A Victorian Heroine

"A True Heroine","Extraordinary Courage",  so reported all of the national and regional press in 1862.

  On the night of 12th November Mrs Norman was roused from her sleep by noises coming from the ground floor of her home in Horwich End, Whaley Bridge.

  It was 3 o'clock in the morning and Mrs Norman was awake, feeding her baby; her husband slept soundly. There was the sound of breaking glass from the room below. She did not wake Mr Norman as he was ill.   She hurriedly put on a few clothes and taking up a revolver from the table, went downstairs. Entering the sitting room, she saw a man standing near the window and looking towards the door.  In one hand he held a candle and in the other, a jemmy. She tried to fire the gun but at the first attempt the cap failed so she immediately fired the second barrel. The gun was loaded with ball.  The man clapped his hand to his shoulder and in pain called out "Oh God - Bill - Dick !".  The window was still open and as he started to climb out  an accomplice grabbed him by the collar and hauled him out.

  By bright moonlight Mrs Norman could see that the second man was taller, with a dark blue, flowered handerchief over his face.  The wounded man had worn a red, checked handkerchief over his face with eye holes cut into it. He wore a dark velveteen coat, the pockets of which contained something bulky. He wore long blue stockings with white tops and these covered his knees. He was rather stout. A third
accomplice was  a lad of about 17 or 18.   By the amount of blood, it was at first thought by the police that the wound to the burglar might be fatal.

  The shutters outside the window had been forced and the window itself prised open with the iron bar.  Some fabric and newspapers had been left on the windowsill by Mrs Norman before retiring and these were later found in the lane outside. A locked cupboard in the sitting room had been forced open and bore the marks of the iron bar.

As we shall see in the next posting, the three villains were soon apprehended and brought to court.

The break in at the Norman's house was obviously given high priority by the police for it was none less than Mr Fox, the Chief Constable himself who took charge of the case which had been referred to him by Superintendent Shaw.

  A detective inspector, Henry Hilton received word of the whereabouts of one of his suspects.  On the 21st November he went over to Macclesfield to a house  in Windmill Row where he found Matthew Depledge.  He asked Depledge when he was last in Whaley. He replied "I have not been to Whaley since a week last Sunday".  The Inspector then told him that he must consider himself his prisoner as he fitted the description of one of the three men who broke into the Norman's house. He replied that he didn't know a Mr. Norman. Inspector Hilton then searched the house and found a jemmy with a ring at the end.  The following morning he took his prisoner to the Macclesfield lock up.  He next took his prisoner to Whaley Bridge and during the journey Depledge said "Me and Jem Stanny and Bill Cope slept in Whaley on Sunday night and the following morning we left for Macclesfield".  The same day we all three went to Allmock moors for heath for making brooms and we stayed there until the following Thursday, when Cope left us to go to Manchester, and we went to Macclesfield".   He told the detective that he would find Cope at Manchester selling brooms.  He did not know where Stanny was as there was a warrant out for his arrest for poaching. At the lock up, Depledge told Superintendent Shaw that he had been in Whaley on the Monday and Thursday nights but not on Tuesday or Wednesday, the time of the burglary.  On the 26th November, Superintendent Shaw apprehended William Cope while he was still in bed. Cope denied being in Whaley on the Tuesday night.

Monday 24th November at Chapel-en-le-Frith; Matthew Depledge was brought before Captain Nield and Mr Slack.

Questioned by Mr Fox, the Chief Constable, Mrs Norman said that the prisoner was about the size of the man in her room and he had worn a velveteen coat. She did not however think this was the same man as he was not so tall.  The witness said that on the night of the burglary, the fire in her bedroom had gone out and on  hearing the noises downstairs, she left her child with her husband and had placed a chair against the bed to stop the child falling out. She should have awakened her husband when hearing sounds downstairs.  It was her habit to take pistols with her if going downstairs during the night.  The revolver was kept loaded as were two double barrelled pistols.  It had taken about five minutes from hearing the sounds until going downstairs. When the robbers had left, she ran to the window to see which direction they had taken which was towards Whaley. She then went to waken her husband.
Earlier that evening the servant girl had told Mrs Norman that something was stopping her from closing the shutters to which she replied "Never mind; we must have them repaired tomorrow". Later it had been found that a stone had been placed in the window sill to prevent them from closing.  Depledge was then remanded.

Monday 1st December 1862, the Court Room, Chapel-en-le-Frith. Matthew Depledge had already been remanded. James Stanney and William Cope had since been arrested and now all three were charged with the burglary at Horwich End on Wednesday 12th November.

 Mrs Norman was first to give evidence and she repeated much of the information that she had given to the police. She was asked if any of the men before her resembled those she had seen at her house. She replied that Depledge in build and in clothing was like the man whom she had shot.  Stanney was like the taller man who had helped Depledge through the window but Cope, she could not identify.

Stanney said "I have only had this coat since last Saturday and wore a dark blue one before". Inspector Hilton said that on asking Depledge where the jemmy had come from that he had found in his house, he made no reply.  The jemmy compared exactly with indentations made on the door of the sitting room cupboard.

Adam Hill, a shopkeeper, gave evidence that on the evening of 11th November, the three prisoners came to his shop in Whaley Bridge, to purchase a loaf of bread.  John Etchells, a shoemaker, had seen all three coming on the Macclesfield Road towards Whaley Bridge and only half a mile from the Norman's home.

Superintendent Shaw said that on his arrest Cope had denied being in Whaley on the Tuesday night. On mention of Stanney, Cope said that Jim had a coat on which he had purchased from Depledge on the 13th or 14th November for 4s.  On being pressed further, Cope answered "Ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies".

Mr Norman next gave evidence and said that on the evening of the 11th, his wife pointed out a man at the window.  The man was in a stooping position but soon walked away without turning. Mr Norman took little notice, thinking that he was a beggar.  At about 3.30am he had been woken by his wife who told him of the break in and that she had shot a man. He went down into the parlour but saw no-one.  The bottom sash was raised and a pane of glass broken.

After hearing some further evidence, the magistrates committed the prisoners for trial at Derby Assizes; Cope being granted bail.

On the 18th March 1863, less than a week before the case was to be heard at Derby Assizes, a dirty and rough looking letter had been found under Mrs Norman's front door.  The letters had been cut out from a newspaper and pasted together to read  "If you appear at Derby it will cost you your life".

March 18th 1863 and the Assize Court was about to sit.  The Derby Mercury described the pomp surrounding the occassion.


We are informed that as far as is at present known, Her Majesty's Judge of Assize, for this county, will arrive in Derby from Lincoln this morning (Wednesday) at 12.20pm.  The friends of the High Sheriff are invited to breakfast with him at nine o'clock, and at half past ten o'clock the High Sheriff, accompanied by his tenantry and friends, will proceed by road from Egginton to Derby, where he is expected to arrive at the King's Head Hotel at about 11.30, and from thence to the Railway Station to await the arrival of the Judges and escort them into the town to open the commission.  The High Sheriff will be met on the Burton Road by the javelin men. 

There are at present 61 prisoners for trial, and the Nisi Prius business appears to be rather heavy, there being three special and twelve common jury causes.The cause possessing most interest is the action of Mr Rose............; whilst on the Crown side interest is centred in the trial of the prisoners charged with the burglary at Whaley Bridge, in which case Mrs Norman who shot one of the burglars, will be examined.

The tenantry and javelin men will dine at the County Hotel.

Derby Mercury 25.3.1863

The Court was opened on Thursday morning after 10am by Mr Justice WIlles. The proclamation was read and a Grand Jury of 18 gentlemen sworn in.

The judge offered a few observations on the case of burglary at  Whaley Bridge.  It appeared from the depositions that the family of Mr. Norman were in bed and that Mrs. Norman hearing a noise, got up and did what she was perfectly justified in doing - namely armed herself witha pistol and went downstairs.  She appeared to find a man in the house and fired at him.  From the exclamation the man made, and the very remarkable motion described by Mrs Norman, they would infer that he was hit, probably in the shoulder.  The man escaped, but he took that opportunity of saying that there was abroad some foggy notion that the case did not warrant the use of a pistol, but he would say most clearly that Mrs Norman did not only what was perfectly right in law for her to do, but also what was an act of extraordinary courage and spirit.  If a man's house is
broken into, he is perfectly justified in not waiting for the officers of justice to come and protect him.  That case had excited great interest  and there was a very strong desire to bring the offenders to justice, but he cautioned against them  finding a bill against the prisoners unless they thought that a conviction was probable, for if they did not find a bill, and any additional evidence was obtained, they might again be put on their trial.

The Grand Jury at a quarter to four found no bill against the three accused.  Mr Jessel, who was instructed for the defence, made an application for discharge of the prisoners.

So this case finishes with something of an anticlimax.  The press had been more interested in the actions of Mrs Norman han the fate of the accused and the trial was only fully reported by the Derby Mercury.  There always seemed to be some question regaring Mrs Norman's ability to identify the accused due to their wearing of masks and it appears that this was the reason why the case failed.  The prisoners were presumably released.  No more is heard of Stanney or Cope, not in the papers that I have been researching; Depledge however was charged with the theft of two gallons of ale some ten years later and together with an accomplice was sentenced to a month in jail.

Depledge had presumably been injured by Mrs Norman's gunshot and from reports had bled quite profusely.  He must have received some treatment yet this was never reported.

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