Poor little Richard Jeffery – he could have come straight out of Charles Dickens. In a life that spanned only five years he was in absolute terror of his father, John Jeffery, 31, a tailor and an alcoholic who beat him mercilessly. The father’s brutality stemmed from the fact that his wife had left him, and he somehow believed that the child was not his.

Richard was staying at his granny’s home in Holborn, London, when, on the evening of Sunday, July 29th, his father called to say he was taking him away to his aunt’s house in Great Earl Street, Seven Dials. The child screamed in terror, evidently in as much fear of his aunt as he was of his father.

As Jeffery dragged the boy away, the distraught grandmother pleaded with a patrolling policeman to intervene. She was told that it wasn’t a matter for the police.

Jeffery had been at his sister’s home for only a few hours before he decided to move out with the boy. “This place is full of rats and fleas,” he told his sister. “If we stay here we’ll both die of disease.” Despite Richard’s protests, he ordered the boy to get dressed and then dragged him to an underground communal water cistern, used by neighbourhood homes that had no running water. There he tied a piece of rope to a post and hanged the child.

Leaving the little corpse in the cistern, he fled north, but gave himself up to police in Halifax. The Old Bailey jury, shuddering as the facts were recounted, refused to believe he was insane, and he was hanged on Tuesday, October 9th, 1866, outside Newgate Prison.