IT’S the sort of job that hasn’t cropped up in our editorial diary for quite a while now, but back in 1849 came with the territory. For when the newspaper’s crime correspondent arrived in the office on Monday,

March 26, that year he was told to grab his nib pen and pop along to Castle Street to cover a public execution at Worcester County Jail.

In those days it would have been our weekly sister paper Berrow’s Worcester Journal on the case and from the subsequent account of proceedings one can only assume the editor told his reporter to  “give it

a bit of colour”.

Getting his neck stretched that miserable morning was Robert Pulley, an odd ball character who lived rough around the village of Drakes Broughton, midway between Worcester and Pershore. He had been convicted

by a jury at Worcester Assizes, which took just ten minutes deliberating its verdict, of killing 15-years-old local girl Mary Ann Staight.

Pulley, who was 49 and only about 4ft 8ins tall, was fixated with Mary Ann, but had a very strange way of showing it. Whenever they encountered each other in the village he would hurl insults at her calling

the girl “my little whore”. “You want your bloody head broke”, was probably one of his milder epithets.

Quite apart from the age difference and his wayward existence, this hardly endeared Pulley to Mary Ann and she rebuffed him, basically by ignoring him. Thus slighted, he took extreme offence. He waited until

she went to the village shop one evening and emerged from the dark to beat her around the head with a thick stick until she was dead. The crime took place down the lane opposite Drakes Broughton’s Plough and Harrow inn. It leads to an area called Windmill

Hill and is still known as Bob Pulley Lane today

The murder weapon turned up only three days later when a heavy stick was discovered in a nearby ditch with some of Mary Ann’s hair stuck to it. The distinctive stick had once belonged to a Mr Panter, but disappeared

some time before when he employed Robert Pulley to do work for him.

Berrow’s Journal reported: “A local man Robert Pulley was immediately  suspected because it appeared he had a grievance against Mary Ann and expressed aversion and ill will towards the poor girl and had made

various threats to kill her, which were said to have originated from his failure to win her affections and favours.”

The trial jury unanimously agreed and so after Pulley’s appeal to commute his death sentence was rejected, execution day arrived and with it the BJ reporter, who must have clambered out of bed before dawn

because the action began early. He started his piece: “By five o’clock many people were beginning to assemble outside the Gaol and began to take up the most favourable  positions they could find in Infirmary Walk and its vicinity. As the morning wore on the

crowd increased and by seven o’clock a large concourse had assembled. Vast numbers of persons in every available vehicle were continually arriving, especially from the Pershore district.

“Cart after cart brought its load of human beings and as the time fixed for the execution drew near every place from whence a glimpse of the scaffold could be obtained was completely crowded. Very large numbers

also arrived from Birmingham.”

There then followed a few paragraphs which gave an interesting insight into the social behaviour of the day:

“With the exception of a few of the very lowest class of persons, the mass behaved very orderly. But we fear from the levity which we witnessed that the moral effect of the scene was quite lost upon the multitude,

who eventually had come to look upon it as a spectacle, or a matter of amusement or curiosity and were actuated by the same feeling as if they were witnessing a theatrical entertainment.

“Among the crowd we were aggrieved to see many apparently respectable females and so powerful was the incentive which brought them there, that numbers of them that could find no-one to take care of their children

at home, actually brought them with them. Hundreds of women with children in their arms stood for hours exposed to all the boisterousness and ribaldry of a mob composed of some of the very worst specimens of humanity.”

As noon approached, the already grim event took an even more macabre turn when all the male prisoners in the jail were herded into an area called the debtors yard and arranged in rows to witness the execution.

All the women prisoners filed into another enclosed yard and were also told to watch.

Then Robert Pulley was brought to the gallows to meet his executioner. “This dreaded personage was enveloped from head to toe in a dark gloomy coloured cloak, which entirely covered the whole of his person,”

read the report. “The lower part of his face was muffled in a capricious handkerchief and a cap slouched over his head and eyes, most effectively disguising his countenance.”

As the jail bell began to toll, Pulley and his executioner, accompanied by several civic officials, made their way up a short flight of steps to the press room where the black painted gallows had been erected.

Pulley’s arms and hands were pinioned to his body and his necktie loosened.

The newspaper story concluded: “On reaching the platform, the prisoner was positioned beneath the beam and the cap placed on his head. The executioner then soaped the rope well with soft soap and positioned

it over Pulley’s head. Everything being ready the drop was released. The body remained suspended in the air for a few moments quite motionless. But then a few tremors in the legs were observable. Shortly afterwards it heaved convulsively four of five times

and then remained without motion and Robert Pulley was no more.”

So it was entertainment over, everyone back in their cells, mothers take your children home and the crime correspondent returned to his desk

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