Exactly 190 years after Bedminster trial and hanging, John Horton laid to rest

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By Hannah2009 | Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 10:33

It was 190 years ago that John Horton was hanged for murder at Bristol New Gaol across the New Cut from us here in Bedminster. Today, thanks to the determined efforts of a distant relative, Mary Halliwell, John Horton will finally be laid to rest in the family’s grave at Hanham.

Following his trial at the Star Inn in Bedminster on 11 April 1821, John Horton became the first person to be executed at the New Bristol Gaol, for the murder of his former girlfriend, Eliza Balsom.

When their relationship had ended in 1820, Horwood apparently swore that he would ‘mash her bones to pieces’ if he ever saw her with another man. Early in 1821, spotting Eliza with her new boyfriend, he threw a stone at her, striking her on the temple.

Although she survived for a time after the attack, Eliza was later treated at the Bristol Royal Infirmary by Dr Richard Smith, the chief surgeon, for a depressed fracture. She died on 17 February 1821.

Book of Skin

After the public hanging, John Horton’s body was handed over to Dr Smith for dissection. 

Although that wasn’t unusual in itself, events took a macabre turn when Dr Smith also had the body skinned, tanned and used to bind the Book of Skin, which held all the papers in the case.

The Bristol Records Office still holds the Book of Skin

For years, Dr Smith kept the skeleton at his home in Park Street. It was passed to the BRI after his death and later to Bristol University.Today, at 1.30pm – exactly 190 years to the hour he was hanged – John Horton will be buried at Christ Church, Hanham. 

Mrs Halliwell became determined to secure a proper burial for John Horton’s remains after discovering that he was the brother of her great- great- great-grandfather. 

Mrs Halliwell said: "As a descendant of his, my wish is to lay him to rest as his parents wanted – to have him buried in a dignified way.

"After 190 years I will have fulfilled his parents' wishes, and that is the most important thing. It will give me peace of mind that I can put closure to it."



  • Profile image for Mrs_W2009

    Grim. I read that the wound got infected after she went into hospital, which seemed to happen a lot then. Perhaps it was actually the doctor who caused her to die? I guess it's not that different now in some respects - best to get out of hospital as soon as you can before you go down with some nasty bug!!

    By Mrs_W2009 at 11:04 on 15/04/11

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