James Blomfield Rush - murderer
[Further illustrations to be added]
James Blomfield Rush bought Potash Farm, Hethel in 1838. He was actually bidding at auction for his landlord, Isaac Jermy, who put a cap on the bid at £3,500. Rush went over this limit to £3,750 and obtained the farm for himself. However, he did not have the money to pay - and asked Isaac Jermy for a loan. This was granted - but he had to repay the money, with interest, by 1848.
Rush was the illegitimate child of Mary Blomfield, baptised in Tacolneston in 1800. When Mary married John Rush, a farmer in Old Buckenham, in 1802, James took on his step-father's name. He was educated at Eye Grammar School and took on his first farm tenancy near Aylsham in 1824. He married Susannah Soames in 1828 and they moved to Wood Dalling - where questions were asked about a mysterious haystack fire for which Rush eventually received an insurance payout.
James & Sysannah Rush had 9 children but 'he always lived beyond his means'. He was an avid reader of books and articles about the French and American Revolutions and joined the notorious Revolution Club in Norwich. In 1830, he helped some of the activists of the Swing Riots to escape from smashing machinery. In 1835 he took on a farm at Felmingham, next-door to his stepfather. His landlord was Rev George Preston, Rector of Beeston St Lawrence, who trusted him enough to make his land agent and to look after his affairs in his old age. Rev. Preston also owned Stanfield Hall, on the border of Wymondham and Hethel....
Rev George Preston died in 1837, leaving his estate to his son Isaac, a barrister who had become Recorder (judge) of Norwich in 1831. Isaac Preston (widower of Mary Ann Beevor) applied to be allowed to assume the name and arms of JERMY (an old family distantly related to the Prestons). Henceforth he was Isaac Preston-Jermy - and his son (formerly Isaac Jermy Preston) became Isaac Jermy Jermy. However, other members of the Jermy family challenged his right to inherit Stanfield Hall leading to a nasty dispute when they seized the Hall; Isaac sent Rush as bailiff to get them out; a riot followed and it was only when the Dragoon Guards backed up the local police that order was restored. It seems that from then on, Isaac Jermy could reside at Stanfield Hall when he wished.
In the same year Isaac eyed Potash Farm, Hethel, with a view to adding to his estate but lost out to Rush even though he ended up footing the bill.... The mortgage document stated that Jermy could repossess the farm should Rush fall behind with his payments - which was quite likely to happen. Meanwhile, Jermy studied the documents for the farms he owned at Felmingham, found discrepancies, had them revised and put up the rents. Now Rush had to pay not only his Hethel mortgage, but more for the farm at Felmingham where he was still a tenant.
Potash Farm was a substantial 3-storey dwelling with large barn and outbuildings. Visitors rmarked on the number of rooms and interconnecting doors. It is now the site of the Lotus headquarters in Potash Lane. From adverts in local papers, it seems that besides farming the land, J B Rush used nearby Little Potash farm (which still exists) as a sale yard and auctioned livestock and implements for local residents. But he was a man with huge debts....
The next 10 years saw problems and drama for James B Rush. In 1839 he was in court for breach of promise and seduction of a Miss Dank - then in the Workhouse - and had to pay substantial damages. In 1843 his wife died, but her inheritance went into a trust for their children. He forged a codicil to give him use of it until their youngest child was 21. In 1844 his step-father died in mysterious circumstances after he and James Rush had been out shooting together. The verdict was 'accidental death' and the £7000 estate went to James' mother - but he was able to persuade her to lend him large sums. And in 1846 he advertised for a governess and appointed Emily Sandford (then aged 25) for whom he also arranged lodgings in Islington, London. It was here that he met up with Thomas Jermy and John Larner who still laid claim to Stanfield Hall and agreed to help them get the Hall back in return for him retaining ownership of his farms. Emily drew up the documents and witnessed the signatures.... Back in Norfolk, Emily concocted leases on the farms and forged the Jermy and Larner signatures.
In 1848 Isaac Jermy took Rush to court for non-payment of his loan. Rush followed this up with a scurrilously defamatory pamphlet sent to all and sundry. He declared himself bankrupt in May 1848.
The loan on Potash Farm was due to be repayed on 30 November 1848.
On 28 November 1848, Isaac Jermy, Recorder of Norwich, was at home at Stanfield Hall with his son and daughter-in-law. After dinner, his son, Isaac Jermy Jermy and his wife Sophie and daughter Isabella sat down to play cards. The older man, Isaac Jermy, went out to the porch as usual for a breath of fresh air. There, he was shot by a masked and cloaked figure. Son Isaac and the butler rushed out at the sound of shots - and the younger Isaac was shot at point-blank range. The cloaked figure pushed the butler aside and rushed in; Sophie ran out, met the housemaid and clasped each other; they were shot - Sophie got away and ran upstairs; Eliza Chastney fell as if dead; Isabella escaped outside with the cook. The murderer ran off - leaving some warning notes.
Staff sought help from neighbouring farms and sent to Wymondham for police and a doctor - but this would have taken time.... Despite the disguise, the staff were sure the murderer was James B Rush. Eliza was badly hurt in the groin and thigh but survived; Sophie had been shot in the arm and eventually it had to be amputated.
Potash Farm was cordoned off by the Police who sent a message to Rush by a lad working in one of the sheds. Rush feigned amazement and consternation at the murders. The 'governess', Emily - now heavily pregnant - maintained they had been in all evening apart from Rush going out for a few minutes as he was worried about poachers. The police searched the house and found a black cloak on the bed and 2 double-barreled shotguns. Rush and Emily were arrested.
In daylight, Stanfield Hall was searched and even the moat drained. Potash Farm was searched again, and more disguises and the forged deeds were found. The inquest on the 2 Isaac Jermys returned a verdict of 'willful murder' - they were buried in coffins made of oak from the estate after a funeral in a packed Wymondham Abbey on 5th December. Rush was charged with murder before a local magistrate and sent to Norwich Castle gaol to await a full trial - where he insisted on ordering his meals from the Bell Inn! The murder was soon national - even international - news and among the many who came to view the murder site was Charles Dickens who visited Hethel on 12 January 1849.
Sketches of James Rush and Emily Sandford that appear in a number of contemporary newspapers, including Hereford Times, 14 April 1849 (accessed at www.findmypast.co.uk)
The trail of James Blomfield Rush opened in Norwich on 29 March 1849 - with hundreds applying for seats in court. Just before the birth of their child, Emily made a full statement of events leading up to November 1848. They had never married, so she was required to give evidence and she made no attempt to hide the truth. Rush insisted on defending himself, though his efforts at cross-examination and defence were described as 'long-winded and fatuous'. He claimed innocence and piety, but at times was very belligerent to judge, jury and witnesses. Eliza Chatney, the injured housemaid, was brought in a covered litter and gave evidence from her bed. She became a heroine. At the end of the trial the jury took only 10 minutes to reach the verdict 'guilty'.
James B Rush was executed on 21st April 1849. The gallows would have been erected on a special platform over the entry gates allowing for a huge crowd on the land beyond. Thousands came - including on chartered trains from London. Traders, hawkers and newspaper sellers did particularly well. The bell of St Peter Mancroft was tolled as the procession emerged from the castle. After the hanging, a death mask was taken and Rush was buried in an unmarked grave in the castle precinct.
After the event....
Potash Farm had become such a notorious name that it was renamed Hethel Wood Farm after it was acquired by the Boileau family of Ketteringham Hall and rented out to tenants. It was demolished in ?? and the site is now part of the Lotus factory. Much of the land is now farmed by Hethel Hens.
Sophie, widow of Isaac Jermy Jermy, married Thomas Beevor, son and heir of Thomas Branthwayt Beevor, her mother-in-law's brother, in 1850.
A contemporary account of Potash Farm, the Jermy family and the murder can be read here and there is information on events at many other websites.
Based on contemporary news reports accessed at www.findmypast.co.uk and 'Norfolk Murders' by Neil R Storey, chapter 2 (Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2006). Photo of Potash Farm kindly supplied by John Myhill.