The date of the Hertfordshire Mercury above was the final issue which reported on the case when it reached the Hertfordshire Summer Assizes of 1910 and a verdict was decided and sentence was passed.
There was an interesting summing up of the case by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Alfreton, which may highlight the perception of the upper classes and aristocracy and their low expectation of the behaviour of the working class. Perhaps because of the length of two previous murder cases against females, the time given to this tragic case was brief. The court followed the direction of the Lord Chief Justice who sided with the findings of a previous, more in-depth Coroner’s inquest. That is where we will first focus; on the Hertfordshire Mercury’s reports on the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Alice Ginn. We will return to Lord Alfreton’s summing up comments later.
The Hertfordshire Mercury first reported a suspicious death of a Ware woman in their April 2nd issue. The woman’s sudden death on March 24th was the day before Good Friday, so the story had missed the paper’s print run for the issue, Saturday March 26th and carried both the news of her death and the opening day of her inquest two days later, in the April 2nd issue.
DEATH OF A WOMAN IN SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
This was the dramatic heading in the Hertfordshire Mercury’s report on the Inquest into the death of of Alice Ginn; a report which filled almost three columns of the broadsheet. A couple of paragraphs followed the heading, outlining the “considerable sensation” the story had caused in the town of Ware, when locals had learned a woman named Ginn had died under suspicious circumstances and her husband had been arrested. The couple and their youngest daughter had lived on Watton Road, Ware, for only five months and before that, they had previously resided at Dane End. Because of Good Friday, the story did not go to press for nine days; leaving the good people of Ware to indulge in much speculation and rumours had become rife.
The Inquest was opened on the afternoon of Saturday 26th March in the Mortuary; the Coroner was Mr T.J. Sworder. Mr H. Gilbert was chosen as the Jury Foreman.
Walter Ginn was brought by cab to the Mortuary in the custody of two police officers. A large crowd was reported to have gathered outside the Mortuary building, “anxious to get a glimpse of the man who, throughout the proceedings, appeared little affected.”
Mrs Emma Webb of 45 Watton Road, the wife of a labourer, was the first to give her evidence to the inquest. She stated her home was three doors along from where the deceased had lived. About three o-clock on the afternoon of Thursday 24th March, Emma Webb said she was sitting in her front room when Mrs Ginn and her daughter Elsie aged ten, came into her front room.
Mrs Ginn was bleeding from her nose. She had said to her neighbour, “Oh, Mrs Webb, let me come in. He is killing me.”
Mrs Webb asked, “Where is he? Is he the worse for drink?” Mrs Ginn had replied, “Yes. He is in the house.”
The Coroner asked Mrs Webb if her neighbour was “perfectly sober.” Mrs Webb affirmed the deceased was indeed sober. The Coroner then asked if Mrs Ginn had seemed excited. Mrs Webb answered, “No. She looked ill.”
The Coroner, T.J. Sworder asked further questions of Mrs Webb, asking her if Mrs Ginn had spoken of receiving a blow or if she had said that someone had struck her. Mrs Webb said that Mrs Ginn had not said she was struck nor did she mention anyone had struck her.
The Coroner pressed Mrs Webb on her evidence. “Did Mrs Ginn say ‘let me in, he is killing me?” “Yes,” replied Mrs Ginn.
Again T.J. Sworder asked, “Are You Sure?” Again, Mrs Webb affirmed that her neighbour had said, “He is killing me.”
“Were those her exact words?” Asked the Coroner; Mrs Webb said they were. The Coroner then asked Mrs Webb what she did next.
Mrs Webb said she brought Mrs Ginn into her home and sat her on a chair. Mr T.J. Sworder asked what condition Mrs Webb thought Mrs Ginn was in at the time and if she seemed very bad, to which Mrs Webb replied Mrs Ginn did seem to be very ill. Asked what she did next, Mrs Webb said she asked her daughter to fetch both a bowl and a glass of water for Mrs Ginn to drink. Her daughter then went for Mrs Johnson, another neighbour. When Mrs Johnson arrived, the two women lifted Mrs Ginn onto some chairs. Mrs Johnson then went for the police. They did not send for a doctor.
Mrs Webb told the inquest during this period of time there was no sign of Walter Ginn, Alice Ginn’s husband. The police arrived five minutes after Mrs Johnson had gone for them; the first police officer on the scene was Pc Bennett.
An apron was produced at this juncture and the coroner asked Mrs Webb to whom it belonged. Mrs Webb said Mrs Ginn was wearing it when she came into her home and Mrs Webb removed the apron from Mrs Ginn while she was in her home; one corner of the garment had blood spots on it. The coroner wanted to know if Mrs Webb was sure the stains were bloodstains. Mrs Webb said she was sure the marks were bloodstains and confirmed she had handed the apron over to the police upon their arrival. The Coroner asked Mrs Webb if Mrs Ginn had had wiped her face with the apron; Mrs Webb said Mrs Ginn had wiped her nose with it.
The Coroner moved on and wanted to know if Mrs Webb knew anything of the Ginn’s home life prior to that fateful day; Mrs Webb said she knew nothing of the Ginn’s home life. Mrs Webb said she had never heard the Ginn’s quarrel and considered them to be respectable, steady people.
Emily Johnson, a widow residing at 47 Watton Road, stated that at around three o-clock in the afternoon of Thursday 24th March, Mrs Webb’s daughter Ada came to her and asked to help as Mrs Ginn was very ill. Emily Johnson told the coroner she went at once to assist and found Mrs Ginn had just slipped off a chair. Mrs Johnson said she tried to bring Mrs Ginn around with smelling salts but there was no reaction at all. Mrs Johnson said she and Mrs Webb lifted Mrs Ginn onto some chairs and applied more smelling salts before going for the police. At this point Mrs Johnson already believed Mrs Ginn was dead.
The Coroner asked Emily Johnson if she had seen Walter Ginn. Emily Johnson replied she had gone into the Ginn’s home to see him with Pc Bennett. Walter Ginn was in a very drunken state, sitting in a chair. Emily Johnson said she told Walter Ginn she thought his wife “had gone.” In reply, Walter Ginn had said, “Serve her ——- well right.”
Emily Johnson said she took Walter Ginn into Mrs Webb’s home to see his wife; he had knelt down and kissed her hand.
The Coroner twice asked Emily Johnson if she had heard any mention by anyone about fetching a doctor. Emily Johnson twice replied that she had not heard anyone call for a doctor.
Pc Bennett was the next to give evidence to the inquest. He stated that at approximately three pm., on the afternoon of 24th March, he was working in the police station when a report came in that Walter Ginn had been knocking his wife about and it was thought that she was dying.
Pc Bennett said he entered Mrs Webb’s home and found that Mrs Ginn was laid out on some chairs and was bleeding from her nose. He took the woman from the chairs and laid her on the hearthrug. He loosened her clothing, applied artificial respiration and sent for Dr Stewart. When Dr Stewart arrived he declared Mrs Ginn to be “extinct” and so Pc Bennett had the body removed to the Mortuary. The coroner and the jury were keen to ascertain how long it was before Dr Stewart arrived; Pc Bennett said it was no more than ten minutes.
Pc Bennett said he then arrested the suspect, Walter Ginn and handed charge of him to Pc Bolden. In the presence of the police officers, Mrs Webb told Ginn he had killed his wife. In front of three witnesses, Walter Ginn was claimed to have said, “a ——– good job too.”
Mrs Johnson interposed, saying she had not heard that being said. This encouraged a Mrs Baldock to also interpose, stating that in the five months she had known the Ginns she had never heard them quarrelling. Superintendent Duke responded by pointing out to Mrs Baldock she wasn’t on oath but had told the police something completely different at the time.
Walter Ginn was then taken to the police station by Pc’s Bolden and Gillet.
Pc Bennett said after Walter Ginn had been taken away, he went into the Ginns’ home and “found the front downstairs room to be in great disorder. Chairs and carpets had been thrown all about the room and it seemed to me a struggle had taken place.” Pc Bennett continued his search of the Ginn’s premises and noted there were several blood spots on the flagstones in the yard outside the Ginns’ home. Finally Pc Bennett informed the coroner that he had taken statements from neighbours, concerning the frequency of quarrels in the Ginn household and his reports were in the records.
Olive Ginn, the eldest daughter, currently working in service in Stevenage, was to be the next witness but when she told the coroner she had not yet seen her mother’s body, the coroner said she had to go immediately to the morgue and identify the corpse. Olive was escorted there straight away.
The next witness to be sworn in at the inquest was Dr W.G. Stewart. He said he was called to the Webb home at three fifteen on March 24th. Mrs Ginn was lying on the hearthrug. The coroner asked Dr Stewart if there were any external signs of violence on Mrs Ginn’s Body. Dr Stewart said there had been slight bleeding from the deceased woman’s nose. There was also a contusion of the woman’s left eye of about a week’s duration. It was not recent.
The Coroner asked the doctor if the contusion over the left eye could have been caused by a blow. Dr Stewart said it was hard to tell; it was the remnants of a black eye. There was no way of telling exactly how it was caused. Doctor Stewart went on to say the autopsy showed no sign of bone or organ injury. The heart went empty of blood, thus it was “death by syncope.” Dr Stewart said the internal organs were very congested; this might have been caused by a blow to the abdomen or a blow to the lower part of her chest. The Coroner asked if the congestion of the organs was caused by a blow.
Dr Stewart said the congestion could have been caused by a blow or by the woman becoming over-excited. He said he had found one of the thyroid glands to be over enlarged. The thyroid had not become damaged through violence but through disease. This opened up the deceased to the possibility of syncope from shock.
The Coroner wanted to know if the shock could have been caused by a violent blow. The doctor answered with a simple “yes.” He went on to say there were signs of slight disease in the lungs but they were old scars and there was nothing recent.
The Coroner asked Dr Stewart if the thyroid and heart condition would make the chances more likely that Mrs Ginn would die as a result of a blow, than that of a normal healthy person. Dr Stewart said it would.
The Coroner asked Dr Stewart what his opinion was as to the cause of Mrs Ginn’s death. The doctor said he believed it to have been heart “failure due to shock to the nervous system.”
The Coroner asked if the syncope could have occurred without a blow. Dr Stewart said the syncope was probably caused by a blow. There was no reason for Mrs Ginn to have died without some sort of severe shock. Dr Stewart said he went on later to the police station and examined the husband, Walter Ginn. Dr Stewart said the man was not so drunk by then and he was able to speak well.
A juror persistently asked if Mrs Ginn could have died from the fall off the chair in Mrs Webb’s house. Dr Stewart dismissed this notion as he said the fall would not have been enough to cause the congestion found in the upper abdomen. Dr Stewart did concede however, that the running from her house to Mrs Webb’s home and the falling off the chair might have been contributing factors in Mrs Ginn’s death.
The Coroner, T.J. Sworder, advised the jury it would not be wise to go down that route as they would then have to consider why Mrs Ginn was running. He said the point on which the jury ought to focus upon was to decide whether she died from a blow.
A juror piped up and asked if there was any proof that a blow had been struck at all. The Coroner said there was no proof as they were alone.
Walter Ginn requested permission to give evidence and this was allowed. Walter Ginn said he and his wife had words over their son and he struck out at her but did not make contact with her. She fell down and then went out of the back door and that was the last he saw of her until he was taken into Mrs Webb’s house. Walter Ginn added that he had taken his wife into town that morning and had bought her a new hat.
The jurors pressed Walter Ginn to tell them why he had struck out at his wife; they also wanted to know where their daughter was at the time he had lashed out. Walter Ginn said his daughter had been out of the room at the time and only came in after his wife had left. Mr Gilbert, the Foreman of the jury said he wanted to hear from the daughter and she ought to be present but was told she was staying with a family in Hadham.
Olive Ginn returned from her ordeal of identifying her mother’s body in the morgue, she took the witness stand and swore the oath. She was asked if her parents quarrelled; Olive said it wasn’t very often but when they did, it was usually over their son. She said she could not recall seeing her father strike her mother. Olive was asked by a juror if her mother was an excitable person; Olive replied that she had never seen her mother excited, although Olive hadn’t been with her mother very much.
The inquest into the death of Mrs Ginn was adjourned until Friday 1st April.
Walter Ginn was taken away and charged with the murder of his wife. He did not appear at the inquest when it reconvened. He made two court appearances where he was remanded to await trial.
The inquest on the body of Alice Ginn, the wife of a haybinder, resumed on the 1st April, at the Mortuary, before T.J. Sworder, Coroner. The inquest had been adjourned so that the jury could hear further evidence. This time the parents of Alice Ginn were present at the hearing; the mother was greatly affected. The youngest daughter of the Ginns was also present, in the care of a nurse from the Children’s Home at Hadham.
Mrs Webb’s daughter Ada, of 45 Watton Road, was the first to take the witness stand. Under oath, Ada confirmed she was with her mother when Mrs Ginn had entered their home in an excited state with a nose bleed saying, “Oh please let me in. He is killing me.” This confirmed the statement made by her mother at the earlier hearing. Ada said that was all Mrs Webb had said, except that her husband was still in their house.
Asked by the Coroner when she thought Mrs Ginn had died, Ada said she thought Mrs Ginn was dead before she went to fetch Mrs Johnson. Ada was asked who put Mrs Ginn onto the chairs. Ada said it was her mother and Mrs Johnson. Ada also confirmed she had been asked to fetch a bowl and a cup of water by her mother.
Superintendent Duke asked Ada Webb if she was present in the room when Mrs Johnson had brought Walter Ginn into the room to see his wife. Ada said she was outside at the time.
It was described in the Hertfordshire Mercury as a “touching scene” when the little daughter of the deceased, Elsie Ginn was led to the stand to give evidence. Whilst the Coroner, Mr T.J. Sworder impressed upon the little girl the nature of taking an oath, the grandmother, who was seated behind the Elsie, burst into tears. Elsie managed to answer all the questions put to her but in a subdued voice.
She confirmed she was now in the Children’s Home in Hadham but until recently resided on Watton Road, Ware, with her parents. Elsie said she was able to remember the events on the 24th March. At the time the incident began, Elsie said she was “at play.”
The questioning of Elsie was detailed and she answered in the least amount of words required; mostly it was a straightforward yes or no. She said she was in the room when her mother was hurt. She was in the front room with her mother and father and her parents were arguing although she could not say what it was about.
Asked what she saw her father do, Elsie said she had seen her father hit her mother in the face. Her mother had run out of the room and her nose was bleeding. When asked by the coroner if she had run after her mother, Elsie said in a matter of fact way that “she had gone with her mother.”
They went to the Webb’s house where her mother seemed worse. Elsie confirmed the women had put her mother on some chairs but said she didn’t see her mother fall from them as she had gone out. Elsie said she didn’t go home as she was frightened but did say she went to the doctor’s. The Mercury report does not state whether it was Elsie who was sent to summon Dr Stewart or whether she tagged along with an adult.
The coroner asked if she knew where her father was during the time she was in Mrs Webb’s house and if she had seen him again. Elsie said she thought her father remained at home whilst she was at Mrs Webb’s home and she saw her father leaving their house. Asked again by the coroner if she had seen only the one blow, Elsie was asked to confirm once again that she had seen her father strike her mother once in the face; which she duly did. The Coroner, Mr T.J. Sworder commended Elsie Ginn, saying, “She gives her evidence well, the poor little girl.”
The next witness called was May Ginn, another daughter of Walter and the late Mrs Ginn. May was now in service in a household in Purley, Surrey. May stated that about three years ago her father had struck her mother over the head with a poker. On another occasion her father had chased her mother upstairs with a poker and struck out at her but missed and hit the baby, cutting its head open.
Superintendent Duke interposed and asked May Ginn about the incident when Ginn had struck the baby with a poker. Superintendent Duke wanted to know if the injured baby was still alive. The coroner halted this line of questioning, saying he was concerned that line of enquiry might prejudice the case. The Coroner asked May Ginn whether her parents were apt to quarrel often and May answered that her mother scarcely ever answered him.
The Ginn’s next door neighbour, Mrs Ellen Lee, of 41 Watton Road, Ware, said she had heard the couple quarrelling from time to time but had never heard anything which sounded like blows being struck. She told the inquest that Mrs Ginn had said her husband ill-used her but not as much as he did at their previous home.
Pc Martin of Braughing stated that in the early part of 1904, he was stationed at Little Munden at the time the Ginns were living at White Hill. According to Pc Martin, Mrs Ginn had approached him and said she had been assaulted by her husband who had gone home the worse for drink. She then had the remains of a black eye, about a week old. Pc Martin said he told her to go to the Petty Sessions Court at Watton-at-Stone and to apply for a court order against her husband but she did not do so.
Superintendent Duke asked Pc Martin if he had had any other dealings with the Ginns.
Pc Martin said one evening a neighbour called and he attended the Ginns’ home. Pc Martin said he found Walter Ginn at the front door of his house; Ginn was very drunk and quarrelsome. Pc Martin took Walter Ginn by the arm and got him inside his house. He saw Mrs Ginn sitting in a chair crying. Pc Martin said he warned Ginn that if he touched his wife he would be arrested. Pc Martin stated that Mrs Ginn seemed very scared of her husband.
The Coroner asked Pc Martin if on that occasion Mrs Webb had remained silent; Pc Martin affirmed that she had. Pc Martin said Walter Ginn was very quarrelsome when “in drink.” Pc Martin had frequently, when passing the house, heard Ginn swearing and his wife crying. Pc Martin said whenever Walter Ginn drank alcohol, there was trouble.
Pc Kirby, stationed at Stevenage, took the stand. He stated that he was stationed at Little Munden from February 1906 to August 1909. During that time he had been called to the Ginns’ house several occasions. On October 1st 1907, one of Mrs Ginn’s children came for him and on going to White Hill, he found Mrs Ginn in a neighbour’s house. She had two black eyes and her face was cut. Mrs Ginn said her husband had assaulted her and she was afraid to go home that night. When Pc Kirby questioned Walter Ginn as to why he was, “knocking his wife about,” he had replied his wife didn’t have his tea ready so he gave her “a good hiding.”
The last witness to give evidence was Superintendent Duke who said he was called to the scene and arrived at three thirty in the afternoon. The suspect was arrested and Mrs Ginn’s body was taken to the Mortuary.
When Superintendent Duke first saw the defendant he was still the worse for wear, from drink. When Walter Ginn sobered up he was charged with the wilful murder of his wife, due to information coming in. Superintendent Duke said he repeated the charge a little later and Ginn had said he struck his wife and she fell down then got up and fled the house.
Answering a question from a Juror, Superintendent Duke said that the suspect had sobered up by the time Duke had charged him with murder. Superintendent Duke said Walter Ginn was fully aware at the time, of the gravity of his situation. Superintendent Duke said he had “impressed it upon Ginn’s mind.”
The Coroner, T.J. Sworder, in summing up said the chief point for the jury to decide was whether the defendant struck his wife and if he did, had the blow in any way accelerated her death. The Coroner said there was evidence to show the man had, “ill-used” his wife from time to time and they might take it that he had not been the best of husbands but they must not take too much notice of ill-usage.
The Jury’s business was to give a verdict on the death of the poor woman. The jury would have to consider whether they believed Ginn had struck his wife and if so it was their duty to return a verdict of manslaughter. It was a serious charge to make against anyone and he was sure the jury would face it with fair minds.
The Jury considered the evidence in private for half an hour before returning a verdict of manslaughter. the Coroner said it would be his duty to commit Ginn for trial at the next Assizes on that charge. The Coroner, T.J. Sworder said he was obliged to the jury for the attention they had paid to the case and he entirely agreed with their verdict.
Hertfordshire Summer Assizes
The Hertfordshire Summer Assizes were opened by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Alvestone. His Lordship arrived on Saturday evening at his lodgings, the residence of Mr O.A. Christie. On Sunday morning His Lordship, accompanied by the High Sheriff (Sir Alf Reynolds) the Under Sheriff (Mr C.E. Longmore) and the Sheriff’s Chaplain (Reverend Arthur Athill). They attended the service at All Saints Church, in State. The Jury was sworn in and several other cases were heard before Walter Ginn appeared in the dock on the charge of manslaughter.
Walter Ginn, a Haybinder of Watton Road, Ware, pleaded guilty to the charge of the manslaughter of his wife, Alice Ginn, on 24th March, 1910.
The court was given a brief summary of the case so far, which much simplified the events – the day before Good Friday, Walter Ginn went home the worse for drink, quarrelled with his wife and punched her in the face, causing her nose to bleed. Mrs Ginn ran out of the house into a neighbour’s home when, after sitting for a few moments, she fell down and died.
Ex-Superintendent Duke was called to give evidence. He stated that Walter Ginn was the worse for drink. He was arrested shortly after it was ascertained his wife was dead.
Dr W.G. Stewart stated that he attended the scene and declared the woman to be dead. Dr Stewart said the blow followed by the running away had contributed to Mrs Ginn’s death by heart failure.
His Lordship, Lord Alfreton wished to know more of the Ginns’ marital relationship. Mr J.H. Murphy, defending, said the marriage wasn’t good and at times Mr Ginn was a man who “got too much drink.” When in that condition Walter Ginn became very quarrelsome with his wife.
Mr Herbert Hart, prosecuting, called attention to the words spoken by Ginn in front of witnesses, when learning of his wife was dead. “Serves her ——- well right, he said. It was pointed out by Mr J.H. Murphy that when Ginn uttered those words, he was sitting in a chair very drunk and had not realised his wife was dead at the time.
The Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Alvestone then said the following: Of course these people will quarrel and fight, unfortunately; and I’m told by a doctor that in ordinary circumstances, the woman would have only received two black eyes and a bleeding nose.
Mr J.H. Murphy seized on this statement and on its basis, suggests that the charge of manslaughter be reduced to one of assault, on the grounds Ginn had hit his wife so often, he would have thought nothing of it. Ginn had hit his wife without any meaning.
Lord Alfreton concluded that Ginn was the worse for drink and not fully in charge of his faculties. It was a sad case and one due to drink it was a blow given in anger by a drunken man but he was satisfied the man had shown remorse when he sobered up.
Incredibly, Walter Ginn had his sentence commuted to Unlawful Wounding and he was given 12 months with hard labour.
I find it difficult to understand society in Britain over a century ago. From the start of the inquest the all-male jury seemed intent on defending Walter Ginn, questioning the evidence given by the female neighbours and family members; asking them to repeat over and over what they had heard or seen. There seems to be an air of misogynistic distrust in what the inquest jury are hearing. Wife beating seems to have been acceptable to both the jury and the judiciary, or at the least, it seemed to be viewed as unavoidable. Much of these die-hard beliefs are remnants from the medieval view of women as merely “goods and chattel.”
Dr W.G. Stewart carried the medical profession a little better, dismissing the claim of a juror that a fall off a chair would have been enough to kill Alice; the blow was an important contributory factor to Alice’s sudden death. However Dr Stewart did fall back on the age old belief that women were more inclined towards becoming emotionally “excitable.”
The only men who seemed to find Walter Ginn’s behaviour totally unacceptable were the Hertfordshire Constabulary. PCs Martin and Kirby had been disturbed by the abuse Ginn handed out to his wife on a regular basis and must have felt frustrated that Mrs Ginn did not take out a court order protecting her from her often drunk and violent husband. We perhaps, have to understand that it took a particularly brave woman to take out a court order against their spouse and then stand by it; there was no such thing as a welfare state in 1910, only the threat of the Workhouse.
The policeman who stood out most amongst his peers was Superintendent Duke, who I suspect, if it wasn’t for his retirement, would have pursued a line of enquiry into what had happened to the baby who was struck by a poker, wielded by the drunken Walter Ginn, some three years earlier. I also feel that Superintendent Duke would liked to have charged Walter Ginn with murder; he tried but couldn’t get the charge past the inquest. For their part, the Coroner and the jurors would perhaps be reluctant to go down that path whilst there was capital punishment in place; they would have to be absolutely convinced before having the life of an innocent man on their hands. The life of a man seemed to carry much more value than the life of a woman or child living in Britain in 1910.
It’s worth noting that the dead woman was referred to many times as Mrs Ginn and only once, in three long and detailed reports in the Hertfordshire Mercury, did the paper use the dead woman’s Christian name ; Alice.