.

Academic reviews roundup

After the slew of more popular-press reviews of and comments on The Most Remarkable Woman in England (which were resoundingly positive) a few academic and specialist reviews have recently begun to appear.

From the beginning, I had aimed to write a book that would both satisfy the specialist and fascinate the general reader. As I discovered, striking that balance is very difficult: indeed, these are imperatives that very often pull in opposite directions. (Having taken a look through the book again recently, I felt confirmed in the view that -- far more often than not -- I managed to hit the right note.)

As is their nature, this first round of academic reviews are more subdued in tone, but I'm pleased to see that they have had many positive things to say about the book.

For example, Matthew Houlbrook writes in Media History:

What became known as the ‘Fetter Hill mystery’ was one of the most sensational criminal cases of the 1920s. Then ‘still relatively new’, the media frenzy that surrounded Beatrice Pace allows John Carter Wood to tease out an engaging and suggestive analysis of the relationship between crime, culture, and politics in a formative historical period (5). The Most Remarkable Woman in England draws on an impressive body of archival research: an extensive survey of local and national newspapers, records of courts, coroners, and police, and (most strikingly) the hundreds of letters Pace received from her supporters at the trial’s conclusion. The result is a rich and textured archeology of a case that unfolded as much through new forms of mass media as the institutions of criminal justice. If the detail sometimes becomes overwhelming, it is hard to imagine a more thorough account of the processes through which crime became news. -- Media History, 19.3 (2013), 391-92.

At Gender & History, Gwyneth Nair thinks that the book could have emphasised analysis more than narrative  and that I might have made more comparisons of the Pace case with even more trials of women than I do. (Please see my above comments about trying to please academic and popular audiences alike.) Nonetheless, she concludes that The Most Remarkable Woman in England is 'a thoughtful, readable account of an intriguing case, and has valuable things to say about the nature of interwar English society.' --Gender & History, 25.2 (2013), 385-86.

(I should perhaps mention that one thing that Houlbrook and Nair share is the minor error of giving me a double-barrelled surname. My actual last name -- as it stands on the spine of the book -- is 'Wood'. 'Carter' is a middle name I use for publications and online to make myself easier to find among the countless other John Woods in the world...) 

At the open-access crime history journal Law, Crime and History, Tony Ward opens his review of my book with an interesting comparison to a television crime drama:

I started reading this book on the evening when the TV crime drama Broadchurch reached its finale, and the parallels are readily apparent: a suspicious death in a small community brings family conflicts to the surface, rumours abound, an arrogant policeman from London comes to investigate, the national press scent a good story, and the family of the deceased find themselves briefly famous.

Ward concludes:

The Most Remarkable Woman in England is a scholarly book and Wood resists any temptation to ‘solve’ the case, though he argues that the suicide theory was plausible and Beatrice was rightly acquitted. He urges historians to take ‘into account both those women who were demonised by the public and unfairly condemned and those who received public support and were – all things considered – treated fairly’ (195). In this respect his work usefully complements studies of women convicted of murder, such as Anette Balinger’s Dead Woman Walking (2000). But if one sees early twentieth century murder trials as a kind of morality play in which the moral invariably serves to reinforce the subordination of women, Beatrice Pace’s trial fits the mould as well as any of those that sent women to the gallows. -- Law, Crime and History, 3.2 (2013), 193-94. (PDF version of the full review)



Monday, 12 August 2013

Today in the Pace case: 12 August 1928

Eighty-five years ago on this date, the last instalment of Beatrice Pace's six-part 'life story' appeared in the Sunday Express, the newspaper to which the rights to her autobiography had been sold (on the day after her acquittal for her husband's arsenic murder) for somewhat more than £3,000, which was then a substantial sum.

In the final episode, 'The Beginning of a New Life', Beatrice offered both some final comments on her marriage and a few insights into what--as the title suggested--her life had become.

Sunday Express, 12 Aug 1928, p. 12.


I realise better now that I have to talk about my life on paper, what my feelings towards my husband really were. They were those of a mother with a bad, unruly child much stronger than herself.
I see now that after a very few months I stopped feeling like a wife and began to feel like a mother.

Harry made me feel like that. His carelessness, his dumbness—even his meanness.

Like the meanness of a child who hoards cheep sweets and will neither give them away nor enjoy them himself—all forced me to feel that unless I mothered him he would be quite helpless.

I pitied Harry, I can see that now, and it occurs to me that perhaps he felt it at the bottom of his mind, and resented it.

It may be that I was mistaken to pity him, and that his man’s pride was hurt. It may be that he thought to himself, “Pity me, does she? I’ll show her who’s the best man here!” and perhaps, when his fury was on him, those thought made him more cruel.

**

You can imagine that with such a life my mind did not move much. We had no pleasures and no outings. As I have already said, I was never allowed to go to the cinema or the theatre, and, in any case, I was too shabby to have gone to either.

I had little time to myself, and all I could think about was my home and my children. They were part of my work, and a big part, but they were also my holiday. Worried and troubled as I was with them, seeing that they were so delicate owing to the way Harry treated me, and the lack of proper food, I don't know what I should have done without them. Theirs were the only smiles I saw at home.

I went to the seaside the other day. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen the sea. The air was wonderful, and I felt better as soon as I began to breathe it in.

**

Since then the world has become a new place for me, and I have been living a life that I have sometimes found it difficult to believe real.

But now I know it is real, and I want once more to thank all those who have shown me sympathy, who have helped me with money or gifts or advice when I was in danger of losing my life.

Though I can never repay you all, I shall never forget any of you.

(Sunday Express, 12 August 1928, p. 12)
(For the other instalments in the series, click here.)

Monday, 5 August 2013

Today in the Pace case: 5 August 1928

Eighty-five years ago today, the fifth instalment of Beatrice Pace's 'life-story' appeared in the Sunday Express, which had bought the rights to her autobiography on the day after her acquittal for the arsenic murder of her husband, Harry Pace.

Like the previous week's instalment, this one combined elements of autobiography with something of an 'advice column'.

It was titled, 'A Talk To Those About To Marry'.

It focused a great deal on the violence in the Pace household and Beatrice's efforts to deal with it.

The Sunday Express, 5 August 1928, p. 15


Sometimes, when I would see him coming over the fields with that walk that I knew meant a thrashing for me, I would go to meet him, and tell him of something special that I had got for his supper.

It used to happen, now and again, that by doing that I escaped a beating, and it used to happen that sometimes I did not. […]

Pancakes were the great things to put him in a good temper, and whatever were my housekeeping difficulties, I nearly always contrived to have in the house materials for making them. If I felt trouble in the air (like our dog, Rover, I often sensed Harry’s moods beforehand), I would hurry to get some pancakes ready, and then run to meet Harry so soon as I saw him coming across the fields.’ […]

I have read about “strong, silent men” in stories, and how women are supposed to love them, but let me tell you that whenever I hear about that kind of man I think of Harry, and I wonder why people write such nonsense. Poor Harry was strong and silent enough, and I do not advise any women to marry such a type. […]

I have said it before, and I say it again—I loved Harry, and I would have stood by him whatever he did, and for another eighteen years, if he had lived. But I say frankly that if I had my life over again I would not marry a man of his type for all the money in the world. It was a deadening existence, one that I could not have believed possible, if I had not experienced it. […]

But this I will say—I don’t advise any girl to marry, whether she is rich or poor, until she knows—and is sure she knows—something about the bad qualities of the man who wants to be her husband.

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.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 24 June

Sunday, 24 June 1928: The World’s Pictorial News reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £1,250.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 10 June

Sunday, 10 June 1928: The Sunday News reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £950.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 8 June

Friday, 8 June 1928: The Dean Forest Guardian reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £700.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 7 June

Thursday, 7 June 1928: A. A. Purcell, M.P. for the Forest of Dean, is reported in the Daily Herald as stating he was ‘in touch with a first-class K.C.’, i.e., ‘King’s Counsel’, to plead Beatrice’s case at her trial.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 5 June

Tuesday, 5 June 1928: Beatrice Pace is moved from Cardiff Prison, where she has been held since being charged on 22 May, to Birmingham Prison.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Today in the Pace case: 4 June

Monday, 4 June 1928: The ‘committal proceedings’ at Coleford end with the magistrates sending the case on to the next Gloucestershire assizes which open within a few days. Because of the shortage of time to prepare, however, the actual hearing of the case will be delayed.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A female barrister in 1920s Britain


One of the central issues in The Most Remarkable Woman in England revolves around the perceptions of gender roles in the inter-war period.

There are many intersections between the topics of gender and murder in the 1920s (as in any other period).

I ran across one of the more striking ones today: a pair of newspaper stories in the Daily Herald on the first time a female barrister led the defence in a murder trial in Britain.  (It is also worth noting that a female barrister, Florence Earengey, participated in Beatrice Pace's defence.)


Woman Counsel Makes History 

Leads for First Time in Murder Trial. 

For the first time in the history of murder trials a woman barrister, at the Old Bailey yesterday, led for the defence of a man charged with the capital offence.

The woman to whom this distinction fell was Miss Venetia Stephenson, who has on several occasions defended prisoners at the Old Bailey.

Miss Stephenson wears horn-rimmed glasses and is petite and business-like.

A lucid speaker, she has several times been complimented by judges on her ability in conducting cases.

The case yesterday was that in which William John Holmyard, aged 24, a musician, was charged before Mr. Justice Humphreys with the murder of his grandfather.

Miss Stephenson had as her junior Dr. F. Hallis. Mr. Percival Clarke and Mr. G. B. McClure were for the prosecution.

 Mr. Clare, in opening the case, said the dead man, William Holmyard, aged 72, was a commission agent, living in Tachbrook-street, Pimlico. He was found at his house on December 7 with a fractured skull and other injuries, and he died in Westminster Hospital on December 10.

From time to time he had assisted Holmyard, who with his father lived next door. Asked to explain his movements on the day of the tragedy, Holmyard said he had been at Kennington all the time. Bloodstains were found on his coat, and he was asked how they got there.

Miss Stephenson asked that Holmyard’s answer to this question should not be disclosed to the jury, and Mr. Clarke commented contented himself with saying that Holmyard had made a statement which might be read later.
(Daily Herald, 16 January 1929)



Judge’s Compliment 

Ability of Woman Counsel in Murder Trial 

The first woman barrister to appear as leading counsel for the defence in a murder trial was complimented by Mr. Justice Humphreys at the Old Bailey yesterday on the ability she had displayed on her client’s behalf.

The barrister, Miss Venetia Stephenson, defended William John Holmyard, aged 24, a musician, charged with the murder of his grandfather, a commission agent, in Pimlico. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death.

Mr. Justice Humphreys prefaced his summing-up to the jury with a tribute to the “learned counsel for the defence.”

“This case,” he said, “has been defended with conspicuous ability. I am sure you will agree that a serious responsibility lies on her shoulders, but at least she may feel that she has discharged her duty to her client in a manner that reflects the highest possible credit upon her carefulness and her own ability.”

“It is a satisfaction to know that everything possible that could possibly be said for this young man, or done for him by advocacy, has been said and done.”
(Daily Herald, 17 January 1929)

There is, certainly, something condescending about the tone of comments directed towards Miss Stephenson; however, her efforts in this case were certainly one example of the continuing progress of women in the professions in this period.

As for Mr. Holmyard: he was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 27 February 1929.

Today in the Pace case: 1 June

Friday, 1 June 1928: The Dean Forest Guardian reports that A. A. Purcell, Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean, has started a legal defence fund to enable adequate representation of his impoverished constituent at her upcoming trial for murder.

‘The plight of Mrs. Pace and her children', Purcell is reported as saying, 'had moved him very deeply’

Friday, 31 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 31 May 1928

Thursday, 31 May 1928: The ‘committal proceedings’ at the magistrates’ court in Coleford open, presided over by five magistrates (four men and one woman).

Officially, the magistrates have to decide whether there was a prima facie case against Beatrice Pace, though this was in some sense redundant: because she was charged under a coroner’s ‘inquisition’ the case would continue to trial in any case.

However, importantly, the main evidence would be restated (under the ‘rules of evidence’ that governed trial procedure) and be written down to produce the ‘depositions’ that could be referred to at the main trial.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 23 May 1928

Wednesday, 23 May 1928: Parliament, London.

Labour MP Will Thorne raises questions to the Home Secretary about the Pace matter, suggesting that the police had used ‘third degree’ methods.

On ‘third degree’ accusations in the 1920s and 1930s, see an article I wrote in the journal Twentieth-Century British History, and another on the 'police and public' debates in the late 1920s in Crime, Histoire & Sociétés/Crime, History and Societies. (A draft version of the latter is available here.)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 22 May 1928

Tuesday, 22 May 1928: 12th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Rowland Ellis is recalled and gives brief testimony about a ‘dolly tub’ at the Pace home—one which Harry and Beatrice used to ‘dip’ lambs—that contained water with arsenic in it. Afterwards, the coroner, Maurice Carter, summarises the evidence and then sends off the jury to make their decision.

Determining that their first verdict is unsatisfactory—for complicated reasons discussed in the book—Carter sends them off again to reconsider things. (This aspect of the verdict will be the subject of much discussion in press and Parliament.) They return, declaring that they have reached their verdict: that Harry Pace had died from named Beatrice Pace. Beatrice is brought before magistrates and charged with murder.

That evening, she is taken to Cardiff prison.

There, she will await the next legal stage in the case: the committal proceedings in the magistrates’ court.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 15 May 1928

Tuesday, 15 May 1928: 11th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

After brief testimony from police superintendant J. Shelswell and a recalled Alice Sayes, the main event of this sitting is testimony by Beatrice Pace herself, who denies giving poison to her late husband. At the end of her testimony, she breaks down.

As reported by the Dean Forest Guardian: ‘the policewoman handed her some smelling salts as she began to sob and bury her face in her hands.’ (18 May 1928, p. 7) The inquest is adjourned for a week.

It is anticipated that a verdict will be reached at the next session.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 14 May 1928

Monday, 14 May 1928: 10th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Other than brief testimony from a former quarry co-worker of Harry’s, Ralph Dowle, the medical testimony continues. Ellis is recalled, and extensive evidence is given by Professor Isaac Walker Hall of Bristol University (who had analysed the organs and blood sent to him after Harry’s post-mortem) and Sir William Willcox, a renowned forensic expert and medical advisor to the Home Office.

Edward Aston, a retired insurance agent, testifies about the life insurance policy he sold to the Paces.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 10 May 1928

Thursday, 10 May 1928: 9th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Drs Du Pré and Nanda are recalled to clarify certain matters. Chief Inspector George Cornish of Scotland Yard describes his investigations and the circumstances that led to Beatrice’s 11 and 14 March statements to the detectives.

The statements themselves are given to the inquest jury to read. Rowland Ellis, the analyst for Gloucester and Gloucestershire demonstrates how the sulphur can be removed from sheep dip to produce a colourless (and largely flavourless) arsenic-rich liquid: this is important, as no sulphur but much arsenic was found in Harry’s organs and blood.

All subsequent proceedings focus on sheep dip as the likely source of the arsenic that killed Harry Pace.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 9 May 1928

Wednesday, 9 May 1928: 8th sitting of the coroner’s inquest.

Having heard a great deal of what could be called ‘circumstantial evidence’ in previous sittings, the coroner’s inquest finally turns to medical and forensic testimony. Key witnesses here are Dr William Du Pré (the Pace family’s doctor), Dr Ram Nath Nanda (who had been brought in by Harry’s kin to give a second opinion about his illness the preceding autumn), Dr Norman Mather (who had treated Harry while he had been in the Gloucester Royal Infirmary the preceding autumn), and Dr Charles Carson (who conducted the post-mortem examination of Harry Pace on 14 January).

Brief testimony is also given by Henry Smith, an expert on sheep dipping.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 3 May 1928

Thursday, 3 May 1928: 7th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Testimony is given by Alice Sayes (one of Beatrice Pace’s closest friends) and her husband Leslie. Both of them firmly deny the rumours circulating that Leslie Sayes was having an affair with Beatrice Pace (who also denied such claims).

This issue, however, was a focus of this part of the testimony. (Inquests had wide discretion and were not restrained by the rules of evidence that governed trial procedure.)

Leslie, Beatrice’s nine-year-old son, also testifies. Dorothy Pace, who had originally given testimony on 18 April, is recalled to clarify some statements she made then. Trevor Wellington, Beatrice’s solicitor, criticises the police’s treatment of Dorothy during questioning. Elizabeth Porter, Harry’s mother, is briefly recalled.