The scrumper who killed

As some of you may be aware, my mother died when I was a baby. Ten years later my dad remarried and I have step-siblings. A couple of years ago I gave my youngest step-brother his dad’s family tree as a present.

He became interested and asked me if I could do anything about his mother’s line. I collected what information he had and made a start. I traced her mother’s Crowther family into Droitwich in Worcestershire. So you can imagine my delight in thinking that I had found this great grand uncle, Samuel Crowther, in my wicked stepmother’s closet.

In the early hours of 1st August 1888, John Willis, a gardener from Dudderhill, Droitwich, discovered Samuel Crowther, a lame shoemaker, stealing from his garden. Samuel immediately attacked John, stabbing him 3 times in the chest with his shoemaker’s knife. John managed to return to his house, where he called to his wife, “Come down Bessie, that old Sam Crowther has killed me”.

Shortly afterwards he died.

The police were called, and when Crowther was apprehended, blood was discovered on one of the fingers of his right hand. He was taken before the Droitwich magistrates and remanded until his trial at Worcester the following November, when he was found guilty of the wilful murder of John Willis and sentenced to death.

During his imprisonment he was indifferent to his fate, until his last moments when he confessed his guilt to the prison chaplain.

Samuel Crowther was hanged at Worcester prison on 11th December 1888. At 71 years old, he was the oldest recorded person to have been hung in this country.

Somehow I was still having problems with this family and had to take a closer look. It was then that I found that I had been guilty of a common error in genealogical research and had mixed him up with another Samuel Crowther, born in the same area at about the same time.

However, I was still fascinated by this old man, so followed his progress through the censuses.

In 1841 he was living in Barton Regis in Gloucestershire. He was described as a 20 year old cordwainer who was born in the county. The 1841 census does not record relationships, however he was living with a Crowther Family – 40 year old Amos (also a cordwainer), 45 year old Ann, together with Amos, 10 and Elizabeth, 8.

By 1851 he had moved to West Worcester and was employed as a shoemaker at Worcester Union Workhouse. He was 30 years old, unmarried and gave his place of birth as Droitwich, Worcestershire.

In 1861, now aged 41 and still unmarried, he had by this time moved to Hill End, Dodderhill, which is part of Droitwich, and once again described himself as a cordwainer. He remained here for at least the next 20 years, if not for the rest of his life. In 1865 there was a dramatic change in his life as he married Sarah Davis in the Autumn, and according to the 1871 census, she would have been 23, while Samuel was 48. In the Summer of 1870 their baby son William was born, and 2 years later their daughter Mary.

Sarah died in the last quarter of 1880, and on the subsequent 1881 census, Samuel was still living at Hill End with his son and daughter, described as a widowed shoemaker.

I can’t help wondering about this old man. Was he always a curmudgeon?

His single state for most of his life may indicate so, or had the death of his wife, coupled with the onset of old age and its attendant frailties, caused him to act the way he did?

Oh, and another thing, what about his lameness? Had that been from an early age, and what could it have been that he, a boot and shoe maker could not correct?

And why, for goodness sake, did he need to go scrumping at his age?

Grampa Jim

© Grampa Jim 2008