Victorian lives in North Mymms
by Peter Kingsford
The Spaniard. Miguel Yzquierdo, had belonged to a Carlisi guerilla band. A young man of twenty four, by trade a tanner, his home was near Teruel in Aragon. The Carlist wars raged intermitently in Spain during the nineteenth century. Don Carlos Maria Isidro claimed the throne against Queen Isabella II who was supported by Britain. When one of the Carlist risings was defeated Yzquierdo escaped to England with his companions.
He had become separated from them and then lived by begging and stealing. In August 1853, having been in England for seven weeks, he appeared in North Mymms. On Tuesday 2 August, meeting a shepherd from Blakey’s farm at Potterells he asked him if there was a village nearby. He needed food and footwear. That night he broke into Brewhouse Farmhouse and took three loaves, three pounds of cheese, a napkin and a table knife from the pantry. The same night, some distance away at Moffats Farm, tenanted by Samuel Giddins, he walked off with the canvas boots of the housekeeper, Sara Bryant, who had left them in her scullery.
At about l0am on Thursday 4 August Yzquierdo was walking through a field of standing barley on Coursers Farm, the property of Fulke Greville Esq MP, squire of North Mymms Place. George Scales, the fourteen-year-old son of George Scales, Greville’s shepherd, was nearby. Armed with a loaded shotgun, his business was to look after Greville’s plantations. Elizabeth Sams had seen him going there with a gun on his shoulder at 9.45am and heard him call out to his mother, "Mother, is it almost beaver time?’ Benjamin Baldwin, a lad who was ploughing in the next field, suddenly heard George call out, "by! There is no footpath down there, come to me and I will show you the footpath." Ten minutes later Benjamin heard George shout "Oh, Oh" and then moaning loudly.
Other people were about there that morning. George Dickins, a labourer from Colney Heath, saw the stranger in the barley field and ran to tell William Webb, Greville’s gamekeeper. Apparently the stranger was setting snares for game. On seeing Webb, the stranger ran off but Webb set his dog on him and the dog seized him until Webb came up. The stranger felled Webb with a blow of his stick but Webb closed with him. After a prolonged struggle Webb remembered that he had a pistol and a threat with it was enough to subdue the stranger. As Webb shouted for help, Dickins and other labourers, James Allen, James Draper, James Harding and George Scales’s father arrived on the scene. Webb noticed that the stranger’s stick was covered with blood which was not his own. He took him into custody for poaching; as the stranger was led away he called out for his bundle.
Dickins and Harding then looked around to see if the stranger had anyone with him. Dickins discovered a bundle and a loaded gun. In the bundle he found a handkerchief soaked in blood which he thought had come from game. Harding went into the middle of the barley field. There he came across the body of George Scales, still quite warm and the face covered in blood. One of the boy’s laced shoes was lying about a yard away from the body. They fetched a cart to lake the body to Denyers farm.
The matter had become more serious. The stranger was taken to Hatfield Police Station. Inspector Abraham English proceeded in haste to the field, noted how the barley was trodden down, the body in the farm cart, the boy’s gun, a napkin containing a loaf and some cheese and a woman’s cloth boot. At the police station he found that the stranger was wearing the other cloth boot arid had a boy’s braces wound round his body; there was fresh blood on his fingers and nails. He surmised that the stranger had been surprised in the act of unlacing the boy’s boots.
At the inquest the stranger was identified as Miguel Yzquierdo. His own story emerged: the boy told him that he was trespassing and should go away, but he refused to be dictated to by a boy, the boy pointed his gun at him and threatened to fire, he took hold of the gun and beat the boy about the head with his stick. After five months in Hertford Gaol the prisoner came up for trial at the Assizes. During that time an official from the Spanish Embassy visited him; Yzquierdo felt that he had hit the boy in self defence and did not realise the seriousness of his situation.
When the Hertford Spring Assizes opened in March 1854 the chaplain and the governor of the goal gave evidence that the prisoner had spoken freely in Spanish and a few words in English during the first two months, among other matters approving of the meat. the "boeuf", that he was given to eat. After that he had refused to speak, thrown himself about on the floor and complained of headaches. In Court the prisoner still refused to speak. The jury was instructed by the judge, Mr Baron Alderson, to decide whether his silence was wilful or an Act of God. When the jury had considered their foreman said that the safest course was to postpone the trial. This advice annoyed the judge. He declared. ‘That is a question for me to decide. You are not to postpone the trial. I am to do that. You are taking my duty upon yourselves. I want you to take your own." The jury then decided that they were not fully satisfied that the prisoner was wilfully mute. To which the judge replied. "Then you find that he stands mute by visitation of God", and remanded the Spaniard to the next Assize.
When he next came up for trial in July he had been in gaol for almost a year. A Spanish Embassy official revealed that Yzquierdo had declared that if he were sentenced to death he would be revenged and "there would be blood at his death". This time the jury found him mute of malice and a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.
Evidence was given by the boy’s father, George Scales and by his sister Elizabeth aged seventeen and others. Scales and his wife Rebecca had lived in the parish, in the shepherds house, for twenty years. They had six children living with them between three and twenty two years old. The three eldest daughters were hat makers. The boy was his only son. He had not known that the dead boy was his son until the prisoner was taken to Hatfield. Elizabeth testified that the braces produced and a percussion cap box found on the prisoner were her brother’s. Police Constable Randall told the court that when the body had first been taken to the Maypole Inn, the boy’s braces were missing. Inspector English said that the gun was still loaded when found.
The judge instructed the jury that they had to find the prisoner guilty of either manslaughter or murder. They asked him if the boy had said anything which might be considered provocation. The answer was no. The verdict was guilty of murder and the judge put on his black cap to pronounce sentence of death.
While the prisoner awaited execution which was fixed for 3 August, he received a visit from a Spanish Roman Catholic priest but he refused to listen to him. In the mean time the Hertfordshire Mercury pleaded for commutation of the Sentence on "this ignorant foreigner", arguing that the death penalty was useless. Residents of Hertford, unwilling to have the spectacle of a public execution in their town, and the Society for Abolition of Capital Punishment made representations to the Home Secretary. In the last week of July Lord Palmerston commuted the death penalty to penal servitude for life. When Yzquierdo was told he remained silent. The Hertfordshire Mercury welcomed "a good blow against the inhuman and brutalising practice of hanging" and hoped that it would lead to a change in the law.
Peter Kingsford, 1989
Chapter 4 - Women's Work
Index - Victorian lives in North Mymms
Preface - Why Peter Kingsford wrote the book
Sources - Where Peter Kingsford researched the material for this book.
Photographs - The photographs reproduced by Peter Kingsford in his book