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Author Topic: The Unbelievable Truth.  (Read 545 times)
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« on: February 03, 2019, 07:54:31 pm »

Listening to the Beeb today whilst working a program of the same name as this thread was on. My brain has no search facility but has a LISTEN facility which cuts in whenever I hear any one of a list or words. One of those words is railway and that cropped up in todays lunchtime program. It was about a special excursion, I didn't catch whether it was the first in the UK, but it was one of the first on 13th April 1840 and it was to Bodmin where the special stopped alongside the prison walls so the rail excursionists could watch a public hanging.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2019, 08:59:56 am by martyjon » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2019, 11:16:29 pm »

I listened to the same program, during a rather terrifying drive across mid-Devon. For those unfamiliar with the program, it's a Radio 4 panel game chaired by David Mitchell.  The four contestants take it in turns to tell of unbelievable events from history, some true, some made up.  The other three interrupt when they hear one which they believe to be true, gaining points if they are right, and losing them if they are wrong. The person telling the tales gains extra points for each unbelievable truth he sneaks past the others without challenge, then everybody goes home.

This one, of a rail excursion to watch a double execution at Bodmin prison was true. The practice before 1868, when public executions were outlawed, was to hang prisoners from a gallows above the south wall - it was originally over the main gate facing north-east, but the Inspector of Prisons ruled that site to be insufficiently public. The railway line passed by the south wall, which is where a train - or trains - full of sightseers stopped to enjoy the day's entertainment. On 13 April 1840, the crowd, including the railway passengers with Cheap Day Execution tickets, was estimated at 25,000, and the army had to attend.

The unfortunate subjects of hangman George Mitchell, a respectable Ilchester dairy farmer in the day job, were brothers James and William Lightfoot. On 8 February the same year, they had ambushed, robbed and murdered respected Wadebridge merchant Nevill Norway, riding his horse home from Bodmin Fair. The case was cracked by Detective Charles Jackson, sent from London to investigate. CCTV coverage of the murder scene was poor, and DNA testing had yet to be invented, so he followed a trail of bloodspots and footprints from the stream where Mr Norway's body was found to a nearby blacksmith's cottage. The smith told him that he had seen the brothers out very late, and had heard an argument in the cottage next door, where James Lightfoot lived. He searched James' cottage, finding a pistol - his brother, it transpired, had tried to shoot Mr Norway, but the gun didn't go off, so the brothers bludgeoned him to death. James made a statement implicating William - the brothers were bang to rights, and the jury at their trial  took under 5 minutes to return their verdict.

On the very night of the murder, Captain Edmund Norway, then at sea seven miles off St Helena and with ship's email down, awoke suddenly, telling his second officer that he had dreamt that his brother had been murdered on the road from Bodmin to Wadebridge, a pistol being fired but with no report. His number two told him to go back to sleep - "You Westcountry people are too superstitious." Captain Norway nevertheless recorded the dream, and his conversation with the second officer, in the ship's log the following morning, long before he could have known of the crime.

There are many sources for the story - I looked at True Crimes Library. How true the seaborne part of it was, I couldn't say, but the brothers certainly went to meet their maker with a train-load of passengers in attendance.

For the record, if a road sign says "Unsuitable for motor vehicles" in Devon, it means it.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2019, 11:26:46 pm by Tony (Ex FT, N!) » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2019, 08:53:11 am »

One of my fave Radio 4 comedy programmes. I think I've listened to every episode over the years and I've been to two recordings.

Oddly enough, yesterday I was catching up with the current series on BBC iPlayer Radio app and listened to the self same episode.

The lecture on trains was delivered by ZoŽ Lyons. That episode, along with the preceding four, are currently available to listen to online, via app or website.


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