Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes

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Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes

Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A fascinating account of two murders, one in Kent in 1908 and one in Northumberland in 1910. The author has uncovered a connection between both.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2009
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978-0752449456

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Two murders took place in Edwardian England less than two years apart, one in the south-east and the other in the north-east. At first glance they seemed to have nothing to do with each other, but years later a link between them was hinted at though never proved beyond doubt. The author has investigated the connection and come up with a riveting book.

In August 1908 Caroline Luard was found shot through the head in her summerhouse near Ightham, Kent. Gossips suggested that her elderly husband, a retired Major-General who had made the gruesome discovery, was the guilty man. After receiving several poison pen letters accusing him of the crime or at least covering up the identity of the killer, he threw himself under a train. Nobody was ever charged with the crime. In March 1910 John Nisbet, a colliery cashier, met a similar violent death on a Newcastle-bound train. John Dickman was found guilty, largely on circumstantial evidence, and hanged that summer.

That is all we know for certain, and it would have been the end of the story, but for the activities of Clarence Norman. A tireless socialist and campaigner for various causes throughout much of his long life, he had been an official shorthand writer at Dickman's trial. Forty years later, when the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment invited written submissions from the public, he wrote a memorandum exposing an alleged conspiracy to frame Dickman for the killing, as the judge and prosecuting counsel believed he was guilty of the murder of Caroline Luard.

In looking at all the evidence, Diane Janes has reconstructed and portrayed the Edwardian world very well. She takes us skilfully from a well-to-do family in Kent to the milieu of the working man in the north, where mining was the major industry and many jobs (such as that of the unfortunate cashier and murder victim) depended on it. As the judge pointed out in summing up at the end of the trial, remarking on the lack of security surrounding a man carrying a vast amount of cash on his own on public transport (something which is unthinkable today), Perhaps if the poor man into whose death we are enquiring had had a companion this would not have happened.

Norman was a persistent thorn in the side of the establishment, and his theories may well have been fantasy. He was a fan of true crime books, and in his tireless pursuit of sometimes hopeless causes, may have been responsible for the Dickman-Luard connection, on the basis that he or she who desperately wants to prove an astonishing theory will produce, bend and if necessary even fabricate the evidence to support it. His papers were routinely destroyed not long after his death in 1974.

Of course, other theories still abound. There was suspicion among the locals that Major-General Luard did actually kill his wife, possibly because she may have had a secret lover. This was unlikely, though the author shows that it may not have been impossible, and it was also believed at the time that the police were closing in on him and that he had been warned his arrest was imminent. Could a kindly police sergeant have advised him to fall on his sword, rather than risk being publicly disgraced in a court of law and end up on the gallows?

Yet this book is no idle gossip fest. The author has carried out extensive research into recently released Home Office files, as well as read various (often over-sensationalised) accounts of the murders by previous writers, as well as birth, marriage and death records, and local newspapers of the time, to produce an absorbing read. Needless to say, she does not solve the mystery, for nobody ever will. Yet she has painted a vivid portrait in words of these two apparently disparate murders, as well as of the families for whom the violent deaths were such a personal tragedy.

For another true crime story from a slightly earlier era, may we recommend The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, or alternatively Bristol Murders or Dorset Murders, both by Nicola Sly .

Buy Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes at Amazon.com.


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