Black Bull Public House, Main Street, Ferryhill.

The front left side of the building, to the right of the door was once formally Lloyds Bank.

Photography by Darrell Nixon, 2006. 

Premonitions of Death

Night after night, in the month of February 1928, former solider, and bank cashier, Mr. William Byland Abbey was being puzzled by the weird dreams he was suffering. He was suffering visions of two men grabbing him around the throat as he struggled to fight them off.  On Sunday 12 February, when he came downstairs in the lodgings of Parker Terrace, Ferryhill, he announced the visions to his landlady, Mrs. Bryan, who, coincidently, had a nightmare of him being killed. Mr. Abbey also announced that, if anyone did attack him whilst at work — the premises of Lloyds Bank (now the Black Bull Public House) — they would not get away as there would be a crowd of people outside, and he would throw a paperweight through the window to attract their attention.

After breakfast, he went to the Baptist Chapel in the village, where he was a Sunday school superintendent and choirmaster.

William Abbey

The following Monday morning, the 31-year old bachelor was back behind the counter of his bank, having forgotten about his dreams.

It would be exactly the same week that Mr. Abbey’s apparent dreams were to come true.

Thursday, February 16, 1928.

Lloyds Bank - the scene of the murder

Around three o’clock in the afternoon, he was attacked whilst at work, and soon, he was lying in a pool of blood, being bludgeoned across the head and stabbed in the throat. Just before he died. However he threw a paperweight through the main-window, just as he had prophesied.

The noise of the crash of glass drew outside attention, and a Mr. William Kell, rushed into the premises.  Mr. Kell noticed the cash drawer open and covered in blood. If has been rifled and covered in blood, and empty - with more that £200 being taken.

He then heard Mr. Abbey groaning in the corner, and went over, and found the cashier grasping the final words “it was a tall man who did it. He’s taken everything and gone off down the village”.

Police soon arrived, and a cobbler’s knife was found nearby the victim. (however later on, it was proved that the knife at the scene of the crime was not that of the killer's.)  There was blood splatters on the counter and walls, which showed that the victim had put up a fierce fight.

Sunderland’s CID Flying Squad’ was drafted in, and as darkness fell, roadblocks were set up across the county of Durham.

Cars were stopped throughout the night as police chased the theory that the killer had made off in an old, dark brown Rover. The theory turned out to be false when the owner of the car contacted the police and was eliminated from the enquiries. The real killer, in fact, was more casual in his escape. Witnesses saw him walk out of the bank and caught a bus at Metal Bridge.

The police traced the bus conductress, Ms Gladys Turner, from Shotton. She had no problems remembering the man…

The Killer

Norman Elliott

His name was Mr. Norman Elliott, a young man with a tragic upbringing. During his childhood, his mother had passed away, and his father, a police constable, never having got over his wife’s death, committed suicide on a railway line. Mr. Elliott was known by the bus conductress to be a friendly, talkative man who regularly caught the bus from his home in KelIoe, to Sedgefield Mental Asylum, where he was employed as an attendant.

The 22-year old man had married a few weeks earlier and was known as desperate for money.

His wife was Elizabeth Callan, whose parents ran the Turks Head Public House in Kelloe, and was well respected.

The young couple had just found cheap lodgings in Burrell Street and Elizabeth was found scrubbing the floor when detectives arrived to arrest her husband.

February 20 1928

Click Here to View Exclusive Newspaper Articles provided by permission of The Northern Echo

Mr. Elliott was taken away for questioning at half-past two PM, the precise moment when the funeral bell was tolling for Mr. Abbey in Ferryhill.  

Thousands turned up for the service at the village’s Baptist Church where he was formally a Sunday choirmaster. However, at the lat minute, the service was decided to take place right outside of Ferryhill Town Hall, in the open air, with 6,000 people on the streets watching the service.  Among the hymns sung, was Mr. Abbey’s favorite - Abide With Me”.

Duncombe Church, Ferryhill Station

Dumcombe Cemetery, showing the exact location of William Byland Abbey's grave.

Insert is William's burial record which is held by Ferryhill Town Hall.

 

The Burial Records held by Ferryhill Town Hall.

 

Abbey

William Byland

5100

779B

Ferryhill & Chilton Burial Joint Committeee - Index to Burials (1914 - 1927) 

---

William Byland Abbey

No 1500

31 years Bank Clerk Feb 16 (DOD) 2 Parker Terrace, Ferryhill (Continued on next row...)
Ferryhill No 779 B (Unconsecrated Ground) Feb 18 (Burial Date) C B Snell Frederwick Hewitt

Burial Details Record

---

No 779

William Byland Abbey

Feb 18 1928

J.B. Abbey

The Mount

Gilesgate

Durham

(Continued on next row...)

Feb 18 / 28

Grant Terms: Ever

Ordinary 5' 6"

5100

 

Burial Payment Book

 

William Abbey was buried at Duncombe Cemetery, at Ferryhill Station.  As the man’s coffin was lowered into the earth, his three sisters stepped forward to drop bunches of violets into his grave.

June 26 1928

At Durham Assizes, Elliott stood trial for murder and robbery. He pleaded not guilty. Many women turned up to watch the handsome suspect.

The prosecutor’s case was based on ‘witnesses seen when Elliott was leaving the bank around the time of the murder.

It was discovered that despite Mr. Elliot’s low wage, he was seen spending a lot of money after the killing...

Evidence

At Jackson’s the Tailors, Stockton, Mr. Edward Peel, the manager, said that Elliott had bought an expensive suit, telling him he needed it in a hurry because he was going away.  Referring to the murder, Mr. Peel told “That’s a terrible affair at Ferryhill”.

Mr. Elliott had replied: “Yes, really awful. We nave some bad ones in the asylum, bit none bad enough to do that’,

Mr. Elliott had even gone to another clothing store, where he spent £7 on a suit and overcoat. At Spennymoor, he spent £20 on furniture for his home.

When the police got a search warrant to search his work area, detectives had found nearly £140 in notes — stained with blood — hidden in a suitcase Elliott had kept at the asylum.

The trial, and a story of a Mr. George Sinclair

One the second day of his trial, Mr. Elliott, pale with shock, stepped into the dock to tell the jury and judge his story.  He announced that he had done no murder, but knew or was aware of the “identity” of a man who did it.  Elliott said that he was a keen fan of horseracing, and had travelled the country attending meetings.  He claimed that, whilst being in London, he met a man called George Sinclair, who he had later seen at race meetings at Newcastle, Stockton, and Redcar.  Elliott said Sinclair had agreed to meet in him Ferryhill, where Sinclair had “some business to sort out”.  He told the court that Sinclair had gone into the bank, where Elliott stood, waiting outside. Minutes later, Elliott looked inside and saw Mr. Abbey lying in a pool of blood, and Sinclair, running out.  Elliott said that he had not seen the man after that, and had not informed the police as he may have been blamed.  The jury was told that the police had done everything in their power and that was possible, to trace the mystery man, but had failed.

They had even shown 120 photographs of criminals to Elliott, but he could not pick out any.

And worse still, Elliott claimed that one of the men pictured, had being with Sinclair at one of the horserace meetings, when the fact was, the man was in Durham Prison at the time.

Waiting for the jury’s decision

The jury was sent out before lunch on the third day of the trial. By quarter past two, they returned with a guilty verdict.  The judge told Elliott that his defence was a “figment of imagination”, and had no choice but to sentence him to death.

Hanging onto life

The young prisoner went white and collapsed into the arms of four wardens, screaming “Mother! Mother!”  He was lead away to the cells, while the audience in the public gallery, spilled out into the streets of Durham City.  Outside, the city was packed with many crowds enjoying the bright sunshine, and the fun of the Durham Regatta.  Whilst inside, in his cell, Elliott sat sobbing as he tried to come to terms with his fate.

The Last Moments

Over the next few weeks, Elliott had written dozens of letters to his wife, who even visited him each day. On one visit, a black cat managed to stray into his cell and leapt onto his shoulder.

The doomed man tried to laugh and said: “Well, That’s a bit of good luck, any way”.

He told his wife of his innocence would be proved and he would be saved from the noose.  His appeal failed…

August 10 1928

Mr. Norman Elliot was hung in the grounds of Durham Prison, and his body was buried inside the grounds.

Outside, a brief letter was pinned on the notice board, telling the world that justice had been done,

But How Ironic?

• Elliott’s wife had been his bride little more than a month before his arrest, and after his death, she subsequently remarried.

• Mr. William Byland Abbey’s death proved not to have been in vain. It lent weight to his fellow cashiers’ campaign to put an end to one-man banks, and that end duly came...  

 William's Grave Today

William Byland Abbey was buried at the bottom of Plot B at Duncombe Cemetery, Ferryhill Station.  If you visit his grave today, you will notice a beautiful stone cross which once upon a time read out this full inscription:

THE SOULS OF THE RIGHTEOUS

ARE IN THE HAND OF GOD

 

IN

LOVING MEMORY

OF

WILLIAM BYLAND ABBEY

WHO BEING "FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH"

WAS CALLED TO RECEIVE "A CROWN

OF LIFE". FEBRUARY 16TH 1928

AGED 31 YEARS.

 

 

Sources of Information:

Green, N.  "More Crimes of Yesteryear: A Collection of Murders and Mysteries from Northumberland and Old County Durham", Northeast Press Ltd, 1993;

Thompson, A.A. "Classic Murders of the North East: 17 Incredible Cases", Forum Design, 1998.  ISBN: 1874358230;

"The Northern Echo" Newspaper.  February 17th, 18th, 20th,  and 21st 1928; June 28th 1928; November 6th 2006;

Ferryhill Town Hall.  Dumcombe Cemetery Burial Records 1928.

Dumcombe Cemetery, Ferryhill Station.