"I banged her head against the wall and she fell down upon the floor"

On May 15, 1899, the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent reported:





The quiet neighbourhood of Daniel Hill, Walkley, was on Saturday evening the scene of a tragedy of a more painful nature than any that has recently occurred in Sheffield – as painful in its circumstances, more painful in the fact that it had a fatal result which, happily, has been wanting in the other affairs of violence that we have lately had to chronicle. Samuel Holroyd, a French polisher, going home and finding his wife drunk, assaulted her and she died, probably not entirely because of the injuries inflicted by his blows, but also because the enfeebled state to which intoxication brought her, rendered her more liable to succumb to violence. The crime of causing his wife’s death with which Holroyd is now charged, appears to have been free from all premeditation, and for a murder – if is has to be called such – it shows a remarkable absence of those ghastly details which usually contribute towards the shocking effect of such occurrences. The fact that it was witnessed by no one probably accounts for the little excitement which it has caused. Few people in the neighbourhood seemed to know last night that there had been a fatal quarrel in their midst.

No particulars of that quarrel are available, except those supplied by Holroyd himself, who, when taken into custody and warned in the usual way, made a statement as to all that happened. From this appears that about half-past four on Saturday afternoon, he went to his home – 2, Yeoman’s Road, off Cleveland Street – and found no one in but his wife, who was drunk. He remonstrated with her for being ‘on the old racket again’, and felt in the bosom of her dress to see if she had her watch, as she often pawned it when the craving for drink was upon her. He could not find the watch, and, perhaps fearing that he might strike her, his wife went from the living room, where they were, into the front room. He followed her, and she tried to shut the door and keep him out, but he pushed his way in. ‘I pushed her,’ says Holroyd, ‘and slapped her face, then I banged her head against the wall and she fell down upon the floor. I let her lie and went to get the tea ready. After about ten minutes I went to her to wake her up, and poured some water on her face, but she took no notice of it. I then saw she was bad, and went and fetched Dr Hudson, but when he arrived she was dead. She still lay in the same position that she did when I left her.’ The husband added that his wife had been a great drinker for years, and had caused him much trouble, and concluded by declaring, ‘I did not mean to kill her.’ When he was taken into custody, and told that he must be charged with causing her death, he replied, ‘All right.’

But little can be gathered in addition to what Holroyd says. He is a man of 50 years of age, and his wife is 45, and they have been married about 24 years. The brightness of a happy married life seems in their case to have been continually obscured by the baneful shadow of intemperance, and there appears only too much reason to believe that the trouble has been of her causing. When she was sober, those who knew them declare they lived happily together, but for years he has been addicted to drink, and has often been more or less drunk for weeks at a time. Before Saturday, she had been drunk off and on for a fortnight. The man’s statement that she pawned things in order to get money for drink is also confirmed. He, on the other hand, is described as a steady man, quiet, and one who, though it is about twelve months since he removed from Nottingham Street and went to live in Yeomans Road, has made no acquaintances among his neighbours. He lived in his own house, and some of the adjoining ones are also his property, for he was in a comfortable position, having carried on business for himself as a French polisher in Corporation Street for almost 30 years. They had three sons, the eldest being nearly 21 years of age, and working with his father, the other boys being of twelve and six respectively. None of these were in on Saturday afternoon, though the two younger ones were playing not far away. The elder of the two had seen his mother about three o’clock, and she was not sober then. No one, so far as we have learned, saw Holroyd enter the house, and the quarrel between the man and his wife did not attract the attention of any of his neighbours. The people living next door, at a house which fronts Cleveland Street, thought they had heard some knocking, but they took little notice of it. Though they knew little of the parties, they were aware of the woman’s habits, and thought that this was but another of the ordinary quarrels which frequently took place. It is known that Holroyd, who had tried all in his power to reform his wife, had at times used threats instead of persuasion, and it will probably be found that he had been violent as well. At any rate, the knocking attracted no attention, and Holroyd himself was the first to give information of his wife’s state. He went, as he says, to Dr Hudson, who lives in Montgomery Terrace Road, and asked him to come and see his wife. Afterwards, he was asked if she was not dead when he left the house, but he said she was not, as he heard her rambling just before he called her, and then she suddenly became quiet. At all events, the injuries proved fatal in a very short time. She was dead when the doctor arrived, and he could do nothing but go back to his surgery and telephone to the police. Holroyd was calm, and his eldest son, Harold, who had come home about six o’clock, was in the house with him. Police Sergeant Jeeves received the information, and got to the house shortly before seven o’clock. He found father and son together, and the father made no attempt to get away, but quietly made his statement and allowed himself to be taken into custody. He was quite sober.

When an examination was made of the dead body, it was found that there were two wounds on the back of the head. One, about three inches long, and of a considerable depth, was a jagged cut, on the right side, slanting upwards; the other was about an inch and a quarter in length, and a straight cut. The place where the woman’s head had come into contact with the wall was shown by a large patch of blood on the paper darker in two particular spots than elsewhere, and seeming to indicate that she had been banged against the wall more than once. This was about four feet high, and she appeared to have been knocked over a chair, which stood just in front of the patch. Then she had fallen to the floor, a slanting streak of blood showing that her head had held to the wall during the fall, and by her head on the floor was a pool of blood. The patch of blood on the wall measured about a foot across. The furniture in the room was not disturbed.

As to the cause of death, that will best be given in the words of Dr H. L. Hudson, who was seen by our reporter. He said that Holroyd went to his surgery on Saturday afternoon, and asked him to come and see his wife. Holroyd was evidently greatly troubled, but his behaviour was quite rational, and there was nothing unusual in his manner. He told the doctor that he had gone home, and had found his wife drunk, and that he had been ‘hitting’ her. The doctor, however, was quite surprised when he reached Holroyd’s house, and found the woman lying on the floor between the kitchen and the sitting room, quite dead. The wounds in themselves were not sufficient to cause death, and the exact cause of death could not be known until a post-mortem examination had been made. The most common cause of death was haemorrhage on the brain.

The same paper on 17th May 1899 carried a comprehensive report of the inquest that was held in the Upperthorpe Hotel Sheffield


Eight days later the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent published a report of Holroyd’s appearance in front of the Sheffield magistrates:





In the Police Court of the city of Sheffield, yesterday, before the Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr E. M. E. Welby, Samuel Holroyd, French polisher, of 2, Yeomans Road, Walkley, was charged with the murder of his wife, Ellen Holroyd, on May 13th. Prisoner, who was dressed in mourning, was allowed to have a chair placed in the dock. Mr Ernest W. Clegg prosecuted for the Treasury, and the defence was conducted by Mr A. Neal.

Mr Clegg explained the circumstances of the case, before Harold Holroyd, eldest son of the prisoner, was called to give evidence. He saw his mother at eight o’clock in the morning, but could not say whether or not she was drunk. He returned home about six o’clock to find his father standing over the body of his mother. He told the court that his mother was his father’s second wife, and he was a child of this marriage. She was a kind and affectionate wife and mother when she was sober, and his father was very much attached to her. However, she had been addicted to severe drinking for a number of years and her drinking bouts varied from a fortnight to five weeks. When she was drunk she was almost uncontrollable, falling about and hurting herself, and his father had done his best to break her habit. Prior to May 13th she had been drinking for about two weeks. When she was drinking his father kept money from her, so she pawned property to enable her to buy drink. One item she frequently pawned was a watch, formerly owned by her mother. Efforts had been made to keep her in the house but once she escaped through a window, another time through a cellar grate. He said he did not think it would have been easier for his mother to make her way out of the back door, when the scuffle took place in the kitchen, than into the front room. His father very seldom spoke to his wife about her drunkenness. Harold’s younger brother Laurence then stated that his mother was drunk at two o’clock in the afternoon of May 13th.

The next witness was Dr Herbert Leonard Hudson. He gave evidence that he had been called to the house by Holroyd, who told him that his wife was drunk, he had hit her, and he was afraid she had fainted. Hudson estimated that when he arrived at the house she had been dead about half an hour. He told Holroyd that the matter might be very serious for him, to which the prisoner replied, ‘I can’t help it if it is.’ Holroyd led Hudson to infer that his life had been made miserable by his wife’s drunkenness, and did not care what happened to him. The doctor then gave details of the woman’s injuries, stating that merely falling against a wall would not have caused them, but a violent push against the wall would have done so. In his opinion there had been two such pushes.

The report then detailed an exchange between Dr Hudson and Mr Neal:

Mr Neal: ‘Are you prepared to swear that the woman died from the injuries?’

Witness: ‘I am prepared to say she died as a result of her injuries.’

Mr Neal: ‘That is the same thing. You are – think before you answer. I do not want to press you unduly or unfairly; but are you prepared to swear she died as a result of those injuries?’

Witness: ‘I am prepared to swear that is my opinion.’ Mr Neal then read from the doctor’s evidence at the inquest. ‘Did you, in point of fact, find anything sufficient to account for death?’ ‘No, I cannot say I did,’ and he asked witness if that was correct. Dr Hudson replied that it was, but he must qualify it.

Mr Neal: ‘Did you, not finding anything to account for death, use the generic term, and say that shock was the cause of death?’

Witness: ‘Yes.’

Mr Neal: ‘Before the coroner did you also say, I think perfectly fairly, that death may have resulted from a natural stoppage of the heart’s action caused by excitement?’

Witness: ‘You suggested that and I said it was possible.’

Mr Neal: ‘Did you find from post-mortem examination evidence of the fact that the deceased was an intemperate woman?’

Witness: ‘I did.’

By other questions, Mr Neal ascertained that the height of the deceased woman was 5ft 5in, and the bloodstains on the wall were too low to have been caused by the head of a person of that height who was standing erect, being banged against the wall, and if the deceased had been sitting in a chair which stood by the door, and had her head banged against the wall the blood marks would not have been so high as most of those which were on the wall.

Mr Neal: ‘Now doctor, assume that Mr Holroyd had pushed his wife violently backwards towards the chair, that she had lost her balance and her head had come in contact with the wall, and that then she had slipped downwards, with her head on the wall, into the chair, might that not account for the bloodstain on the wall?’

Witness: ‘It might. It is not likely.’

Nr Neal: ‘Perhaps not. Unlikely things happen. But the position of the stain on the wall favours that, does it not?’

Witness: ‘Yes.’

Mr Neal: ‘Assuming, again, that there had been a struggle in the little kitchen for the possession of a watch which the woman had in the bosom of her dress, and that she had been forced backwards with her head against the sink, might that account for the other wound?’

Witness: ‘Yes, providing, as I said at the inquest, her head came into sufficiently violent contact with the sinkstone.’

In re-examination, witness said he thought that probably there had been two bangs of the deceased’s head against the wall.

Sergeant Jeeves was then called, and repeated the prisoner’s statement to him. He said he had examined the kitchen, including the sinkstone and the wringing machine. There were no blood marks anywhere in the room, and there was no appearance of a struggle having taken place there. The Independent report then continued:

Mr Neal, addressing the Stipendiary, asked him to carefully consider whether there was any case on which to send prisoner for trial for manslaughter.

The Stipendiary: ‘The charge is murder.’ Mr Neal said he did not want to be disrespectful to a Treasury prosecution, but that seemed utterly ridiculous.

Mr Clegg: ‘At the present moment the charge of murder stands without any abatement.’

Mr Neal: ‘Then I shall ask you, sir, to dismiss the charge of murder against the prisoner, for anything more ridiculous than to charge Mr Holroyd with the wilful murder of his wife on this evidence I cannot imagine.’

The Stipendiary: ‘The charge of murder has gone a long way.’

Mr Neal: ‘It has, sir, but it has not gone so far as this, that a man who commits a common assault, and in that common assault kills, can be committed for murder. That charge could only be if the man committed a felony, when the law transfers one felony to the other.’

Mr Neal added that if a burglar, who never had any intention of killing anybody, did kill a person in the process of his burglary, the law transferred the felonious intent from the burglary to the killing, and called it murder.

The Stipendiary: ‘He is in the committal of an unlawful act.’

Mr Neal: ‘With great respect, I think it must be a felonious act.’

The Stipendiary said that the charge was murder, and there was some evidence of what might be called a technical murder. If the Coroner’s jury thought it was a very serious charge of manslaughter, he agreed with them. Mr Neal said the foreman of the jury had told him the jury considered it a case of accidental death. The Stipendiary said he could not agree with that. He thought it was a serious case of manslaughter.

Mr Neal: ‘Then I understand you intend to commit for manslaughter?’

The Stipendiary said he could not say. If the prosecution insisted on their charge there was evidence of a technical murder. Mt Neal said that in the first place there was no evidence that the prisoner caused the death. The doctor said he was not prepared to swear to the cause of death, and was not prepared to swear that the woman did not die from stoppage of the heart’s action. By the post-mortem examination he found no evidence sufficient to account for death. Surely his Worship would not say there was a tittle of evidence on which Mr Holroyd could be sent for trial on a charge exceeding manslaughter. Murder was feloniously killing with malice aforethought. Where was the evidence of that? There was no scrap of evidence against Mr Holroyd more than his own statement that he banged her head.

The Stipendiary: ‘What business has he, in point of law, to bang her head?’

Mr Neal: ‘None.’

Mr Neal proceeded to review the facts of the case, and he added that he had had brought with him a petition from prisoner’s neighbours in Nottingham Street, signed by 1075 persons. (Applause.)

The Stipendiary: ‘If there is any more noise the court will be cleared.’ The Stipendiary added that these people had no right to interfere with the law.

Mr Neal: ‘But if you consider the reputation of the man.’

The Stipendiary: ‘I have to deal with the facts.’

Mr Neal then appealed to the Stipendiary to send the prisoner for trial on the charge of manslaughter. The Stipendiary said that what Mr Neal had urged might be put before a jury. There was another aspect of the case which to his mind was more apparent. It was that this woman was unfortunately given to drinking habits, which evidently highly incensed her husband. On this occasion he may have been aggravated by some matter of the watch, and having lost control of himself and his temper, he banged her about in a way which, either directly or indirectly, resulted in her death. It was very difficult to deal with the difference between murder and manslaughter at a preliminary enquiry. If it had been left entirely to him he would have considered it a very serious case of manslaughter. He did not know whether the charge of murder was pressed. Mr Clegg said he did not wish to prosecute vindictively, and if there was an adjournment he would seek instructions from the Treasury as to reducing the charge. A remand was thereupon granted until Monday, with leave to bring the case forward on Friday if the Treasury instructions have been received by then.

The hearing resumed the following Monday, and was reported by the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent on May 30:




Samuel Holroyd, French polisher, 2, Yeomans Road, was again brought up in custody on the charge of murdering his wife, Ellen Holroyd, on May 13th. Mr E. W. Clegg appeared to prosecute for the Treasury, and Mr A. Neal represented prisoner. Mr Clegg said since Wednesday last he had received a letter from the Treasury, in which they stated they had no objection whatever to the charge being reduced to one of manslaughter.

Mr Neal: ‘Then, sir, upon that I ask for bail. Defendant is able to offer substantial bail, and whatever your Worship thinks ought to be done in that respect can be done, I have no doubt.’

The Stipendiary (to Mr Clegg): ‘Is anything said about bail?’

Mr Clegg: ‘No, only I suggest it should be fixed in a very substantial amount. I think he will have no difficulty finding whatever you may fix.’

Mr Neal: ‘I don’t know – anything in reason. I would suggest two sureties of £100 each, and himself in £200. Mr Holroyd is a substantial property owner himself, and can find two sureties without the least difficulty.’

No objection was offered by Mr Clegg, and the Stipendiary allowed bail in the amount suggested.

Holroyd appeared at Leeds Assizes in late July. The jury was sympathetic to his circumstances, possibly because of his wife’s excessive and constant drunkenness, and acquitted him even on the reduced charge of manslaughter. There is no question that manslaughter, not murder, was the correct charge, but on the evidence given at the various proceedings Holroyd could consider himself fortunate to be found not guilty of any offence.

This is a report from The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated July 28 1899 of the trial at Leeds Assizes

Yeomans Road Sheffield (Photo courtesy of Matthew Bell)


The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated May 15 1899

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated May 17 1899

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated May 25 1899

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated May 30 1899

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated May 30 1899

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated July 28 1899

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