A Fatal Quarrel - The Death of Harvey Bell - Sheffield 1886

The following report appeared in The Times dated 12th January 1886 and related to a court case that occurred the previous day at Sheffield Town Hall

The Leeds Mercury dated 9th January 1886 also gave a report on the incident, adding some additional information that does not appear in the Times report

But the earliest reports I can find are from The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 8th and 9th of January 1886 respectively. The case quickly escalated from assault to manslaughter

I had never heard of The Woodman Inn in Sheffield and so I did some research. The usual sources provided a negligible amount of information but in Peter Machen's marvellous book " Lost Sheffield - Portrait of a Victorian City" there is actually a photo of the Woodman's public house which I must admit came as a bit of a shock to me. I was expecting a drab, grimy red brick industrial pub that were commonplace in nineteenth century Sheffield.  

Instead it looks a rather delightful affair. The photograph was taken in 1870 and is one of the earliest photos in the book. It was located on The Moor in Sheffield city centre roughly where the Manpower Services Commission building now stands. 

Rather surprisingly given the time it takes nowadays for a case to come to court, the case was heard within the month. In the Leeds Mercury dated 1st February 1886, there is a report of the proceedings under the title "ALLEGED MANSLAUGHTER AT SHEFFIELD"

JAMES EATON (17), hammer grinder, was charged with the manslaughter of Harvey Bell at Sheffield on the 2nd January last - Mr. H. CADMAN who prosecutes, stated that on the night of the 2nd January prisoner and several other men were in the singing room of the Woodman Inn in Sheffield. During the evening prisoner acted as chairman over sort of a sort of concert, and in the course of the proceedings he had a difference with some off those in the room. When the place was closed prisoner and deceased went out with others, and subsequently one of the company named Haigh struck deceased a light blow on the face. Prisoner then struck Bell with considerable violence and knocked him down. Bell's hat flew off and prisoner picked it up and ran away with it. Bell followed and coming up with a man named Dodworth had a quarrel with him and then again came into conflict with prisoner who placing Bell's hat on his head, struck him a heavy blow which caused him to fall to the ground, and to strike his head violently against a large wooden gate. Bell, in fact was so severely treated that he shouted "Murder" "Watch" "Police" and then said "Are you going to murder me or what do you want?" After that he was allowed to go, covered with blood. A friend met him and took him home. On the 5th January a medical man was called in, but shortly afterwards Bell died. It was then discovered that his death was caused by a fracture of the skull which led to compression of the brain. At an inquest on the deceased the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against the prisoner - Mr. C. MELLOR for the defence contended that it could not be said with certainty who had struck the blow which caused Bell's death, for in the melee there must have been a good deal of confusion. - The jury did not think that the evidence against the prisoner was strong enough to warrant them in saying that it was he who inflicted the fatal injury. He was therefore Acquitted.   

Given the facts it does seem the correct decision. No-one could say with certainty that James Eaton did strike the fatal blow and so there was only one possible verdict  - Not Guilty. However there is no doubt that James Eaton can consider himself fortunate. The witnesses to the assault all seem to say that it was Eaton who used "considerable violence" and "struck him (Bell) a heavy blow." Probably the prosecution may have had more success in securing a conviction f they had brought a lesser charge of say actual bodily harm against Eaton


The London Times dated Saturday, January 12th, 1886

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 8th and 9th January 1886

Leeds Mercury dated 9th January 1886

Leeds Mercury dated 1st February 1886

Peter Machen - Lost Sheffield - Portrait of a Victorian City

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