She lived in Gloucester Place
One of the most infamous historical North Laine characters must surely be Christiana Edmunds (1828 – 1907). She lived at No 16 Gloucester Place (which is no longer there).
She started an affair
Christiana was actually born in Margate, the daughter of an architect, but she was living in Gloucester Place when she began some kind of affair with an eminent local doctor Charles Beard, who was a married man. He lived almost opposite in Grand Parade.
She injected some chocolates with strychnine
In the summer of 1870 he broke off the relationship. Christiana then purchased strychnine from Isaac Garret, a chemist at 10 Queen’s Road, using the excuse that she needed to get rid of some stray cats. Then she bought a box of chocolates from Maynard’s in West Street. She injected them with the poison before taking them to Beard’s wife and the next day Mrs Beard became violently ill but recovered. Later on Beard said he had suspected his former lover of attempted poisoning but had said nothing for fear of the relationship become public.
Then others became ill
Christiana returned the chocolates to the confectioner, who exchanged them for ones she said she preferred, and he then unwittingly sold the returned chocolates to other people, who also fell ill. To allay suspicion Edmunds then used intermediaries to buy more chocolates and poison.
In June 1871 a young boy died
Then in June 1871 Sidney Albert Barker, aged 4, who was on a day trip to the town with his family, died after eating chocolates purchased at Maynard’s. An inquest found the death to be accidental but the Brighton coroner later said that only poisoning could account for the death.
She pretended to be a victim herself
Edmunds then started to send parcels of poisoned fruits and chocolates to prominent local people. As the police had connected the large number of ill people to the chocolates, Edmunds also sent them to herself, saying that they had come from Maynard’s. In this way she pretended that she too was a victim of the poisoner.
Sent for trial at the Old Bailey
When Dr Beard finally told the police of his suspicions, Christiana Edmunds was arrested and charged with the murder of Sidney Barker and the attempted murder of Mrs Beard. It was ruled that a fair trial was impossible locally due to sensational local press coverage of the case and in fact one of the magistrates had also been a recipient of one of Edmunds’ parcels. So in January 1872 she was sent for trial at the Old Bailey.
Died in Broadmoor
She was found guilty and sentenced to death. At first she claimed to be pregnant as expectant mothers could not be executed but that was found to be false. However, mental illness had been established at the trial and so she was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and died there in 1907.
Other famous Brighton people
You can read more stories about famous Brighton people in: Beside the Seaside, by Terry Phillpot, Step Beach Press, 2015
[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 240, May/June 2016]
North Laine History