THE following story comes from the 1800s, today there is much criticism of light sentencing at courts, but the 18th and 19th centuries had the same problems.

There was even more bizarre sentencing.

In those days, using a forged pound note or stealing a horse could and probably would receive the death sentence and for stealing some bread a one-way trip to one of the developing countries. The offence of manslaughter, however, was somewhat different. A 10/- fine, and two years hard labour. It was all extraordinary.

Our story today centres on the Castle area of Northwich at the top of Castle Hill in 1843.

A widowed and remarried woman, Sarah Hough, had just given birth and was suckling her baby. She had three children from her previous marriage and the new baby with her husband William Hough, the captain of a flat that sailed the river to and from Liverpool and who also had four children.

Sarah had a small shop on Castle. On the night in question, Sunday, April 2, 1843, Sarah and her daughter, Catherine Allcock, were in the house, and her husband William Hough had been away on the river for a week and was due to return home that morning at about 6am.

He came into the house and sat down for a while, he had been drinking heavily, and half an hour later he left the house again.

At 10am he returned, from the Wheatsheaf, now very drunk and lay down on the squab. By then, another sister called Nancy had joined Catherine, and they both witnessed what happened next.

After a while, one of William’s sons, Thomas, came in and complained to his father that he had not been getting sufficient food from his stepmother, Sarah, while he was away.

William took two pans of dumplings and potatoes off the fire and placed them in the backyard before returning in and locking the door. He rolled up his sleeves and clenched his fist; Sarah stood up, still holding the baby, and picked up the poker but did nothing with it. She told him that she would not desert her children for anyone. At which he put his fist in her face and asked her where she wanted it.

She replied, “anywhere”. He then punched her hard on the breast, which also hit the baby. Catherine took the baby from her, and before she left the room, she saw her stepfather punch her mother again hard, push her back onto the sofa and kneel on her to hold her down while continuing to strike her in the head and body.

When she got away, Sarah ran into the yard and shouted ‘murder.’ William followed her and punched her hard in the back of her head twice. This knocked her to the ground, and William started to hit Catherine while neighbours came and helped Sarah to escape to the home of Mr and Mrs Marsh. She remained there until the Hartford constable arrived.

Catherine Leather told the constable that she had gone into the yard, and Sarah was standing there and shouted to her. “Oh woman, will you stand to see me murdered?” She then saw William punch her twice in the head, and she shouted to him, “Oh, William Hough, don’t beat her.” To which he replied, “I’ll knock her bloody neck out”.

Sarah was very ill at Mrs Marsh’s house and stayed there all night; the following morning, Dr James Dean attended to treat Sarah, but there was not much he could do she was not at all well. He next saw her on Wednesday the 5th and found her to be very ill and near death; he ordered her to be bled and prescribed some tablets. She died the following day.

The following Friday with two other doctors, he performed a post-mortem, and an inquest was ordered, by James Rosco, the coroner for Knutsford. The jury’s verdict was that ‘she had died from a visitation of God from natural causes, and her body was released for burial.

On the following Sunday, the 9th, she was buried at Witton Cemetery, at which time the police were called to restrain the inflamed crowd of mourners who believed that the verdict was not correct.

William Hough was there in his best suit and was berated by the crowd who tried to get at him. He was hooted and booed as he left the church; after the burial, many rumours circulated about the real reason for her death.

It was then discovered that the inquest under Mr Rosco was irregular. Castle at Northwich is not in the Knutsford Division.

The Coroner for Northwich, Mr Henry Churton, ordered that the body be exhumed and given a second post mortem, and this was carried out taking 10 hours. The result this time was that death was caused by the injuries to her brain caused by her husband, William Hough.

The coroner ordered him to be taken to the gaol at Chester Castle to await the next assizes on a charge of manslaughter.

In August, the trial was held at Chester Assize Court, with the attorney general being the lead prosecutor. A charge of murdering his wife was put before the jury, and the defence suggested it was the wrong charge, which should be manslaughter.

In his summing up, the judge allowed the jury to find for murder or manslaughter. They retired for five minutes and returned with a finding of manslaughter.

The judge gave a sentence of two years in prison. In 1863 William Hough was back living on Castle. Justice had been done according to the law!