The Wolverhampton Tragedy

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Death and the ‘Respectable’ Mr Lawrence

The trial, the life, the public humiliation, yet the remarkable resilience of the ‘respectable’ Mr Lawrence provide a fascinating cameo of Victorian life, at the same time illuminating sharply many wider issues including attitudes to class, to gender, to marriage and to women, debt, drinking, bankruptcy, civil as well as criminal law.



Exactly one hundred years have passed since Ruth Hadley, a pretty young Wolverhampton woman with a fiery temper, was killed by a shot to the head. Just three months later, in March 1909, Edward Lawrence – one-time veterinary surgeon and successful businessman – was acquitted of her murder. This was not the kind of thing that was expected in respectable middle-class Victorian neighbourhoods.

Yet Mr Lawrence was not quite the perfect gentleman. Though married, Lawrence took several mistresses, of whom Ruth was one of the first. He drank heavily, brawled in the town centre pubs operated by his family brewing business; he litigated frequently and usually unsuccessfully, and took few pains to conceal his actions from polite Wolverhampton society. The Midlands press often reported his antics in full.

Did Edward certainly pull the trigger? Was it a tragic accident?

Lawrence’s famous defence lawyer, Edward Marshall Hall, was able to prove reasonable doubt; the judge implied that he was very lucky to be acquitted. Lawrence was advised to reform his ways.

Yet the astonishing thing is that, far from heeding the judge’s advice, Lawrence continued in his ‘bad ways’, dying at the age of 45 just three years after his trial, almost certainly because of his drinking. He was declared bankrupt, his failings were paraded at the trial. Yet he still maintained a comfortable standard of living in his final years. He still maintained the outward appearance of respectability.

It is not often that one local case casts such a useful and interesting spotlight on the Victorian society that we think we know so well.

  • Author: John Benson
  • Binding: paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-85936-195-5
  • Pages: 176
  • Illustrations: illustrated throughout with photographs
  • Date of Publication: 24 March 2009
  • Dimensions: 234 × 156 mm

1 review for The Wolverhampton Tragedy

  1. Stephen Wade, Times Higher Education Supplement 8-14, (October 2009)

    Benson’s book is highly recommended to readers and scholars interested in the seedy side of late Victorian and Edwardian middle-class life. Although much to do with the unpleasant Lawrence may be guessed, there are some surprises and shocks here too.

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