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Godalming, Surrey : Murder, Trial & Execution, 1817-18
From the Observer, 16th August 1818 and a Report of the Trial of Chennell and Chalcraft
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On Tuesday, November 11th 1817, about 7.30 in the morning, Mr. George Chennell, a shoemaker in High Street, Godalming (his house was between the "Little George" and a covered passage-way leading to the back premises of Chennell's house) and Elizabeth Wilson, who for many years had been his housekeeper, were discovered to have been brutally murdered. The housekeeper lying on the floor of the kitchen with her throat cut in a shocking manner and her head broken; the former, upstairs, on his bed in the chamber facing the street, with fractured skull and cut throat.

Suspicion fell on George Chennell, the old man's son, and William Chalcraft, the carman. The former was a man of dissolute habits who had caused his father great trouble and had used bad and threatening language against the old man and against the housekeeper who, he said, made mischief. He lived some little distance from the shoemaker's shop, but frequently took his meals there.

At the Surrey Assizes at Guildford on Wednesday, August 12th 1818, the trial of Chennell and Chalcraft for the above murder took place before the Judge (Mr. Sergeant Lens) and 12 jurymen. George Chennell was about 37 years of age, height about 5ft. 10in. and strongly built. He wore a piece of black velvet round his neck and had on a yellow waistcoat with dark stripes, and a frock coat. William Chalcraft appeared to be about 50 years of age. They were charged with the murder of George Chennell the elder, father of the prisoner, and Chalcraft's master, and with the murder of the housekeeper, Elizabeth Wilson, and with having committed these murders by beating in the brains of the deceased with a hammer and cutting their throats.

Messrs. Gurney, Holland and Heath were for the prosecution, the Common Sergeant and Mr. Andrews were for Chennell. Chalcraft had no counsel. At a very early hour of the morning the street in front of the Court House, Guildford, was crowded and it is figuratively stated that scarcely 100 inhabitants were left in Godalming.

In opening his case, Mr. Gurney mentioned amongst other things, that Mr. Chennell, the deceased, was a respectable tradesman in the town of Godalming, was shoemaker, leather seller, and also kept a small farm - was old, quiet and unoffensive, his profits not confined to trade, being possessed of property (freehold and personal) to the amount of £1,000, his house was in the High Street. His housekeeper, whose character resembled that of her master, lived in the house which was confined to those two. Chalcraft was his carman, the prisoner was his son, who had latterly taken a house in Godalming. He had separated from his wife and lodged elsewhere (with Mr. and Mrs. James Stillwell). He took meals at his father's house but never slept there.

George Woods, baker, and Charlotte Austin of the "Little George", deposed to seeing the housekeeper and Mr. Chennell respectively, about 8 o'clock on the Monday evening. Charlotte Hales, the landlady of the "Little George" (a neighbour 23 years) and William Henry Coston, a baker (next door for 7 years), heard nothing unusual during the night of the murder, although the partition walls, on both sides, were so thin that what passed in Mr. Chennell's house could be easily heard in others.

John Currington, a farm servant, described what passed on the premises on the following morning up to the time of the discovery of the murder. John Knight, the younger, and John Earle, shoemaker (an occasional employee of Mr. Chennell) narrated what followed.

Mr. William Parson, surgeon, described the state of the bodies: he considered that Mr. Chennell's throat must have been cut, after life had been suspended by blows from the hammer. Richard Stedman deposed to visiting the house and seeing the bodies.

John Keen, son of the Keeper of the House of Correction at Guildford, visited the premises on the Tuesday morning and found a hammer marked with blood. Isaac Woods, the Constable of Godalming, produced a case knife covered with marks of blood and the above hammer. Earle, the former witness, identified them as the property of the late Mr. Chennell.

James Weale, warden, examined Mr. Chennell's till, which appeared to have been broken open, and discovered six notes of £1 and 15/6d in silver in his pockets.

Benjamin Keene, Constable of Guildford, stated that he took Chalcraft into custody on Wednesday by order of the Magistrates. He searched the lodgings of George Chennell (the younger) and found two notes of £1 each and 14/- in silver in a tin box. There were spots of blood on the notes. He handed over the notes to Mr. Stilwell, the landlord James Stilwell, produced the notes, said that Chennell lodged with him. John Gardiner (one of the Coroner's Jury) had examined the notes and found stains on them.

On the night following the discovery of the murder, Chalcraft was at the Angel Inn with Sarah Hurst. William Coombes, waiter, observed them whispering together and overheard her say, "Hold your tongue, Chalcraft, I want to hear no more of it". Hannah Chuter who lived in the passage where Chalcraft resided, and John Eyles, wheelwright, also gave evidence, with James Earl, gardener, who saw Chalcraft at Town Hall on November 11th.

Richard Mandeville, landlord of "The Three Lions", J. Johnson as drayman in the service of Mr. Grinman of Godalming, and Elizabeth Stillwell (the wife of the Landlord) all attested to Chennell's want of cash just before the murders.

On the night of the murder George Chennell went into the "Richmond Arms" and sat there smoking and drinking from about seven until nine and then, going out, returned at a quarter to ten. This was James Tidy the Landlord's story, but Chennell said that he had been gone so short a time that the pipe he had left behind him on the table was still burning. Charles Breach, shoemaker, said that Chennell came into the Richmond Arms between 7 and 8 o'clock. Charles Fisher, horsekeeper, left the "Richmond Arms" at 10 minutes past 9 with Chennell and went a short distance with him. Chennell appeared to go towards his father's home.

William Cooper, ostler at the Red Lion, saw Chennell and Chalcraft in conversation on the opposite side of the road about 9.20. They then went down the Town in the direction of the older Chennell's house. William Cobby who had pointed the men out to the last witness, subsequently went down the Town, heard a sharp scream as if coming from Chennell's passage, and observed a woman standing at Mr. Chennell's door, and saw the prisoner Chennell at the entrance of the passage, went on to Bridge Street, past Chalcraft's passage, and by Lancaster's School, met Chalcraft on his way back. Mary Moorley saw Chennell look out of Chennell's passage about a quarter past 9. Sarah Lambert saw Chalcraft enter his own house shortly after half past nine, and Elizabeth Moorley said that Chennell passed her about half past nine, as if coming from his father's house and going into the Richmond Arms.

James Puttock, tythingman, said he had charge of the two prisoners at time of inquest.

Sarah Hurst, the accomplice, when she came into the box, appeared to be deeply affected and could hardly stand upright. On the night of the murder she said she met Chalcraft who said he wished she could come down town later on. She said she would do so, and met him a little after nine, a few doors below Mr. Chennell's shop.

He told her he wanted her to stand before Mr. Chennell's door and keep watch. He went into the house, and she walked to and fro without. George Chennell also went in. She heard a "screech". When Chalcraft came out he said, "We have done for them both". She saw some blood on his smock-frock sleeves by the candle light in the opposite window. She asked how it came there and he said, "It was the blood from them two". The next night, at the Angel Inn, Chalcraft offered her £4 to keep all that had passed secret. He spoke in whispers. She told him at last to hold his tongue.

Joseph Walker, keeper of the House of Correction at Kingston, who had charge of Sarah Hurst said she was subject to fits. Mr. Woods, the Attorney for the prosecution, said he visited Sarah Hurst at the House of Correction and found her sane.

John Mullard, carter to Mr. Holland in 1817, met Chennell near the White Hart at 7.30 on the evening of the murder. James Coles, in service of the Mr. Chennell, said he saw the prisoner in his father's shop between 7 and 8 o'clock the same evening. He had on a long smock frock. Next morning he saw him in that which appeared to be the same garment but saw no marks of blood on Chalcraft's frock on the Tuesday or Wednesday. This concluded the case.

After a long and careful winding up by the Judge, the Jury consulted for about two minutes and returned a verdict of Guilty against both prisoners. Mr. Smith, Lord Ellenborough's cryer, proclaimed silence while sentence of death was being passed. Mr. Sergeant Lens having placed the black coif, the emblem pf death, upon his head, proceeded to pass sentence upon the prisoners, saying "You George Chennell, and you, William Chalcraft be taken from the place on which you stand to the place from whence you came, and that on Friday next, you be taken from thence to the place of execution, where you are to be severally hanged by the necks until you are dead, and that your bodies be then given to be anatomised and dissected, and may the Lord have mercy on your souls". Both prisoners were heavily ironed, and during the trial were refreshed with ale and water, of which they partook heartily.

- on August 14th 1818, at 9 a.m., the Under Sheriff arrived at the Prison House, Guildford, and a caravan which was to convey the criminals, was brought to the prison door. The various officers were at their post, the bell tolled out the hour of departure and the prisoners were then brought out with irons on their feet, having also the rope around them with which they were to be hung. Chennell was dressed in a black jockey coat, striped waistcoat and grey pantaloons; Chalcraft had on a new smock frock. The back part of the caravan was occupied by the platform provided with steps on which they were to ascend to the gallows. The executioner with a drawn sword sat in front of the platform with the two turnkeys on each side of him, the Rev. Mr. West sat with his back to the horses, with Chalcraft on his right and Chennell on his left; thus the cavalcade proceeded to Godalming. Immense crowds from Guildford, Godalming and the neighbour hood lined the roads, and in the narrow places they were pressed so closely together as to be in danger from the horses; all the heights and open spaces on the route were covered with multitudes, the greater part of whom were farm servants in white straw hats and smock frocks.

The prisoners seemed to be very attentive to the clergyman, but still refused to confess, though several times pressed to do so. The procession arrived at the place of execution about 11 o'clock, where the crowds were greater than ever. The gallows were erected on an extensive meadow (Common Meadows) to the north of Godalming, and were surrounded by a ring of rope in which only the caravan and the officers were admitted. Chalcraft seemed a good deal shaken and hung his head on one side, he had urged Chennell to confess if guilty but no confession could be obtained. When the caravan stopped under the gallows the Rev. Mr. Mann, Excellent Ordinary of Horsemonger Lane Gaol, again repeated the question - if they had anything to communicate, and was answered in the negative. Chennell was first taken upon the platform, to allow time and opportunity while the rope was adjusted for his fellow prisoner to make disclosure, but nothing could be gained. Chennell requested that the cap might be drawn over his head to prevent his face being seen by the spectators who knew him. He then stood firm and upright without the least motion. Chalcraft trembled and had nearly required support. Mr. Mann ascended the platform and addressed on their behalf an excellent prayer, at which Chalcraft became very agitated, and his fellow prisoner somewhat moved. No appearance of a desire to confess being noticed the platform was drawn from under them and they were launched into eternity. They both seemed to struggle when thrown over, but the executioner soon terminated their sufferings by drawing down their heels with great force. After hanging an hour their bodies were cut down and given to two surgeons of Godalming (Mr. Parson and Mr. Haines) for dissection. The meadow where Chennell was executed was in sight of his father's farm and not more than a gunshot of his father's house. The last execution in this part of the country was 30 years before, when three sailors were executed on Hindhead Hill for the murder of a traveller.

The bodies of Chennell and Chalcraft were received into a waggon, and with a procession of officers, were conveyed "in slow and awful silence" through the town of Godalming, until they arrived at the house of the late Mr. Chennell. Here the procession halted and the bodies were carried into the kitchen, one being placed on the spot where the housekeeper was found murdered. The surgeons performed the first office of dissection and the bodies, in this state, were left exposed to the gaze of thousands who, throughout the day, eagerly rushed in to see them.

The landlord of the "Three Lions" (Mr. Mandeville) did an immense trade on the day of execution, which has never been equalled.

The two victims, George CHENNELL and Elizabeth WILSON,
were both buried at Godalming's St Peter & St Paul Church on the 14th November 1817;
George CHENNELL was 62 years old and Elizabeth WILSON was 61.

The Lammas Lands, Godalming Copyright © 2002 Peter Tietjen
The Lammas Lands, Godalming, now used for grazing and liable to flood.
The gallows were erected here in 1818 - though the spot is out of camera shot.
In 1935, when there was some dispute over gates onto the lands and encroachments, the Marshall family were consulted. They had owned considerable parts of "the lammas" for over 70 years (West Sussex Gazette, 10 January 1935). It was established that the public had no rights whatever and the only persons entitled to lammas rights were the owners.

From the Observer, 16th August 1818 and a Report of the Trial of Chennell and Chalcraft - published by Duncombe, 19 Little Queen Street, Holborn
The article and photograph above have been sent by Peter Tietjen and he has generously given permission for their reproduction here.
Godalming Museum has a copy of the original report in a facsimile edition 1994 © Godalming Museum Trust. It is not the same as this version as it was taken in shorthand and printed and published by S. Russell & Co. Library, Guildford, Sy.
Web page designed by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

It seems that such a sad spectacle, which was reported in almost every newspaper in the land, was designed as a salutary warning to others to prevent a recurrence of such deeds. "The Morning Post" of Saturday, August 15, 1818 recorded "The spot fixed upon for the execution was a large meadow, or plot of waste land, just on this side of Godalming Bridge. In the centre of this field, on the evening of Thursday, a gallows of extraordinary elevation was erected". Chalcraft left six children and Chennell one child.