On 2nd April 1868 Frances Kidder met her maker at the end of William Calcraft's rope. She had been convicted of killing her step daughter Louisa Staples-Kidder. She became the last woman to be publicly hanged in England.
Frances Kidder was born Frances Turner in 1843 in New Romney, Kent to John an agricultural labourer and Frances Turner nee Drury. In 1861 Frances was working as a house servant for John English, a bookmaker and newsagent and his family in Folkstone. Some time in 1865 Frances met greengrocer William Henry Kidder and became pregnant by him, they had a daughter Emma and married later that year. However unknown to Frances, William already had an illegitimate child with his house servant Eliza Staple, 8 year old Louisa. Eliza had died in 1863, so Louisa came to live with Frances, William and their daughter Emma.
By some accounts Louisa was a spirited child and relations with her step mother never really flourished. Frances disliked Louisa and metered out regular beatings as well as depriving the child of food and forcing her to wear rags. The Kidder's neighbours even reported Frances for shutting Louisa out of the house irrespective of the weather. Frances was fined for her abuse of Louisa and the child was sent to live with a guardian. Unfortunately for Louisa, her father fell behind in his maintenance payments to the guardian and Louisa was sent back to her step mother's house, the abuse resumed.
One day in July 1867 whilst helping William with his potato dealing, Frances was involved in a accident and fell from the back of the cart, hitting her head when their horse bolted. According to William -
"She was in a fit for about four hours and she has been strange in her head ever since."
Some believe this accident caused brain damage and may have paved the way for what was to happen barely a month later. In the August of 1867 Frances took Emma and Louisa to visit her parents John and Frances in New Romney. During her stay she confessed to one neighbour -
“I mean to get rid of that bitch Kidder’s child. I hate the sight of her because she is always making mischief. I do not like other people’s bastards.”Whilst her parents were out Frances took the opportunity to take action on her earlier threat. She took Louisa on a walk with the promise of visiting a nearby fair. As they were walking over Cobb's Bridge in Romney Marsh Frances grabbed Louisa and pushed her face down into the water filled ditch and drowned Louisa less then a foot of water. When Frances and Louisa had failed to return to the Turners home her father and William went out to search for them. A little while later Frances turned up at her parents house without Louisa and refused to tell anyone her whereabouts. Fearing the worst William and Frances's father contacted the police.
|Bridge on Romney Marsh|
Constable Aspinall arrested Frances under the suspicion of murder. It was then that Frances finally revealed Louisa's location, stating that the girl had been frightened by passing horses and fell from the bridge into the water. She had tried to rescue Louisa but was unable to do so. Constable Aspinall said of the search for Louisa's body -
“It was a clear star lit night and we were furnished with lamps. There was a very heavy dew on the grass. Someone noticed something white in the ditch. I threw my light in that direction, it was the body. She was lying on her back, her head was under the water.”Frances was taken to Kent Spring Assizes and charged with the murder of her step daughter. Frances continued to protest her innocence but finally confessed to Rev Fraser whilst awaiting her execution in the condemned cell at Maidstone Prison.
Public anger towards Frances and her crime ran high and over 2,000 people turned out to watch her hang.
On 29th May 1868 Parliament passed the Capital Punishment Within Prisons bill, Ending all public hangings.