Mr Thomas Masters, the Landlord of The Talbot Arms, from the Times Report
of the Trial of William Palmer pub. 1856
is a long straggling town of small houses, kept very clean, and occupied
by persons extremely well to do in the world. It is about as large as
Twickenham, and seems to have been built up without any apparent design
beyond the whim of the bricklayer. Commercial travellers say it is a
good place for business, and that accounts "are particularly safe".
It certainly is a peculiar little place, with its cottage shops and red-brick
houses, with large leaden lights and big shutters. To those who like
bustle and crowded pathways, of course the country quietude of the town
would be oppressive and saddening. But to us there is a certain charm
in the deserted thoroughfares, when the only persons to be seen are the
housewives at the windows, behind the rows of geraniums, plying the needle,
whilst the husband is working in the fields. We prefer the noise heard
from the other end of the street, of Mr. Wright's hammer, ringing on
the anvil to the rumbling of bus and cab wheels under our windows. The
young lady on the hot pony standing on the footway of bricks, close up
to the shop-door, and giving her orders to the baker's wife, turns nobody
into the road, for nobody is out walking, and yet there are plenty of
inhabitants - hard working people - who are earning their day's hire
at Bladen's brass-foundry, or Hatfield's manufactory.
Rugeley has a Town Hall, which occupies
the centre of the Market-place, with its justice-room in the upper storey,
and a literary institution and a savings' bank on the ground-floor. It
has three or four London-looking shops, and a hundred countryfied ones.
There are butchers with only half a sheep as their stock in trade, and
grocers that sell bread, and tailors that keep stays and bonnets for
sale. It is a very curious little over-grown village, and too pretty
to be abused.
Soon after you leave the railway station,
and have crossed the bridge by the flour mill, and left Mrs. Palmer's
house and the two churches in the background, you come to the Talbot
Inn; at the bend of the road, near the half-timbered cottage, is the
shop of the only person who has benefited by Palmer's ill deeds - Mr.
Keeyes, the undertaker, for he has had the job of getting up all the
You are now in Market-street, where the
new post-office is, which two dashing young gentlemen have come down
from London to manage, in stead of Mr. Cheshire. Already you perceive
in the distance the sign-board of the Talbot Arms Hotel swinging over
the stone steps before the entrance door. The Talbot Arms is a bold-faced
house, something like a cotton mill outside, only the windows are too
large, with an acre of backyard, surrounded by stables and coach-houses,
which no doubt are filled during the horse-fair, but are nearly empty
for the remainder of the year. You will most likely see an old gentleman
in drab breeches and cut-away coat standing at the door, supporting himself
on a stick. that is Mr. Thomas Masters, who lived in the house for seventy-four
years, and rides a brown mare, aged thirty. "We make a good bit
over a hundred together," he will tell you, if you like to go and
chat with him.
William Palmer's house is in front of the
Talbot Arms, that stone-coloured building standing back, as if in shame,
a little from the road. It will be a good time before that house lets
again. The paper will peel off the damp walls, the tiles will become
loose, and the little strip of neatly-kept garden at the back be choked
up with weeds before the next tenant takes possession. We should not
wonder if that house becomes haunted. However, the property belongs to
Lord Lichfield, and he can afford the loss of rent.
You pass by other shops, and amongst them
them Mr. Ben Thirlby's, the prisoner's assistant. Here too, is the crockery
shop, where Palmer used to deal; there is the saddler's, where his harness
was repaired; there the tailor's, where his clothes were made. Everything
in Rugeley is Palmer now. Nothing else is talked of.
We come to the bank where Palmer kept his
flickering account; now immense, from the £13,000; now down to
almost nothing, from losses on the race-course. They do not seem to work
very hard at country banks, for this one opens at ten and closes at three.
Now you are in Brook-street, where the horse-fair
is held. It is as broad as Smithfield, and as long as Regent-street,
with plenty of room for looking at the horses, even though they should
chase down the road like a cavalry regiment. The tall pole facing you
is called the Maypole, and although it is as high as a three-decker's
mast, it is said that boys sometimes climb up it; but it must hurt their
legs, for half way is a quantity of iron hooping.
Now we see Rugeley in its beauty. The houses
on both sides are large and comfortable, and country-looking. The trees
that line the road give it a country air. The waggon before the miller's
door and the drove of sheep and cows raising the cloud odf dust in the
distance, are sufficient to destroy the solitude of the landscape. In
the far background are the dark hills of Cannock Chase framing-in the
"Rugeley," observes an inhabitant
to us, "is one of the prettiest places in Europe. The country around
is most beautiful for miles. There are nothing else but noblemen's mansions
and grounds; and do you think they would come down and live here if it
wasn't a pretty spot? There is the Marquis of Anglesey's within four
miles - the beautiful desert, as they call it - Beau Desert, with the
most lovely scenery, all along the road leading to it, you can imagine.
There, in the other direction, is Lord Hatherton's park and woods, from
which half the navy dock-yards are supplied. Oaks, sir, as big round
as cart-wheels. Then there is Lord Bagot's; the finest woods in Europe
Lord Bagot's got. Then there is the Earl Talbot's estate, and Weston
Hall, and a hundred such. Bless you, sir, compared to Rugeley, Nottinghamshire
is a fool to it. Then there's Hagley Hall, within a hop skip, stride,
and a jump of the town - only a mile, with the finest shrubberies in
the world; and the Hon. Mr. Curzon is so kind as to allow the people
of Rugeley to enjoy them. It's only this Palmer that has set people against
the place, or else everybody would be singing its praises."
To the above smart description, we will
add a few additional particulars:-
Rugeley contains 7,120 acres, and has a
population of 4,500. Its principal fair - the Rugeley Cattle Fair - for
which it is so famous, commences on the first of June, and closes on
the 6th. The other fairs are the second Tuesday in April, the second
Tuesday in December, and the 21st of October.
The Free Grammar School at Rugeley, to
which William Palmer went, and which is the only school he ever attended,
is supported by endowment from Queen Elizabeth: consisting of land in
and about the town, the present annual value of which is about £400.
Rugeley has nine schools, all endowed, and belonging to the Established
Church. It has one Catholic school, not endowed; and one Wesleyan Methodist
The Free Grammar School is a square brick
building, surrounded by a high brick wall. Premises have been recently
built out from the house, which, from being pretentiously Gothic, are
peculiarly unlike the plain square houses they are connected with. The
scholars' entrance is through an iron gate. There are some fine trees
round the school-house, and holly has been trained along the top wall.
Very little of the house can be seen from the road, as the wall is very
high, and the trees very luxuriant in growth. It stands immediately opposite
the grave of Palmer's former friend - John Parsons Cook.
two pictures below show places mentioned in the article above.
Town Hall where the Inquest was held. From Illustrated Times 2nd
Maypole in Rugeley 1856 from the Illustrated Times 2nd February
1856 and the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer published
further study another source of a description of Rugeley can be found in
White's Trade Directory of Staffordshire 1851 (copy in the County Record
print entitled Rugeley from the south looking towards the railway was printed
in the Illustrated Times dated 2nd February 1856.