While researching the local gunpowder mills we came across the following newspaper reports of a murder using locally produced gunpowder. At the time this incident was described as an outrage but today seems to have been forgotten as no-one we asked knew of the incident.


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The Times, 24 Dec 1869 - Attempted Murder and Suicide.
The Times, 25 Dec 1869 - The Attempted Murder and Suicide at Ewell.
The Times, 28 Dec 1869 - The Outrage at Ewell.
The Times, 31 Dec 1869 - The Outrage at Ewell.
The Times, 03 Jan 1870 - The Outrage at Ewell - To the Editor of The Times
The Times, 05 Jan 1870 - The Outrage at Ewell.
The Lancet, 08 Jan 1870 - Puncture Wound of The Thorax Transfixing The Left Ventricle.


Drawing of two men fighting on stairs from The Illustrated Police News 01 January 1870
Image Source: The Illustrated Police News 01 January 1870

The Times, 24 Dec 1869


Considerable excitement was created in the village of Ewell, near Epsom, on Wednesday morning about half-past 3, by a loud explosion, at first supposed to proceed from the powder mills close to the village. It appeared, however, that about the time mentioned a person named Spooner was preparing to come up to London with a load of flour, and his wife was getting breakfast for him. She went out of the house to get some coals, and saw a man waiting outside. She returned to the house screaming, and her husband closed in a struggle with the man who had followed her. In the struggle the stranger threw a bag of some explosive substance on the fire, and the house was blown pretty well to pieces, the wall dividing one house from the other being blown down. A man employed as a porter at the South-Western station at Ewell, who had recently come to the station, had some of his ribs broken and sustained other serious injuries. The husband was seriously hurt, and is not expected to recover. The author of the mischief afterwards committed suicide by stabbing himself. He died at half-past 10 yesterday. The motive of the outrage is stated to have been jealousy, and the suicide, we understand, confessed before his death that he had obtained the powder by breaking into the powder mills at Ewell-marsh. Globe.

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The Times, 25 Dec 1869


We reported on Thursday an extraordinary tragedy which occurred on Wednesday morning at Ewell, Surrey. A man named Thomas Huggett had been living with a woman named Lizzie Richardson for some months, and she left him, going to live with her sister, the wife of a carman named Spooner, in West-street. There was also lodging in the house a South-Western Railway Company's porter, named Smith, another man, and Spooner's two children. Huggett came down to Ewell by the last train on Tuesday night, and his strange appearance was noticed by the station-master, who order him out of the premises. He went, as subsequently confessed, and stole a bag of powder from Messrs. Sharp's mills, where he had worked as a carman some time ago. He hid himself in an outhouse, and when the woman Richardson came down in the morning at 3 o'clock to get Spooner's breakfast, Huggett got into the house. She screamed, and Spooner ran downstairs, stopping Huggett from following the woman. During a struggle between Spooner and Huggett the latter broke away and threw the bag of powder into the fire. A fearful explosion was the result, the partition wall of the next house being blown down. Huggett was blown through it, and Spooner so seriously injured that for a time his life was despaired of. Huggett died at half-past 10 on Wednesday morning; Smith, who was in the house, was removed to Guy's Hospital, and Spooner to the Hop Pole, where he now lies in a dangerous state. The dead man, whose name is Thomas Huggett, had lived with the woman for about six months, but why or when they parted has not transpired. He had been employed some time since in bringing kegs down from London to the powder-mills of Nr John Carr Sharp, and thus was well acquainted with the premises from whence he stole the powder with which he blew up the house. His body is much blackened, and when Dr. Barnes was called to him a few minutes after the explosion he found him lying in the adjacent house, having been blown through the partition wall, and for some time he could not be roused to consciousness. Upon the examination made in his dying condition it was seen that he had a wound in his left side, and since his death it appears to be between the fifth and sixth ribs, penetrating to the heart. There is also a scratch on the throat, as if an attempt had been made to cut it. There was a knife found by Huggett's side, and the blade corresponded to the wound, which had penetrated to the heart; but how the wound was inflicted is a present a mystery. The man Spooner has made no statement as to the knife being in Huggett's hand at the time of the struggle. It is clear that Huggett could not have stabbed himself after the explosion, though, if he had the knife in his hand, the stab might have been done by accident when the deceased was driven by the shock through the partition. His clothes were saturated with blood. Huggett had strewn the floor of the cottage with gunpowder, so that of his diabolical intention there can be no doubt. Dr. Barnes entertains strong hopes of Spooner's recovery, although reports have been rife in the village that he could not live many hours. Rumour also assigns the cause to jealousy of the man Smith, who lies at Guy's Hospital, but there does not seem to be any foundation for it so far as can be ascertained. The woman Richardson is, of course, reticent. Mr W. Carter has appointed Monday for holding the inquest. - Globe.

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The Times, 28 Dec 1869


Yesterday morning, at 10 o'clock, Mr. W. Carter; coroner For East Surrey, opened the inquiry respecting the death of the man Huggett, who, has already been stated, was killed by self-inflicting injuries and the explosion at Ewell. The inquest was held at the Hop Pole Tavern, opposite the house where the explosion occurred.

The jury have viewed the body of the deceased.

The CORONER said if they found that he had killed himself while of sound mind, and while in the act of committing a felony, they would return a verdict of felo de se. The inquiry would chiefly turn upon that point.

Mrs. Elizabeth Richardson, the wife of James Richardson, a carman, said she lived as housekeeper in West-street, Ewell, with Mrs Spooner, who had been ill since July lf the present year. On Wednesday morning last witness got up about 20 minutes to 4 o'clock and lighted the fire. Mr. And Mrs. Spooner were then in bed. The other occupants of the house were William Smith, George Mason, and Mr Spooner's two children. On going outside the house to a shed for the purpose of getting fuel witness saw a man sitting on the coals with a bag between his knees. She recognised him as Thomas Huggett, a sack and bag maker, who worked at Mr. Lee's factory at Rotherhithe. She had known him 12 years, and while she was looking at him he passed his hand to his chest three times. As he had threatened to take his life on several occasions she became alarmed, and at once ran into the house screaming. At the top of the staircase she saw Mr. Spooner, and she then ran into her bedroom. In about two minutes afterwards she heard the explosion, and was so much alarmed that she did not leave her room until every one in the house had gone away. When she got down stairs she saw Huggett, whose face was blackened by the explosion. Huggett had threatened to kill her because she refused to live with him, which she had previously done, as man and wife for some months. She left him because her husband persuaded her to do so, and she went back to her home. Huggett last saw her in August. He did not speak to her, but he tore the clothes off her back. He said he would kill her by cutting her throat or shooting her. If it should be shown that he blew up the house with gunpowder, she would believe that he did so for the purpose of killing her. She found some grains of powder after the explosion. She never went through any form of marriage with Huggett. The reason why she left her husband was because he was unkind to her, and Huggett persuaded her to leave him.

James Hill, a shoemaker, said that on the morning in question he heard a noise of scuffling between men on the floor of the house where the explosion occurred in West-street. The witness lived next door. He ran out of his house, and then found that part of the wall of the next house had been blown down. He saw the deceased lying on the floor, and spoke to him, but the deceased did not reply. The brick and wood partition between the witness's house and Mr. Spooner's was blown down. The witness was so much alarmed that he could not recollect much.

Edwin Grantham, carpenter, living in West-street, said he heard the explosion while he was in the house adjoining Spooner's. He went into Hill's house, and on the floor in the parlour he saw the deceased. Near the left side of the man was an open clasp-knife. On the left side of the breast, near his heart, was a wound, from which a large quantity of blood flowed. There was a slight cut across his throat. He was carried to the Hop Pole, and was there asked where he obtained the powder from. He replied, "I stole it. I had about 1lb. Of it in my pocket." Upon being asked why he did it, he replied "Jealousy; I want to see her now." His request was not granted. He was then asked what he had in the little bottle that was found upon him, and he replied, "Rum." The pocket-knife was stained with blood.

A witness, whose name did not transpire, stated to the Coroner and jury that Huggett had the knife open when he entered the house. In his other hand he carried the bag of powder. It was evidently his intention to have cut the woman's throat, and he was going upstairs for that purpose when he met Mr Spooner and had a scuffle with him. While the scuffle was going on Huggett threw the powder on to the fire.

Police-constable Gardener produced the clasp-knife, which had stains of blood upon it.

Mrs. Richardson recalled, said she recognised the knife as one Huggett had.

Dr George Barns said he was called to see the deceased on Wednesday last, and found him lying in Hill's house. He was in a feeble condition. There was a wound near his heart an inch in depth. Witness could penetrate the wound with his fingers. There was also a wound across his throat about 2 and a half inches long. Witness believed that the death of the deceased, which occurred in a few hours after witness saw him, resulted from the combined effects of shock, resulting from the explosion, and the self-inflicted stab near the heart. Witness could not say whether the deceased stabbed himself before or after the explosion. Mr. Spooner said he saw the deceased throw the bag of powder on the fire.

Joseph Huggett, brother of the deceased, said Thomas Huggett was 31 years of age. He had never shown any signs of insanity.

Mr. Thomas O'Brien, stationmaster at the Ewell station of the London and South Western Railway, said that on Tuesday night, when the 10.40 p.m. train from Waterloo came in, the deceased, a full-faced, dark complexioned man, alighted from it. He had a villainous expression of countenance, and looked so terrible that witness ordered him off the station. He did not appear excited, but he had such a look that if witness had seen him in a railway carriage alone he would have gone to another compartment. When witness heard of the explosion on the following day he said, "That man I saw last night did it." He then went and saw the body of the deceased, and recognized it.

Mrs. Huggett, mother of deceased, said that he son had often complained of his head. He said, "The worry of my work and thinking of that woman is too much for my brain." He then put his hands to his forehead. On Tuesday he wished his landlady good=bye, and he appeared to be in a state of insanity then.

The inquest was then adjourned for additional evidence as to how the deceased became possessed of the gunpowder, and as to his mental condition at the time of the tragic occurrence.

It is stated that Mr. Spooner, who received such severe injuries, is rapidly sinking.

Messrs. Sharpe and Co. inform us that Huggett was not in their employ, but they believed he was some years ago in the service of a person who did cartage for them, and that thus he became acquainted with their premises.

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The Times, 31 Dec 1869


The adjourned inquest on the body of Thomas Huggett, 31, who committed suicide after blowing a house up with gunpowder, at Ewell, on the 22nd inst., with the intention of destroying some of the inmates, was held yesterday at the Hop Pole Tavern, Ewell, by Mr. Carter, coroner for East Surrey.

Dr. Barnes was first called. He said he had made a post mortem examination of the body of deceased, and found the pericardium had been entered by a sharp instrument, which had also cut completely through the substance of the heart to the depth of from two to 2 and a half inches. The wound was quite sufficient to cause death, and, looking at the nature of it, he should think it was inflicted after the explosion. The wound was the exact counterpart of the blade of the knife, which was found near the deceased.

Sarah Huggett, mother of deceased, residing in Jacob-street, Landport, said she last saw her son on the 6th of September. He came from London and was with witness and her daughter several hours. He did not complain of ill-health, but made use of words reported at the last inquiry, to the effect that the worry of his work and thinking of Lizzie Richardson was more than he could bear. The deceased has sent Richardson to witness's house some four years since, and in reply to inquiries she said she was married to her son. On asking, however, to see the marriage lines, Richardson said she could not then produce them "as they were in Tom's box." He son was of sober habits, and subsequent to the visit of Richardson witness found out that they were not married.

Elizabeth Ann Starling, widow, residing in Rotherhithe, said deceased lodged in her house up to the 21st inst., since which time she had not seen him. Witness had noticed that for the last three months he had been very dull and desponding, sometimes sitting for an hour before his meals and not touching them unless roused. On asking what was the matter, he said it was all about a woman whom he called "Lizzie," and then he would become much excited. He said also that he had kept her in money and in clothes for nearly 12 years, and, to use his own words, "Now, she has rounded on me." He used to walk about the house in such an excited manner when talking about the young woman that witness was frequently afraid he would do her and her children some harm. The witness did not think he was sane. She never heard him make any threats towards Richardson.

John James Moord, cashier at Messrs. Levy's warehouses, Rotherhithe, said deceased had been in their employ nearly five years. So far as his work was concerned they had never any occasion to be dissatisfied with him.

John Lodder, gatekeeper at Messrs. Levy's warehouse, said he saw the deceased daily. He was a very quiet, well-conducted man, but for the last three months he had not been as cheerful as usual. He spoke to witness about a woman whom he called "Mrs. Sugar" (meaning Lizzie Richardson), and said he had spent all his money on her, and would "never do any good now." Witness advised him to think no more of her, and try and lead a different life. He sometime said he would, but at other times he became sullen and would not speak. On Tuesday week when deceased went away he noticed a great change in him. He danced about the hydraulic press-room and twitched his face about, in a manner witness never saw before, and occasionally he dashed a hook which he held in his hand though the sacks, saying, "I should like to serve her like that." Witness did not speak to him, but he surmised what he meant. As he was such an inoffensive man, witness did not think he would do himself any harm. The knife produced he believed belonged to the deceased, as he saw it when deceased purchased it about eight or nine weeks since. Deceased had been drinking for some time past, and no doubt he would have drunk more had he had the money. On Tuesday night he jumped about making faces while going home with witness, and witness had little doubt that his mind became affected in respect to the woman Richardson, whom he said he had lived with. He had also heard him say he would never die till he had killed her.

The CORONER, after hearing this evidence, put it to the jury whether there was any doubt in their minds as to the wound being inflicted by the deceased's own hands.

The Foreman, acting as the spokesman of the jury, said they were quite satisfied that deceased had taken his own life after the explosion.

The evidence of a man in the employ of Messrs. Sharpe, powder manufacturers at Ewell, was then taken. He stated that the quantity stolen was about 25lb., and the deceased must have broken into the outside house of the mills to get it. No one worked at the mills at night and no watch was kept, but all the doors were securely locked. The outside house referred to, where the powder was stolen, adjoined a public way.

The CORONER then summed up, and The jury returned a verdict that the deceased stabbed himself while in a state of insanity, and died from the injuries.

The juryman handed the amount of their fees to Mrs. Huggett.

Mr. Spooner, who, it will be remembered, received very severe injuries at the time of the explosion, remains in the same condition, and it is stated that he cannot recover.

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The Times, 03 Jan 1870


Sir, - We shall feel much obliged if you will allow us to correct the statement made at the inquest, as reported in The Times of yesterday. It is therein stated that no person worked at our mills at night, and that no watch was kept, the fact being that a staff of men are at work all night. The powder was stolen from within a few yards of one of the watch-houses; but the deceased Huggett, being well acquainted with the premises, managed to escape without being detected.

     We are, Sir, yours obediently,
          SHARP AND CO.
Gunpowder office, 26, Lombard street, E.C., Jan. 1.
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The Times, 05 Jan 1870


Yesterday morning Mr. W. Carter held an inquest at Ewell on the body of George Spooner, 38 years of age, who occupied the house where the explosion occurred on the 22nd ult. It will be remembered, from the evidence previously reported in The Times, that on the morning of the explosion Spooner, alarmed at the cries of Lizzie Richardson, jumped out of bed and pursued the man Huggett, and after struggling with him, pushed him into the kitchen, and it was while there that Huggett threw into the fire the bag of gunpowder which blew up the house. Mr. Spooner died of his injuries on Friday last. Mrs Richardson was first called, and, after reading over the material portions of her evidence at the first inquiry, the Coroner asked her whether Mr. Spooner was present when the dead man Huggett tore the clothes off her back. The witness replied that he was not, but Huggett had been in her company in Mr. Spooner's presence. Huggett had not to her knowledge used any threats towards Spooner. Edward Grantham's evidence was also read over. Dr. Barnes then deposed to the nature of the injuries sustained by the deceased. He said on going to the house to which deceased was taken after the explosion (Mr. Warland's in West-street), he found him suffering from some shock to the system and burns on the lower part of the body, from the hips downwards; the face also was much scorched, and the outer covering of the skin on his body came off. Witness gave him restoratives and dressed the injuries, but after the second day sympathetic fever set in, and he could not retain anything on his stomach. He died at 6 o'clock on Friday. James Hills, bootmaker, residing in Wells-street, said after he was aroused by the explosion he went into Mr. Spooner's house through the partition wall, and at the kitchen door he saw deceased lying in great agony. He could not say whether his clothes were on fire. The jury then proceeded to view the body of the deceased. On their return the Coroner said he did not wish to trouble them any further if they were satisfied as to the cause of the deceased man's death. A verdict of "Wilful murder" against Huggett was then returned, and the inquiry terminated.

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The Lancet, 08 Jan 1870


To the Editor of THE LANCET.

Sir,-The "Outrage at Ewell" by wilfully blowing up a house with gunpowder will be fresh in the memory of your readers from the account in the daily press.

Some account of the condition of the man Huggett, who committed the atrocious act, and was found with a wound of the throat and a stab over the region of the heart, may be of professional interest, more especially as a medico-legal question arose with regard to the power of the man to self-inflict the wound so shortly after exposure to the shock of an explosion of 28lbs of gunpowder.

I was called to the scene of the explosion on the morning of the 22nd Dec., and reached the spot about; half an hour after the occurrence. I found the man Huggett lying on his back amongst the fallen bricks and debris in the front room of the 'adjoining house to that in which the explosion had taken place. He had been driven through with the forcing in of the partition wall. The explosion had reft the walls of the house in all directions, and blown a stack of chimneys from their base on to the roof. Huggett was insensible at the time I arrived, breathing slowly and feebly with a fluttering pulse, and cold surface. I poured some brandy between the teeth, which gradually passed down the throat, and repeating this once or twice consciousness slowly retuned. He smelt strongly of exploded gunpowder; his hands were burnt. and his face blackened and charred. His clothes were burnt in various places, but there was no serious burn of the body. An open clasp knife was picked up by his side. On the throat was a superficial wound about two and a half inches long, dividing the skin and superficial fascia only, and jagged as though inflicted with 3 blunt instrument. Blood was not flowing from this wound. On raising the guernsey and flannel shirt from the abdomen and thorax they were found saturated with blood, which was now seen to flow from a punctured wound of the thorax. This wound was transverse, measuring half an inch. It was on the lower edge of the fifth rib, in a line with the nipple and three quarters of an inch below it. No ribs were fractured, but on firm pressure over them air passed out of the wound.. The little finger just entered the wound and could be passed between the fifth and sixth ribs through the divided intercostals muscles.

His state two hours afterwards was as follows:- Consciousness perfect; answered questions, and gave his reason - jealousy - for committing the act. He was very restless, raising himself on his elbow continually, and begging for cold water. Pulse 86, moderately full and regular; surface warm except the feet; shivers when the surface of the trunk is exposed; breathing hurried, general distress great, which I understand continued to increase up to the time of his death, six hours after the injury. I regret that my duties to the two other injured men and a call to a confinement rendered me unable to see Huggett again during life.

Sectio Cadaveris. - On enlarging the external would on the thorax, the surface of the heart came into view. The pericardium contained a coagulum weighing 6oz. On the surface of the left ventricle, an inch and a quarter from the apex of the heart, and corresponding with the parietal wound, was a transverse wound measuring five-eighths of an inch, the exact counterpart in shape of the blade of the knife already mentioned. On raising the heart this wound was seen to pass completely through its substance, puncturing the pericardium behind it, and slightly entering the lung, which had collapsed. When the ventricle was opened the puncture was seen to have traversed its cavity, close to the apex, dividing some of the columnæ caraeæ, The left pleura contained nearly a. pint of bloody fluid.

The organs of the body generally were healthy. A question was raised by some of the jury whether the wounds were self-inflicted. It was known that a scuffle had followed Huggettt's entrance of the house between him and Spooner (now dead), the occupant. Huggett was insensible when found some minutes after the explosion. He remained so when I reached him. Spooner, who was pushing him out of the house, said he saw no knife in Huggett's hand. While in the act of pushing him, Huggett threw something towards the fire and the explosion took place. The knife is shown to have belonged to Huggett. Spooner and the third man injured were sensible immediately after the explosion; one of them, in fact, ran into the street on fire.

There seems no reason therefore, why Huggett may not have been conscious, and having committed a dreadful crime, have come to the desperate determination of destroying himself as he lay in the ruins he had made.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Dorset House, Ewell Jan.1870                                                            G. R. BARNES, M.D.

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Gunpowder Mill
Gunpowder Mills
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Gun Crime
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Prize Fight
Prize Fight
Atrocious Murder
Atrocious Murder