Murder in Paradise Street: the first execution at Winson Green prison


At 8 am on  Tuesday March 17th 1885, Henry Kimberley was the first man to be executed within the walls of Birmingham prison. The press reported that the hangman was James Berry of Bradford and that ‘the sentence could scarcely have been carried out better than it was’. Kimberley was said to have shown ‘unexpected fortitude’.

Henry Kimberley was a 53 year old screw-tool maker, described as being ‘thick-set, about 5ft 6in high, with a low beetling forehead above which rises a tangled mass of brown hair, the lower part of his face being long and thin with a slight moustache’. The press reported that he looked older than 53, adding that his wife had claimed he was ‘nearer 60’. Kimberley had been separated from his wife for many years and had been cohabiting with 39 year old Harriet Steward for at least 17 years at 24, Pershore Rd. Although they lived in relative comfort, the relationship had become tempestuous and Harriet and Henry agreed to separate. The Daily Post reported that a formal solicitors agreement had been reached by which Harriet would keep the house whilst Henry would receive £20 and a piano. His plan upon the separation had been to leave Birmingham, but it appears that he changed his mind and returned to try and win Harriet back.


Henry’s efforts were futile and, according to the Post, goaded into madness by her fixed resolve, he seems to have conceived the fiendish idea of taking her life. Several witnesses claim to have heard Henry saying that he was going to shoot Harriet if he would not have her back. Over the course of the Christmas holiday, Henry continued his harassment, even breaking into the house on Pershore Road in the middle of the night. On December 27th Harriet went to see her friend, Emily Palmer, whose husband owned a number of pubs in the town. Emily and took Harriet to one of those pubs, the White Hart on Paradise Street for a drink and perhaps to offer support to her friend. Henry Kimberley arrived and spent around 45 minutes trying to convince Harriet to take him back. At around 7:45 pm, Kimberley asked one last time, have you determined? Are you going to live with me or not?  Harriet replied that she was not. A barmaid who witnessed the incident said that Kimberley then calmly pulled a revolver from his pocket and fired it directly at Harriet’s head, catching the left side of her skull. She jumped up before falling to the ground. As her friend moved to tend to her Kimberley turned the gun and shot Emily in the neck.

As Emily staggered along the bar, holding her bleeding neck, Harry Parsons,  the potman behind the bar attempted to detain Kimberley, who turned the gun on him. With the assistance of another man in the pub, Parsons was able to wrestle Kimberley to the ground and take the gun from him. Police-Constable Hart, who had heard the shots and cries of ‘Murder!’ then arrived on the scene and Kimberley was taken away. Both women were taken to the Queen’s hospital; sadly, Emily Palmer died from the wound to her neck; her funeral, at St. Mary’s Church Acocks Green was attended by a large crowd that assembled along the Stratford Road.

Kimberley was charged with the capital offence on ‘coroner’s warrant’. This was a notification ordering the constable to summon a jury and was issued whenever the coroner deemed a death ‘suspicious’. Kimberley’s defence upon his arrest was that they have ruined me. They have broken up my home worth £150. They have harboured her up there and at the Gem (here Kimberley was referring to Emily Palmer and her husband, the ‘Gem’ being another of their hostelries) and ‘ticed her away from me.  At trial he pleaded ‘not guilty’, but the evidence was overwhelming. Not only had he issued threats several days before the murder, he had also purchased a revolver at Snow Hill for 15 shillings on Christmas Eve.

There would be 39 further executions at Winson Green, the last being that of 20 year old Oswald Grey in 1962.

Information in this post taken from Birmingham Daily Post – copies of Birmingham nineteenth-century newspapers are available to view online by subscription to the British Newspaper Archives and free of charge at the Library of Birmingham Archives and Heritage, 4th floor. Please support our local archives. 


‘As it was seen from a tall chimney’, the 1858 eclipse

Total solar eclipse from Cape Tribulation, Queensland

Did you see the eclipse today (March 20th, 2015)? Or was it obscured by cloud?

In Victorian Birmingham, the eclipse of 1858 was observed through cloud and what we would now describe as ‘smog’. Smoke pollution, more often associated with the large factory towns of the North, was also a significant problem in Birmingham from early in the nineteenth century. It had been highlighted as a feature of the town by Mr. Pickwick (in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, serialised in 1836), describing the volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring everything around’. The town’s various authorities had taken some measures against the ‘nuisance’, introducing bye-laws and very occasional prosecutions of the most persistent perpetrators. But they seemed reluctant to interfere in local business and the pollution prevailed through much of the century.

The extract here is taken from a letter to the editor of The Birmingham Daily Post, of March 16th, 1858. The writer gives a vibrant representation of the eclipse as it was seen in the smoky skies of the town.

As it was seen from a tall chimney
To the Editor of the Daily Post

Sir,- you will doubtless duly report in yours of tomorrow, all the phenomena of the eclipse as seen from Heyford, for which purpose you left your Post for a few hours yesterday. Being in the country, of course, you saw all the “yellow tinges”, the “olive twilights”, the “descent of the sky”; …the closing of the horizon, the birds going to roost…”the flowers closing their petals”, as also noting the “waving lines of light and shade”, so graphically described in Saturday’s Journal. Now, surely, you will have no objection to publishing what was seen of the eclipse from a chimney-top in the centre of the “toy shop”.  Imagine, then, your correspondent, eager in the pursuit of knowledge and under the combined difficulties of a cloudy day and the combined smoke of 200 observatories, 200 evidences of wasteful carelessness…The scents of Cologne are without number, equally so are the colours belched forth from the lungs of the Steam Horses of Birmingham. 

The writer went on to explain that he had gone to look for evidence of the eclipse at 11:40 am, but that there was no sign of the ‘Old Sol’. He looked again at 12:35 pm, and this time did catch sight of a partially obscured sun before his view was obscured once more, perhaps partly as a result of the cloudy weather, but he continued:

It was evident that the light of the day was being interfered with by some extraordinary proceeding, and the diminution of light became sensibly greater until about one o’clock when it may be supposed that what was olive twilight at Heyford, in Birmingham became somewhat of a dirty pease soup colour, enveloping spires, factory chimneys and the dwellings of inhabitants, within a circle of some ten miles, with a strange, unearthly gleam. Just at the moment of greatest obscuration a couple of crows flew over the top of my observatory. Doubtless they will say they were labouring under a delusion, and were “going to roost”. Pigeons, however, and other domestic fowls, being up in astronomy, were not taken aback and indulged themselves in courting. 

The author, indulging the reader in some classic poetic verse, continues the  tale of the eclipse before relating some local revelry at the reappearance of ‘Old Sol’,

In mine ears still rings the joyous shout with which the great solar luminary was hailed by a group of factory boys, unjacketed and glad doubtless that their old friend of bright days and summer weather had got so well out of his difficulties.  Until thirty minutes to two o’clock the gradual disappearance of the shadow was very marked and increase of light was distinctly and palpably apparent. From this period all observation was at an end, owing to the clouds which obscured the whole horizon, rendering further observation impossible. 

The author signed off by suggesting that this may be the only account received by the newspaper from such a smoky locality as that from the top of a Tall Chimney.

Birmingham’s nineteenth-century newspapers are available by subscription through the British Newspaper Archives and also on the fourth floor of the Library of Birmingham FREE OF CHARGE. Please support our local archives, currently under threat of council cut-backs. 

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An Irishwoman Expressing Her Hatred of the Late Mr. Murphy

This report from the Police Court appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post on March 18th 1872. There is no indication of who Mr. Murphy might have been, or what he did to arouse such a passion in Marie Mooney.

Before Messrs. J. Jaffray, G.B. Lloyd, T. Avery and W. Holiday

An Irishwoman expressing her hatred of the late Mr. Murphy.- Marie Mooney, Fox Street, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Coleshill Street on Friday night. Police Constable Phillips said the prisoner was standing near the Concert Hall in a very intoxicated state. She was shouting loudly at the top of her voice “Hurrah! Murphy is dead; d_ him, and a good job too! May he go to __ . By the Holy Saint Patrick, may an Irishwoman’s curse follow him!” She was very noisy and drew a large concourse of people around her and he had to take her into custody before the crowd would disperse. The prisoner who was meek, and very submissive whilst in the dock, expressed her regret. The Magistrates fined her 2s 6d and costs, or seven days in default.

Unclaimed Humanity: Desertion of Family


On March 11th 1870, a 50 year old plane-maker named James Fellowes was charged before the police court with abandoning his wife and five children and leaving them chargeable to Birmingham parish. The prisoner, who, it was reported, and recently been earning £1 a week, had absconded to Bristol in November of the previous year. He had been brought back to Birmingham on license and, this being his third offence, was given the maximum sentence of three months imprisonment. It is difficult to understand how this would have relieved the distress of his family.

Desertion of family was a serious problem in Birmingham, as it surely was in many other towns. There are numerous accounts of abandonment that came before the police courts. The prosecutions always resulted in a fine or, as in the case of Fellowes, a prison sentence. As this case reveals, the punishment did not always prevent a recurrence or address the hardship faced by the family of the absconder. But the primary concern of the courts in these cases had little to do with concern for the plight of abandoned children and much to do with the burden on the parish – or more particularly, the ratepayer.

Birmingham was one of a number of towns that had adopted the Gilbert Act in the late eighteenth century. Under this act the town established a Board of Guardians and Overseers of the Poor. This board was responsible for raising and distributing funds for the relief of poverty in the town, and whilst they took their responsibilities to the poor very seriously, they were also accountable to the ratepayer. So they pursued all cases of abandonment and bastardy as far as they could, even advertising rewards in local newspapers for information on absconding fathers.

The issue appeared to amplify as the century progressed; in 1874, Birmingham’s Board of Guardians appointed a detective, from the local police force, to track down absconders and bring them back to face the music.  The Birmingham Daily Post  reported that there were some hundreds of deserted children in the Workhouse, and although the cost of employing such an officer would, it was seen, be heavy, there was no likelihood at all approaching that much of maintaining so much of so much unclaimed humanity. 

It was an experienced officer, Sergeant James Daniels, who was appointed for the job. He proved to be a great success, at least in terms of lessening the burden on ratepayers. In one year alone, the Daily Post reported – sixty-two persons were sought out and apprehended; 250 persons brought before the Workhouse committee in order they might be examined as to their means; sixty-seven persons summonsed to appear before the magistrates; the parents of fifteen lost children discovered; thirty-five families restored to their respective heads upon the latter being discharged after imprisonment; thirty boys captured and returned who had absconded from the Marston Green homes or the Workhouse. In the course of his pursuits, Daniels racked up annual expenses of between £200 – £300 a respectable aggregate of work for twelvemonth. Some of those he tracked down had been missing for more than a decade. The appointment of a ‘poor law detective’, meant that no other town in the kingdom could boast a better system of preventing conjugal or parental neglect than Birmingham. 

Under clause 31 of the Gilbert Act, Guardians of the Poor were legally required to report ‘idle or disorderly persons’ to the magistrates for prosecution. This included those identified as ‘able, but unwilling to work or maintain themselves and their families. If Guardians were shown to have ignored complaints or claims against those who were exploiting the system in some way, they themselves were liable to a fine of not less than £5. This may have been further motivation to ensure prosecutions were pursued.

Information here is taken from Birmingham Daily Post, March 12th, 1870 & January 14th, 1884. Newspapers are available to view free of charge at the Library of Birmingham in the Local Studies section, 4th floor. Some copies are also available via paid subscription from the British Newspaper Archives. 

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Billy Poole, a serial inebriate

On March 4th 1892, Billy Poole made his 170th appearance in front of the magistrate’s bench. He was charged with having been found drunk in charge of horse and subsequently assaulting a police officer. Billy was 70 years old. The Daily Post of March 5th carried the following report:

Billy Poole, Again – “Billy” Poole made his 170th appearance before the magistrates yesterday. He was charged with being drunk whilst in charge of a horse and cart and with assaulting the police. Police Constable George Hyde saw “Billy” in Duddeston Mill Road. He was drunk whilst in charge of a horse and cart, and the on the officer going to him, Poole struck him across the chest with a whip. Poole was so disorderly that the officer had to obtain assistance to get him to the station. – The Stipendiary:- “I shall give him a month’s hard labour for assaulting the police. He is a disgrace to the city. I don’t know what we can do with him. He is seventy years of age and it is a marvel he is alive. I suppose it is only the prison that saves his life”.

The month of hard labour appears to have had little effect in improving Billy’s drinking problem. In May 1892 (reported in the Daily Post as his 160th appearance – although perhaps easy enough to lose count!) he was again presented to the magistrates charged with being drunk in charge of a horse. Police Constable Hargreaves had seen Billy on Bromsgrove Street at 4 o’clcock in the afternoon, standing up in his cart, without a hat, and there were no reins to the horse. Poole admitted to the magistrates that he had been out all night but I had a drop of beer. He was again committed for a month. On hearing the sentence Poole declared I should thank the Lord to take me out of the world.

The earliest appearance I can find in the press, though reported then as his 143rd, appears in the Daily Post of November 26th, 1890. Again, he was reported drunk in charge of a horse and cart, on Smallbrook Street. This time, when asked by the magistrate if he had been drunk, Billy provoked laughter with his reply, well, I warn’t, as you may say, drunk, but I’d had some drink. He was fined 10 shillings plus costs, or 14 days – the report doesn’t say which option was taken.

The final report on Billy that I have found comes from June, 1893, again there appears to be confusion over how many appearances he had made at the Police Court:

An Old Offender:- “Billy” Poole made his 155th appearance on the old charge of being drunk and disorderly. Billy was in Longmore Street on Wednesday night with a handcart, with which he was prodding various people. He was taken into custody. – Poole now said he had had drink, but was not drunk. The Stipendiary:- “The man is more dangerous to himself than anyone else”. Inspector Hall:- “Oh yes sir”. Mr. Barradale (magistrate’s clerk):- “Fortunately, he has got rid of his horse now. He used to be always getting drunk.” The Stipendiary (to the prisoner):- “There is nothing to be done. Be off with you, back to business this time”.

Bad meat and fish

From the Daily Post, March 5th 1877

Police Court, Saturday March 3rd 1877

Bad Meat and Fish.- Joseph Smith, stall, Fish Market, was summoned for exposing five pigs’ plucks for sale that were unfit for human food.  Mr. Herbert (instructed by the Town Clerk) appeared for the prosecution and Mr. Cheston defended. Inspectors Stevens and Jones gave evidence to the effect that on the 10th ult., they found five decomposed pigs’ plucks on the defendants stall in the Market, mixed with other meat which was of good quality and being offered for sale. For the defence Mr. Cheston urged that the meat was sold by the defendant to another person the day before it was seized, and that this person paid toll to the Market Hall authorities for permission to sell it. Witnesses were called to prove this allegation; but the Bench, after a lengthy deliberation, ruled that the defendant was responsible for the purity of goods sold on his premises, and imposed a fine of 5s and costs. – Thomas Sandland, fishmonger, Newtown Row, was fined 10s. and 12s. 2d. costs for exposing eleven plaice for sale at his shop on the 21st ult., which were decomposed and unfit for human food. – Inspector Jones proved the case.