In 1847 Swiss ladies maid Maria de Roux met Frederick Manning. Manning was not exactly a catch, he had recently been fired from his job as a train guard following suspicion of theft and wasn’t the brightest BUT Manning told Maria he was due to inherit a small fortune from his mother and so the two were wed and settled in Miniver Place in Bermondsey. Frederick Manning tried his hand as a pub landlord and failed almost immediately. After selling the pub the couple moved to much smaller lodgings in Bermondsey. This is when Maria found out Fredrick had lied and there was no fortune. So the Mannings hatched a deadly plot to both save their marriage and ease their money troubles.
Patrick O’Connor had once proposed to Maria and though he was well off she had opted to marry Frederick Manning knowing he would one day inherit a fortune. Obviously this had turned out to be a lie and Maria now realised she had made the wrong choice…yet she thought that Patrick O’Connor could still be the solution to her financial woes. On the 8th August 1849 Maria invited O’Connor to dinner. Before his arrival she bought a large shovel.
When O’Connor arrived at the Mannings house, Maria sent him into the kitchen to wash his hands before eating. With his back turned to her, she shot him in the head. Frederick Manning then came into the kitchen to find O’Connor half dead on the floor and he finished the job: “I never liked him, so I battered his head with a ripping chisel.” Husband and Wife buried O’Connor and Maria went to the dead man’s house to start collecting his valuables.
Police soon began investigating O’Connor’s disappearance and their suspensions pointed to the Mannings. Realising they were cornered the couple planned to flee. Maria sent her husband to sell their furniture to raise funds for their life on the run. As soon as he had left the house she took everything of value and fled. Frederick returned to find his wife had double crossed him, but managed to escape just before the police reached the Manning residence where they quickly found O’Connors body covered in lime and buried under the kitchen floorboards.
Maria and Frederick fled to Edinburgh and Jersey respectively. They were both caught within days of each other; Maria after attempting to sell O’Connors belongings and Frederick after his rampant drinking drew attention. The trial was held at The Old Bailey in London on 25th Oct 1849 and it was a sensation. Maria was the subject of most of the attention, throughout the trial she was immaculately dressed, elegant and composed. However, this composure slipped once the jury read the verdict; guilty. Maria stood and screamed at the court: ‘You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest.
Husband and Wife were both sentenced to be hung. This most rare of executions (a woman and the first married couple to be hung together in over a hundred years!) created further fever. A cottage industry was soon set up, with lodgings and horse and cart owners selling standing room tickets to the hanging and at least 2.6 million Victorian one sheet newspapers dedicated to the execution being sold.
On the day of the Mannings execution a crowd of 50,000 gathered to watch the hanging - the biggest crowd ever assembled at an execution in Britain. There was much gossip prior to the hanging as to whether the couple would reconcile on the scaffold and more importantly just what Maria Manning would wear to her execution (times really have not changed…). Fashion lovers were not disappointed and Maria ascended the scaffold “beautifully dressed, every part of her noble figure finely and fully expressed by close fitting black satin”. Maria and Frederick were then hung side by side.
Yet they lived on. Those who had not been able to witness their execution were still able to see the Mannings in waxwork form, with Madame Tussaud’s promising a recreation of the Mannings kitchen (complete with O’Connor under the floorboards!) and a waxwork’s in Manchester advertising its Manning’s-a-likes as able to ‘amuse, delight and highly instruct’. Maria Manning went on to inspire in the world of literature, most notably Charles Dickins, who having been at her execution became fascinated by the scandalous black satin clad woman and created a character in her likeness, Mademoiselle Hortense (both a lady’s maid and murderer) in his next book, Bleak House.
General Stuff about Bermondsey thats not listed
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