The Murder Of Sweet Fanny Adams Part One.

The murder of Sweet Fanny Adams took place in the meadows of Alton, a small market town in Hampshire, on the 24th of August 1864.

It was a murder that shocked Victorian Britain and it is a crime that is still shocking to read about today.



The ancient market down of Alton, in Hampshire, is situated approximately 55 miles to the south west of London.

It grew up around a ford over the northern branch of the River Wey, and was once an important staging point on the road from London to Winchester.

The Swan, which still stands on the High Street, was once a noted coaching inn, and we will return to this historic building later on in the story.


In the early 19th century, the town became a centre for hop growing, and, by the mid 1800s, two breweries had been established here, drawn by the abundance of hops and the superior quality of the water of the River Wey.

Each year, at the end of August, the towns population would be swollen by a large influx of itinerant workers who would arrive from the poorer parts of Portsmouth, Southampton and London to pick the hops.

They would live in small huts and shed that hd either been hastily erected just prior to their arrival, or else had been used to accommodate cattle and pigs during the cold winter months.

Although the work was hard and the hours long, this was the closest these people came to an annual holiday, providing as it did the opportunity to enjoy the fresh county air, whilst also enabling them to earn a little money.


A short distance from the town centre lay, and still lies, Flood Meadows, a picturesque open space through which the River Wey meanders, and above which, in the 1860s, was Amery Farm and the Hop Garden.

Although some notable people had connections with Alton, perhaps the most notable being the author Jane Austin, it is safe to say that not a great deal had ever happened in Aton to bring it to national notice.

In fact, apart from the 1643 Battle of Alton, when, during the Civil War, Parliamentarian troops succeeded in capturing the Royalist held town, life for the everyday residents of Alton was peaceful and unexciting, and few people outside its boundaries ever really gave it a first let alone a second thought.


That was to change on Saturday the 24th of August, 1867, when a shocking and horrific murder occurred, just beyond Flood Meadows, that catapulted this unassuming Hampshire market town into the national spotlight.

The victim was eight year old Fanny Adams, and her name is still remembered in the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams, meaning nothing, as in I got nothing out of this which, according to some sources, was later shortened to Sweet F.A. and used as a substitute for a far more obscene expletive of the same initials.

Fanny lived on Tanhouse Lane – a relatively short road that leads onto Flood Meadows – with her parents George and Harriet Adams, and her five siblings.

According to Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, Fanny was, “a tall, comely and intelligent girl” who bore the appearance of being, “several years in advance of her age.”

Her father was a bricklayer who was employed by the local builders J.H. and E Dyer, and her mother supplemented his earnings by taking in the neighbours laundry for washing.


Saturday the 24th of august was a hot and sunny day. Just before noon, Fanny’s father, George, headed off to play cricket for the church bell ringers team in their annual match against the village band team, which was to be played on the Butts, a pleasant area of grassland located to the west of the town.

Her mother busied herself with her chores, whilst Fanny, her younger sister Lizzie and Fanny’s best friend, seven year old Minnie Warner, played happily together.


At around one in the afternoon, the girls announced that they were going to play in the meadows, and off they went, affording Harriet a little peace and quiet as she went about her chores.

Fanny, so the newspapers later reported, was wearing a white pinafore, red wool under skirts and a brown velvet hat.

The children made their way along Tanhouse Lane and passed through the gate at its end onto Flood Meadows.

On the far side of the meadows was a sunken section of an old road, which was known as the Hollow, which ran alongside the Hop Garden of Amery Farm. The girls often used to play here, but on this Saturday they made their way to the banks of the river, where they began picking flowers.

Illustrations showing Fanny Adams and her friends.
From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


As they did so, they were approached by a young man who was dressed in a black frock coat, light waistcoat and trousers, and who was wearing a tall hat.

According to Minnie Warner’s inquest testimony, he greeted them with, “haloa”, whereas, in her trial evidence, given in December, 1867, she said that his greeting was, “Ah, my little tulips, what are you playing at?”

Minnie immediately recognised him as a man whom she and two other friends had met in Flood Meadows the previous Saturday, on which occasion he had chatted with them and watched them play together, so she wasn’t at all wary as he approached.


Having put the girls at their ease, the man gave Minnie two halfpennies and said that he would give her a third if she and Fanny would race each other to the Hollow.

He also gave Fanny and Lizzie a halfpenny each.

The girls duly raced off as the man had requested, and, having followed them, he joined them in picking berries – which were known locally has “hedge-haws.”


A few minutes before two, Mrs. Eliza White was making her way along the footpath above the hollow, when, looking down, she saw a man with three children by its approach.

The children were picking berries and flowers, whilst the man was “loitering about with his hands in his pockets.” He was smoking something dark, but Mrs White couldn’t see whether it was a pipe or a cigar.

Eliza was waiting for her own daughter, so she remained watching them for around fifteen minutes, at which point the children turned and ran into the Hollow, and the man went after them, after which Eliza saw nothing more of them.


Having entered the Hollow, the man picked some more berries for the girls, and the, turning to Lizzie and Minnie, told them that they should go home and spend their halfpence.

He asked Fanny to go with him, and promised her another twopence if she would do so.

Taking her by the hand, he began leading her away from her two companions.


But then Fanny became reluctant to go any further with him, at which point, according to Minnie Warner, he lifted her up in his arms, and carried her up the Hollow and into the Hop ground.

Minnie heard Fanny cry out that her mother would be calling her and that she wanted to go home, but the man ignored her pleas and continued walking.

Neither Minnie nor Lizzie appears to have sensed that Fanny was in any danger, and they headed off to spend the money the man had given them on sweets.


A little after the two girls had set off, Eliza White climbed over the stile and made her way over the meadow.

When she was about half way across, she heard a child cry out from the direction of the farthest side of the hop garden. She later stated that, “it did not seem to be a cry of pain…It was a sound such as a child would raise when caught hold of in play.”

Eliza didn’t know it at the time, but there is every likelihood that she had heard the early stages of the murder of Fanny Adams.