In last week’s Guardian, I provided the first of a two-part story about the behaviour of a Northwich man, Mathew Fowles.

His criminal lifestyle was detailed, ending with his leaving London to return to Northwich after leaving prison.

On the way, he stopped at Newcastle-under-Lyme and took lodgings at the home of Martha Keeling, who ran an eating and lodging house.

It was Saturday, September 26, 1840. John Beeland, a clockmaker, lived next door to Mrs Keeling on Church Street. On Thursday, September 31, he noticed that the shutters and doors had not been unfastened in the late morning.

Mr Beeland found this strange and reported the matter to the police office. Constables Heath and Manning returned with him to the lodging house.

On entering the bedroom, they found the body of Mrs Keeling lying in the centre of the bed and quite dead.

The house was searched, and a wooden box that had been forced open by a hammer and chisel was discovered.

The body was examined and found to have a lacerated wound about two inches long, there were three or four wounds and on the other side and the cheek, also fingernail scratches.

The examining doctor deduced that death was caused by strangulation.

John Tooze was at the lodging house a few days earlier when Mrs Keeling told him that she had a lodger, and shortly after, Mathew Fowles entered.

Northwich Guardian: The top of Witton Street in NorthwichThe top of Witton Street in Northwich (Image: Paul Hurley)

She asked him if he wanted tea or soup, and he chose the soup. Fowles told Mr Tooze that he was from Northwich.

George Heath was a small boy who had collected milk and beer for Fowles several times that week. Fowles was the only lodger.

Hannah Urine, the wife of George Urine (spelled correctly), was the niece of Mrs Keeling, and she was aware the lady was very industrious and had saved £20 (In today’s money £1,615.69) in the employ of a Mr Cork and Dr McKenzie.

The evidence pointing to Fowles being the murderer mounted, and Isaac Cotterill, the chief officer of Newcastle Police, started to investigate and search for Fowles.

William Turnbull, a police officer at Whitmore railway station, reported that a young man had come to the station at about 6am Thursday morning asking about trains to Liverpool and Hartford.

Inquiries led the officers to Hartford station, where they learned that a man answering the Fowles description had arrived and had gone to Northwich. John Williams, the Northwich constable, was informed.

As a result of his inquiries, he went to Davenham, where he apprehended Fowles reclining on a sofa in the company of two women. He denied sleeping in Newcastle.

He was searched and found to be in possession of £1.10s, 6d. In his waistcoat pocket, the officers found a pin and a ring. He was conveyed towards Newcastle and met with Mr Cotterill at Whitmore station.

Northwich Guardian: Hartford Road, DavenhamHartford Road, Davenham (Image: Paul Hurley)

Transport was sent for, and they set off for Newcastle. When they reached the bottom of Church Street, the packed mass of people waiting for the prisoner met him with yells, groans, and hisses as they passed the door of the murder house; it was all Mr Cotterill could do to stop the crowd from executing Fowles there and then.

The inquest was set for the afternoon, and the witnesses were called. Fowles was shown the ring and the pin that had been identified as coming from the deceased woman’s house.

He denied stealing them, stating that they were his property; he had bought the ring from London and paid 2d for it.

On completion, the coroner informed the jury the evidence was circumstantial and it was up to them to decide. They returned the verdict of wilful murder.

Fowles was brought in and was committed to Stafford Assizes. The following morning Mr Cotterill conveyed Fowles to the county gaol. He said he was not guilty of the murder and gave a story to the officer.

He said that he had shared his room with a fiddler from Manchester. They agreed to rob the house, which they did and shared the money between them.

He went on to say that he did not kill the woman, he left the fiddler at the door, and they went their way.

His trial was at Stafford Assizes on Wednesday, March 10, 1841; he had made statements to the prison governor and padre that did not match what he had already said.

He said he shared his room with two men at Martha Keeling’s house. They were tramping men, one of them a fiddler. He had gone to bed before they arrived.

He was awoken at 5am by the men who told him that they had done a robbery at the house, he must get up and go with them, and they went off towards Macclesfield.

They did not tell him that they had murdered the woman. He continued to deny his involvement and that the pin and ring were his. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

He continued to deny the murder as he was led to the gallows; he ascended the scaffold and stood beneath the fatal beam.

The governor asked him for a final time if he had murdered the woman, and he again denied it. In a few seconds, the bolt was drawn, and he was launched into eternity.

Twenty-two-year-old Mathew Fowles from Witton cum Twambrookes was no more. He was buried within the prison.