Murder on the Bridges

The Snibston line iron bridge

At the best of times the story of murder is tragic but when the crime appears unmotivated the outcome is doubly so. The outcome of Joseph Tugby’s death in the autumn of 1877 could be called termed triply so for the three men involved paid the extreme penalty of the law.

Their fate can be viewed even more sympathetically when one considers that as they were called from their cells to the dock they passed three men going the other way having had their murder indictment reduced to manslaughter.

Joseph Tugby was a 65 year old pedlar. He arrived in the Coalville area in early August 1877 to ply his trade around the pits, the trade that had already earned him four convictions for hawking in his homeland of County Durham. However, in Coalville his luck at first proved far better for nobody took exception to this peculiarly inoffensive old man. That is, not until the night of August 31st.

At about 10.15 that night Tugby entered the “Stamford and Warrington Arms” in the centre of Coalville and ordered a rum. Before long he was happily singing in the company of three men: John Swift, John Upton and James Satchwell. Every now and again Tugby would take out an old biscuit tin and look inside, an act that began to visibly arouse the curiosity of his fellow drinkers. At closing time the four men bought a bottle of whisky and left. What happens next was to be fiercely debated at the trial on 5th November, for the fate of three men rested on the verdict, instead of merely one .

The only certainty is that a struggle broke out between Tugby and his newly acquired friends on a nearby railway Bridge which resulted in his receiving a fatal fracture of his skull. Passers-by recognised Upton and Satchwell on the bridge but did not play the Good Samaritan by investigating the noise. When discovered a little after midnight Tugby was still breathing but could say nothing. Beside him as he lay on the bottom stair of the bridge was the biscuit tin, smashed open and empty. Two miners, William Walker and John Stevenson loaded him into a wheelbarrow and set off for the pub where the whole story had begun a few hours earlier. From there Tugby was taken to the Ashby Union hospital but to no avail. He died at 10:00am the following day; in his pocket was sixpence halfpenny. By this time Upton and Satchwell were back in a pub drinking, this time in the “Royal Oak” a little further up the road, when Charles Clifton overheard Upton confess that he committed the crime. Satchwell immediately placed a hand over his companion’s mouth but the tell-tale damage had been done. The police were called and the two arrested “I will make a clean job of it and tell you what I did,” Satchwell said as he was led from the pub.

Satchwell’s story pinned the murder fairly and squarely on Swift, the only local man of the three, an acknowledged mild man and, at 19, the youngest. Swift had asked for them “to keep the garrison” whilst he sorted Tugby out but the passing of two railway workers threw him into panic and he kicked Tugby down the steps of the bridge, Upton said little. It was thought that his was an assumed name and that he had good connections.

Of John Swift there was no trace until September 4th, where, four days after the murder, the police made a thorough search of his parents’ house and discovered a concealed trap door in the ceiling. Cowering in the space above was Swift. Naturally enough he was quick to implicate his accomplices and in particularly Satchwell who, according to him, picked a fight with Tugby and threw him off the bridge.

The problem facing the jury was a difficult one. Had all three conspired to kill Tugby; were two merely accomplices or was it a case for reducing the charge to manslaughter? Swift’s council fought hard to establish that his client had not been proven to be within 60 ft of Tugby on the bridge from the evidence given by the two passers-by. Mr Harris went on to emphasise the testimony of Swift’s sister who, on the night of the murder, heard his brother called a flincher by satchel for not coming to his aid in the struggle. However hard the defence tried, the die was finally cast by Judge Hawkins summing up. Whoever actually struck Tugby was irrelevant, he said, all three men had clearly conspired in the act. After a two hour consideration of their verdict the jury found all three men guilty, adding a strong recommendation for mercy on the grounds of their drunken condition at the time.

However, there was still more controversy to unfold. For this, the first execution within the walls of Welford Road jail, no press were to be invited. Despite a last-minute meeting with his representatives on the Saturday before the hanging Major Freer, the High Sheriff, could see no grounds for changing his mind in holding, what the Journal had dubbed, a “street execution”. Although the law did not require the press to be admitted to witness executions it had been customary to allow the privilege. The decision lay with the Sheriff and on this occasion the answer was to remain in the negative. Consequently, on November 27th, the last triple hanging took place in Leicester. When no reprieve proved forthcoming Swift at last confessed to the actual assault although he denied any motive of robbery, or malice aforethought; they were still arguing over a song and Tugby struck him first. On the scaffold, draped in black and strengthened by Marwood for the job, Upton and Satchwell forgave Swift before all three men met their death reportedly deep in prayer.

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