Wednesday, 24 September 2014


For generations, the fruit fields and orchards of Wisbech attracted pickers from all over the country, but particularly from London. Londoners might head south-east to pick the Kentish hops in September and October, but earlier in the summer the soft fruit grown and harvested around Wisbech would be a major attraction. Most of the pickers would be women and their children, but unemployed men could also find work.
No doubt many a romance blossomed in the fields, but with romance sometimes came jealousy, and in this tragic case, jealousy lead to murder. 

Minnie Morris was an attractive and cheeky 21 year-old who lived with her sister on Nile Street, Hoxton.This busy thoroughfare was completely redeveloped in the 1970s, but the two images below give some idea of what a change it must have been for young Minnie to come north to the clean air and big skies of the Fens in the summer of 1912. The picture (left) shows Nile Street as it looked just before WWI, while the picture on the right shows it just before all the old buildings were demolished.                                                                       

Minnie's flirty charm attracted several male admirers, but one in particular, 27 year-old Robert Galloway, a drifter who had also worked as a seaman, was particularly smitten. He was also very possessive, and jealous of any other men who paid attention to Minnie. As well as his obsession with Minnie, he was partial to strong drink, and most evenings found him more often drunk than sober. On the terrible evening of 16 July, he was convinced that Minnie was playing him for a fool, and he sought her out and strangled her in Burrett Lane. When her body was found, there was little doubt as to who the prime suspect would be, but the matter became clear of doubt when Galloway turned himself in to the police. This is how what became known as The Fen Murder played out in the press.

Stating that he had murdered a girl, a man, 25, who comes from North
Kensington and is a fruit-picker, gave himself to the Wisbech police on Tuesday night. It was found that a pleasant-looking girl, aged 19, also a London fruit-picker, had been strangled in a lane near Walsoken. A handkerchief was tied tightly round her neck. The man and the girl had been working together at a farm during the fruit season, and were last seen together at Old Walsoken about three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. At the station the man is said to have remarked: "I have had my revenge, and I don't care."

Robert Galloway was a seaman and Minnie Morris was out fruit picking having travelled down from London for it. They had been drinking and Minnie Morris had been left stranded by her aunt and she told Robert Galloway that she would rather die than walk all the way back to London. He strangled her with a handkerchief and then gave himself up saying he did it out of jealousy. He said that she had asked him "Have you the pluck to end my misery?". Robert Galloway said he had little else recollection of what had happened because he was too drunk.

On Thursday at Wisbech the Police Court proceedings in connection with the Fen murder took place, and some important fresh evidence came to light. Robert Galloway, Angola Mews, North Kensington, was charged with murdering Minnie Morris, aged 21, of Hoxton, strangling her with a handkerchief in a lonely lane at Walsoken on July 16. Mr. Day, who prosecuted, said there was no doubt that the motive for the crime was jealousy, and it was significant that the murder was committed with a handkerchief given to the woman by the man of whom the prisoner was jealous. 

Another picker from London, named William Tucker, said had been seen by Galloway in the company the girl. Galloway asked Morris to leave the witness witness and go with him. She refused to, and Galloway said : "I can find you and  I will find him." He understood that as a threat to take their lives. Galloway here exclaimed with much feeling that had never spoken to Tucker, and what had been stated was a tissue lies. Galloway was committed for trial the next Norwich Assizes, and applied for legal aid under the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, saying that his defence was insanity. He was told he had not disclosed that in his defence, and would have make application to the Judge. 

OCTOBER 1912 - The Wisbech Murder Case. A Sentence  Of Death. At Norfolk Assizes, Norwich, Saturday, before Mr. Justice Darling, Robert Galloway. 27. described as a seaman, was indicted for murdering Minnie Morris, at Walsoken, near Wisbech, on July 16th. The prisoner had himself confessed  to the police that had murdered Morris, who was twenty-one years of age, and had gone to the Wisbech district from London for the fruit-picking season. She was strangled with a handkerchief, and her body was found at a spot which the prisoner had indicated. The motive for the crime was alleged to jealousy. The deceased lived with a sister Nile Street. Hoxton. Prisoner was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Robert Galloway  was hanged in Norwich on 5 November 1912, and the hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint. The photo below shows Thomas Pierrepoint seated next to his nephew Albert, who would take over what had almost become a family business. Albert Pierrepoint became the most celebrated hangman of the 20th century, despatching, among others, many Nazi war criminals, and the last woman in Britain to hang, Ruth Ellis.