13    Nov 200924 comments

User Story: The Last Woman to Be Hung in Staffordshire

Phil Wood, 64, from Whittington, England, has been with MyHeritage.com now for quite a few years. Having done extensive research into his family history, he's come across a number of interesting stories, including a rather dark tale from his family's distant past. He shares this story with us here.

Phil Wood at age 7

A very distant relative of mine, John Westwood, was born 1802 in Hammerwich and married Sarah Parker at the age of 20. The couple subsequently had seven children so life was hard, and making ends meet was a daily task. Thus, to help with their money John and Sarah rented out a room to a lodger, Samuel Phillips - a Nailor who was employed as a farm labourer come harvest time. Years went by and the family was on good terms until one day John found out Samuel had been romancing his wife. A fight ensued, witnessed by the whole neighbourhood, which John won. Afterwards he became possessive, ordered his wife to stop going with Samuel, and tried locking her indoors. But Sarah proved a defiant wife, swearing at John, threatening to leave him and continuing to see Samuel.

On 9 November 1843, John (who had had Typhus the previous year) had been working with his son and afterwards complained that he was starving. The family ate gruel with sugar and butter, and some meat and fried bread. John then went to lie on his bed as he had done since having typhus, and read a few pages of the Bible. Later that day, he began to vomit, and despite his wife's insistence that she should fetch the doctor, John said he would be alright if he could just get warm. An hour later, he was dead. A post mortem was carried out in his bedroom, and a large quantity of arsenic was found in his stomach.

The Shire Hall in Stafford which housed the Assizes Court
where Sarah was trialed in 1841

It appears that Sarah had consulted Samuel's mother, Hannah Mason, about a cure for 'The Itch'. Hannah was an amateur herbalist and 'wise woman', and she went with Sarah to a chemist to obtain hellebore, arsenic, and red and white precipitate that she said would cure the itch.

However on 8 November Sarah had returned to the chemist for further supplies of arsenic and the obliging chemist sold them to her believing it to be on Hannah's advice.

Sarah was sent for trial accused of John's murder and the jury found her guilty and handed down the death sentence. She was the last woman to be hanged in Staffordshire, on 13 January 1844. Samuel Phillips later married and had children. He settled in Burntwood, and died there on 25 October, 1893.

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Comments (24) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi Phil,
    The woman you are referring to is my gggrandmother. The court transcripts made very good reading. It was something that was not passed down through the generations to us, only now through geneology being popular did I find out about my gggrandmother.
  2. Hi Phil..
    Sarah was also my gggrandmother
  3. and also mine !
  4. and also my ggg grandmother, I am decended from Charles Westwood, the eldest son.
    His son James Westwood was my great-grandfather.
    Great info, definately filled in a bit more detail..well done Phil.
    The court transcripts, where can I get a copy from?
  5. almost forgot, do any of you have any images of John and Sarah or any of their children?
  6. i am also a relative of Sarah! my parents are doing our family tree. we visited the house where it happened several months ago
  7. Sarah was also my ggg mother. I am descend from Amy Westwood the youngest daughter. Her daughter Selina was my gg grandmother
  8. My relative also ggg grandparents also, apparently she protested her innocence, then claimed to be prganant ,after being examined by a council of matrons found not to be so, she went on hunger strike and was too weak to stand when hung, so was hung seated. samuel philips went to the see the trial dressed in disguise as a woman .
    The story of sarah had been passed down throught the generations, but i only confirmed it in my research in the 1990`s
  9. Sarah was my ggg Aunt, do you knoe anything about the Sedgwicks who were related lynne.barnsley@btinternet.com
  10. I too am a distant relative of Sarah and would like to know how I can get to see the Court Transcripts ?? Has any one any further information about Sarah and her life with John
  11. she is also my great x4 grandmother
  12. i am a westwood and her eldest son was my gggrandfather i have news papers of the report
  13. Yet another relative! Sarah was my gx4 grandmother, via Charles Westwood, James Westwood, Moses Westwood, Ellen Westwood, Margaret Harrison.
    I would be very interested to hear from anyone with any other family connections or other family stories to tell:
    rcooke@me.com
  14. Does anyone have any further details of Sarah Westwood's ancestors? With the publicly available census only starting from 1841 I am struggling to go back to her parents and prior.

    Interestingly, her eldest son Charles Westwood married a Maria Westwood. Maria Westwood's father was called Robert Westwood. Could this be the brother of John Westwood (Sarah Westwood's husband) who was mentioned in the papers at the time of John's murder making Charles and Maria cousins as well as husband and wife?
  15. Take a look at capitalpunishmentuk.org/westwood.html for the full story on Sarah Westwood..............
  16. John Westwood was one of my husbands ancestors and ironically we moved into meg lane 35 years ago not knowing that the area was steeped with so much history linked to the Westwood family we only discovered this couple of years ago when my husbands cousin did their family tree
  17. She was also my gggrandmother.
  18. Hello Cousins,
    I too am related to John and Sarah, they are my ggg grandparent.
    I descend from Charles, Sampson, Frank and Aubrey. I live on the east coast of Canada in the small community of Gardiner Mines.

    Frank had a family of four here in Canada, three of whom lived to adulthood. The family knew there were secrets from the past but finding a murderess was beyond our imagination.
  19. Hi everyone, Sarah's son Charles was my gggrandfather. It's nice to pin point so many distant relatives on here, but it's a shame it's under such sad circumstances! Just wondering if anyone believes Sarah's protests of innocence? My sister is convinced of this & I would like to know if there is any such evidence to back this up. Many thanks, Hayley Boden nee Westwood
  20. this was my ggggrandmother from my fathers side and interestingly my sister was born on the 8th of November 1980 and has some what of a colourful life
  21. My grandmother was Emily Westwood born 14-11-1899 and died 02-12-1949. Somewhere along the line I am related too. My mother was Margaret Booth - Norton Canes
  22. John Westwood was my Great Grandfather and Margaret Westwood was my Great grandmother
  23. Hi Cousin's,
    I have not been on this site for a long time, it is interesting to read that the family stretches out to Canada..!!
    I am descended from the eldest son of John Westwood, Charles Westwood, through James Westwood, Moses Westwood, Joyce Westwood.
    I am still amazed to read sentences spoken by our ancestors over 170 years ago which brings them back to life.
    It would be nice at some point if everyone could get together.
    Who knows...one day...!!
    Andy Wilson
  24. This is my husbands family,the link is through Keziah Westwood who married Solaman Partridge. Our surname is Charles. Their daughter Ruth married Frederick Charles. We all live in the Gwent area. They moved down to the steel works in Ponypool and Lysaghts in Newport. Compelling stuff

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