The Disturbing Case of Betty Scott (1882)


Shortly after three o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 3rd January 1882, a murder so savage in nature occurred at number 4, Brook Row over in a place known as Lowerhouse near to Burnley.

A man by the name of Robert Templeton, who was 36 years of age had arrived in Lowerhouse around nine months prior, sometime around April, 1881.  He quickly managed to find employment as a machine printer, working for A. Drew and Sons.

Although quite in nature, he still managed to keep on friendly terms with most of his acquaintances and was known for being an excellent time keeper as well as a reliable workman.

Not too long after arriving in Lowerhouse, he managed to find lodgings within the home of Betty Scott, a widower who was just 33 year old, and mother to three children; one boy – John, who was eleven years of age, and two girls – Martha Ann, aged nine and Hannah aged three.

Having married at a young age to a man called William Scott, who sadly died in October 1876, she had fought bravely to look after herself and her family, by taking in other people’s washing, and as well as lodgers.

Having resided in the village since a child, Betty was a well-known and well-liked by the majority and was generally considered as one of the most industrious, clean and hard working women in the area.

Not too long after taking up lodgings with Betty, it appears that some form of romantic friendship had begun between the pair, and it was rumoured that they were soon to be married.

However, as time passed, Robert had began to drink heavily, leaving Betty feeling ashamed, deceived and at times, ill-treated.

His drinking would get worse, making Betty becoming resentful of his conduct and on Monday, 2nd  January, she asked Robert to leave her lodgings.  A huge row broke out and Betty made it clear to Robert that she wanted him out of her house that very same evening.

Storming out of the house, Robert, having no work to go to, made his way to the Bird-in-Hand public house, which was situated roughly a quarter of a mile from his lodgings. 

Upon arriving, he asked the landlord for a gill of Scotch whiskey, and after being served his drink, he told the landlord that he would send a boy with the money.  This was an extremely unusual thing for him to say, as he had always paid for his drinks when visiting the public house in the past.

Bird in Hand public house circa 1850

Later that afternoon, he proceeded to the George the Fourth public house, which was situated opposite the All Saints’ Church, and after remaining there for some time, and in a drunken stupor, he walked home, arriving back at around four o’clock.

Back at his lodgings, Betty was putting tea out onto the kitchen table when Robert returned.  A plate slipped out of her hand and this annoyed Robert to the point he snapped at Betty; “My God!  Don’t treat a man like a dog!”

Robert then got up from the table and made his way upstairs to his bedroom and remained there until around eleven o’clock in the evening.  When everyone had themselves retired to their rooms – Betty had two other lodgers staying with her, Robert Gilfillan and Edward Carling; Robert shifted around in his room for another hour and then just after midnight, he made his way back into Betty’s bedroom.

Inside the room, Betty slept in her bed alongside her children, and in another bed lay her 23 year old brother, Richard Nuttall, who was an invalid and who could not walk.

Making his way alongside Betty’s bed, a conversation took place and then a slight altercation occurred between Betty and Robert resulting in Betty ordering Robert to leave her room, which he did.

Old photograph of Lowerhouse

A few hours then passed, and at around half-past three, Richard was disturbed from his sleep as he could hear footsteps in the bedroom he shared with Betty.  Upon looking, he saw Robert go to his sisters bed, lean over her for around a minute, and then quietly leave the room.

Immediately after he Robert had left, Richard could hear the sound of gurgling proceeding from his sister’s bed, and saw one of Betty’s children sit up and her clothes covered with blood.

Realising something was wrong, Richard began to shout out “Betty! Betty!” but received no reply.

However, his desperate pleas for help would soon rouse Robert Gilfillan and Edward Carling, from their sleep.

Gilfillan lit and lamp and as he proceeded to make his way towards the back room where Betty’s bedroom was situated, he bumped into Robert, who was now pacing up and down and seemed in a state of shock.

On reaching the backroom, the Gilfillan soon found the lifeless body of Betty lying in a pool of blood on her bed.  She had a frightful wound in her throat; her head almost being severed from her body.

Gilfillan quickly made his way to his bedroom to inform Edward of what he had encountered.  Edward quickly got dressed and went to view the spectacle for himself before hurrying downstairs and then outside where he then alarmed the neighbours.   Only a few minutes passed before Mrs. Starkie and Mrs. Varley appeared out from their homes.  They both then followed Edward back into the house.

Shocked by the horrific sight that was presented to them, both Mrs. Starkie and Mrs. Varley stayed with Betty’s children whilst Gilfillan and Carling left to seek help.

P.C. Eastham was fast asleep in his bed when a loud knocking on his front door jolted him awake.  After being told of the murder at number 4 Brook Row, Eastham quickly got dressed and made his way to the scene.

Dr. Sutcliffe, of Burnley, was also sent for as was his assistant Dr. Swales.  Both men soon arrived at the scene, in which time P.C. Eastham had already taken Robert into custody. 

After inspecting the back bedroom where Betty’s body lay, Eastham soon found Robert in the kitchen.  Robert then said to Eastham, “I must have air; you must let me go to where there is some air.”

Eastham obliged, taking Robert outside where he then tried to fasten his manacles to Robert’s wrist. However, they were too small, but rather than make a scene and try to prevent himself from being arrested, Robert simply turned to Eastham, saying; “Oh dear, take me away from here; you know what it is, take me away.  You can tie me or do anything you like, but I don’t wish to stay here.”

It appears Robert, whilst suffering from some form of excitement, was pretty much passive throughout and he expressed his eagerness to go with P.C. Eastham to the police station in nearby Padiham.

Robert only spoke three times, and on one occasion, telling Eastham; “You don’t need to stick to me.  I’ll go with you.”

After arriving at the police station, Eastham left Robert in the capable hands of P.C. Neild, and then proceeded back to the house.  There, he went upstairs and began to inspect the room.  On the bed lay the lifeless body of Betty.  The bed and its sheets, as well as the floor were saturated with blood and a razor used by Robert on the attack on Betty was handed over to him by Edward Carling.

Padiham Police Station

The inquest into the death of Betty Scott opened on Thursday, 5th January and took place at the Bird in Hand public house which was situated around a quarter of a mile from where Betty lived.

Mr. H. J. Robinson, the coroner for the district opened the proceedings and after confirming the name and age of the victim, Richard Nuttall, Betty’s brother, would be the first witness to be called.  He would confirm that Robert Templeton and his sister had been on intimate terms and had talked about getting married.  But he would tell the jury that they also had some arguments that always related to Robert’s drunkenness and that on December 26th, it appears Betty had terminated her relationship with Robert.  On that day, he had called her some foul names, but despite her orders for him to leave the house, Robert asked her to allow him to stay for one more week, but she did not give him a definite answer.

Betty would begin sleeping in the backroom where her children were, leaving Robert to share a room with the two other lodgers, Gilfillan and Carling.

Richard then went into detail telling the jury of the events leading up to the murder of his sister.

He recalled Robert entering the bedroom at around half-past twelve.  After a few moments, he could hear Betty and Robert talking and then Robert knelt down on his knees.

Betty asked Robert to leave the room, but he replied; “I shall never leave you, Betty.”

Betty’s children by now were all awake, with one of them telling Robert to go out of the room.  The youngest child said; “Big Bob, if I was as big as you I would kick thee!”

Richard then followed up on being awoken from the sound of gurgling coming from his sister bed.

Robert Gilfillan and Edward Carling both then made statements, again, detailing the events of that morning.

William Sagar Smirthwaite, surgeon practicing in Burnley was next to be called.  He explained to the jury how, after examining the body of Betty, he found an incised wound to the left side of her neck, six inches in width and one half of the circumference of the neck.

It extended from the back of the neck within about an inch of the middle line to within an inch of the right side of the windpipe, cutting through all the important structures on that side of the neck and the windpipe down to the vertebrae. 

He made it clear to the jury that the wounds could not have been caused by the victim herself, but might have been done by someone else with such as razor as the one produced as evidence that P.C. Eastham had recovered from the scene.

He also told the jury that the cut had been a clean one and had been given during sleep, as Betty did not appear to have opened her eyes.

The coroner in summing up, said it seemed pretty clear from the doctor’s evidence that Betty could not have inflicted the wound upon herself and from the evidence which had been given by the other witnesses, it seemed to be conclusive that Robert had been in Betty’s bedroom on Monday night.  He also said that there was nothing on the face of evidence which had been given to reduce the crime and if they (the jury) thought anyone had taken Betty’s life, then it was one of willful murder.

The coroner then asked the jury if they wished to retire to consider their verdict, but they replied, saying they had no desire to do so and after a few moments consideration, they found Robert Templeton guilty of willful murder, and committed to take his trial at the next Manchester Assizes.

His trial at the Assizes opened on Thursday, 26th January and before Mr. Justice Chitty, and after a very careful trial, in which all the witnesses we have already discussed had been questioned, Robert manifested barely any emotion until the jury returned into court after having spent around three-quarters of an hour deliberating their verdict.

Upon being found guilty of the willful murder of Betty Scott, Robert become emotional and the judge had some difficulty in pronouncing the fate of Robert, which was death by hanging.

Robert Templeton would spend the next two weeks condemned to his cell at Strangeways, Manchester, until the morning of his execution on Monday, 13th February.

It was never in question that Robert would escape the hangmans noose, but a petition to obtain a reprieve had been set up and had gained over 1,200 signatures, signed mainly by working men from Burnley, Accrington, Padiham and other local districts.

This petition was sent to Sir William Vernon Harcourt, the-then Home Secretary :- “To the Right Hon. Sir W. Vernon Harcourt, her Majesty’s principal Secretary for the Home Department.  The petition of the undersigned humbly showeth – (1) The Robert Templeton was tried and convicted of wilful murder, and sentenced to death, at the last Manchester Assized ; (2) that, owing to his poverty, Robert Templeton could not retain a solicitor, and, therefore, the following facts were not brought to the notice of the court or the counsel who defended him ; (3) about four years ago he was attended by Dr. Ruttle, of Accrington, for an attack of illness, the result of drinking.  At that time his mental state was not sound and Dr. Ruttle says that the two or three years during which time he had opportunities of seeing him, he did not consider him of sound mind.  In addition to this, two years ago he fell down a quarry several yards in depth, when his head was severely injured (the scar still remains and can be seen), and the undersigned, Dixon Wilton, with whom he lodged, testifies to his having illness of various kinds during which time he lodged with him, and not the result of drink; (4) we respectfully and earnestly beg that you will cause an investigation into his mental condition.”

However, on Sunday, 12th February, Mr. J. T. Wells of Accrington, received a reply back from the Home Office that was not good news of Robert.

“Whitehall, 11th February, 1882.- Sir,- Referring to your application on behalf of Robert Templeton, now under sentence of death in her Majesty’s prison at Strangeways, I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that after careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case he has been unable to find sufficient ground to justify him in advising her Majesty’s interference with the due course of the law.  I am Sir, your obedient servant.-A. F. O. Liddle.-Mr. J. T. Wells, Marl Terrace, Accrington.”

Roberts remaining time in prison saw many of his friends and family visit him, with many visits often being naturally very painful for all concerned.

Reverend James Draper, the Protestant prison chaplain would also visit Robert on a daily basis, but in accordance with his own wishes, the Reverend William Reid, a Scotchman who was pastor of the Levenshulme Congregational Church, and a previous minister from Burnley, began to visit Robert also on a regular basis.

On the evening of Sunday, 12th February, Robert retired to bed at around seven o’clock in the evening but was up again at nine o’clock  to talk with the Reverend Reid.  They spoke for an hour, and when Reid left just after ten o’clock, Robert spent most of the night and the early hours of the morning in a restless state of anxiety, complaining to the prison guards he could not sleep.

And at six o’clock in the morning, and after managing to finally catch some sleep, he woke and managed to get himself dressed , washing and brushing his hair in a particularly nice fashion.  Shortly after, Reverend Reid paid him a visit and after consoling him with words of comfort, and Robert would then have the agonizing wait of nearly an hour before the executioner Marwood would arrive in his cell at five minutes to eight.

Without a murmur, Marwood pinioned Robert and then the mournful procession to the scaffold was commenced, which was only around 20 feet away from his cell.

Tottering slightly, but still unaided, Robert finally reached the scaffold, and after his legs were secured and a white cap placed over his head, witness could hear him repeating the words, “God have mercy upon me,” three or four times.

The bolt was drawn, and with a drop of 7 half feet, Robert Templeton dropped into the abyss below.  Being a heavy man he fell with the unmistakable “thud”, death being instantaneous.

As with all other executions, and as a visible sign that the requirements of the law  had been undertaken, the hoisting of a black flag appeared at seven minutes past eight. 

A small minority of people had accumulated at the gates of the prison, and under an overcast sky of dark clouds, as soon as the flag had fluttered for several minutes, they soon began to disperse back out into the streets.

At three o’clock, the body of Robert Templeton, after being examined by Mr. F. Price, district coroner, would be buried inside the same grave of another infamous convict , that of John Aspinall Simpson who was tried and convicted of murdering his girlfriend in August, 1881.  Both bodies being buried within the grounds of Strangeways Prison.

Before his execution, Robert had written several letters to family and friends, with one in particular being somewhat poinant; it read as follows; –

“Dear Sir, – I take this opportunity of writing a few lines to you to let you know that the Rev. W. Reid, of Levenshulme, is anxious that I should write to you.  Dear Sir, I can honestly tell you that I am deeply penitent for the sad crime for which I am to suffer.  Dear Sir, I would like very much if you would convey to all Mrs. Scott’s relatives the grief of my heart for such a crime, and implore all their forgiveness for their sad bereavement.  God knows I bore the greatest kindness and love towards Mrs. Scott, and never meant anything but marrying her, but, dear sir, it has been willed otherwise.  I cannot express the heartfelt grief and sorrow for this crime, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Chris, I look for mercy and forgiveness,- Yours truly, Robert Templeton.”

Robert Templeton

This last letter was written during the early hours on the morning of his execution, and there were stains of tears upon it which had been wiped away with his hands.

All Saints Church, Habergham

The remains of Betty Scott were interred on Thursday afternoon, 5th January, within the ground of All Saints Churchyard, Habergham.  Her grave is marked as M 13 S.

Sources used in this story;

Blackburn Standard – Saturday 07 January 1882

Burnley Express – Saturday 07 January 1882

Burnley Express – Saturday 18 February 1882

Manchester Evening News – Monday 13 February 1882

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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