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Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada

Date: June 23,2018


Richard Watkin Denyer was born in the 2nd qtr of 1867 at Thursley, Surrey, one of seven children born to Henry Denyer(1828-1895) a farmer of 80 acres in Thursley, and Sarah Denyer, nee Watkin (1828-1909).

Richard grew up in Thursley and as a boy helped his father on the family farm. By the time of the 1881 census he was attending a boys school in Cranleigh, Surrey.By the time of the 1891 census he was living in Surrey and working as an estate agent and auctioneers clerk. With him was his sister Elizabeth and a number of boarders and servants.

In 1893, at Haslemere, Surrey, Richard married Kate (sometimes given as Katie) Mitchell who was born 1870 at Felday, Surrey and with her had seven children born between 1894 and 1909, of which the five youngest were born in Tunbridge Wells, a town he moved to with his wife and first daughter Aileeen in 1895.

In Tunbridge Wells  he initially took up residence at 33 Grove Hill Road in a home named ‘Mountfield’ and was still there at the time of the 1901 census with his wife; three of his children; a cousin and two domestic servants. Richard at that time was working as an auctioneer.

Richard was quite successful in business and became well known in the town as an auctioneer, estate agent and valuer. He was so successful in fact that in 1902 he took over the Nicholas Estate Agents business in Reading and London following the death of its founder William Richard Nichoals at age 36 in 1901, which business then operated under the name of Nicholas, Denyer & Co and for a time also ran businesses named Denyer and Collins and Denyer and Rumble.

By the time of the 1911 census, Richard was living in a fine home called ‘Sundal’ in Sandhurst Park, Tunbridge Wells with his wife Katie; four of his children and two servants. Richard’s occupation at that time was given as ‘auctioneer employer’. The family continued to live in this home until at least 1913 and perhaps up to 1917.

In 1923 it was announced in the Kent & Sussex Courier that the partnership between Richard Watkin Denyer and Bertram Nix, operating as Denyer & Co , auctioneers and estate agents, at 88 High Street, Tunbridge Wells and on the High Street, Tonbridge was dissolved by mutual consent.

The London Gazette of October 2,1929 reported that Richard Watkin Denyer of 3 Wellington Road, Horsham and lately residing at 36 Hurst Road in Horsham, carrying on business at 2 Park Street, Horsham and formerly at 18 Carfax, Horsham, all in Sussex as estate agent under the name of Gordon ,Denyer & Co filed for bankruptcy,

The obituary for Richard recorded that he had passed away in the 3rd qtr of 1931 in London after a long illness having retired from business five years previously. His death was reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier under the heading “ Former well-known auctioneer dies” and noted that he once had offices in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, East Grinstead and London. Richard was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on August 8,1931. He was survived by several children and his wife Kate who was buried at Havering May 20,1946.

In this article I present information about the life and career of Richard Watkin Denyer as well as information about his family; his residences and business premises. Shown above is a photograph of Richard as presented in the notice of his death from the Courier in 1931.


Richard Watkin Denyer was born in the  2nd qtr of 1867 at Thursley, Surrey, one of seven children born to Henry Denyer(1828-1895) a farmer of 80 acres in Thursley, and Sarah Denyer, nee Watkin (1828-1909). He was baptised at St Michael and All Angles church in Thursley July 6,1867 (image opposite).

He grew up on his father’s farm and received his initial education in Thursley. Those who lived in farming communities became well acquainted with auctions and being an auctioneer was something that Richard soon embraced.

The 1871 census, taken at Thursley, Surrey(image opposite) at ‘Curford Mill” listed Henry Denyer as a farmer of 80 acres employing three men and two boys. Henry Denyer (1828-1895) had been born in Thursley and died August 14,1895 at Heatham, Akton, Hampshire. Henry’s wife Sarah Watkin (1828-1909) had been born in Enfield, Middlesex and died 1909 at Wadhurst, Sussex. Living with Henry and Sarah at the time of the 1871 census was their three sons Henry, age 11, Richard,age 3 and Arthur, age 1. Also there was a nephew and five servants (farm workers and domestics). Thursley is a small village in south west Surrey and is largely agricultural in nature.

The 1881 census recorded Richard attending the Surrey County School in Cranleigh Surrey. This school was opened on  September 29,1865 as a boys' school 'to provide a sound and plain education, on the principles of the Church of England, and on the public school system, for the sons of farmers and others engaged in commercial pursuits'. It grew rapidly and by the 1880s had more than 300 pupils although, as with many similar schools, it declined over the next 30 years and in 1910 numbers dropped to 150. Two powerful headmasters - Herbert Rhodes and David Loveday restored Cranleigh's fortunes. Further details about the school can be found on such websites as Wikipedia. Shown opposite is a photograph of the school exterior from a book about the school and also a view of the boys dining in 1958.

The 1891 census taken at Gumshall Lodge at Gunshall, Shere, Surrey gave Richard working as an estate agent and auctioneers clerk. With him was his sister Elizabeth (a household domesic); five members of the Simons family who were boarders, and four domestic servants.

On August 7,1893 at Haslemere, Surrey, Richard married Kate (Katie) Michell, who was born 1870 at Felday, Surrey. After the marriage Richard and his wife moved to Reading, Berkshire, and in 1894 the couple had a daughter (Aileen) who was born in Reading in 1894.

Sometime after 1894 but before 1896 Richard and his wife and daughter Aileen moved to Tunbridge Wells. Richards father Henry died August 14,1895 at Neatham,Alton, Hampshire and his mother Sarah  died in the 1st qtr of 1909 at Wadhurst, Sussex.


Based on birth records of Richard’s children it was established that in 1895 Richard and his wife Katie and their first child Aileen took up residence in Tunbridge Wells on Grove Hill Road and Richard began his long career in the town as an auctioneer.

Shown opposite from Peltons 1896 guide is an advertisement for R.W. Denyer,who at that time had business premises on Mount Pleasant Road opposite the SER station. Also shown below left is a postcard view of this part of Mount Pleasant Road.

Richard and his wife Kate (Katie) had seven children as noted in the 1911 census but at that time only six were still living. There children were (1) Aileen (1894-1932) who was born in Reading (2) Trissie (1896-1947) who was born in Tunbridge Wells (3) Jack Stanley (1899-1961) who was born in Tunbridge Wells (4) Richard Nelson (1903-1955) who was born in Tunbridge Wells (5) Iris Mary who was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1907 (6) Unknown child who died in infancy (7) Arthur Rex, born in Tunbridge Wells 1909.

The 1901 census, taken at 33 Grove Hill Road, in a home called ‘Mountfield’ gave Richard as an auctioneer. With him was his wife Katie and his children Aileen,age 7; Trissie (given as Ada Cissie) age 4; Jack Stanley, age 1. Also there was Stephen B. Denyer, a cousin, age 23 who was working as a manager of a bakery, and two domestic servants. A directory of 1899 gave the listing “ Richard Watkin Denyer, Mountfied, Grove Hill Road.  Richards residence was one of many similar white rendered homes located east of the commercial district on the hill. The home was located on the north side of Grove Hill Road next to or near what is now the fire hall.

In 1902 Richard took over the auctioneers, estate agents and valuers business of Messrs Wm. R. Nicholas & Co (image above). The founder of this business in 1882 was William Richard Nicholas (1865-1901). When William died November 4,1901 his estate was left to members of his family and Richard bought the business from them in 1902.

After the purchase of the business it operated under the name of Messrs Nicholas, Denyer & Co. An advertisement for this business in 1906 gave them as auctioneers, land agents and valuers at King Edward Buildings, Station Road, Reading and also at 43 Pall Mall London. Richard moved the Reading office from 1 Blagrove Street (opposite the town hall) to King Edward Buildings and fitted a sign that read “ Nicholas’ to the front of the building, as can be seen in the photo opposite on the right hand side. The business also operated from their London office at 43 Pall Mall and on the High Street in Tunbridge Wells and by 1909 at Newbury. Further information about Mr Nicholas and the business history can be found on the internet. For a time Richard also ran businesses named Denyer and Collins and Denyer and Rumble.

By 1911 Richard and his family took up residence in a fine 9 room brick home in Sandhurst Park, Tunbridge Wells, called ‘Sundal’. He is found there in the 1911 census and in a directory of 1913. The 1911 census gave Richard as an auctioneer. With him was his wife Katie; four of his children and two domestic servants. The census recorded that they had been married 17 years and of their seven children six were still living.

Details about ‘Sundal’ were given in my article ‘The History of ‘Sundal’ in Sandhurst Park’ date January 25,2015. From the overview of that article is the following along with a photo of the home.

“Sundal was one of a few fine homes built in the late 19th century on the road Sandhurst Park . Sandhurst Park was a residential development at the west end of Sandhurst Road,Tunbridge Wells on about 150 acres of land located between Ferndale Road to the east and the railway line from High Brooms. Originally conceived and named as Liptraps Park, as a joint effort between financier and developer Francis Peek and local architect William Barnsley Hughes (1852-1927), in the 1890’s, the project barely got off the ground by the time Francis Peek died in 1899. For details about the early history of this development see the Civic Society book ‘The residential Parks of Tunbridge Wells’ published in 2004 or the various other articles I have written about the homes in Sandhurst Park. Sundal was a rather typical Victorian Style 2 sty red brick home of 9 rooms but is one of the few original homes that survives today. Sadly most of the original homes have been lost due to extensive redevelopment of the area in the 20th century.” Below is a list of the homes occupants.

1902-1903……….Joseph Stevenson

1911-1913…………Richard Watkin Denyer

1918 -1944……….Frederick William Low

1946-1953…………Arie Van Den Brink/H/ Brink

1958-1961…………Edward M. Neary

1964…………………Mrs J.M. Neary

1966-1977………….Dr. D.N. Ironside

1978-2014………… James Grant Ironside and family

In 1923 it was announced in the Kent & Sussex Courier that the partnership between Richard Watkin Denyer and Bertram Nix, operating as Denyer & Co , auctioneers and estate agents, at 88 High Street, Tunbridge Wells and on the High Street, Tonbridge was dissolved by mutual consent. No. 88 High Street was located in one of the towns busy commercial districts on the west side of High Street towards the south end. Shown opposite is a postcard view of this part of the High Street.

The London Gazette of October 2,1929 reported that Richard Watkin Denyer of 3 Wellington Road, Horsham and lately residing at 36 Hurst Road in Horsham, carrying on business at 2 Park Street, Horsham and formerly at 18 Carfax, Horsham, all in Sussex as estate agent under the name of Gordon ,Denyer & Co filed for bankruptcy,The obituary for Richard recorded that he had passed away in the 3rd qtr of 1931 in London after a long illness having retired from business five years previously. His death was reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier  on August 7,1931 under the heading “ Former well-known auctioneer dies” and noted that he once had offices in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, East Grinstead and London. The Courier stated that he had come to Tunbridge Wells from Guildford 30 years ago ; that he was a prominent member of the now defunct Tunbridge Wells Farmers Club and honorary secretary of it for several years. He will also be remembered as a steward of the Agricultural Show. An enthusiastic worker in the C0-Operative cause he was at one time President of the West Ward Association and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Tonbridge Divisional Association. Mr Dyer left three sons and three daughters. The funeral takes place tomorrow”.The funeral of Mr Dyer was announced in the Courier of August 14,1931 and stated that he was buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on August 8,1931. He was survived by several children and his wife Kate who was buried at Havering May 20,1946. His wife, sons and daughters, and other members of the Denyer family along with friends attended his funeral.


Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: June 28,2018


The General Hospital on Grosvenor Road  in Tunbridge Wells had served the needs of the town and the surrounding area since 1842, and although enlarged and renovated many times it was decided in the 1930’s that it was time to replace it with a new modern facility namely the Kent & Sussex Hospital, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1932 and which opened on St John’s Road in 1934.

At the time of the demolition of the old General Hospital, it occupied a large site along Grosvenor Road between Goods Station Road and Upper Grosvenor Road, a site which was redeveloped consisting of a block of shops with offices and flats above along the entire Grosvenor Road frontage. A large car park to the rear of Coronation Parade just east of a service road was soon after built, which car park occupied land up to Meadow Road between the service road to the west , Goods Station Road to the south and Upper Grosvenor Road to the north.

Demolition work at the old General Hospital began just as soon as the new hospital was completed. The Kent & Sussex Courier ,throughout the period of 1935-1936, announced the sale by auction of all the items salvaged from the demolition work.

A guide book of 1951 reported that “one big wing of the old General Hospital still stands behind the Coronation Parade, which is used by the electricity authority”. This old wing of the hospital still remains in use today and is the only pre 1937 building remaining in the entire block.

The local newspaper during the period of 1932 to 1937 contained articles in which suggestions were made about what should be done with the old General Hospital site. In the end part of the site was sold to a land developer. A review of Planning Authority records show that in December 1935 Morris Securities  submitted a proposal to redevelop the site with a couple of further proposals by them over the next year. Approval was obtained by them in 1936 to proceed with the construction of a range of shops with flats and offices above which was named the Coronation Parade, a name which was selected in connection with the Coronation in 1937. The selection of the name “Coronation Parade” was a matter of some debate, as reflected in newspaper articles , such as that of June 4,1937 even though by that time construction of the project was nearing completion.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of December 31,1937 announced “ In place of the old General Hospital there is now a row of up-to-date shops, and many of our well-known old established businesses houses have been enlarged or improved”. Newspaper articles record that occupancy of the new shops began in June 1937.

Coincident with the Coronation Parade project was the widening of Upper Grosvenor Road and the rearrangement of its intersection with Grosvenor Road.

In this article information is presented about site of the Coronation Parade, the building itself, as well as a time-line of events connected to the site and the provision of the new Kent & Sussex Hospital. Shown above is an image of Coronation Parade from a 1951 guide book. This image shows the building from the corner of Upper Grosvenor Road looking south down Grosvenor Road.


Initially the old General Hospital began as an Infirmary located on the south east corner of Grosvenor Road and Upper Grosvenor Road (image opposite). Several other buildings south of the infirmary occupied the site from the location of the Infirmary to the south down to Goods Station Road. Established in 1842 when the Dispensary of 1829 moved up to Grosvenor Road, it became known as  the General Hospital later, the hospital required expansion to meet the needs of the community. As a result additions to the old General Hospital were made in stages down to Goods Station Road, requiring demolition of several buildings.

Shown below are two postcards the General Hospital showing the new wings completed in 1870 and the Jones Gibb Memorial Ward added in 1884.


Shown below left is a view of the General Hospital showing the patients entrance and below right is a view dated 1915 of wounded soldiers outside the hospital.

In 1903/1904 a major extension stretching south to Goods Station Road  was made to the General Hospital as shown below left from the architectural plans of architect H. Percy Adams (dated 1903). Below right is a postcard view of the hospital circa 1906 reflecting the extension made.


Shown below left is a 1907 os map showing he occupancy of the area between Grosvenor Road and Meadow Road and Goods Station Road and Upper Grosvenor Road. Below right is a recent showing the occupancy of this land on which the land occupied by the Coronation Parade is highlighted in red.


The block of shops with its offices and flats became known as the Coronation Parade, but not without some debate on what the development should be called.

The name Coronation Parade was selected to commemorate the 1937 Coronation. A commemorative stamp was issued that year to mark the event ( image opposite). Locally, as usual, a coronation parade and other events to mark the occasion was held in the town.

The Courier of January 4,1935 reported “ Old hospital site as station? –Maidstone and District Services proposes to purchase the old hospital site  for a bus station..” This proposal did not go forward.

The Courier of April 9,1937  reported ‘ Coronation Parade-Suggestion has been made that the block of shops and flats on the old hospital site on Grosvenor Road should be named Westbrook Parade. The Watch Committee negatives this and suggested that it be called Grosvenor Parade.”.

On May 7,1937 the Courier reported “Victims of Every Speculative Builder-Little Premature……..He admitted that he was not enamoured with the name Coronation Parade, which did not eminate from the Watch Committee. He had suggested the name Grosvenor Parade…”

The Kent & Sussex Courier of June 4,1937 contained an article about the selection of the name, which read in part “ Coronation Parade-A letter was received from Mr A. Morris Wheeler stating that Coronation Parade was not a good business address, and suggested the names Grosvenor Parade, Broadway of even King’s Parade would be better names but he intimated that it was immaterial to him what name was given to the Parade, a decision he would leave to the Corporation.”


In the early 1930’s it was determined that the old General Hospital on Grosvenor Road could no longer meet the needs of the community. As a result it was decided to replace it with a new modern hospital, named the Kent & Sussex Hospital. Fundraising for the new hospital began with the objective of raising enough money to allow it to open debt free. The Kent & Sussex Courier from 1932 to 1934 contained several appeals for donations and reported on the amounts of money then raised. The foundation stone for the new hospital was laid by the Dutchess of York July 1932. In 1934 the new hospital opened and once in operation work began on the demolition of the old General Hospital and several articles appeared in the Courier offering suggestions on what should be done with the land once the site had been cleared. In this regard the Courier of April 13,1934 reported that Councillor Walker “was reported to have referred to the old hospital site as being suitable for a police station and police court’ but provision for this was made as part of the later Civic Centre project.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of January 4,1935  referred to the contention of the Hospital Committee that “the present restrictions gravely hinder efforts to sell the old hospital site”.

A review of local newspapers showed that demolition work began about October 1935. The Courier of October 25th for example reported “ work of demolition of the property to be removed to enable the Tunbridge Wells Council to proceed with the scheme for widening of Upper Grosvenor Road  will be decided Monday. The decision will be welcomed by the owner of the old hospital site.”. Thanks to Chris Jones of the Civic Society, who investigated on my behalf Planning Authority records not available online, it was established that the initial proposals for the Coronation Parade development were submitted by Morris Securities in December 1935 with subsequent proposals by them made in 1936. From this it can be stated that the owner of hospital site  referred to in the Courier of October 1935 was Morris Securities.

Part of the documents submitted to the Planning Authority was a set of architectural drawings for the new building and a site plan. Unfortunately these plans were not available for my or Chris Jones viewing and as a result the name of the architect selected to design the Coronation Parade was not established. No articles providing the name of the architect in Architectural or Building publications of the time were found either. Also not found during my research were details about tenders for the work or what company was selected to construct the building.

The Kent & Sussex Courier published a number of articles regarding auctions held for the sale of demolition materials from the hospital. These articles, covering the period of 1935 to 1936, listed all manner of items for sale. The Courier of December 6,1935 for example advertised for sale timbers, floor boards, stoves, etc. Articles of November 15 and November 29 ,1935 advertised for sale tile, teak doors, wrought iron railings, gates, porcelain bath and sinks etc.

By the end of 1936 the last parts of the old General Hospital to be demolished had been sold off and the site cleared ready for the construction of the Coronation Parade. As noted in the Introduction the only part of the old hospital saved was an old wing of the hospital fronting on Goods Station Road that came into use by the electricity authority, which wing still exists today. The Kent and Sussex Courier of June 5,1936 announced “ Final Demolition Sale-Tunbridge Wells Hospital….Sale of 100,000 hard bricks, scantlings, floor boards, windows, doors, slates etc ( in all about 350 lots) to be sold by auction by Messrs E.J. Parker & Sons in conjunction with Messrs C.B. Westbrook.”

The Kent & Sussex Courier of October 9,1936 gave “Coronation Parade-Shops with offices over on the Grosvenor Road frontage of the old hospital site-The council has granted permission to proceed with the construction of the shops subject to the construction of a service road, as shown on the plan”. In the same issued it was also announced that the use of the old hospital site as a car park was being discussed and considered by the Watch Committee and that negotiations be started with the solicitors to Morris Securities Ltd and that it was decided to purchase a piece of land having a frontage to Goods Station Road of 103 feet”.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of January 1,1937 reported “ The Office of Works has acquired the remainder of the old hospital site in Grosvenor Road through the agency of Messrs Dilcott Stokes”. In the same newspaper that day it was reported “ Building operations are now in progress for the erection of a number of shops, suites, offices and flats on the old hospital site”.

Construction of the Coronation Parade began in early 1937.  The Courier of April 2,1937 reported that a Tunbridge Wells labourer (Joseph Outteridge) was injured while working on the old hospital site on Wednesday when a piece of wood weighing 10 pounds hit him.

The Kent & Sussex Courier of December 31, 1937 reported “ In place of the old General Hospital have now a row of up-to-date shops, and many of our well-known old established business houses have been enlarged or improved”.

It is known that part of the development called for a service road to be provided at the rear of the Coronation Parade and that it was to run between Goods Station Road to the south and Upper Grosvenor Road to the north. This service road was shown along with the Coronation Parade in conveyance plans of June 7 and June 19,1937. A dispute arose over the ownership of land between the abutting property owners when it was found that the south end of the Coronation Parade was actually three feet closer to the service road than that shown on the aforementioned conveyance plans.  Proceedings regarding this dispute were held January 14,2010 regarding the mistaken file plan showing the boundary between the abutting properties. It was noted from these records that the multi sty car park owned by the town constructed on the land east of the service road towards Meadow Road, between Goods Station Road and Upper Grosvenor Road, had been constructed in 1988. Shown below are two recent images of the Grosvenor Parade showing it , the service road, and the car park. The image on the left was taken from Upper Grosvenor Road and the image on the right was taken from Goods Station Road.

The Coronation Parade building was 3 stys in height and constructed of brick in a typical 1930’s architectural style. In addition to shops a street level above them were offices and flats. The Coronation Parade Post Office occupied the corner shop at Goods Station Road( photo below left dated 1961). Below right is a postcard view of Grosvenor Road looking north from 5 Ways in which Grosvenor Parade can be seen in the background with awnings above the shop windows.

review of articles in the Courier provided an indication  of when the shops in Coronation Parade were ready for occupancy.  The Courier of December 31,1937 announced that Margaret Harwar opened her millinery shop there. The Courier of July 9,1937 reported that at F.E. Noakes & Co, household and furnishing shop was moving from their premises at 52 High Street to the Coronation Parade.  The Courier of May 14,1937 announced that “Mrs Coleman will shortly be opening her hairdressing salon in new premises on the site of the old hospital”.



Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Date: December 12,2016


On December 28,2012 I wrote an article entitled ‘A Brief History of the Baltic Saw Mills’, which was updated December 4,2014. From that article I present the following information that gives an overview of what was described as the Penny Dreadful Murder, so named because of the stated obsession of the accused with the Penny Dreadful papers that was devoted to lurid accounts of crime and violence. I wrote at that time “ The Baltic Sawmills Company in Western Road, Goods Station Road, Commercial Road and Kensington Street was the most important employer of labour in the area over a long period. The sawmills acquired notoriety in 1888, a sad story interestingly recounted in “Kent Murders Casebook” by W.H. Johnson (Countryside Books, 1998). On the night of 20th, July, Bensley Cyrus Lawrence, the engine man who lived on Tunnel Road, was called out by a visitor who told him that he was wanted by Mr Potter, the foreman.However, this was a ruse and Lawrence was shot and wounded by an unknown hand. He was transferred to the General Hospital, which was then nearby, but died shortly afterwards. The case roused tremendous interest in the district, but the police were baffled and despite leads to two youths wearing working jackets and bowler hats (which were fashionable in those days) they were unable to make an arrest.Foolishly, one of the murders wrote a letter which was published in the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, boasting of his exploit.However, a young man named William Gower confessed to the local Salvation Army Captain that he and Charles Dobell had committed the murder. The victim had upset Gower because on 27 occasions he had fined him a penny for being late at work. The two young men were tried at Maidstone in December 1888, found guilty and condemned to death. In Maidstone Gaol the two young men received an unprecedented flood of visitors, religious and philanthropic, until in the end their numbers had to be restricted.There were petitions for mercy, including one from Canon Hoare of Holy Trinity, and Gower felt sure that he would be reprieved,promising that if he were he would become a Salvation Army preacher.All was in vain, however, and both Gower and Dobell were executed at Maidstone Gaol”.

The case received wide attention and was broadly reported on in newspapers around the world. This article expands on the above account to provide further information about the crime, the accused and the victim, and related matters. Also provided are a number of images which were not included in my original article.


The Baltic Saw Mills Company, which began operations on a small scale in Tunbridge Wells in about 1880,grew into one of the largest employers of men in the town and continued in business until  about 1982. As company had premises in Western Road, Goods Station Road, Commercial Road and Kensington Street.Shown below are some images of their premises in the town.

This timber merchants business became incorporated (#00150668) on June 7,1918  under the name of Baltic Saw Mills Co Ltd. Company records indicate that this company was dissolved September 14,1999.

For a more detailed account of the history of this business see the articles referred to in the ‘Overview’ above.


Penny dreadful is a pejorative term used to refer to cheap popular serial literature produced during the nineteenth century in the United Kingdom. The term is roughly interchangeable with penny horrible, penny awful, and penny blood. The term typically referred to a story published in weekly parts, each costing one penny. The subject matter of these stories was typically sensational, focusing on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities. While the term "penny dreadful" was originally used in reference to a specific type of literature circulating in mid-Victorian Britain, it came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction, such as story papers and booklet "libraries". The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and were aimed at young working class males.

From testimony at the trial of Gower and Dobell it became known that the two young men were attracted to these stories of crime and some in society believed, with some justification, that publications of this type had led to crimes committed by minds easily influenced by such sensational tales and should be banned.

The book ‘The A-Z of Victorian Crime, by Bell,Bond and Clarke gave an account of the murder of Mr Lawrence and in part gave the following regarding the Penny Dreadful publications. “ On November 12,1888, the honorable Louis Jennings, MP took to his feet in the House of Commons and asked a question of his Conservative colleague, the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, would the government, Jennings wondered, be taking action to address the spread of sensationalist publications such as the popular ‘Penny Dreadful’ among them-which the MP asserted had led to the recent murder in Tunbridge Wells,along with many other crimes? Today Jennings question is only rarely remembered, if ever, in treatices in Victorian popular literature. Matthews assured Jennings that the government was prepared to ‘take all the measures that the law permits’ in order to address the issue. The murder in Tunbridge Wells to which Jennings referred has also faded into obscurity. Given that Jennings was speaking just three days after the discovery of the body of Mary Jane Kelly, the most ghastly of murders of Jack the Ripper, this is perhaps to be expected…”


Bensley Cyrus Lawrence was employed by Baltic Saw Mills, working there as an engine driver and timekeeper.

He had been born 1834 at Shropham,Norfolk and was baptised there May 11,1834. His parents were William Lawrence (1804-1891) and Lydia Peck Lawrence, nee Dunnett (1805-1860), both of whom died at Shropham. Bensley was one of seven children (all boys) born to his parents.

The 1841 census, taken at High Street in Shropham,Norfolk gave William Lawrence as born in Norfolk and working as an agricultural labourer. Also in the home was William’s wife Lydia, also born in Norfolk, and four of their children, including Bensley.

The 1851 census, taken at Hall Road in Shropham gave Bensley working as a millers apprentice for the John Andrews family. John Andrews was also a miller and Bensley’s employer.

On April 8,1858 Bensley married Maria Twigg (1841-1932) at Snetteston (Wayland), Norfolk. Bensley’s father from the marriage records was given as labour and Maria’s father was given as George Twigg, a farmer. Neither the bridge or groom had been married before and both were living at Snetteston at the time of the marriage, with Bensley’s occupation given as “miller”. Maria Twigg had been born 1836 at Postwick,Norfolk and was christened there on November 13,1836 .Her parents were given as George Twigg and Hannah Smith Twigg and was one of several children in the family.

Bensley and Maria went on to have six children namely (1) George Bensley Lawrence (1859-1894) born at Attleborough,Norfolk(2) Thomas, born 1860 at Old Buckenham,Norfolk (3) Ann M , born 1864 at Bury St Edmunds (4) Clara Elizabeth, born 1871 at Bury St Edmunds (5) Bertie Twigg (1873-1958) born at Bury St Edmunds (6) Laura Maria born 1875 at Bury St Edmunds.

The 1861 census, taken in Bury St Edmunds gave Bensley as a lodger with William Carbridge, an inn keeper, and his family. Bensley was at that time working as a miller. Although the census recorded him as single he was married with one son at that time. Where his wife and son were at the time of the census was not determined.

The 1871 census, taken at 7 St Savouis Villa in Bury St Edmunds, gave Bensley as an engine driver. With him was his wife Maria and three of his children.

The 1881 census, taken at 47 Northgate Road in Bury St Edmunds gave Bensley as an engine driver. With him was his wife Maria and four of their children.

When Bensley took up residence in Tunbridge Wells is not known for no record of him in the 1882 directory was found. From the trial documents he was living in 1888 at 64 Tunnel Road in Tunbridge Wells.

Bensley was lured from him home by Charles Joseph Dobell (1871-1889) on July 20,1888 and shot in the head. He died the following day after dropping into a coma. There is no probate record for him but he is recorded to have been buried in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery on July 25,1888.

After Bensley’s death his wife and some of his children continued to live in Tunbridge Wells.

The 1891 census, taken at 27 Quarry Road (image opposite),Tunbridge Wells gave Maria Lawrence as a widow and working as a confectioner. With her was her son Bertie and daughter Laura who were both working as clerks. Also in the home was one boarder. Shown opposite is a modern photo of Quarry Road. To the immediate left is No. 23 and in the middle of the image is a detached building, on the right side of which is No, 27.  Her shop was very small and she and her children lived above the shop.

The 1901 census, taken at 27 Quarry Road gave Maria as a “confectioner,sweets, shop proprietor”. Living with her was her daughter Laura who was an assistant and one boarder.

The 1911 census, taken at 27 Quarry Road gave Maria as a confectioner on own account at home. With her was just one boarder. The census recorded that she was living in premises of five rooms; that she had four children and that only two of them were still living and that she had been married 6 years, but of course this information was incorrect.

Maria continued to live in Tunbridge Wells up to the time of her death in 1932(registered 1st qtr 1932)  when burial records show that she joined her husband in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery in 1932. Her name appears on the headstone and burial records  as the wife of Bensley Cyrus Lawrence.


As you will read later in the details of the case and trial, William Henry Gower(1870-1889) worked at the Baltic Sawmills  under the watchful eye of Bensley Cyrus Lawrence.  Gower had been late for work on a number of occasions  which Lawrence noticed as the company timekeeper and  fined Gower for his lateness at work. Gower stated that because of this he decided to take revenge against Lawrence, and with his close friend Charles Joseph Dobell(1871-1889) bought a gun. Dobell lured Lawrence from his home and shot him in the head July 20,1888,from which injury he died the next day. Charles Joseph Dobell had no personal grudge against Lawrence as Charles did not work at the sawmills and did not know Lawrence. In this section I provide genealogical information about the two young men who were hanged for their crime at Maidstone in 1889.


Charles was born in the 1st qtr of 1971 at Cranbrook, Kent and was one of at least four children born to Arthur Dobell, born 1840 in Cranbrook and Elizabeth Dobell, born 1842 in Cranbrook.

The 1871 census, taken at Cherry Farm in Cranbrook gave Arthur Dobell as a farmer of 85 acres employing two farm labourers. With him was his wife Elizabeth two sons Frederick,age 6 and Frank,age 2 and three month old Charles Joseph Dobell. Also there were one domestic servant and two farm labourers. Sometime before 1881 but after the birth of a child  1875 in Cranbrook, the family took up residence in Tunbridge Wells.

The 1881 census, taken at 23 St John’s Road,Tunbridge Wells Arthur Dobell was working as an insurance agent. With him was his wife Elizabeth and four of their sons, including Charles Joseph Dobell,age 10.  Court documents recorded that in 1888 Charles was working as a plumber.

He was found guilty of “willful murder” along with his friend Gower at the trial of December 10, 1888 and sentenced to hang. He was incarcerated at the Maidstone gaol and hung there on January 2,1889. He was buried in the Maidstone gaol cemetery. His place in history is the fact that he was the last person under the age of 18 to be executed in the UK. In subsequent years those under age 18 were sent to a Reform School.


As noted above William Henry Gower was the initiator of the idea of killing Mr Lawrence and although he did not fire the fatal shot he and his friend Charles Joseph Dobell were arrested and convicted of ‘Willful murder” at the trial in Maidstone December 10,1888. After a brief time at the Maidstone gaol he was hung on January 2,1889 at the Maidstone gaol and buried in the Maidstone gaol cemetery. Shown opposite is an old image of the Maidstone gaol.

William Henry Gower was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1870. He was baptised in the town on April 24,1870 and was one of three children ( 2 other sisters) born to William Gower (1845-1913) and Mary Anne Gower, nee Blundy (1837-1897).  William Gower senior had been born in Leigh, Kent and his wife in Rainham, Kent. Based on a review of the birth records of the children it was established that the family moved from Milton Regis, Kent after 1868 and before 1871.

The 1871 census, taken at Grove Cottages, in Tunbridge Wells, gave William Gower as a labourer, With him was his wife Mary Anne and their two children Ann Elizabeth,age 3 and William Henry Gower,infant.

The 1881 census, taken at 44 Vale Road, Tunbridge Wells, gave William Gower as a carter. With him was his wife Mary Anne , William Henry Gower, a scholar and two of his sisters who were also attending school. Shown above is a postcard view of Vale Road by local photographer and postcard printer/publisher Harold Camburn. The large building featured in this image was at the time the Vale Road post office. No. 44 Vale Road was located just up the road from it but on the east side of the road not far from the intersection with London Road, on a site now occupied by shops.

Sometime before 1888 William Henry Gower obtained employment with the Baltic Sawmills, cutting and stockpiling wood. What happened to him next was given at the top of this section.


The information contained in this section is based on a compilation of accounts that appeared the various publications from the time of the murder up to the time the two convicted young men were hung. The matter was of course reported on extensively in the Kent & Sussex Courier and the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, but because of the nature of the crime ,appeared in newspapers throughout England and beyond. The key sources employed during my research included an article in ‘Timber and Plywood’ dated October 20,1888; a Press Association report dated January 3,1889 which appeared in a London newspaper January 4,1889; The Nelson Evening Mail (New Zealand) January 9,1889; The True Crime Library article (date unknown); the book ‘The A-Z of Victoria Crime by Bell, Bond and Clarke; The Spectator of October 20,1888; The South Australian advertiser (Adelaide,Australia) January 29,1889; and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society Newsletter of Autumn 2003 where a brief mention of the case was given in a broad article about crimes in Tunbridge Wells by Sue Brown.

The circumstances that led to the murder of Lawrence were outlined in the statements of Gower and Dobell and testimony given at trial. The employment of both Gower and Lawrence at the Baltic Sawmills found the two in conflict. Lawrence, an engine driver and timekeeper found that on several occasions Gower had been late for work and fined him. A newspaper report of December 29,1888 stated in part “in the course of six months he (Gower) had been reported a great many times for being late and fined a penny on each occasion. The fines, although In the aggregate barely exceeded half-a-crown, appear to have rankled in the mind of Gower…”. The book ‘A-Z of Victorian Crime added “ somehow he (Gower) had convinced Dobell-his inseperable friend since childhood Sunday School meetings-that Lawrence was ‘against the workers’ and that revenge needed to be sought”.

A gun was obtained, later found in the possession of Dobell ,and the two young men decided to shoot Lawrence. Gower when questioned about this stated the matter of deciding who was to do the shooting was decided by the toss of a coin or the drawing of lots. Dobell came out the looser, in more ways than one, for he had no personal grudge against Lawrence. Gower described in a statement later to the captain of the Salvation Army who he had confided in that Dobell became the man to carry out the deed because “He’s my mate, and he’s as true as steel”.

Given below are a selection  of articles about this crime. Although duplication of many elements of the case are to be expected I felt that the articles as written should be presented in their entirely. Each writer has added information about the case from a different angle with new facts and at various times of the proceedings. Together they give a full picture of the event.

I begin with the following article from The Spectator of October 20,1888 entitled “The Murder Case”….” The confessions made by the two lads Gower and Dobell, aged respectively eighteen and seventeen, as to what is known as the Tunbridge Wells murder, are perhaps the most painful and extraordinary ever recorded. Last July, Mr. Lawrence, a foreman at the Baltic Saw-Mills, was called out of his house by two persons and shot dead. For a long time no clue could be found, but on Monday the two lads named above, Gower and Dobell, attended a Salvation Army meeting, and it was noticed by the officer, Mr. Cotterill, that Gower seemed to have something on his mind. The following morning, Gower came to Mr. Cotterill, and. confessed the murder of the foreman Lawrence. "Me and my mate did it ; we tossed up who should do it," said the lad ; and then told how, simply because Mr. Lawrence "was always calling him soft-headed," he had planned with his mate Dobell, who had no knowledge of and no grudge against the murdered man, to do the deed. The lot fell upon Dobell, who, as Gower said, in the language of the "penny dreadful," was "a friend of mine, and as true as steel," and by him the foreman was shot. Mr. Cotterill, after taking the advice of the Salvation Army officers in London, communicated the confession to the police, and both boys were arrested and committed for trial. It unfortunately does not appear that their confessions were any real sign of penitence, for though, in addition to the murder of Lawrence, they have confessed several most atrocious outrages, as well as an attempt at murder, their demeanour has throughout been utterly reckless. They appear to glory in the consternation caused by their wickedness. The desire for notoriety seems to have prompted their confessions, as the love of wickedness for its own sake produced their crimes. Probably the wretched lads are by nature viciously inclined cretins.”

The next article is from a London press release dated December  29,1888 entitled ‘The Tunbridge Murder-Conviction of the Assassins-A Curious State of Affairs’………..The mystery which puzzled and disturbed the little town of Tunbridge and foiled the detective police for more than three months, and which would in all probability never have been dispelled cut for a temporary spasm of remorse on the part of one of lie culprits, entered upon its final phase at Kent Assizes last Friday. The two lads, or louts, Gower and Dobell, who surprised everyone so by some weeks back conferring to the (on their part) apparently motiveless murder of the respected manager of the Baltic Sawmills, Mr. Lawrence, were then pout upon their trial, and after the fullest evidence conclusively convicted. From the first the hope that the precious pair might for purposes of notoriety be romancing was of the slenderest. Their terrible tale, with Its appallingly cold-blooded details, hang together too well The facts of the murder itself are simple enough. What makes it almost unique amongst crimes are the revelations of the desperate wickedness engendered apparently by half-imbecile vanity and desire of notoriety. " The victim, Mr. Lawrence," says the Daily Telegraph,"was a respectable middle-aged man,married, and the father of a family, who was engaged as timekeeper at the Baltic Sawmills, Tunbridge Wells. At these works the lad Gower was also employed, and in the course of six months he had been reported a great many times for being late and fined a penny on each occasion. The fines, although In the aggregate they barely exceeded half-a-crown, appear to have rankled in the mind of Gower, who had a"pal' or mate In the person of Dobell, a young plumber, but who although not employed at the Baltic Mills, Gower Induced Dobell to join him in a plot to murder Lawrence. Between them the precious pair bought a revolver; then they drew lots as to who should fire the pistol. The lot fell upon Dobell, to kill Lawrence and this hideous young ruffian went to Lawrence's home between 10 and 11 at night, enticed him out of doors, and shot the poor man through the head. Lawrence was taken to the hospital and died next day. “

“The police were not able to find the slightest clue to the perpetrator of the deed; but later a letter in a transparently-disguised hand was sent to the editor of a Tunbridge Wells newspaper, in which the writer,who signed himself' Another Whitechapel Murderer,' coolly avowed himself to be the assassin of Lawrence, and minutely described the circumstances of the time keeper's death. This letter was afterwards distinctly traced to Dobell; but In the interim he and Gower had begun to attend the meetings of the local Salvation Army. They joined in these exercises four nights out of seven, and on the last occasion, when the prayer-meeting was over, Gower and Dobell took their seats at a table which apparently corresponds with the ' anxious seat' at an American revival meeting. It is practically a stool of repentance, to which persons resort who have anything on topic and who wish to disburden their consciences by making a general confession and so getting saved. Dobell and Gower both prayed heartily when they were on the 'anxious seat,  but the latter does not seem to have got enough salvation, for he called the next morning on the'captain' who had conducted the service, and after much halting and hesitating  confessed that he and his mate' Dobell had been at the bottom of the murder in the preceding July. We tossed up, Gower said, to see which of us should do it, and the lot fell upon my mate to do the deed.' When Gower confessed his guilt to the Salvation ‘captain' he seemed to have been under the impression that the matter need not go any further; but the Salvation official,much to his credit, took another view of the matter, the day after talking with his superior authorities information was given to the police and the  young villains were arrested. The jury recommended the two young ruffians to mercy, but the judge practically said  he should not support the suggestion. The behaviour of these two murderers in prison throws a curious light on the effects produced by the Salvation Army's religions processes. From the first not a word of remorse for their crime or sorrow for their victim's widow and children has passed the men's, lips. They confessed in order to obtain a specific quid pro quo. and without any notion that the Salvation Army official would "peach" on them. In all probability morbid vanity and the hankering after notoriety which led to Gower and Dobell committing the crime led to their confession also. We all know the prestige that dings to a reformed sinner of the deepest dye in the Salvation Army. To Dobell and Gower the temptation to outshine "The Converted Burglar & Co.”must surely have seemed irresistible. I do not for a moment suppose the gallows entered into their calculations.Commonplace people, however, may possibly think their last state worse than their first, since (and here I again quote from the Daily Telegraph) "no sooner had they made a clean breast of it, and had been arrested for the deed which one of them distinctly owned he had committed, than they seemed airily to regard the horrible crime as quite a venial peccadillo,amply atoned for by the abounding grace which they had received through their connection with the ' Army.' Gower, in particular, while he was awaiting trial, wrote from his cell to the 'captain,' who had been mainly instrumental in arresting him, to say that he was not at all unhappy; that he was sure he would be divinely saved through all his trials and temptation ; that the officers and warders and the chaplain were all very kind ; and that he was quite certain that all his sins would be forgiven him.'Both me and my mate had a very happy journey. We kept our spirits up and did not get downhearted in the least. No sooner did we get Into the cells we began to whistle prayers to God for preserving us but we soon got stopped. Never mind, we can praise Him. He goes on to write that his cell is furnished with a Bible,a prayer bock, and a bound volume of solos, and he remains yours truly, the happy gaol-bird, William Gower.' Is there, we ask, any precedent for such fatuity, each complacency under circumstances so awful. The ' happy gaol bird' seemed to be utterly unaware that a cold- blooded murderer such as he was must be an object, not of pity and kindness, but of loathing and abhorrence ; but the extraordinary elate of grace into which he imagined that he had fallen led him entirely to forget the innocent man whom he had barbarlously slaughtered, and to think that, ' having got salvation' and Imprisonment to boot, all he had to do was to whistle praises and turn over bound volumes in certain hope of a happy hereafter. While they were In gaol Gower was visited by the wife of a'major’ in the Salvation Army, and to this female the lad confessed that he had bought the revolver with which Lawrence had been shot. Dobell was to have paid half the purchase-money, so that It was at Gower's sole cost and charges that the murderous Implement was obtained.' What induced you to buy it,' asked the ‘major's' wife. ' Oh, the happy gaolbird replied, 'to be like other young men. Other fellows have them, so we thought we would like one.' I am glad to learn this reply has made such an impression on several Government MLP.'s that they have resolved to pass a short Act prohibiting the right of sale of revolvers and other firearms to anybody and everybody. If this is done even Gower and Dobell will not have lived and been hanged wholly in vain.”

The publication Timber & Plywood dated October 20,1888 was a particularly appropriate place in which to report on a murder case at a sawmill. Here is what they reported “ ‘The Murder At Baltic Saw Mills’………Extraordinary disclosures were made on the 15th June inst., at the Tunbridge Wells Police-court, when the two young men, named William Gower,aged 18, and Charles Joseph Dobell,aged 17, were charged with the willful murder of Bensley Cyrus Lawrence, an engine-driver and time-keeper at the Baltic Saw Mills in that town,nearly three months ago. The Magistrates were Mr W.H. Hodgkin (in the chair), Mr J. Stone-Wigg, and Mr. W.F. Browell. Lawrence,it was stated at the inquest, was called out of his home on the evening of July 20, by a man who told him that Mr. Potter, the manager of the mills, wished to see him at the office. Lawrence went out,and a few minutes afterwards he was found shot in the head,his death taking place the next day. As to the circumstances under which the crime was committed,two lads gave evidence at the inquest; and at the Police-court Frank Hemsley,aged 15 years, who lived with his father at Kirkdale Road, stated that he,with one or two other boys,were sitting on some timber at about twenty minutes to ten o’clock on the night of the murder,and saw two men coming down the cinder path amongst the timber.They came as if from the office of the Baltic Saw Mills,and stopped in the hollow of the road,about four or five yards from where the boys were concealed.Teh boys naturally thought the men were searching for them on account of them playing amongst the wood, and they crouched down so as to be entirely out of sight, if they were not so wholly at first. The men had been talking to each other,and when they reached the hollow portion of the road they stopped their conversation. Hemsley knew Lawrence well, but he did not recognize him in either of these men. He alleged that he heard one of the men say to the other “Now’s your time.Be careful what you get at, and I will stop here”. They then parted,one going in the direction of the Baltic Saw Mills offices, and the other remaining on the spot. This the boys looked upon as a stratagem, the object being to get hold of them for playing amongst the timber, and they consequently left the place, making their way homewards. Thus they did not hear or see anything further of the tragedy which took place shortly afterwards. The other lad Arthur Shoebridge,aged sixteen, living at Tunnel Road,deposed yesterday to being with last witness in the timber-yard,between half past nine and ten o’clock.He saw two men come from the saw mill down into the timber-yard and stop there. Hemsley crept up to them to hear what they said,and he observed one go towards the saw-mill,and the other disappeared in the yard. The tallest, believed to be Dobell, went in the direction of the office. Hemsley came back to him, and thinking the men might be after them they went away.No clue could afterwards be traced, and the murderer remained undiscovered, although the Saw Mills company offered 100 pounds reward. Bills were also subsequently issued without effect, promising a pardon to any accomplice not being the person who fired the shot. On Sept. 27 however a letter was left by a boy at the office of the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, having, according to the lad’s statement on the 15th, been given to him by the prisoner Dobell, although at the time the latter was a stranger to him. The letter ran as follows:-“To the Editor of the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser-Sir-Two months having now passed, I venture to ask you to be kind enough to allow me a small space in your valuable paper for a few facts concerning the death of the late Mr Lawrence. In the first place I beg to state that all the evidence given at the inquest and after has been utterly false, with the exception of the two lads in the timber. I beg to correct the wrong statement that Mrs Lawrence gave, for I, the murderer, did not summons him from his house at all, as I was outside the backdoor when I first spoke to him, or my intension was to have shot him on the spot. Lawrence was very talkative when he was out of doors, little thinking of the death he had so shortly got to die. The last words he spoke when in my company was when he caught sight of the pistol sticking out of my pocket. He said “What do you carry them there sort of things about with you’ (What, would you shoot a-----). Bang! And once more Tunbridge Wells was startled by another mystery which is never likely to be found out. I might here state that the key which was found on the spot is likely to lead no clue whatever, as it is as much a mystery to me as the murder is to you, I also wish to threaten Mr Edwards if he has any more to say concerning Mr Martin, who is as innocent of the crime as he is.----I remain, yours truly, Another Whitehapel Murderer”. Added below this was “Another letter, giving the whole of the particulars from beginning to end, will follow on shortly”.  Continuing the article gave “ It was naturally thought the letter, which was illiterately worded and apparently in a disguised handwriting was a hoax, but it was put in the hands of the Police, who placed no reliance upon it. From the opening statement yesterday for Mr W.C. Cripps, the town clerk, who prosecuted, it appeared that on the 9th inst. Dobell was in conversation with the fellow-workman, named Page, about the Whitechapel murders and said, “ I have shot a man”, the remark being looked upon as an empty boast. Two days afterwards both men went to the local Salvation Army services, where they appear to have been stricken by remorse. The statement made by the men was then given in evidence by Mr “W.S. Cotterill”, captain of the Salvation Army. Superintendant Embery deposed that he proceeded to the saw mills, and saw Gower, stating that he should charge him with being concerned, with another man, in murdering Lawrence, detailing also what the Salvation Army captain had told him. Gower replied, “Yes, that is right. Dobell is a mate of mine, and as true as steel”. The superintendent on searching him found a key, and this the prisoner said belonged to an outhouse where he kept rabbits, and where the pistol would be found in a box on the top of the rabbit hutch. The superintendent found these things as described, the revolver being loaded in all six chambers. Dobell had been arrested in the meantime by Police-constable Bennett at his home. On the road to the police-station he said, I I know nothing about the murder. I am quite innocent of it.”Later he asked “ Where is my mate-is he at the police station? “The defendant said, “What do you mean?” and the prisoner replied “ Wm Gower”. At the police-station Dobell Volunteered the statement “ There is only one thing I know of the murder. At the inquest Mrs Lawrence said a man came to the door and called her husband out.That is wrong. Lawrence was already outside the door when I got there. My intention was to have shot him on the spot,but I heard someone in the passage”. Subsequently Dobell added “ A good many people have wondered how it was that Lawrence was on the timber side of the yard. I coaxed him across,telling him we should be better able to see Mr Potter coming down the road. The only persons to speak the truth were the two lads in the yard, and everything they said was correct”. This statement was not made in answer to questions, but of the prisoner’s own free will. The superintendent of the Police charged him with the murder, and informed Dobell that Gower had declared that he (Dobell) had fired the shot. Prisoner said  in reply “You are right, you have got the murderer”. When searched, a letter was found on him from Gower, commencing “ My dear mate: I believe the Holy Ghost entered your heart last night; God only knows I wish it had mine. There seems to be something I cannot give up, but I am still believing. I went to see the captain (of the Salvation Army) this morning, and had an hour with him and confessed all. He wants to see us both to-night, so please come down to my house at six o’clock instead of 5;30----Yours, Mate”.

“ A fresh disclosure was made on Saturday morning, and which, when repeate4d in the police-court yesterday created marked sensation.—Police constable Bennett said Mr Cripps was passing Dobell’s cell when he put his head through the door and remarked, “ It is a wonder you did not hear of another murder.” Upon the constable replying, “ What do you mean”. Dobell answered that on the previous Wednesday week, September 26, he and Gower had sent a letter to a man called Langridge, who worked at the saw-mills, telling him to meet them in Clarence  Road, where they were going to bring a girl for him. “ I am Gower” he continued, “went to Clarence Road and saw Langridge, and we were going to pop him off only a policeman was there. We thought to finish one more off, and that was Edwards, and then we should have stopped”. The latter, Mr Cripps explained, gave evidence at the police-court, on September 14, to the effect that one day a short time previously he met a man named Martin, who said he had broken into the Baltic Saw Mills some years ago. Edwards informe4d the police, and Martin was consequently taken into custody, and committed for trial on a charge of breaking into the mills. These facts having been given at yesterday’s proceedings,which lasted nearly six hours, both prisoners were committed for trial. The young fellows appeared very cool and self-possessed. They are respectably connected, and the case has created a painful sensation in the town. On one of the prisoners was found a copy of an illustrated paper whose contents are devoted to stories of a blood-curdling character”.

Superintendent Embery referred to in the above article had a distinguished career with the local force. The following information about him is from my article ‘The Early History of the Police Service’ dated April 8,2012. “John Joseph Embery took over the position of Superintendent of police from Cyril Onslow in 1866 and still held the position in 1891 and perhaps even after then but was gone by 1901.He is found listed in that position in the directories of 1867,1874 and 1882 but in the position in the 1891 census. John Embery was born 1837 at Southwark,London. His parents were John Embery, a druggist,born 1804 at Bideford, Devon and Sophia, born 1802 at Honiton Clysh,Devon. John junior  was baptised April 9th of that year at St George The Martyr.In 1851 John was living with his parents at 45 Moneyer Street,Shoreditch,Middlesex and working as a porter.His father at that time was a druggist assistant.In the 1891 census taken at #10 Calverley Road,Tunbridge Wells John is living on his own and is listed as the Chief Constable of the police force.John certainly did marry late in life for he was not married until the first quarter of 1895 in Tunbridge Wells when he was 58 years of age.The 1901 census taken at #10 Calverley Road records John Emery as a retired police officer.Living with him is his wife Lavina Alberta and their two children Arthur John,born 1896 and Frederick William,born 1899.Both children were born in Tunbridge Wells. On May 19,1915 John Joseph Emery of #10 Calverley Road passed away in Tunbridge Wells.His estate valued at 611 pounds was left to his wife who passed away in town in the 4th quarter of 1938.”

The book ‘The A-Z of Victoria Crime’ which I have referred to and quoted from earlier added the following information “ Around 9:45 pm on July 20,1888 a figure appeared at the door of 64 Tunnel Road, the house of Bensley Lawrence, his wife Maria and the youngest of 3 of their six children….Against the advice of his wife Lawrence wandered off into the night. A little over an hour later a gunshot was heard. Two neighbours made their way to the mill’s nearby timber yard, where they made a terrible discovery. Lawrence lay injured, with a single gunshot wound on his left temple. He declined a drink of water, but stated a desire to tell his wife what had happened. He was carried back to his house, still just about alive, and then eventually transported to the local hospital. He fell into a coma shortly afterwards and was pronounced dead the following afternoon…” “Dobell was arrested for the murder of Lawrence, in addition to a spate of arsons and at least one robbery in the town. There was also talk that they had begun planning a second murder”…..”At the trial Dobell and Gower both pleaded not guilty, Gowers frank confession seemingly forgotten. Gower’s mother and sister contributed to the defence, such as it was, claiming that he had been at home and in bed by 10pm”……”Both Gower and Dobell were sentenced to death. Following a jury deliberation which lasted all of 20 minutes. A subsequent petition to commute their sentences failed, although it attracted over 3,000 signatures, as well as the support of the Salvation Army captain who had hear Gowers confession. At 8;00 am on January 2,1889 Gower and Dobell were, in the legal phrase of the day, ‘hanged by the neck until dead’ at Maidstone Prison, by executioner James Berry”.

The book ‘Tales of Old Tunbridge Wells’ by Frank Chapman gave a brief account of the case and added the following to the story…”The crime was so baffling that Charles Catchpole, a director of the Baltic Sawmills, called all his employees before him one by one and asked them where they were on the evening of the murder. He wrote down their answers and each man signed his statement. Gower’s said “ Coming down Frant Road at 9pm with a friend. Went straight home. Arrived at 9;25. Stayed in until I went to bed. Got up at 5;40”.  The note that Dobell gave to a boy to take to the Advertiser office as given to the boy “ in Mount Pleasant”…” No one noticed that Gower and Dobell had joined other young men who were attracted by the Salvation Army’s simple tenets of faith. At an evening meeting on  11 th October the two answered to a call for volunteers who would give themselves to God’s service. Next morning Gower called on Captain Walter Cotterill “( and confessed). “After writing the confession in a note to his wife, who was ill in bed. Captain Cotterill telegraphed the Salvation Army’s London office for advice and within hours and was instructed by the Army’s chief, General William Booth, to tell the police”….”Impartial reporting played no part when the men appeared for committal in the Tunbridge Wells court. One account said ‘The blank details of the dreadful tragedy have been furnished by the principal actors themselves. It was probably morbid vanity which prevented the alleged murderer from keeping his own counsel, which led him adopt the nom-de-plume of the Whitechapel friend (known to all through the Penny Dreadful sensational newspapers as Jack the Ripper), while his accomplice sought consolation from the Salvation Army”…”Most of the seats in court were taken by Tunbridge Wells notables, leaving ordinary folk outside to glean scraps of information from anyone who would talk to them. Gower and Dobell remained arrogant and defiant, even trying to turn their backs on the magistrates. They were smuggled out of court by a rear entrance4 and taken by train to Maidstone to stand trial at assizes”….”After a two day trial Mr. Justice Matthews put on the black cap and sentenced Gower and Dobell to death. While they awaited their fate the depravity of two young men from good homes was blamed by clergymen and other commentators on their obsession with Penny Dreadful papers devoted to lurid accounts of crimes and violence. Thousands of Tunbridge Wells residents agrees and signed a petition for clemency, but the Home Secretary ignored it. Local people were in the crowd at the Maidstone prison to see a black flag flying when the killers were hanged in the morning of 2md January 1889”.  Shown above from this book is a photo with a self- explanatory caption.


From the information given above it was known that Gower and Dobell had attended Salvation Army meetings in Tunbridge Wells and that Gower had confessed details about the murder of Mr Lawrence to a “captain” of the Salvation Army, who was referred to also as “ Mr Cotterill” in The Spectator article of 1888  and as “Mr W.S. Cotterill” in the Timber & Plywood article of 1888 was in fact “Walter Stanley Cottrill”, information about whom is given in this section.

In 1888 the Salvation Army in Tunbridge Wells operated from premises on Varney Street (photo opposite) and it is here that Walter Stanley Cottrill , a captain with the Salvation Army came in contact with Gower and Dobell. The Salvationist movement was started by William Booth in 1865 and on May 1 1879 the Tunbridge Wells branch of the Salvation Army was begun. Unpopular at the time,and often subject to assault,they often moved between temporary headquarters.Eventually a permanent site was secured on Varney Street on December 6,1886. Details about the Salvation Army in Tunbridge Wells can be found in my articles ‘The History of Calverley Lodge’ January 11,2012, a site the Salvation Army moved to in 1970; ‘History of Tunbridge Wells Brass Bands and Bandstands’ dated December 26,2012; and ‘The 1914 Salvation Army International Congress’ written November 2016 that appeared in the December 2016 edition of my website. In 1886 “gangs of louts known as the Skeleton Army broke up the services of the Salvation Army and parades” so notes Frank Chapman in his 1999 book entitled ‘Tale of Old Tunbridge Wells’ under the heading of ‘The Sally Army Riots’, the same book which gave an account of the murder of Mr Lawrence on pgs 48-50 under the heading ‘The Penny Dreadful Murder’.

Captain W.S. Cottrill was both praised for seeking advice on what to do from his superior upon hearing what Gower confessed to him and for contacting the police, but he and in general the Salvation Army were criticised by other writers for how they dealt with this case in particular and in “harbouring” criminals although they may have been part of the anti-Salvation Army movement at the time.

Upon the death of Mr Lawrence his employer at the Baltic Saw Mills offered a 100 pound reward leading to the arrest of the culprits. As noted in the article below, found in ‘Pubic Opinion’ dated January 15,1889 it was Mr Cottrill that claimed the reward but gave it away for a good cause. Here is what the article said under the heading ‘ Generous Act of a Salvation Army Officer’……….Mr W.C. Cripps, Town Clerk of Tunbridge Wells , writes to state that the reward of 100 pounds which was empowered by the employers of Lawrence, the murdered man, to offer for such information as might lead to the conviction of the murderers, has been claimed by “Walter Stanley Cottrill”, a captain in the Salvation Army, to whom one of the culprits confessed the guilt of himself and his fellow criminal. ‘I have now been instructed by Cottrill’, adds Mr Cripps, ‘to hand the sum in its entirety to the committee which has been formed for the purpose of raising a fund to relieve in some measure the poverty to which Lawrence’s widow and children have been suddenly plunged by the death of the bread-winner of the family. I know Cottrill to be a poor man, having no means of support other than the scanty contributions which he receives from the corps under his direction but the step he has taken (and which has had the entire approval of General Booth ) is a proof that in the case of at least one of the officers of the Salvation Army self-abmegation and charity are not only taught but practised”.

Walter Stanley Cottrill had been born September 16,1859 as Worcester, Worcestershire, one of three children born to Edwin Cottrill (1823-1876) and Hannah Cottrill, nee Dewell (1826-1874). Walter was baptised August 29,1860 at Angel Street Congregational Church in Worcester.

The 1861 census, taken at 15 New Street in Worcester gave Edwin Cottrill as a furniture broker and timber merchant. He had been born 1823 in St Pauls,Worcestershire. With him was his wife Hannah, born 1826 at Tewsbury, Gloucestershire. Also there were three of the children, including Walter Stanley Cottrill, and Edwin’s mother in law Mary Dewell (born 1787) and one domestic servant.

The 1871 census, taken at High Street in Worcester gave Edwin as a timber dealer. With him was wife Hannah (but given as Sophia) and their son Walter S. Cottrill, who was attending school.

In the 4thqtr of 1879 Walter married Anne Norman at Worcester. Anne had been born May 6,1861 at Worcester. Walter and Anne went on to have three children namely (1) Ethel Kate, born 1881 (2) Walter Stanley (1883-1973) (3) Annie Florence (1894-1972). A photo of Walter is shown here.

The 1881 census, taken at 6 Windsor Road in Worcester gave Walter S Cottrill as a carpenter. With him was his wife Annie (Anne) and his daughter Ethel.

Sometime after 1883 (based on birth records of children) and before 1888 Walter and his family took up residence in Tunbridge Wells but by 1891 they had left the town and moved to Stoke-on-Trent,Staffordshire where they are found in the 1891 census at 93 Church Street in Hanley. Living there at the time was Walter ,who was given as ‘captain Salvation Army’ , his wife Annie and his children Ethel Kate and Walter Stanley.

The 1901 census, taken at Beulah Road in Prittlewall, Essex, gave Walter as an “officer Salvation Army and preacher”. With him was his wife Annie and their children Ethel, Walter and Anne.

The 1911 census, taken at 43 London Road in Prittlewall, Essex, gave Walter as a “director of Weekly Southend Chromell(sp) ,proprietor”. With him in their 7 room residence, was his wife Annie; his daughter Ethel Kate who was the manageress of a furnishing store and Anne Florence Cottrill a short hand typist. Also there was one boarder.

A review of directories show that in 1901 Walter was a confectioner at Beulah, Church Road in Southend-on-sea, Essex. Directories of 1906-1908 gave him in the same line of work at 102 High Street in Southend-on-sea. Directories of 1917 had him as a confectioner at 24 Cliff Town Road in Southend-on-sea and directories of 1922-1929 gave him as a confectioner at 74 London Road at Southend-on-sea.

Probate records gave Walter Stanley Cottrill of 74 London Road,Southend-on-sea, Essex, when he died Mary 29,1931. The executors of his 1,542 pound estate were his widow Anne  and Reginald Percy Fritz and invalid chair manufacturer.

Walter’s son Walter Stanley Cottrill (1883-1973), like his father went on to  become a Salvation Army Officer, as did his wife Jennie Russell Cottrill, nee Kyle (1881-1959) who he had married in 1908 at Hendon, Middlesex.  In 1909 they had their first child, namely Ethel Kyle Cottrill, who was born at Dewsbury, Yorkshire. Soon afterwards  Walter and Jennie were involved in missionary service with the Salvation Army in South Africa and it was there in 1914 that they had a son Walter Stanley Cottrill (1914-2005) (photo opposite) who with his wife Kathleen spent their entire lives working with the Salvation Army with Walter achieving the rank as the 15th Chief of the Staff of the Salvation Army, who during WW II was imprisoned by the Japanese in Singapore, his wife and child having escaped beforehand to Australia.

Three generations of the Cottrill family spent their lives in the service of the Salvation Army. Details about the family and their role in the Salvation Army will be the subject of a future article.


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