The Tabernacle Murder - Norwich Norfolk

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

It was during the mid 19th century that parts of Mrs. Martha Sheward turned up all over the streets of the city of Norwich, stuffed into gullies and blocking drains. At the time, of course, nobody associated these portions of female anatomy with that of Mrs. Martha Sheward of Norwich. 

Instead the finger was pointed at some Norwich medical students who were known for their macabre sense of humour and it was put down as a medical prank in very bad taste. 

There are two reasons why the police did not link the body parts with Mrs. Sheward, firstly the head was never recovered and secondly they had no idea that Mrs. Sheward had been murdered. 

That was until the murderer of Mrs. Martha Steward and the person who had chopped her body into small chunks, walked into a police station in South London in 1869 and confessed to an astonished desk clerk that he had murdered his wife. The confessor to the murder was none other than the then landlord of the Key and Castle Public house at no. 105, Oak Street, Norwich and the husband of the victim Mr. William Sheward. What makes this confession somewhat unusual though is the amount of time that had elapsed since the crime had been committed. Which was around eighteen years.

It was only after the trial and a guilty verdict that Sheward broke down and confessed all the gruesome details relating to the demise of the his first wife the late Mrs. Sheward.

A row had taken place in their small terraced house in Tabernacle Street (which is now the west end of Bishopsgate) over money; a common cause of friction between the Shewards. However, on this occasion Williams temper got the better of him and he grabbed his cut-throat razor and slashed his wife's throat from ear to ear. 

Despite the fact that his wife now lay at his feet in an ever-increasing pool of blood William Sheward still managed to keep an appointment for a job interview in Great Yarmouth, after changing his blood splattered clothes first.

Upon his return he found that his wife's body had not been discovered so he decided to dispose of the corpse. He did this by hacking his spouse's body up into small manageable chunks. Starting with Mrs. Sheward's hands and feet and so on. 

He then decided to reduce these pieces still further by placing them in boiling water and heating them up on the kitchen stove. He began with her hands then her head and then the feet. Next he placed some of the now slightly cooked flesh into a pail. 

Over the next few nights starting at Tabernacle Street, William Sheward roamed the Norwich streets with his grisly pail and its contents. Tossing out a finger here, a toe there and so on and so forth. Martha's entrails, it has been reported, he poked down one of the drains. Some of Mrs Sheward's parts were scavenged by dogs, rats and the like, but some of course where found. The process of chopping and then boiling was long and laborious and as time went by the rest of Martha’s remains began to putrefy and to smell. William became concerned that the neighbours might start to ask questions about the strange aroma emanating from his house so decided to speed up the process by leaving out the boiling stage.

At the time neighbours accepted Sheward's report that his wife had left him and returned to her family. So in all it appeared to be the perfect crime. With the death of his wife Williams fortunes took a turn for the better and he even married again and he and his second wife took over the Key and Castle Public house at no. 105, Oak Street, Norwich. Then for no apparent reason eighteen years after the murder of his wife on January 1st 1869 William decided to confess whilst on a trip to London.

On the 20th April 1869 William Sheward was hanged at Norwich City Gaol.

His executioner is said to have been William Calcraft, one of the longest serving executioners of that era. Calcraft was known for his 'short drops' which used to result in the majority of his 'clients' strangling to death rather than having their necks broken.

So ended the life of William Sheward of Norwich, husband of Martha Sheward' who ended up all over Norwich. 

To this day it is not known what became of Martha Sheward's head, for her husband would not say.

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography