Charlotte Pugsley Pt2

Part 2

By the time Beale appeared in front of the Justices for the second time, the press had reported that he was married.  His wife lived near him in Daventry, working as a dressmaker.  Then it was discovered that Beale and Charlotte had left Mrs. Hutchinson’s at the same time, and Charlotte lived with Beale and his wife at Flora Cottages in Victoria Square.  Moreover, she left “owing to the jealousy of the wife having been excited”.  On the other hand, the press discovered the virtuous life of Charlotte, which was an almost perfect Victorian morality tale.  Born illegitimate in Bishops Lydiard, at one month old she had been put by the parish into the care of “Old Betty Mullins” for 2/- a week, from which she was removed at age 10, by Mrs. Warre, brought into the local big house, allowed to eat with the servants, taught to read and write, and trained in domestic and social skills.  She had left to go into service as a cook, worked in Bristol and London, periodically returning to see Old Betty Mullins and Mrs. Warre, before settling in the Bristol/Bath area, working in Clifton, at Brentry House, and in Bath, finally at Freshford, always highly regarded and always described as reserved in her manner.  She had some very good friends in a family in Bath, with whom she stayed between jobs, and to whom, to their great surprise, she introduced Beale as her prospective husband and to say farewell before emigrating a couple of days before Beale  appeared at Freshford.  Her boxes contained various books of a devotional nature, and the hymn book a fellow servant had given her on leaving Freshford.  How was it possible to make sense of all that?

At the court, the police produced evidence about the finding of the body, the medical evidence witnesses from Freshford, from Temple Meads who destroyed Beale’s story about the Wednesday evening, and from Daventry who told of his other untruths.  However, the best the police could manage to connect Beale with Leigh Woods was a woman living near the New Cut who saw a couple in mid-morning walking several times around the Bedminster Bridge area “near the new hospital” before finally walking off towards Hotwells, (she identified Beale whom she knew from 11 years earlier), and two lads, aged 12 and 13, who were “hazeling” in Leigh Woods late that afternoon, said they had seen “two lovers” walking in the woods, had heard a pistol shot a little later, and swore they recognised Charlotte from the description of her clothes and Beale as they saw him in court.  It was enough, together with the boxes, pistols and knife, and the evidence of Beale’s inconsistent explanations of his activities for the Justices to send him for trial.

Beale appeared at the Somerset Winter Assizes in Taunton Castle before the Hon. Sir James Shaw Willes and a Grand Jury on Tuesday 22nd December.  “There was considerable excitement to gain admission”.  “The accommodation for reporters was wholly inadequate and some of them were indebted to the Governor of the Gaol for seats in the dock” (!)

Mr. Stone, opening for the Crown, made much of the concealment of the body “in a naturally formed vault” in the cliff face, and Beale’s local knowledge having been brought up in Long Ashton.  He further blackened Beale’s character by telling that Beale had given away some of Charlotte’s dressed in Daventry “to a person of some considerable attractions” (whom he later produced for the Jury to have a look at).  He explained, in a surreal touch, that he could not produce Captain Watkins to refute various of Beale’s stories as after being subpoenaed, he had been killed on the South Devon Railway between Totnes and Newton Abbot.

The prosecution witnesses repeated the remand hearing evidence, and whilst the two lads were not produced, two new witnesses were, who told of seeing a couple round about Nightingale Valley in the late afternoon, arm in arm or the woman’s head on the man’s shoulder, Charlotte being identified by her clothing.  Sarah Gulliver admitted receiving clothes, boots and other things from Beale, but indignantly insisted she sent her husband to collect them and only after assurances from Beale that as they were his dead sister’s his wife would not wear them.

Mr. Saunders, defending, protested repeatedly about “the almost unheard prejudice” against Beale.  He conceded there must have been “some secret understanding between Beale and Charlotte”.  He also conceded all Beale’s false accounts, but, he argued, none of that proved murder.  He also emphasised the absence of notice.  Beale and Charlotte were obviously on good terms, and even the highly suspect witnesses who identified them so dubiously in Leigh Woods reported an obviously loving couple.  In conclusion, Saunders argued the charge had simply not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The case was over in a day.  The Jury needed only 5 minutes to find Beale guilty.  The Judge  lectured him “for cruelly seducing that girl from the house in which she had respectable employment” and for “fraudulently inducing her into marriage and emigration”.  He refrained from speculating about the murder itself and its motivation.  Donning the black cap, he sentenced Beale to death.

With obvious inside knowledge, accounts were published of the daily efforts, until late at night, of the Gaol Chaplain, and the Rev. H.P. Liddon, the nephew of the Gaol Surgeon, to persuade Beale to confess before meeting his God.  (Liddon was a close friend of Pusey and Keble, and at the time Vice-President of the new Theological College at Cuddesdon.  He ended his career as Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, famed for his sermons and his influential position in London society.  Liddon seems to have known Beale as a butler when he was a house guest somewhere).  On the Sunday before his execution, Liddon preached “the condemned sermon” in the Gaol Chapel to Ecclesiastes xii.7.   He was with Beale at 6 am on his last day.  After breakfast, Beale went with all the other prisoners, except the debtors, to a service in the chapel, received the sacrament, and was taken out to execution.  Before climbing the ladder up on the leads of the Gaol roof, and out onto the scaffold, Beale was again asked and replied “no, nothing”.  Now pinioned by the Public Hangman, Beale faced, for his last moments, a crowd of 10,000 to 12,000, “almost entirely of the lower orders, and no inconsiderable portion women and children, and it is due to them to state that they behaved with a decorum which is not often witnessed upon such occasions”.  Beale showed no trepidation, and seems to have died very quickly, as least by the standards of the time.  Most of the crowd did not stay to see his body cut down; it was buried in the prison.

So Beale went to his death without confessing, which is what the clergy, the press and the public clearly wanted him to do.  That was still worthy of comment when Latimer wrote his History of Bristol some 30 years later.  Initially Beale told the story of Charlotte going off with someone else from Temple Meads, but the he clammed up.   On the Sunday before his execution he told Liddon he was not the murderer and that Charlotte died “by another hand”, but Liddon could not break his silence again.  Nor, it seems, could his father or his sister when they were allowed to visit.  Was he guilty?  The case had weaknesses.  The evidence was circumstantial.  What about motive?  The evidence linking Beale with Leigh Woods on the day was suspect.  But Beale had told one false story after another to different people about what he was up to, and he did have Charlotte’s boxes.  Why did he go  back to Daventry and not try to vanish, let alone take Charlotte’s boxes with him?  And so the questions go on and on; the story is indeed gruesome and, I think, still retains its mystery.  I am sure readers will have questions of their own.

What is not in doubt is the awful death of poor Charlotte Pugsley in such a beautiful place

When you next walk there, you my care to pray for her;  but at least remember her.


© Derek Smith

Back to Part 1 of story:     Charlotte Pugsley & John William Blake

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