Terrible Murder During the Festive Season!

Talbot Square, where a bloody and drunk Henry Starr was arrested for murder, Albert Eden Collection

110 years ago, a dreadful crime was perpetrated in the centre of Blackpool. A young man as driven to murder by a demanding wife and an over-baring mother in law; or more particularly, Henry Bertram Starr, a weak man in dire circumstances.

What purported to be a simple Maintenance Hearing at Blackpool Police Court on Monday 23rd November 1903 laid the foundations of a heinous crime. Mary Hannah, Starr’s 27 year old wife of 9 months was seeking Maintenance for herself and her child. The Blackpool Police Court heard that Starr, who was often unemployed, failed to provide for his family, frequently drinking and gambling his wages away. She and the child were currently living with her mother and father, Mr & Mrs Blagg, in Lord Street, along with a younger sister.

News reports at the time record a tumultuous relationship with frequent and noisy arguments between the two at the Lord Street address. Starr had moved out at one stage to live with a relative in Harman Street Blackpool. Mary had joined him there following the birth of the child, but only stayed there a short time before returning to her mother’s house, since Starr had failed to properly provide for her.

In his defence, and admitting he was occasionally drunk, Starr argued with confidence that she had left him several times to live with her mother against his will and that if she persisted he would seek custody of the child.

The Branch granted Mary a Separation Order, custody of the child and 8 shillings a week maintenance.

On the following day, Tuesday, in what the local press regarded as ‘A tragic sequel’ to the hearing, Starr had been drinking and entered the house by an open back door and fatally stabbed Mary in the kitchen; stabbing her several times and using two knives to do so. The bent an broken knives were found at the scene. Mary had over twenty wounds.

On hearing the screams of her daughter Mrs Blagg had confronted Starr and pleaded for her daughter’s life; to no avail. She too was cut and bleeding. She ran screaming into the street for assistance and Starr fled. The press report into the incident and the injuries she suffered are very graphic in their description. A local doctor, James Johnson pronounced Mary dead at the scene.

Henry Starr, photograph from the Blackpool Times

Starr is reported to have run to the nearby Duke of York Hotel, where he stayed briefly before heading in the direction of Talbot Square. He was arrested there, in a bloody and drunken state a short time later by two Police Officers who took him directly to the station in Lower King Street. Because of his ‘being greatly under the influence of drink’ and incoherent, he was placed in a cell under guard until the next day, when he would appear before magistrates.

On Friday the 27th he was remanded to appear at the Assize Court in Liverpool, where within 3 minutes the Jury returned a ‘Guilty’ verdict without even leaving the courtroom. In spite of his plea of ‘Insanity’, Starr was sentenced to death by hanging.

On 29th December 1903 William Billington, the executioner accepted his second ‘senior’ appointment to hang Starr at Walton Jail in Liverpool. He was assisted by the more experience Harry Pierpoint (incidentally Albert, Harry’s son, also an executioner, spent his holidays in Blackpool). Starr was reported to have been ‘penitent and stoical’ at his execution. Previously he had written of his regrets, life and career, published widely as an ‘epistle to young men.’

This was actually Starr’s second murder trial. He had been acquitted in 1896 of the murder of Eleanor Coulthard, a domestic servant in March 1896. She was found drowned in the River Ribble at Clithero.

Henry Bertram Starr at 31 had been employed in a range of jobs: Publishers Traveller, Insurance Agent, Photographic Canvasser, and latterly a Slater’s Labourer. Clearly he was not able to stay in regular employment. He was born in Marske-by-the-Sea, Birkenhead and had arrived in Blackpool via Newcastle upon Tyne, Maryport, Workington and Clithero. In 1891, census records show he was living and working in Cockermouth and had lived there as a child. His father, a grocer, had died in Birkenhead when he was a child.

Mary, born in Oldham, was married to Starr at Christ Church Blackpool. She is recorded as a Domestic Servant before the move to Blackpool. Her father, Allen worked as a Machine Fitter in Oldham, while her mother kept house at Ardwick House. Her grave is in Layton Cemetery.

Barry Shaw

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