The Brutal Slaying of Alexander Norval (1910)


Shortly before midnight on Saturday, 5th November 1910, P.C Greenwood had barely made his way into an area in Carlisle known as West Walls, when, after checking on individual premises, he came across an unlocked warehouse door at number 15.

As the area was well known for beggars and vagabonds who would use the narrow street when passing through the City, it seemed odd that someone would leave the doors to their business unlocked and at the mercy of those passing through.

Out of curiosity, P.C. Greenwood turned on his lamp before opening the door, and as he crept inside the building his attention was quickly brought to the sight of a body lying close to the bottom of some stairs directly in front of him.

And upon making his way over, it was clearly obvious to the police constable that something truly horrific had occurred as not only was blood smeared on the walls, the body at the foot of the stairs was lying slumped over on its right hand side and covered in blood. 

The constable continued to search the premises, going into every room.  After being satisfied that there was nobody else in the building, he was about to leave when he came across an axe that had been placed on top of a box.  Upon closer inspection, he noticed what looked like human hair which had adhered itself to the blood that covered most of the axe.

Immediately, the constable left the building and quickly summoned for assistance in the form of Chief Constable George Hill who immediately proceeded to the scene of the murder.

Alexander Norval, who was 75 years of age, was a well-known and seemingly well liked character within Carlisle.  Residing in nearby Great Corby, he had for many years carried on with a successful business as a currier (meaning someone who transforms tanned hide into a supple leather needed by other craftsmen). 

The building he owned at number 15, West Walls was just one of three storeys which were all connected by wooden stairs.  The building also overlooked the nearby railway line directly opposite it.

Norval was a wealthy man by all accounts and had owned a considerable amount of property in Carlisle and the surrounding neighbourhood.

Married to his wife Alison for 54 years, together they had seven children – William, Margaret, Davina, Graselda, Alex, Archibald and Janet, but it is Archibald with whom our story will perhaps be of the most important.

When P.C. Greenwood entered number 15 West Walls, it’s probably correct to assume that the last thing in his mind would be the finding of the body of an old man, whose head had been battered beyond comprehension and who had by all accounts been lying in cold blood for several hours before being found.

Meanwhile, P.C. Forster had made his way to number 53 Sheffield Street – the home of his son, Archibald Norval, and informing him that his father had been found dead.

Archibald, in an distressed tone shouted; “Oh, my poor dad, my poor dad!”

After getting dressed, as Archibald had been disturbed from his sleep, he took the keys of the workshop and accompanied P.C. Forster to the local police station where Inspector Turnbull was waiting.

Upon his arrival, and although it appeared that he had been drinking at some point late the previous evening, he was crying when Inspector Turnbull went through the events of the discovery of his father’s body in the workshop.

After a short while, both Archibald and Inspector Turnbull made their way to number 15 West Walls.

On the way, Archibald kept saying; “Poor old dad, he was very hard, but a good dad to me.”

Inspector Turnbull spoke to Archibald, asking him if he would like the body of his father removed to his house or to the mortuary to which he replied; “To the mortuary.  I have not convenience at home.”

When they arrived at the warehouse, Archibald lit a gas lamp that was situated immediately behind the front door and then proceeded to the other end of the warehouse where he lit another lamp.

It was here he noticed the axe, saying; “That axe ought not to be there, it is kept upstairs.  We use it for breaking coke.”

The axe was lying on a leather apron on top of a barrel, covered in blood stains and as already mentioned, with strands of hair that were matted in blood.

Archibald took hold of the axe, inspecting it for a few seconds before placing it back down

His attention was then brought to his father’s body which was lying on his right side with his feet towards the foot of the stairs, the left foot crossing the right.  At the foot of the stairs where his false teeth and a hand-bag, which contained an empty glass bottle, some biscuits and some cheese.

His father’s head and face was covered in blood, with his head also lying in a pool of blood.

There where also sprinklings of blood on the bottom of the stairs and on the wall nearby.

A cap worn by his father was lying at the bottom of the stairs.

“When did you see him last?” asked Inspector Turnbull.

Archibald replied; “I left him at ten minutes past one.  He was alright then.”

“And, would he have any money on him?”

“Yes, he would have a purse and about £4.” replied Archibald.

Archibald then searched his father’s body, removing a pocket-book from a coat pocket.  It contained a quantity of papers.  He then took a watch out of another pocket and, seeing it was all right, put it back.

Searching the trousers of his father, he said; “There is no money.”

Along with P.C. Greenwood, Archibald and Inspector Turnbull went upstairs and searched around, but finding nothing of importance and nothing being disturbed, Inspector Turnbull left Archibald with P.C. Greenwood, leaving the warehouse to go and fetch Dr. Hall.

Alexander Norval

Just before 3am, Dr. Hall, who was accompanied by Dr. Lediard arrived at the scene and after making one of two examinations, both were of the opinion that Alexander Norval’s death was due to the injuries to his head.  The wounds would require considerable force and they could have been inflicted by the axe found on the premises.  They also agreed that the wounds could not have been caused by falling downstairs.

Throughout the morning, many police officers had arrived at the warehouse and public interest had meant many people had made their way to the scene purely out of morbid fascination.

At around quarter to ten, and inside the warehouse, Detective-Inspector Pattinson had made a thorough examination, confirming what other witnesses had said.

Police-constable Rawson, who accompanied Detective-Inspector Pattinson, gave similar evidence.

Whilst an examination of the warehouse was taking place, it seems that the police had come across some information that had given them cause to concentrate on Archibald Norval and as to his whereabouts on the Saturday before and after the murder of his father, Alexander.

And it wouldn’t take them long as, at around 10:40am that morning, Detective-Inspector Pattinson, would arrest and charge Archibald with willful murder, to which Archibald muttered under his breath, “Umph!”

On Monday, 7th November, Archibald was brought before the magistrates at the Town Hall and whilst the hearing was relatively short, the police would ask the Archibald be put on remand for a week so to give them ample time to make further enquiries.

The following morning, Mr. H. B. Lonsdale, Coroner for the City of Carlisle opened an inquest on the body of Alexander Norval.

Evidence of identification would be made by his son-in-law, Mr. A. Campbell Brown.

The Coroner, in opening the inquest, said Norval came from the Scottish side of the border, but he had lived for many years in Carlisle and the neighbourhood. 

He would also tell the jury that inquiries had not yet been completed, but Alexander Norval seemed to have been the victim of a brutal attack by someone with a blunt instrument, and wounds found on his head were no doubt the cause of his death.

Information would also be given, saying how Alexander Norval was in the habit of going home on Saturday afternoons, but on this occasion he did not arrive home and was instead found dead in his warehouse.

Finally, and in a macabre sense of the word, the doctors who had made a post-mortem examination of the body had cut off the head and put it in spirits of wine for preservation.

The following week, and on Monday 14th November, Archibald Norval was brought up at the Carlisle Police Station and charged with the murder of his father, Alexander Norval.

The Chief Constable again applied for a remand for another week, which was granted, despite strong opposition from Archibald’s defence team.

Mr. F. W. Halton, defending, said he objected most strongly to a remand, particularly if there was no evidence given to justify a remand.

Archibald had been in custody for a week and there was so far before the Court not a single oath or statement given in evidence connecting him with the murder of his father.

Halton would go on to say that this was a serious matter, which affected the liberty of the Archibald, and no man should be detained in custody for any length of time without sound evidence being given to show he was in some way connected with the crime.

However, his objections, after a short delay, would not be granted.

On Monday, 21st November, Archibald Norval would again appear in the police-court. 

As his name was read out by Chief Constable, Mr. G. Hill; Archibald, dressed in a black topcoat with silk lapels and a black tie, walked into court and made his way to the dock.

Whilst in a deep silence, Mr. Pearce for the prosecution, began to outline for the first time in public the details in which they would attempt to connect Archibald with the murder of his father.

The would talk of Archibald as being the only person employed by Alexander Norval at the time of his death, and he was earning a wage of around 30s per week. 

Mr. Pearce would tell the court that whilst Alexander Norval was a man of extreme frugality, his son Archibald was of a different proposition.

He would also go on to say that there was no indication that the crime was committed for robbery and instead, was committed by a person more intimately connected to Alexander.

As for the motive being robbery, Alexander was found with a watch in his pocket and there was no indication that any of his pockets had been rifled.  The police would also state that there was no indication of anything having been disturbed for any purpose of robbery.

As for Archibald’s movements on the day of the murder, he would admit that he was with his father within the warehouse as late as 1:10pm on the Saturday afternoon.  He then left the building, expecting his father to soon follow, as he would normally be expected to catch the 1:50pm train to his Country home in Great Corby.

The police, by now had been building a picture of Archibald’s whereabouts and where convinced he was the last man to have seen his father alive.

Police-Sergeant Seaton remarked on seeing Archibald outside of the warehouse between twelve and one o’clock on the day of the murder.  He spoke to him, but Archibald snubbed him, just giving a grunt, and it was apparent he was annoyed by something or someone.

Police officials were adamant that the murder took place by 1:30pm and that Archibald was seen running from the warehouse and along Calder Bridge, between 1:20pm and 1:30pm by a witness named Peter Kelly. 

Kelly didn’t think anything unusual in Archibald’s appearance as he knew he liked to back horses and had assumed he was running to get his money on as the first race that day was at 1:30pm.

“What’s up?” remarked Kelly, but Archibald just ran past him, mumbling something to himself.

After leaving the warehouse, Archibald made his way to the Spinners’ Arms, a public-house owned by George Boak.  He ordered a glass of whisky, which he drank quickly, and then went away.

In the course of the afternoon, he changed his clothing and visited a number of other public-houses in Carlisle and during the evening he was seen coming away from the direction of the warehouse.

A currier named Hodgson Brown, who had worked alongside Alexander Norval, would tell the jury of when in June the previous year, Archibald had left his father’s business for four or five days in consequence of a dispute over money matters.

He would tell them that he had sometimes heard them both having strong words, but it was always over in a minute or two.  But every now and then, Alexander would threaten to close the business for good.

William Jefferson, landlord of the Black Bull Inn, stated that Archibald came into his premises at around 7:55pm and another witness came forwards saying that they had seen Archibald at around 8:35pm apparently coming from the direction of the warehouse on the West Walls.  Prosecuting, Mr. Pearce, asked if he (Archibald) could give an explanation of being in close proximity at that time of night or was it in order to open the door so that the murder might be discovered which in fact, did happen.

Archibald would again be formally remanded for another week, with the understanding that a special date for the resumed hearing would in the meantime be fixed.

On Monday, 5th December, Archibald was again, and for the final time, brought up on remand.

Dr. Willcox, analytical expert at the Home Office, was the main witness called by the prosecution.  He stated that he had examined the working clothes of the prisoner, and had found several bloodstains upon the front of the waistcoat, and one on the shirt sleeve, also bloodstains on the cap belonging to Alexander Norval.

The position of the stains were consistent with the theory of the prosecution that they had been the result of an attack made upon Alexander by a man with an axe.

In cross-examination, Dr. Willcox said he could not give the age of the bloodstains, nor say whether they were stains of human blood.  He also stated that if a man had cut his finger and held his finger up sufficiently long enough, the blood causing the stains would have come from that finger.

Archibald would say to the jury that in the process of his work as a currier, there had been times he had indeed cut his fingers and had wiped off the blood onto his clothing as well as an apron.

The inquest wouldn’t take long and after examining all of the evidence, the magistrates would commit Archibald to take his trial at the Assizes in January, 1911.

After two days’ trial, at the Cumberland assizes on Saturday, 29th January 1911, Archibald Norval was found NOT guilty of the murder of his father and was acquitted with all charges against him being dropped.

He would enter the witness box and deny that he committed the murder, giving a long account of his movements that day.

Interestingly, he would give an account of an incident that had taken part eighteen months prior when, after travelling to Glasgow on business, he forged his father’s name on a cheque.  His father forgave him and lent him money with which to carry on a betting business.

Details would also emerge that Archibald, besides assisting his father in the warehouse, he carried on a sideline as a bookmaker and a bookmaker of the worst type.

He took money from people on street corners, but no sooner had he taken their money, he had lost it just as quickly!

In summing up, Mr. Justice Grantham said the prosecution had, in his opinion, failed to prove the prisoners guilt, though grave suspicion was cast on him because of the time at which the murder was committed. The blood stains found on Archibald’s shirt and apron were not enough to convict him either.

Mr. Justice Grantham would also go on to say that if there was no motive for murder, there was cause for ill-will between Archibald and his father over the recent forgery of the cheque and subsequent embezzling over two or three months of his father’s money.

Archibald Norval left the court and was afterwards escorted home by a cheering crowd.

So what happened next?

Archibald, after being found not guilty of the murder of his father would carry on life as normal. However, his name would soon be in the newspapers again when he would try to sue the Stanwix Bowling Club he had been a member of for many years, after, it seems, they removed his name from their member list – basically expelling him from the club.

This would have been of a huge shock to him as he had won multiple trophies with them but it if we are to read between the lines, it was clearly obvious they did not want to be associated with someone who had been charged with murder, even if he was found not guilty in a court of law.

Which now brings me to question a few of the things I’ve already spoken about.

What seem’s strange in this case is that the police were very quick to charge Archibald with the murder of his father. After initially informing him of the crime and after visiting the warehouse were the murder took place, they charged him just a few hours later, at around 10:40am.

What information did they receive that pretty much convinced them that Archibald was the perpatrator of the crime?

Was it because of the ill-feeling his father had towards him eighteen months prior and because of the scandal involving the cheque he forged in his fathers name? Was it because witnesses had seen him running away from the direction of the warehouse shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon?

But the most puzzling aspect of this case is that the police never followed up any other clues as to who else the murderer could be if not Archibald.

Some reports suggested that the crime was more than likely committed by a tramp who was making his way along West Walls when either entering or leaving the city, but this then makes it an opportunist crime at best.

Did a tramp really come across the unhatched door at 15 West Walls, somehow make his way up the stairs undetected, pick up the axe and then go back downstairs, hide under them and then attacked Alexander when he was least expecting it? It does seem highly unlikely. And if this WAS the case, then why wasn’t his possessions taken? Yes, Archibald stated that his father was carrying some money and that it was now gone, but what I find strange is that he seems to know roughly, exactly how much he was carrying on the day of the murder. Why would he know this? It just seems a strange thing to know.

The police themselves even stated in court that nothing seemed to have been disturbed which would again seem strange as, if we are led to believe a tramp had committed the murder, then surely he would have rummaged through the warehouse looking for valuables to possible sell on?

Also, the blood on Archibald’s clothing. Again, why wasn’t this questioned in more detail? His simple answer to having cut his fingers whilst in the process of work and rubbing them on his shirt and apron seems to have been accepted as fact and yet we know that he changed his clothes on more than one occasion during the evening of the attack on his father. What was he hiding? Had he tried to destroy evidence?

At the end of the day, the murder of Alexander Norval has been left unsolved for over 111 years and it will never be solved, thats something we can safely say.

.. there was no indication that the crime was committed for robbery and instead, was committed by a person more intimately connected to Alexander.

Was Alexander visited by someone he knew? A friend possibly? After all, Mr. Pearce did say in court that there was no indication that the crime was committed for robbery and instead, was committed by a person more intimately connected to Alexander.

So, questions do remain over Archibald’s involvement and looking over the facts of the case, you do have to ask yourself, was Archibald the real killer?

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this one.

Sources used in this story;

Daily Mirror – Monday 30 January 1911

Lancashire Evening Post – Monday 14 November 1910

Workington Star – Friday 11 November 1910

Penrith Observer – Tuesday 22 November 1910

Illustrated Police News – Saturday 12 November 1910

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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One response to “The Brutal Slaying of Alexander Norval (1910)”

  1. Norval Bonney avatar
    Norval Bonney

    Hello, I am a direct descendant of Alexander Norval. He was my great great grandfather. I first knew of the murder from my late grandfather of the same name, Alexander Norval. He was 14 years old when his grandfather was murdered. He remembered him on his busines visits to Edinburgh. Sometimes Archibald would come up to Scotland instead of his father. Alexander was born in Glasgow but moved to the Edinburgh area where he was trained as a currier. It was during that time he met his wife Alison who was from East Lothian. There were 8 children. They had their first 2 in Edinburgh, William and Elizabeth Forrest, Margaret was born in Ireland and the remaining five in Carlisle. Elizabeth Forrest and Alexander Rodger (my great grandfather) were brought up in Scotland by their maternal grandmother.
    A number of years ago, during family history research, I contacted a cousin who was a grand daughter of Archibald Norval. I went to visit her. She never knew her grandfather because he had emigrated to Australia before she was born. I asked if her side of the Norval family ever thought Archibald to have been guilty of the murder. There was no hesitation in saying that they always believed him to be innocent.
    Archibald went to Australia with the intention that his wife and family would follow once he was settled. However World War 1 happened and they eventually lost touch. He never saw his family again. He died in 1951 and is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery Perth Aus’ alongside the woman he settled with over there. There isn’t a headstone, just a stone border around the plot. His wife remained in Carlisle and died in 1958. She is buried in Carlisle Cemetery.
    Just for the record, I don’t think Archibald was guilty. He may have had a fiery relationship with his father but that is not necessarily the basis for murder. We will never know.

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