For English jurisprudence, especially in capital cases, the 1830s marked the beginning of a dramatic change. As anyone today will see from the Meredith trial, English judges operated with a good deal of latitude, but then so did English juries.
Professional counsel was just beginning to take more control in the courtroom. Precedent would become more important, and the process was to become increasingly more technical. But in 1833 Worcester, the judge would make the decision and tell the jury how they should vote. Charging a deputy with murdering a man while in the performance of his duty was not a decision that a conservative Judge was likely to make.
Biggs was unarmed and posed no threat. He was already badly beaten and face down on the ground. He called out for help. Meredith’s second deadly blow to back of Edward’s head was calculated to cause severe damage so Edward wouldn’t speak out. While probably not planned in advance of the attack, it was a deliberate, calculated and unnecessary action. He bragged about it.
The more serious criminal trials began to receive rapidly expanding newspaper coverage, as the new high-circulation papers featured more and more major crimes and trials. Meredith’s murder trial was reported by at least two newspapers, the Berrows Worcester Journal, dated Thursday, 14 March 1833, and the London Times coverage of the Oxford Circuit on 6 March 1833.
The following report is the text of the Bellows Worcester Journal, accompanied by extracts of the London Times to augment coverage:
Peter Meredith, aged 22, Charles Johnson, aged 32, and Henry Haywood, aged 23, carper weavers, were severally arraigned upon the charge of the willful murder of Edward Biggs, at Kidderminster. The unfortunate event, the subject of enquiry, arose out of the excitement which prevailed at Kidderminster at the period of the last election, and upon which occasion the three prisoners had been sworn in, with a number of others, by the Magistrates, so not as specific constables for the preservation of the peace of the town. The indictment averred that the blow which cost the deceased his life was struck by the prisoner Meredith, and that Johnson and Haywood were present at the time, aiding and assisting him. Mr. Lea conducted the prosecution, and Mr. Whateley defended Johnson and Haywood. The following witnesses were called in support of the charge:
Louisa Matthews stated that she recollected the night of the 11th December. The election for Kidderminster commenced that day. She went into the Fox public house about nine in the evening, and whilst there the prisoner Johnson came into the house, and said, “all hands to the Black Horse.” The Bull Ring is about 100 yards from the Black Horse Inn, and is between the Fox and the Black Horse. Johnson and several other men then left the Fox, and witness went with them toward the Black Horse. On their way, she heard the deceased, Edward Biggs, and his son, cry “Godson Forever;” and upon which the prisoner Meredith went up to the younger Biggs, asked him what he meant, and then struck him to the ground with a short bludgeon he held in his hand; the bludgeon was a thick as her arm. Deceased said something upon which Meredith struck him on the head with the same weapon, and he fell to the ground. The deceased cried “murder,” and appeared to be choked. Recollects Johnson coming up, and saw him, and saw him strike the deceased when on the ground; did not see Haywood. Heard Meredith say, as they were leaving the deceased on the ground, “D—n him, I have floored the b-----r, and made a sky-light in his scull.”
The London Times:
Louisa Matthews. – I am a single woman living in Kidderminster. Recollects the election there on the 11th of December last. The Bull-ring is 100 yards off. I saw Johnson come into the Fox. He said, “All hands to the Black Horse.” It would be necessary to go through the Bull-ring. Johnson then left, and they all went through the Bull-ring. I accompanied them. There is a bridge there. I heard a man and his son cry “Godson forever.” The man was Edward Biggs, the deceased. Meredith went up to the boy and asked what he meant, and struck the boy to the ground with a bludgeon. He then struck the man to the ground. It was a short staff, about as thick as my arm. The deceased had nothing in his hand. Meredith and Johnson were special constables, and had staves. The man cried “Murder,” and appeared to be choked. Meredith struck him when on the ground. I did not see Haywood. None of them offered assistance. They went on and I with them, and Meredith said, “D—n him, I floored him and made a skylight of his skull.”
[Matthews answer after being] Cross-examined by Mr. Whateley – There was a great riot at the Black Horse that night. Johnson went to call the other constables to assist in quelling the riot; the two Biggs did not appear to be in liquor; they cried but twice “Godson forever;” did not hear Meredith, or either of the two prisoners, desire them to be quiet. The mob had got sticks, and were fighting with the special constables. The Black Horse Inn was the headquarters of Mr. Phillips, one of the Candidates.
[Matthews answer after being] Re-examined by Mr. Lea – It was at the bridge, between the Fox and the Bull Ring where the deceased and his son were attacked; there was no fighting or rioting at that spot. [The bridge was between the Black Horse and the Bull Ring]
Richard Biggs, the son of the deceased, corroborated the testimony of the last witness as to the circumstances under which Meredith knocked him down. He had been at the hustings, and his father, who was a sawyer, went after him to fetch him home. He was so stunned by the blow he received himself that he did not see his father struck. When he recovered, he noticed his father on the ground; he assisted him up, and led him home; he appeared to drag his left leg and arm as if they were injured. When he got home, he observed that he bled profusely from the head. He could not speak and was immediately put to bed. He was attended by Dr. Doughty, the surgeon of Kidderminster, from the 13th of December, the second day after he received the injury, to the Monday night following, when he died. The deceased was 46 years of age.
The London Times:
Richard Biggs, the son of Edward Biggs. – Recollects the 11th of December. My father was a sawyer. He was returning home about 9 o’clock. He was 46 years of age. I was with him. I had been at the hustings. My father came to fetch me. We started to go home. We came to the bridge. Nothing had occurred before we were going home. We saw Meredith and Johnson there. I and my father cried, “Godson forever.” Meredith came up with a staff in his hand. Neither I nor my father had anything. He said, “What’s that you say?” He then up with his staff and knocked me down. I was stunned. When I got up I saw some men going away from my father, I don’t know who. I found my father on the ground. I lifted him up. He staggered against the wall. I saw nothing about him then, but when he got home the blood was running down his back. He was put to bed, and died six days after.
[Richard’s answer after being] Cross-examined by one of the prisoners. – I did not see any one strike my father. I was stunned. Meredith struck me.
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