Rugeley’s name – famous for the wrong reasons

There is another lovely tale, unfortunately apocryphal, that is associated with the the Palmer trial.

It was said that the inhabitants of Rugeley were horrified by the publicity that Rugeley received before and during Palmer’s Trial. The newspapers had a field day with several pages a day devoted to the case. In fact the case was widely reported throughout Europe and indeed across the World. The Rugeley townsfolk believed that Rugeley’s name would be for ever linked to the murderous actions of the now infamous Dr. William Palmer.

So it was decided to petition parliament to have the name of their town changed.

The story goes that, after listening to their complaints. the Prime Minister agreed to change Rugeley’s name but only on the condition that they name the town after him. Unfortunately the then Prime Minister was called Lord Palmerston!

A lovely story but that is what it is only a story not fact!

In 1945 a letter appeared in the Sunday Times which sheds light upon the story:-

Palmerston and Rugeley

Sir, – With reference to Mr. Dewar’s query concerning the authenticity of the story of the deputation from Rugeley asking Lord Palmerston to change the name of the town because of its association with palmer, the poisoner. I have had the opportunity of going into the matter and have also been in consultation with Mr. Walter N. Landor, J.P., an acknowledged authority on the history of the town and district.
It seems certain that no deputation from Rugeley asked Lord Palmerston for permission to change the name of the town. It is believed that the story was originally coined by some jester and was so clever that it has been repeated as a fact by many writers of books and articles.
In 1856 the leading firm of solicitors in the town was Messrs. Landor, Gardner and Landor, and after the jest became current this firm received several inquiries as to the authenticity, which they always denied, though they could not discover the name of the jester. This firm must have known had there been any truth in the story; but it is a fact that some of the inhabitants regretted that the town had harboured such a notorious criminal as Palmer, and one inhabitant wrote a short poem embodying this sentiment.
It might be said that in these Victorian days the inhabitants held a great pride in their small native towns and felt that the presence of such a notorious villain besmirched its good name. Hence it is possible that some may have talked about changing the name of Rugeley, which became so well known through its association with the prisoner that 60 years after the execution (during the war of 1914-18 when 50,000 soldiers from all parts were camped on Cannock Chase, adjoining Rugeley) scarecely a week elapsed without some of them visiting the grave of the his last victim in the new churchyard as they had heard about Palmer and his 10 – 15 murders from their elders.
It may be interesting to note that a special Act was passed so that Palmer should have a fair trial in London before three judges, as this would not have been possible in Staffordshire, and the Act is, I believe, still in force.

ARTHUR EVANS
Clerk of the Council, Rugeley.