Featuring the first 'Private' hanging at Stafford Gaol!
Researched and written by Bob Taylor
The victim was a Moxley lass,
Edwards from Willenhall, came,
but Smith - The Dudley Hangman,
had the last say in the game!
Insane jealousy and excessive amounts of alcohol are explosive ingredients in the chemistry of callous crime, as the shocked residents of Church Street, Willenhall learned in the spring of 1872.
Rosannah Edwards, a devoted mother and wife, had lived under the fear of physical assault by her husband for many years, and had often expressed this anxiety to friends and relatives.
Even in those far-off days, when wife-beating was a terrible, but common by-product of the harsh social conditions that prevailed, Rosannah's confidants found reason for great concern, and urged her to leave her brutal husband before it was too late!
However, she chose to ignore this advice, hoping that her husband's volatile temper would mellow as time went on, and that their family unit could be preserved. Sadly, on the night of April 30th, those hopes, along with her innocent life, were horrifically destroyed. Christopher Edwards' uncontrolled drinking and jealous rage finally joined murderous hands that fatal day.
They had married twelve years before, when in their early twenties. Four children were subsequently born to Rosannah, but two died very young, leaving two girls, aged four and five years at the time of their mother's dreadful death.
Rosannah was brought up in nearby Moxley, and did not move to Willenhall, her husband's home town, until she was married, when they took up residency in a small house (now demolished) in Church Street, near the junction with Froysell Street. From the beginning Edwards' character was tainted by his addiction to drink and unfounded jealousy. It was a regular occurrence for his wife to seek refuge in neighbours' homes, to avoid the full consequences of his fits of rage. The situation went from bad to worse, and Rosannah found it necessary to hide likely weapons from her husband. Only a week before her murder she transferred a carving knife and a chopper to a friend's house.
On the morning of Tuesday, April 30th, Edwards reported to work as usual - he was employed as a locksmith by Alexander Lloyd and Sons, of Willenhall. However, he was forced to leave at just after 2pm owing to a shortage of 'tumblers' for his cocks. This loss of an afternoon's earnings resulted in a grumpy and resentful locksmith taking early refreshment in the Shakespeare Inn, Somerford Place, with several friends.
It was common practice in those days for disillusioned, poorly-rewarded working men to seek solace behind inviting pub doors, spending what little they had on strong ale, to curtain their minds from the empty coal sheds and hollow stomachs at home. Of course, these misguided priorities were segments of a vicious circle, leading to greater poverty, increased social stress and more visits to the ale-dispenser's sanctuary.
Edwards did not leave the Shakespeare until 7.30pm, worse for drink, still bemoaning his lost earnings, and brooding over his wife's fictitious flirtations.
On returning home, he found his wife, sitting alone in the kitchen. Their two daughters had already been put to bed and a young apprentice - George Marsh - who lodged with them had retired to his upstairs room.
Edwards immediately accused his wife of having 'been with someone again,' and added, with deadly emphasis, that he intended to 'do for her.'
A little while later, a friend by the name of Addey called at the house, unaware that there had been any quarrel, and later stated that Edwards appeared to be sober, and on good terms with his wife. Addey left after half an hour or so, but had walked barely twenty yards down the street when frantic screams pierced the night air, emanating from an upstairs room in Edwards' home. He raced back, but the front door was locked, and as desperation in Rosannah's cries increased, he raised the alarm. A crowd quickly gathered in the street, and, although they witnessed the vicious attack taking place in the candle-lit bedroom, they were unable to force entry into the house to aid the stricken woman.
When the local police arrived the house was deathly quiet. With the help of some of the onlookers they managed to break down the front door. On entering the house they found Edwards at the bottom of the stairs, covered in blood, with a candle in one hand, and his youngest daughter under his other arm. He was immediately arrested and tightly pinioned. The constables then climbed the stairs and entered the bedroom.
A sickening sight met their eyes. The woman's body lay in a crumpled heap, with blood flowing copisouly from a deep wound behind her right ear. The murder weapon, a heavy pole, lay near the body - it had been horribly employed to reduce Rosannah's head to pulp.
As he left the house, under arrest, the demented Edwards shouted to the assembled crowd..."Tell ode Lloyd I shor be mekkin any more thick pins for 'im."
The two terrified children were taken to stay with Rosannah's mourning parents.
A contemporary report states that thousands of local people were gathered in the vicinity of the Church Street house on the occasion of Rosannah's funeral, and a collection was made for the children, amounting to over £15 - a considerable sum in those days. She was buried at Moxley, and on the same night, in a packed St Giles' Parish Church, Willenhall, the Rev. G. Fisher delivered a sermon denouncing the savage murder.
He reminded his audience that although there had been four murders in Willenhall over the previous years, Edwards was the only culprit of local descent, and hence, the latest crime had blackened the town's name to a much greater degree than the rest.
Once the evidence against Edwards had been pieced together, the true horror of the crime came to light. Although he blamed the murder on drink and jealousy, he had carried it out in a calm, calculated manner. He had followed his wife upstairs, hit her about the head with the poker, and then strangled her. He continued to batter her skull into a sickly mess, and then threw her body over the bed where the two children lay. The apprentice, George Marsh, had remained in his room, too terrified to intervene - even though Rosannah had screamed out for his assistance.
In early August, Edwards was found to be guilty of wilful murder at Stafford assizes, and his execution was set for Tuesday, August 13th, 1872. He remained remarkably calm whilst in gaol. Apparently, a little snuff was the only luxury that he was allowed.
On the morning of the hanging, the executioner, George Smith of Dudley, was introduced to Edwards, and he at once pinioned his arms with leather straps. This was to be the first execution to take place in 'private' at Stafford. A report of the day describes the rest of the proceedings...
"Members of the Press were conducted to Edwards' cell, where he was engaged in earnest prayer with the Chaplain.
The scaffold had been erected in a corner of the gaol known as the "Crescent," some one hundred yards from the death cell.
As he walked to the scaffold he was calm, but cried out several times, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
At the scaffold, Smith quickly adjusted the fatal noose around Edwards' neck, and drew over his face a white cotton cap. Smith stood back and drew the bolt.
The body was still at first, and one of the officials remarked, "how easy he had gone." A few seconds later, however, the body began to twitch, and struggles were evident for several minutes. He died hard. One official said that he had seen no one die harder.
After life had ceased a black flag was hoisted over the tower at the entrance gate, to inform the public outside, numbering eighty, that the execution was complete.
He was buried in the prison grounds."