The First Forensic Hanging – The Toxic Truth That Killed Mary Blandy
For the sake of decency, gentlemen, don’t hang me high.’  This was the last request of modest murderess Mary Blandy, who was hanged for the poisoning of her father in 1752.  Concerned that the young men amongst the crowd who had thronged to see her execution might look up her skirts as she was ‘turned off’ by the hangman, this last nod to propriety might appear farcical in one who was about to meet her maker.  Yet this was just another aspect of a case which attracted so much public attention in its day that some determined spectators even went to the lengths of climbing through the courtroom windows to get a glimpse of Mary while on trial.  Indeed her case remained newsworthy for the best part of 1752, for months garnering endless scrutiny and mixed reaction in the popular press.
Opinions are certainly still divided on the matter of Mary’s ‘intention’ in the poisoning of her father, and the extent to which her coercive lover, Captain William Cranstoun, was responsible for this murder by proxy.  Yet Mary Blandy’s trial was also notable in that it was the first time that detailed medical evidence had been presented in a court of law on a charge of murder by poisoning, and the first time that any court had accepted toxicological evidence in an arsenic poisoning case.   The forensic legacy of the acceptance of Dr Anthony Addington’s application of chemistry to a criminal investigation another compelling aspect of The First Forensic Hanging.
As this is Summer’s third book in a series of biographical accounts of 18th-century female poisoners published by Pen & Sword, (coincidentally all named Mary) it has to be said that her fascination with the subject means that guests don’t necessarily dine happily at her table!
TalkRadio Europe
Burned at the Stake
The Life and Death of Mary Channing
In 1706 19-year-old Mary Channing was convicted of poisoning her husband and became the last woman to be burned at the stake in Dorset. Despite her impressive attempts to defend herself, the jury had taken only half an hour to find her guilty. Yet on the pronouncement of the death sentence, Mary ‘pleaded her belly’ and thus postponed her execution until after she had given birth to her child in gaol. When the day finally arrived, her execution was made into something of a county fair, with 10,000 spectators gathering to view the barbaric ordeal upon the floor of Dorchester’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, Maumbury Rings. Although the law extended an act of clemency allowing for Mary to be strangled to death before the fires were lit, there is evidence to suggest that she was, in fact, still alive when consigned to the flames. After the gory spectacle was complete, it was said not one of those 10,000 people ever cared particularly for hot roast after that. More than 300 years after her dramatic demise, Mary s fate still holds a macabre fascination, as it did for Thomas Hardy, who recorded some of the grislier details of her execution in his notebooks and used her as the inspiration for his poem, ‘The Mock Wife’. Yet while Mary Channing has been granted a kind of grim celebrity, as well as an established place in the annals of female murderers, a measure of compelling sympathy for her case is nonetheless another lasting aspect of her legacy.
BBC Radio Dorset
The Birth of Chocolate City
Life in Georgian York
One of the great names in chocolate history, Rowntree’s, evolved from the humble retail beginnings of Mary Tuke, eighteenth-century mother of York’s chocolate industry. This book explores how she was formative in shaping modern York as a city of confectionery manufacture, a city with a broader history in this industry than any other city in the UK. York emerged as the epicentre of an empire of competing chocolate kings. Strevens also insightfully reveals the impact that the development of York’s confectionery production had on the lives of the rich, the poor and ‘the middling sort’, exploring growing social trends in the social capital of the North, such as chocolate and coffee houses, and the evolution of York as a destination for the ‘polite and elegant’. This is an accessible and at times wry exploration of eighteenth-century York, vividly bringing to life the sumptuous splendours and profound murkiness of the city at the time of its commercial emergence as the ‘Chocolate City’. Each chapter develops the detailed picture of what it must have been like to live in this city at the inception of York s most scrumptious of trades.
The Yorkshire Witch
The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman
On the morning of 20 March 1809, the woman who had earned herself the title of ‘The Yorkshire Witch’ was hanged upon York’s ‘New Drop’ gallows before an estimated crowd of 20,000 people.Some of those who came to see Mary Bateman die had travelled all the way from Leeds, many of them on foot, and many of them were doubtless the victims of her hoaxes and extortion.A consummate con-artist, Mary was extremely adept at identifying the psychological weaknesses of the desperate and poor who populated the growing industrial metropolis of Leeds at the turn of the nineteenth century. Exploiting their fears and terror of witchcraft, Mary Bateman was well placed to rob them of all their worldly goods, yet she did much more than cause misery and penury; though tried and convicted on a single murder charge, the contemporary branding of Bateman as a serial killer is doubtless accurate.Meticulously researched, this accessible, and at times shocking retelling of Mary Bateman’s life, and indeed her death, is the first since the publication chronicling her criminal career appeared in print in 1811, two years after her execution. Not only focusing on the details of her felonies and the consequences to her victims, it also examines the macabre legacy of her mortal remains, a bone of contention (literally you might say!) with the continuous public display of her skeleton in the Thackray Medical Museum until the recent removal of this controversial exhibit.
The A-Z of Curiosities of the Yorkshire Dales
Set in some of England s most impressive and unspoilt scenery, the Dales are a fertile breeding ground for the many and varied tales and legends concerning the numerous oddities scattered throughout the landscape, where the wind bends even the stubborn heather. Exploring the origins, history and culture behind over two hundred curiosities from across the region, some of which have not been revealed in print before, the numerous geological wonders sculpted by the advancing and retreating glaciations of the last of ice age, and a proliferation of idiosyncratic man-made edifices, not to mention some odd noteworthy personalities and equally baffling traditions, all feature in The A-Z of Curiosities of the Yorkshire Dales. From the mysterious ‘throbbing’ Hurtle Pot, one of the trio of sinister and murky water filled entrances to the subterranean Chapel-le-Dale cave system, to the legends of the saintly Saxon princess strangled with her own plaits, the hidden treasure guarded by a ferocious phantom chicken and the Devil s Mustard Mill to name but a few, this plentifully illustrated, informative, amusing and definitely quirky compendium is bound to delight residents, visitors and the armchair explorer alike.
Online articles
On:Yorkshire Magazine
Fashionably Fatal
(Kindle only)
“Fashionably Fatal” is an insightfully revealing, and at times wry examination of some of the extreme and often injurious lengths that people have gone to in the pursuit of what was, and is, regarded as ‘fashionable’. Developing a detailed picture of the often absurd fashions which have trended throughout history, shaping our desire, and often our bodies, into conformity with contemporary tastes, each chapter focuses on a different facet of what has proved to be catastrophically chic. From those corsetted to conform to the aesthetic ideal of the hourglass figure, only to have their internal organs rearranged, or worse speared through the heart by a snapped stay, to the fatal fashion phenomenon of “Crinoline Conflagrations” that killed in the region of 3,000 women in England alone in the decade succeeding the the late 1850’s; if it was fashionable and proved fatal, you’ll find it amongst these pages.Meticulously researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, Strevens also looks at the historical background to each fatal fashion, as well as unravelling the influential and determining factors that human evolution has brought to bear on the vanities (and insanities) driving the at times narcissistic excesses that were, though sometimes unknowingly, consequently detrimental to the wearer’s well-being. An accessible, informative and often droll look at some of the extraordinary manipulations and abuses to which the human body has been subjected, and all in the name of fashion, this book is bound to appeal to anyone interested in the history of costume and well as those with a fascination for human folly alike.
“This book is like a true crime novel about clothing, cosmetics and accessories. It’s a gruesome fun read and I feel kind of bad for enjoying it so much.” Good ReadsOnline articles
BBC Online
Before They Were Fiction
The real-life inspirations behind some of the most famous characters in fiction
Have you ever wondered, who were the real-life inspirations behind some of literature’s famous fictional characters? In Before They Were Fiction Summer Strevens shines an erudite light onto the people and personalities who have inspired some of literature’s best known and enduring fictional creations. From the refugee Belgian police officer who inspired crime novelist Agatha Christie’s eccentric and amusingly pompous detective Hercule Poirot, to Alice Perrers, the grasping mistress of King Edward III as the basis for Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, both historical and contemporary character inspirations, the works they appear in and the authors who dreamt them up are accessibly detailed in a diverse and fascinating collection of real-life literary inspirations, arranged in chapters pertaining to seven of the great literary fiction genres. Thoroughly researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, the real people who served as inspiration for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and many, many others are included in accounts that are bound to fascinate and intrigue anyone with an interest in the minds and motivations of some of literary fiction’s greatest authors.
Online articles
On:Yorkshire Magazine
York Murder and Crime
Discover the shadier side of York’s history with this remarkable collection of true-life crimes from across the city. Featuring all factions of the criminal underworld, this macabre selection of tales includes murders, poisonings, poaching, theft and highway robbery and also details the gruesome punishments that awaiting the perpetrators of such crimes. Drawing on a wide variety of historical sources and containing many cases which have never before been published, York Murders will fascinate everyone interested in true crime and the history of the city.
Online articles
On:Yorkshire Magazine
Haunted Yorkshire Dales
The beautiful, rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales have long been a haven for holiday makers. However, not all is as it first seems; the area harbours some eerie and disturbing secrets just waiting to be unearthed. A welcome addition to The History Press’s popular ‘Haunted’ series, Haunted Yorkshire Dales uncovers the darker side of the Dales with a terrifying collection of true-life tales from across the region. Featuring never before published stories, and guaranteed to make your blood run cold, this exciting book is sure to delight both locals and enthusiasts of the paranormal alike.