Haunted Norfolk

Tales from The Underground Street

Norwich’s Last Public Hanging

Today I am going to write to you about James Bloomfield.

When we were exploring the underground street in Norwich, our guide told us the story of James Rush as he was the last man to be publicly hung in Norwich.

Back then hangings were a pretty big social occasion, and treated in a similar way to how we treat country fairs and festivals these days. There would be market vendors, food stalls, dancers and entertainment then the day would be finished off by watching a convicted criminal hang.

This fell out of vouge over the UK and the reason Mr Rush was the last public hanging in Norwich was because of the influx of people into the city on the day. People travelled from all over the UK to watch this event, and it went pretty wrong, in a single word… riots. In two words, drunken riots.

Anyway, I’m not writing to you about how drunk people be assholes in groups. I’m writing to tell you the story of why Mr Rush was hanged.

James Rush was born in 1800, his mother, Mary Bloomfield was the unmarried daughter of a tenant farmer, and she did not name his father.

When James was eleven, his stepfather rented a farm from Reverend George Preston, the head of a land lording family, and when James was twenty-four, he rented a neighbouring farm also owned by the Reverend. In 1837 the Reverend George died and his son Isaac inherited his property.

Isaac and James did not see eye to eye. Never a good situation to be in with your new landlord.

In 1844, both John Rush (James’ stepfather) and Susannah Rush (James’ wife) died within a month of each other. Johns’ death had James take over his rented farm and Susannah’s death, left James with nine children to care for. James hired a governess to tend his family. The woman he hired, Emily Sandford, was 23 when he hired her and he soon contrived (with a promise of marriage) to turn the relationship into a closer one than that of employer and employee. She became pregnant and gave birth to a child in early 1848, though the child died soon after it was born.

In 1847 the simmering tension between Isaac and James finally broke out into open hostility. Which was made worse when James failed to pay the rent to one of the farms he was renting from Isaac and Isaac had him evicted. James was also failing to make the payments on the other farm so eviction would not be long in following.

So, James went up to Stanfield Hall, where Isaac lived, and disguised himself. He then waited for Isaac to come outside and when he did James shot him twice. James then went into the house where he met Isaac’s son who he also shot. Isaacs pregnant wife came running and she was also shot. A chamber maid also came out hearing the commotion and was also shot.

Though James was only a good shot at close range, both women were injured but not killed and the unborn child also survived. Isaac and his son however were killed.

James didn’t go far however, there was a pub near Stanfield Hall where he went. He didn’t even both to lose the gun or take of the disguise. He bought his beer and stood by the pub door to watch the police arrive, investigate and then walk straight to him.

At the trial Emily testified against him, her testimony was volatile, having had her good name ruined by her relationship with James, she didn’t hold back.

James was publicly executed at noon at Norwich on Saturday, April 21, 1849

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