An Historic Murder Story

Recently the Bradling Stone, Norton in Hales’s monthly magazine, published the details of the murder of an old Nortonian resident and I was intrigued to find out more, here is what I discovered.

“1920 45 Main Road, Norton in Hales lived Mrs Pruce and Bert Pruce. In 1930 Mrs Pruce moved to Shrewsbury because Bert, her son wanted to get married and she didn’t want him to leave home. Shortly after they moved to Shrewsbury we heard Mrs Pruce had killed Bert and his dog with an axe.” – Extract from – The Bradling Stone – Issue 4 – July 2019.

Alice Annie Stevens b.1891, of 38 Great Western Road, Gloucester, married Albert Edward Pruce b.1889 a gardener of Asylum Lodge, Hyde Lane, Gloucester, on 3rd September 1913 at the Parish Church of St Mary-de-Lode in Glouchester. They had a son, Albert Edward Pruce Jnr (Bert) born in 1915. In 1917 Corporal Albert Edward Pruce died in action (6th Battalion Shropshire Light Infantary) and is buried in Belgium, Tyne Cot Memorial. At the time of his death, his widow Annie Pruce is listed as living at 45 Main Road, Norton in Hales Shropshire.

Corpl. A. E Pruce

The 1939 register lists Alice and Bert, living at 29 The Oval, Market Drayton Shropshire. Alice’s occupation is recorded as unpaid domestic duties and Bert’s as Railway Porter (trained as signalman). On the 28th October 1945, at 19 Roseway, Harlescott, Shropshire Bert was murdered by his mother.

On Tuesday 20th November 1945, the Daily Mirror reported: To Mrs. Pruce there was no Judge or jury. Judge, jury, barristers and witnesses just might not have been there for Mrs Alice Annie Pruce, in the dock at Shrewsbury yesterday, charged with the murder of the son she doted on. Mr Pruce, 58, rocked backwards and forwards, inconsolable because Bert her son, wasn’t with her. She had killed Bert because she loved him so much: because it tore her heart to hear him cry, night after night, after his girl had jilted him. Everybody in court knew, Birmingham’s prison doctor, Dr Humphrey, went into the witness-box. “So wrapped in her misery”, he said “that her mind has no room for anything else.” He paused. Mrs Pruce, unheeding, swayed and crooned. “She is not interested in what is going on. She is obsessed with her grief.” said the doctor. Briefly her story was told and her statements were read and the jury found her unfit to plead. Because Mrs Pruce could not bear to hear her son’s crying she had reached for a hatchet in their home at Harlescott, Shrewsbury, and killed him. Neighbours saw her running down the road in her nightdress that day. Judge and jury were gentle, Mrs Pruce will be kept and cared for “during his Majesty’s pleasure” – which means until she can face the world again.

WIDOW KILLED TEARFUL JILTED SON, POLICE SAY. 23rd November 1945. A widow killed her son after he had “cried for hours” because he had been jilted, it was alleged at Shrewsbury court. The widow, Alice Annie Pruce, 58, of Harlescott, told the court; “I do not remember anything about it.” She was committed for trial on a charge of having murdered her son Albert Edward Pruce. Police found the son dead in bed at his home. He was lying in a pool of blood with severe head injuries. In the kitchen was a dead dog and an axe. Mrs Pruce was found suffering from what appeared to be disinfectant poisoning. A neighbour said that Mrs Pruce told her: “I had to do it. He said Mother what have we to live for? You are unhappy and so am I.” She also said “He cried every night over being jilted by his young lady.” The court was told that when Mrs Pruce was charged she said “I could not kill Bert. I loved him too much, I must have been mad if I did.”

Alice Annie Pruce died on 18th Febraury 1979, her last address was listed as 24 Alms Houses, Victoria Street, Windsor.

Close Helmet of Sir Rowland Cotton

Whilst visiting the Royal Armouries in Leeds I came across the close helmet of Sir Rowland Cotton.

The helmet was suspended over the alabaster monument designed by the famous architect, Inigo Jones, commissioned for his first wife by Sir Rowland Cotton and in which he himself was later entombed. Son of a prosperous London draper, he was elected Member of Parliament and later knighted. Cotton was Justice of the Peace for Shropshire and mayor of Newcastle.

On loan from St Chad’s Church, Norton-in-Hales.

The close helmet or close helm was a military helmet worn by knights and other men-at-arms. Sir Rowland’s helmet is believed to be German or Flemish, about 1550.

Bricks and History

When I look at any building I alway look at its brickwork. Why? because the different types of brickwork can help date the construction of a building, but be careful, bricks can be recycled and may be older than the building itself.

Brick Bonds

English Bond – This bond is formed by laying alternate course or rows of ‘stretchers’ the length of a brick and ‘headers’ the end of a brick. This is one of the strongest bonds but requires more bricks than other bonds. Used from 1450’s as the standard bond for most houses built in England for almost three centuries. It remained a popular bond for use in industrial building because of its strength.

English Bond

Flemish Bond – This is a ‘stretcher’ followed by a ‘header’ alternating throughout a course or row. This bond was first used in England in 1631, it became very popular and was the dominant brickwork used for houses then for over a century.

Variant of the Flemish Bond

Stretcher Bond – Most commonly used in recent times this bond is formed only using ‘stretchers’, with the joins on each course or row centred above and below by half a brick.

English Garden Wall – This is similar to the English bond but with one course or row of ‘headers’ for every three courses of ‘stretcher’.

Flemish Garden Wall – This is a variant of Flemish bond that uses one ‘header’ to three ‘stretchers’ in each course or row. The ‘header’ is centred over the ‘stretcher’ in the middle of a group of three in the course below.

Brickwork of Oakley Folly

The Brick Tax 1784 – 1850

The brick tax was introduced in Great Britain in 1784, during the reign of King George III, to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. Bricks were initially taxed at 2s 6d per thousand. To mitigate the effects of the tax, manufacturers began to increase the size of their bricks. In 1801, the government responded by limiting the dimensions of a brick to 10 in × 5 in × 3 in and doubling the tax on bricks that were larger. The level of taxation was raised regularly, until its peak of 5s 10d per thousand bricks in 1805. The brick tax was abolished in 1850, as it was considered to be a detriment to industrial development.

Lairding it up

This half term we’ve been lairding it up at the Old Place of Monreith, a Landmark Trust property in Scotland. Landmark Trust buy these historically significant properties, restore them and rent them out. This one was discovered in 1981, when the house and outbuildings were being used to store hay and shelter the occasional sheep. The Old Place of Monreith is a traditional fortified tower house or Fortalice built in the 16th century for the Maxwell family.

drawings of the Old Place of Monreith
Beautiful drawings found in the guest book

The Devil’s Ring and Finger

The Devil’s Ring and Finger (a standing holed stone, similar to Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall) lies on the boundary of Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire and Mucklestone, Staffordshire. There is much debate about its origins, some presume it is a megalithic chambered tomb, the site of which is now lost [1]. Victorian historian, Mr T. P. Marshall believed it was a Druid’s altar, within a sacred grove. The religion of the Druid’s consisted of three concepts, to worship gods, to do no evil and to act with courage. They had several gods but he believed the circular stone was an altar piece for their sun god, who represented the power of life, of good, of increase and the finger represented the serpent god, which represented evil and death [2]. There are even theories for its later use, that the grooves on the finger were formed by the sharpening of prehistoric tools or weapons [3].

The Devil’s Ring and Finger
[1] Newman & Pevsner 2006, 215
[2] The Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser, March 26th, 1887
[3] Simms, WSL, Sept. 1

Domesday Book Facts

The Domesday Book was completed in 1086. Written in abbreviated Latin with a little French. Place-names are crossed through with a line of red ink, to highlight them. The book named around 19,500 people and over 13,400 places. Of the people names, 63% are Norman. No survey approaching the scope of Domesday was attempted again until 1873 (the Return of Owners Land).

Domesday details for Norton-in-Hales and surrounding villages