Executed at Hertford, 7th of March, 1808, for a Double Murder
THOMAS SIMMONS was not more than nineteen years of age, and of a clownish appearance. His father was a shoemaker by trade, but followed the plough some years before his death.
At an early age Thomas was taken into Mr Boreham's family, where he lived some years, till, by his brutish behaviour in several instances, they were under the necessity of discharging him; after which he worked at Messrs Christie & Co., brewers.
Mr Boreham, a very old gentleman, afflicted by the palsy, had been many years a resident at Hoddesdon; his house was on the declivity of the hill, beyond that town, about two hundred yards from the market-house. He had four daughters: one of them was the wife of Mr Warner, brass-founder, of the Crescent, Kingsland Road, and also of the Crescent, Jewin Street. Mrs Warner had been on a visit to her parents for several days. On Tuesday evening, 20th of October, 1807, Mrs Hummerstone, who superintended, as housekeeper, the business of the Black Lion Inn, at Hoddesdon, for Mr Batty, the proprietor, was also at Mr Boreham's house, in consequence of an invitation to spend the evening with the family. The company had assembled in the parlour, where were Mr Boreham, his wife, and his four daughters, Anne, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Mrs Warner. About a quarter past nine this party were alarmed by a very loud voice at the back of the house. It proceeded from some person in dispute with the servant-woman, Elizabeth Harris, and who was insisting to get into the house. The person proved to be Thomas Simmons, who, it seems, had, whilst in the family, paid his addresses to the servant, Elizabeth Harris, who was many years older than himself; but the symptoms of a ferocious and ungovernable temper, which he had frequently displayed, had induced his mistress to dissuade the woman from any connection with him; and his violent disposition had led also to his dismissal from this family. He had been heard to vow vengeance against Elizabeth Harris and the eldest Miss Boreham; and on Tuesday night he made his way to the farmyard, and from thence into an interior court, called the stone-yard.
Elizabeth Harris, on seeing his approach, retired within the scullery, and shut the door against him. He demanded admittance, which she refused. High words accordingly arose, and he plunged his hand, armed with a knife, through a lattice window at her, but missed his aim. This noise alarmed the company in the parlour, or keeping-room, as it was called. Mrs Hummerstone was the first to come forth, in the hope of being able to intimidate and send away the disturber; but just as she reached the back door, leading from the parlour to the stone-yard, Simmons, who was proceeding to enter the house that way, met her, and with his knife stabbed her in the jugular artery; he then pulled the knife forward, and laid open her throat on the left side. She ran forward, as is supposed, for the purpose of alarming the neighbourhood, but fell, and rose no more.
The murderer pursued his sanguinary purpose, and, rushing into the parlour, raised and brandished his bloodstained knife, swearing a dreadful oath that he would give it them all. Mrs Warner was the person next him, and, without giving her time to rise from her chair, he gave her so many stabs in the jugular vein, and about her neck and breast, that she fell from her chair, covered with streams of blood, and expired. Fortunately Miss Anne Boreham had been upstairs immediately previous to the commencement of this horrid business; and her sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah, terrified at the horrors they saw, ran upstairs too, for safety.
The villain next attacked the aged Mrs Boreham by a similar aim at her jugular artery, but missed the point, and wounded her deep in the neck, though not mortally. While the poor old gentleman was making his way towards the kitchen, where the servant-maid was, the miscreant, in endeavouring to reach the same place, upset him, and then endeavoured to stab the servant in the throat; she struggled with him, caught at the knife, and was wounded severely in the hand and arm. The knife fell in the struggle. She, however, got out at the back door and made her way into the street, where, by her screams of "murder," she alarmed the neighbourhood. The poor people residing near the house were all in their beds, but the whole town was soon alarmed.
The murderer sought to conceal himself, but after some search he was discovered in a cow-crib. He was immediately made prisoner, and brought to the Bell ale-house, where he was bound and handcuffed until morning, and was actually on the point of death, from the tightness of his ligatures, which had nearly stopped the circulation, when Mr Fairfax, of the Black Bull Inn, in the town, interfered, cut the ligatures, and thereby prevented a death too summary for the cause of public justice.
The prisoner was committed to Hertford jail, to abide his trial, which commenced, before Mr Justice Heath, on Friday, 4th of March.
As Mr Boreham's family, who were all Quakers, refused to prosecute on behalf of Mrs Warner, the prisoner was tried on only one indictment -- viz. for the murder of Mrs Hummerstone -- at the instance of Mr W. White and Mr B. Fairfax, of the Bull Inn, Hoddesdon, and Mr J. Brown, churchwarden of that place.
Evidence having been given, the jury gave the verdict of guilty; and the learned judge pronounced the dreadful sentence of the law. The sentence seemed to affect the prisoner very little; he walked from the bar with great coolness and indifference, and suffered the punishment denounced for his crime on the 7th of March, 1808.