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Frederick Seddon was hanged for the murder of his lodger, Eliza Barrow, in 1912
Judge Darling, who presided at the main court hearing,
was not a Freemason. John Hurd, however, the witness at the
Assize hearing, and Tunnard Moore, chairman of the Bench
at the magistrate’s court hearing, as well as William Rees,
the foreman of the jury, all belonged to Loyal Hay Lodge.
Armstrong was found guilty of the murder of his wife and
hanged on 31 May 1922. He had had a successful Masonic
career by any standards. Bro. E H Cleese, who was in the same
solicitors’ practice as Oswald Martin, introduced him to Loyal
Hay Lodge in Hay-on-Wye in 1906. Armstrong served as
Master in 1912, Chaplain in 1920 and was appointed a Past
Provincial Senior Grand Deacon for the Province of
Herefordshire in 1921.
The second case involving a Freemason is here being
considered out of chronological sequence because of its
greater significance to Freemasonry. It is the well-known
case of Frederick Henry Seddon, who was tried, convicted
and subsequently hanged at Pentonville Prison on 18 April
1912 for the murder of his lodger, Miss Eliza Mary Barrow.
On being asked by the clerk of the court if he had anything
to say as to why the sentence of death should not be passed
against him, Seddon replied at length and appealed to the
judge, as a brother Mason and in the name of ‘The Great
Architect Of The Universe’ for a reversal of the jury’s finding.
According to some sources, he gave the First Degree sign,
begging for mercy. Judge Bucknill, a prominent Freemason,
is recorded to have said, with some emotion:
It is not for me to harrow your feelings – try to make peace with your
maker. We both belong to the same Brotherhood, and though that
can have no influence with me this is painful beyond words to have
to say what I am saying, but our brotherhood does not encourage
crime, it condemns it.
Then he pronounced the sentence of death. Spilsbury, very
much a key player in seeing justice done, was still a young
practitioner and not yet himself involved in Freemasonry.
His colleagues who provided forensic evidence, however,
Dr William Henry Wilcox, medical adviser to the Home
Office who, as already mentioned, was a member of the
Craft, having been initiated on 13 March 1906 in Sancta
Maria Lodge, of which Spilsbury was later to become a
joining member. So was Dr John Webster, senior official
analyst to the Home Office, initiated on 8 June 1909.
The Seddon case remains one of considerable controversy.
Aged 40 at the time of his trial, Seddon was seen to be an
avaricious man whose only motive for the cruel murder of
Eliza Mary Barrow was financial gain. He was accused of
poisoning her with arsenic obtained from fly strips. The case
against him was weak and depended almost entirely on the
evidence of Spilsbury, whose expertise even this early in
his career was instrumental and impressive.
The trial Judge, RW Bro Thomas Townsend Bucknill,
Provincial Grand Master for Surrey from 1903 to 1915, was
initiated in 1873 in Lodge of Good Report No. 136. As to
Frederick Seddon, he was initiated in Stanley Lodge No.
1325, Liverpool, in 1901 and resigned a year later to travel
south. In 1905 he is named as a founding petitioner of
Stephens Lodge No. 3089, Bourne End in Buckinghamshire.
He resigned from both Lodges in 1906.
As successful as his career had been, Spilsbury faced
tragedies through his life. In 1940 he suffered a stroke and this
was the start of the decline in his health. He had the shocking
experience of hearing of his son’s death by way of a note of
condolence from a colleague and not knowing which of his
two sons had been killed.
It was his son Peter, whose passing was announced without
comment in open Lodge on 3 February 1941, the meeting at
which Bernard Spilsbury was elected Master. It is said that
Spilsbury was a changed man thereafter. He lost the spring
in his walk and there was a marked decline in his mental
alertness. He was a man fatigued and worried with the
continuous pressure of unwholesome work. It finally led to
his taking his own life on 17 December 1947. His remains
were cremated at the Golders Green crematorium.
Bernard Spilsbury’s standing as a staunch supporter of truth
and justice, those special Masonic characteristics, and as the
greatest forensic doctor of all time, will never be erased from
Bibliography & credits
Ashby, John F, Death and the Freemason, AQC 108:11
Browne, N E & Tullett E V, Bernard Spilsbury: His Life and Cases, London 1951
Dewhurst T L, St Mary Magdalen Lodge No. 1523: 1875-1975
Wright, John, Sancta Maria Lodge No. 2682 1897-1997 – A Short Centenary History
Young, F, The Trial of the Seddons, AQC (1914) 108:27n;
Young, F, The Trial of H.R. Armstrong, AQC (1927) 27n
Also Bros Gordon Bourne, Michael Pugh, Bob Calderan, Zivanovic Srboljub, Trevor Dutt and, as ever, John Hart, for their helpful assistance
Web site created by Mark Griffin