The Late Mrs Nichols - Reminisces of the Rush murders



In the person of Mrs Nichols there has just passed away a lady of many conspicuous qualities of heart and mind, and one who in her time filled a prominent and useful place in the public life of Norwich.

. . . Mrs Nichols was born in 1819, and was a daughter of the Rev John Banister. She was educated at Ramsgate, and there, in circumstances with a touch of romance in them, she met Mr Nichols, who was nineteen years her senior, and who came of an old Norwich family, his forebears having occupied Alpington Hall Farm for centuries. The couple having settled down to married life, Mr Nichols took a fine old house in Surrey Street, and entered into partnership with Dr Edward Lubbock, a famous practitioner of his day. Those who are acquainted with the brilliant medical record of the city of Norwich need hardly be reminded that Mr Nichols was a recognised expert in the surgical branch of his profession.

. . . But of all the happenings in Mrs Nichols career, there was none which took such a vivid and abiding hold upon her memory as her curious association, in the capacity of doctor's wife, with the horrors that attended the Stanfield Hall murders. This side of England, James Blomfield Rush was one of the most famous criminals who ever passed through the hands of the hangman. The story of his atrocious misdeeds needs hardly to be recalled - at all events to middle aged people; but a brief outline of the facts may not come amiss to readers of a later generation. Rush was the occupier of Potash Farm, which was about a mile from Stanfield Hall, where Mr Jermy resided. In 1848 the time was fast approaching when he would be required to pay off certain mortgages, and he was in pecuniary difficulties. "The motive," as Baron Rolfe said at the trial, "was all powerful, for a long series of transactions led to the conclusion that if the Jermys were murdered a large property would come into the hands of the prisoner." The strongest evidence was furnished by Emily Sandford, with whom Rush had an illicit intimacy, and whose mouth would have been closed had Rush fulfilled his promise of marriage. On the night of October (sic) 28th 1848, the prisoner left Potash Farm, and seemed to have taken the shortest cut to the Hall. Here he appeared in disguise, with false wig and whiskers and a heavy cloak. Whilst Mr Jermy was in the porch he was shot dead, his murderer discharging the weapon so close to him that his heart was blown to pieces. Alarmed by the shot, Mr Jermy's son came into the staircase hall, only to be shot down by the same murderous hand. The butler saw the man in the hall, but retreated to the pantry, and was not attacked. Mrs Jermy and the lady's maid (Eliza Chastney) then came on the scene, and both were seriously wounded by the armed intruder. All the evidence pointed to Rush as the criminal; whilst a piece of paper found in the hall was said to have been torn from an account book belonging to Rush, which he had bought at Norwich. On one of these papers was written a warning to servants to keep out of the way, or they would be shot dead, adding, "There are seven of us; all armed as you see us two, we are only come to take possession of the Stanfield Hall property." It was proved that Rush returned to his house shortly after nine, and went to bed, awaking at half past two in the morning , and telling Emily Sandford, "You be firm; remember I was out only ten minutes last night." Suspicion at once turned to Rush, and he was arrested by the police early next morning, whilst three capes, two guns, some bullets, and a false wig and whiskers were found in a closet. After a most patient and protracted trial, in which Emily Sandford and Eliza Chastney gave the most damning and important evidence, the latter being brought into court on a couch, the jury found the prisoner guilty, after five minutes deliberation. Baron Rolfe, in pronouncing the death sentence, said the evidence upon which he had been convicted was perfectly clear, and the prisoner would quit this world by an ignominious death, an object of unmitigated abhorrence to everyone. Rush paid the penalty of his crime on April 21st, 1849, at Norwich Castle, in the presence of an enormous throng.

Mrs Nichols accompanied her husband to Stanfield Hall, and the story of what she did and witnessed there has been graphically told in these columns by Miss C M Nichols, R.E., the deceased lady's only surviving daughter. At a time like the present, it will be interesting to quote the story at length:-

"Among us is still living a lady who has good reason to remember the story night following that blustering October (sic) day, when, she was roughly awakened by the loud knocking of the messengers from Stanfield Hall, who had swum the moat and ridden to Norwich. Mr W. P. Nichols, F.R.C.S., surgeon to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was then in attendance on the Jermy family. Hurriedly summoned from his whist club in the city, he ordered a carriage, and prepared to set off, his young wife insisting on coming with him, and on taking, as weapon of defence, the big surgical knife. She has often described the feelings with which they approached Stanfield, having in their minds the written warning to the servants to keep out of the way, lest they be shot, and not knowing how many of the ‘seven' they might meet on the way. On arriving, my father was met by Mr Tunaley of Wymondham, the local doctor, and went to inspect the dead and wounded; my mother to see what she could do for Mrs Jermy, she being shot in the arm. Strange to say, a few days before, my mother was so struck by the desolation of Stanfield Hall, the solitude in which it stood, surrounded by the moat, and its general dreariness, that she told my father that not for a thousand a day would she live there. The night of October (sic) 28th, 1848, was rough and blustering; an intense horror seemed to hold the place. My mother is possessed of considerable nerve, but that night she wanted all of it. Towards the small hours Mrs Jermy needed water . My mother was alone with her, and no one answered the bell. So down the unlighted staircase, across the hall, avoiding tell tale spots and stains, past the closed doors, behind which lay the dead, she stole. She heard the talking, shouting, drinking in the servants' hall (as a matter of fact they were using the silver cups from the dining room). But Sir Thomas Beevor and Mr Edward Postle had not yet reduced that disorganised household to order, and she could make no one hear, so groping about till she found a jug she carried it upstairs and remained all night with Mrs Jermy, to whose wounded arm my father was attending. She ultimately wore a wax one, if I remember rightly. Mrs Jermy entreated my mother to remain with her, and she stayed a month, only returning home to nurse a sick child. She was sitting on the bed, hidden in the curtains, when Rush was brought in to be identified by Mrs Jermy. The pistol was missing; they pumped the moat dry to find it and the monotonous sound of the water mixing with the noise of the wind and rain in the darkness, gave an idea of weirdness and desolation that still haunts my mother's ears on story nights." . . .

Ref: Eastern Daily Press, 15 March 1904