The body in the cellar: a Christmas tale pt 7

Clerkenwell Police Court was crowded on Monday, 18 February, 1856, when two prisoners were charged with the murder of a young girl – the Islington Murder, as it came to be called.

Some of the spectators were neighbours of the prisoners, others would have come because of the grisly story in the previous day’s paper – and then there were the usual gawkers who just enjoyed a good courtroom drama.

The police court was in Bagnigge Wells Rd (now King’s Cross Rd). It was demolished later in the 19th century, but here’s a sketch of the beginning of a typical day there in 1883:

Here by ten o’clock in the morning assembles a motley crowd, consisting by far the greater part of women, some who have come to see the “fun,” just as they would go to any other public entertainment… There is plenty of room for the Magistrate, and for counsel, reporters, and witnesses; but as much cannot be said as regards the accommodation provided for such of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects as may choose to avail themselves of their right to be present. The space set apart for this purpose may be, perhaps, a little larger than the interior of an ordinary omnibus; and, if like the vehicle mentioned, it were decently provided with seats, would comfortably contain fifteen or twenty persons. As everybody is compelled to stand, however, with close packing and tight squeezing, the box will hold as many as thirty…
“Silence!” Justice occupies the judgment seat.”
A wonderful picture-gallery the mind of a metropolitan magistrate would be, supposing it retained an impress of all the odd types of civilised humanity that are constantly cropping up before him for his contemplation. (From Mysteries of Modern London)

But today the drama was much more exciting than the usual parade of thieves and drunks. Today there was a murdered child and a foreigner. What true Victorian could fail to be horrified – and thrilled?

London’s Standard newspaper again printed the story:

Standard Islington Murder story, 1st paragraphA very thick foreign red moustache? Short in stature? Obviously dodgy characters.

You’ll have noticed that they call Celestina ‘Celestria Somner’. This is one of several inconsistencies in newspaper reports of the story. But perhaps the journalist was scribbling down the details in great haste and hadn’t had the time, or inclination, to check his facts.

It’s more interesting, perhaps, that the Sommers ‘appeared quite unconcerned’.

1850s Peeler (policeman) like the ones who found Celestina's body

1850s Peeler (policeman) *

Then it was time for the police to give their statements. Inspector Hatton of the Metropolitan Police’s N (Islington) Division said that he and Sergeant Edward Townsend had gone to 18 Linton Street (where the Sommers lived) at about half past four on the previous day.

A girl of about 14 opened the door. The policemen walked along the hall and saw Celestina Sommer coming up the kitchen stairs. When she saw them, she asked: “What do you want?”

Insp Hatton said: “We will tell you after we have looked into your cellar.”

“Good God! What do want to do that for?” Celestina said.

Then Charles Sommer came out of the parlour and all five of them went down the stairs to the kitchen.

Sgt Townsend got a light and went into the cellar. Soon after he came out and said that the body was there. Insp Hatton went to look:

Inspector Hutton's report on finding Celestina Christmas's bodyCelestina and Charles ‘declined’ to say anything, or ask the inspector any questions. At the time, prisoners conducted their own defence and had the right to query the prosecution witnesses.

Then Sgt Townsend gave his statement. It’s slightly different from Hatton’s, but they agree on the main details. He said that the two policemen had gone to Linton St at about four. They asked the servant girl what her master and mistress’s names were. I’ll let the Standard take up the story:

Sgt Townsend's evidence about Celestina Christmas's murderSgt Townsend then went back to Linton St to search the house. In the bedroom, upstairs at the front, he found ‘an old black gown, with spots of blood on it’. Someone had tried to wash the blood out. Then he and ‘the surgeon’, who hasn’t been mentioned before, went down to the cellar and saw that the door was ‘spotted with blood’. There were also ‘marks of blood’ on the kitchen door and a spot on the servant’s pillow.

That was the end of Townsend’s evidence, as reported in the paper.

The magistrate, William Corrie Esq (1806-81), a solicitor and barrister, asked the Sommers again if they had any questions.

Final newspaper extract for this #victorianmurder post The court then went on to hear the evidence of the Sommers’ servant girl. Because it’s very long, I’m going to cover it in my next post.

But before then, I’ve got some photos to show you.

New houses at 2-26 Linton St in 2015 * Copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

2-26 Linton St in 2015 *

This week I went sleuthing with my camera to Linton St, scene of the murder.

18 Linton St no longer exists. The houses from nos 26-2 have been demolished. In its place is a newly-built terrace of houses, part of many rebuilding projects that stretches along Regents Canal.

The modern no 18 is even newer than the Sommers’ house was when they moved in.

Map of Linton St and nearby, 1868 (Weller)

Linton St and nearby, 1868 *

Here’s a map from 1868 showing Linton St as it would have been at the time of the murder. I’ve marked where no 18 would have been – more or less – with an appropriately blood-red dot.

I love the details on this map – you can even see the separate terraces. It’s by Edward Weller and is thought of as one of the best maps of the mid-19th century, and certainly the largest. If you enjoy old maps as much as I do, the website’s well worth a visit.

Here’s the end of the original Linton St houses that would’ve been near the Sommers’:

Old houses in Linton St. Copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Old houses in Linton St *

And I’ll end with a peek into nearby basements to give you a flavour of the murder scene. Though I haven’t been poking around cellars, and many of the basements have been converted into what look like pleasant flats.

Linton St basement copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Linton St basement *

Basement, Linton St, copyright Frances Owen & A Rebel Hand 2015

Linton St basement *

Further reading:

Crime & Punishment in Islington (PDF)
Victorian Crime and Punishment
Looking for records of a criminal or convict (TNA guide)

* Picture credits:

Newspaper extracts: The British Library Board, via Findmypast
1850s Peeler: Hoodinski, via Wikimedia (public domain)
Weller’s map of Linton St: Mapco
Photographs of Linton St: © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2015. If anyone wants to re-use them that’s fine, if you ask me first! And attribute them, with a link, please. See copyright policy in the right-hand side bar


Catch up with A Christmas tale:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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About rebelhand

A Rebel Hand is: about Nicholas Delaney, Irish rebel of 1798, transported as a convict to New South Wales, roadbuilder, innkeeper and farmer. My great-great-great grandfather. Other ancestors transported to Australia, like Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Thomas Richards, pop up as well. This blog's also about the historical background to their lives, in England, Ireland, and Australia. My respectable Welsh ancestors sometimes get a look in.
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25 Responses to The body in the cellar: a Christmas tale pt 7

  1. Pingback: Celestina’s life in Millbank Prison: a Christmas tale pt 22 | A Rebel Hand

  2. Pingback: A sad Christmas story | A Rebel Hand

  3. Pingback: Will Celestina hang? A Christmas tale pt 20 | A Rebel Hand

  4. Pingback: Broadside ballads about Celestina: a Christmas tale pt 19 | A Rebel Hand

  5. Pingback: Celestina’s trial – verdict and sentence: a Christmas tale pt 18 | A Rebel Hand

  6. Pingback: Celestina Sommer’s trial for murder: a Christmas tale pt 17 | A Rebel Hand

  7. Pingback: Celestina at the Old Bailey: a Christmas tale pt 16 | A Rebel Hand

  8. Pingback: Celestina in Newgate Prison: a Christmas tale pt 15 | A Rebel Hand

  9. Pingback: New evidence against Celestina: a Christmas tale pt 14 | A Rebel Hand

  10. Pingback: A mob at the inquest: a Christmas tale pt 13 | A Rebel Hand

  11. Pingback: The inquest in the pub: a Christmas tale pt 12 | A Rebel Hand

  12. Pingback: A Christmas bonus | A Rebel Hand

  13. Pingback: Another murder: a Christmas tale pt 11 | A Rebel Hand

  14. Pingback: A Christmas tale: part 1 | A Rebel Hand

  15. Pingback: A Christmas tale pt 2: The first Celestina | A Rebel Hand

  16. Pingback: A Christmas tale pt 3 – baby Celestina and the Harringtons | A Rebel Hand

  17. Pingback: A Christmas tale pt 4 – what next for Celestina Elizabeth? | A Rebel Hand

  18. Pingback: Christmas turns to Sommer: A Christmas tale pt 5 | A Rebel Hand

  19. Pingback: A horrible and mysterious murder: a Christmas tale pt 6 | A Rebel Hand

  20. Pingback: Julia Harrington’s evidence: a Christmas tale pt 10 | A Rebel Hand

  21. Pingback: Who killed Celestina? A Christmas tale pt 9 | A Rebel Hand

  22. Pingback: The murder of Celestina Christmas: a Christmas tale pt 8 | A Rebel Hand

  23. cassmob says:

    Intriguing isn’t it? Did the do it? Will they be found guilty? I have a sneaking suspicion that Lnton St features in my own FH and will need to check…wouldn’t that be a coincidence?

    Like

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