Monthly Archives: August 2010

Spotlight on Kidsgrove – The Avenue Villa Murders

L0004829 Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor, Berkshire.

THE CRIMINAL LUNATIC ASYLUM AT BROARDMOOR

On October 2nd, 1911, people living in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire were shocked when they read in the Sentinel that a burglar had murdered widow Mrs Mary Weir, her four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and Mary Hambleton, the family’s 17-year-old maid.

The victims lived at Avenue Villa, a large detached house in Liverpool Road, Kidsgrove which stood in its own grounds overlooking the Victoria Hall and the cemetery. Surrounded by trees, the secluded villa (now demolished) was approached by a long, winding drive. At about ten o’ clock in the morning, Mrs Eliza Stanfield, who lived across the road, was looking out of her window and saw a man walking up the drive towards the house.

Two hours later, Mrs Weir’s eight-year-old daughter Jennie, came home from school for dinner. She saw an empty cash box lying on the floor in the hall. Going upstairs, she found the three bodies lying in pools of blood. They had all been stunned by blows to the head before being stabbed four or five times with a chisels or a stiletto – a short dagger with a tapering blade.

The cash box belonged to William Lehr, a German civil engineer who was erecting a battery of German designed Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood Colliery. He had been living with the Weirs for eight days when the murders were committed. The burglar took £30 in gold sovereigns and silver coins from a draw in William’s bedroom where he kept the cash box and a leather bag containing £15. The bag was missing and suspicion fell on Karl Kramer, a German construction worker at Birchenwood, who had helped William move his possessions to Avenue Villa a few days previously.

A keen cyclist, Kramer who was 28 years old had been an infantryman in the German army. He cycled all the way from Wakefield to The Potteries looking for work. He came to Kidsgrove, where German workers were building a battery of 72 Carl Still coke ovens at Birchenwood, on September 14th, 1911. William gave him a job and he found lodgings with Esther Shufflebotham, an elderly woman who kept a shop in Goldenhill. Kramer left Birchenwood on Wednesday, September 27th, after a row with William and two days later walked out of his lodgings owing Mrs Shufflebotham eleven shillings (55p) rent. Everyone thought he had left the district but on the morning of Monday, October 2nd, he cycled from Red Bull to Kidsgrove. Leaving his cycle at a stonemason’s yard near the Harecastle Hotel, he walked into town. When he returned about an hour later to collect his cycle, Kramer seemed agitated and anxious to get away quickly.

When the murders were discovered, Staffordshire Police organised a nationwide manhunt for Kramer. A watch was kept on ports in case he tried to get back to Germany. His description was given to the newspapers and the public was asked to help find a 5 foot 7 inches tall German in his early 30s, with nut brown hair and a bristly moustache, wearing a green striped peaked cap, a dark green suit and black shoes.

On leaving Kidsgrove, Kramer cycled to Macclesfield. Stopping for a drink at the Bleeding Wolf, an old coaching inn on the A34 at Hall Green, he kept going outside to see if anyone was following him. By two o’ clock Kramer had arrived in Macclesfield and went to a hairdresser, where barber Samuel Rider shaved him and took off his moustache. Taking his bike with him, he caught a train to Leeds. Arriving there at about five o’ clock, he purchased a rolled gold chain from a jeweller. Realising that his suit was bloodstained, Kramer went to a clothes shop and bought the first ready to wear suit the assistant showed him. The suit needed altering and he left the shop while the alterations were made. When he collected the suit two hours later, Kramer paid for it with silver coins and purchased a hat. He changed into his new suit and left the shop carrying the bloodstained one in a box, which one of the assistants had given him. He booked a room for the night at the Phoenix Temperance Hotel paying four shillings (20p) for bed and breakfast.

Before going to bed, Kramer went to a public-house, the Prince of Wale, and started buying drinks for everyone in the smoke room. He bought several rounds and paid for them with gold and silver coins taken out of a leather bag that he kept in his hip pocket. A woman, Dora Goldstone, approached Kramer. He bought her a drink and asked if she would like to dance. While they were dancing, Goldstone put her hands in his pocket and stole the leather bag which contained £27. She left the public-house and shared the money with two men who followed her out. When he realised the money was missing, Kramer reported the theft to the police saying his name was John Reuter.

The following day, Kramer made his way to York where he offered to sell his bicycle to George King a cycle dealer. King was suspicious. He believed the cycle had been stolen and called the police. Kramer told them his name was Alfred Woltman and that he had travelled by bicycle and train from London to York looking for work. The police believed him and King bought the cycle for fifteen shillings (75p).

Kramer left York the next morning and went to Bentley, a small mining village near Doncaster. Saying he was a fitter from Glasgow who had come to work at a local colliery, Kramer found lodgings at William Bradshaw’s fish and chip shop. That evening, Bradshaw read a report of the murders in his newspaper which gave a description of the wanted man. Realising that his lodger was the murderer, Bradshaw informed the police and Kramer was arrested. He said his name was Ainfred Woltmann and when charged replied, “Me no understand”. The West Riding Constabulary, who had made the arrest, handed him over to Staffordshire Police and he was brought back to Kidsgrove where bloodstains were found on his underclothes.

On Saturday, October 7th, Kramer was remanded in custody by the Magistrates and taken to Stafford Prison. A few days later an inquest was held at the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove into the deaths of Mary Weir, her daughter Margaret and the maid Mary Hambleton. The jury said they had been wilfully murdered by Kramer and the Coroner committed him for trial to Stafford Assizes.

While he was awaiting trial, the prison authorities discovered that Kramer was mentally ill. He became withdrawn and lost interest in everything. On Tuesday, November 14th, two prison officers carried him into the dock at Stafford Assizes and placed his seemingly lifeless body on a chair. He sat with his head in his hands while the court clerk read the indictment. Kramer remained silent when asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty. Two doctors told the court he was insane and unable to understand the proceedings. Accepting their evidence, the jury found that he was unfit to plead and the judge, Mr Justice Pickford, ordered him to be detained in custody during His Majesty’s pleasure. Kramer was taken back to Stafford Prison and shortly afterwards transferred to the criminal lunatic asylum at Broadmoor.

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010

Focus on Kidsgove: Harry Wilson – A Local Hero

The Edward Medal

THE COAL MINES ACT 1911

The Coal Mines Act 1911 forced colliery owners to employ qualified safety officers who were called firemen to inspect roadways leading to the coalface and to make sure that the pit was well ventilated and free from gas.

It was a responsible job. A miner could not become a fireman unless he had obtained a Fireman’s Certificate, was at least 25 years old and had worked underground for three years before working at the coalface for two years.

In the early 1920s, Harry Wilson, a roadman at Harriseahead Colliery, was a part-time student at the North Staffordshire Technical College (now Staffordshire University) where he was studying for his fireman’s certificate.

HARRISEAHEAD COLLIERY FLOODED

On March 10th, 1924, Harry was at work when the lower levels of the colliery were flooded by a sudden inrush of water. Except for Edwin Booth, who was trapped by flood water about 300 yards (274 metres) from the bottom of the shaft, all the men working underground escaped. Many had made their way along roadways where the water was four feet deep to the bottom of the shaft.  They were brought up in the cage. Other miners scrambled up a footrail to reach the surface.

When he realised that Edwin was missing Pailing Baker, the manager, called for volunteers to go back into the mine to rescue him. Five men, including Harry, volunteered. Led by Pailing, they entered the mine through the footrail. Making their way along a roadway, the volunteers reached a ventilation door which was holding back the flood water. Fearing for their lives, four of the men refused to open it. They returned to the surface while Pailing and Harry stayed by the door.

When the two men slowly opened the door, the water behind it fell slightly.

Although they realised that they could be drowned by the water which was still pouring into the mine, Pailing and Harry risked their lives by wading in semi-darkness through swirling black flood water. They found Edwin trapped in a low roofed, narrow roadway. Struggling against chest high, fast flowing water, Pailing and Harry again risked death to guide him to the bottom of the shaft where a cage took all three of them to the surface.

PAILING AND HARRY AWARDED THE EDWARD MEDAL

Six months later, on August 23rd, 1924, Buckingham Palace announced that King George V had awarded Pailing and Harry the Edward Medal for “exceptional courage and resolution”. Before going to London to receive their medals from the King, they were honoured locally.

At a ceremony in the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove, they were presented with certificates acknowledging their bravery by the Daily Herald, a popular national newspaper. During the ceremony, the Carnegie Trust announced that it had agreed to pay Harry’s tuition fees at the North Staffordshire Technical College giving him the opportunity to continue his studies and become a mining engineer.

Instituted by King Edward VII in 1907, the Edward Medal was the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Designed by W. Reynolds-Stephens, the medal had the sovereign’s profile on the obverse, while the reverse depicting a miner rescuing a stricken colleague, was inscribed with the words “For Courage”.

HARRY EXCHANGES HIS MEDAL FOR THE GEORGE CROSS

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, persuaded King George VI to institute the George Cross “for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.

The George Cross gradually replaced the Edward Medal which was only awarded posthumously after 1949. During 1971, the Queen invited the 68 surviving holders of the Edward Medal to exchange it for the George Cross. Harry accepted the invitation, and until his death in 1986, he regularly attended the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association’s reunions at Buckingham Palace.

Please contact Spotlight on North Staffordshire at spotlightstoke@talktalk.net to tell us about other miners working in local collieries who were given awards for risking their lives to rescue a comrade trapped underground.

John Lloyd – North Staffordshire’s Forgotten Aircraft Designer

Described by Sir Morien Morgan (the Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough) as one of the 20th century’s leading aircraft designers, John Lloyd was born near Swansea on October 20th, 1888.

Born into a close-knit Welsh-speaking family, four-year-old John could not speak English when his family moved to Etruria. An intelligent child, he quickly mastered the English language. Educated at Cavour Street Schools and at Hanley High School, he left school at sixteen.

He became an apprentice at Shelton Bar and attended evening classes at the Technical School in London Road, Stoke.

Fascinated by the Wright brothers attempts to build a petrol engine powered glider, John designed and made model flying machines in his spare time.

Before the First World War (1914-18) aeroplanes had wooden frames covered with canvas. Having studied aerodynamics, John believed that an all-metal aircraft could be built. When war broke out, he was employed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to design composite wood, metal and canvas fighter aircraft.

After the war, Coventry based aeroplane manufacturer Armstrong Whitworth made John its chief designer, and he designed the Armstrong Whitworth Siskin fighter-bomber. In 1923 a specially built two-seater Siskin II won the King’s Cup Air Race reaching a speed of 149 miles per hour. Shortly afterwards, he modified the aircraft’s design and created the Siskin III, the Royal Air Force’s first all-metal framed biplane.

Civil aviation developed rapidly after the First World War, and in March 1924, the government founded Imperial Airways to carry passengers and mail throughout the British Empire.

An airmail service between England and India opened in 1929, and Imperial Airways asked Armstrong Whitworth to build a four-engine monoplane capable of carrying passengers and mail.

John designed the Atalanta, a commercial transport aircraft that had a range of 540 miles and could carry seventeen passengers. The Atalanta made its maiden flight on June 6th, 1932. Imperial Airways bought eight Atalantas, and the aircraft went into service on September 26th.

The company assigned four Atalantas to its airbase at Germinston in South Africa. The other four were sent to India where they flew from Karachi to Calcutta, Rangoon and Singapore.

As early as 1933, the government realised that Germany was preparing for war and decided to modernise the Royal Air Force. It asked the aircraft industry to build fast heavily armed monoplane fighters and long-range bombers to replace the Royal Air Force’s old-fashioned biplanes. John designed the Whitley, a long-range heavy bomber. Powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, the Whitley’s maximum speed was 230 miles per hour. It had a range of 2,400 miles and could carry bombs weighing up to 7,000lbs.

A front line aircraft from 1939 to 1942, the Whitley played a significant role in the Royal Air Force’s bombing offensive. During the Battle of Britain, it attacked Berlin and bombed aircraft factories, munitions works and railway marshalling yards in Italy. The Whitley’s last operational flight against Germany was on May 30th, 1942 when it took part in the first 1,000 bomber raid. The target was Cologne, and for nearly ninety minutes over 3,000 tons of bombs rained down on the city.

Between 1942 and 1949, John was at the cutting edge of aviation research working on the flying wing, an experimental tailless jet aircraft. Hoping these experiments would enable him to design an airliner, he constructed a two-seater tailless glider which flew successfully. Impressed by the glider’s performance the government allowed him to build two jet-powered flying wings. One crashed while being flown by a test pilot and the other was taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where it was used in tests which helped to develop the V Bomber force and Concorde.

During the 1950s, John developed the Sea Slug missile for the Royal Navy which was undoubtedly the finest and most effective ship to air guided missile in the world. Retiring in 1959, he went to live with his daughter in London. A modest man, who never boasted about his achievements, John died aged ninety at Kingston-on-Thames on November 16th, 1978.

(The photograph shows a Whitley Bomber on a test flight over Coventry)

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010