Sunday, 30 March 2014

Murder in Beccles Wartime

In 1944 a murder took place in Ellough, just outside of Beccles. Leading Aircraftman Arthur Heys of Colne, county Lancashire was executed for the murder of Winifred Mary Evans which took place at the Beccles R.A.F Base.

"Built for the USAAF and completed in 1943, Ellough airfield had three concrete runways and a perimeter track, typical of many bomber airfields in East Anglia. Until its closure in 1945, the airfield was used by various RAF and FAA squadrons. One of Ellough’s few claims to fame is that in 1944 it was used by Mosquitoes of 618 Squadron to practice dropping spinning bombs called 'Highball' which were prototypes of the bombs used by 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron to breach the dams of the Rheur." (My grandmother Freda often told me stories about the "terrible racket" caused whilst they practised).

R.A.F Control Tower at Ellough
now derelict

L.A.C Arthur Heys, aged 37, was charged with the murder at Ellough between 8 November and 9 November 1944, of Miss Winifred Mary Evans, aged 27. She was a London member of the W.A.A.F employed as a Radio Operator. Heys, who was married with three children, pleaded "not guilty" but the increasing amount of evidence, although circumstantial, was heavily stacked up against him and he was executed in March 1945 at Norwich Prison.

On the night of 8 November 1944 Winifred Evans had attended a dance given at an American aerodrome outside Norwich. She had returned by 11.30pm and changed into her work uniform to report for duty. She was last seen walking down the laneway unescorted to where her duty post was based nearly a mile away. Shortly afterwards a W.A.A.F corporal, who had said goodbye to Evans, saw Arthur Heys in a hut nearby, under the influence of drink, and saw him set out on the same road the girl [Evans] had taken.

On the morning of 9 November 1944 the body of Winifred Evans was found lying face down in a muddy ditch by local man, Wilfred Payne. Evans was found with a black tie (in a sailor's knot) around her neck and there was undenial evidence that she had been subjected to tremendous violence, including strangulation, suffocation and outrage (today, known as rape).

The Beccles police immediately called in Scotland Yard as there were too many groups of men, including Italian Prisoners of War, as well as Royal Air Force men from various countries (American, British and Australian) in the area. The list of suspects was however quickly narrowed down to one after somebody came forward with damning evidence against Arthur Heys (who was also stationed at Beccles R.A.F Base). The witness claimed he saw Heys brushing his clothing and shoes which were dirty. He also claimed Heys was attempting to light a fire against orders, as if he wanted to burn something. Heys and Evans's shoes were both covered in the exact same brick fragments and mud which corresponded to the ditch where the body was found. Also, Hey's clothing bore signs of having been recently sponged and there was a tear in his greatcoat.

At the three days hearing in March 1945 in Bury St. Edmonds, Arthur Heys was brought down further with reports of his "Jekyll and Hyde" behaviour, being a model husband and father when sober but becoming violent when under the influence of alcohol. Mounting evidence against him convinced the court to sentence Heys to execution. Nobody had been hanged at Norwich Prison since 1938. When Heys was asked why sentence of death should not be passed to him, Heys replied: "God knows I am innocent of this foul crime." As he turned to leave the courtroom he looked around the gallery at his wife, who sat in tears.

Winifred Mary Evans (known as Winnie to her friends) was born in 1917 in Willesden, county Middlesex. She was the first-born child of William Henry Evans and Eliza Winifred, nee Chilvers. William and Eliza were married at St Stephens Church in Battersea on 7 April 1912.

Marriage of William Evans & Eliza Chilvers
(click image to enlarge)

Arthur Heys was born on 1 November 1907 in Colne, county Lancashire. He was the son of Edward Heys and Mary, nee Laycock. Edward Heys was a Cotton Weaver by trade. Edward and Mary had four sons, Arthur being the youngest. Tragedy struck the Heys family for the first time in July 1913 when Edward Heys committed suicide after a twelve-month history of being "unwell" and under medical supervision for depression. Arthur would have been five years old at the time.

Arthur Heys was executed on 13 March 1945 and buried in the Norwich Prison Yard on 17 March 1945. A little over thirty years apart, father (Edward Heys) and son (Arthur Heys) both died as a result of hanging. Both were 38 years of age. It is believed that Arthur's surviving wife married twice more in her lifetime. She died in 1990, aged 79.

Further reading: RAF Beccles At War, 1943 - 1945 by Malcolm R. Holmes

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas Becclesians

I have been very neglectful of this blog and for that I am truly sorry to all four of my avid followers! It has been a very busy yet fruitful past three or four months, which has drawn to a nice, neat and tidy close and now I can finally exhale and look forward to Christmas.

I have written a novella, which has been a total of five years in the making from start to finish. The seed planted itself firmly in my head back in 2008 when I had the visualisation of a young girl moving to a new town where she meets her new neighbours, including one who has a mysterious secret. Over the course of the following two years, she discovers that the link between her neighbour and the ghost that she encounters at her mother's work-place have more in common than anyone thought possible.

This initial idea was took root when I loosely based it upon my own childhood experiences, set it in my beloved Beccles, and researched in depth the history of the Kings Head Hotel in New Market, Beccles. From there a fictional story grew and took a journey of its own and, over the course of the following five years, became my biggest writing achievement to date. 

Symphony of War is about my love of Beccles history, as well as the history of World War Two and the child evacuees, and it is a story about family and the secrets they hold. It also has a light paranormal theme attached to it, which is one of my favourite genres in fiction.

E-book cover

I have had to overcome a lot of self-inflicted stress and anxiety, and almost insurmountable self-confidence issues to get my ebook novella "out there" but now that I have taken the plunge I am immensely proud to share it with those who love Beccles as much as I do.

The year 2014 will hopefully have be back to regular blogs on this site and a new novel which is currently in its infancy but is also set in Beccles, and is centred around one of the female character's who features in Symphony of War. 

If you are interested, you can find it here: 

A very Merry Christmas to one and all, and see you in 2014 with more stories and histories of Beccles.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Knights of Beccles

The June 1992 edition of "The Waveney Life Magazine" includes a quaint little story written by local Beccles man Bob Aldous about the first car he bought in 1929. "It cost just £25," Aldous writes. "We called it 'the covered wagon' although in fact it was a 1925 Jowett 7 h.p. [horse power] car. The purchase was made from the late Mark Knights of Beccles in 1929."

1925 Jowett, owned by John Denton of Yorkshire

"I handed him [Knights] the money and asked him how to drive it! That was no problem, he said, pointing out the gears, the clutch and the brake. He bade me jump in and drive off! Well, after all, there were no such things as driving tests in those days..."
"After the first week I reckoned I was a pretty good driver. So, on the Saturday morning I drove along London Road in Beccles at a smart lick. It hadn't at that stage occurred to me that you should slow down before taking a forty-five degree turn.
My visit to the garage that morning was, to say the least, a little unorthodox. 'The covered wagon' entered through the showroom window! Neither I nor the Jowett sustained any damage, but it didn't do the window much good nor some bicycles which were on display..."

Mark Benedict Knights was born in 1895 in Beccles and was the son of Alfred James Knights and Henrietta (nee Spendlove). The Knights family lived at 16 Alexandra Road in Beccles and Alfred was a Tailor by trade. During the First World War, three of Alfred and Henrietta's sons served:
Alfred John Spencer Knights - R.F.A 2nd Air Mechanic
Ernest Knights - R.F.A Signaller
Mark Benedict Knights - R.F.C Corporal

On the 1911 census returns Mark Benedict Knights was listed as an Engineer's Apprentice. Some time after the First World War I believe he took up a business partnership with Laurence Durrant. Mark married late in life to Olive Gertrude Rayner, in 1932. They had at least four known children, three daughters and one son.

I found the following in the London Gazette, dated 2 January 1951:

NOTICE is hereby given- that the Partnership
(heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned
Laurence Arthur Durrant and Mark Benedict Knights
carrying on business as Motor and Agricultural
Engineers at Beccles under the style or firm of
DURRANT-AND KNIGHTS has been dissolved by
mutual consent as from the 1st day of January, 1951,
so far as concerns the said Laurence Arthur Durrant
who retires from the firm. All debts due to and
owing by the said late firm will be received and
paid by the said Mark Benedict Knights who will
continue to carry on the said business under the same
style or firm.—Dated this 28th day of December 1950.

It was after the dissolution of the business in 1950 that Mark Benedict Knights applied to the Beccles Town Council for development of the existing business:
(20 March 1953) Beccles & Bungay Times newspaper: SALTGATE FILLING STATION: An application by Mr M Knights of Old Market Garage for development of the Saltgate frontage with petrol pumps came before the Town Council. He agreed: 1.) To stop using the two pumps in Old Market. 2.) No adverts on Saltgate. 3.) The wings should be planted with suitable trees instead of flowers. 4.) The main wall on the west side of the building be constructed of good quality red facing bricks and carried 3 feet above the eaves of the building.

Mark Benedict Knights died at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth in 1964, aged 68.

Mark Knights business advertisement in
Beccles Official Guide, late 1950s

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Will Judge : Beccles Comedian

I'm sorry to my readers for leaving this blog for three months without typing a single word. My not-so-lame excuse is that I've been preoccupied with finishing the final edit on my first novella (which, incidentally, is set in Beccles).

Recently I acquired some 'Waveney Life' and 'The Waveney' magazines from the 1990s and amongst them are some fabulous local stories and poems to tell about Beccles and its rich variety of colourful characters of the past. One such person was comedian Will Judge.

'Waveney Life' magazine, February 1992

In the February 1992 edition of 'Waveney Life' magazine there is an article entitled "Beccles man who topped the Bill" compiled by Bob Aldous. Here follows a short extract:

"At fourteen he [Judge] was organising his own repertory company in Beccles. His stage was set up in a stable where the old Cinema building now stands in Saltgate. Will charged a penny and local folk flocked in to enjoy his shows..."

After reading this two-page article I was intrigued to know more about him, so in true genealogist style I started researching his past. Immediately I discovered that he was born Joseph James Judge, born 4 November 1883, in Beccles, son of Edgar James Judge and Jessie Elizabeth (nee Lockwood). Joseph, or Will as he later became known, had two younger brothers: Thomas Elmar Judge and Edgar Robert Gibbs Judge (who both became Tailors/Drapers, although Thomas later became a Printers Clerk).

Edgar James Judge, born in Bungay, was a Printer & Compositor by trade, quite possibly employed at Clowes Printing Works (and may have worked alongside my 2xg/grandfather who was also a Printer). In 1891 he and his wife and family were residing at Newgate Street but by the 1901 census returns they were residing at 42 Denmark Road, which remained the family home long after Edgar James Judge died in 1923.

The 1901 census states that Joseph James Judge was a Carpenter by trade which is interesting when you cross reference his career in the newspapers and find he was treading the boards across London's music halls in 1898/1899 as Will Judge, Comedian (Bob Aldous does state in his 'Waveney Life' article that "the stage was in his blood...and that he had tried to keep the family peace by training as a cabinet-maker".) By 1900 he was advertised in newspaper articles as working the Pavilion's and Palace's in Portsmouth.

The newspapers certainly paint a positive picture of Judge across time, with reviews such as:
"...whole performances arouse unrestrained laughter...'
"...Judge, comedian in humerous numbers and character studies, causing ripples of laughter..."
"...Mr Judge's forte is in character studies, and as a dame and yokel he has few superiors..."

The 1911 census return shows Judge lodging in Leiston and this was quite possibly where he met his future bride, professional singer Gertrude Hannah Orchard, as she was also lodging in Leiston in 1911. Gertrude (or Gertie as she was known in theatre circles) was a Soprano, and in 1911 was in Leiston with her younger sister Florence Orchard. The sisters were travelling from their native hometown of Blackpool to Suffolk in the hopes of finding work as singers. On 3 June 1912 Will Judge and Gertrude Orchard were married in South Shore, Blackpool.

The marriage transcript of Joseph (Will) Judge & Gertie Orchard
Will and Gertie had quite a career as a double-act, spanning the 1910s and 1920s travelling across the UK, back and forth from their home in native Beccles, entertaining in Derby, Kent, Sussex, Plymouth and Portsmouth. During the first world war Will helped entertain the forces. Will was also a keen saxophonist, liked to paint watercolours of Beccles scenes, and make scale models of sailing ships, including a local wherry.

On 8 August 1920 a son was born, Edgar Nicholas Judge and he later went on to become a Reverend in Beoley, county Worcestershire.

Gertie died in 1947 at 42 Denmark Road, in Beccles. Joseph James Judge died in 1960 "finally called to that great music hall in the sky after a life of giving joy to others" at the home of his son Edgar Nicholas Judge in Worcestershire. Edgar himself died in 1979.

'Waveney Life' magazine, February 1992

Monday, 15 July 2013

Relics of Beccles on Twitter

For anybody who was following me on Twitter, I do apologise but I have recently de-activated the account because I had run out of things to say that could only be said in less than 140 characters. There is such a wealth of Beccles history that I could write about but it would take more than Twitter to do it any justice. Therefore, I have decided to stick with the 'Relics of Beccles' blog.

Sincere thanks for all your support. It has been, and still is, very much appreciated.

Debra from Relics of Beccles

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Suspected Murder at the Ship of Sarah Ann Flowers : Part Two

On 12 October 1880 Sarah Ann Flowers, wife of James Nelson Flowers, publican of the Ship Inn in Bridge Street was found dead. This blog post - part two - covers the surgeon and coroners findings, from the inquest at Beccles and the following trial at the Suffolk and Norfolk Assizes in Norwich. The London Daily News of Saturday 16 October 1880 reported:

The coroner's jury at Beccles last night returned a verdict of 'Wilful murder' against James Flowers, publican, of Beccles, whose wife was found dead in the tap-room. The medical evidence showed that many of the woman's ribs were broken, probably by some person kneeling on her chest. The deceased was addicted to drink.

Ship Inn, 1912

Mr Edward Bowles Crowfoot, surgeon, said he made an external examination of the body of the deceased (Sarah Ann Flowers) and also performed a post mortem examination. He found bruises on the arm, thigh, and face. On post mortem examination he found ten ribs had been broken on her left side, the fracture being continued in four of the lower ones. On the right side eight of the lower ribs were fractured, and he attributed these injuries to compression in the chest, perhaps by kneeling. Crowfoot attributed the cause of death to shock, consequent of the serious injury to the ribs, which could not have been merely from a fall. The anemic condition of the brain, the pale and healthy appearance of the lungs, and the emptiness of the right side of the heart, all pointed to sudden death. Death probably ensued very quickly after such injuries, especially considering the condition of the brain, and the commencing fatty change of the heart. Mr William Taylor McComb, assistant to Messrs Crowfoot, corroborated.

At the magesterial inquiry Mr EB Crowfoot repeated the evidence he had given before the Coroner at Bccles, detailing the results of the external and post mortem examination he had made. He found the heart presented signs of fatty degeneration; the lungs were healthy; the liver was softer and more friable than it is in a state of health; the stomach, spleen and right kidney were healthy, but the left kidney was undergoing fatty degeneration. He found about 3ozs. of serous fluid in the arachnoid cavity of the brain, and the cortical surface of both hemispheres were covered with a layer of coagulated lymph. He was of the opinion that death was caused from shock consequent to the injuries to the ribs.

In cross examination Crowfoot said he noticed no disarrangement of the clothes nor any appearance of a struggle. The fatty degeneration of the heart might have caused death, and it was very likely that the serous fluid on the brain might cause death, coupled with a fall. Deceased was a person perculiarly liable, from the condition of the brain, to a fit of serous apoplexy. All the injuries might have been caused by a fall, except the fractured ribs and the position in which the deceased lay when he saw her was quite consistent with the theory that she fell from a chair in a fit.

It was proved that Sarah Ann Flowers was drunk shortly before she was found by Hannah Willingham (housekeeper to Alfred Francis, a neighbour) and that she (Flowers) was in the habit of getting drunk, and it was sought to be shown in defence that she fell down the step from the bar to the cellar, and so received the injuries to her ribs. While the medical man (Crowfoot) could not say this might not have been so, he was of the opinion that the injuries were the result of greater violence than a mere fall. Willingham believed that Sarah Ann Flowers died shortly after she put her on the chair, she having seen her head thrown back and her eyes and mouth wide open. There was no proof that the prisoner (James Nelson Flowers) had ever struck his wife, while his closing the house so early was explained as the result of his desire to prevent his wife being seen in a state of drunkeness. For a more detailed account of this trial I would strongly recommend to anybody interested, that you read the lengthy article (which spreads across two pages) in the Ipswich Journal of 13 November 1880, found at The British Newspaper Archive online. It makes for very compelling reading.

The jury, after an absence from Court for five minutes, returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY, and the prisoner was discharged.

On 25 January 1881 the East Suffolk Gazette reported that the licence of the Ship Inn was transferred from James Flowers to William Bell. The census return of that same year shows James Flowers was a boarder (at his brother George's) in Swines Green, Beccles and he was a hay dealer by trade. James Flowers died in 1888, aged 60.

Ship Inn, 2012
Today its a Holiday Cottage

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Suspected Murder at the Ship of Sarah Ann Flowers : Part One

On Tuesday 12 October 1880, Sarah Ann Flowers was found dead on the floor of the tap-room at the Ship Inn, in Bridge Street. Her husband, James Nelson Flowers, was charged with her murder and sent to trial in Norwich the following month, where he was found not guilty.

I have extensive notes on the inquest at Beccles in October 1880, held before C.W. Chaston, Esq., County Coroner, the Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief-Constable and Mr E.B Crowfoot, surgeon and the Magisterial Inquiry before R Dashwood, Esq. (Chairman), WE Crowfoot, Esq., and the Mayor. Mr F.J Dowsett appeared for the prisoner. I will dedicate the next blog post to the Coroner's findings.

Alfred Francis, engine driver, in Samuel Darby's employ, who lived next door to the Ship Inn told the court that he called on James Flowers every morning at six o'clock. On Wednesday 13 October Flowers was up when Francis went by, and called him in, and said, "There's a rather bad job happened here; the poor old girl lay here dead". Francis then went into the tap-room and saw the deceased (Sarah Ann) lying on the floor with her head nearly on the threshold of the cellar door, and her feet towards the window of the tap-room. Francis could not stop to make a close examination but sent his children for a doctor and a policeman. Francis was unable to say whether Flowers and his wife lived comfortably together, but he had seen the deceased the worse for drink many times. Later Francis told the magistrates court that he had occasionally heard deceased and the prisoner (James Flowers) quarelling but he never saw any blows struck.

Alice Francis, aged 11, (daughter of Alfred Francis) said she went to the prisoner's house on Tuesday evening, about five minutes past five, when she saw the deceased lying in the cellar. She was frightened and went and told Hannah Willingham (boarder of the Francis family). Willingham told the court that she found deceased lying on her face in the cellar, she picked her up and sat her in the chair in the bar. When she was sat up in the chair her head fell back and her mouth and eyes were wide open. At the magisterial inquiry, Willingham said the deceased was helplessly drunk, but she managed to walk with her support and totter over the threshold separating the cellar from the bar and set her on a chair. Afterwards they (Hannah Willingham and Alice Francis) went for Mrs Beane (Harriet Beane, charwoman to the deceased for eleven years) because they thought Mrs Flowers was dying but when they got back to the Ship Inn they found the house closed. On tapping at the window, James Flowers opened his bedroom window and said that Mrs Flowers was in bed.

More on the inquiry and surgeon's evidence will be in part two. I did some background research on Sarah Ann and James Flowers to get a feel for who they were before this shocking incident occured that fateful October night.

It took me longer to find out about Sarah Ann because, as it turned out when she married James Flowers she was a widow. I discovered this when I found their marriage entry in the Beccles St Michael's Church parish registers.

Sarah Ann Barrett was christened at St Nicholas Church in Great Yarmouth on 14 May 1814, the daughter of Samuel Barrett and Sarah, late Archer [source:]. Sarah Ann married Benjamin Youell from Beccles on 29 March 1832 at St Nicholas Church. Benjamin was a waterman by trade, residing in Ravensmere. He and Sarah Ann lived in Ravensmere up until his death in 1855. On 18 July 1858 Sarah Ann Youell (widow) married James Nelson Flowers (batchelor) at St Michael's Church.

James Nelson Flowers was baptised on 12 November 1827 at St Michael's Church, Beccles, the son of Richard Flowers and Sarah Susannah, late Algar. This last piece of information piqued my curiousity as I have Algar - from Barnby and Beccles - in my family tree. My 5xg/grandmother was Sarah Algar (not the same Sarah but possibly related, I would need to research the Algar family tree much further). Richard Flowers was from Worlingham, and he was married previously to Eleanor Warnes.

More next time...