William Chambers: Execution

This is a transcription of the report of the execution of William Chambers from the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, December 5, 1902. It’s mostly done by dictation, so apologies for any mistakes.

The Eversholt Tragedy

Execution of Chambers

At 8 o’clock precisely on Thursday morning, and just as the Bell of Trinity Church was tolling the hour, William Chambers paid the extreme penalty of the law for having on September 23 murdered his wife, Emily Chambers, and his mother-in-law, Mary Oakley, at Eversholt. It will be remembered that Chambers, who was an electrician, was living at Flitwick, and his wife left him to go and live with her mother at Eversholt. He sent two women to Eversholt to try and persuade his wife to come back to him, but she refused, and then Chambers walked over to Eversholt, and there shot dead both his wife and mother-in-law, who was sitting by the fireside. He used a double barrelled gun, and afterwards made an attempt on his own life, but probably because he was of short stature he only succeeded in shattering his jaw. He staggered into a public house, and was immediately given into the custody of the police and taken to Woburn. His wound was attended to at the cottage Hospital, and in a few days he was brought to Bedford prison. After a few remands he was committed for trial at the assizes, where three weeks ago he was condemned to death by the Lord chief justice. Throughout the whole affair Chambers maintained that he did not remember anything about the tragedy. It is said that Chambers showed contrition, and a few days ago acknowledged the justice of the sentence.

It was reported that the execution was fixed for Thursday, and this was corroborated by a notice posted outside the prison on Wednesday evening that the sentence of the law upon William Chambers for murder would be carried into execution at 8 AM on the following day. This was signed by the undersheriff Mr WG Carter Mitchell, who was also undersheriff at the time when the last execution took place in Bedford prison. At 7:30 on Thursday morning, which turned out very frosty, there were five small boys and a feeble old man standing outside the prison, but in the succeeding half hour a crowd of several hundreds gathered. Most of them assembled in the road to Adelaide Square, on that side of prison where the gallows were known to be. The position of the instrument of death was indicated by members of the community who seemed to be thoroughly acquainted with the other side of the high wall. The undersheriff was seen to enter the prison at a 7:45. At 8 o’clock there was a cry, “He’s dropped,” from the crowd in Adelaide Square, and there was a general rush to the front of the prison. In a few moments the prison bell indicated to the outside world that William Chambers had breathed his last. The mournful tolling of the bell was continued at intervals of about a minute, and at every stroke created a buzz of excitement among the crowd. About 8:05 the undersheriff emerged from the prison, and making his way along Bromham Road, followed by a curious crowd, entered his carriage and drove away. In turn, Dr Skelding and the Rev WF Lindesay, quitted the prison, and two other gentlemen, unknown to the crowd also. These were once fixed upon a mistake has executions. About 8:30 notices were posted to the effect that the death sentence had been carried out in the presence of Mr WG Carter Mitchell, The Rev WF Lindesay, the Chaplain and Mr Pritchard, the Governor of the Gaol, whose signatures were attached. One notice was by Dr Skelding to the effect that he had examined the body and found it quite dead. These notices were printed, and also the signatures, and judging from the dryness of the ink they had been prepared some time before the execution.

The execution was carried out by the Messrs Billington, brother and son of the late executioner. Chambers, who had slept very little during the night, walked steadily to the scaffold. As he was of slight bill he received a lengthy drop, and death was instantaneous. The executioners left Bedford by the 11:15 Midland train to Leicester. They were fashionably attired, and attracted no attention.

During the week intercessory services were held at the Costin Street Mission Hall on behalf of the condemned man, and these concluded on Thursday morning, when a service took place at 7:15 AM, conducted by Mr Kendall. The congregation were in prayer at 8 o’clock.

The Inquest

The inquest on the body was held at the prison at 11:30 by Mr Mark Whyley, coroner for the county. There were also present Dr Skelding, Mr Pritchard, and superintendent Quenby.

The jury consisted of the following: TC May (foreman), WH Haines, J Iven, W Salsbury, AR Lindley, VB Barlow, SC Moyes, G Quenby, AJC Bannister, C Harris, J Ives, E Leaton, and C Bowery.

The jury retired to view the body, which was still in the gallows house, and the working of the apparatus was explained to them.

Mr GA Prichard, the governor of the prison, said the body viewed by the jury was that of William Chambers. He was admitted to the prison on 26 September, on remand until 3 October, when he was again remanded to the 17th, when he was committed for trial to the Assizes. He was tried at Bedford Assizes which opened on 12 November, and convicted of the wilful murder of his wife, Emily Chambers, and sentenced to death. He (the governor) produced the original order of court, which recorded the sentence, and was signed by the clerk of the crown. The sentence was carried out that morning, and Chambers was executed at 8 o’clock in the presence of the undersheriff, Mr WG Carter Mitchell, medical officer Dr Henry skelding, Chaplain the Rev WF Lindesay, himself (the governor), and some of the officers of the prison.

The foreman: I should like to ask who the executioner was.

The governor: Billington. I may say the execution was carried out in the most expeditious manner.

Dr Henry Skelding, medical officer, said the deceased had been known to him since 26 September, during which time he had attended him. He had seen the body since the execution, at which he was present. Death was instantaneous, and due to dislocation of the vertebral column. There was no struggle. The body was well nourished.

The Foreman: I suppose you are satisfied the execution was carried out as expeditiously and humanely as possible?

Dr Skelding: yes.

The coroner: of course we can call other witnesses to corroborate the governor and doctor if you think it necessary.

The former: the evidence is quite satisfactory.

In answer to the coroner, the governor said that the deceased’s age was 47, and he was an electrician.

The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the judgement of death had been carried into execution. The body was interred in a deep grave in the rear of the prison, and we understand that a few service was held.

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