Foxhall murder of 1895 saw gruesome scenes and a candlelight burial in an unmarked grave

On the eve of Halloween, Friends of Layton Cemetery host their Gruesome and Grisly Tour. As part of it they will stop at the graves of a jealous husband and the wife he murdered in a grisly scene. Local Historian Zowie Swan tells the story of the Foxhall Murder...

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 3:45 pm

The Foxhall hotel was once one of Blackpool’s oldest establishments.

At the end of the 1600’s the local squire of Myerscough, Edward Tyldesley, son of noted Royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley, took an interest in a desolate tract of coastline, now known today as the bustling Golden Mile.

Tyldesley built a stately gentlemen’s residence named ‘Fox Hall’.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Foxhall Hotel as seen from the promenade in 1926. Courtesy of Blackpool’s Progress, The Blackpool & Fylde Historical Society

He built the hall adjacent to the sea so he could impress his noble friends with horse riding excursions along the generous, empty beaches.

It was the first notable residence to be built in Blackpool and with the advent of the Victorian pleasure-seekers, Foxhall was seen as an ancient place steeped in legend.

The old manor was later developed into a hotel with the expansion of the town and quickly became a busy public house and hostelry.

Today the site is occupied by Reflex Nightclub, just as busy, if not as quaint as its predecessor.

Image of the Foxhall from a Victorian painting

In the autumn of 1895 Sarah Toomey was 57 years old and was employed as a cook at the old Foxhall hotel.

She worked there alongside her husband John Toomey who served as kitchen porter.

Both had acquired positions during the summer months and were a well-liked, hardworking couple.

However, their marriage was not a happy one.

Foxhall, Waverley and Tyldesley Terrace, Blackpool

John Toomey was an irrationally jealous man with a morbid paranoia that fixated on his wife’s fidelity.

He often suspected her of fraternising with other men and yet it was John Toomey alone who was known for illicit affairs and for absconding overseas on more than one occasion.

One afternoon after lunch service, the staff wound down and enjoyed tea together in the kitchens.

During this meal, their fellow employees engaged Mr and Mrs Toomey in friendly conversation and some good-natured joking naturally occurred.

The articles of the time detailing the murder, manhunt and subsequent suicide

After everyone retired to their rooms before dinner service, this innocent exchange stewed on John Toomey’s mind.

Throughout the course of the afternoon, he convinced himself that his wife had been scandalously flirting with her colleagues.

At dinner the head waiter, Mr Smith, rose from his chamber and came down to the dining room.

Seeing the table had not yet been laid by Mrs Toomey, he went to her room and called out in jest “Come on, Cook, all tickets ready.”

He was met with nothing but an eerie silence. When the waiter entered the room, to his utter horror he discovered the body of Mrs Toomey lying prostrate in a cooling pool of her own blood. Mr Toomey however, was nowhere to be seen.

On inspection by a doctor, the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser reported that “the body of the woman presented a sickening spectacle, the head being almost completely severed from the body”.

The murder weapon was lying close by, a long blood-stained knife with a distinctive buckhorn handle.

It was soon discovered that the knife had been purchased from a local ironmonger called Robert Bickerstaffe, his premises being in the neighbourhood of the Foxhall Hotel.

Police also discovered that John Toomey appeared to have planned the whole thing well in advance, as he had sent his two grown up daughters his watch and £2 14s with a note telling them to split the money.

A frenzied man hunt commenced.

The following detailed description of John Toomey was telegraphed across the North West to encourage people to keep an eye out for this calculating murderer: “Aged between 55 and 56 years, but looks younger; height 5ft. 6in; thick eyebrows; fair complexion; dark moustache going grey; and of a stout but erect appearance.

He was a black coat and vest, and light trousers. He had also collar and front, with silk necktie containing pin of imitation diamonds.”

A couple of days after the murder, John Toomey’s hat and coat were found on the beach at Bispham.

Police believed that Mr Toomey was framing his suicide, suspecting instead that he planned to head to America in disguise.

However, it was not long before a body of a man washed up at Fleetwood, near Rossall beach.

It was John Toomey, missing his coat, vest and strangely, his moustache.

The body was in a ‘decomposed condition, the nose being obliterated through rubbing against the bottom of the sea’.

The corpse was identified by his son and daughter as John Toomey by his missing little toe on his right foot.

Rather bizarrely, on the same day the body of a man killed by gunshot was identified in St Pancras Mortuary in London as Mr John Toomey by an ‘old friend’ called Mr Thomas Ellis.

Both local police inspectors pronounced the bodies to be Mr Toomey, but the one identified by his children won out due to the missing toe.

As for the crime itself, John Toomey’s children admitted their father had been threatening to kill their mother and then drown himself for the past 18 years.

Their daughter, Mrs Lucy Morris had been asking her mother to leave her father for years.

The last time had been only a week before the murder, when John Toomey was heard in the kitchens of the Foxhall telling his daughter he would murder her mother and send her half his money.

Lucy bravely stood as witness in the inquest and recounted the years of abuse.

The jury returned the verdict of ‘Felo-de-se’ for John Toomey, the archaic legal term for death by suicide.

On October 15, just two days after her mother’s appalling murder, Mrs Lucy Morris begged the courts for protection from her own abusive husband Mr John Morris.

After quarrelling he was reported to have said “I’ll cut th’ head off like th’ father has done wi th’ mother”.

Mr Morris then snatched up a poker from the fire and threatened to ‘ram it down her throat’.

Lucy Morris was unsurprisingly afraid for her life and feared she would end up with the same tragic fate as her mother.

Mr Morris was a failed actor and a well-known drunkard and wastrel.

He drank away their money, leaving his wife to toil long hours as a charwoman to keep herself and her children alive.

Despite the recent fatal evidence of unchecked domestic violence within the family, the courts did not remove Mr Morris from the home or offer Lucy Morris protection.

Instead, her husband was fined £10 and challenged to keep the peace for three months.

Both Sarah Toomey and her murderer John Toomey are buried in Layton Cemetery.

If you attend the Friends of Layton Cemetery’s All Hallows tour on Saturday 30th October, the local experts can show you just where the couple are buried and how John Toomey was interred by candlelight in an unmarked grave at midnight on Halloween 1895.