nonfiction

Sarah Metyard the Murderous Mitten-Knitter (1762)

This case is fairly horrendous, and involves a great deal of torture and stone cold callousness. I was looking for character inspiration and potential Awful Secrets for backstories for our awful characters in the 18thC Slasher WIP. We weren’t sure how dark we wanted to go, and ideas are being tossed around still, but I came across this horrific report and decided to inflict it on everyone else.

This case interested me because it is allegedly only the second ever time a mother and daughter were hanged together for the same murder, [the first time allegedly a Mrs Branch and her daughter, convicted of killing a maid of theirs in Somerset], and also because one of the reports notes that both their bodies were taken for dissection. Only bodies of those executed for the crime of murder could be legally used by anatomists, and this was one of the reasons demand for teaching materials outstripped supply and led to the rise of the professional bodysnatcher. Since this WIP came about out of a grain of an idea after listening to Romancing the Gothic’s double bill of body snatcher talks, this detail jumped out at me.

You can listen to Sarah Wise on the world of the London Bodysnatchers here and Suzie Lennox on the Relics of Bodysnatching here.

I’m going to look into the case of Mrs Branch and her daughter later on to see what that’s all about!

CWs for mistreatment and deliberate starvation, dismemberment, seizures and mother-daughter toxic relationship, and a double execution by hanging.


June 26, 1762 – June 29, 1762
Publication: St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) Issue: 203

Full Transcript:

Saturday last was committed to New Prison by Thomas Kynaston, Esq; Sarah Metyard, of Brudenell Street, Mitten-Knitter, on the Oath of Sarah Morgan, her own Daughter, for the barbarous Murder of Ann and Mary Nailor, her two Apprentices, by cutting off their Arms, and mangling them in a most in-human Manner, and afterwards throwing them down into the Gully Hole.

Ann Nailor’s murder was 4 years prior to the trial; Metyard tied Ann up and starved her to death. The Public Advertiser named Metyard as ‘Jane’ not ‘Sarah’, and only mentioned Ann and not Mary. [Monday,  July 5, 1762, Publication: Public Advertiser (London, England) Issue: 8632]


 July 7, 1762 – July 9, 1762
Publication: Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) Issue: 778

Full Transcript:

On an examination on Monday last before Sir John Fielding and Thomas Kynaston, Esq; in relation to the mother and daughter who are charged with the murder of their two female ‘prentices ; among the rest of the several acts of inhumanity, it appeared, that one of the bodies of the deceased was kept in the house several weeks before mangled ; and having a remarkable finger on one hand, it was cut off and burnt, by reason it should not be thrown into the common sewer for fear of a discovery.

This day Sarah Metyard, and Sarah Morgan Metyard, her daughter, were re-examined before Sir John Fielding, Knt., P. Mombray and Thomas Kynaston, Esqrs. and being charged on oath of divers persons with wilfully and maliciously murdering Ann and Mary Nailor, by beating and bruising them, and starving them to death, were committed to Newgate to take their trials.


More details about the case and mistreatment of Ann, who was 13 years old, come out during the course of the trial, where Metyard’s daughter took the stand and tried to accuse her mother of the majority of the misdeeds in order to save herself. This didn’t go quite as planned.

Thursday,  July 22, 1762
Publication: Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (Bath, England) Issue: 41

Full Transcript:

Sarah Metyard, and Sarah Morgan Metyard, her Daughter, for wilfully and maliciously murdering Ann Nailor, a poor Parish Girl, her Apprentice, about four Years since, by beating, bruising, and tying her up to a Door in a Garret for three Days continually, which was frequently done, and for with-holding from her Victuals and other Necessaries, and there-by starving her to Death.

The Daughter, in her Defence for herself, endeavoured to set out the Mother in the blackest Light, affirming, that she was the Cause of her Death, by Starving, &c. that she, after concealing the Body, kept in a Box ’till too offensive to be borne, when she cut it into several Parts, and carried it from her House near Mount-Street, to Chick-Lane, where she threw them into a Gully-hole, except one of the Hands, which she says she burnt. The Trial lasted seven Hours, and the Jury without going out of Court, brought them in both guilty.

There was another Indictment of the same Nature against them for the Murder of Mary Nailor, Sister to the above unfortunate Child. —-Sentence was passed on them at the Rising of the Court.


July 3, 1762 – July 6, 1762
Publication: London Chronicle (London, England) Issue: 863

Full Transcript:

The same day Sarah Metyard was re-examined before Sir John Fielding, Knt., and Thomas Kynaston, Esq; on the oath of Mary Morgan, her own daughter, for the wilful murder of her two apprentices, by cutting off their arms and legs, and afterwards throwing their bodies into the gully-hole, and after a long examination, the said Sarah Metyard declared that it was not her that did it but her daughter ; on which she was sent back to New Prison Clerkenwell, and her daughter to the Gatehouse.

(The names are all over the place in these reports, Sarah is called ‘Sarah Metyard’ and then ‘the said Anne Metyard’ in the same piece in the London Evening Post, the daughter is Sarah Morgan Metyard, but also Mary Morgan, but sometimes just Sarah Morgan. Names are flexible…)

In 1762, the case was written up in a pamphlet alongside a highwayman’s execution, entitled ‘God’s Revenge Against Murder‘. It’s available via Eighteenth Century Collections Online [ECCO], account required. The pamphlet includes the testimony of Philadelphia Dowley, 14 years old, who was ‘bound out’ by the parish of Tottenham High Cross to the mother, Sarah Metyard. Philadelphia said that Ann had tried to run away on account of being starved, but the milkman stopped her when Sarah and her daughter told him to, and Ann was taken back upstairs and beaten.

Note that at the time of trial, Sarah Morgan Metyard was nineteen years old, and so at the time of the murder four years previously, she would have been fifteen.

Philadelphia said it was the (then 15 year old) daughter who tied up Ann to the door, with the rope around her middle and her hands behind her so she could not sit or lie down, and untied her at night so she could go to bed. She asked her mother to help her tie Ann up, but her mother said, “No, if you will have your crotches; you may do them yourself.” (Crotch in this case relates to crotchet, meaning whim or fancy).

Philadelphia recounted calling down that Ann was ill and hung double from her rope, that she seemed dead to her, and the daughter came up and beat Ann with a shoe but she didn’t move. So she was untied and Philadelphia was sent downstairs with the two other apprentices, Mary Nailor, Ann’s sister, and Ann Paul, who was also no longer alive by the time of the trial.

Richard Rooker was apparently a lodger of Mrs Metyard’s some time after the murder of Ann Nailor, and took up with the daughter Sarah/Sally Morgan Metyard. When he moved out and took his own house, he took the daughter with him, and the mother made a big fuss about it, coming by and making a riot outside his house. On one occasion she broke in and threatened her daughter with a knife, and had given her a blow on the head. Rooker heard the daughter exclaiming, “Mother, you are the Chick-lane ghost; remember the gully-hole!” He asked her what she meant, and tearfully young Sarah/Sally told him that they had starved their apprentices to death and Ann Nailor was the first of them to be starved, and her body had been dumped in the open sewer in Chick Lane.

[Sarah was making a deliberate reference to the Cock Lane ghost story in her cryptic exclamation here; it features in the free-to-view Romancing the Gothic class on Spooks, Spectres and Frauds by Dr Sam Hirst.]

Rooker claimed the daughter was in the power of the mother, and frequently had scratches on her face, and that he and his sister were verbally abused by Mrs Metyard after he took Sarah/Sally in, but he could not prove that the abusive letters his sister received were written by the mother.

The pamphlet contains the full account of the daughter’s testimony (with the mother’s objections and interjections) and despite both mother and daughter calling character witnesses in their defence, all of whom gave them good ones, the jury returned a verdict of guilty in the case of Ann and sentenced both to death.

Thursday,  July 22, 1762
Publication: Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (Bath, England) Issue: 41

Full Transcript:

Yesterday Morning Sarah Metyard, and Sarah Morgan Metyard her Daughter, a young Woman about Nineteen Years of Age, were executed at Tyburn pursuant to their Sentence, for starving Anne Nailor Apprentice to the former, to Death, about four Years since.

The Mother was so affected that she continued in Fits all the Way, and lay down in the Cart, and was not able to attend the Prayers at the Place of Execution, but was obliged to be lifted up a Minute or two before she was turned off.

The unhappy Daughter was so weak that she was supported all the time she was in the Cart, and behaved with the greatest contrition.

After hanging the usual time, their Bodies were carried to Surgeons Hall in order for Dissection.


Tuesday,  July 27, 1762
Publication: Leeds Intelligencer (Leeds, England) Volume: , Issue: 433

Full Transcript:

Yesterday morning Sarah Metyard, and Sarah Morgan Metyard her daughter, a young woman a young woman about nineteen years of age, were executed at Tyburn pursuant to their sentence, for starving Anne Nailor, apprentice to the former, to death about four years since. The mother was so affected that she continued in fits all the way, and lay down in the cart, and was not able to attend the prayers at the place of execution, but was obliged to be lifted up a minute or two before she was turned off.

The unhappy daughter covered her face with her handkerchief almost all the way to the place of execution, so that few people had the opportunity of discerning her features ; soon after she came under the gallows, and was tied up being quite weak and dispirited, the rope was untied, and she was permitted to sit for some time in the cart ; which occasioned a notion, that a reprieve was come for her. It is imagined there were full 50,000 persons present at the execution.

There was never an instance where mother and daughter suffered together before in England, except in the affair of Mrs Branch and her daughter, who were both executed at the same time for the murder of their maid in Somersetshire.


I’m pretty sure that mother-and-daughter hangings took place in England during the Witch Trials, but I can’t think of a case off the top of my head and might be wrong about that? Regardless, I’m looking into the Mrs Branch case too!

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