Home Menu

Old News


The Inquest of William Wood

 Hertfordshire Mercury on 30th August, 1828.



St Albans

Inquest at St Albans

On Friday last an inquest was held before Thomas Ward Blagg, Esq., coroner for the borough of St Albans, and a highly respectable jury, at the House of Correction, on the body of William Wood, a labouring man, who died there on Thursday morning, the 21st instant, under the following melancholy circumstances:– It appeared from the evidence of the brother of the deceased, and a numerous body of witnesses, that the deceased, in company with his brother, left his home at Preston, near Buckingham, at the beginning of the corn harvest, and came into the neighbourhood of St Albans, and engaged himself at harvest work with Mr. Smith1, of Cheapside Farm2. On Sunday, the 10th instant, the deceased and his brother came to St Albans with others of Mr. Smith’s labourers to have, what is commonly termed, a beaver, a sort of feasting, which is a custom unfortunately too faithfully observed on the second Sunday in harvest, by servants employed in husbandry. The deceased and his brother dined at the Swan public-house3, and remained there until about four o’clock in the afternoon, when they repaired to the Cock4, with the landlord of which, it appeared, they were acquainted. Here they had a further supply of bread and cheese and beer. This house they left about seven o’clock, in a state of intoxication, and shortly afterwards visited the Jolly Sailor5, where they came in contact with a number of other labourers, strangers to the deceased, assembled for the above purpose. Here a quarrel ensued, occasioned by the deceased challenging any person present to fight, and attempting to strike a labourer of the name of Daniel Gray. Gray, upon this, struck the deceased and knocked him down on his seat, and on a renewal of the provocation struck him a violent blow on the head, and knocked him down with great force. The deceased’s head came in contact with the brick floor. He was raised up in a state of insensibility. Afterwards recovering a little, he walked to the Cock, with the assistance of his brother and another man, where he complained bitterly of the treatment he had met with. The landlord kindly washed his face, which was covered with blood, and gave him a clean shirt in lieu of his own, which was also smothered with blood. At half-past ten they left the Cock, apparently with the intention of returning to Cheapside Farm. In about two hours afterwards, however, they were found by one of the watchmen in Holywell-hill, the deceased lying on his face, and his brother standing by him, very drunk. They were both removed to the Watch-house, and on the following morning the deceased was found to be quite insensible, and, as one of the witnesses described it, in almost a dying state. He was removed into a comfortable room in the House of Correction adjoining, and surgical aid procured. A violet fracture of the skull was discovered, and in the evening it became necessary to perform the operation of trepanning. A quantity of extravasated blood was removed from under the skull. The deceased gradually recovered until the day before his death, when he became in a much more debilitated state, and on the morning of the 21st expired. – The Coroner summed up the evidence at length, remarking upon the various points of the case, and distinguishing between the law of manslaughter and justifiable homicide, in a clear and perspicuous manner; and, in the course of his observations on the folly of the custom before alluded to, took occasion to remark that nothing appeared in the evidence to implicate the conduct of the landlords. – The jury, after a patient and anxious investigation, which occupied upwards of eleven hours, returned a verdict of “Manslaughter against Daniel Gray,” who was thereupon committed by the coroner to the county goal, to take his trial at our next assizes. – The deceased has left a widow and six children to bewail this melancholy catastrophe.

1   Robert Smith, who moved to Heath Farm, Bernards Heath by 1830

2   Cheapside Farm, Sandridge

3   The Swan, Dagnall Lane

4   The Cock, Cock Lane (now Hatfield Road)

5   Jolly Sailor, Stonecross

The above article is of particular interest for the following reasons


Can you provide earlier references to the "Jolly Sailor", the use of the word "Beaver" or "Bever" in Hertfordshire, or the use of trepanning.

Tell me about it

(remembering to clearly identify the subject you are commenting on)

If you can add to the information given above tell me.