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Murder in Pocklington
This article was written by Martin Cooper.
Ousethorpe Camp
Ousethorpe Camp

On the 9th of September 1915 the murder of Mrs Hilda Bertha MacDonald (nee Charlotte Kent) 29 years old took place at the home of Mrs Eliza Rodgers, Brass Castle Hill, Pocklington. It was a crime of passion and jealousy.

The story starts in 1899 with the marriage of John William McCartney to Bridget Wyles at St Austens Roman Catholic Church on January the 14th 1899, they subsequently had three children the eldest serving in France with the army when the murder took place. At the time of the murder Mrs Bridget McCartney was living at 13 Ashworth Cottages, Brittanic Road, Darnell, Sheffield.

In 1913 John William McCartney appears in Hull posing as a single man where he met Charlotte Kent they lived together off Campbell Street, Hull until McCartney enlisted, June 1915, under the alias of Harry MacDonald, there is some confusion as to whether he was in the 10th or 14th Service Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, but his duties were as a cook in the Cook House.

Brass Castle Hill
Brass Castle Hill

McCartney/MacDonald came to Pocklington when his regiment was posted to Ousethorpe Camp near Pocklington, Mrs Hilda MacDonald/Charlotte Kent arrived late in the evening of June 26th 1915 at the home of Mrs Rodgers the wife of William Rodgers of 30 Brass Castle Hill, Pocklington, and asked for lodgings, McCartney/ Macdonald stayed in Ousethorpe Camp unless he had a weekend pass then he stayed at Mrs Rodgers.

The pair were married at Scunthorpe on 19th July 1915 and all was well until early August when McCartney/MacDonald grabbed his wife by the throat and dragged her round the kitchen until Mrs Rodgers separated them. The argument centred on McCartney/MacDonald's jealousy that his wife went out with other men.

About two weeks later Hilda MacDonald/Kent had finger marks on her neck which she said her husband had inflicted, one week later there was a similar occurrence, with the husband stating that she would make him do something desperate and he would "Do her in" one of these times. The following Sunday they went out for a walk, the next night McCartney/MacDonald called for his wife, she said "No I am not going out. I have not told Mrs Rodgers, but I will tell her now. He put his hands on me again last night and nearly finished me" A week later there was to be another argument with McCartney/MacDonald accusing his wife of drinking in the Feathers with other soldiers, which she denied and proceeded to hit him round the head, but he did not hit back.

With this catalogue of arguments Mrs Rodgers instructed them to leave her house altogether, on the 9th September McCartney/MacDonald called at 5.45 pm, Mrs Rodgers wanted a green blind putting up in the fish shop she ran with her husband at 12 Market Street, Pocklington. Hilda Macdonald/Kent said she would go if Mrs Waddington, Mrs Rodgers daughter-in-law accompanied her as she was afraid to go alone, they left together and McCartney/MacDonald followed, they returned after a short while and Hilda MacDonald/Kent went upstairs to change her skirt as she was to serve customers in the shop, her husband followed but she ran down almost immediately followed once again by McCartney/MacDonald.

At approximately 9 o'clock that night they returned and Mrs Rodgers refused McCartney MacDonald a bed for the night he told his wife "Come on we will find a bed somewhere else" she told him she had no money and would not go with him, he would have to go back to camp, she would stay with Mrs Rodgers and make alterative arrangements the next day. He refused to go back to camp and said, "Come to the door. I have something in my pocket for you" she refused and said if he indeed had something for her he could give it to her in front of witnesses, he then seized her by the chin, took a razor from his pocket and cut her throat saying, "If you will not go, take that". He then proceeded to draw the blade across his own throat.

Mrs Rodgers ran out of the rear of the premises to summon help, the police were informed. Supt. J. W. Robson and Police-Sergt Spriggs were on duty in George Street at 10pm when alerted to a murder having taken place at Brass Castle Hill, he procured a cycle and attended at once and found McCartney/MacDonald on the grass in front of No 30 Brass Castle Hill moaning "Oh dear".

Sergt Spriggs arrived and Supt Robson sent him into Mrs Rodgers home also sending for Dr Fairweather, whom had McCartney/MacDonald removed on stretcher to the Military Hospital in Union Street. Supt Robson then accompanied Sergt Spriggs into Mrs Rodgers home where they found the deceased in a large pool of blood in the doorway of the front passage, they also found a large pool of blood in the Kitchen with the murder weapon, which bore the prisoners regiment number 1376 on the haft. The body was removed to a stable in the Feathers Hotel yard.

An inquest into the murder was held in Pocklington where Capt Plumpton represented the Military and Mr. H. Syd. Powell represented the Chief Constable of the East Riding; Deputy Chief Constable Crisp was also present. Mr. C. Procter. J.P was the foreman of the jury, which was comprised of the following men: - Mr Chas Stather. Mr. J. E. Brook. Mr. C. Rowley. Mr. Percy Gilson. Mr. Thos. Read. Mr. H. Meynell. Mr. J. Layfield. Mr. Jas. Johnson. Mr. Geo. Todd. Mr. Fred. Lee. Mr. Geo. Moor. And Mr. R. D. Gray.

On October the 15th 1915 the prisoner was officially charged with the murder of Charlotte MacDonald/Kent, the prisoner replied "No more"

Pocklington Court House
Pocklington Court House in George St.

McCartney/MacDonald was brought up to Pocklington Police-Court on a remand charge on Saturday 30th of October 1915 before Mr. W. M. Harrison (chairman), Mr. F. Smith, and Mr. A. Summerson. At the trial testimony was heard from many witnesses including, Mrs. Eliza. Kent, wife of Frederick Kent a furnaceman, (at the tube works of Russell and Son) of 18, Ridding Street, Wednesbury, identified the deceased as her daughter who had a habit of calling herself Hilda Bertha. She had left home several years previously but had written home to say she was now in Pocklington and married. Mary Ann Pattison of Sandal, Wakefield said she had know the prisoner for 23 years and identified him as John William McCartney who had no particular occupation and that she had also been witness to his marriage to Bridget Wyles.

The prisoner refused to say anything at the remand trial, and he was committed to the next York Assizes for trial, the trial took place on Wednesday, November 24th. Mr Justice Atkin presided over the trial with Mr. H. Nield and Mr. H. C. Tebbs acting for the prosecution having been instructed by Mr. H. Syd. Powell, of Pocklington. Mr. Paley Scott was appointed for the defence. The prisoners plea was "Not guilty, my lord".

The prisoner's defence centred round his claim that he did not remember anything from that night, with Mr. Paley Scott putting forward a plea of impulsive insanity.

Mr Justice Atkin reviewed the evidence given and pointed out that he had previously been violent and on those occasions the prisoner knew what he was doing, on the night of the tragedy he had tried to coax her and caress her to leave the house, but she would not go, his comment of "I have something in my pocket for you". What did the jury think of that? Was that the statement of a man who knew what he was doing? The defendant was duly found guilty of wilful murder and was sentenced to death, on which the defendant cried, "Oh I was mad at the time".

The burial of Charlotte MacDonald/Kent took place on Sunday the 11th September in the afternoon, the remains had been removed from the Feathers Hotel at noon to the home of Mr and Mrs Rodgers where the tragedy had taken place, a large crowd gathered but was respectful. The Rev. Bower of the Primitive Methodist church conducted the service commenting on the fact that both Mr and Mrs MacDonald had attended church the previous week.

The editor of the Pocklington Weekly News found the mother Mrs Eliza Kent to be in very poor circumstances and arranged a collection for her from the towns' people and soldiers at Ousethorpe Camp with the help of Mr and Mrs Law of 16 Market Street, Pocklington, the money donated stood at £3. 9s.
John William McCartney/Macdonald was executed on Wednesday 29th December 1915 at Wakefield Gaol, he was the last man to be executed at Wakefield Prison.

In the Pocklington Weekly news of 1st January 1915 it gives the executioner as Pierpoint, there cannot be many executioners of that name the most famous being Albert Pierpoint hangman from 1932 to 1956. It is believed that he executed at least 433 men and 17 women, including 6 U.S soldiers at Shepton Mallet and some 200 Nazi war criminals after World War II. It would have been either his father Harry or Uncle Tom who carried out the execution of McCartney/MacDonald as they both practiced part time in the West Riding of Yorkshire.