April fool’s Day 1893 would be remembered by the residents of Gresford for the horrific incident that took place at Hollyfield on that day.
Nellie Norris Whittle was a 29 year old married woman who had children with her husband, Humphrey Norris Whittle. They resided in Chorley, Lancashire, and it would appear that they had a comfortable lifestyle, as Humphrey titled himself as a Gentleman, was a coal proprietor, and a respected Chorley Town Councillor. However, their relationship appears to have been unhappy, as in February 1893 they separated. Nellie left her family home, her husband and her children and moved to Hollyfield, Gresford, with a companion, Ms. Prudence Taylor. At that time Hollyfield was a house on the brow of Marford Hill.
Somehow involved with Nellie Norris Whittle was George Shellard. George Shellard was a 42 year old married man who had his own family. The exact relationship between Nellie Norris Whittle and George Shellard has never been made totally clear. It was said that George Shellard had been involved with Nellie Norris Whittle’s mother in connection with horses, either as a coachman, or a person who had taken charge of one of her ponies However, other information suggested that George Shellard was emotionally infatuated with Nellie Norris Whittle, or that they were having an affair. Clearly, this was the opinion of Humphrey Norris Whittle who on the 26th April 1893 travelled to Holyfield to challenge his wife about acting inappropriately with George Shellard, which she vigorously denied.
In the day’s leading up to Monday 1st April 1893, April fool’s day, it was suggested that George Shellard appeared to be depressed. On the morning of Monday 1st April 1893 Shellard took the unusual step of visiting his daughter at her employers in Chorley, and on bidding her farewell presented her with a Sovereign coin. He then visited Mr Hall, a Chorley ironmonger who George Shellard seemed to be well acquainted. Shellard looked at a revolver at Hall’s ironmongers. Shellard told Hall that he wanted to show the revolver to a friend, and if the friend liked the revolver he would return with the money. Hall lent the revolver to Shellard along with six cartridges. Shellard then made his way to Gresford.
Later during that day, George Shellard, Nellie Norris Whittle and Prudence Taylor visited John Davies in Tynycoed to search for a horse. On returning to Hollyfield Shellard was invited into the house to wash.
Two shots rang out throughout the house. After the second shot Nellie shouted Prudence her companion. Prudence found both George and Nellie in a bedroom. Despite being shot twice in the neck Nellie was crying out for her husband and children. Shellard went towards her, drew a razor and slit Nellie’s throat.
George said to Prudence, “I will see her die first and then I will shoot myself”. I then threatened Prudence by putting the revolver to her face and threatened her that if she raised an alarm he would also shoot her. He then ordered her to pull down the bedroom blinds. George then said, “As soon as every breath has gone I will shoot myself”. He then uttered a prayer, “God receive her soul and mine”. George put the revolver to his mouth and shot himself; he staggered and fell to the floor.
Prudence raced out of the house and found the local painter, Davies. In turn the village policeman, Police Constable Thomas Jones was called found.
When they returned to the house, Police Constable Jones initially thought that George Shellard had escaped. However, he found that instead George had taken off his coat, waistcoat, trousers and boots and was lying in bed next to Nellie. George’s arms were still waving about, so Police Constable Jones, fearing that George may still be armed with the revolver took hold of George’s arms and secured them. At that time it was initially thought that George might survive and the local doctor, Dr. Manisty, was asked to attend. However, George soon died from his injuries.
The following day a Coroners Court was convened in The Plough, Gresford. As part of the deliberations of the case, as was often usual at that time, the Court visited Hollyfield, and additionally saw the two bodies that were still lying there. The Coroners court heard the evidence in the case including the contents of various letter found on the body of George Shellard and around the house. One of these letters appeared to be a suicide note written by George Shellard that suggested that they had decided to die together, and that she had agreed that they should both be buried together at her expense. In the same letter he complained that Nellie had deceived him and that she owed him money that would be due to his surviving family. The contents of the letters were inconclusive of George’s true motivation for carrying out this brutal crime.
The Coroners court concluded that Nellie Norris Whittle had been unlawfully murdered by George Shellard. After adjourning until the proceeding Saturday to hear further evidence, the Coroners court gave the verdict for George’s death in Latin, as “felo de se”, or felon of himself. Felo de se is a now archaic legal term for suicide. It harks back to the days when anyone who either committed, or attempted to commit suicide committed a criminal offence.
Source: Written and researched by Wayne Cronin-Wojdat, B.A (Hons.), MSc – Historical Gems.