How did The Murderers get its name? A story of jealousy, justice – and a probably unrelated child ghost
- Credit: Archant
Today the Norwich pub called both the Murderers and the Gardeners Arms is closed because of the coronavirus restrictions. Exactly 125 years ago this week it was closed by a savage murder.
When jealous husband Frank Miles saw his young wife talking to another man he threw a piece of pottery at her yelling: “God strike me blind, I’ll be the death of you in the morning.” Millie ducked and the missile missed, but the following day Frank returned to attack again. Poor Millie clung to life for four days before succumbing to her injuries.
She died on June 4, 1895 and from that terrible day on, the Gardeners Arms on Timberhill was also known as the Murderers.
Frank and Millie had wed on Whit Monday 1892 and she died exactly three years later. The marriage was described as unhappy and quarrelsome from the start and a few months before the attack Millie left Frank and returned to live with her widowed pub landlady mum, Maria Wilby.
When Frank, an ex soldier who worked at a brewery on nearby King Street, saw his wife walk into the pub with a man one evening he was enraged. After an argument he left the pub, shouting “God strike me blind, I’ll be the death of you.”
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The next morning Millie was helping her mum clean when her husband knocked at the door. Trusting Millie let him in – and was hit over the head with a heavy brewery tool and left for dead.
Current landlord Philip Cutter takes up the story. “Millie was cleaning inside the pub, when Frank tapped on the pub window. His dutiful wife opened the door to let him in. Following a brief but frenzied premeditated attack Frank walked to the police station near the Castle and handed himself in.”
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Millie clung to life as Frank appeared in court, charged with unlawfully wounding with intent to murder. But despite being taken to hospital three times Millie did not recover. Within weeks Frank was on trial for his life.
Maria told the court she found her daughter lying in a pool of blood, saying: “She was bleeding profusely from the head and exclaimed, ‘Oh mother, I am fainting, he will kill me.”
Frank claimed he had been provoked by his wife. “Just seven years after the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888, most husbands who had killed their wives claimed that they had been prostitutes,” said Philip.
But no evidence of prostitution or provocation was presented to the court. Instead a hairdresser who lived opposite the pub, told the jury that Frank became ‘agitated a good deal if she simply spoke to a man’ and the judge told the jury “There are in this case no circumstances of provocation to reduce the case to one of manslaughter.”
The jury took just nine minutes to return a guilty verdict and Frank was sentenced to death by hanging.
However, Frank’s defence had suggested he had been provoked to murderous rage because his estranged wife mocked him and the foreman of the jury told the judge: ”We are unanimous in strongly recommending him to mercy on account of the strong provocation he received at the hands of his wife.”
Despite the violence of the crime there was widespread public support for the killer. Witnesses called him peaceable and a good worker and 9,000 Norwich people signed a petition pleading for clemency. Frank, originally from Southampton, had arrived in Norwich as part of the army cavalry unit, the 8th Hussars, who were based at the city’s Britannia barracks. Another 3,000 people from Southampton signed a similar petition.
And on June 29 the Home Secretary granted a reprieve from the death sentence.
Frank, still a convicted murderer, remained in prison, but just 10 years later he applied for parole.
“I have seen these documents and his solicitor claimed that “Mr Miles has suffered greatly from the slight crime of murdering his wife” - which is astonishing!” said Philip.
However, Frank died in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight that year, aged 37.
The 125th anniversary of the tragic death of Millie Miles was to have been marked by a drama re-enacting the story of the murder.
Philip has worked at the Murderers since he was 15, became manager at 21 and has been landlord for the past 19 years. He said: “I did a load research about 12 years ago. The original story I was told was that a prostitute had murdered a client in the pub, so I looked through some police records to see if any executions matched the crime.”
Then a customer showed him a newspaper article mentioning Frank Miles and he pieced together the story using the 1901 census returns. “Frank Miles appeared as a prisoner (and widower) in prison at Parkhurst. From there, all the information slowly fell into place,” said Philip.
“This story is really a marketing team’s dream. If it had been made up, an agency would have been paid an absolute fortune. The fact that this story is all true, and corroborated, is astounding.” Philip’s daughter, Molly, who was born at the Murderers and is studying at the Central School for Speech and Drama in London, had hoped to stage a recreation of events, based on transcripts and newspaper reports of the original trial.
This had to be cancelled because of the lockdown but Philip said: “I hope to be here in 25 year’s time and hope that we can re-schedule for the 150th Anniversary!
“1895 wasn’t a great year at the pub. However, my research has shown that there have been more births than deaths. Between 1900 and 1925 the landlords here had several children born above the pub, and even my daughter Molly was born upstairs in the flat.”
With its gruesome history it is little wonder that the Murderers has attracted ghost stories too - although the restless spirits glimpsed through the years might not be poor Millie Miles. “I really do have an open mind with ghosts,” said Philip, “But my wife has certainly seen figures walking around the bar. However, the creepiest experience we both saw was in the flat above the pub.
“When our eldest son Ryan was very young, he had a tendency to walk out of bed and along to see us in the living room. One evening both me and my wife saw a figure walking down the hallway. Presuming it was Ryan, I got up to put him back to bed, only to find that he was in bed asleep!
“My research has found that the landlord in 1923 was Ernest Crisp. Sadly on 4th June 1923, an inquest was held into the death of three-year-old Irene Crisp. She had died, in the flat above the pub quite suddenly. Initially her father was arrested as they believed he’d strangled the young girl, however, an autopsy discovered that she had died from diphtheria. Could it have been her?”