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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 21, 1820
Date of birth: 1783
Victim profile: Her husband, Thomas Worlock
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Oldland, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Gloucester on August 16, 1820

Rebecca Worlock, a 37-year-old mother-of-three, went to the gallows at Gloucester on 16th August 1820 for the murder of her husband, Thomas. He was a jealous man and this had caused a considerable amount of discomfort to Rebecca as there was no foundation to his suspicions. Finally, she decided that Thomas had to go.

Around the beginning of March 1820 Rebecca approached Mary Jenkins, who was a complete stranger and who was standing outside her mother's house, and asked her if she knew where she could buy something to kill rats. Mary told her to carry on a little further to Kingswood Hill where she would find Mr Wine's pharmacy. As the purchase of poison required two people to be present, Rebecca asked Mary to accompany her, which she agreed to do.

After buying arsenic and overjoyed at having the means to rid herself of her husband, Rebecca allowed her mouth to run away with her and she told Mary that the poison was not really for rats, but for her husband. Rebecca gave Mary threepence for her trouble and went on her way. Mary immediately recounted the tale to her mother.

On the evening of 17th April Thomas returned home to Barry Road, Oldland, after a hard day. He had walked about 30 miles that day and was thirsty. He sent his eldest daughter, thirteen-year-old Mary Ann, across the road to the Chequers public-house for a pint of beer. Mary Ann took the jug from its place hanging on a nail in the kitchen, went across the road and Mary Hook, the landlord's daughter filled the jug. When Mary Ann returned home Rebecca met her and took the jug from her and told Mary Ann to go and fetch her brother and sister home. By the time Mary Ann had found her brother and sister, taken them home and put them to bed, Thomas had almost finished the beer. But in the bottom Thomas found a white gritty substance, some of which he put on the table, and accused Rebecca of poisoning him. Rebecca took the jug and washed it out in a bucket of water. The residue of the powder sank to the bottom and this was noticed by several people.

Meanwhile, Thomas had decided to consult a doctor to determine what the powder was. Accompanied by Thomas Jenkins, who had been enjoying a quiet pint in the Crown & Horseshoe in the village, he made his way to Dr Edwards in Keynsham. Dr Edwards dismissed the idea that the powder was poison, even though Thomas was now complaining of stomach pains and was vomiting.

Over the next couple of days Thomas got steadily worse. He died just after midday on 21st April. A post-mortem soon identified that an irritant poison was responsible for his death and Rebecca was arrested. She was tried at Gloucester Assizes on Monday 14th August. The jury took just seven minutes to find her guilty and she was sentenced to death. She later confessed and was hanged two days after the end of the trial.


Execution of Rebecca Worlock - H.M. Prison Gloucester 1820

The Murder of Thomas Worlock

Domestic Violence in the village of Oldland Gloucestershire - Oldland mother Rebecca Worlock Hanged for Murder

One of the more serious domestic crimes occurred in April 1820, when Thomas Worlock, having returned home after a long and tiring journey, sent his eleven year old daughter to the Chequers Inn, situated opposite his cottage, in Barry Road, for a jug of ale.

Upon returning to the cottage, her mother took the jug from her, and told the daughter to go back out to look for her brothers. As soon as she was safely on her own in the kitchen, Mrs Rebecca Worlock surreptitiously added rat poison to the brew, before taking the jug through to her waiting husband.

Thomas was by then demanding that the jug be handed to him as quickly as possible, as he had an insatiable thirst, not helped by his long dry journey. In an attempt to quench his thirst in one go, he gulped down the ale, whilst his wife nonchalantly looked on.

Having now drunk the bulk of the jug's contents, Thomas was, within a very short space of time, violently sick. Without any outward sign of anxiety, Rebecca casually took the jug away from her husband's grasp, and upon returning to the pantry, she calmly threw away the remaining contents and rinsed out the jug.

Although very sick, and in much pain, Thomas with the help of friends, was able to get to the local doctor at nearby Keynsham. Thomas had had a recent history of stomach ailments, and during the past few weeks had been to see the same doctor, complaining of stomach cramp and upset.

Despite Thomas' assertion that he had been poisoned, the doctor dismissed this prognosis, and decided that the matter was not life threatening.

Certainly, little appears to have been done, by the doctor, to relieve the undoubted pain being experienced by the unfortunate Thomas, and perhaps in fairness to the doctor, little could have been done in 1820 to relieve such pain.

After four days of sheer agony and torment, relief came to Thomas in the form of death.

Arrested and charged with her husband's murder

At the subsequent inquest, the cause of death was established to be poisoning, and shortly afterwards, Rebecca was arrested and charged with her husband's murder.

During the trial at the Assize Courts in Gloucester, it was established that Rebecca had first attempted to purchase the rat poison from Mrs. Stephens, the apothecary on Kingswood Hill.

Because Mrs. Stephens had a rule not to sell poison to one person on their own, Rebecca was at first turned away, but being a rather determined woman, if perhaps not a very wise one, she stopped the first person she met outside the shop and asked for help.

Some how she managed to persuade the stranger, a young woman by the name of Sarah Jenkins, to accompany her back into the apothecary, and on her second attempt, was successful in making the necessary purchase.

According to Mrs. Stephens' testimony this was accomplished by Mrs. Worlock having convinced her that the poison was required, for nothing more sinister than 'to kill a rat'.

Having secured the poison, Rebecca left the shop with the young woman, but instead of leaving quietly, with a nodding thanks to Sarah, Rebecca had to compromise herself and celebrate.

Almost certainly, she had been somewhat taken aback by Mrs Stephens' refusal to sell her the rat poison, and probably saw her plans being suddenly thwarted by a lack of the powder required to relieve her of her unwanted husband.

Suddenly, her luck was to change when, having left the shop for the first time, she was fortunate to meet the gullible Sarah outside, and thus, being unable to hide her obvious relief at successfully 'getting one over the apothecary', Rebecca decided to tell Sarah the real reason for the purchase.

She explained to the young woman that she had a hell of a man around her who was the plague of her life, and whom she was determined to put to sleep at the first opportunity.

Perhaps there was then a sudden realisation in Rebecca's mind, as to what she had blurted out for, she then gave Sarah threepence for a pint of ale as a bribe not to say anything to anyone about what had happened. Needless to say, at the first opportunity, Sarah recounted, in full, the strange tale to her mother.

It was also revealed at her trial, that Rebecca was not a faithful wife and, her infidelity, being known to her husband, was a major cause of their many rows.

Guilty of the foul murder

The jury appears to have taken only a matter of minutes to find Rebecca guilty of the foul murder of her husband by poisoning and, as a consequence, she was sentenced to death by hanging, with the additional decree that afterwards, her body be handed over to the surgeons for dissection.

For the next two days, Rebecca was the sole occupant of the condemned cell, whilst at the same time, she was under constant surveillance. During this time, the only visitor allowed to see her was her local vicar, the Rev. Ellacombe, from Bitton.

On Wednesday, 16 August 1820, a large crowd began to gather in front of the main gate of Gloucester Prison, whilst Rebecca was allowed a breakfast on her own. before receiving visits from the Rev. Ellacombe, the Prison Chaplain and, then the hangman appointed for that particular day.

With hands tied behind her back, Rebecca was led to the Gatehouse, over the main entrance of the Prison, which was now surrounded by a large crowd, many of whom were from Oldland and from Bitton, all prepared to enjoy their day out to watch the spectacle whilst, at the same time, settling down to eat the picnics brought from home.

Because of the way in which the newly built gatehouse had been constructed, Rebecca, was for the time being, hidden from the public's view, and, thus, her one and only appearance would come when she literally dropped into view, through the trap door.

To add to the crowd's enjoyment, the prison authorities allowed the outside set of the double gates, to be opened. This caused the multitude to leave their picnics and to surge forward, jostling with each other for a better view.

To the many shouts, cheers and, no doubt a few screams, Rebecca made her final appearance in this world, and as was the practice of the day, was left dangling from the end of the rope for the next hour to ensure her death, and to enable the crowd to fully witness that justice had been done.

So ended one particular domestic crime but, no doubt, there were many others, although the majority of them stopped short of murder.

For the vast majority of those living in and around both the village and the parish of Oldland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, life was one of repetitious drudgery, in conditions of misery, degradation and, abject poverty. Fatal and non-fatal accidents, particularly amongst the colliers, were accepted unquestionably as unavoidable, and totally acceptable hazards of the day.



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