Presentation on theme: "The word resounded in the courtroom. In the silence that followed Mr Justice Bicknell donned the black cap. The chaplain took a step nearer to the accused,"— Presentation transcript:
The word resounded in the courtroom. In the silence that followed Mr Justice Bicknell donned the black cap. The chaplain took a step nearer to the accused, Arthur Birkett. Bicknell spoke those dreadful words: "... that you be taken to a place of execution, that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison in which you have been confined before your execution. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul."
The prisoner was taken to the cell. He had to be carried after the dreadful news. What dreadful tangle of emotions could have led to this? How could a relationship between a young couple, Alice Beetham and Arthur Birkett, one like thousands of others at the time and countless thousands since then, have ended with one dying on the weft room floor with her throat cut, and the other at the end of a rope at Strangeways?
On Monday 20th May 1912, a gruesome murder took place at a Blackburn mill. The victim was 18 year old Alice Beetham, a weaver at Jubilee Mill. For several weeks, she had been going out with Arthur Birkett, who was also a weaver at the same mill. On the previous Thursday she had told Arthur that she no longer wished to go out with him. It is believed that Alice's father did not approve of Arthur or it may have been because she felt Arthur was too passionate.
Not long before the murder Arthur had spoken to a fellow weaver about Alice saying "There's only one girl for me, and if I don't get her I'll have none". The day after Alice finished with him he told a friend that Alice had "chucked him". Arthur remarked "I will chop her.... head off". At the time this seemed like an innocent remark spoken in the heat of the moment, but was later to assume greater significance.
On Monday Arthur and Alice turned up for work as usual. Another weaver, Mrs. Wilkinson said to Arthur "You look upset, what's to do?" Arthur explained about the situation with Alice. A couple of hours later, during the breakfast interval, Arthur went to a nearby shop where he enquired about buying a razor. He looked at a few and finally purchased one for 1s 6d. When questioned later, the shopkeeper thought he seemed like an ordinary person, perhaps rather quiet.
Arthur returned to the mill. Alice made her way to the warehouse. She passed Arthur who followed her in. Alice went to the door. Arthur followed and grabbed her from behind, putting his arm around her throat. She screamed and fell to the floor. Arthur had cut her throat. It severed everything right down to the spine, including nicking the bone. She died almost instantly. Arthur then used the razor on himself, causing 2 wounds to his throat, one superficial, the other about half an inch deep. It all happened so quickly that no-one could have stopped Arthur. Witnesses thought that he was trying to kiss her, but the blood soon made them realise that a horrible crime had taken place.
Alice's body was taken to Copy Nook Police Station and Arthur was taken to the Infirmary. His injuries were not life threatening. Alice's funeral took place the following Saturday. A collection was taken at the mill, with some of the money going to her family and the rest to provide a beautiful floral tribute. Young girls held bunches of flowers, which were added to the other wreaths and flowers around her coffin in the kitchen of her home. Hundreds of people called at the house to view the body, and crowds lined the route of her funeral cortege. She was buried at Blackburn Cemetery.
Arthur Birkett was tried at the Crown Court of Manchester Assizes on 5th July 1912. All the evidence was presented and witness statements were heard. It only took the jury 15 minutes to decide the verdict that he was guilty of wilful murder. The Judge wearing the customary black cap gave the verdict - " Arthur Birkett you have been found guilty upon the clearest evidence of a very, very cruel murder - the murder of your sweetheart - a murder premeditated and determined and cruel... you have forfeited your life. Make your peace with your maker, I implore you". Birkett passed out and was supported by two warders. Loud sobs came from the gallery as Birkett was led away. He was hanged at Strangeways Prison in Manchester on 23rd July.
Birkett's family tried to get him a reprieve as his mother was widowed and depended on him as the "breadwinner". The Beetham and Birkett families made their peace with each other, as they both suffered terrible bereavements. Arthur wrote a touching letter to his family shortly before his execution. He told them that he was glad that he was going as he couldn't bear to live now that Alice had gone. Souvenir napkins were issued to commemorate the event showing a photograph of Alice, a short account of the tragedy and a poem about death.
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