A Terrible Tragedy: Murder at the Foxhall Hotel

The Foxhall Hotel in the 1890s, Albert Eden Collection

“In the memory of even the oldest inhabitant of Blackpool, does not exist a remembrance of such a sad and fearfully tragic event as that which took place on Sunday 13th October 1895 at one of the oldest hostelries in Blackpool – THE FOXHALL HOTEL!”

Nothing in recent years has caused such a sensation in Blackpool as has the committal of this horrible murder.

Sarah Toomey had been in the employ of Richard Seed, the landlord of the Foxhall Hotel, as cook and chambermaid for over a year. Throughout that period, she had been a good and steady worker and was much liked by all her co-workers. Her husband, John Toomey, joined his wife at The Foxhall recently taking the position of kitchen porter.

John Toomey was born at Cork in Ireland about 57 years previously and whilst very young went to London where he followed the pursuit of a cloth packer and was employed in that capacity in many big London warehouses. Whilst in the City, he met with the deceased whose maiden name was Sarah Wilkinson. She was then in service at a gentleman’s private house.

John married Sarah at St Peter’s Church, London. The couple then went to live in Hulme, Manchester, where they resided for about twenty years. Toomey was a warehouseman in any of the chief houses of that city until about three months ago when he came to Blackpool. There were eight children by the marriage, two boys and six girls, all of whom are now grown up.

The reason of joining his wife was because of his jealous nature. Whilst at the employ at The Foxhall he worked well and gave satisfaction. Last week as the season ended, the waiters terminated their engagements and along with them Toomey received his notice although his wife was being kept on.

On Sunday, a farewell dinner was held at noon at which all the staff were present along with Toomey and his wife. As is usual, there was much merriment and laughter at which the cook and her husband joined in heartily.

At the conclusion of the dinner, all the servants retired to their rooms for the afternoon and the cook went along with the rest. On coming down about ten minutes to six, Waiter Joseph Smith was surprised to find the cloth was not laid for tea as was usually done by the cook. He remarked that it was a peculiar thing the cook was not there and said to one of the barmaids ‘Where’s t’ cook?’

He saw the barmaids preparing their own teas therefore he thought the cook must have overslept herself. Accordingly, he went upstairs, knocked at the bedroom door and humorously remarked ‘Come on cook. All tickets ready’. He was greatly staggered, however, on opening the door to find the cook laid limp and motionless, face downwards in a pool of blood with her throat cut. The gash was most shocking, extending from ear to ear with the head being nearly completely severed from the body. He then informed the barmaids of what he saw and said ‘she’s as dead as a door nail’’

They then acquainted the Landlord with the fact and he immediately sent Leonard Seed, his son, for Doctor Barton and afterwards for the police. Doctor Barton arrived on the scene but his services were of no use, the woman being quite dead.

The North side of the Foxhall Hotel, Albert Eden Collection

About seven o’clock, the police conveyed the corpse to the Police Station. Joseph Smith, along with PC Howarth, found a knife daubed with blood under the body. The knife was a clasp knife with a blade about four and a half or five inches long with a buck-horn handle.

The blade was blood-stained and blood was also clotted in the neck where the blade fitted. With regards to this knife, it had been identified as one which was purchased from the ironmonger’s shop of Messrs Bickerstaff and Son, Foxhall Road.

It seemed that on the Friday previous to the murder, a man, answering the description of Toomey, entered the shop and asked for a large knife without a clasp. He said he wanted it because he was going to Canada.

There was strong evidence to believe that a murder had been committed. Evidently, as soon as the crime was committed, supposedly by the husband, he fled from the scene of the dastardly deed.

John Toomey, as depicted in the Blackpool Times

Toomey was seen later that day at the Red Lion Hotel in All Hallows Road, Bispham, enjoying a beer and smoking a cigar. Toomey then had another glass of beer, after which he left the hotel remarking he was going on to Fleetwood to catch the Belfast boat. The Landlord, Samuel Castle, saw him start on the road to Fleetwood and that was the last that was seen of the supposed murderer.

However, Toomey did not reach Fleetwood. It was reported that a brown billycock hat and steel-grey coloured jacket were found on the beach near where the barque ‘Abana’ was wrecked at Bispham the previous December. It is generally supposed that Toomey had divested himself of these garments and then drowned himself in the sea.

Some two weeks later, the decomposing body of the jealous husband was found by John Rawcliffe, a Wyre Dock Wolloper*, whilst out shooting on the beach between Rossall and Fleetwood.

As to the character of Toomey, his children stated that he was always very fond of drink even when a young man. In addition to this, he was a most jealous man; in fact he would go into a fit of passionate jealousy over absolutely nothing at all. Quarrels, as a result, were very frequent.

They were not altogether surprised when the tragedy was reported to them as Toomey frequently threatened to murder his wife and he had repeatedly held knives and pistols over her head. It is also reported that only the Friday previously he informed one of his daughters that he would finish her mother before very long and that he would give her (his daughter) his watch and chain.

At the inquest, the Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ on the body of Sarah Toomey while the inquest into the body of John Toomey, the Jury returned a verdict of ‘Felo-de-Se’ (suicide) on the Foxhall Killer”.

Barry Shaw

*n. Slang. Dock Wolloper is a casual labourer about docks or wharves.

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