The levels of publicity were such that the judge questioned if the accused could have a fair hearing. Justice Park lamented: “If these statements of evidence before trial which corrupt the purity of the administration of justice in its source are not checked, I tremble for the fate of our country.”
Nevertheless, he allowed two of the three defendants to be convicted.
Weare was a solicitor but also a gambler; his killer John Thurtell, a former Royal Marine officer turned amateur boxer and promoter who owed him £300.
The court heard that Thurtell had invited Weare and two friends – Joseph Hunt, a tavern landlord, and William Probert, a former convict and alcohol merchant – for a weekend of gambling at a cottage off Gills Hill Lane, Radlett. He never got that far.
On October 24, 1823, in a dark lane just short of their destination, Weare was killed with a pistol ball to the face and a knife to the throat. Assisted by Hunt and Probert, the corpse was concealed first in a nearby pond and then moved to a watery grave at Hill Slough Pond in Elstree.
The culprits were quickly apprehended. Hunt led the authorities to the body while, to save his neck, Probert turned king’s evidence, revealing the seedy goings-on of London’s gambling underworld and the details that fed the front pages.
A crowd of 40,000 watched Thurtell hang on January 9, 1824. Hunt’s sentence was commuted to transportation to Botany Bay where he later married and became a police officer.
The Radlett Murder was among the first to be commemorated in earthenware, the forerunner of the cheap-and-not-so-cheerful Victorian ceramic figures of murderers, poisoners and criminals of passion. They are very rare.
The 7in (18cm) high Sunderland pink lustre jug offered by Kinghams in Moreton-In-Marsh on July 29 is one of the few survivors. It is transfer printed to each side with a grisly scene depicting the extraction of a corpse titled Pond in which the body of Weare was found.
The print is one that appeared in the 1824 ‘penny blood’ pamphlet The Fatal Effects of Gambling Exemplified in the Murder of Wm Weare… A copy owned by the New York Public Library is available to view online.
The jug, in good condition, was estimated at £150-200 (not much more than the price of a more typical ‘Sunderland Bridge’ jug of this type) but it found a number of collectors for which subject matter was key. The winning bid of £5500 (plus 23% buyer’s premium) came via thesaleroom.com.