Skip to content
"They cut his throat from ear to ear": crime maps

"They cut his throat from ear to ear": crime maps

"They cut his throat from ear to ear, his head they battered in; his name was Mr William Weare, who dwelt at Lyon’s Inn." This well-enough known fragment of doggerel has been inscribed in an early hand at the back of one of my Chelsea bookfair purchases, an 1824 first edition of George Henry Jones’ Account of the Murder of Mr William Weare: William-Weare-title-page It’s a nice book, uncut in its original boards, with 8 pages of publisher’s advertisements at the front - always of interest. The murder itself caused a sensation. It exposed the seamier side of late Georgian England, an underworld of gambling and amateur boxing. Weare was brutally murdered by three fellow gamblers in a dispute over money, and his body was dumped in a nearby pond. John Thurtell, the ringleader, was hanged; one accomplice, William Probert, was pardoned after turning King’s Evidence, but was also hanged a couple of years later after stealing a horse. The third man present, John Hunt, was transported to Australia, where in time he raised a family and became a police constable. What attracted me to the book, though, were the maps: Weare-map Dated December 1st 1823, this map of the immediate environs of Probert’s house at Gill’s Hill near Radlett, where the murder took place, is a very early example of a lithographed map by Charles Hullmandel. Hullmandel’s seminal treatise The Art of Drawing on Stone was published in 1824, and he became the foremost lithographer of the period, responsible for the printing of Edward Lear’s glorious parrots (and many of his landscapes) and most of John Gould’s birds. It reminds of nothing so much as the crime maps in golden age detective novels. I recently treated myself to a re-reading of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors and was using her map to pick my way around the imagined landscape of Fenchurch St Paul, and the plan of the parish church where much of the action takes place. There are innumerable examples of these fictional maps to pick from, possibly drawing inspiration from a genre of maps illustrating real crimes, such as this one. Hullmandel’s map identifies the place where the murder was committed, the spot where a witness heard the report of a pistol and the pond where the body was found. There is also a plan of Gill’s Hill cottage and grounds, identifying the pond in which the body was first concealed and even the location of the sofa where one of the murderers passed a couple of nights after the event: Weare-plan And a final note on provenance, as the book had a rather nice contemporary ownership inscription dated February 1824: Weare-ownership-inscription Maria Fawkes (1798-1854) of Farnley Hall, near Otley, Yorkshire, had recently married General Sir Edward Barnes, a veteran of the Peninsula and Waterloo, who took up his post as Governor of Ceylon in this year. According to one online source it was a whirlwind romance, lasting just three weeks, and the general idolised her. The house still exists, in public ownership. Edited to add (15/11/12): Thanks to Francis Herbert for drawing my attention to Tony Campbell’s article on Rowland Hill’s 1817 murder map, concerning the murder of Mary Ashford: http://www.maphistory.info/murdermap.html The Weare murder map, above, seems to have been of general interest - produced for contemporaries who were trying to visualise the scene and, potentially, for those going on a tour of the site (these went on for some years: Walter Scott followed the Weare murder trail in the later 1820s, an incident featured in Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder, HarperPress 2011). However, Tony Campbell suggests that Hill’s map was potentially ‘the first exercise in forensic cartography’. The route taken by the accused man was instrumental in securing his acquittal, on appeal.
Previous article Hollar's Hull
Next article A devotional map of Saint Barbara's island

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields