The Murder in Half Moon Yard

In late July 1882, the peace of a warm afternoon in Kings Lynn, Norfolk was violently disturbed by screams of, “Murder.”  Just before 3 pm Harriet Fox, who had been living in a two room dwelling in Half Moon Yard with fisherman Park Twaits, threw open the window and called to Martha Backham in the yard below, “Oh Martha, I’m murdered.”  Seeing blood streaming from Harriet's head, Martha ran for help, while Mrs. Mary Ann Ward, who lived next door, ran into the house, and got to the foot of the stairs just as Miss Fox fell headlong to the bottom.  Taking her into her arms she carried Harriet into the yard, laying her down on the stones.  As she did so, the dying woman repeated the words, "I am murdered," and then became unconscious.  Meanwhile other neighbours crowded into the house, and, hearing groans in the room above, some of them also ran for the police.

Superintendent George Ware of the Lynn Police force, my great grandfather, was nearby at the Dock Police station so he responded immediately to Martha’s request for help.  Closely followed by PC Laws he ran to Half Moon Yard where he found Harriet Fox.  At the inquest he reported, “She was alive, but insensible, I noticed that she had a wound on the left side of the head near the ear and another on the left breast near the region of the heart.”  In the bedroom, the two policemen found evidence of a dreadful struggle.  According to the Illustrated Police News, “The bed was saturated with blood and the wall and floor were bespattered with it.”  Superintendent Ware found Park Twaits unconscious on the floor and in his hand was a large spring-backed knife, with the blade opened, and there was blood on it.  The knife, which was 10 inches long with a blade of 5 ½ inches, bore the name of “J. Irwin" on the handle.  Twaits had a large wound just above the region of the heart and he died about five minutes afterwards.  Mr Barrington, a surgeon arrived shortly, but despite his efforts, Harriet died within ten minutes.

Half Moon Yard was in the heart of the North End of Kings Lynn, a close-knit fishing community of poor, hard-working families, but this particular yard was considered one of the lowest localities in the town.  Twaits' house, which was a wretched hovel at the bottom of the yard, contained two rooms, the furniture in the lower one consisting chiefly of two old chairs and a table, whilst in the bedroom there was a dilapidated French bedstead, a chair, a woman's dress or two, and some seafaring clothing.

Park Twaits was from a very old fishing family in Lynn and he was the owner-skipper of the Wave, used for mussel fishing. He had married and had two sons but had abandoned his family. Despite owning his own boat he was well known to the police, having been taken to court on 16 occasions. At the age of 48, he was about 5 foot 10 inches in height, powerfully built, and weighed about 15 stone. He wore whiskers around the chin and face, and had plenty of thick brown hair. Over a period of 10 years he appeared before the Lynn magistrates for being drunk and disorderly, for using abusive language, for several cases of assault and for neglecting to maintain his wife.

Twaits was a jealous man who had become passionately in love with Harriet.  They lived together for almost 12 years but there were frequent quarrels between them and these led to blows and other acts of violence on his part.  Neighbours stated that disputes between the two were so constant that they looked upon them as "a matter of custom.”  Journalists discovered that on one occasion the woman was seen covered with blood as a result of an attack by Twaits, who was a man of ungovernable temper, and had, for some time past, been the terror of the neighbourhood. “He had often been heard to utter his intention to "do for" Fox, and, in the course of their quarrels, he repeated these threats to her.”

Their relationship worsened when Harriet took a job as servant at the Horse and Groom public-house, with board and lodging and became acquainted with another man, John Altham. She still was friendly with Twaits, continuing to sleep regularly with him. His jealousy, however, was aroused by her familiarity with Altham, especially when he heard she was about to marry his rival.  Caroline Kirby, wife of the landlord of the Horse and Groom, stated at the inquest, which was held in the Dock Tavern, that, “I knew that Harriet Fox was going to marry a young man named John Altham, who has left the town. He left because he said his life was in danger. He now lives in Suffolk, where he is working on the line.  I have heard quarrels between Harriet and Twaits about her having left him and gone with Altham, and I have heard him threaten her, and he told me he would buy a revolver and shoot her rather than she should marry. The last time I heard him threaten her was a month last Sunday.”

Harriet had been so worried that she had called on Superintendent Ware in his own home to ask for his protection, but as the policeman was not there, Twaits “wheedled" her round again.  Twaits had recently borrowed the knife, with which the deadly wounds were inflicted, from John Irwin, ostler, telling him that wanted it to cut a piece out of a sail. 

The post mortem examination conducted by Mr Barrington and Dr John Lowe established that Park Waite’s wounds were self-inflicted.  The jury were convinced that Harriet Fox was a victim of wilful murder by Park Twaits.  They were directed by the Coroner to consider whether Twaits could have been of sound mind to commit such a foul dead and their decision was that he took his own life while suffering from temporary insanity.

Mrs. Kirby, opened a subscription list, which enabled her to, “give the dead woman a decent burial,” and Twaits was buried at the expense of a brother and sister.  The funeral took place two days after the inquest. The coffin containing the corpse of the woman was borne to the grave on a bier carried shoulder high by fishermen. It was covered with a pall, on which were laid wreaths of bright flowers. A small train of her friends followed, and then came the hearse containing the coffin of Park Twaits.  Several hundred people watched the procession, and a large crowd followed it into the Cemetery.  Anticipating this, Superintendent Ware had posted policemen to prevent crushing at the cemetery chapel. The plates on the lids of the coffins bore the text—"The spirit shall return unto God who gave it," and the words "Park T. Twaits, died 20th July, 1882, aged 46 years, Harriet Fox, died 20th July, 1882, aged 41 years."

Honour and comradeship in Gottingen

Towards the end of the Second World War, my mother, who was in the ATS, was stationed in Gottingen in central Germany.  Gottingen is famous for its university so it is perhaps not surprising that she brought back two pictures of students.  But these pictures were silhouettes drawn in the 1850s in black, white, silver and blue.  They wore the uniform of one of the university Corps or fraternities.

From 1840 to 1860 in particular, loyalty to your Corps was essential to the higher echelons who chiefly enrolled as students at the university.  They were intelligent young men capable of study but they also socialised and most importantly engaged in the practice of Mensur, fencing with razor sharp two edged blades.  Wearing protective clothing and goggles they were expected on at least three occasions to fight against a fellow fraternity member before being awarded the coloured sash shown in the pictures.  After these three occasions they could stop fencing or carry on as Otto van Bismark did, fighting 32 times in one term.  The young men were often injured, particularly gaining facial scars of which they were very proud. 

Mark Twain described the sword fights while he was in Germany in his book “A Tramp Abroad.”  He was impressed that even when badly wounded they made no sound and how after their own fight they would stay in bandages to watch the next duel.  He was glad that a surgeon was always present to look after them.  These matches occurred twice a week.

One of these pictures, dated 1856 is of P. Bachmann.  I believe he was Paul Gustav Heinrich Bachmann, a Mathematician.  He lived from 1837 to 1920.  He began his studies at the University of Berlin but in 1856 he followed his professor to Gottingen. He produced five volumes on number theory in which he introduced Big O notation which was important to Babbage in his development of computer science.  He was also a talented musician, spending his later years composing, playing the piano and writing as a music critic for several newspapers.

In the mid-20th century hotels and museums exhibited collections of student silhouettes as shown in this postcard.

If you follow this web link you can read about the continues student customs in Germany