A State of Mind: George Loake and the Butts Murder (Walsall), 1911.

Regular readers of Wyrleyblog will know that every few months or so I dip into the Walsall Coroner’s records to recount an old tale, especially if it has a relevance in some way to today. The story that I have picked for this article centres on the Butts area of Walsall; it tells the story of one George Loake, who inexplicably took his pocket-knife to his estranged wife’s throat and left her for dead on the August Bank Holiday of 1911. Loake offered no resistance on his arrest and ultimately no explanation when questioned.

Make no bones about it, at the heart of this story lies a shocking death and all the brutality of the subsequent execution; but laying the crime aside for the moment, the questions remain as to what really was George Loake’s state of mind at the time of the killing, did a lack of money to pay for ‘skilled witnesses’ have a baring and, had it still been a capital offence, would he have hanged today? The issues of what constitutes diminished responsibility, rights to legal aid and the death penalty as a whole are still hotly debated today – and as Loake shows, there are no easy answers.

George: 1847 – 1900
George Loake was born in Braybrooke, which is a village a few miles south-east of Market Harborough in Northamptonshire. He was born in the tail end of 1847 to parents William and Elizabeth; being baptised at the local church on 13 January 1848. William was then a 32 year-old baker and from Braybrooke himself; Elizabeth was 34 and from nearby Rothwell. The couple had married in 1839 and George appears to have been either the third child (after William and Eliza) or the fourth to have been born to the couple (there may have been a John in 1840).

Whichever, by 1851 Henry had joined them. The 1851 census shows that William senior was not only describing himself now as a ‘master baker’, but his eldest two children were at school – when it cost money to send them and long before this was a legal requirement.

The Loake family in 1851. (National Archives)

The Loake family in 1851. REMEMBER: Click on photos to enlarge.
(National Archives)

Charles , the next child, was born in 1853 and sometime after this the family up-root and move to Walsall. By 1861, the family are living at 18 Navigation St (see map below). George’s sister, Elizabeth, has elected to stay in Braybrooke, she and a John are living with their widowed grandmother.

The 1861 census indicates that the family status seems to have changed: William senior is no longer a master baker, but a horse driver at the railway station; William junior is a ‘shunter’ at the station – by which I take it that he worked points and hooked/unhooked wagons in the sidings at Walsall and George had become a ‘messenger’ at the station as well. Saying that, while he was no longer a master baker, and assuming his earning power was a lot less, the two youngest were again going to school (still before the law required it). Perhaps William and George’s pay made the difference.

The South Staffordshire Railway buildings at Walsall station, built in 1847 - very familiar to the Loakes (Walsall Local History Centre/John Whiston)

The old South Staffordshire Railway buildings at Walsall Station, built in 1847 – they would have been very familiar to the Loakes
(Walsall Local History Centre/John Whiston)

Very little seemed to change over the next decade. The family stayed together, but moved from Navigation St to a house on Long St. Long St was opposite the London North Western Railway goods depot. William senior is still a carter, but William junior is not listed with an occupation. George has moved on – he has become a ‘fireman’ on the engines, as has his brother, Henry. Charles, the youngest at 18 years of age, also has no occupation listed. Things seemed to be progressing well for George, then in late 1871 his father died.

Long St, Navigation S and the LNWR railway yard c1900 (Walsall Local History Centre)

Long St, Navigation St and the LNWR railway yard c1900
(Walsall Local History Centre)

In early 1873, George left the household when he married Clara Bird. She was from Walsall and a couple of years his senior. The couple had, by 1881, settled in Mount St, Walsall. At this stage, on the census, George describes himself as a ‘railway engine driver’ – and we later know that this is with the London North Western Railway. A son, George, had followed on a year from the marriage. He was followed by Harry (1876) and Frank (1878), both of which were scholars in 1881 (a requirement of law, now). Clara, the first of the girls, was born around the turn of 1881.

George and Clara Loake and family in Mount St, Walsall 1881 (National Archives)

George, Clara and the Loake family in Mount St, Walsall, 1881.
(National Archives)

With regard to the wider family, also by 1881, brother Henry was living as an engine driver near Ryecroft shed and with him were his widowed mother and his sister Elizabeth, who had moved-up from Braybrooke. Charles was married and also living near Ryecroft. William, the eldest brother, died in 1877.

Sadly, George lost his mother in 1886. By 1891, his family were living at 110 Portland St, in the Ryecroft area. George was still a railway engine driver and this address afforded closer access to the Ryecroft shed, where it was likely he was stationed. The family continued to grow. Lillian Maud (who went by the name of Maud) was born in 1883, the same year as George’s sister, Elizabeth, married. John was born in 1886 and Florrie in 1889. Clara, Maud and John were at school, whereas George was a ‘harness maker’, Harry was a ‘telegraph messenger’ and Frank and ‘errand boy’.

Portland St, Birchills - once adorned with Victorian terraced housing and a Tannery - as shown by this 1960s photo by Jack Haddock.

Portland St, Birchills – once adorned with Victorian terraced housing and a Tannery – as shown by this 1960s photo by Jack Haddock (Walsall Local History Centre).

The next decade opened brightly with the birth of the last of the children, William, in mid-1891. As it started brightly it ended sadly – Clara, George’s wife, died at the age of 51 in 1900. Some good news followed, with Henry, George’s brother, marrying a few months later.

The 1901 census shows us that George’s family were beginning to find their own way in life. By April 1901, George junior was living on the same Navigation St that George himself lived on years back; he had become a silver plater. Harry Loake had become a railway labourer and was living on Queen St, within spitting distance of his elder brother. The other children were at home in Portland St, with their widowed father. Frank had become a harness maker and John a tailor’s assistant. Maud was employed, but Clara and Florence had no recorded occupation. William would have been at school.

110 Portland St, home of the widowed George Loake. (National Archives)

110 Portland St, home of the widowed George Loake.
(National Archives)

Loake would carry-on as an engine driver, living the life of a widower and father to his family in Portland St until he met and married Elizabeth Newitt…

Elizabeth: 1865 – 1900
Elizabeth Loake was born Elizabeth Patterson in the Bethnal Green/Paddington area of London, around the year 1865. Her family are quite elusive as the surname is not uncommon, has many derivatives and they seem to move around a lot; indeed, I had to buy her marriage certificate in order to ascertain her father’s name and so locate her on the 1871 census.

Elizabeth’s father was William Patterson, who was born in South Shields around 1820. By 1851 he has become an railway engine driver and has married his first wife, Jane. Jane was 28 at this time and bizarrely in the context of the story the couple are actually living on Little Newport St in Walsall. I cannot trace a marriage between William and Jane, but the registration laws were laxer at this time. What is interesting is that there is an 8 year-old ‘son’ living with them; he is named in full on the census as Robert Wardroper, although I can find no connection between him and either William or Jane. Further, he was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Later censuses show just how William moves around on the railways, adding significant weight to the fact he is the father and that Robert is Elizabeth’s eldest brother.

In 1855 we know the family are in Bedlington, Northamptonshire; Emma, possibly the couple’s first child together is born there at that time. A couple of years later they are in Huntingdonshire, where Mary Ann is born. In 1859 the family are in Potterspury, which is about 7 miles from Milton Keynes and the main railway route between London and Birmingham that opened in 1838. Tragedy struck when Jane died in the middle of that year, but Patterson was married to the vastly younger Eleanor Bird by the end of the same year. Eleanor was to be Elizabeth’s mother.

In 1861 the family are in Worcester. William Edward was born that year and would be a full-brother to Elizabeth. Two years later, Samuel is born. Robert has left the household; interestingly, he turns up in Shropshire in 1864 where he marries a Fanny Boden. He too was destined to have a long career on the railways, only with the Great Western Railway. He eventually settled in the Wolverhampton area, was medically retired in 1900 and passed away in 1921.

By 1865 the family are in the Paddington area of London – the census of 1871 gives Chelsea as the location. The family has grown significantly: with Elizabeth (born 1865), Eleanor (born 1866), Charlotte (born 1869) and George (born 1871) all arriving while in the metropolis.

The Pattersons in London, 1871 (National Archives)

The Pattersons in London, 1871
(National Archives)

The family then seems to disappear, although I firmly believe that Elizabeth remains in London. In 1891 an Elizabeth and an Ellen (Eleanor?) Patterson, both born in Paddington, within the correct age bracket and age in relationship to each other, are working as a cook and housemaid at a school at 84 Sutherland Ave – next to the Methodist Chapel. The school had six pupils on the day, from all over the world.

1891 census, showing an Elizabeth and Ellen (Eleanor) Patterson working  at School. (National Archives)

1891 census, showing an Elizabeth and Ellen (Eleanor) Patterson working at a School in Sutherland Ave.
(National Archives)

Today, the Methodist Church is the Maida Vale Library and 84 can be seen next to it in the photograph below.

Maida Vale Library - the former Methodist Chapel - next door can be seen 84 Sutherland Ave - the 'school' where Elizabeth worked.  (unknown copyright)

Maida Vale Library – the former Methodist Chapel – next door can be seen 84 Sutherland Ave – the ‘school’ where Elizabeth worked in 1891.
(unknown copyright)

We then lose Elizabeth for a few years. At some stage she would find herself in Worcester St, Rugby. Here she met her first husband, William George Newitt. Newitt, later described as a ‘smart, steady man’, was born in Rugby at the tail end of 1864. He was, in 1891, a railway engine fireman, which is not surprising as Rugby was a railway town. At that time he was living with his sister, Priscilla (18 years of age), and his brother, Edward (just 13 years-old).

It isn’t clear how the couple met, but they married in mid-1896. William Patterson is described as being a retired engine driver on the certificate. The following year, Doris Eleanor Newitt, the first of their children was born; she was baptised on 19 March 1897. In 1899, Elizabeth became pregnant for a second time. The second child turned out to be a boy and was named William George after his father, sadly likely as a tribute: William George junior was born on 23 January 1900 – and just eight days before, the 35 year-old William George senior had died of consumption. Elizabeth’s world was thrown into chaos…

George and Elizabeth: 1900 – 1911
The evidence for what happens next comes from not only the general family history sources, but the Coroner’s inquest notes and statements, the newspaper reports on the court appearances and execution and, importantly, the records of Barnardo’s by way of the Pier 21 Museum – that is the immigration museum at Halifax, Canada. This is because sadly, after the murder of his mother, young William Newitt would be placed into care and ultimately ‘shipped’ to Canada, as a many children from British Homes and Industrial Schools were.

We know that George Loake and Elizabeth Newitt got married in 1903, but their is enough evidence to suggest a series of events from the death of William George Newitt onward: Elizabeth Newitt was not on the census of 1901, which was likely due to the state of flux she found herself in after the death of her husband. We know from his Barnardo’s record that William junior was placed into the care of his great-aunt, Mary Skinner, when he was a ‘few months old’. I hazard a guess that Doris accompanied Elizabeth and the two went to Walsall at this stage for some reason, possibly because her father had once lived there.

Elizabeth must have been in Walsall for some time prior to marrying Loake. We know, again from William’s records, that Elizabeth became a waiting room attendant at Walsall Station, which would of course afford every opportunity for her to meet engine driver, George Loake; however, not only did she have time to get the job, she had time to lose it – as according to William’s records, she fell foul of drink and was dismissed. The records go on to say, ‘according to relatives’, George and Elizabeth had lived together in Portland St ‘prior to her marriage’. We can only assume that Doris was there too.

It seems, over the next few years, that there was a trickle of departures from 110 Portland St. Clara Loake was the first to go, when she married Frank Wilson in 1904; and the couple started a family in Queen St, Walsall. The next to leave may well have been John, when he married Lizzie Seville in 1908 and settled in Ward St. Several months later, Maud Loake also married; she married a Harry Wilson, and a few years later they are on the census as having a child and lodging in Queen St with her sister and her ‘Wilson’ family. Finally, in 1910, Frank Loake married Nellie; they moved into a house in Jessel Road, where brother William, now 19 years of age, joined them. Florence Loake had moved away too, she had took a position as a domestic servant in Broughton, Lancashire. We later learn at the inquest that Loake’s sons were not on good terms with Elizabeth.

Queen St, Walsall in 1964. The photo by Jack Haddock shows the Victorian housing in which the Wilsons lived. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Queen St, Walsall in 1964. This photo by Jack Haddock shows the Victorian housing in which the Wilsons lived.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

We learn from the trial and the appeal notes that 1910 was also a significant year for another reason, in that George Loake had had an accident at work. We cannot be sure of the date, as it was described as eighteen months previous in both the August and the December of 1911, but it was serious enough to warrant an internal inquiry. Loake was suspended, but allowed to return to work afterwards.

Loake had been a passenger driver for several years and as such was experienced, but on the day he over-ran and smashed his engine into a stop-block (a buffer). The train was empty, the accident occurring during shunting. The force of the impact left him with internal injuries; not only that, but he suffered brain concussion to such a degree that according to his son, John, said he ‘was very strange in manner and the same day attempted to commit suicide by jumping in the canal’. John went on to say later that his father’s ‘head was swollen…he kept asking for knives, and knives had to be put away from him’.

He was to recover his wits and while his own family left the family home, there was one arrival. We know from William’s Barnardo’s records that he was completely forgotten by his mother from when he was left with Mary Skinner in 1900 until 1909. At this stage, she suddenly requests Mary to return William to her. William and Doris were both living with George and Elizabeth in early 1911. We know at this stage things were not all well in the household, with both Elizabeth and George prone to taking to the drink and Elizabeth pawning clothes to pay for it. The inquest and Barnardo’s papers make reference that the couple argued frequently, but things were about to get a whole lot worse.

The Loakes and Newitts at 110 Portland St, in early 1911. (National Archives)

The Loakes (Newitts) at 110 Portland St, 1911.
(National Archives)

Undoubtedly in my opinion, the catalyst to disaster comes sometime after Easter (Easter Sunday was 16 April in 1911) and more likely in early May. It isn’t actually clear what happens as contradictory statements were made at the inquest, trial and in William’s records, if they were given at all. One thing that is clear is that George Loake was dismissed from the London North Western Railway after fifty years service. The two accounts we have are that Loake was sacked for ‘assaulting another railway worker’ and that he was laid-off for ‘leaving his engine unattended’ – with some added testimony that he did this ‘to go for a drink’; I suppose you pay your money and take your choice.

It appears that the family vacated the house in Portland St almost immediately and we know they were at 82 Navigation St by 20 May. The family actually rented out the front room to another couple. It was here that a disturbing incident was to occur on Saturday 10 June: Police Constable Woolley, who ironically would later arrest Loake after the killing, was on duty near Navigation St and was approached by Elizabeth Loake who bade him to come with her as George had ‘cut the dog’s throat’. On arriving at the house, Woolley found ‘the dog with a wound in the throat, but it was not serious, and I told him how to treat it’. He claimed at the later inquest that Loake was drunk, but Loake countered by saying he was ill and hadn’t been out of the house for three weeks. Whatever, it wasn’t the action of a rational man.

The Red Lion - Navigation St, Walsall. Edwin Jones was the publican in 1911 - the Loakes must have visited. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Red Lion – Navigation St, Walsall. Edwin Jones (pictured in doorway) was the publican in 1911 – Loake likely visited.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

If the time-frame later supplied by witnesses Maud Loake (Wilson) and Jane Dolloway is to be believed, then things spiralled after this incident, likely fuelled by the fondness they both had for drink and, it seems from Maud’s testimony, George’s increasingly strange behaviour.

Maud stated that her father left Elizabeth around two months prior to the killing – which would be around 12-19 June. The reason the Maud gave was that there had been some ‘bother over her pawning his boots’. Elizabeth remained in Navigation St for a further week after George left. The last time Maud saw her, some 7 weeks previous to her death, Doris Newitt was no longer living with her. We later know through William’s records that she had become a domestic servant at a boarding house in Llandudno.

The 57 year-old Jane Dolloway would state that she was approached by Elizabeth some 7 weeks prior to her death, which again would be around 19 June. Elizabeth called on Jane, whom she had known for four years or so as a former neighbour at Portland St, in asking for help to house her after her split from George. The Dolloways lived in a cottage to the rear of 28 Warwick St, in the Butts area of Walsall. She went on to say that Elizabeth was ‘very much distressed’ and said the Elizabeth told her she was ‘destitute…her husband had no home for her and did not provide for her in any way’. Jane fed her and consented to put her up. Elizabeth said she had being doing some laundry to make ends meet and would return in a week (I assume when she had to move from Navigation St).

Aerial photo of the Butts pre-1935. The western half of Warwick St (now demolished for the School) leads from the bottom right to Teddesley St. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Aerial photo of the Butts pre-1935. The western half of Warwick St (now demolished for the School) leads from the bottom right to Teddesley St.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

She did return within a week. I believe it is at this stage that she sent William back to Mrs Skinner in Rugby. We know from his Barnardo’s records that he was sent ‘without any warning, and he was dirty and poorly clothed when he arrived’. William has described in the records as ‘thin and small, but apparently healthy…he had brown hair and eyes a pale complexion, and was sharp and intelligent’.

With no responsibility, Elizabeth settled down to lodging with the Dolloways. George visited often enough and relations were perfectly cordial even though Elizabeth told George on a number of occasions that she would never go back to him or have him come live with her at the Dolloways’ house, something she also confided in Jane. As the weeks wore on, Elizabeth secured herself some work; Jane said at the inquest that she ‘had been working at a laundry in Caldmore’ for a few weeks and was clearly a ‘hard working woman that kept herself respectable’. Recently, Elizabeth had given Jane 2/6d towards her keep.

George wasn’t fairing quite so well, particularly with regard to his mental health. All we know is that he intermittently stayed a the Coach & Horses, which was located on the corner of Ablewell St and Hill St, for the first month after he left Elizabeth. Then, from around the middle of July, Loake lodged there full-time. Proprietor, William Alcock, described Loake as an ‘odd, peculiar man… he usually hung his head down and spoke to nobody’.

Loake’s family later testified as to the increasing fragility of his mind during this period. John Loake stated how frightened of his father he had become, as had become increasingly destitute and unable to get work. John helped him financially, but would not let him into the house because of the ‘wild look in his eyes’. George Loake junior, who was now living in Coventry, said that two weeks prior to the killing, his father ‘did not appear to be right in the mind… had a funny look in the eyes and did not seem to be aware of [George junior’s] presence when together’. Maud Wilson (Loake) stated how George spoke to her 2 year-old son about trains as though he were an adult. Maud at least did allow George into the house and he sometimes ate there.

As we move to Friday 4 August, we find George at Maud’s house in the morning. He took breakfast and mended his trousers, but stood the entire time by the door. She noticed the look in his eyes, but said nothing to him. Strangely, she didn’t even know where he was staying. Later, he called upon his son, Harry, and threatened suicide; Harry told him not to be silly and he left.

Things came to a head on Sunday 6 August. On the afternoon Loake saw Alcock in the kitchen at the lodgings and handed him 4d for rent, which was unusual enough for Alcock to mention as Loake always paid in the evening. Loake commented ‘You may has well have this first or last. It will be the last’. That night he saw his son, John; his confusion was evident as he first asked him to go and see Elizabeth for him and ask her to go back to him and then he told him he was going to throw himself under an engine. He went back to the Coach & Horses…

The Killing: 7 August 1911
We cannot be sure that George slept, but we do know he was awake at 5.30 am on the 7 August; we also know that his state of mind had not altered. Loake met John Bartlam at this time, Bartlam being employed at the Coach & Horses. Bartlam described Loake as being ‘peculiar’ and there was some ambiguous exchange between the two: Loake gave his soap to Bartlam saying that he ‘shan’t want it again’, which could indicate that Loake envisaged some finality to his situation.

He left the lodgings at 6.30 am but we know nothing of his movements until around 10.15 am, when he approaches the Dolloways’ house. The Dolloways lived at 8a Warwick St; it was described in the Police report as a double-fronted cottage with two doors, the upstairs having three bedrooms and the downstairs a parlour, kitchen (12 ft x 12 ft) and a creeper-covered vestibule between the door and the kitchen (5 ft x 3 ft). There was a yard around the house, then a garden path down to the entry that was located between numbers 28 and 29.

The Warwick St of 1911 is a lot different to that of today. In 1911 it linked Teddesley Street to Upper Forster St, whereas today it is a dead-end as the western half was lost to the building of the Butts JMI School around 1980. Gone now is all the old housing, with what is left of the road being dominated by a block of flats (see photos further below).

Warwick St, the Butts. Now much altered  (Walsall Local History Centre)

Warwick St, the Butts at the time of the killing. Now much altered
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Loake was witnessed on his approach by both Jane Dolloway and Edith Jones. Jones lived at 28 Warwick St and was in her wash-house at the back of the house. She saw Loake but said nothing. At the same time Jane left the house to go shopping at Cooper’s in Warwick St; they met in the yard where they greeted each other and Loake asked if Elizabeth was in the house – Jane confirmed she was. She also stated that Loake’s hands were behind his back and under his coat.

Scene of the killing - 8a, 28 and the entry between 31 and 31a Warwick St. (after Walsall Local History Centre)

Scene of the killing – 8a, 28 and the entry between 31 and 31a Warwick St.
(after Walsall Local History Centre)

George entered the house to find Elizabeth in the kitchen, she was sewing a black skirt. Also present was Thomas Dolloway, the 11 year-old son of Jane. We know George was there just five minutes, as Jane had reached Cooper’s shop and Edith Jones stated that it was that time that elapsed after seeing Loake to hearing a cry of ‘murder’.

In that time a conversation was struck-up between the Loakes, although Thomas could not hear what was said – either because he was disinterested or they were whispering. Thomas later stated that as she got up from a chair George ‘sprang at her in the vestibule and put his left arm around her neck and I saw his right arm go up as if to strike her’; he saw no weapon and only one blow, but he was so frightened at this stage he ran to his bedroom. He could only have been there for a minute as he then rushed from the house to find his mother – George was still nearby, although he didn’t see him. He did see a wounded Elizabeth with Edith Jones. Thomas met his mother in the street and urged her to return, but by the time she returned Elizabeth was collapsed in the entry to 31 Warwick St.

Edith, on hearing the scream, ran into the yard to see Elizabeth staggering down the path. As she approached she heard Elizabeth say ‘He’s done it, he’s done it’. She was bleeding profusely from the neck and vainly attempting to stem the flow with her hand. ‘Mrs Jones, couldn’t you do something for me?’ were to be her last recorded words. Jones rushed to the entry to seek help, but nobody was about; she returned to Elizabeth and gave her physical support, just as George Loake emerged and started coming down the garden path. Jones, panicked by bloodied pen-knife wielding Loake, dragged Elizabeth into Warwick St, where she collapsed in the neighbouring entry – just 74 yards from where the attack took place.

Edith Jones' statement to the Coroner implicating George by 'he's done it' and  stating Elizabeth's last words. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Edith Jones’ statement to the Coroner implicating George by ‘he’s done it’ and stating Elizabeth’s last words.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The same Constable Woolley that witnessed the dog attack was the first policeman on scene. He was actually off-duty, but lived in the next road at 24 Upper Forster St. He was alerted by an unknown man and headed for the scene to witness Jones and Elizabeth reaching the alley, where she collapsed. At this point Loake emerged onto Warwick St and Woolley ran at him, knocking the pen-knife from his hand and hand-cuffing him. He offered no resistance, simply muttering ‘it’s all right’ when asked why he had done it. Loake was clearly passive, while Woolley dealt with Elizabeth he was placed into the care of ‘some men on the street’. Edith Jones ran for a bowl of water and Doctor Cooke arrived, but all to no avail. PCs Woolley and Marston removed Elizabeth’s body to the mortuary. Loake made no further comment until he arrived at the Police Station.

PC Wooley's statement to the Coroner (Walsall Local History Centre)

PC Woolley’s statement to the Coroner
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Chief Inspector Ballance interviewed Loake soon after PC Godden brought him in. Described as ‘sullen’, Loake answered Ballance when asked his name and occupation, but simply added ‘Her should have stuck to me’ followed by ‘I don’t want to say anything about it’. Loake was sent to the hospital to have his own neck looked at – as there were ‘scratch marks’ present; these proved to be superficial and were bandaged. He was returned to the Police Station.

Ballance headed to the site of the killing and Cooke performed a post-mortem: this listed 10 separate wounds (although many superficial) with the coup de grace being the severing of the jugular vein. Cooke concluded that the wounds were consistent with the dull blade of the pen-knife, which must have been used with terrific force.  When finally charged, Loake laconically replied ‘yes’.

Trials and Execution
Things moved rapidly in 1911. The following day, Tuesday 8 August, the Coroner convened his inquest. Loake was present and was described in one newspaper as a ‘tall man of proportionate build, somewhat bloated features, and having a dark moustache. Despite his grey hair one would have guessed his age as several years under 60’; in another as ‘an elderly man with grey hair and dressed in somewhat slovenly style’. The same two newspapers differed on their interpretation of George: one said ‘he rested with his head on his hands… and was indifferent to what was going on around him’, while the other said ‘he appeared to follow the evidence closely’.

The evidence was presented, with Loake interjecting twice over Elizabeth’s age and his view of the dog wounding incident. He said nothing over the attack. The Coroner instructed the jury that the inquest was not there to ascertain Loake’s state of mind, but how Elizabeth met her death and if it were murder or manslaughter; the jury found for murder and Loake was apparently ‘unmoved’ as he was committed for trial. After, PC Bell heard Loake repeat several times, ‘Nobody knows why I done it only her that’s gone. I would not tell anybody; not even my own children. She should not have done what she did. I did not intend to have that done to me’.

On 16 August, Loake appeared at the Police Court. He was apparently ‘indifferent… [and] had a listless manner’. Ley, on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, presented his evidence for premeditated murder: he particularly drew upon paying early for his room, giving his soap away, the hiding of his hands under his coat and Dolloway and Jones’ eyewitness accounts – he was committed for trial at the Assizes (now the Crown Court).

The Assizes met at Stafford and on 20 November Loake appeared before them. He was described by the Walsall Observer in the same way as before, being younger than his years and so forth. Interestingly, he pleaded not guilty. Dr Hazel opened for the prosecution: he started with Elizabeth’s refusal to return to Loake, followed by the evidence form the lodging-house – which he argued showed premeditation, he also recounted Loake’s hidden hands and the testimony of both Dolloway and Jones, before what he saw as a confession made in front of PC Bell after the inquest.

Young Thomas Dolloway's testimony. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Jane Dolloway’s testimony that Loake appeared sober and rational.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Hazel then called Dr Shore, a surgeon for the Walsall Borough Police: he freely admitted that his knowledge of ‘sanity’ had come to him only through his practice, but judged Loake as of ‘sound mind’ immediately after the killing, but he could have been disturbed at the time. Hamblin-Smith, medical officer of the prison, felt the same. Both accepted that suicide or attempted suicide may be indicative of insanity.

Lawrence, for the defence, used the evidence from the family regarding Loake’s current state of mind and previous attempt at suicide, which I have laid out above in the chronology of events. Lawrence summed-up with the argument that Loake had never threatened his wife and any evidence of premeditation only pointed to Loake taking his own life, not for murder. He went on to suggest that Loake went to see his wife one last time (with suicide in mind) in order to persuade her to return; something then occurred in conversation that sent him into a ‘frenzied state’. Lawrence believed that in this case the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. The jury retired at 3.25 pm and returned at 3.41 pm – just 16 minutes was enough to declare him guilty and sentence him to hang – according to the newspapers, Loake was ‘unmoved’.

The Court of Appeal sat on Monday 11 December. The defence again followed the ‘insanity’ path, this time hoping to show insanity in the family and questioning further Loake’s state of mind. John Loake gave evidence to say that one of his uncles had died in the Warwickshire Asylum many years ago and another uncle (Charles) was currently residing there. Tragically, it turned out that Charles was transferred from the Coventry Workhouse suffering from epilepsy. This undermined the defence.

Undeterred, Lawrence called Newman, a Walsall solicitor, to confirm that the insanity in the family was not known of at the trial – and he concurred. Finally, a Dr Fox from the Walsall District Hospital testified that he saw Loake on the day of the killing and understood him to be ‘very melancholy and depressed’ and recommended a suicide watch – he went on to say that it was ‘well known that an insane person, who committed a crime whilst insane, could recover his reason afterwards’. The appeal failed.

On Thursday 28 December, Loake went to the scaffold at Stafford Gaol in ‘perfect calm’. Death at the hands of Thomas Pierrepoint was instantaneous. The same day, Thomas Campbell, Chaplain, wrote to Clara Wilson (nee Loake): ‘Your father departed this life this morning and at his request I am now writing to you. He died a Christian with earnest repentance for his sins, and I hope full immortality… He spoke to the last with the greatest affection of his children, and experienced hopes of meeting you all in the next life’. Accompanying the letter was a copy of ‘The Imitation of Christ’, Loake’s favourite book in his last days; inscribed inside was ‘Learn now to die to the world that thou mayest live with Christ’ – whether these words were from Loake or Campbell isn’t clear.

My Thoughts
I suppose I am at liberty to add my thoughts on this incident. My reading of the case agrees with that of Mr Lawrence, who took on the role of the defence. When taken on whole, the evidence points to a disintegration in Loake’s mental state possibly from his accident, but certainly from his dismissal, onward. The finality in some of his statements made to family and at the Coach & Horses indicates a path of self-harm and not murder, whereas the attack on the dog shows his volatile nature.


Warwick St, 2015: the path by the lamp-post is the location of the entry between numbers 28 and 29.

I believe he went to Elizabeth that day to tell her he was going to kill himself, hoping that this would bring her back to him; it didn’t and what he heard triggered an insane reaction. The fact is hands were hidden under his coat is not a sign of secreting a weapon and a murderous intent – let us be honest – a dull pocket-knife is not the most efficient means of dispatching someone and the very point of it means it can be placed in a pocket anyway without recourse to hiding it. Had the weapon been a dagger, I would think differently. I do believe the calmness that came over him was due to the fact, one way or another, he had secured the personal destruction that he had sought.


Warwick St, 2015: the path by the tree (opposite caravan) leading to the flats is the site of the entry between 31 and 31a, where Elizabeth died.

At the end of the day, one man’s idea of insanity is another man’s calculated reason. In law, the Idiot’s Act of 1886 would eventually give way to the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 with regard to ‘care’ for those with such conditions – however, it was a science very much in its infancy. There are clearly different interpretations of Loake in the newspapers, between the medical experts (such as they are regarding matters of the mind) and the everyday people that formed the juries. I doubt he would have hanged today if it were still a capital offence.


Path from Butts St to the flats, 2015: where the path turns (by cars) is the location of 8a and scene of the crime.

While I don’t go for premeditated murder, I really couldn’t be sure beyond a reasonable doubt if I would have come down upon a verdict of manslaughter or one of ‘diminished responsibility’ had the verdict been open to the jury then. It would be interesting to hear people’s views on this – one thing for me is certain, thank God the death penalty has been abolished.


The corner of Warwick St and Upper Forster St, 2015: The school would be familiar to PC Woolley – he approached at haste from this direction.

Things returned to normal for the principal players, as things do: Jane Dolloway died just seven years later, while Thomas married in 1923 and went on to have had several children before passing away in 1990. Edith Jones, I believe, passed away in 1936.

PC Richard Woolley was 33 at the time, had been married to Flossie for 9 years. At the time. they had two children, Richard and Mildred. They lost Mildred in 1915 and young Flossie was born and died in 1918. Zena followed in 1920 and Maisie in 1923 – thankfully Richard, Zena and Maisie all grew-up to have families. PC Richard Woolley died in 1957, a few years before his wife.

Of Loake’s children that gave evidence, Harry went on to serve 3 years with the transport section of the 5th Battalion, South Staffs Regiment during WWI. He married Lucy Jones in 1920. The couple had three children, but lost one. Harry died just before the outbreak of WWII, Lucy in 1955. Maud Wilson passed away in 1954. Life really took its toll on John Loake and his wife Elizabeth. The couple lost their first two children, the second of which was around the time of George’s execution. I believe Elizabeth suffered a breakdown and was placed in Burntwood Asylum for a short while. Thankfully, she recovered quickly and the couple had three more children, although John was to outlive one. He died in 1964.

The saddest story is perhaps that of little William Newitt. Left with Mary Skinner, the Barnardo’s papers say how she was ‘old, in poor health, and dependent on parish relief. She was unable to provide for William permanently, nor, did she fell capable of training him. William had a number of relatives living locally who were described as respectable, but they could not offer him a home’. William was admitted to Bernado’s on 18 October 1911, while George waited under sentence of death. On 1 April 1912, just a couple of weeks before the Titanic sailed, William was sent to Canada to start a new life on board the SS Corinthian.

SS Corinthian - William George Newitt was sent to Canada on this ship 1 April 1912 (www.gwpda.org)

SS Corinthian – William George Newitt was sent to Canada on this ship 1 April 1912

He returned to England, passing away in the Birmingham area in 1973.

In memory of the forgotten victim – William George Newitt  

My Thanks, as ever, to:
Walsall Local History Centre
National Archives
Jack Haddock
Donna Ford (Mrs Wyrleyblog)

Pier 21 Museum:


  1. […] A State of Mind: George Loake and the Butts Murder (Walsall), 1911. […]

  2. Clive says:

    Cracking piece of work again Paul, well done mate.

    • Linda says:

      Another riveting story, made more enjoyable for me as my dad was born in Navigation St in 1908.
      I think that by today’s standards George would probably have been charged with manslaughter while the balance of his mind was disturbed. I’ve no doubt he was planning on suicide but circumstances changed for some reason. What did Elizabeth say or do to send him into a frenzy .. or was that all in his mind too!
      Brilliantly researched as always 🙂

  3. Flanders Field says:

    Brilliant! Keep ’em coming Sir!

    The pic of the old railway buildings in Station St brought back memories. It was typical of the council to allow those buildings to be demolished.

  4. Pedro says:

    “Over ten percent of the current Canadian population are descendants of the Home Children, although many are still unaware of their heritage. This is one of the many reasons why the Home Children and their determination and perseverance deserve to have their huge contribution to the founding of our nation recognized and their stories heard.”


  5. emma obrien says:

    So interesting as i lived in mill lane for a month and had to.leave because.of a angry spirit called george….

  6. Jo Sedgley says:

    Fascinating! This was my great-great-grandfather. Thank you for giving us so much info about our family.

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