When Mary Walton got married in 1845, at the age of 20, she could hardly have guessed what life would bring after the first shine of romance had worn off her marriage. In the next 15 years she produced 13 children, only four of whom survived to maturity, and she once confided to a friend: “I’ve always been in danger from my husband. I’ve had to jump out of the bedroom window several times to escape from him.”

Her husband, Samuel Twigg, a bricklayer, had slowly succumbed to the endemic poverty of the Staffordshire Potteries, where they lived, and had become a habitual drunk. Sullen and morose, he was heartily disliked by the locals, who had learned to fear his fists and his knife.

On the night of July 24th, 1860, he came home the worse for wear with a friend and, pulling Mary out of bed at midnight, demanded she cook them two steaks.

“We don’t have any steaks in the house, Sam,” she whispered through sleep-glazed eyes. Twigg roughly clapped his hand around her jaw and pulled her close to him. “Give us two steaks!’ he hissed. “Or, by God, I’ll cut your throat from ear to ear!”

The situation was saved when his friend made a rapid departure and Twigg himself collapsed on the floor in a drunken stupor.

Mary went sorrowfully back to bed, but peace never reigned for long in the Twigg household. Twigg woke up and called for a light to see him up to bed. Mary came downstairs with an oil-lamp and as she bent over her husband he suddenly grabbed at her and said, “Give me a kiss, Mary”

“Get off!” she said, struggling to free herself. Enraged, he pulled out a clasp knife and thrust it deep into her stomach. She screamed, and Twigg was heard to jeer: “Now I’m satisfied!”

When Constable John Moffatt arrived at the house he found the drunken man asleep on the living-room floor. He led Twigg outside, where a small crowd had started to gather. Ignoring their shouts of “Hang the bastard!” Moffatt took his prisoner off to the police station.

A doctor concluded that Twigg’s knife had punctured Mary’s liver and nothing could be done for her. She died next day.

Twigg’s trial for murder lasted only a few hours. He collapsed in tears when he was sentenced to death. The execution was fixed for Saturday, January 5th, 1861.

The day before the execution extra trains were laid on to cope with the large number of people flocking to Stafford to witness the spectacle on a scaffold erected outside the prison gates. At 8 a.m. next day there were 4,000 people gathered behind the barricades. They jeered and catcalled as Twigg was brought out, and cheered resoundingly as he plunged through the open trap-door.