A Very Scarce Memorial Card by J.T Wood for the Victims of the Denham Massacre 1870


Origin: English
Period: Mid-Victorian
Provenance: Unknown
Date: 1870
Height: 3”
Width: 4.5”

The rare Denham massacre cameo embossed memorial card having mourning decoration featuring vines, garlands, a dove and a weeping lady and child, to black margins, reading; ‘IN MEMORY OF Emmanuel Marshall aged 35; Charlotte (his wife) 34, Mary Marshall (his mother) 77; Mary Ann Marshall (his sister) 32; Mary, 8, Thirza 6, and Gertrude 4 (his children) Who were all cruelly murdered at Denham, May 22nd, Interred in Denham Church-yard, May 27th, 1870, the card created by J.T Wood of the Strand London and marked WOOD lower left, surviving from the high Victorian period.

The card has no tears or rips with some expected foxing and handling wear overall.

The black painted border commonly occurred on a wide range of stationary during a period of mourning. The relief images have been created by embossing and piercing the paper, that is die-stamping the dampened paper. J.T. Wood & Co was one of the leading makers of lace paper from the 1840s to 1870s, and issued a large number of greetings cards and memorial cards for the likes of Prince Albert. After 1850 some manufacturers, such as George Meek, J.T. Wood and Millord Brothers began making cards with 'cameo embossing'; that is with larger figurative scenes embossed on to the paper as we see here.

Mary Ann Marshall was just two days away from marrying her fiance George Amor, on 22 May 1870, and had returned to the family home at Denham to prepare for the nuptials. Little did she know that she – along with those of six of her relatives – would be most brutally murdered before the big day, in a crime that shocked the entire county.

John Owen was born in Northamptonshire in 1832 to a tailor and his wife. In 1851, aged 18, he was an apprentice blacksmith working for one Thomas Mason.

Emanuel Marshall was born in 1836 in Middlesex, to a gardener and his wife. Soon afterwards the family moved to Denham in Buckinghamshire, where Emanuel found work as a shop boy.

By 1861 he was a blacksmith living with his wife Charlotte, his mother and three children in a small cottage and smithy. It was this house where Mary Ann stayed nine years later, the week of her wedding. The family was seen together at Uxbridge Market on 21 May, perhaps buying food or gifts for the upcoming wedding.

When a dressmaker arrived at the cottage to deliver Mary Ann’s wedding dress, she made a grizzly discovery. Five of the Marshall family were all inside, dead – all except Emanuel and one of his sons. They were all soaked in blood, having been bludgeoned to death with an axe and a sledgehammer. The screaming seamstress ran to fetch the police, who searched the property and discovered a sixth body – Emanuel’s, which was in the smithy.

PC Charles Tavener described the scene. “I went to the house and found the doors open,” he said. “I found two bodies, the wife and the sister, lying just inside the door and the sister's feet towards her head. A petticoat covered them.

“About two feet from them was a sledgehammer... this was covered in blood. Then I went into the wash house and found the bodies of the three children. I found an axe... also covered with blood.

“There were extensive wounds on all the heads of the bodies... I found the body of Emanuel, the father, in the forge, lying flat on his face, with his hands stretched out.”

Witnesses described seeing a well dressed man leaving the house earlier that same day, carrying a canvas bag. Some assumed it was Emanuel, but the same man was later spotted having a drink in a local pub. Soon afterwards, a bricklayer named Coombes told police about a suspicious vagrant who was sharing his room at an Uxbridge lodging house. The man, who called himself Jack, had been dirt poor on his arrival, but now sported a fine suit and a silver pocket watch. Jack had offered to sell this pocket watch to Coombes, who had declined the offer. Jack then took it to a pawn shop, along with a waistcoat and other items.

Accompanied by Coombes, police followed this man as he took a train to Reading, where he visited the Oxford Arms pub on Silver Street. There the constables confronted John Owen, who drew a pistol on them. Supt Dunham told the suspect, “You are charged with murdering seven people, among them Emanuel Marshall.” Owen denied this but it was pointed out that he was wearing the murdered Emanuel's boots and some of his clothes. He simply replied, “That may well be.”

The gun was knocked from his hand and he was arrested. In his possession were items identified as belonging to Emanuel, including the suit he wore, as well as pawn tickets for more missing property. Getting Owen to court proved somewhat difficult, as the Marshalls had been well liked. Arriving by train at Slough, under a police escort, Owen was set upon by a mob who tried to kill him. It was said that a thousand people lined the route, hissing at the killer.

At trial it transpired that Owen, a disgraced blacksmith who had been recently released from prison for larceny and sheep rustling, had once been employed by Emanuel to mend some wheels. But he made such a bad job of the repairs that Emanuel had refused to pay him.

After his release, witnesses overheard him speaking of a man in Denham who owed him money. Owen swore he would murder this man, if he did not pay up.

Sentenced to death by hanging, Owen told the presiding judge that his only regret was not shooting any policemen when they captured him. He swung from the rope of executioner William Calcraft (whom he had threatened to beat up minutes before, for not visiting his cell the previous day) at Aylesbury Gaol on August 8, 1870.

The story captured the public imagination. Sketches of the events appeared in tabloids and magazines, while several books have also been written about the crime.

The only one to survive the massacre was little Francis William Marshall, who had been staying with relatives to make room for bride-to-be Mary Ann in the little cottage. He died several years later, aged just 12. Thus, Emanuel Marshall’s bloodline was entirely snuffed out, largely thanks to a vengeful vagrant in what might be the county’s most gruesome ever crime.

A very rare piece of ephemera that should be preserved ad infinitum.