On Christmas eve 1886 a 78-year old man Samuel Osborn was bludgeoned to death at his home in Co-operative Square, Newland Street, Kettering. The court took its name from a Co-operative butcher’s shop at the entrance, and Samuel’s home was modest – one room on top of the other. Next door to Samuel lived two unmarried women, Rebecca Ruff and Betsey Branes. Rebecca had visited Samuel that evening, bringing him a glass of beer. Neither she nor Betsey had heard anything, they declared. In fact Betsey answered questions put to her at the inquest with ‘dogged ignorance’.
But someone had entered Samuel’s room, and battered him around the head with a hatchet. Why this had happened could not be explained. Samuel had little money. He subsisted on Poor Law relief of two shillings a week, which he topped up with a few pence from selling railway timetables and taking messages. Not that the messages could be urgent – Samuel walked with two sticks. He even put his flowing white beard to good use, offering his services as a model at the art school. You’re getting to like Samuel a lot, aren’t you?
The police did in fact make an arrest. John Sudborough, in his mid-thirties, had been seen in Co-operative Court late that evening. As a relative of Betsey Branes, he was no stranger to the people who lived there. However, blood stains on his clothes alerted the police to his possible involvement – a suspicion strengthened when blood stains were also found on the bed clothing in his lodgings. Sudborough maintained that these were the result of a fight with his brother-in-law the previous week. The police began a search for the murder weapon. They found nothing in Samuel’s rooms. Nothing in the house of Rebecca & Betsey. They had no proof & could establish no motive. Sudborough was let go.
At the inquest into his death, the coroner observed that Rebecca & Betsey ‘knew more about the murder than they had told the jury’. But what it might have been was anybody’s guess. Samuel’s body, which had remained where it had been found until the inquest was completed, was released to his son. What had happened to his father, he was never to know.
Samuel had been a well-known figure in the streets of Kettering. People who knew the white-bearded old man who shuffled along with two sticks well knew that forty years earlier he had been something else – a slik weaver who had been a thorough-going Chartist, a reader of the Northern Star, one of the millions who signed the great petitions, one of those who could always be relied on to turn out to hear the Chartist speakers …
Homage to Samuel Osborn.