Joseph Lowsonwith William Siddle & Joseph Hodgson
|The Butterknowle Tragedy
|Lowsonn - 25
Siddle - 25
Hodgson - 20
|Sergeant William Smith
23rd February 1884, A dark and rainy Saturday night, Police Sergeant William Smith was out on his rounds, as usual, at pub closing time. A group of three men approached the policeman and brutally attacked him. The attack was so bad that it fractured his skull, the men left him for dead, dying in agony in the road, he was carried home but was already dead.
Two doctors who happened to be passing by went to the injured sergeant’s aid. At the scene they found the road scattered with stones and other missiles. One of the policeman’s eyes was hanging from its socket. When they moved the badly injured body, part of the policeman's skull came away in the doctors hand.
No sooner had the doctor come to the aid of sergeant Smith, then the doctor too was hit by stones thrown from a nearby pitheap by three men, that the doctor would later claim to recognise in the dark. The doctors then carried the polieman to his house. Within a couple of hours Police Sergeant William 'Bill' Smith had died from his injuries.,
Three local pitmen were arrested, – Joseph Lowson, 25, his brother-in-law William Siddle, 25, and Joseph Hodgson, 20. They had been on a day-long drinking session, which had ended in a verbal altercation with Sergeant Smith outside the Diamond Inn pub.
William Siddle had previously been fined the previous year for violently assaulting Sgt Smith at a local gala.
Local solicitor Geaorge Maw, who had a fearsome reputation locally, was called in to defend the men. And drew doubt on the testimony of the doctor who claimed to recognisse the three men. The doctor himself had also been drinking that night.
Hodgson was subsequently acquitted, but Lowson and Siddle were sentenced to hang.
Via letters from his condemned cells in Durham jail, Siddle continued to protested his innocence, saying that he had been trying to protect his brother-in-law, Lowson, who had become a father for the third time while in custody. Lowson accepted some guilt, but said that young Hodgson had thrown the first stone.
There was quite a local frenzy, then, just a day before the scheduled execution, the Home Secretary, Sir William Vernon Harcourt, cancelled the execution and sent his own counsel, a Mr Cliffe, to Durham to review the case.
Mr Cliff interviewed Hodgson and then solicitor Maw. The result was that Hodgson remained exonerated but the Home Secretary granted William Siddle a free pardon.
In his condemned cell, Lowson, was allowed to say goodbye to his wife, Jane, and their children – including the three-month-old who had only ever known him as a prisoner.
In his cell Lowson's last words were that Siddle was innocent but that Hogdson had struck the first blow.
27th May 1884 at 7:55am Lowson was led to the Gallows, to be hanged by Albert Pierrpoint, but the story did not end there, there was huge public interest in this case, this was excited by how Pierrpoint, the executioner, acted during the hanging of Lowson, due to the condemed man's very calm demeanour, pulling the lever firstly the wrong way and trembling more than the prisoner himself.