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The last woman hanged in Northampton


Richard and Elizabeth Pinckard were wealthy farmers in the hamlet of Thrupp. Their son, John Mutton Pinckard, and his wife, also called Elizabeth, could not pay their rent, and their landlord suggested they borrow money from John's mother. Elizabeth senior refused to lend any money to Elizabeth junior.


Early in the morning of Friday 3 October 1851, John and Richard Pinckard went to Daventry Fair. Elizabeth left the house at 10 am to walk to her mother-in-law's house, wanting to talk to her mother-in-law about a loan again. She made no effort to conceal herself, and was seen going into, and leaving, her mother-in-law's by six people, one of them the local village policeman. This makes her later indictment for murder rather puzzling.


It wasn’t until 5.30pm that evening that the body of Elizabeth senior was discovered, and it was by then quite cold. She was sitting on the floor in the corner of the room, and around her neck was wound some apron tape. This was tied to a hook in the cupboard door above her head. When Elizabeth was told a few minutes later of the death, she apparently 'went as cold and white as death', and slumped shocked into a chair.


A doctor was called and at the scene gave his opinion of death as suicide by strangulation by the apron tape. A later post mortem revealed that Mrs Pinckard had indeed died of strangulation - but only after she had been knocked senseless by a blow to the head.


Mrs Pinckard's body had not lost any blood, but smears were found on Elizabeth's torn dress, (which she had attempted to wash), and also on the hook holding the tape. Identical tape was found in a drawer in Elizabeth's room. A small bloodstain was also found on a mallet used to close dairy churns and which was said to be the thing used by Elizabeth to hit Mrs Pinckard on the head. Because Mrs Pinckard's body had not lost any blood, the fact that Elizabeth had a gashed finger pointed to her connection with the mallet and the hook.


Elizabeth Pinckard was tried for murder and found guilty. But there was much sympathy for her, and a large faction contended that her crime was manslaughter and not murder and that she should not hang. The fact that Elizabeth had killed her mother-in-law was not disputed. But it was said that Mrs Pinckard had been struck during a quarrel over money, and Elizabeth had no intention to kill, which was also borne out by the number of persons seeing her that morning. This idea received a lot of support from a lot of people, but overlooked the fact that tape had been wound around the neck, presumably to make it look like suicide. There was also the strong motive of financial gain for Elizabeth upon her mother-in-law's death.


The local newspaper, the Northampton Mercury, reported her execution on 20 March 1852

'On the fatal morning [Tuesday 16 March] Elizabeth Pinckard attended prayers in the chapel and when the hymn was sung her voice was heard above the rest, and firmer than any. The last verse she repeated of her own accord. In the pinioning room she offered up an extempore prayer, with great fervour and distinctness. At her own request the cap was drawn over her eyes before she went up to the drop; but her remarkable firmness and self-possession continued to the last, and she ascended the steps, happening to step on her dress, she raised it well as she could with her pinioned hands, and went on without further assistance. She stood quietly and firmly on the fatal spot in which she was placed by Calcraft the executioner, and the bolt was struck immediately after. The fall was considerable, and death ensued in a few seconds. A shriek was heard in many parts of the crowd at the fatal moment and an impression is abroad that it came from the unhappy prisoner. Nothing of the kind however escaped her lips.'


Richard and his son John left for America in January 1853, hoping for a new start. John, who earlier had been the Porter and temporary schoolmaster at Towcester Workhouse (and dismissed as schoolmaster after only 10 weeks), remained in America, but his father returned, and is soon seen in the Towcester Union Settlement book:


Richard Pinckard of Cold Higham     Laborer     27 Oct 1853

I am now about 55 years of age. I don’t know where I was born nor where my parents belonged to at that time. Afterwards my Father was a Butcher and gained a Settlement at Duston by renting a Farm. I went when a Child to reside with my Uncle Samuel Pinckard at Grimscote. I never gained a Settlement in my own right up to the time of my marriage. I was lawfully married about 31 years ago in Cold Higham Parish Church to Elizabeth my late Wife. Her maiden name was Mutton. I have only one Child, John Mutton Pinckard, who is now in America. I was removed soon after my marriage from Cold Higham to Duston which Orders were unappealed against. My Uncle Francis Mutton about 25 years ago left a House and premises at Grimscote to my Wife and her Mother Sarah Mutton jointly, the Survivor to take all. It was sold during their joint lives. About 15 years ago I took the Red Lion Publichouse and land, 6 acres, at Bengal, Greens Norton. I occupied it for 3 years and £30 per ann, paid all Rent and Rates during that period. From there I went to live again at Grimscote up to Three years last Christmas when I took a Farm at Parish of Norton near Daventry for myself and son at £200 per year of Mr Reeve out going Tenant. Mr Waffin of Bugbrook was the owner. He affd accepted me as Tenant. Went soon after Christmas to reside on Farm with my Son and remained there permanently till about [Hay] time following when my Son and his wife behaved so bad that I was obliged to leave and went to reside at Daventry. I afterwards last Michs went to live again with him.
I considered myself as joint Occupier with him for the time for 1 ½ year. His name was in Rate Book – my son paid the Rent and Rates. I then went to live at Tiffield with my Brother. I have done no other act to gain a Settlement. I am now in Workhouse and leaving this morning. I have no rec’ts for rent. My Son had them. I don’t know whether my Name was in Rate Book or not. I went to America with my Son, but he turned me up there and I came home some few Weeks since.

This is a very doubtful Case. If removal [    ] nec’y, I advise a removal to Duston


This is a remarkable document, as there is no mention of the murder, only that “my Son and his wife behaved so bad that I was obliged to leave”. The understatement of the century!


Richard went to live with his brother William in Poplar, London, until his death in 1855.