Batten, Alfred

Batten, Alfred              1879 July 12th

Yesterday (Friday) a dreadful and painful suicide was committed within this city. The victim of his own hand was Mr Batten, landlord of the “Elephant and Castle,” Ox-row. To this house a fatality seems attached, or at all events within the last fifteen years it has been the scene of no less than four self-murders. The name of the first victim we have not been able to ascertain, but the second was a young man named Croom; and the third, and this adds a painful element to the last dreadful event, the wife of Batten himself, who cut her throat at the top of the premises not quite two years ago. Rumour says there was another suicide 20 years even before the first event we have quoted; but verification is difficult to obtain.

The place selected by the deceased for the committal of the act was the cellar; and it seems that he must have deliberately attached a rope to a staple in the wall, then put it round his neck, and, with his feet resting on the ground – thus he was in a “crouched” position – have leant his whole body on the “hempen cord.” By this act he leaves in the world a widow, and five fatherless children. Just after the occurrence became known though no object was given for the act, it was stated – and the rumour was very prevalent – that of late Batten had been much addicted to drink.

Whether that be true or not will be seen from the subjoined evidence taken at the inquest, held yesterday afternoon, at the “Red Lion” Hotel. A second rumour – and perhaps the more correct of the two – was to the effect that the sad fate of his first wife preyed upon his mind and ultimately affected his brain. Of late at all events his actions have excited the suspicions of his friends who had begun to fear that his reason was unsettled.

Shortly before the sad event we have heard that he was seen walking rapidly up and down the “Ox-row” in an apparent state of excitement. Certain it is that he rose from his bed at an early hour; and that astonishment being evoked by his non-appearance, a search was instituted and his body was found where, and in the position, we have stated.

The following was the evidence adduced at the inquest; held as we have stated above at the “Red Lion” yesterday (Friday) afternoon.

Dr Frederick Chas. Bennett said : I was called to the house of deceased at about quarter past nine to attend Batten. He was quite dead when I saw him. I examined the body and found the mark of a rope round is neck. From what I saw and heard I am of opinion that he died from suffocation. I went into the cellar and saw the staple from which I was told deceased was suspended; which was between seven and eight feet from the ground. He had been dead between one and two hours.

Emily Batten said : I am widow of the deceased, who was a publican, and whose age was 40. I last saw him alive about six this morning. He rose earlier this morning than usual and wanted to clean the front window before the house was opened, but I persuaded him not to. He then went into the bar and cleaned the engine. He came to the bedroom and told me that the man had come to repair the cupboard. I was under the impression that he went into the cellar to clean it. When the deceased was found in the cellar there was a scuttle full of coals beside him, but it was filled by the servant. The deceased has not been well lately and was very quiet all yesterday. I wanted to send for a doctor, but he wished me not to do so. He was a very nervous and excitable man.

The deceased left home three weeks ago last Monday (and remained away till Thursday) without informing me; but in the afternoon of Monday I received a telegram from him dated from Aldershot giving directions for me to give the brewer an order for beer. On Wednesday following he sent a letter to me for his mother who resides at Farley, and feeling anxious to know where he was, I opened the letter, which had the Aldershot post mark on it. {Witness did not state it, but we imagine that deceased did not acquaint her in his telegram or letter with his address.} The letter contained a P.O. Order for £5 for his mother to look after the children. I cannot account for his having sent the money to his mother as the children have always lived with me and were with me at that time. I am his second wife. The letter was to the following effect, “That she would not see him again until he was brought back.” He never left me before except for one day. When he returned on the Thursday at six o’clock in the morning he appeared very unwell, and very quiet. He looked as if he had been walking all night.

William George Godwin, broker, residing in the Ox-row, stated : I was well acquainted with the deceased and live next door but one to the inn. Soon after nine this morning Mrs Batten sent for me, and I went to the house. Mrs Batten met me and said, “Oh my troubles will never be over. He is down in the cellar and will not speak to me.” I then went into the cellar and found him hanging from a staple in one of the joists. The staple was between six and seven feet from the ground. His feet were just touching the ground, and he was quite dead when I discovered him. As I was coming up the steps I met the superintendent of police. The deceased was a very nervous and excitable man. Mrs Batten has called me several times to assist her against his violence. My opinion is that he was not in a right state of mind, or he would not have acted towards his wife in the way he did. I think the death of his first wife preyed very much upon him.

Supt Alfred Mathews said : I was sent for by Mrs Batten this morning about 9 and on arriving to the “Elephant and Castle,” I went into the cellar and found Mr Batten suspended from a rope. Both feet were on the ground and his back against a cask. I immediately obtained a knife and cut him down and sent for a doctor and Mr Bennett shortly after arrived. He has been very strange since his first wife died.

This concluded the evidence and a verdict of “Death committed whilst in a state of Temporary Insanity” was returned.


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