Louisa Jarvis was a silk worker in Chipping Campden in the mid-19th century. She started a relationship with a local agricultural labourer, William Bennett, in the late 1840s, and the two moved in together.
This was fairly common in the Cotswolds at the time, amongst the working classes at least. Marriage ceremonies cost money, and many women believed that by sleeping with their partner, they were virtually married, regardless of what the church thought.
But when a relationship soured, some men believed they could carry on their lives as though their ex-partner no longer existed – and resent it when she failed to conveniently stay away, or stay quiet.
By the time Louisa and William had split up, around 1853, they had had two children. Their relationship seems to have always been rocky – in 1851, William was living with his parents in Back Ends, whilst Louisa and their two-year-old daughter Fanny were lodging at a silk winder’s house on Victoria Street, although they later got back together long enough to father another child.
Louisa applied for, and got, an affiliation order against William for one of the children – Fanny. He was supposed to pay her two shillings a week towards the maintenance of the little girl, but failed to pay regularly. As an agricultural labourer, he wouldn’t have had a high income; but he had moved back home permanently, so had no living expenses to pay for.
Meanwhile, Louisa was left to juggle her work with childcare, having to pay rent as well as buying food and clothing for her family. Angry with William for failing to pay her, again, on Saturday 12th August 1854, 26-year-old Louisa accosted William in the street, and demanded her two shillings.
He refused to give her any money, stating that he hadn’t been paid. Louisa refused to believe him, and pleaded that she couldn’t afford to keep her children on two shillings a week, let alone nothing. As a last resort, she threatened to get a summons issued against him if he didn’t pay her by Monday. Angry, William retorted, “Come on, then!” and stalked off to his parents’ house. Louisa followed him to the gate, and watched him go in.
Seconds later, his mother, Ann, was at the door, shouting to Louisa and calling her names, drawing neighbours to their windows to watch the spectacle. William then ran back out and yelled, “Damn your eyes, I’ll give you something!” before striking Louisa round the head. She fell down, and lay on the ground for a few seconds, before suddenly getting up and running away.
William, though, ran after her, and struck her again. This time, she fell down and failed to get up. A policeman, hearing the commotion, came up, and William tried to argue that Louisa was drunk, and merely collapsed as a result. His excuse didn’t work; a doctor was called, and it was discovered that Louisa had died instantly after the second blow, which had dislocated her neck.
William Bennett appeared at Gloucester Assizes in March 1855, charged with the manslaughter of his former girlfriend. He refused to use the solicitor his mother had hired for him, and instead cross-examined the witnesses himself, before calling his mother as a defence witness, where he argued that Louisa had died “falling over a heap of dirt” and that he had not hit her – despite several witnesses having seen him do just that.
He was, not surprisingly, found guilty, and sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour in Gloucester Gaol. On his release, he moved to Dudley to work as a coal miner, where he married a local girl and had two children.
In the late 1860s, he returned to his hometown with his family, and seems to have settled back there as though nothing had happened, returning to work as an agricultural labourer and having two more children before finally dying in the 1880s, 30 years after he killed the mother of his eldest children – who, in turn, disappeared from the records after their mother’s death.