The Bell and the "Rugeley Poisoner"
The Bell now called the Pig and Bell stands next door to the house that
the infamous Dr. William Palmer once rented, for £25 a year, from Lord Lichfield.

Palmer's house 1856


Palmer's House as it looked in 1856 from
The Illustrated London News May 24th 1856.
 

Palmer's House 2003

"Palmer's House" much changed in this picture
taken by Dave Lewis in March 2003.


Palmer was found guilty of murdering his friend and fellow racegoer
John Parsons Cook in Room 10 of the Talbot Arms (now called The Shrew).
Palmer was publicly hanged in front of Stafford Gaol on 14th June 1856
attracting a crowd of over 30,000 people.
Although only found guilty of one murder, gossips accused him of murdering up to fifteen other people.

Between 1851 and 1854 four of the five children born to William and Annie Palmer died in infancy.
When a fourth child died, Matilda Bradshaw, Palmer's cleaning lady,
ran next door in to the Bell public house swearing that she would never go
into Palmer's house again and that he'd "done away" with another child.
When she was asked how he'd done it, she replied that she had been upstairs with baby John
when Palmer had come in and said that he would look after his son.
She declared that she had gone downstairs when she suddenly heard Baby John screaming.
After rushing upstairs she found the baby dead. She maintained Palmer poisoned his children
because she heard him say that a growing family was too expensive for his slender
purse and that he couldn't altogether blame providence for the deaths of his children.
When asked, Mrs. Bradshaw claimed that Palmer murdered them by dipping his finger in poison and then in honey (or in some reports sugar) and would make them suck his finger.
Asked if she had ever seen him do it and she replied, "No, but I know it in my heart to be true".

"What's your poison?"

It is claimed that the old Staffordshire drinking expression, "What's your poison?" asked when
offering to buy someone a drink, originated from Palmer. It is said that when there were
rumours flying around about him having poisoned people he would use the
phrase as a joke at his own expense in the Bell or the Shoulder of Mutton public houses in Rugeley.

Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors

It is thought that Dr. William Palmer is the only inhabitant of Rugeley to
have had a wax image in Madame Tussaud's Waxworks in London.
For over a hundred years, from 1857 up until 1979 a waxwork figure of
Palmer stood in their famous Chamber of Horrors.
The modeller from Madame Tussaud's is said to have been present at court during Palmer's trial.
Madame Tussaud's kindly sent this picture of Palmer's wax effigy to me in 1979.

(Information taken from the biography - Looking back at The Rugeley Poisoner - Dr. William Palmer,
the "Prince of Poisoners", researched and written by Dave Lewis, published 2003)