Mrs Eliza HEMMINGS, née Freeman (1858–1894)
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Eliza Freeman was born in Oxford on 27 April 1858 and baptised at St Aldate’s Church on 6 June. Her parents were the builder's labourer Henry Freeman and Ellen Stuart, daughter of a tailor, who had married at St Aldate’s Church on 4 May 1857.

At the time of the 1861 census Eliza (3) was living at 25 Floyd’s Row, St Aldate’s with her parents and her younger brother Henry (six months).

By the time of the 1871 census the family was living at Plough Yard, St Aldate’s, and Eliza had three more younger siblings (James, John, and Mary).

The family was still at Plough Yard in 1881 with another two younger children (Jane and George), but Eliza and two of her older siblings were now living with their widowed grandmother, Mrs Eliza Stuart, at 20 Floyd’s Row. Mrs Stuart (68) was still working as a charwoman; Eliza herself (22) was a shoe machinist; James (17) was a shoemaker; and John (15) was an errand boy.

Eliza’s future husband, James John Thorley Hemmings (born in Oxford on 7 October 1862), was only 18 at the time of the 1881 census, living at 9 Dovers Row in East Oxford with his father James Thorley Hemmings, his mother (Sarah) Ann, and his seven younger siblings. He and his father (who was born in Oxford in 1842) were both bricklayers. (For more on his background, see the grave of his parents, which also includes information about his grandparents (William and Lydia Hemmings).

On 29 May 1882 at St Aldate’s Church in Oxford, Eliza Freeman (23) married James John Thorley Hemmings (20, but claiming to be 21), and they had four children:

  • Annie Eliza Hemmings (born in Oxford on 23 January 1885 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey Church on 8 April)
  • Ada Maria Hemmings (born at Eden’s Yard, George Street Oxford on 28 May 1887 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 4 September)
  • Julia Ann Hemmings (born at 5 Gloucester Green, Oxford on 25 June 1889 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 11 August)
  • James Hemmings (born at 5 Gloucester Green, Oxford on 1 April 1891 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 June; died on 15 December 1891)

A fifth child was born to Eliza, but it later transpired that her husband did not believe he was the father:

  • Mabel Hemmings (born at 1 Dover Place, Friars Entry on 7 August 1893 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 16 August).

At the time of the 1891 census James John Thorley Hemmings (28) and Eliza (31) were living at 5 Gloucester Green with their four children: Annie (6), Ada (4), Julia (1), and James (just four days). Baby James died of whooping cough at that address on 15 December 1891, and his funeral was at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 December.

At the time her youngest daughter was born in 1893, Eliza was living at 1 Dover Court, Friars Entry. Around the time of her birth James John Thorley Hemmings and his wife separated: he went with his three eldest children to live with his parents at the George & Dragon at 50/52 George Street (demolished when Chain Alley was widened); and Eliza lodged in various places with her new baby Mabel, supporting herself by working as a prostitute.

Early in March 1894 Eliza moved with her baby to new lodgings at 28 Gas Street, St Ebbe’s, the home of the brewer’s labourer Joseph Clark and his wife Emily. On 31 March 1894 her husband assaulted her there, and she died as a result of her injuries:

† Mrs Eliza Hemmings died at the Radcliffe Infirmary on 4 April 1894, aged nearly 36 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 10 April (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church.

Her address in the burial register was given as that of her parents-in-law at the George & Dragon.

The subsequent court case

On Friday 6 April 1894 Eliza’s husband James John Thorley Hemmings was charged before the Magistrates at the City Court with assaulting Eliza, and further charged with “feloniously and with malice aforethought killing and slaying her”.

The inquest and trial were reported extensively in Jackson’s Oxford Journal, and the following evidence emerged of what had allegedly happened. On Saturday 31 March Eliza bumped into a male friend in George Street (who curiously had the same name as her husband, but was no relation), and they went to the Hope & Anchor for a beer. She persuaded him to escort her home to St Ebbe’s, but they soon bumped into her husband in New Inn Hall Street. Despite having been seen with her “paramour”, Eliza allegedly said to her husband, “Are you going to support me or my child?” and he hit her on the nose: she fell against the railings of the Wesleyan Chapel, and dropped the bottle of beer she had in her hand. He then struck her a second blow on the breast and said, “If you will be a better woman I’ll take you back.” Her husband then accompanied her to her lodgings in St Ebbe’s, where they arrived at 11.15 p.m: her landlady confirmed that this was the only time that James John Thorley Hemmings had ever come to the house, and that Eliza had asked her permission for him to come inside. The Clarks then went to bed, leaving Eliza and her husband in their downstairs sitting room. Mrs Parslow, another tenant in the house, heard Hemmings say “that if his wife did not do as he wished he would take care no other man did”; and the Clarks were awakened at 3 a.m. on the Sunday with cries of “Murder”, and found Eliza Hemmings, still fully dressed, in a bad way from loss of blood, and took her upstairs to her bedroom.

Mrs Clark took Eliza to the police station on the Sunday morning, 1 April. On the Monday in Queen Street, Eliza bumped into her father Henry Freeman, now an inmate of Oxford workhouse, and showed him dreadful bruises on her face and swollen black eyes, and said, “That brute of a husband of mine has done this.” Her landlady took Eliza to the Court on the Tuesday morning. Eliza was very ill on Wednesday, and Mrs Clark stayed up all night with her and sent for Dr Harold Thompson the following morning. He advised her friends to go to the police station to get an ambulance to take her to the Radcliffe Infirmary, where she died the same day, Thursday 5 April. The post mortem revealed that the blows with which she had been struck had caused inflammation to both her brain and heart. That evening her husband was arrested at his home at the George & Dragon.

Eliza Hemmings had no real home, and was probably buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery simply because the hospital where she died was in St Giles’s parish. Her funeral on 10 April 1894 was “attended by a large crowd of persons mostly of her own station in life”.

The court case was heard at the Oxfordshire Summer Assizes at County Hall on 23 June 1894. Thomas Lucas, J.P., a former Mayor, said that he had “known the prisoner for seven years as a sober, steady, peaceable, and well conducted man in every sense”. Because of the provocation in the case and the immorality of his wife, James John Thorley Hemmings was found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, and was punished with five years’ penal servitude.

On 30 June 1894 Jackson’s Oxford Journal railed against the immorality revealed by the evidence:

The trial of James Hemmings for wife murder, at the Assizes, disclosed as squalid and miserable a tale of infidelity, drunkenness, and brutality, as any that the annals of the police courts of the Metropolis could supply. What a revelation of misery the glance into the domestic economy of No. 28, Gas-street affords! In this small, shabby little house, in one of the poorest streets of Oxford, the unfortunate woman Hemmings lived as a lodger, apparently upon the wages of prostitution. Her landlady was a Mrs. Clark, at that time living with her husband, but since that time separated from him. Drunkenness and immorality prevailed. Mrs. Clark, according to her husband’s evidence, was on that Saturday night in April in her usual condition, not sober, “but about the same as she was other nights; she had a little beer.” She had three lodgers, Mrs. Hemmings, a woman named Parslow, separated from her husband, and a man named Hunt, who was living with Mrs. Parslow, and who on the occasion in question was so drunk that he heard nothing of the violence offered in the room beneath him or the cries of murder that aroused the other inmates of the house. In this squalid den young children were being reared, and we hope, now that attention has been directed to the case, that means will be found to remove them from such horrible surroundings; certainly in such a case no schooling can be beneficial where children have to return to such a home. As to the man James Hemmings, the unfortunate husband of the poor woman, however great his brutality, and it was undoubtedly great, he appears to have received all the provocation that is held to excuse an ill-treated husband. His assault upon his wife in the streets was, however, less brutal and more excusable than its renewal in the house in Gas-street; by going there with her at all he seems to have been treating her rather as a prostitute than a wife, and the rejection of his advances seems to have hurried him into a fatal transport of passion. The whole tale is a truly pitiable one, and the case is we fear but a sample of much that is going on the the poorer parts of Oxford.

What happened to Eliza’s husband and children?

James John Thorley Hemmings was presumably released from prison in 1899, after serving his five years, and he started a new life in London as a bricklayer. It is likely that his parents looked after his eldest three girls at the George & Dragon while he was incarcerated.

On 12 November 1899 at St Anne's Church in Lambeth, James Thorley Hemmings (37), described as a bricklayer of 30 Orkney Street, Battersea Park Road, married his second wife Annie Elizabeth Spender (24) of 77 Heyford Avenue, the daughter of the stationmaster Frederick Spender. Annie was unmarried but already had a child.

The 1901 census shows James and Annie Hemmings living at 6 Beechmore Road in Battersea with their combined children, namely two of James’s daughters from his first marriage, Ada (13) and Julia (11); Annie’s daughter Mabel (5); and the baby daughter they had together, Edna May Hemmings (5 months). After a gap they had two further children: Laurence Thomas Hemmings (born 22 April 915) and Thomas Thorley Hemmings (born 22 September 1918).

Meanwhile James’s parents, James & Ann Hemmings, were still living at the George & Dragon in George Street, and various relations were living with them, including Annie (16), who was a dressmaker. Although described as their niece, she was in fact their granddaughter, the eldest daughter of James and Eliza Hemmings, and they may have been trying to protect her identity.

The baby Mabel Hemmings, who was taken off by Eliza to St Ebbe’s, was admitted to Cowley Industrial School in 1898, and was there at the time of the 1901, aged seven and described as a pauper child; she left the school in 1909. She may be the Maud Mabel Hemmings (17), born in Oxford, who in 1911 was working as a general servant to a couple in Headington.

James and Annie Hemmings were still living at 6 Beechmore Road in Battersea in 1911. His daughters Ada and Julia were now both in service: Ada (24) was housemaid to the Duke of Buccleuch at Montague House, Whitehall, while Julia was housemaid to Mrs Catherine Cole at 2 Park Terrace, North Oxford. Annie (26) was still a dressmaker living at the former George & Dragon at 50 George Street, Oxford with her grandparents, and was now correctly described as their granddaughter.

Eliza's three daughters were all married from the George & Dragon pub soon after that census, two of them in a double wedding:

  • On 8 April 1912 at Cowley St John Church, Annie Eliza Hemmings (27), described as a dressmaker of George Street, married Richard Pocock (23), a basket chair maker of 24 Union Street, east Oxford and the son of the cricket-ball maker Horace Pocock.
  • On 1 August 1914 at St Mary Magdalen Church, Oxford, Julia Thorley Hemmings (25) of George Street married Albert John Blay (25), a moulder of 11 Beaumont Buildings and the son of the clerk David Blay;
  • On 1 August 1914 at St Mary Magdalen Church, Oxford, Ada Maria Thorley Hemmings (27) of 50 George Street married George William Baxter (28), a gardener of 47 Cavendish Road, St Albans and the son of the labourer Henry Baxter.

Some of the above information was provided by Rob Hemmings,
a great-great-grandson of James Thorley Hemmings, Eliza’s father-in-law



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