Review by Ellen D. Wallace
19th Century Barnsley Murders is a look back at a town caught in beginnings of economic failure, the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of working class movements in Britain. All three of these major influences converge in poverty and crime, including murder of the boldest sort in Barnsley, a town located between Sheffield, Leeds and Doncaster.
Amid descriptions of rat-ridden slums populated by numerous pubs, author Margaret Drinkall describes the darker side of progress in this small town. She recounts 17 murders or near-misses that occurred during the tempestuous 19th century in Barnsley. Drinkall reveals cases of bodysnatching, an early case of stalking which ended in murder in the street, the loss of a child and murder by pudding.
Interspersed in the copy are black and white photos, maps and drawings of places described in each of the cases. These photos and maps help draw the readers into the narrative. One impressively stark photo is that of a jail cell door in Leeds — in an underground jail with ominously thick stone walls.
Court practices of the period are also described in the book. For instance, often in the 19th century, an inquest was started almost immediately and the body of the victim was not moved from the scene until jurors viewed the body were it was dropped.
Drinkall describes the cases she has selected each in a separate chapter, allowing every case center stage. One thing that is lacking is a character development of the victim and murderer, but this is understandable since Drinkall relies on court records and newspaper accounts to retell these stories.
If you are lucky enough to be traveling to Great Britain, based on the intrigue of the this book, you might wish to read this book first and then add Barnsley to your itinerary to soak in the local colour and the sites of murders long ago.
Published by Pen & Sword Books