The Trial of Widow Waltho



In 1905, wild rumours began to circulate in Llangollen, after Police Sergeant Wyse discovered the decomposed body of a baby in a trunk at 1 Oak Street on the evening of Monday, 21st May 1905. The baby’s mother was a widow, Sarah Waltho.  Before telling the story, I’d like to give you some background details of the Waltho family.

The 1841 census showed 40-year-old Thomas Waltho and his 40-year-old wife, Mary to be living at Bargate St,  Brewood, Staffordshire, 8 miles north of Wolverhampton.  Thomas was a sawyer.  Their children at that time were 15-year-old John Waltho; 7-year-old Charles Waltho; 5-year-old Edwin Waltho; 2-year-old Rubin (Reuben) Waltho and 10-months-old Leonard Waltho.  Also present were 40-year-old Phoebe Peurchose and 20-year-old Henry Willets, who was a locksmith.

In 1851 the Waltho family was still residing at Bargate Street, Brewood, Staffordshire.  51-year-old Thomas was by then a master sawyer.  Mary was 51-years-old.  19-year-old Charles was a sawyer journeyman; Reuben was 14-years-old; Edwin was 12-years-old and Leonard was 10-years-old.

Reuben Waltho plays a big part in this story, although he died without ever being aware of what was going on under his roof.

In 1861, aged 23, Reuben was a foot soldier in Foot Regiment 29, North Camp, at Farnborough in Hampshire.  On 23rd March 1863 he married Jane Duncan Davidson at Ayr, Scotland.

Reuben and Jane registered the birth of their son, Thomas Andrew Waltho at the end of 1866 in the District of Medway, Kent.

In 1871, 34-year-old Colour Sergeant Reuben Waltho and his 26-year-old wife, Jane, were living at Cambridge Barracks, Portsea, Portsmouth, with their 4-year-old son, Thomas Andrew Waltho.

Jane Waltho gave birth to their second son, Leonard John Waltho, on 5th June 1874 at Templemore, Tipperary, Ireland.

40-year-old Sergeant Instructor Reuben Waltho (Regimental Number 55) of the 29th Foot Regiment was examined at the Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Admission Ward on 23rd October 1877 and discharged on 25th October.

Four years later, in 1881, 42-year-old Reuben and his Scottish-born wife, 35-year-old Jane D. Waltho, were living at 15 Berwyn Street, Llangollen.  Reuben was a Sergeant Instructor of Volunteers (Pensioner).  Living with them were their sons, 13-year-old Thomas Andrew Waltho (born at Chatham, Kent) and 6-year-old Leonard John  Waltho (born 5th June 1874 at Templemore, Tipperary, Ireland), both of whom were scholars.  Also with them was their unmarried 19-year-old niece, Jane Waltho, a dressmaker, born in Brewood, Staffordshire.

On September 10th 1890, at Llangollen Parish Church, Mr. Thomas Andrew Waltho, eldest son of Reuben Waltho, was married to Miss Elizabeth Ann Horspool, second daughter of Mr. R. Horspool of Castle Street.  The ceremony was conducted by Rev. E. R. James, vicar, assisted by Rev. D. Carrog, curate.  I have gathered information about the life of Thomas and Elizabeth Waltho, which I hope to add to my existing account of the Dorothy Cafe and Cinema, which were owned by Elizabeth’s brother.

Reuben and Jane’s 16-year-old son, Leonard John Waltho, was shown on the 1891 census to be lodging at the home of Mr. & Mrs. George Jones, at Brampton Street, Chorlton, in Lancashire, where he worked as a warehouse clerk.

Meanwhile, the 1891 census revealed that Reuben’s wife, Jane Waltho, was lodging with the Gribben family at Christian Street, Parish of St. Anne, Liverpool.  Jane was 45-years-of age and working as a charwoman.  Clearly she and Reuben had separated.

Also on the 1891 census, 52-year-old Reuben Waltho was shown to be living at 14 Regent Street, Llangollen.  He was a drill instructor and a school attendance officer.  He had a 19-year-old housekeeper called Sarah Rogers, from Glyn Ceiriog.  Reuben spoke only English but Sarah spoke English and Welsh.

On 3rd October 1893, Reuben Waltho reached pensionable age after sixteen years service as a most successful sergeant-instructor to the Llangollen (H) Company Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Volunteers).  He had previously served twenty-one years in the old 29th Regiment, later called the Worcestershire Regiment.  A requisition was sent to the War Office and he was allowed to remain as sergeant instructor for a further twelve months.

On 5th February 1894, Reuben’s eldest brother, John Waltho, died aged 64 at Brewood, Staffordshire.  Reuben’s address at this time was given as Regent Street, Llangollen.

By August 1894, Sergeant Instructor Waltho was in charge of the sergeant’s mess at the Church Lads’ Brigade, situated near the Welsh Border Brigade, about a mile from South Shore.

In October 1897, Gwalia House, Castle Street was advertised as having comfortable apartments, with or without board; public and private sitting rooms with piano and the terms were described as being moderate.  Choirs and small picnic parties were catered for and there was accommodation for cyclists.  The proprietor was R. Waltho.

At 11 o’clock on the morning of 10th January 1899, following a seven-months pregnancy, 25-year-old Miss Sarah Rogers gave birth to a stillborn daughter at 31 Castle Street, where she was a housekeeper for Sergeant Instructor Reuben Waltho of the Llangollen Volunteers, whom she later married in 1901.  At the time of the baby’s birth, no midwife had been present and although Mr. Waltho came into the house during the day, neither he nor anyone else knew of it.  On the day following the birth, Sarah secretly placed the baby’s body into a box, which she put into a large trunk under her bed in her room.  In later years, Sarah was afraid to tell her husband and kept the body locked in the box.

As this all happened well over a hundred years ago, we can only learn from what the newspapers and public records reveal.  It is tempting to speculate though.  If Sarah and Reuben were secret lovers, Sarah could hardly use her pregnancy to pressure him into marrying her, because his wife was still living.  If the child wasn’t Reuben’s, he may not take kindly to having a second illegitimate child living under his roof.  As the child was born two months prematurely and died at birth, it was comparatively easy for Sarah to conceal the birth.  I wonder what she planned to do had the child lived.

Sarah kept her dark secret and life went on as usual.  The Llangollen Advertiser of 22nd June 1900 carried an advert inviting tenders from builders and contractors for an Instructor’s House in connection with the proposed new volunteer drill hall.  Plans and specifications could be seen at 31 Castle Street, which was the home of Reuben Waltho.

In early 1901, in the District of Salford, Lancashire, the death was registered of 57-year-old Jane Duncan Waltho.  The Llangollen Advertiser of 1st February 1901 gave her date of death as 25th January 1901 and described her as “wife of Sergeant R. Waltho, Gwalia House, Castle Street, Llangollen”.

The 1901 census gave 62-year-old widower Reuben Waltho’s address as 31 Castle Street, Llangollen.  He was a sanitary inspector and a school attendance officer.  Living with him were his 29-year-old housekeeper/domestic, Sarah Rogers and her daughter, 9-year-old Mabel M. Rogers, whose birth had been registered in the District of Corwen during the 1st Quarter of 1892, when her mother was working for Mr Waltho.

On 11th May 1901, four months after the death of his wife Jane, Sergeant Instructor Reuben Waltho was married to Miss Sarah Rogers of Wrexham.  Their marriage was conducted by licence at the registrar’s office, Corwen, by Mr. D. P. Davies.

On the evening of Saturday, 1st June 1901, news reached Llangollen that Sergeant T. A. Waltho, the son of Reuben & Jane Waltho, had died, aged 33.  Despite a naturally vigorous constitution he had been in failing health for some time and finally succumbed to pneumonia.  He had been the youngest Volunteer in North Wales to receive the long-service medal.

In December 1902,  Sergeant-Instructor Reuben Waltho was contemplating a class for instruction in drill, &c., for Ladies and Gentlemen.  Intending pupils were asked to forward their names to Gwalia House, Castle Street, Llangollen, where all particulars, &c., could be obtained.

In July 1903, Gwalia House, 31 Castle Street, Llangollen, was being advertised as a Home from Home.  Visitors and tourists were assured that they would find every comfort and attention in comfortable apartments, with or without board.  There were public and private sitting rooms with piano and hot and cold baths.  Dinners, teas, &c., were available on the shortest notice and choirs and picnic parties were especially catered for, with good accommodation for cyclists.  Terms were strictly moderate and the proprietor was R. Waltho.

65-year-old Reuben Waltho died on 1st June 1904 at Gwalia House, 31 Castle Street, and his funeral was held at Llangollen on Saturday, 4th June 1904.  His obituary described him as Sergeant-Instructor Reuben Waltho of Castle Street, Llangollen.  He had served conspicuously with the Worcestershire Regiment during the Indian Mutiny and also served elsewhere.  He had served as sergeant-instructor to the Llangollen (H) Company Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Volunteers) for seventeen years up until 1894.  For the last 22 years of his life he had served as attendance officer for the Llangollen School Board.

For some reason, Sarah had to leave the family home and was living with her mother at Rhosddu.  On 13th February 1905. Mrs Catherine Rogers, widow of a retired Llangollen butcher and owner of No. 1 Oak Street, a temperance hotel, let the house to Mrs. Sarah Waltho, who intended to open it as a shop.  On 20th March, Mrs. Waltho had a trunk brought from Rhosddu.  It was taken from the station by Edward Ellis, a busman of the Hand Hotel and delivered to the premises during the night.  Mrs. Waltho and her daughter had travelled from Wrexham on the six o’clock train that night.  Mrs. Rogers had given Mrs. Waltho a candle to enable her to take the trunk into the house.  Mr. Ellis vouched that the trunk was heavy and had been fastened, otherwise it would have come open.

Because of financial difficulties, Sarah abandoned her plans for opening 1 Oak Street as a shop and she returned to live with her mother at Windsor Terrace, Rhosddu.  When a dispute arose regarding the rental of 1 Oak Street, Mrs. Rogers took the house from her and let it to Mr. Green Davies of Gobowen, who was the surveyor for Llangollen District Council.  Mr. Davies planned to open the premises as an architect’s office.

After a two hour long argument with Mrs. Waltho, Mrs Rogers demanded the key back and then handed it over to Mr. Davies.  With Mr. Davies’ consent, Mrs. Rogers retained Sarah’s trunk in lieu of rent that she owed to her.  John Rogers, a draper of Castle Street, and Edward Hughes, a painter, helped to carry the box upstairs to the clothes closet and it was locked in.

It was mentioned that Mr. Green Davies had noticed that the trunk was locked, a fact confirmed by Mrs. Rogers.  Mrs. Sarah Waltho later received a letter from Mrs. Catherine Rogers, requesting that she remove the box and she replied to say that, having obtained a work situation, she was finally able to pay the rent that was due to Mrs. Rogers.

On checking that all was well with the house, Mrs. Rogers mentioned to Mr. Birch, a clerk at Messrs. Richards, that the box smelled “awful” and he advised her to send for the police if Mrs. Waltho wouldn’t take it away.  One day, Mrs. Rogers and her daughter Sally found the back door of 1 Oak Street to be open, so they went upstairs to make sure that the trunk was still there, but the smell escaping from the closet was so “frightful” that they went back downstairs again.  The back door had apparently been left open because the house was being painted and they considered that this would have made it possible for Mrs. Waltho to have had access to the trunk.  They then sent for Police Sergeant Wyse, who went to the house, opened the closet and examined the box, which was unlocked.  When he asked Mrs. Rogers what the contents were, she explained that the box had previously been locked and besides, they were not curious enough to wish to know what the contents were.  Wyse noticed a smell he likened to that of a musty room.  Neatly packed on the top of the trunk was a gentleman’s dressing gown and a clean apron.  Under these he found a smaller trunk, which was also unlocked.  He subsequently found that the lock of the smaller trunk had been recently forced.  On opening it he found a mass of sheets, partly rotten, which appeared to have been used upon a bed.  Using his stick to move some of them, he came upon a hard substance and observed that some of the rotten sheet was adhering to it.  He removed this and found some soft hair.  At this stage he became suspicious and called in Dr. R. Drinkwater.  The doctor and his brother James made an examination and found the remains of a mummified child in the smaller box.  It was his opinion that were a post-mortem to be attempted, the whole of the mummy would fall to dust.  The neck broke as he attempted to get the linen away.

In a corner of the small trunk he found part of the Wrexham Advertiser, dated 8th October 1904 and a Liverpool Echo of 27th April 1899.  He judged by the position of the trunk’s contents that someone had recently been interfering with the contents.  The bottom of the box appeared to be in the process of being eaten away by a damp fluid.  He arranged for the trunks to be conveyed to the County Buildings.

Mrs. Catherine Rogers, Mr. John Rogers and Miss Sally Rogers had claimed that the box was locked, whereas P. S. Wyss had found it open.  When questioned they said they took it for granted that it had been locked.  The Sergeant said that appearances indicated that the small box had not been in the large one for any length of time.

The local newspapers published many accounts of the trial, with a lot of repetition included in each account.  I have endeavoured to weave together the complete story of the court case from the various newspaper reports:

On Wednesday, 24th May, Mr. Wynn Evans opened his court at 3:30 p.m.  Mr. James Clarke was chosen as foreman of the Jury.  A juror asked Dr. Drinkwater if it were possible that the remains found in the trunk were those of a monkey, but the doctor confirmed that they were definitely the remains of a child.  Mrs. Sarah Waltho was called as a witness but failed to respond.  The Coroner said it was important that she attend and he adjourned the proceedings for half an hour to give her a chance of appearing.  When the court resumed at 4:45 p.m. Mrs. Waltho again failed to answer her name.  The Coroner then announced his intention to issue a warrant for her arrest.  The Foreman of the Jury told the court that a telegram showed that Mrs. Walthow was in Ruabon at 4 o’clock and that she missed the train since then but could have reached the court if she so desired.  P. S. Wyse confirmed that he had indeed served a summons upon her.  The Coroner stressed that he only wanted an explanation from her as to why the trunk was in the house.  A warrant for her arrest was then issued and the inquest was adjourned until 3:30 p.m. on Thursday 25th May.  Upon arriving in the town on a later train, Mrs. Waltho was arrested.

On Thursday, 25th May, the enquiry was once more delayed as the Coroner had missed his train.  When he arrived, shortly after 4:0 p.m., he decided to fine himself £1, which was to be donated to the Cottage Hospital.  Mr. G. W. Ferrington, of Oswestry, appeared to represent Mr. Green Davies, the tenant of 1 Oak Street.  Mrs. Waltho was then called and explained that on the previous day she had missed her train.  She confirmed that she had taken a locked trunk to the house, which contained her girl’s clothes and a ladies and gentleman’s dressing gown.  When asked about the smaller box she refused to comment until she had taken someone’s advice.

When pressed for an answer by the Coroner she remained silent.  Mr. Wynn Evans explained that a worse deduction would be drawn unless she offered an explanation.  He suggested that they retire for ten minutes so that Mrs. Waltho could consult Mr. Ferrington for advice on the matter.  Upon the court resuming, Sarah said that there was a smaller box inside the trunk and that it was unlocked.  She confirmed that the box contained the body of her child born dead six years previously, when she was unmarried and acting as housekeeper to Sergeant-Instructor Waltho, who subsequently married her.  She admitted leaving the trunk at 1 Oak Street, Llangollen.

The Coroner suggested to the jury that in view of the extraordinary nature of the case they should adjourn the inquest for a week to enable the police to investigate further.  Mrs. Waltho was not obliged to incriminate herself, although she was of course liable for concealment of the birth.  The jury having agreed to this, the inquest was adjourned until Friday, 2nd June.  As she was about to proceed home, Mrs. Waltho was arrested on a warrant for concealment of birth and the Coroner commented that she was lucky that no graver charge was threatened.

On Friday, 26th May, Sarah Waltho was brought up in custody at Llangollen and charged with concealing the birth of a child.  She was granted a remand until Friday 2nd June at ten o’clock, bail being allowed to herself in £10 and two sureties of £5 each.

On Friday, 2nd June, at the adjourned inquest, Mr. Stanley Edisbury appeared for Mrs. Waltho and stated that child was a female child.  The jury returned an open verdict, not stating what was the cause of death, but that the child was found dead.    Subsequently, Mrs. Waltho was brought before Messrs. R. F. Graessar and J. H. Davies and before a crowded police court, she was charged with concealing the birth of the child and she surrendered to her bail.  Margaret Morris, a domestic servant at the Royal Hotel, Llangollen, was the first new witness.  She said that she had been in Mrs. Waltho’s service in September 1904 and had seen a small box at 31 Castle Street, Llangollen.  Mr. Edisbury pleaded not guilty on behalf of Mrs. Waltho, reserving the defence.  Mrs. Waltho was then committed for trial at the Denbighshire Assizes, bail being allowed.

On 2nd June 1905, the Llangollen Advertiser published a disclaimer from Mrs. E. A. Waltho, Stationer and Newsagent of the Market Hall Bazaar.  It said that she was, “in no way related to the Mrs. Sarah Waltho of Rhosddu, Wrexham, recently proceeded against in connection with the Llangollen Trunk Mystery”.  Elizabeth Ann Waltho was certainly not a blood relative of Sarah Waltho, but Sarah was the widow of Reuben Waltho and Elizabeth was the widow of Sergeant T. A. Waltho, who was the son of Reuben & Jane Waltho, therefore technically Sarah was the step-mother-in-law of Elizabeth.

On 9th June 1905, the Llangollen Advertiser carried an In Memoriam notice “in loving memory of Reuben Waltho, the beloved Husband of Sarah Waltho.”  It was accompanied by the following verse:

“When the soft dews of kindly sleep,

Be-wearied eyelids gently steep,

Be my last thought, how sweet to rest

For ever on my Saviour’s breast.”

On Wednesday, 14th June 1905, the Denbighshire Summer assizes opened before Mr. Justice Phillimore at Ruthin.  Sarah Waltho, aged 31, surrendered to her bail and in a low voice she pleaded not guilty.  Mr. R. V. Bankes prosecuted and Mr. S. Moss appeared for the prisoner.  Mr. Moss criticised the way in which Sarah had been examined by the Coroner.  He claimed that when the prisoner had made an incriminating statement following her seeking advice, this statement was never signed and was therefore inadmissible.  After a lengthy argument, his Lordship allowed the confession to be submitted and risked the responsibility. He said he would consider Mr. Moss’s point further.  Mr. Moss contended that there was no secret disposition as the body had remained in a trunk under the prisoner’s bed, where it could easily have been discovered by a servant.  His Lordship said that everyone knew of the tragedies happening through infanticide and the disposition of illegitimate children.  Mothers had been hung upon flimsy evidence whilst others were acquitted.  He said that if the Court of Criminal Appeal decided that the confession should not have been read, the law would quash any conviction the jury might bring.  The jury found the prisoner guilty, sentence was deferred and the judge retained her in custody until Thursday, 15th June.  Subsequently, Sarah Waltho was bound over in her own recognisances in the sum of £100.

The Llangollen Advertiser received a phone call from Ruthin stating that Mr. Justice Phillimore had given attention to the case during the night.  He called Mrs. Waltho before him at two o’clock on Thursday, 15th June.  Before giving his decision, he adversely criticised the manner in which the confession had been extracted from her at the inquest without her having been fully cautioned.  He said that she had been cautioned not to commit herself on the charge of murder but when she made statements which implicated her regarding the minor charge she should again have been cautioned.  He liberated her on the charge of concealment of the birth and bound her over to come up for judgment when called upon.

Six years later, In 1911, “34-year-old” (she was actually 39) widow Sarah Waltho, lived at The Ash, New Road, Rhosddu and was working as a hotel waitress.  On the census, she had written that she’d had one child who lived and one who died; she had then crossed this entry out.  Presumably the child who died referred to the one she’d hidden in the trunk.  Her daughter, 19-year-old Mabel May Waltho, was unmarried and working as a shop assistant.  Boarding at the house with them was a 31-year-old widower, James William Mallet, a hotel porter, born at Sheffield, Yorkshire.  By the end of the year he was more than just a boarder (read on).  It is interesting to note that Mabel was referred to as Waltho, but when she married in 1939 she gave her maiden name as Rogers.  It is tempting to speculate on the reasons for her being called Waltho in 1911.  I first considered that Reuben had legally adopted her, but if that was the case, why would she revert to being Rogers.  Was she maybe attempting to cover up her illegitimacy in 1911, or did the name imply that Reuben was her real father; we may never know.

Towards the end of 1911, Sarah Waltho’s marriage to James William Mallett of Sheffield was registered in the District of Chester.


As often happens after writing something; I have had further thoughts. Only one newspaper mentioned Sarah as having a seven-months pregnancy. Even with modern medical care, a seven month pregnancy can often have complications and we must remember that Sarah had no medical care. She may have had plans for what to do and say when the baby was born, but naturally she thought she had another two months to go. When faced with a dead baby, what could she do … if she registered the birth and death, she’d be expected to hand over the baby for burial.  It would have all gone very public.  In today’s world, help would have been available for Sarah. In those days unmarried mothers weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms, so to admit to having two children out of wedlock wouldn’t have helped her at all.  I’m sure most of us can sympathise with Sarah’s predicament. The humiliating court case that ensued would probably have still happened had she revealed the birth immediately. Another thing to consider is this – as was mentioned in court, still fresh in people’s memories were the days when mothers of still-born children were hung, having being found guilty of infanticide. Many were later discovered to have been innocent, which made matters even worse. Sarah would have been aware of these facts too and the poor girl would have been confused and terrified.

WRITTEN BY: Dave Edwards – March 2018

SOURCES: Family Search; Ancestry UK; Find My Past; Free BMD; Annette Edwards; Llangollen Advertiser (1st October 1897; 22nd June 1900; 1st February 1901; 17th May 1901; 7th June 1901; 19th December 1902; 17th July 1903 26th May 1905; 2nd June 1905; 9th June 1905; 16th June 1905; ) Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald (2nd June 1905); Courant and Advertiser for North Wales (21st June 1905; ); Weekly Mail (27th March 1905); Manchester Courier (27th May 1905); Chester Courant (8th June 1904);  31st May 1905; 7th June 1905); Towyn-on-Sea and Merioneth County Times (1st June 1905); Llandudno Advertiser (10th June 1905); Cardiff Times (17th June 1905); Wrexham Advertiser (20th September 1890; 7th October 1893; 11th August 1894; );


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