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Derby Mercury, March 22, 1882

ARSON AT SHIRLEY.— During the last few years no fewer than six stack fires have taken place in the parish of Shirley, and there cannot be a doubt that most, if not all, of them were the result of wilful incendiarism. Early on Tuesday morning, the 14th inst., a stack belonging to Mr. Edward Williams, of Shirley, was fired, no doubt, maliciously, and the police authorities have made every effort to discover the offender. The occurrence of so many fires in the village has produced a great sense of uneasiness, as it is evident that there is some person or persons either evilly inclined towards the people of Shirley possessed by an irresistible mania for setting stacks of hay on fire. A young man named William Normanshaw was on Tuesday afternoon last arrested on suspicion of having fired the stack belonging to Mr. Williams, and was on Wednesday brought before R. H. Frank, Esq., and remanded on bail until the Petty Sessions on Saturday, when a searching inquiry took place, lasting three hours. It resulted in the discharge of Normanshaw, the evidence being insufficient to connect him with the origin of the fires. It appeared by the evidence of Mr. Williams, George Hudson, William Morley, Constable Yeomans, and inspector Kirkland that at fifteen or twenty minutes past five a.m. on the 14th inst., Mr.Williams was aroused from bed by the defendant shouting that the stack was on fire. It stands in a stack yard about 70 yards from Williams' house, and there is a block of buildings between. The rick was on a wooden straddle and kids of fir on that. Williams hastened to it and found the rick on fire at one corner from the bottom to the top of the square, and the fire was just climbing up the roof; it is an oblong stack of about 15 tons; no one was there then but Wm. Morley, a neighbour, who was trying to check the fire. It was a fine morning and there was a white frost with frozen rime on the grass. Many more neighbours came and the fire was subdued in a short time. Defendant was there and he assisted by cutting away the smouldering hay. He works for Mr. Osmaston in the park, and lives about 100 yards from the stack. Mr. Williams said he was on friendly terms with Normanshaw, but declined to say that he had a good character. As soon as the fire was out Mr. Williams' attention was called to some footprints in the hoar frost in the orchard which lies between the stockyard and the road, and in the direction of defendants house. They were ten inches long and looked as if a person in stockings without boots, or in slippers goloshes, had passed through the orchard to the stack yard fence and back again. It was probable that the fire had not been caused more than five minutes before Mr. Williams got to it, the kids and hay being very dry. Normanshaw was much excited and worked very hard to pot out the fire. Hudson, who lives next door to Normanshaw, saw him coming out of his house at about 5.15 a.m.; he said that defendant's character was good, and he was a member of the church choir. The stack stands about eight yards from the highway. Morley saw the fire as he was going to his work. He lives about 100 yards from Mr. Williams' house, and started to work at about 10 or 15 minutes past five. Heard Normanshaw calling Mr. Williams, and then met the former, who told him the stock was on fire. Morley went to the stack; no one was then there, and it had just taken fire "by the looks of it", and it had just got into a blaze at one corner against the staddle. Others soon followed and assisted. Some gypsies used to camp in the neighbourhood, and had been prosecuted and imprisoned for some offence committed at Shirley. Constable Yeomans was called up by defendant at 5.30 a.m., and told of the fire, and he (Yeomans) went at once. He noticed the footprints in the orchard. The fence between it and the rickyard is posts and rails, and is close to the stack. The prints went in the direction of the house of defendant, who told the constable that he saw the smoke as he was going to his work,and thought they had been burning some sticks till he got to the road passing the rickyard. It would take Normanshaw 20 minutes to go to his work. He ought to be there at 6 am. Inspector Kirkland said it was 95 yards from the corner of the orchard to the prisoner's house; the corner of the rick which was on fire is 18 yards from the road. He went to the defendant at Osmaston Park and asked him when he left his house that morning. He said, "about half-past five." He said he saw the smoke as soon as he left his house, and thought it was a bonfire until he got near the stack, and added that he did not think it had been burning more than five minutes, and that he had seen nobody about until he called Mr. Williams. The inspector then arrested him on suspicion, when he said, "I'm innocent; but if I had known what I do now it might have been burnt for me." He had lucifer matches, tobacco, and a pipe in his pockets An attempt was made to preserve some of the footmarks, although covered up, the hoar-frost melted, and they disappeared.— In announcing the decision of the magistrates Captain Gladwin remarked that, as there had been several serious fires in Shirley, it had been highly necessary that an investigation should take place. There were certain suspicious cirumstances, but the evidence did not sufficiently implicate Normanshaw so as to render it necessary for the defence to be gone into, and the ease was therefore dismissed.— Mr. Paine, solicitor, of Hanley appeared for the defendant, and ably cross-examined the witnesses for the prosecution.

"District News." Derby Mercury 22 Mar. 1882. 19th Century British Newspapers. Web. 12 May 2016. URL Gale Document Number: GALE|BA3202783516

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