A Most Barbarous and Mysterious Murder
“On Wednesday morning last, this town and the neighbourhood was thrown into the greatest state of excitement, first by a report that a commercial gentleman had committed suicide, at the Angel Inn, by cutting his throat, and subsequently… that a most barbarous and mysterious murder had been attempted… “(Abridged from the Ludlow Standard)
The victim of the attack was Mr William Miller Mackreth, who worked for Christopher George & Co., patent shot manufacturers of Bristol. He had retired to his room at the Angel Inn sometime after 11.00pm and after locking his door soon went to sleep. He woke to find something at his throat; he pushed his attacker away, leapt out of bed, broke panes of glass in the window to make an alarm, and tried to call for assistance. Feeling the cut to his throat, he began to realise the extent of his injury and, covered in blood, staggered from his room and made for the stairs, where he was found by Mr Cooke, the landlord, and the post-boy.
Mr Henry Hodges, a Ludlow surgeon, was called. Mackreth had sustained a 5-inch cut to his throat and a slash across his face, almost from ear to ear. While his wounds were being treated, Mackreth was anxious to established that he had been attacked, he was passed pen and paper and wrote “Some villain has done this…” With his suspicions raised, Hodges made a note of the pattern of blood splatters in the room and later testified in court that there were spots of blood leading from the victim’s room, no 17, to room no 20. The police were called and after a search, the weapon was found.
The Ludlow Standard reported the horror of the scene
“Being on the spot at an early hour in the morning, we can truly say that the scene of blood was the most frightful we ever witnessed, and the unhappy object of the assassin’s knife presented a most appalling spectacle; the room where he lay, passage, stairs, walls, &c were literally smeared and deluged in blood to an extent scarcely credited”Ludlow Standard
Mackreth had lost a lot of blood it was feared that he might not survive. The Mayor and borough magistrates were keen to take a deposition and so, despite his injuries, he was propped up in bed with pillows and partly in whispers, gave his account of what happened in the early hours of 20th August 1840.
Suspicion soon turned to a young man called Josiah Mister who also had a room at the Angel Inn. He alone, amongst the commotion, had stayed in his room, no 20. The bloody razor found by police officer Richard Hammonds, was in the yard opposite the window of room 20, and upon closer inspection spots of blood were found on the curtain of that room.
Marks found in the dust under Mackreth’s bed indicated that his attacker had waited there until his victim had locked the door and gone to sleep. In another twist to the story, it became evident that William Mackreth had not been the intended victim. Evidence emerged that Misters had made enquiries about Mr William Ludlow, a cattle dealer and butcher from Birmingham. Whenever he was doing business in the area, he stayed in room 17 at the Angel Inn, except on this occasion when he had been given another room.
Josiah Misters was brought before the Magistrates at Ludlow; he protested his innocence but was charged with inflicting wounds with intent to murder and was ordered to be transferred to Shrewsbury Gaol to await trial at the Assizes. The hearings, reports of new evidence and details of William Mackreth’s recovery were widely reported in the local and regional press. Portraits of both the victim and accused were drawn and published by W Gwynn of Corve Street, Ludlow.
The much-anticipated trial began on 23 March 1841, at the Market Hall, Shrewsbury. No fewer than forty witnesses were called to give evidence. Josiah Misters continued to plead his innocence and his defence barrister argued the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. The jury, however, only needed 35 minutes to reach their decision – the verdict was guilty. The judge sentenced him to hang and the execution date was set in 10 days’ time. Now a condemned man, Misters wrote to his fiancé from Shrewsbury Gaol.
However, this was not the end of the story. Josiah Misters was from a respectable family in Birmingham and his brother raised a petition to get the sentence commuted to transportation for life instead of the death penalty. John Misters was successful in getting notable signatories, including Mr Ludlow and, having travelled to Bristol, William Mackreth.
On the morning of the execution, there was some doubt as to whether a reprieve would be granted. To be sure, Mr Dawson, the Governor of the Gaol, waited at the post office for the arrival of the London mail, but no news came. The prisoner was informed and told to expect to meet his end. Crowds of people had flocked into town to witness the conclusion of this notorious case. The scaffold was erected on the gatehouse of the gaol. At a minute to twelve, the prisoner was led up the steps from the porter’s lodge and the death bell tolled before the execution took place. The body was left hanging there for about an hour as the crowds dispersed.
Shropshire Archives holds a series of volumes of newspaper cuttings, ref 8184/1-18. Volume 3 contains reports on this case. There are also copies of the portraits, a handwritten copy of the petition and letters written by William Mackreth and Josiah Misters. The letter from William Mackreth adds an interesting postscript. The letter is addressed to Mr Eddowes of the Salopian Journal, and is in reply to a letter from him, which seems to have offered mementoes of the case. Mackreth politely declines saying “as he has furnished me with marks on my person, sufficient to keep awake within me a lasting remembrance of him I think I should be far better to rest contented with that”.
He goes on to say that in the Shrewsbury News he had seen an article “Speculations on the Trial” which proposed the culprit was innocent and that Mackreth thought him not guilty. He asks Mr Eddowes for his assistance in putting the record straight and enclosed notes on various aspects of the trial and evidence that was presented. He is unambiguous in his assertion as this cutting quoting his letter shows.
You can view the 18 volumes of Watton’s cuttings at Shropshire Archives, reference 8184/1-18. Please note some volumes are very fragile. Please ask staff for advice.