Hang about, lets be pals

By Geoff Pulham

A clamouring crowd of 15,000 packed into Norwich city centre on April 21 1849 for the public execution of James Blomfield Rush.

Now, 150 years to the day, the saga which began with one of Victorian Norfolk's most celebrated murders Is still sending repercussions through the county - and beyond.

Jane Vincent, curator of Royston and District Museum since 1991, had known since childhood that her great-great-grandfather was one of the two murder victims, Isaac Jermy. Mr Jermy, Recorder of Norwich, was shot dead outside his home In November 1848.

But that knowledge could never have prepared Jane for the dinner party where she met Eastbourne based antiques dealer Colin Rush and discovered that James Rush was his great-great-grandfather.

"The chances of meeting the descendant of the man alleged to have murdered your great-great-grandfather must have been a million to one," said Jane, 56.

"It was a very strange feeling. Colin had been to Norwich Castle because he had heard that his great-great-grandfather was hanged for sheep stealing and thought he would find out a little bit more about him.

"To his surprise and horror, it wasn't for sheep stealing but for murder."

Since their initial meeting a few months ago, Jane and Colin have become friends and saw each other again recently when they indulged in a hug to let bygones be bygones.

"Nobody can possibly blame the descendant of a murderer after 150 years anyway I but we gave each other a hug all the same." Jane said.

"I said, 'Hello, murderer', and he said jokingly that it was all my family's fault anyway!"

Jane, whose Norfolk connection is on her mother's side, is told she bears a strong resemblance to Isaac Jermy.

But she cannot assess the similarities since the only picture she has seen of the Norfolk official was in her great-grandfather's study when she was a little girl.

Similarities' aside, she does not expect to feel any emotional satisfaction today, the 150th anniversary of Rush's execution.

At the time, however, the execution at Norwich Castle was a huge public spectacle.

The crime itself, thanks to extensive coverage in The Times, scandalised Victorian society. Mr Jermy had been standing outside his front door when a masked man blasted him with a double-barrelled carbine.

The attacker then murdered Mr Jermy's 27 year-old son before maiming his daughter-in-law Sophie and crippling her maid.

Suspicion immediately fell upon Rush, who had feuded with Mr Jermy's father and been given an ultimatum to settle outstanding debts with the family.

He was arrested the day after the murders but protested his innocence to the last. Continued press interest ensured a massive turnout for the final act.

"The idea was for people to learn the moral lesson of what happens to murderers," said archivist Frank Meeres, who works for Norfolk Records Office and last year wrote Death, Pay Me a Visit, a study of the Jermy killing.

"Of course, people generally went for the entertainment value and to have a drink. It was all played out as a drama."

Although Rush's execution was not the last to be staged publicly in Norwich, the hysteria that surrounded it persuaded the authorities ,to consider ways of deterring spectators from then on.

As a result, future hangings were carried out at 8am on Mondays instead of noon on Saturdays.

Editorial Comment - Past is forgotten

For Jane Vincent and Colin Rush, a shared past comes not in door bolts and cigarettes but one of Norfolk's most celebrated murder cases.

At a chance encounter at a dinner party, Colin discovered that Jane's distant grandparent was none other than Isaac Jermy, murdered in 1848 by Colin's great-great-grandfather James Rush.

Rush met his death at Norwich's last "prime time" public execution attended by a crowd of 15,000.

The descendants of these chief protagonists may reflect that dinner parties are an altogether more civilised form of entertainment.

Ref: Eastern Daily Press, 21 April 1999