A memorial plaque to Mary Hall is in St. Mary's Church in Breamore, a woman who was murdered in 1862 in a case which shocked Victorian England.
To be read in conjunction with this article on St. Mary's Church, Breamore >>
This is a transcript of a newspaper article about the murder case for any one who may be interested in reading more about it when they visit the church. It may be upsetting for some people to read.
(From The Times, July 19th 1862)
THE MURDER OF MISS HALL AT FORDINGBRIDGE
At the Winchester Assizes, yesterday, before Mr. Justice Keating, George Jacobs Gilbert was indicted for the willful murder of Mary Ann Susan Hall, at Fordingbridge, on the 22nd of June last. The court was crowded to excess.
The prisoner, in a low tone pleaded "Not guilty." Mr. Prideaux and Mr. H T Cole conducted the case for the prosecution, Mr. M Bere, at the request of the learned Judge, defended the prisoner.
Mr. Prideaux opened the case on the part of the prosecution. The young lady whose violent and melancholy death was the subject of this inquiry was named Mary Ann Susan Hall, and was the only child of a farmer, residing upon a farm, called Midgham Farm, in the parish of Fordingbridge the distance from Midgham Farm to Fordingbridge church was about a mile.
There was a public footpath leading through Midgham Moor. At the end of that moor was a stile, and then a lane called Holmes's-lane, which was bounded on one side by the moor and on the other side by a field called Harding's or Pinhorn's. In Harding's field there were two cows, Holme's-lane had a high bank and hedge on each side; it was a very wet lane, having water running through it. The path went on to Fordingbridge church.
On the morning of Sunday, the 22nd of June, about ten o clock, this young lady left her father's house for the purpose of going to Fordingbridge church. She had on a bonnet, with green flowers. She had in her hand a parasol. She had a cloak or mantle with some tassels; and she had with her two books which she was in the habit of taking to church, which she carried in her pocket.
Mr. Hall's dairymaid would prove that it was about ten o clock when this young lady left her father's house. He should call a little boy who sat in the same pew in which Miss Hall was in the habit of sitting, and he would tell them that Miss Hall was not at church that morning.
He would call a witness, named Hicklin, who would say that about a quarter-past ten that morning he had occasion to go by Harding's Field, where the cows were, and he observed the cows running about in a state of great excitement and disturbance, but he did not look in the lane.
Between two stiles there were several marks of footsteps, as if there had been trampling about, and on the following day a piece of the green ornament of Miss Hall's bonnet was picked up there. There were marks on the bank of the lane, showing that struggling had been going on in the lane. About half way up the lane a tassel was found in the branches-one of the tassel of the young lady's mantle.
Up at the end of the lane, covered with mud, with mud in her throat and mouth, with her dress much disordered, her pocket torn out, with several marks of violence on her throat, this young lady was found dead. There could not be a doubt that she had been murdered there, and after a violent struggle, resisting the attacks which had been made upon her - and it was by the sacrifice of her life that she had preserved her honour. But there was a gleam of light amid the shades and the darkness of this most melancholy and painful transaction. It would be some comfort to them, and a great comfort to her sorrowing father and her friends, to feel that, although this young lady was compelled to struggle to the death, yet she had struggled with success, and had passed through nature to eternity as unsullied in her person as she was pure in the beauty of her mind.
That she was murdered after a great struggle there could be no doubt. Then the painful duty the jury had to perform was this - who was the man who committed the murder? He would briefly point out to them the material facts upon which the prosecution relied. On two different Sundays, "five weeks and three weeks before the 22nd of June, the prisoner was walking with a young man named Turner, when they saw Miss Hall pass on her way to church, the prisoner, upon seeing Miss Hall, made use of some indecent expressions showing a desire to have improper intercourse with her. Turner asked him why he should like to go with her more than any other girl. The prisoner replied he did not know there was much difference, but there was a little more fancy.
A witness named Haskell would tell them that on the morning of the murder, about seven o'clock, he had occasion to pass through Harding's field, when he observed the cows, which w ere perfectly calm, and there was nothing that attracted his attention , but on again, being there about half past ten he observed footsteps by the lane, apparently of trampling, and that so far attracted his attention that he went four yards up the lane, but was then stopped by the depth of water in the lane; he saw a pressure on the bank, and it was 'evident that somebody had gone up the lane. He then went into a field called Lopez; he went along the footpath, and saw the prisoner coming up through Harding's Field, some little distance off off.
They got within twenty yards of each other; the prisoner had on a dark smock frock. The trousers of the prisoner were wet up to the knees. Hi« boots were unlaced. The cows appeared to be disturbed, and they were looking into the hedge, next to which the body was found.
Haskell went on towards Fordingbridge church. He observed that the prisoner followed him until he came to the stile. He then got behind a tree as if watching him. The next witness would be a man named Gosney, a shepherd, who had occasion on that morning to go to look after his sheep. He went into a field called Amberland, in which the sheep were. He saw the prisoner sitting in a dry ditch in which there was neither water nor mud. It was perfectly dry, and had been so for some days. The prisoner was sitting in that dry ditch, apparently rubbing down his trousers, and as Gosney approached him he took up something and he then walked on in the direction in which he lived.
The next witness would be Mrs. Philpotts, the wife of the half-brother of the prisoner, who would tell them that he breakfasted with the family that morning ; he went out at half-past nine; he had on a white shirt which she had washed for him; it was then without a tear. He came back again a little before one o'clock. Her little boy said he bad seen his uncle George hang out his stockings in the hedge, and he put his hands on the prisoner's trousers, and said, "Lord, Uncle George, how wet your trousers are!" The prisoner made no reply.
He thon sat down and went to dinner with the family. After dinner the prisoner said he wished to change his shirt, which was a white one, Mrs. Philpotts told him where to find another shirt, and he went up and changed it. The white shirt was torn as if in a struggle, and the sleeves were wet.
He should then prove by the dairymaid that at twelve o'clock that day she went to a christening at the church. She saw nothing to attract her attention in Harding's field. She returned about one o'clock to dinner. Miss Hall was not there, but the family thought nothing of her absence, as she sometimes went to her cousin's. At three o'clock, the dairymaid left her master's for the purpose of going to church. She saw the prisoner going towards Midgham-moors. Mrs. Philpotts went out with, her little boy about half-past three o'clock for a walk. She had not gone far when she saw the prisoner coming in the direction of her house; he had a parasol in his hand. She said, "Wherever, George, did you get that parasol?" The prisoner replied that he found it in Harding's field, flying about, and the cows making a great noise. He then asked her if her husband was at home. She said he was, and asked what he wanted with him. The prisoner replied that he had found a woman dead down in the ditch, smothered in mud.
The prisoner had given three accounts of finding the parasol; one was that he had found it flying about in Harding's field; another that he found it within l8 yards of the murdered woman, and that it was in Coomb's field. It was impossible, owing to the thickness of the hedge, to see the dead body of the woman unless a person went close up to the hedge. He should call several witnesses who were present with him when the body was removed.
The prisoner did not assist in the removal, nor did he go into the lane. Other persons went into the lane and took up the body, and had the melancholy duty of taking it to Midgham Farm, and disclosing to the young lady's father the distressing event that had occurred. It must have been shortly before half-past three that he said he saw the parasol flying about; whereas, the dairymaid who had passed shortly before that saw no parasol, and the cows were quiet.
When the prisoner was taken into custody two policemen were present; the prisoner was cautioned in the usual manner, but he said and persisted in it that he was at home all day until one o'clock, and that he had had a nap in the garden. He was out during the whole time; he denied that the white shirt was his, and said that he had on a coloured shirt, and that he had changed it before breakfast. He should prove that he had one white shirt, which he changed after dinner. There was another strong circumstance, some spots of blood were seen upon his waistcoat, which were evidently fresh. His account was that his nose had bled a fortnight before.
One of the policemen told him that it was important for him to prove where he was on Sunday morning. The prisoner, after a short consideration, sent for Gosney, and asked him what time it was when he saw him in the ditch; Gosney said about a quarter-past eleven, and the prisoner said "That's- right." His boots had apparently been washed, but there were pieces of mud adhering to them. In the dry ditch three pieces of grass were found as if torn up, they were wet and dirty, and smelt like the mud in the lane.
There were some other statements which, the prisoner made to the constables. He stated to Roddoway, "I have been in pretty near as bad a mess as this; do you think it will be a hanging touch?" The constable said, "I do not know, it makes me feel ill to think of." The prisoner said, "So it do me. I should be glad to get rid of it. This will be the last time you will have to take me up."
There was another remarkable fact; a person named Jefferys, who was the sexton of the church, would tell them that they were working together on the Saturday. The prisoner was working in his shirt-sleeves, and he had on a white shirt; that was tolerably clean, and was not at all torn. Jefferys took particular notice of his boots; they had nails all round them, and he thought they corresponded with some footmarks which were very near the lane.
He believed he had now stated the leading facts of the case. It was peculiarly a case of circumstantial evidence. The facts were themselves very slight, but it would he for the jury to say whether these were reasonably consistent with the innocence of the prisoner. If they were, let them by all means acquit him, but if they brought home a conviction to their minds that the prisoner was guilty, he was sure they would not hesitate to do their duty by convicting him.
Proof was then led at considerable length, which fully bore out the opening statement of the learned counsel for the prosecution, and established the guilt of the prisoner, by a chain of the clearest circumstantial evidence.
Mr. M. Bere then addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and concluded an eloquent and ingenious defence by saying he did not believe that a villain existed under God's heaven who would commit such a monstrous crime without a motive, and he confidently contended that no motive had been proved.
Mr. Justice Keating then summed up. They would look to the evidence and the evidence alone. It was a case of circumstantial evidence, which required to be carefully anti vigilantly watched. No human eye looked upon the deed except the murderer and his victim. It was not for the prisoner to show who committed the murder if he did not, but it was for the prosecution to make it out to their satisfaction. If they allowed the considerations of the consequences of their verdict which had been urged upon them by the learned counsel who had so ably addressed them to influence that verdict, then they would fail to discharge their duty.
The learned Judge then went through all the evidence. When a prisoner was in custody on a charge it was better that the police should abstain from putting questions, although accompanied by a caution but if a prisoner made a statement voluntarily it was the duty of the police to take it. The magistrates' clerk had gone beyond his duty in putting questions to the prisoner. The jury would give their verdict upon the evidence - on the one hand, discarding from their minds any rumours they might have heard before they came into that box, and disregarding any suggestion of consequences on the other hand.
The jury retired for about twenty-five minutes and then returned a verdict of guilty.
His Lordship then addressed the prisoner: After a long, a patient, and fair trial, the jury have found you guilty of murder - murder, under circumstances of aggravation which present a case almost without parallel in the history of crime. That unfortunate young lady, upon whom you cast a lustful eye, you attempted to dishonour; but you experienced a degree of resistance which led to her cruel death. I do not advert to these circumstances for the purpose of aggravating the horror of the position in which you stand, but I advert to them for the purpose of endeavouring to induce you to forego the hope of any mercy here, and to look for it here-after. Time will be given you - that time which you did not give to your victim, for you hurried her to her great account at a moment's notice. The law will be more merciful to you. You will have sometime to think of your past course in this world, and endeavour to prepare yourself for that which is to come. His lordship then passed upon the prisoner the awful sentence of death, and the prisoner was then removed from the bar.
THE PRISONER'S CONFESSION
Bell's Weekly Messenger of the 20th, says: "The wretched man Gilbert, who was convicted at Winchester last week of the willful murder of Miss Hall, has made a full confession of his guilt. He says he lay in wait for her, and when she came near the ditch, he pounced upon her and throttled, but did not kill her. He next tied her hands behind her, used her very brutally, and left her then alive, but shortly returned and dragged her up the ditch, and then left her dead. It may be mentioned, however, that when the body was found the hands were not tied."
He was executed on the 4th August 1862.