Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at a savage attack with a pair of tongs that leads to the death of a Preston woman...
Pitt Street in Preston, where the County Hall now stands, was a much different area back in the 1830s. Amongst the residents of the small cottage terraced homes was Thomas Hamer, who earned his living by following the trade of retail brewer. His parlour often visited by locals who liked a glass or two of his home brewed ale.
On the first Monday of April 1836 a number of regulars were in attendance in the evening, including his wife Jane and her son William Greenall who lived within. Hamer appeared to be in a quarrelsome mood as the evening progressed and, as the customers prepared to leave, his wife rebuked him for his behaviour, saying he should not be awkward with customers.
The remark prompted Hamer to pick up a pair of tongs from the fire grate with both hands and strike his wife a vicious blow to the right side of her forehead, and she immediately fell to the flagged floor. Shrieking with pain she was assisted by a neighbour who took her to a nearby house.
Hamer, still boiling with rage, then went into the street and a fight took place between him and a young man who was clearly disgusted at Hamer’s behaviour towards his spouse.
Hamer returned to his home bloodied after being given a beating and, after bathing his wounds left the house, not reappearing
until the next day. Mrs Hamer took to her bed without medical assistance saying she could not afford to call a doctor.
Only on the following Thursday was a doctor called. Surgeon Thomas Dixon observing she had a fever and he treated her accordingly; but the fever did not abate and she died on the Friday morning.
The following day an inquest was held at the Town Hall before coroner Richard Palmer. Details of Thomas Hamer’s violent behaviour were revealed and neighbour Jane Furness testified that she had seen him mistreat his wife on numerous occasions.
Betty Whitehouse then testified that she was present after the blow was struck and, fearing her friend was killed, told Hamer he would hang for it. To which he had responded by saying he did not care.
According to surgeon Thomas Dixon the woman had a fractured skull and she had died from inflammation and ulceration of the brain. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ and Hamer was committed to Lancaster Castle to stand trial.
The trial of Thomas Hamer, aged 38, took place at the Lancaster Summer Assizes in early August before Sir James Allan Parke. After their deliberations the Grand Jury thought a charge of manslaughter more appropriate and, following a brief trial, the common jury returned a verdict of guilty. His Lordship then informed Hamer that he would be transported for life.