In the small hours of 27 May 1817, Mary Ashford, a young servant girl from the village of Erdington near Birmingham, left a party in the company of Abraham Thornton. A few hours later she was found drowned in a pool; an inquest established that she had been raped.
Despite a seemingly solid alibi, Thornton, an uncouth young man with a bad reputation, was soon on trial for his life, but to the widespread consternation of everyone from the local gentry to the humblest labourer, he was acquitted at the direction of the judge.
Public opinion across the country was outraged, convinced that a murderer had evaded the gallows. Then, in a last-ditch effort to find justice, Mary’s brother used an archaic legal process to prosecute Thornton again, only find himself confronted with an extraordinary challenge. In court, Thornton threw down a gauntlet and demanded his legal right to trial by combat…
The outcome altered the course of English legal history. In this many-layered account, Naomi Clifford looks at the key issue of whether Thornton was guilty but also explores themes including the birth of forensic investigation, the meaning of sexual consent and the struggle of a modern state to emerge from its medieval legal heritage.
I really enjoyed this book.
The Murder of Mary Ashford is a very well researched book by Naomi Clifford that covers a murder that took place in the small hours of 27 May 1817. Mary Ashford was the victim; she was a young servant girl from the village of Erdington near Birmingham at that time (it is now a suburb of the city itself).
I love historical non-fiction and true crime books and I also liked that it was a location not too far from where I live and have visited so it was good to try and imagine what it might have looked like back at that time. The book is also a great record of social history regarding what it would have been like in the area at the time.
The author has clearly done quite a lot of research and argued her views as to why Mary should get the justice she deserves, this was justice that was denied at the time in 1817. It is a tragic case and it is just one of many that occurred over the years and reading it showed how much we have developed in terms of forensic science over the years too.
It is 4 stars from me for this one, it was a well-researched book and a great addition to my true crime collection – highly recommended!