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James Burgum - In Court following a Suicide

(Published in the Gloucestershire Chronicle, July 8th, 1871)



DYMOCK. Suicide: A Sad Story -

An inquest was held at the George Inn, Dymock, on Monday, before Mr M.F. Carter, on the body of Ann Webb, aged 53, who had committed suicide on the previous Friday by hanging herself in her bedroom. John Webb said: I am the husband of the deceased, and live at the Bush, in the parish of Dymock. Deceased was 53 years old. A man named James Burgum had lodged at my house for some time, and left about six weeks ago. Since he left my wife has been in very low spirits. I have been aware that an improper intimacy existed between her and Burgum, and she told me she liked Burgum, but that she thought he had injured her I had told her that I did not approve of the intimacy, but it would have been treason for me to have sent Burgum away - I mean, that I feared a rupture with my wife.

Burgum lodged at my house about eighteen months. I have always lived on good terms with my wife, and have not upbraided her for her conduct. Previously to the 30th June she had appeared more cheerful for two or three days. We got up on that morning at about six o’clock. My wife cleaned the house, and we had breakfast together. About half-past seven I went into the garden to work, and afterwards came into the house. My wife was then in the kitchen. I noticed no difference in her manner; she was walking about as usual. The clock struck; she said, “That’s eleven.” I replied “Yes, and I’ll go and get some potatoes for you to cook for dinner.” I went out to get the potatoes, and when I returned I did not see her in the kitchen. I called several times; but no one answered. I then went upstairs, and there I saw my wife hanging, with a cord around her neck, from a nail in the wall, her feet touching the floor, her knees much bent and her feet doubled under her. She was quite dead.

I ran down and gave an alarm. It was then twelve o’clock. Two neighbours, Elizabeth Fencott and Mary Ann Meredith, came in and cut her down and gave information to the police. I believe Burgum owes about 4 pounds 15 shillings for lodging, washing and victuals, and the money which my wife had borrowed of my daughter, who is in service, to lend him. I think it was Burgum’s leaving that caused my wife to be low-spirited. I am 68 years of age. My wife told me she had heard that Burgum had told people about the country that he had been improperly intimate with her, and she was ashamed to meet any one.

Elizabeth Fencott: I am the wife of John Fencott, who is a timber dealer, and lives at Dymock. On 30th June, from information I had from John Webb, I went to his house, and on going upstairs found the deceased with a cord round her neck tied to a nail in the wall. She was dead. I took her down with the assistance of Mary Ann Meredith. I have know the deceased for years, and have noticed that she has appeared in low spirits for sometime. I have talked to her, and she has told me of her intimacy with Burgum, and complained that he had told people about the country of it. She has also told me that if her husband was to die Burgum would marry her. I told her she ought to think about something else.

Mary Meredith: I am the wife of John Meredith, and live in Dymock. I have known the deceased for some years. On the 30th June I assisted the last witness to take her down: she was hanging from a nail in the wall, by a cord fastened round her neck. She has been in a troubled state of mind since May last. She told me that it was through Burgum leaving his lodgings, and that he owed her 4 pounds 15 shillings. She also told me she had been intimate with him, and that he had told it about the country; and then she added that it was a bad thing for a man to have to do with a woman and then tell of it, and that what people had said about her was enough to make her do that which was not right. She told me she had never been the same woman since Burgum left.

James Burgum was next examined. He said I am a labourer, and live in Much Marcle. I lodged for some time at the house of John Webb, and left on the 14th May last. I never told anyone that I had been improperly intimate with the deceased; it is not true that I agreed, if John Webb died, to marry his wife; I did not know she was sorry I had left; and if she has said that I gave her disease it is not true. I lived on entirely proper terms with her. I was once before the Newent magistrates for having indecently assaulted a little girl. I never met the deceased when she came from work. She has made advances to me, and has been free towards me; but I kept myself in a respectable manner. I have heard her say that she wished her husband was dead, and that she would be engaged either to the soldier Webb, or to me. I never said anything about her at Wintle’s beerhouse in Kempley. I left lodging with her about six months after she made advances to me. Upon my oath, I say that I have never at any time or place said that I have anything improper to do with her in any shape or form.

The Coroner then addressed the jury, pointing out that there really appeared nothing in the evidence of her husband and the women Fencott and Meredith to show that the deceased did not know right from wrong, but that, if they believed Burgum, she must be under delusions, and her mind have been unsound. He left them to consider their verdict.

The jury, after consideration, returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased destroyed her own life by hanging herself while in a state of temporary insanity, caused by the bad conduct of Burgum, and they desired the Coroner to reprimand Burgum.

The Coroner, addressing Burgum, said the jury had taken a merciful view of the case. But they disbelieved his evidence, and there could be little doubt that his conduct had been the means of bringing the poor woman to her unfortunate death. To have been guilty of the conduct described with the wife of the man with whom he lodged was indeed very bad, but to expose the partner in his guilt was far worse. He could only say that he had never heard of conduct more disgraceful to any man.

James Richards Burgum was born in 1825, at Much Marcle, in Herefordshire. He was part of the “FF” family tree. His parents were Henry Burgum and Martha Burgum (nee Richards) who lived at Bickerton Court (picture below) , a farm of 300 acres, employing five labourers. He died age 67 in 1892.