Poison Panic: Arsenic Deaths in 1840s Essex

Pen and Sword
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True crime that “will appeal to readers interested in gaining an insight into the lives of women accused of murder in the mid 19th century” (Essex Family Historian).
 
For a few years in the 1840s, Essex was notorious in the minds of Victorians as a place where women stalked the winding country lanes looking for their next victim to poison with arsenic. Though that terrible image may not have much basis in truth, it was a symptom of an anxiety-filled time . . .
 
The 1840s were also known as the “hungry ’40s,” when crop failures pushed up food prices and there was popular unrest across Europe. The decade culminated in a cholera epidemic in which tens of thousands of people in the British Isles died. It is perhaps no surprise that people living through that troubled decade were captivated by the stories of the “poisoners”: that death was down to “white powder” and the evil intentions of the human heart.
 
Sarah Chesham, Mary May, and Hannah Southgate are the protagonists of this tale of how rural Essex, in a country saturated with arsenic, was touched by the tumultuous 1840s.
 
“Barrell’s meticulous research and eye for detail recreate lurking threats, and these scandalous true stories are as compelling as any crime fiction.” —History of War
 
“An intriguing read that brings a forgotten history to light and reveals past attitudes to women—and a national fear that gripped Victorian Britain.” —Family Tree Magazine
 
“This book will fascinate not only historians of true crime and those with an interest in genealogy but any reader seeking a story that would make Agatha Christie proud.” —All About History
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About the author

Helen Barrell is a librarian at the University of Birmingham. She has written for magazines such as Fortean Times and Family Tree, and transcribes parish registers from Essex and Suffolk for the FreeREG project. It was while transcribing the burial register for Wix, in Essex, where some of her ancestors lived, that Helen found a note in the margin: ‘This man was better known by an alias, “Spratty Wats”. He was poisoned with arsenic by his sister-in-law Mary May, and she was hanged for it.’ The more she read, the more Helen realised it was part of a much larger scandal, and discovered that the story of her own family crosses over with the ‘poison panic’. Helen has her own history website and blog at www.essexandsuffolksurnames.co.uk and author website at www.helenbarrell.co.uk
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Additional Information

Publisher
Pen and Sword
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Published on
Aug 31, 2016
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9781473852082
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 19th Century
True Crime / Murder / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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