The Stanfield Tragedy -Trial and Execution!

“On the morning of the 20th November, 1848, the City of Norwich was aroused from its usual state of general calmness and tranquillity by a rumour that terrific deeds of blood had been committed in the vicinity; and many were the shapes which the tale of horror took in travelling from mouth to mouth. But, however distorted, it was unfortunately true”……………

The Background to the Tragedy:

James Blomfield Rush
James Blomfield Rush

James Blomfield Rush was a farmer with inflated pretensions of being a country squire, but he held a very long record of suspect dealings and financial problems. He always seemed to be trying to crawl through legal loopholes to dispose of his debts and badly arranged financial commitments. He also fell foul of suits brought against him for seduction and bastardy – by more than one woman. He met his match in Isaac Jermy though – formerly Preston if you remember! He was the Recorder of Norwich and a member of the Norwich Union Board who knew the law, finance and was not backward in using both to his advantage.

Cartoon of Shooting
Cartoon of Shooting

The mortgage for Rush’s Potash Farm was due to be settled on the 30th November 1848, but Rush had no way of paying it. Two evenings prior to this deadline Rush, disguised with a mask, wig and whiskers, walked the short distance from his farm to Stanfield Hall and hid in the bushes until IsaacJermy Snr. stepped out after dinner for his spot air and possibly a smoke. Rush immediately came forward and shot him at point blank range before striding into the Hall where he shot dead Isaac’s son; a further round hit Mrs Sophia Jermy’s upper arm, while a second wounded Eliza Chestney in the groin and thigh as they attempted to flee. The murderer then went out through a side door. After medical examination by a doctor it was thought that Eliza had suffered a compound fracture of her bone. The wound to Mrs Jermy’s arm resulted in an amputation. Despite wearing a disguise, the size and gait of Rush was recognised by the staff of Stanfield Hall and he was quickly arrested the following morning after police had surrounded Potash Farm.

Potash Farm 1849 2
An antique print of Potash Farm dated 1849.

 The Trial of James Blomfield Rush:

The circumstances surrounding the murders at Stanfield hall and the subsequent trial of the accused, James Blomfield Rush was an occasion which had all the hallmarks of a classical Victorian melodrama. The story had a large country mansion as the backdrop and plenty of blood; a villain who was cast perfectly with the right physical appearance of hard looks, bad behaviour, brusque manners, dubious morals and sinister scheming. If that was not enough then it had a riveting plot, all wrapped in a readymade story. This was the answer to a writer’s dream. No wonder the lurid details of the murders helped sell millions of copies of local and national newspapers, their column pages and supplements given over to the case. Queen Victoria was rumoured to have taken an interest, along with the great Victorian author, Charles Dickens who visited the scene and recorded his impression that the Hall “had a murderous look that seemed to invite such a crime”.

Norwich Court (Outside) 1849
Outside Norwich Assize’s Court

Everything was exposed at Rush’s trial which opened on Thursday morning, 29 March 1849 at the Norfolk Assizes before Judge Baron Rolfe. Every available seat was taken and no one was allowed to enter without a ticket of admission. On the opening of the doors, shortly after 8 0’Clock, there was a rush for the seats and the Court was quickly filled “in every part by gentlemen and ladies of the highest respectability, including several noblemen” Precisely at 9 o’clock, Judge Baron Rolf entered, there was an immediate solemn silence and the prisoner James Blomfierld Rush was called. Every eye was directed towards the Box when Rush entered, dressed in black and, apparently, in good health. He was informed of the indictment charging him with the murders of Isaac Jermy, Esq and his son, to which he pleaded NOT GUILTY!

Norwich Courtroom 1849
Inside the Courtroom

Rush had previously turned down offers of a legal representation, opting, quite arrogantly, to conduct his own defence which, because of his own incompetence, belligerence and blatant intimidation of the prosecution witnesses, was to simply hastened his downfall. he was to present his defence over fourteen hours of rambling without making any impression in his favour. His address was full of repetitions and the witnesses that he called, one way or another, damned him; he also damned himself, not least when he was to ask one witness, a Maria Blanchflower who had passed within feet of him on the night, “Did you pass me quickly”! – a very unfortunate slip of tongue in open court and was to do his defence no good..

But that was to come later for the Prosecution were the first to present its case, calling on several witnesses, the first of which set the tone for Rush’s ultimate conviction. Thomas Jermy aged 67, then a gardening labourer living in south London was simply asked: “Can you write?” and he answered even more briefly “No Sir”. From his reply it was obvious that he could not have signed the Notes, dropped by Rush at the time of the murders, allegedly claiming the Stanfield Hall Estate by Larner and Jermy:

Forged-Note
Forged Note

It was established that Rush was behind this deception with the intention of casting suspision for the murders on to Larner and Jermy, who could not possibly have committed them since at the time of the crime both were in London.

Other witnesses followed, including the injured victim Eliza Chestney and the principal witness, Emily Sandford. Both of whom were to be cross examined by Rush, again with a mixture of charm, religious fervour, rudeness and intimidation. Finally, his Lordship, in the most patient of manners simply requested the Jury to give the words of the accused “the degree of weight they deserved”. Then, having been told to consider their verdict, the Jury retired. After barely 6 minutes, they returned to deliver the verdict – GUILTY!

The Judge then put on the black cap and to a profoundly silent Court he sentence Rush to death, his penultimate words being:

“It remains only that I pronounce the awful sentence of the law upon you; and it is, that you be taken back to the place from which you came, and from thence to the place of execution and that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that after death your body be buried within the precincts of the gaol and may the Almighty have mercy on your soul”

Finally adding a few exceptionally severe words:

“It is a matter of perfect indifference to society at large what your conduct maybe during the few days remaining to you”, being as you are “an object of unmitigated abhorrence to everyone”

Rope
The Rope!

Rush remained still for a brief moment after the Judge had finished, but when the gaoler touched to remove him Rush smiled in a slightly demonic manner and uttered what sounded like a few joking words. His escort, whilst not responding to the prisoner, took great precautions to see that there was no communication between him and anyone in the Court as they left. The Judge then retired and the Court was quickly cleared.

For the several days between the trial and the time of execution, Rush was confined to his cell still imagining that he could persuade those around him that he was innocent. Several members of the clergy attempted to bring him to his senses and to see the awful and unhappy position he was in, but with no success. One person expressed the hope that Rush would at least realise the old aphorism that the man who begins by deceiving others often ends by deceiving himself; but Rush continued to adopt airs and graces and offer phrases of a deeply religious man, but no one was fooled.

The Execution:

On the morning of his execution, Rush asked for some hot water to wash himself and a clean shirt in which to be buried. The solemnest of his cell as he passed his final hours was in stark contrast to the hive of activity already in evidence outside in the streets of Norwich where thousands of pedestrians were beginning to gather, mingling with the trades people that were there to sell their wares.  One reporter observed:

“ If such be the usual state of the city on an ordinary market day, one may form some slight conception of what was likely to take place when, in addition to the attraction of the Market, there was to be witnessed the execution of so atrocious a criminal as James Blomfield Rush” – and then on observing the mass of people assembling said “the Cry was, still they come!”

The universal theme of conversation since early that morning was noisily about Rush and the Stanfield Murders. Then from about 10 o’clock the sounds of the bustle and hum of preparation for business ceased, to be replaced by anxious expectation of everyone, whether selling or buying. Perhaps more offensive to some was the conduct of a handful of ‘ballad-mongers’ who continuously bawled out doggerel rhymes of the person to be hanged later while a large black flag floated over the entrance to the Castle and a large section of those nearest gazed upon the gibbet perched over the bridge spanning the dry moat and from which Rush would hang.

JBR (william-calcraft-executioner)
William Calcraft (Executioner)

Between 11 and 12 o’clock the bell of St Peters Mancroft tolled the death knell for the criminal; at some moment within this hour Rush was escorted from his cell to the turnkey’s ‘receiving-room’ to be pinioned; there he met with William Calcraft, executioner, of whom he asked Mr Penson, the Governor “Is this the man that is to do the business?” The affirmative reply pre-empted Calcraft’s task of pinioning Rush who, at that moment, shrugged his shoulders saying “ This don’t go easy” then “not too tight”.

Just after 12 noon with the preliminaries completed, a procession formed and made its way to the scaffold with the Chaplain leading. The distance between the Castle door and the gallows was about sixty yards, along which the Chaplain read aloud.

“ I am the resurrection ……………… blessed be the name of the Lord”.

Rush, on the other hand, presented an assumed dejected pose of someone who had ‘avenged a great injury’ and was satisfied with what he had done. He then raised his pinioned hands to his face and violently trembled before removing his hands from his face and, turning his eyes to heaven, assumed the attitude of prayer. When both he and the Chaplain had finished the ritual, Rush beckoned to the Governor of the Castle to his side and the following brief conversation took place:

Rush: “Mr Penson, I have a last request to make to you; it is, that the bolt be withdrawn while the Chaplain is reading the Benediction – “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore”.

Mr Penson: “I will immediately communicate your wish to the Chaplain and I have no doubt it will be attended to”.

However, the Governor was economical with the truth for the general impression of the officials there in the ‘receiving room’ was that they feared that Rush intended to carry out ‘some vain and fruitless feat’, as indicated by both his behaviour overnight, during the early hours and, particularly, his last request for the drop to happened when certain words of the Chaplains were spoken. Mr Penson, fearing that something was afoot, intended to give Calcraft the signal in advance of any chosen words – and whilst it was not his intention, the moment chosen by Penson would come as quite a shock to Rush! –  if indeed he ever had plans for a final grand performance in front of the authorities and public.

norwich-castle-bridge
The Bridge at Norwich Castle on which the scaffold was erected and from where James Blomfield Rush hung.

Rush, accompanied by the officials and the executioner ascended the gallows which had been erected over the bridge that spanned the Castle’s dry moat. An observer’s comment was that the structure was “a clumsy and inconvenient structure, as badly arranged and as unsightly in appearance as anyone could conceive. It seemed to be the work of a most unskilful designer”. Rush, for his part, looked ghastly pale as if conscience or fear had at last done its work. For a few moments he looked at the huge crowd then, seemingly recollecting that it had been arranged that he should suffer death with his back to the people, he turned around. One eye witness recorded:

“The poor creature looked for an instant on the vast mass of spectators, whose earnest gaze was upon him and on every movement he made, and then turned himself round and face the castle – his back being towards the populace.”

Rush then shook hands with the Governor just before William Calcraft, the hangman, placed him under the beam on which he was to hang and then began placing the noose around his neck. Even at this moment Rush could not resist being theatrical, saying to Calcraft:

“For God’s sake, give me rope enough. Don’t be in a hurry; take your time” Then, moving his head about, Rush added,”! Put the knot a little higher up – don’t hurry”.

This done, the white hood was drawn over Rush’s head and the Chaplain proceeded with the prayers. It was at this point that the Governor’s intentions became clear; his signal to Calcraft triggered. Before the Chaplain arrived at the words “The Grace of our Lord ………………..etc the Executioner had withdrawn the bolt, the platform had fallen and Rush was at the bottom of his one-way descent; a descent that was with such force that his body had shaken the whole gallows and the snap of the rope under extreme tension had been audible to everyone. Rush’s body remained perfectly still for about two minutes before there was a short convulsive struggle – then all was completely over. Rush’s death was greeted with loud applause then, at one o’clock he was cut down, removed to the prison on a wheeled litter and during the afternoon, his head was shaved and a cast was taken for phrenological study. Later, the remains of James Blomfield Rush was buried, as decreed by the Judge, in the precincts of Norwich Prison; the timing was 8 o’clock in the evening in a deep grave next to the remains of Yarman who was executed some three years earlier for the Yarmouth murders.

 

JBR Headstine001
James Blomfield Rush headstone at Norwich Castle Prison

Footnote:

In the end Rush’s wax image was ‘taken from life’ at Norwich by Madame Tussauds and placed on display in her Chamber of Horrors in London for over 120 years.

The Executioner, William Calcraft, lodged in Hay Hill.

Emily Sandford emigrated to Australia – paid for by public subscription – and married a German merchant two years later and moved, with her husband, to Berlin.

Stanfield Hall was finally sold out of the Jermy family in 1920.

THE END

Sources:
https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/trial-james-blomfield-rush-1849https://archive.org/details/b28407404
http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/tripartite/The%20Murders%20At%20Stanfield%20Hall.htm
http://jermy.org/anon49c.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murders_at_Stanfield_Hall

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

 

 

 

The Stanfield Hall Murders – Revisited

It will be 169 years, this November, since the Stanfield Hall murders were committed by James Blomfield Rush and to which so much interest was directed once his arrest was made, the trial called and the sentenced carried out on Saturday,21 April 1849. Over the years since, much has been written and many accounts recycled by and for those who have been and remain interested in Norfolk history. What follows is for those who are unfamiliar with the story and those who, in the past, may have undertaken a tour of Norwich Castle but who failed to take any notice of the Tour Guide!

James Blomfield Rush
James Blomfield Rush

Introduction.

Stanfield Hall is a large and ancient mansion situated near Wymondham and about 10 miles south-west of Norwich in the county of Norfolk. The Hall and Estate was held by Earl Warren in the 11th Century and by 1249 the Prior of Wymondham who had his house and chapel there. In the 14th Century Stanfield Hall came to the Bigods, then to the Appleyards in the 15th Century and to the Flowerdews in the 16th Century. The Hall later came into the hands of the Jermys who, by way of two separate branches of the family, also owned, for a time at least, Gunton Hall, near Aylsham and Bayfield Hall, near Holt in the same County. It was the Bayfield Jermys who provided the route to the murders of 1848 by way of the ‘known’ last in their line – a William Jermy. It was his association in 1751 with a ‘wiley’ lawyer by the name of Issac Preston who saw to it that the Stanfield Hall Estate passed from the Jermys to the Prestons family once the Jermy line was extinct. By 1791 the Estate was firmly in the hands of the Prestons – a long line of  long established gentry with their main seat at Beeston St Lawrence north-east of Norwich, near Wroxham.

Further Background leading up to the Murders                                                                

Let us recap. and elaborate on the above statement by just going back to just around the year of 1735 and with one member  – William Jermy.  He married Elizabeth Richardson, the sole heiress to the Stanfield Hall Estate; she died in 1750, leaving William a childless but wealthy widower. He was the last and only surviving male of his (Bayfield) branch of the Jermy family and whilst not having any children nor surviving siblings, he did have two or three first cousins, of whom one would have been expected to be heir to his considerable estate. However, it seems that not only was William a notoriously feckless man by nature he was also not a well man when his wife died in 1750 and it was at this point when a Isaac Preston (1711-1768) came on to the scene; a lawyer by profession and Sub-Steward of Yarmouth.

Issac not only managed to ‘befriend’ William but also managed to take on all his legal affairs as family solicitor. Not only that, but within about twelve months, certainly by 1752 Issac even managed to persuade William to marry his sister Frances (nee Preston); however, soon after the wedding William passed away. In his Will, unsurprisingly drafted by Isaac, William gave Frances a life interest in his Estate but thereafter, with no more Jermys apparently alive, the Estate would be allowed to pass to certain named members of their Preston family. There was, however, a most significant proviso to this in the Will – that in the event that none of these named Prestons outlived William’s sister, nor had male issue themselves, then the Estate would go to ‘the male person with the name Jermy nearest related in blood to me (William) and to his heirs forever’. This caveate effectively denied inheritance to William’s first cousins or their heirs. On the evidence, it could justifiably be said that the Will was not only suspect but that Issac, through his legal ‘manouvers’  had precipitated a chain of events which would end in the murder of two of his descendents at Stanfield Hall, near Wymondham, on 28th November 1848.

Whilst William’s ‘proviso’ was seen as a very remote possibility, it nevertheless worried Issac Preston. He could not, even as a lawyer, remove what must have been William’s explicit wish; but he could, and did, remove two possible claimants first by tracing them and then buying both out for what turned out to be a ‘paltry sum’ of £20, thus securing the inheritance in favour of his own ‘Preston’ descendants. Doubtless, neither of these two ‘casualties’ had any idea of what they were signing away!

As events turned out, the two named Prestons in the Will died before Frances, leaving no offspring. When she died in 1791 with no heirs it was left for a ‘Jacob’ of a more distant Preston branch to step forward to claim the Estate for himself. His evidence was supported by the Affidavits signed by the two relatives of William Jermy and disposed of by Issac Preston which proved that they had sold over their interests. Since there was nobody to object, Jacob’s claim was accepted and Stanfield Hall went to the Preston family. The legality of all this was to be disputed two generations later by two members of the Jermy family who claimed to be the rightful owners of the Estate (see below). Jacob Preston died in 1796.

The Rev. George Preston – and Beyond!  (Take note of the names in Bold!)

The Rev George Preston succeeded his brother Jacob in 1796 and moved into Stanfield Hall, along with his wife and 12 year old son Isaac Preston, he set about re-building much of the Hall. It was also around this time that he and his wife also had one further son, whom they christened ‘William Jermy Preston’, apparently giving a token gesture to the requirement in the Will of his older ancester – the said William Jermy (above):

anyone inheriting his estate must bear the name Jermy, assume the Jermy Arms and Crest and never sell his library of old books”.

It seems that George Preston only complied with part of William’s stipulation for the maintenance of the Jermy name; neither he nor his eldest son Isaac Preston altered their names to Jermy. Further to this, when the re-building work was completed, George had his own ‘Preston’ arms placed over the front door. – not the Jermy arms. As for William’s stipulation that no one should sell his library of books – well, more of that later!

George Preston and his family went on to live at Stanfield Hall for an untroubled 40 years and it was in the early days of this period that a James Blomfield Rush came into the story as George Preston’s Bailiff. Both men had strong personalities but, surprisingly perhaps, they got on well together – at least on the face of it! Curiously perhaps George Preston met Rush’s asperation to run his own farms by granting him three leases at favourable rents. This and  their overall willingness to work amiably together also poises the question of whether Rush ‘had something on George’, perhaps he knew something of George’s family antecedents and the circumstances in which the Prestons came to occupy Stanfield Hall? The harmony, if that is what it was, might also suggest that there was a degree of nervousness on George’s part that someone else outside the Prestons had knowledge of its history. Certainly something or other was to fuel future conflicts between Rush and the Preston family. Whatever the facts, the relationship that both seemed to enjoy and which both made use of would changed for the worst after George Preston died in 1837.

Issac jermy Formerly Preston
Issac Preston Snr

George’s 50 year old son, now Isaac Preston Snr, barrister, chief judge of Norwich and equally strong minded as his father, took over Stanfield Hall in 1837 and moved in, together with his son Isaac Preston Jnr and his daughter. From that point onwards, a more abrasive relationship existed between Issac Preston Snr. and Rush, coupled with the continuing family nervousness regarding the William Jermy’s Will (see above!). This was no more evident than when Issac Snr, maybe just to be on the safe side, had inserted the name Jermy into both his and his son’s full name to comply with that Will. The two Prestons were now to be known as Isaac Jermy Preston Snr. and Issac Jermy Preston Jnr. the former controlling an Estate which consisted of the large moated Hall along with its extensive grounds, a home farm as well as many other farms and cottages spread over 20 parishes. He was, without question, very well-off but this did not prevent him from rescinding the leases previously negotiated between James Blomfield Rush and George his father and granting new leases at a higher rent. This, unquestionably, created ill feeling between the two men.

Then, in the June of 1838, Isaac Preston Snr decided to re-furbish Stanfield Hall and auction off his father’s old furniture, etc to pay for the work – including the old books that had belonged to William Jermy some 140 years back! On the day of the auction and during the afternoon, two unknown men from London appeared upstairs and looked over the books then asked to speak to Isaac Preston Snr; their names were John Larner and his ‘legal adviser’ a Daniel Wingfield. This meeting between Isaac Preston and John Larner would, in time, turn out to have dire consequences. Larner’s opening words took Issac Preston Snr. completely by surprise; for he had:

“Come to take possession of his family’s property” – that is, Stanfield Hall and all its estate – he being “the true heir-at-law”!

Issac had never heard of John Larner. It was, after all, almost 50 years since Frances had died and 140 years since William Jermy had done the same – his Will having long since remained a dormant artefact. Nevertheless, Larner quickly informed him that the Will had expressly forbade the sale of William Jermy’s library, as well as requiring any who inherited the Estate to bear the Jermy arms and to change their name to Jermy; neither of which the Preston’s had done at the appropriate time. Larner seemed so well versed with William Jermy’s Will and its contents that Issac needed to bluff his way out of their presence to allow him to regroup his thoughts and plan some sort of action to counter this unexpected threat. Being a trained lawyer, Issac quickly told the two uninvited visitors to leave his premises immediately and to pursue any such claim through the Courts in the more usual way. Both John Larner and Daniel Wingfield refused so Issac had the police escort them off the property.

That being done Isaac, who was sufficiently impressed and worried with Larner’s claim and knowledge of the Will, immediately halted the auction of the books and, within a very short time afterwards also replaced the ‘Preston’ arms over the door with those of ‘Jermy’. He then applied to have his family’s surname legally changed from Preston to Jermy and this was announced in the official London Gazette in August that year – 1838. Henceforth, he would be known as Isaac Jermy, Esq and his son as Isaac Jermy Jermy, Gent; thus explaining the form in which their names were to appear in the newspapers after the murders – still some 10 years into the future.

There remained but one more anomally to be resolved and that was the possibility that, if challenged again, Issac may not be able to prove his legal right to Stanfield Hall. In order to counter this, he devised a plan to gain an official legal title to the Estate in his new name. However, this would entail making an arrangement with Rush whereby Issac would sell Stanfield Hall to Rush for £1000 and then buy it back for the same amount, thus giving Issac a legal Bill of Purchase and proving his legal ownership of the Hall. In return, Issac would offer to loan Rush the money to buy Potash Farm, despite the fact

Potash Farm 1849
Potash Farm 1849

that Rush had upsurped him with its purchase! Isaac had wished to buy Potash Farm for himself but when he sent Rush to buy it for him with orders to bid up to £3500 (based on a valuation from Rush), Rush put in his own bid of £3750 and secured the property – much to Issac’s annoyance. However, preventing any future claims for the Stanfield Estate and keeping Rush on board with his plan was more important to Issac; to this end he managed to persuade Rush to fall in with his scheme, knowing that Rush had no money to complete the purchase of Potash Farm; neither was he able to handle money or his affairs very well. Issac’s ploy worked for Rush agreed to buy and re-sell the Hall, to accept Issac’s £5000 loan and its repayment, with interest, ten years hence on the 30 November 1848. Issac then bought the Hall back again within the year and secured a Bill of Purchase. All quite neat but all rather suspect!

The Siege of Stanfield Hall – 1838

During the brief period when James Blomfield Rush owned Stanfield Hall John Larner, who couldn’t afford to go to law on his claim for it, decided to proceed more aggressively by occupying the Hall despite the fact that Rush had installed some new tenants there. On the 24 Sept 1838, Larner and his friends evicted them and occupied the Hall for several hours before the Militia were called out to removed them and take them to the prison in Norwich castle. There they were charged with riotous tumult and assembly and bound over to appear at the Spring Assizes in March 1839 where they received the lesser suspended sentence for simple riot of 3 months hard labour on the understanding that they would make no further claims on the estate – something that Isaac Preston Snr was, no doubt, relieved about. Threatened with transportation to the colonies if they disobeyed the sentence, John Larner and his friend returned to London and were to keep a low profile thereafter. By 1840, Isaac and his family had moved back into the Hall and for most of the next 10 years continued to live at Stanfield Hall without further concern about John Larner. However, James Blomfield Rush was another matter!

Rush was still the Preston’s bailiff but, increasingly, was becoming more of a problem. He had made certain agreements with Isaac Jermy Snr. concerning land that he promised to farm efficiently but reneged on this, resulting in Isaac eventually taking him to court in 1847. By July 1848, Rush had been made bankrupt; moreover, repayment of his loan for Potash Farm was due shortly and he had little or no money. Rush became desperate; then he remembered the claim made by John Larner some 10 years before and arranged to meet him in London where he was also introduced to his cousin, a Thomas Jermy! This was a name which at least pointed towards some basis for John Larner’s claim for Stanfield Hall back in 1838; the fact that Larner’s mother and Thomas Jermy’s father were brother and sister – and were both born with the surname Jermy. Rush attempted a clumsy plot wherein Larner and Thomas, with their known sense of injustice over losing the Estate, as they saw it, would be suspected of the murder that he was planning.

Rush promised that he could put both men in possession of ‘their’ property; however, he first had to hire a literate secretary which turned out to be an Emily Sanford from London; who, without her clear knowledge of what Rush was up to, drew up a number of what turned out to be forged documents, allegedly designed to switch ownership of the Stanfield properties to John Larner and Thomas Jermy. But these forgeries were simply a device to convince both of them that they had to return to Norfolk at least once so that they would be seen seeking their property again. This was crucial to Rush’s plot to implicate both Larner and Jermy, both of whom did travel to Norfolk in early November 1848. Rush then forged a number of handwritten Notes, allegedly signed by the cousin Thomas Jermy, which he was not to see.

The Murders!

Stanfield Hall (Inside)2
Inside Stanfield Hall

On the evening of November 28th 1848, just two days before the due date when Issac’s loan to Rush of £5000, plus interest, had to be repaid, Isaac and his family, including the younger Isaac and his wife, were having dinner at the Hall. It was Isaac Snr’s known habit after dinner to step out onto the porch for a little evening air. Being November, it was rather dark on the porch so that he did not notice what appeared to be a strangely dressed person hiding in the shadows there. Suddenly, two shots rang out and Isaac Snr fell to the ground, mortally wounded. The others in the party rushed out of the dining room and into the hall to be greeted by the same disguised person who had entered the house and shot the father. The intruder shot three more times, killing Isaac Jnr and wounding his mother and a servant and then ran off into the night but not before dropping two hand-written notes on to the Hall floor and also in the garden. One of the other servants later said that he thought he recognised the profile of the murderer in the odd costume, with a false beard and wig, as that of James Blomfield Rush, the family’s bailiff, but it was difficult to be certain. The police eventually arrived from Norwich, listened to the servant’s and other accounts of what had happened, and also examined the Notes which were found in the Hall and in the grounds outside, supposingly dropped by the murderer.  They all read:

However, the police decided to arrest Rush the next morning and charge him with the murders for his record and reputation was now not good. He had a history of increasingly arguing with Issac Jermy and reneged on loans and agreements with him. What other reason did the police need!

This double murder was, of course, reported in both the local and national press, some papers running two or three editions on the story each day which covered new elements as and when they were revealed. Readers did not however read about the murders of the two Isaac Prestons, Snr and Jnr, but those of Isaac Jermy, Esq, and of his son Isaac Jermy Jermy, Gent.

Rush was immediately placed in prison where he pleaded his innocence and tried to make out that some mystery man had approached him a few days before and that it was him who must have done the evil deed.

The Trial

James Blomfield Rush’s Trial began on 29 Mar 1849 and took 6 days. An early witness called was the above Thomas Jermy aged 67, then a gardening labourer living in south London. He was simply asked: “Can you write?” and he answered even more briefly was “No Sir”. From his reply it was obvious that he could not have signed the Notes allegedly claiming the Stanfield Hall Estate.

However, the major prosecution witness was the same Emily Sanford who had, unwitingly, aided Rush draw up forged documents and later moved in with him as his mistress earlier that autumn; Rush’s own wife, like his parents, having all previously died in suspicious circumstances, with Rush gaining financially in each case. She spoke of his movements the night of the murders and also about the various documents he had her write out and countersign, etc. in London. Rush tried to defend himself, rather than employ a lawyer, and proceeded to give a long rambling speech full of irrelevancies as he cross-examined all the witnesses. This fooled no one and he was eventually found guilty of ‘wilful murder’ after the jury had been out for barely 10 minutes. He was sentenced to be “hanged by the neck until dead” at Norwich Castle and to be buried within its precincts’. The judges remarks were exceptionally severe – saying to him:

“It is a matter of perfect indifference to society at large what your conduct maybe during the few days remaining to you”, being as you are an object of unmitigated abhorrence to everyone”.

James Blomfield Rush was hanged two weeks later, on the 21 April 1849 and a wax death mask was displayed in Madam Tussaud’s for many years after.

 

Footnote: Because Isaac Jermy Snr died moments before his son, the Stanfield Estate passed briefly to the Isaac Jermy Jnr. and then, on his death, to his infant daughter. The remaining family soon moved out of Stanfield Hall, wanting never to reside there again. When the daughter was of age, she married into another Norfolk landowning family – the Gwyns and her husband thus inherited the estate. Interestingly, all subsequent Gwyns included the name Jermy in their son’s names – still fearing claims maybe? They were of course quite unrelated to the ancient Jermy family. The Estate was gradually sold off  and the Hall was later owned by a local farmer and then by a retired doctor. It was then purchased by a local business man. So, as we’ve now seen, Stanfield Hall was once the notorious focal point of a tragic ‘ménage a trois’ – between Isaac Jermy Jermy, nee Preston Snr, John Larner and James Blomfield Rush – arising out of William Jermy’s controversial Will, and the earlier lawyer, Isaac Preston’s scheming predelictions.

John Larner and Thomas Jermy both died later in the 19th Century without making any further claims. But John Larner’s grandsons did seek publicity in national newspapers on two occasions in the 1920s about the alleged fraud. But no proof was ever forthcoming from the Oxfordshire family concerning their alleged descent from the last, or one of the last of the Jermys – John Jermy, the illiterate day-labourer of Gt Yarmouth, allegedly bought off for a mere £20 by Isaac Preston, William Jermy’s family solicitor.

THE END

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murders_at_Stanfield_Hall

http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/tripartite/The%20Murders%20At%20Stanfield%20Hall.htm

http://jermy.org/anon49c.html

http://www.jermy.org/shmurders-sutherland.html

https://www.genealogyreviews.co.uk/reviews/article/the-stanfield-hall-murders/

http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2311