Murder at Chirk (1855)

In 1854, Margaret Davies, an unmarried 22 year old, was an inmate at the Corwen workhouse. On the 15th December 1854, whilst she was still a resident at the workhouse, Margaret Davies gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Margaret Davies wanted to call the baby Joan, but when the baby was christened in the Parish Church it was christened as Jane Davies, as the clergyman felt that Joan was a man’s name.

On Thursday 8th March 1855, Margaret Davies decided to leave the Corwen Workhouse with her daughter. Prior to them leaving the workhouse, another inmate, Catherine Williams helped Margaret Davies prepare for the move. As Jane was short of clothes, Catherine Williams helped dress her by providing a wrapper, a pair of her own baby’s worsted boots, and a shawl. She also gave Margaret some meat to feed Jane.

Between Thursday 8th March 1855 and 11am on Saturday 10th March 1855, Margaret Davies and Jane Davies stayed at the home of Tamar Roberts, her half-sister. Whilst she was staying with her, Margaret Davies cared for her daughter, but she said that she would be allowing Ann Edwards, the wife of her half-brother Issac Edwards, to nurse Jane, so that she would be able to go into service to work.

Margaret Davies, after leaving her half-sister’s home, at 11am on Saturday 10th March 1855 made her way to Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog with Jane.

At 7pm that day, Margaret Davies arrived in Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog without her daughter Jane. Margaret spoke to Mary Jones, a resident of the village. Margaret’s feet and legs were wet and cold, which she thought was due to it being a wet snowy day. Mary gave Margaret some food and half a pint of ale. Mary asked about her baby as she was aware that she had been pregnant before she had left the village. Margaret told her that her baby had died in the Corwen Workhouse, and that the baby had been buried there. Completely unaware that this was a lie, Margaret remarked that she was lucky as she would now be able to go into service and work. Margaret replied, “Yes, I am lucky”. After an hour, Margaret left Mary’s home and went to her mother’s home, that was also in Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog.

It would appear that Margaret Davies moved into her mother’s house in Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog. In the proceeding weeks she told various people about the tragic death of her young daughter Jane at the Corwen Workhouse.

It is unclear how the death of Jane Davies came to arouse the suspicions of the police, but it did, and subsequently the police decided to ask Margaret Davies some questions about the death. Margaret Davies repeated to the police her story that her daughter had died in the workhouse.

The involvement of the police must have deeply concerned Margaret Davies. On the 30th March she was seen by Elizabeth Cartwright near to the canal. She spoke to Elizabeth Cartwright about the clearness of the water in the canal, and the possibility of seeing items at the bottom of it.

By Sunday 1st April 1855, the police investigation had discovered that Margaret Davies’s story about the death of her daughter Jane in the Corwen Workhouse was a lie, and she was taken into custody.

Police Inspector Pattison challenged her story, and he told her that he knew that when she left the Corwen Workhouse she did so with her daughter Jane, and at that time, Jane was alive and well. After some hesitation, Margaret Davies confessed, “it is no use telling any more lies about it; I drowned it in the tunnel by the Tycoch station, and there you’ll find it”. The police searched the Shropshire Union Canal, but Jane’s body was not found.

On Monday 2nd April 1855, Margaret Davies appeared in the Llangollen Court charged with the murder of her daughter. During the hearing she was remanded in custody until Saturday 7th April, whilst the search for Jane’s body continued.

On Thursday 5th April, whilst on remand, Police Constable R. Roberts from Rhosymedre was left in charge of Margaret Davies at the Llangollen Police Station. Margaret started a conversation with him. She told him of how she had left the Corwen Workhouse, and how she had left Llangollen along the turnpike road towards the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. On reaching the aqueduct she went onto the canal footpath towards the swing bridge. She said that she was expecting to meet a boat there to take her to New Marton Locks near Whittington, Shropshire.

Although she dis not say why she wanted to go to New Marton Locks, it is possible that she intended to go to the home of Issac Edwards, her half-brother, and his wife Ann, who lived in New Marton, and who Margaret had previously suggested would look after Jane for her.

At this point PC Roberts reminded Margaret that she did not have to confess anything. Nevertheless, Margaret continued with her story.

Margaret told PC Roberts that when she got to the canal, the canal boat that she was expecting was not there, so she walked on to the Tycoch station. By this time, Jane had wet herself. She went over a style to head towards Brynrhos to change Jane’s clothes, but she turned back as she believed that someone had called her name.

Margaret Davies went to the mouth of the canal tunnel and took the shawl off Jane. She held Jane’s feet and placed her head in the canal water and then swung her backwards and forwards. She then pushed Jane into the water and ran off towards Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog.

Margaret Davies asked PC Roberts not to tell Inspector Pattison what she had told him because otherwise they would either send her to prison or transport her. She told PC Roberts that she had heard that two or three women had done away with their children and that they had only received 6 to 12 month imprisonment, and that one woman had got away with it.

On Saturday 7th April 1855 the grim discovery of Jane’s body was made in the canal. John Jones, a boat builder, was in his cottage that was described as being beside the canal bank in Black Park, when he heard a boat-boy who was steering an empty boat on the canal shout that he had found a body. He went outside and saw that Jane’s body was hooked by it’s clothes to the back of the boat. John Jones untangled and retrieved Jane’s body from the boat.

Later that day, Margaret Davies again appeared before the court. It was remarked upon that she did not appear to fully comprehend what was happening to her during the proceedings. The Magistrates remanded her to appear before the next Assizes Court, charged with the murder of her baby, Jane Davies. As she was led from the dock Margaret asked whether they were going to hang her.

Subsequently, an inquest into the death of Jane Davies was conducted by Mr Thelwell, the Coroner, in the Cambrian Inn, Llangollen. The Coroner’s Court heard the evidence that had been previously been given to the Magistrate’s Court, and additionally, the evidence from the post mortem. The post mortem had been completed by Mr John Jones. He concluded that Jane Davies had been a healthy baby and that she had died from drowning. After deliberating for an hour, the Jury in the Coroner’s Court, despite the damning evidence, was not unanimous in their verdict. Only 15 out of the 17 Jurors agreed on the verdict that Jane Davies had been unlawfully murdered.  However, this was sufficient to seal Margaret Davies’s fate.

On Monday 30th July 1855, Margaret Davies appeared before the Ruthin Assizes. The court duly heard all of the evidence of the various witnesses. The Jury found Margaret Davies guilty of murder, but with a strong recommendation  for mercy. The Judge donned his black cap and sentenced her to death by hanging from the neck. He remarked that he would forward the recommendation for mercy. It was reported that Margaret Davies showed no emotion as she was sentenced.

Margaret Davies was imprisoned at the Ruthin Prison, Soon after the death sentence had been passed on her, the Governor of Ruthin Prison, Mr Evans, received a respite of the death sentence from the Secretary of State, dated 4th August 1855.

After reviewing the facts of the case, and the recommendation of mercy given by the Jury, Margaret Davies’s death sentence was commuted to transportation for life.

However, in Margaret Davies’s case, being transported for life did not save her life. In April 1856, whilst imprisoned in the Millbank Prison, London, awaiting transportation, she died. A Coroner’s inquest into her death, held on the 11th April 1856, held by Mr Bedford, the Coroner for Westminster, revealed that on her arrival at the Millbank Prison, she had been suffering from tubercular disease, and she was immediately placed in the prison’s infirmary. Despite receiving medical attention the disease was fatal. He returned a verdict that she had died a natural deaths from tubercular disease.

Source: Written and researched by Wayne Cronin-Wojdat, B.A (Hons.), MSc – Historical Gems.

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