Spoiler alert. If you believe there was a barber by the name of Sweeney Todd who lived on Fleet Street and who delighted in cutting the throats of his customers in order that his mistress could turn them into delectable meat pies, then ignore this next bit.
Sweeny Todd, I must report, never actually existed.
The Sweeney Todd story, as we know it today, was a fiction that appeared between November 1846 and March 1847 in Edward Lloyd’s (1815-1890) The People’s Periodical and Family Library as an eighteen part serial entitled The String of Pearls: A Romance.
So, to repeat again, there never was a barber named Sweeney Todd residing or working on Fleet Street.
BARBER CUTS HIS CUSTOMER’S THROAT
However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t barbers who actually indulged in a little throat cutting on their unsuspecting customers.
Indeed, there are several accounts in the Victorian press of barbers who either murdered or attempted to murder their clients.
THE WOOBURN GREEN OUTRAGE
One such story appeared in The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on Saturday, 4th May, 1895.
When the first reports of the crime appeared, the name of the accused was given in the newspapers as Abrahams.
The story read:-
“On Saturday the little village of Wooburn Green, near Maidenhead, was thrown into a state of great excitement by an extraordinary attempt to murder.
The assistant schoolmaster of the village went into the shop of the only barber in the place for a shave, as was his custom on Saturday afternoons.
THE BARBER’S ASSISTANT CUT HIS THROAT
The barber’s assistant, a young man named Abrahams, attended to the schoolmaster without remark, and, having duly lathered his chin, prepared apparently to shave him.
All of a sudden, however, he forced back his customer’s head, and drew the razor across the helpless man’s throat, inflicting a frightful wound.
The alarm was immediately raised, and Abrahams was seized and handed over to the custody of the village policeman, while a doctor was soon in attendance upon the unfortunate schoolmaster.
HE WISHED HE HAD CUT HIS HEAD OFF
Abrahams, who appeared to be either insane or under the influence of drink, was taken by the police to High Wycombe, and, at the railway station in that town, he met his father, to whom he said, “I wish had cut the man’s head off.”
The schoolmaster’s wound is a very serious one.
ABRAHAMS APPEARS IN COURT
At High Wycombe, on Monday, Abrahams was charged with having feloniously wounded John Holdstock, schoolmaster, with intent to wilfully kill and murder him.
Thomas Hawkes, a labourer, said he was in the prisoner’s shop on Saturday.
The prisoner had shaved the right side of Holdstock’s face, when the schoolmaster said:- “Hurry up; it’s time you had done.”
The prisoner at once went to his living room, drank something from a bottle, and returning to Holdstock, who was leaning back in the chair, deliberately cut his throat with the razor which he held in his hand, saying that “he meant to do for the ———, as he had given him a bad name.”
A JAGGED WOUND
Dr. Weaver said he found Holdstock lying on a sofa with towels soaked with blood round his neck, and there was a wound in the throat two-and-a-quarter inches long and half-an-inch deep.
The cut stopped just in front of the windpipe, and was jagged, as if a second attempt had been made.
Holdstock being too ill to appear the prisoner was remanded for a week.”
THE ATTEMPTED MURDER AT WOOBURN
The Berkshire Chronicle, on Saturday, 11th May, 1895, carried the story of the accused’s next court appearance, by which time his name was being spelt correctly as Abram:-
“At the Wycombe County Police Station, on Tuesday morning, Charles Abram, aged twenty-three, was charged on remand with attempting to murder John Holdstock, at Wooburn Green, on April 27th.
Mr D. Clarke appeared for the accused, and the Court was again crowded.
A summary of the case was given by us last week.
The prisoner, who is a barber, drew the razor blade across the prosecutor’s throat when shaving him, inflicting a severe wound.
The prisoner, when spoken to by the constable, said, “I wish I had killed the ——–”
HE HAD CALLED HIM A DIRTY BARBER
Superintendent Mancely deposed that the prisoner, whilst in the cells at Wycombe, stated that a few weeks ago Holdstock had called him a dirty barber, and he had never forgotten it because he kept himself clean and everything he used was also clean.
Holdstock had also told one or two wilful lies in his presence. He had said that he had waited nearly an hour for a shave when he had only been in the shop fifteen minutes.
The prisoner further said that he should not have done it if he had been sober.
The prisoner reserved his defence, and was sent to Reading Gaol to await his trial at the next Bucks Assizes.
Bail was refused.”
HIS FINAL COURT APPEARANCE AT THE BUCKS ASSIZES
The Buckingham Express, on Saturday, 22nd June 1895, ran the story of his final court appearance and his sentencing:-
“Charles Abram, 23, barber, was indicted for having, on the 27th April, feloniously wounded John Holdstock, by cutting his throat with a razor, with intent wilful and of malice aforethought to kill and murder him at Wooburn.
The Prisoner pleaded guilty to wounding him but not of attempting to murder him.
Mr. Fisher prosecuted, and Mr. Hammond-Chambers defended.
The Prisoner was given an excellent character, and, after a severe admonition, his Lordship sentenced him to 12 months’ imprisonment with hard labour.”