Wedding that ended in gruesome death and Old Bailey trial

Scandal: the trial of Adelaide Bartlett and Rev Dyson at the Old Bailey, as depicted by court artists of the time

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The murder trial and menage à trois that scandalised Victorian England, as DAVID MORGAN explains, all had its beginnings in a marriage ceremony held at Croydon Parish Church

When the curate of Croydon Parish Church looked through his appointments diary for the week beginning Monday April 7 1875, he saw that he had a wedding booked for the Wednesday.

Rev William Wilks duly officiated at the ceremony and the couple went off to begin their married life together. Little did Wilks know that 12 years later, that day’s bride would be charged with the wilful murder of her husband in the infamous case of the “Pimlico Poisoning”. It was one of the most notorious events of the age, a cause célèbre, with people queuing outside the Old Bailey to get a seat at the trial.

Thomas Edwin Bartlett was the groom at the wedding at Croydon Parish Church that April day 150 years ago. He was a grocer by trade, who locals would have known when he was assistant to Mr Whittaker at 68 South End. After that, Bartlett went on to open his own shop in Herne Hill.

Cause célèbre: Adelaide Bartlett

Initially, the couple had tried to get married at the parish church in Herne Hill, but they were turned down because the bride was under 21 and didn’t have the permission of her father. The couple had only known each other for a few weeks.

There were tensions in the family even before the ceremony. Thomas’s father had only met his daughter-in-law-to-be once. He had been told that her name was Blanche, but discovered on the wedding day that it was Adelaide. Her full name on the wedding certificate was Adelaide de la Tremoille, and her age was given as 19. One newspaper report gave her birthplace as Orleans, France.

When she met her future husband she was lodging with his brother Charles, who lived in Kingston. Adelaide was 10 years younger than Thomas.

Fast forward 12 years and Bartlett and his business partner, Edward Baxter, were running six grocery stores across south London. He and his wife were living at 85, Claverton Street, Pimlico, having moved there in October 1885. They rented rooms at the property from the owner, Mr Doggett, who was a registrar of births, deaths and marriages. The owner also lived at the address.

Grocer: Thomas Bartlett

Shortly after moving to Pimlico, Thomas Bartlett was taken ill. His father came to see him and his son told him that he was suffering from chronic pain in his gums. A doctor was called and informed Thomas that he was suffering from mercury poisoning. Thomas spent days either in bed or on the couch, with no energy and, as his father described, “in a dazed state”. Up to this point, Bartlett had always been in good health.

It was in the early hours of January 1 1886 that Adelaide ran up the stairs to her landlord calling out for him to come down because she thought her husband was dead. Doggett got up and went to see Bartlett. Adelaide was distraught. Her husband died on the floor of the bedroom.

Because it was an unexpected death, an inquest was held. As soon as the coroner received the report, alarm bells began to ring. Inside Bartlett’s stomach was discovered a considerable amount of chloroform, easily enough to kill him.

Adelaide was arrested and charged with murder. A Wesleyan Methodist minister from Putney, Rev George Dyson, a close friend of the couple, was charged with being “an accessory before the fact”.

The trial of Adelaide and Rev Dyson at the Old Bailey was sensational from the start.

Notorious: the Pimlico Poisonings had books written about them well into the 20th Century

The prosecution dropped their case against Rev Dyson and asked the jury to find him not guilty. Dyson was then called as a witness for the prosecution.

Many revelations came out at the trial.

Adelaide and Thomas’ marriage was an unconventional one. A short while after the wedding, Adelaide went into a Belgian convent school to complete her education. Her husband visited her regularly during this separation, which lasted over a year.

It was made clear at the trial that Bartlett’s father had previously accused Adelaide of having an affair with his other son, Charles.

Adelaide declared that her marriage was a loveless one. Only once in 12 years were they intimate, resulting in a pregnancy. The child was stillborn.

Thomas Bartlett encouraged a friendship between his wife and Rev Dyson. After Bartlett had gone off to work, Dyson would visit. This menage à trois lasted several years, including before the Bartletts moved to Pimlico. The Bartletts’ maid gave full testimony. Dyson routinely had a lounge jacket left over the back of one of the Bartletts’ home’s doors. He even kept a pair of his own slippers in the house!

Adelaide told the court that she sent Dyson to buy bottles of chloroform because she wanted the chemical to rub into her husband’s gums to ease his pain. Bartlett had suffered for years from a dentist’s decision to file down rotten teeth and cover them with dentures instead of just extracting them. Dyson went to several chemist shops to buy the chloroform and took the police to show them where he had disposed of the empty bottles.

Oooo, vicar!: George Dyson

Dyson also told the court that it was no secret to Bartlett that he was going out to buy chloroform, thus making the defence case that the husband took the liquid himself more believable.

Thomas Bartlett had been depressed and thought for some time that he was going to die. He promised Dyson that he could marry Adelaide if the worst should happen. Bartlett had even made Dyson the executor of his will.

Adelaide stated that she had also bought the chloroform to use against her husband, as he had recently started to be amorous with her. However, she also said she had told Thomas that she was sorry about this and had given him the bottle.

Although the marriage certificate showed that Adelaide’s father was a French professor of mathematics, there was much speculation that he was a rich aristocrat who had paid for her legal defence.

Because of the legal conventions of the time, Adelaide was unable to give evidence herself in the dock, and so was reliant upon her QC, Sir Edward Clarke, and the family GP, Dr Leach, to make the case for her.

The trial had lasted a week when the jury retired. When they returned, they delivered a not guilty verdict. There was much cheering inside and outside the courtroom. The prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Adelaide had administered the poison.

Newspapers reported that Bartlett could have taken the chloroform himself. This would account for the fact that there was no burning of the mouth or throat. He had swallowed it quickly. This could have been an accidental act of picking up the wrong bottle, or a deliberate suicide.

The jury added a rider to their decision.

“Although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered.”

Yellow press: as the case progressed at the Old Bailey, newspapers went to great lengths to illustrate some of the sensations to emerge in evidence

Sir James Paget, a leading surgeon of the day at Bart’s Hospital, said after the acquittal that, “Adelaide should tell us in the interest of science how she did it.” She never did.

After the scandal of the trial, Rev Dyson was forced to resign from the Methodist Church in Putney and went abroad. Many years, later an old friend revealed that he had gone to America and changed his name. He lived for a long time in Oregon.

Adelaide disappeared from public view as well, helped by some money from her father, it was suggested in the press. Later reports said that she ended her days in Boston, Massachusetts, teaching the piano.

Rev Wilks, who married the ill-fated couple, went on to become the vicar of Shirley and a world-renowned horticulturist, cultivating the Shirley poppy. He must have read about the case in the papers with astonishment.

Like all the observers, though, he was left with the same question: “Was this the perfect murder?”

Previous articles by David Morgan:

David Morgan, right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups.

To read his previous articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on and use the contact page

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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1 Response to Wedding that ended in gruesome death and Old Bailey trial

  1. Lewis White says:

    Phew ! The Jan 1886 editions of Inside Croydon would have made interesting reading had the internet been around at that time.

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