Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Hand that Smoothes the Pillow

The Hand that Smoothes the Pillow: 
Mary Ann Cotton – the Life and Times of a Victorian Serial Killer
Church End Library, 24 Hendon Lane, N3 1TR
Wednesday 20th May 1.00-2.00pm



Theresa Musgrove kicks off the festival with an intriguing talk about her research. She is now writing what she hopes will be the definitive study of the life of the Victorian poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton.

Until the conviction of Dr Harold Shipman, at the beginning of this century, Mary Ann Cotton bore the dubious distinction of being Britain’s most prolific serial killer. She was convicted of the poisoning by arsenic of her seven year old stepson, and hanged in Durham Gaol in 1873, but was suspected of the murder of twenty or more other victims: husbands, lovers, children and mother. Her arrest and trial received highly sensationalised and widespread publicity at the time, yet today she is barely known outside the North East of England.

Uniquely, perhaps, by the standards of the day, the truly sensational feature of the story of Mary Ann Cotton was that she was a working class woman of little education, a miner’s daughter, a miner’s wife, aspiring to a life beyond the limitations of her class and sex, who evaded detection for so long by the deployment of her undoubted intelligence - and a fatally manipulative personality.

Little has been written about Mary Ann Cotton, and much of what there is has been poorly researched, but over the last few years Theresa has attempted to undertake a wide ranging review and reassessment of the background to her story, correcting the many errors and omissions that have crept into the accepted version of her life, and uncovering a significant amount of new material, including evidence, she believes, of at least one previously unknown victim. 

For those of you who attended last year's history talk by Theresa, will remember it was standing room only. Be sure to get there early if you want a seat.

Theresa Musgrove is a local writer and blogger, best known for the ‘Broken Barnet’ blog, written by her alter ego, Mrs Angry.

Follow Theresa on Twitter: @brokenbarnet

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