There must be a great many more items of memorabilia than I have discovered when researching this web because sometime after Palmer was arrested all his possessions were seized to pay his debts.
In Robert Graves in his book They Hanged My Saintly Billy he tells the story that numerous bills to the value of £10,400 ‘fell due’ and that Palmer couldn’t, and his mother wouldn’t, pay. Mr. Wright a solicitor from Birmingham was refused entry to Palmer’s house by Mr. Bergen a Rural Superintendent who had been given the job of safeguarding the the contents of the house which included papers, drugs and other household items, furniture and 222 gallons of Palmer’s home brewed ale, 67 dozen bottles of port and 43 gallons of other spirits. Mr. Wright however, got in by breaking the glass in the scullery window then opening the latch. He then made arrangements for a public auction of the Doctor’s effects. The sale drew enormous crowds to view Palmer’s belongings although there were more sightseers than buyers. Several items were stolen as souvenirs and most items were sold for less than their true value by an auctioneer who wanted to finish his business quickly. In the end he sold everything in ten hours.
So far in our research we have found three ballads about Palmer dating from 1856.
From the sixteenth century onwards broadside ballads, popular songs, were printed on one side of a single sheet of paper and sold to the public by street sellers for a penny or half-penny. These ballads provided cheap lyrics, which could be sung to popular tunes. The ballads also provided reading matter to many people who could not afford to buy books. The sheets usually had one or two ‘woodcut’ pictures and the verses printed on them. The woodcut pictures were often used on more than one broadside.
One of the favourite topics for the ballads was the execution of criminals. Up until June 2001 we have found three ballads and three criminal broadsides which are dedicated to William Palmer.
A Broadside Ballad entitled
“Life and Trial of Palmer”
by David D. Cooper (sold at Palmer’s execution)
From ‘The Lessons of the Scaffold’ page 111 – Allen Lane 1874.
(Click above link to view the original ballad which is also found on the Bodliean Library web site)
Oh listen unto William Palmer
Who does in anguish sore bewail
Now guilty they at last have found me
And sent me back to Stafford Jail.
Every one appears against me.
Every person does me hate,
What excitement is impending
On guilty William Palmer’s fate,
My trial causes great excitement,
In town and country everywhere.
Now guilty found is William Palmer,
Of Rugeley town in Staffordshire
Many years I was a sportsman,
Many wondrous deeds I’ve done
Many a race I have attended
Many thousands lost and won.
They say I poisoned my wife’s mother
And took away her precious life
And dear poor Cook and my own brother,
And poisoned my own lawful wife.
Everything looks black against me
That I really must confess
The very thought that does oppress me
Causes me pain and distress,
Now the jury did convict me
And prove I did commit the deed
And sentence passed on William Palmer
To Stafford I was sent with speed
In Rugely I was once respected (Rugeley mispelt on original)
A gentleman lived at my ease
With noblemen I was connected
And sporting men of all degrees
Although a doctor no one knew me
To do anything amiss
Now everyone strives to undo me
I never thought I’d come to this.
My poor old mother now at Rugeley
My awful end must now bewail
To know her son must die with scorn
a felon’s death in Stafford Jail
Every charge alleged against me
I have strongly it denied
Twelve long days my trial lasted
and now I am condemned to die.
Dreadful is my situation.
Before the awful bar I stand
I might have filled a noble station
Unfortunate unhappy man
Infants yet unborn will mention
When to manhood they appear
The name of Doctor William Palmer
Of Rugeley town in Staffordshire.
Will no one sympathise with Palmer
Who every charge did strong deny
You are all aware I am found guilty
For by jury I’ve been tried
My situation makes me tremble
I am borne down with grief and care.
All conversation is of Palmer
Of Rugeley town in Staffordshire.
Ballad No 2 entitled
“Lamentation and Confession of Palmer”
(Click above link to view the original ballad which was found on the Bodliean Library web site)
Rial, Printer Monmouth-court, 7 Dials.
(This is A. Rial and Co. Printers, London)
In Rugeley town I was born and reared,
All in the County of Staffordshire,
Where I must die full of youth and bloom,
At Stafford, on the fourteenth of June.
Tens of thousands approached to see,
William Palmer die on the dismal tree.
From Stafford town they did me convey,
To the Gaol of Newgate without delay.
Where twelve long days did my trial last,
At length the sentence on me was passed.
They summoned witnesses from far and near
The evidence against me was clear,
And they was determined I well could see,
That I should die on the fatal tree.
When tried and sentenced they sent me down
A malefactor to Stafford town;
I caused my family much grief and pain,
They sent petitions but t’was all in vain.
They was determined my days should end,
They swore I poisoned my only friend,
They said I murdered John Parsons Cook,
Then stole his wealth and his betting book.
Farewell my mother, oh! A last adieu,
Oh what disgrace I have brought on you,
My own kind brother and sisters dear,
And all relations in Staffordshire.
Good bye my dearest, my lovely boy,
Did a wicked father your hopes destroy?
None shall upbraid you for what I’ve done,
My ever sweet little orphan son.
You have no father or mother now,
My conscience smites me I can’t tell how,
Oh God forgive me for what I’ve done,
And be a father to my darling son.
Where is my father? the child did say,
From his little boy he’s gone away,
He little thought sweet and tender lamb,
His father died on the scaffold stand.
This is the morning, the awful time,
When I must die, aged twenty nine,
And while my bones in the grave do rot,
The name of Palmer will ne’er be forgot.
My friends strove hard, but could not save,
I see the hangman, I view my grave.
In the prime of life, vigour, health and bloom,
They have hurried Palmer to his silent tomb.
My time is come, I am doomed to go,
My glass is run from this earth below,
My guilty soul speedily takes it flight,
Here’s the end of Palmer, what a dreadful sight.
Ballad No 3 entitled
“Palmer’s Farewell to the Turf”
(Click above link to view the original ballad which was found on the Bodliean Library web site)
Farewell ye sporting young men,
Who spend your money free,
Give over all your gambling,
And a warning take by me.
Farewell to every race course,
In England’s happy land,
On you I’ve spent my happy days,
Among the sporting band.
For now into this prison strong,
In fetters I do lie,
Confined into a dungeon dark,
By men condemned to die.
My sisters and my brothers all,
I must bid you adieu,
For this it is the last time
That ever I’ll see you.
I wish that my burialday,
My birthday it had been,
And wrapt into my winding sheet,
And ne’er this grief had seen.
Farewell my darling Mother,
My heart will break in two,
When I think on the great disgrace,
That I have brought on you.
I have brought your grey hairs,
To the grave in sorrow and shame,
But pray for mercy unto me
Through that all sacred name.
Farewell my dear and only boy
I must leave you all alone,
May Heaven be your protection
When I am dead and gone,
And cruel men upbraid you
With my murders and my crimes
I hope we’ll meet in yonder world
In happy blissful climes.
Your mother dear lies in her grave
It makes my heart to bleed,
When I think on her gentle spirit,
And on the murderous deed.
I loved her dear, yet for the sake,
Of thirteen thousand pound,
To pay my debts of honour,
I laid her in the ground.
And Walter, too, my brother dear,
And Cook my faithful friend,
Which has brought me to this fatal day
And this untimely end.
Farewell world – friends – and foes,
No more of you I’ll see,
For now I’m sentenced to be hung
Upon the gallows tree,
Farewell to Rugeley’s pleasant town,
You will tell in future time,
Of crimes of William Palmer
Who poisoned by strychnine.
The Power of the Internet:
I searched the Internet for William Palmer and came across a reference to a collection of criminal broadsides held by Kent State University in Ohio America.
The criminal broadsides were donated to the university by Albert I. and Helen O. Borowitz, are part of the Borowitz True Crime Collection. I found catalogue No. 79 Life, trial and execution of William Palmer. I e-mailed the university and the very next day received the following e-mail –
I have located the broadside of William Palmer that you asked about. Did you want a copy of it sent to you? What kind of information are you looking for?
Justin B. Keiser
Graduate Student Assistant
Special Collections and Archives
Mr. Keiser kindly sent me a copy of the broadside that I did not know existed. This provided me with additional information as well as some lines of poetry which are included on this web site.
To be viewed in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Betheseda Street, Hanley Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 3DE.
Pottery ‘souvenirs’ made by Stoke potters in 1856.
(top right) William Palmer’s house, enamel colours and gold. A typical Georgian house. Based on The Illustrated London News 24th May 1856
In October 2003 I attended a meeting of the Landor Society, the local history group in Rugeley, and there I saw a fascinating collection of 4 Palmer houses owned by Mr. & mrs. Pope (see above). Each house had been coloured completely differently by the back-street potters and was different in colour to the example in the museum. Through a contact I had made, Mr. & Mrs.Pope now have a Palmer figurine to add to their collection.
In the autumn of 2002 Phyllis Higginson of the Tamworth Civic Society e-mailed me to say that Tamworth Castle had appointed a new Collections Officer, with a brief to audit and assess the collections of artefacts that the museum has stored in various places. In the early stages of this audit she discovered a wooden cabinet that was reputed to have belonged at one time to William Palmer. The pictures were taken in December 2002 (The pictures below are the copyright of Tamworth Castle Museum and are reproduced here with their kind permission.)
The contents of the cabinet in 2002 were as follows
In the top compartment – baby feeder, metal miniature balance (metal rusted), 3 glass bottles with glass stopper, Grey Power, James’ Powder, Dover’s Powder, large glass jar with metal top Epsom salts, SOD Salts with glass stopper, unidentifiable glass bottle with glass stopper (this one has a leak and is stuck), Bicarbonate of Potash, a metal measure and a glass measure 10-60 ml.
In the front opening door – 5 Glass bottles with glass stoppers, 1 label illegible, Mindererus’ spirit, Tincture of Myre, 1 unidentified with contents degraded into layers of varying colours, and 1 empty bottle with pepper coloured residue.
In the 4 drawers – Drawer 1: Brass measuring spoon, small glass bottle with cork, white substance (label illegible), small glass bottle cork broken off inside, cream substance (label illegible). Drawer 2: Drawer with loose powder under sliding lids labelled “Callcined Magnesia” and “Fine Turkey Rhubarb”. Drawer 3: Drawer with two lead interiors, no labels, contents not identifiable. Drawer 4: Drawer with miniature glass mortar and pestle.
The Life and Crimes of William Palmer
Made by Yorkshire Television as a two part series. Written by Glenn Chandler, directed by Alan Dosser, it stars Keith Allen, Jayne Ashbourne and Chloe Newsome. It was filmed in 1998 and runs for 180 minutes. Well written and acted and generally historically accurate, it is good entertainment but does make the assumption that Palmer was a serial killer and guilty of every crime!
Poetry from Criminal Broadsides
Copy of Verses: From a ‘criminal broadside’ published in 1856 by John Chapman, 10 Lamb Street, Saint Judes’, Bristol. The property of Kent State University in Ohio, America, donated to the university by Albert I. and Helen O. Borowitz, part of the Borowitz True Crime Collection, catalogue No. 79 Life, trial and execution of William Palmer.
Come christian people pray attend,
Unto those lines that here are penn’d,
Now I ascend the gallows high,
That I may be prepared to die.
Oh! What an awful sight to see,
A murderer on the gallows tree,
Young Men be warned by Palmer’s fate,
Repent before it is too late.
In Rugeley town where he did dwell,
For many years respected well,
And e’er that he had reached his prime,
His hands are stained in blood and crime.
Oh! God of mercy hear the prayer,
And of thy pardon give a share,
When the dread moment it shall come,
Accept one through thy own dear son.
Young men be honest through your lives,
Husbands be kind unto your wives.
Refrain from gambling in your youth,
And tread the path of grace and truth.
Dear friends dry up the briny tear,
Kind heaven protect my mother dear,
My brothers and relations too,
Who came to take a last adieu.
She’s praying for her wretched son,
That his poor soul be not undone,
And you who set a mother’s part
Will strive to heal the broken heart.
Be warned by me both young and old,
And shun the love of cursed gold,
It may lead to murder in the end,
And sacrifice your dearest friend.
What gathering crowds around I see,
Young people all be warned by me,
Bad company and drinking shun,
And gambling or you’ll be undone.
Relations, friends, all efforts tried,
But justice would not be denied,
Let’s hope we all may meet in heaven,
Forgive as you would be forgiven.
Verses from the criminal broadside entitled TRIAL & EXECUTION OF WM. PALMER. For Poisoning at Rugeley, MR. JOHN PARSONS COOK.
Unfortunately the broadside is damaged and the part of the printers name is missing. All that can be read is “. . . ERS AND EDWARDS’ STEAM PRESS, CANNON STREET . . .” The right hand side of the verses are also damaged and also a small patch in the middle of the second verse. I have put question marks where some of the text is missing.
You feeling Christians give attention, young and old of each ??
A tale of sorrow I will mention, who will sympathise with ??
The fate of that unhappy culprit, William Palmer was his ??
And for the crime of dreadful murder, died a death of pub??
All on the fourteenth day of June, before the public he did ??
In woe and wail at Stafford gaol, before the public he did ??
In health and vigour, in you ?? and bloom, upon the fatal g??
Compelled to fill a murderer’s tomb – it was a shocking sig??
When William Palmer did appear, upon the drop at Stafford Gaol,
It would extract a briny tear, or make the strongest man grow pale;
Christians all, a while consider, think what must his feelings be,
All for the crime of wilful murder, launched into eternity.
To see this wretched man to tremble, on his execution day,
Tens of thousands did assemble, for to hear what he should say,
The dreadful murder he related, mounted on the gallows high,
He seemed as if he had repented, fully reconciled to die.
The rope on him was soon adjusted, and the fatal bolt was ??
How sad to say, the light of day, before his eyes had o??
To see the wretched man suspended, struggling in t??
Until the spark of life was ended, thus he did rest??
Oh, Christians who have heard my story, mark you ??
Pray unto the Lord of Glory, to protect you night a????
Only think on William Palmer, oh, that ever he????
Little did his kindred think, that he should die????
I have always suspected that there would have been other broadsides produced at the time of Palmer’s execution and hoped that others would be tracked down so I was delighted in January 2003 to receive the following e-mail:
I see from your website that you are interested in William Palmer the Rugeley Poisoner. You may be interested to know that at our sale of autographs, historical documents and ephemera we are selling what appears to be a completely new contemporary broadside (actually about quarto size) called ‘Copy of Verses on the Execution of William Palmer who underwent the extreme penalty of the law at Stafford on Saturday June 14 1856’. There then follows a set of verses as though Palmer has written them himself “My solemn hour at last is come, and thousands flock to see, a wretched culprit end his days, upon the fatal tree etc etc etc.”
It is slightly creased but complete and in otherwise good condition, considering that it is printed (by W Pratt of Birmingham) on typical flimsey paper.
We are selling it by auction on Thursday March 14th in Ludlow, Shropshire. Further details on the sale nearer the time. If you would like any further information about the sale, please contact me via reverse email or you can call me.
A week after the auction I was delighted to be contacted by Mr. Randle Knight to inform me that he had purchased the broadside and that I could photocopy the original for use on the Palmer web site and in this book.
Privately owned memorabilia
We hope to learn of other items of Palmer memorabilia which we could feature on the web.
When Palmer was arrested for debt they sold off all his possessions so there are likely to be many more items to be discovered.
The booklet entitled Full Account of Palmer the Rugeley Poisoner by Reginald B. Jones was written in 1912 and published by the Daisy Bank printing and publishing Company, Wellington Street, Gorton , Manchester.
I am grateful to Mr. John Godwin for the loan of this copy. It gives a somewhat sensational account of the story.
Doctor William Palmer, poisoner, forger, and robber, who cast a slur on the fair name of Rugeley which can never be effaced whilst memory endures.
Even to-day, 56 years after Palmer’s terrible crime, as the mail trains go rushing through the peaceful little Staffordshire town on their journey from the north of London, all eyes peer through the carriage windows, and passengers point out to each other the town ” where Palmer. the Poisoner lived.”
Other places larger than Rugeley have had their disgraces but have lived them down, time having mercifully cast oblivion over their ill-fame.
Not so Rugeley, for the crime that Palmer committed was so outrageous and revolting that even when another generation has come and two reigns have closed since the fell deed was perpetrated, still is the murderer’s wickedness kept green, and his accursed name passed on from one sire to son as the height of human wickedness. The town for over half a century has groaned under her shame, and efforts have been made to change the name, but without avail. It seems as if Palmer’s name will for ever overshadow and blight the town.
I was in the William Salt Library to donate a photocopy of the criminal broadside that I had received from Kent State University, Ohio. Mr. Randle Knight overheard my conversation and later e-mailed me to say that he had got yet another broadside. He stated in his e-mail-
It is in poor condition with some small parts missing. It is headed ‘TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF WM. PALMER, For poisoning at Rugeley, MR. JOHN PARSONS COOK’, and includes two pictures, one of Palmer in his cell with a priest and two officials, and the other of him hanging on the scaffold. It concludes with some verses, but they are not the same as either of those quoted on your excellent web site, which I very much enjoyed. Part of the printer’s name is missing, the rest reading: ‘PRINT . . . ERS AND EDWARDS STEAM PRESS, CANNON ST . . . ‘.
Mr. Knight who lives Milwich near Stafford has kindly loaned the broadside to me to digitally copy to put on this web site. A Dr. Knight was one of Annie Thornton’s guardians before she married William Palmer. Dr. Knight was the son of the Reverend John Knight who had been the vicar of Milwich and our Mr. Randle Knight is a descendant of the vicar’s brother. Randle bought the broadside at an antique shop in Market Drayton.
Following an article in a local newspaper about the launch of our Palmer web site, I was contacted by a Rugeley pensioner, Mr. Thomas Cooper, who had a pocket inkwell. When I visited him he told me about his late wife Florence (nee Williscroft). After Palmer had been arrested Florence’s great-great-grandfather, Mr. Williscroft, and his wife had been given the job of cleaning Palmer’s house before new tenants moved in. Whilst clearing out the cellar Mr. Williscroft, who lived at Colton, had found a pocket inkwell that he assumed had once belonged to Palmer, a fair assumption given Palmer’s love of writing notes. The inkwell had been kept in his wife’s family ever since.
Mr. Cooper also told me another story surrounding the Palmer case which had been handed down through his wife’s family. After the first post-mortem on John Parsons Cook, Professor Taylor had requested that he be provided extra samples for analysis. An uncle of Mrs. Cooper’s great-great-grandfather was a self-employed draymen. A drayman was a haulier who had a dray, which was a horse-drawn cart, and could be hired to transport goods. The uncle had been given the job of carrying the samples, taken at the second post-mortem to Rugeley’s Trent Valley Railway Station ready to be taken by train to Professor Taylor. As the cart slowed to cross over the narrow canal bridge several ‘ruffians’, whom the family assume were employed by Palmer, dashed out from their hiding place behind the bridge parapet and bushes. In the struggle that followed the ruffians failed to get their hands on the samples but succeeded in knocking the uncle unconscious. The horses became startled by the attack and bolted, not stopping until they had carried the unconscious uncle all the way back to the stableyard at Colton.
William Salt Library memorabilia
This watercolour photographed by Dave Lewis in March 2001in its protective plastic cover. It is the property of the William Salt Library.
Even at five years of age it appears that William Palmer loved horses.
In the 1935 book Palmer The Rugeley Poisoner by Dudley Barker it is stated that two years before his book was written this unsigned watercolour was inherited by Mr. Bernard Woollaston, of Stafford. He was the great-grand-nephew of Superintendent Woollaston who was responsible for Palmer’s safe custody during his trial at the Old Bailey. Woollaston also inherited the Jane Letters and Palmer’s death mask.
Probably the most scandalous memorabilia is the collection of love letters written, in 1855, by Palmer to a lady known only as Jane. For further details see Palmer blackmailed. Below is a photograph of the first and fourth side of the folded note.
In the William Salt Library there are a number of pamphlets and sermons relating to Palmer dating from the 1856. For details of the material available see the For further study – William Salt.