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The history behind the Hingham murder of Henry Springall

Jun 17, 2023

A vicious and cunning murder shocked a quiet Norfolk village in the later nineteenth century.

John Thurston, 30, appeared before a court in 1886 for the wilful murder of Henry Springall on December 5, 1885.

A "smart-looking young man", dressed in a tweed suit, with a yellow necktie and clean stand-up collar, he was described as having a "military appearance", due in part to his time spent in the army.

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Arraigned for two indictments of theft and murder, Thurston stood in the dock and declared in a firm voice "not guilty", but the evidence against him was seemingly overwhelming.

Thomas Ward, a gangmaster in Hingham, testified that John Thurston and Henry Springall were working for him at the time.

Springall, who was about 58 and a widower, lived in lodgings and was a man who "saved a little", according to Ward.

You can still walk down Ringers Lane in Hingham today (Image: Google Maps)

He said of the fateful day: "At about 12 o'clock on December 5, Springall brought me a pound's worth of silver, which he took out of a purse, and I gave him a sovereign for it.

"Besides the sovereign, I saw only a shilling or two in the purse, which Springall put into his trousers pocket."

The three gentlemen then left at half past three and walked up to the George public house where they parted ways.

That afternoon Thurston was wearing a dark coat and dark gaiters coming up to his knees.

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It was around two and a half hours later that Ward met back up with Thurston, who he noted was dressed in a sleeved waistcoat - with no coat on.

Springall was not seen again.

Ms Clarissa Long testified that on the afternoon of December 5, she was travelling from Hingham to Hardingham and stopped at the top of Ringers' Lane when she saw two figures emerge from the bend in the road.

She saw one of the figures fall to the floor and the other figure began to beat the one that had fallen.

The village of Hingham was shocked by the brutal murder (Image: Newsquest)

She could hear the repeated blows and what sounded like one of the figures saying "Yon old devil, I will kill you."

The assailant then leapt over the hedge into the nearby meadow and disappeared.

Evidence was also given by one of Ward's labourers, the landlord of the George public house, a blacksmith, a bricklayer, other landlords and many more.

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Combining all of the testimonies, the judge put the case to the jury and they retired to chambers to reach a verdict, returning again in only 11 minutes to pronounce Thurston guilty.

Turning to Thurston, the judge said he was righteously found guilty of murder "so cruel and atrocious that it is difficult to find language to express one's feelings with respect to it" - and sentenced him to death.

The prisoner, who stood while the sentence was pronounced, listened to it without showing the least emotion, and when it was over stepped briskly from the dock.