Infamous criminal trial documents donated to archives

18th April 2016

COURT documents from the 1870s relating to the trial of infamous Sheffield burglar and murderer Charles Peace have been donated to Sheffield Archives by Wake Smith Solicitors.

The city-based solicitors handed over a box full of historic court trial documents, defence papers and counsel briefs to archivist Tim Knebel from Sheffield Archives shortly after the company moved to new city centre offices. The wooden box of documents had never been displayed at Wake Smith's former base at Clarkehouse Road and with the new move office manager John Liversidge decided it was time the papers were available for all to see in a more appropriate place. Charles Peace, born on 14 May 1832, was famously convicted of murder, embarked on a life of crime after being maimed in an industrial accident as a boy. He is mentioned by name in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short story, The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, and in Mark Twain's Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. After killing a policeman in Manchester, he fled to his home-town of Sheffield, where he became obsessed with his neighbour Dyson's wife and famously shot Mr Dyson dead. Settling in London, he carried out multiple burglaries before being caught in the prosperous suburb of Blackheath, wounding the policeman who arrested him. He was linked to the Sheffield murder, and tried at Leeds Assizes. Found guilty, he was hanged at Armley Prison on 25 February 1879. The papers relate to the trial before a stipendiary magistrate at Sheffield Town Hall where Peace was charged with the murder of Dyson, whilst already serving a life sentence in Pentonville for the attempted murder of another policeman. John said: "His solicitor, William Clegg, tried to prove that Mrs Dyson had been on more intimate terms with Peace than she was ready to admit, and that Dyson had been the aggressor in a struggle in which Peace had reacted in self-defence. After the hearing, Peace was committed to take his trial at Leeds Assizes beginning on 4 February 1879. "The legal papers came into our possession when we incorporated Benson Clegg Solicitors in 2006 and they have been stored in a wooden case ever since. We have never really had the space to display them at our previous offices. They are in decent condition but will need some restoration. "We all agreed that they are an interesting part of the social history of Sheffield and Charles was certainly an unusual character. "I'm sure there are many people interested in the city, or in historic crimes, that would love to see these original documents. Charles has been the inspiration for many authors and film producers so in us donating them to Sheffield Archives, even more people will be able to view them." Archivist Tim Knebel from Sheffield City Council said: "This is a great addition to our Charles Peace collection which tracks the gruesome and hideous crimes he committed, including here in Sheffield. Many people are interested in him so we're really looking forward to sharing these court papers. -We rely on people's donations to the archives and are very grateful to Wake Smith for thinking of us. -Thousands of people visit the archives every year. If you've not visited yet then get in touch - there's a huge amount to discover. For further details and opening times contact Sheffield Archives on 0114 203 9395.

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