The Murder of James Wyndham
James Wyndham, shot dead by his son Frederick, buried 24 Oct 1893, Oakridge.
Excerpts from the Gloucester Chronicle 1893
Execution of Frederick Wyndham aged 45 years - Hanged by John Billington & William Warbrick H.M. Prision Gloucester Thursday 21st December 1893.
Shortly after daybreak this morning and long ere thousands of those who for the last few weeks have been interested in the pending fate of Frederick Wyndham, sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Cave at Gloucester Assize for the murder of his aged father at Oakridge on October 9th last, had risen from their nights rest, the closing scene in the painful affair was enacted within the precincts of H. M. Prison Gloucester, the parricide paying the last penalty of his crime at the hands of the Public Hangman.
It is doubtful if any other case in the West of England had excited more interest. The story of the crime is as follows:— James Wyndham, the murdered man, was a farmer living at Frampton Place, a farm not far from the Great Western main line between Gloucester and London and near the Sapperton Tunnel. His wife — the mother of the prisoner — and his brothers and sisters had died some two or three years before and he seemed to have taken into his house as a housekeeper, a married woman of the name 'Virtue Mills', who was thought by the prisoner to have overridden his father’s affection for his own family.
At the time of the alleged murder the prisoner was employed as a baliff to Mr. William David Farrar, Coal Merchant at Stroud who also farmed at the Abby Farm, close to town. The prisoner had arranged with Mr. Farrar that they should meet at Stroud and drive over to his father’s place for some shooting on October 19th. Accompanied by Mr. Farrar’s brother they drove to Bisley where they stopped at the New Inn where Susan Wyndham, sister of the prisoner, was staying.
They had some refreshment with the prisoner’s sister; he, (the prisoner), then had a conversation with Susan in which it appeared that reference was made to a circumstance which occurred some little time before in which the father had attempted to drive over his daughter. It would appear a lawyer’s letter was sent to the father following that incident, and after this conversation the prisoner appeared to be considerably irritated with his father. The group then drove on towards Bisley and stopped for more refreshment at the Butchers Arms, Oakridge.
Leaving their trap at the Inn they went on the land of the prisoner’s father and saw James Wyndham with some of his men digging potatoes. They walked across to where his father was, but the prisoner did not seem inclined to speak with him. After a short while he did engage his father in conversation who then accused him of being drunk, to which the prisoner replied he was not. The prisoner’s friends felt at this time the prisoner and his father were coming to blows, so they got between them and escorted the prisoner out of the field.
The father opened the gate and they passed through; the prisoner went back and further words passed between them with reference to Mrs. Mills. As his father came towards him, the prisoner said 'I will shoot the bastard' and thereupon he raised the gun to his shoulder and fired. He discharged the gun within a foot or two of his father, shooting him first in the neck, inflicting such a wound as in itself would have been enough to cause instantaneous death. The father did not fall so the prisoner shot him again in the chest inflicting a second wound, which in itself must have been fatal.
He then got into the trap with his friends and asked to be driven to where his sister was staying before giving himself up. He met his sister and told her he had murdered his father for her sake and expressed his willingness to die for her. He then gave himself up to the police.
Wyndham, who throughout his trial had been seated, was now motioned to stand up, which he did briskly. The Clerk of the Arraigns then put the usual question to the prisoner; his reply to the query as to what he had to say why judgement to die according to law should not be given, being the startling one of 'I should like to kill the woman, Sir'. And almost deathly silence, his Lordship Usher passed behind the Judges chair and produced the black cap, prisoner then exclaimed 'She was the cause of it all'. And his Lordship then passed the sentence of death, as follows:— 'Frederick Wyndham, you have been found guilty on the very clearest of evidence of the murder of your father and if the Jury had found any other verdict they would have been manifestly false to the oaths which they have taken and false in their duty to all'.
Prisoner— 'Quite right, my Lord'.
'Whatever may have been The merits of the dispute between you and your sister on the one hand, and your father on the other, I know not. It is not for me, of course, to judge between you and whatever the conduct of your father may have been; it does not justify you or excuse you in taking the life of a 72 year old man'.
His Lordship continued, 'The sentence of the Court is that you will be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution and that you there be hanged by the neck until you be dead and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall last have been confined previous to and after your conviction and may the Lord have mercy on your soul'.
Prisoner replied 'Thank you, my Lord'.
An idea quite erroneous however is prevelant that after a prisoner is sentenced to death, he is placed in a cell very much superior than others. The condemned cell where Wyndham spent the last three weeks of his life was in the oldest part of the gaol. It is reached by a very narrow staircase, two men not being able to walk abreast, so Wyndham was led by a Warder in front and one directly behind, on the procession to the condemned cell.
At the top of the stairs is a small landing which opens into a large room for the use of the day and night guard in charge of condemned convicts. The room which has no furniture beyond a bare deal, table a bench and a few is lighted by the top part of a large window which can be seen from the Barrack Yard and at which the light watched so eagerly by the curious during the last week was visible.
To ward off the cold during the recent bad weather a stove kept well replenished with fuel faces the door. In the right and left hand corners are the condemned cell, neither has a window and both are equally as cheerless. An open doorway separated from the guardroom by an iron grating which is kept locked during the prisoners stay.
The fateful day dawns, imagine if you can a fairly open yard, a heap of old bricks in one corner, in another a heap of earth indicating a recently dug grave. The scaffold is a plain structure at the end of the yard and consists of two uprights and a crossbar erected over a pit the latter of course being covered by a platform in two parts which are kept up by means of a lever.
From the crossbar the rope is suspended at a length determined previously by the executioner according to weight and height of the man to be hanged. Billington was the hangman assited by Scott; upon their arrival in the cell, the County High Sheriff handed over the culprit to them and withdrew while Wyndham’s hands were pinioned behind him. The tolling of the prison bell and also St Nicholas’ Church announced the procession had started. Wyndham addressed himself to those present 'I wish you all goodbye, I should like to have killed that before I died'.
This terrible farewell was uttered without semblance of fear, without any assistance from Billington, he placed himself on the scaffold, toeing the chalk line marked there by the executioner. The rope was placed about his neck, the cap over his head, then the lever pulled, and it was all over. As Wyndham weighed 12 stone a drop of 6 feet was given; it was sufficient, death was instantaneous.
His last sentiment on the scaffold, after shaking hands with his executioner, was the regret that he had not killed “that whore” Virtue, too. (Times, Dec. 22)
According to the Times (Oct. 21), Frederick Wyndham himself once applied for the hangman’s job.