110 years ago, a dreadful crime was perpetrated in the centre of Blackpool. A young man was driven to murder by a demanding wife and an over-bearing mother-in law; or more particularly, a weak man in dire circumstances.
What purported to be a simple Maintenance Hearing at Blackpool Police Court on Monday 23 November 1903, laid the foundations of a heinous crime. Mary Hannah, Starr’s 27 year old wife of 9 months was seeking Maintenance for herself and her child. The Blackpool Police Court heard that Starr who was often unemployed, failed to provide for his family, frequently drinking and gambling his wages away. She and the child were currently living with her mother and father, Mr & Mrs Blagg, in Lord Street, along with a younger sister.
News reports of the time record a tumultuous relationship with frequent and noisy arguments between the two at the Lord Street address. Starr had moved out at one stage to live with a relative in Hardman Street Blackpool. Mary had joined him there following reconciliation and the birth of the child, but only stayed a short time, before returning to her mother’s house, since Starr had failed to properly provide for her.
In his defence, and admitting he was occasionally drunk, he argued with confidence, that she had left him several times to live with her mother, against his will and that if she persisted he would seek custody of their child.
The Bench granted Mary a Separation Order, custody of the child and 8 shillings a week in Maintenance.
On the following day, Tuesday, in what the local press regarded as ‘A Tragic Sequel’ to the hearing, Starr had been drinking, had entered the house by an open back door and had fatally stabbed Mary in the kitchen, several times, using two knives to do so. The bent and broken knives were found at the scene. Mary had over twenty wounds. On hearing the screams of her daughter,Mrs Blagg had confronted Starr and pleaded for her daughter’s life; to no avail. She too was cut and bleeding. She ran screaming into the street for assistance and Starr fled. The press reports of the incident and the injuries she suffered are very graphic in their description.
A local doctor James Johnson pronounced Mary dead at the scene.
Starr is reported to have run to a nearby Duke of York Hotel, where he stayed briefly before leaving in the direction of Talbot Square. He was arrested there, in a bloody and drunken state, a short time later by two Police Officers, who took him directly to the Police Station in Lower King Street. Because of his being ‘greatly under the influence of drink’ and incoherent, he was placed in a cell, under guard until the next day, when he would appear before the Magistrates.
On Friday the 27th he was remanded to appear at the Assize Court in Liverpool, where within 3 minutes, the Jury returned a ‘Guilty’ verdict without even leaving the Courtroom. In spite of a plea of ‘Insanity’, Starr was sentenced to death by hanging.
On 29 Dec 1903 William Billington, the Executioner accepted his second ‘Senior’ appointment to hang Starr at Walton Jail, in Liverpool. He was assisted by the more experienced Harry Pierpoint (Incidentally, Albert, Harry’s son, also an Executioner, spent his holidays in Blackpool). Starr was reported to have been ‘Penitent and Stoical’ at his execution. Previously, he had written of his regrets, life and career, published widely as ‘an epistle to young men.
This was actually Starrs second murder trial. He had been acquitted in 1896 of the murder of Eleanor Coulthard, a Domestic Servant in March 1896. She was found drowned in the River Ribble at Clitheroe.
Henry Bertram Starr at 31, had been employed in a range of jobs: Publishers Traveller, Insurance Agent, Photographic Canvasser, and latterly a Slater’s Labourer, clearly not able to stay in regular employment. He was born in Marske-by-the-Sea, Birkenhead and had arrived in Blackpool via Newcastle upon Tyne, Maryport, Workington, and Clitheroe. In 1891, Census records show he was living and working in Cockermouth and had lived there as a child. His father, a grocer, had died in Birkenhead, when he was a child.
Mary, born in Oldham, was married to Starr at Christ Church, Blackpool in Blackpool, 9 March 1903. She is recorded as a Domestic Servant, before the move to Blackpool. Her father, Allen worked as a ‘Machine Fitter’ in Oldham, while her mother kept house at ‘Ardwick House’. Her Grave is in Layton Cemetery.
Note: The pictures in the article are taken from the Blackpool Times & Fylde Observer, 09/12/1903 and no permission has been sought.
‘Terrible Murder at Blackpool’, The Blackpool Times and Fylde Observer, 25/11/1903, p5 Col 2
‘The Blackpool Murder’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 27/11/1903, p8 Col 1
‘The Blackpool Tragedy’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 27/11/1903, p7 Col 5
‘The Murder at Blackpool’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 01/12/1902, p5 Col 5
‘The Blackpool Murder’, The Blackpool Times and Fylde Observer, 02/12/1903, p3 Col 3
‘The Murder at Blackpool’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 04/12/1902, p7 Col 6
‘The Blackpool Tragedy’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 08/12/1903, p5 Col 4
‘The Blackpool Murder Trial, The Blackpool Times and Fylde Observer, 09/12/1903, p6 Col 3
‘The Blackpool Tragedy’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 11/12/1903, p6 Col 3
‘Starr Awaiting Execution’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 15/12/1903, p5 Col 6
‘The Blackpool Murderer’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 25/12/1903, p8 Col 6
‘The Blackpool Murder’, The Blackpool Times and Fylde Observer, 30/12/1903
‘The Blackpool Murderer’, The Blackpool Herald and Fylde Advertiser, 01/01/1904, p8 Col 3
‘Starr Executed’, TBC
Fielding, S., Pierrepoint: A Family of Executioners, Available at: books.google.co.uk
Fielding, S., Hanged at Liverpool: The History of Execution at Walton Gaol Available at: books.google.co.uk
1901 Census Ref: RG 13/4780, St Andrews Parish North, Newcastle upon Tyne at 26 Percy Street, p4
1891 Census Ref: TBC