Yeovil – A Fatal Row Over Walnuts
It began with a row over walnuts and ended with a man being found dead in a water closet.
Kingsdon butcher, John Williams was drinking with friends in the Market Inn, at South Street, Yeovil, during the late afternoon of Friday 2 October 1868, when he got into an argument with John Slade, over the number of walnuts he had sold at Yeovil Market. Williams claimed to have sold one million, but Slade called him a liar as he could not know how many a million was, and the whole of Kingsdon could not produce this number. In response the butcher boasted that he could pay a pound to Slade’s shilling, one word led to another, insults were thrown culminated in Slade punching Williams in the face, knocking his head back against a wall, and rendering him senseless for a few minutes.
Some time later John Williams left the inn and was not seen again by his friends until his corpse was found some 12 hours later lying in the water closet of Mr Brown’s stables about two hundred yards away in South Street.
At the Inquest, several witnesses told of the row and seeing Slade deliver the punch, but all confirmed that John Williams had appeared well when he left the Market Inn. Surgeon Tompkins stated that at the post mortem he had found a large blood clot on the brain, and an inch and a half fracture of the skull, which was also exceptionally thin. He discounted the cause of death as apoplexy and a fall in the closet, and considered the primary cause was the fracture and the resulting blood clot, following the deceased’s head striking the wall.
The Inquest jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against John Slade who was sent for trial and appeared at the Somerset Assizes in Taunton on 23 March 1869. Despite Slade’s counsel contending that because the deceased had been wearing a hat with a stiff brim, his head could not have struck the wall, and death was caused by a blow to the head in a fall in the water closet following a fit of apoplexy.
However, this did not convince the jury who found John Slade guilty of manslaughter but with a recommendation for mercy and he was sentenced to three months hard labour.
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