Fred Leopold R Leyman – Suicide in the Cemetery
by Sue Parsons
Fred Leyman was born in Devon in 1847 and was one of four children born to Ann and John Leyman. By the time Fred had reached the age of 13 years, he was apprenticed to a jeweller. He married 18-year-old Charlotte Stoneham when he was just 17 years of age. They set up their first home in London and in 1868, they moved to Maidstone, Kent.
In the 1880s Fred, Charlotte and their six children came to live in Bedford. They first moved into Bower Street and later to St. Peter’s Street. In 1894, he set up his workshop at 75 Harpur Street. In next to no time his firm was deemed as being highly skilled watch and clock makers as well as electroplating, gilding, and creating new pieces of jewellery from the old pieces that had been melted down.
His main interest, apart from his work, was magic and illusion. He had learned the skill of magic as an assistant in the Egyptian Hall, London. He was master of his art and was known by his stage name of Professor Leyman Robarto. He had performed in theatres up and down the country and on occasion, performed in Paris.
The Egyptian Hall was built in 1812 for the exhibitions of artwork. By the end of the 19th century, the hall was linked to magic and spiritualism. It grew famous as England’s Home of Mystery. The Hall was pulled down in 1903 to make room for blocks of flats and houses.
There were many newspaper articles’ of his forthcoming performances:
MYDDELTON HALL UPPER STREET
NEXT SATURDAY, JANUARY 4th 1873
Isledon Readings and Entertainments
Professor Robarto will perform his
marvellous feat of suspending a boy in
mid-air, and also distribute a grand collection of
Christmas Presents during the evening.
Bedfordshire Mercury 5th January 1895
New Year’s Day Ampthill Parish Tea Party,
“Science, mirth, and mystery also found a clever exponent in Professor Leyman Robarto (of Bedford), a wonder-worker who has performed before the Queen and Royal family.”
Two years after he had set up his workshop, he went heavily into debt. He had taken out two loans at high interest and unable to meet the payments. His state of affairs took a turn for the worse at mid-day on 16th May 1896 when a policeman went to his house and gave to his wife a summons, charging him with felony.
Later that day at around 4 pm, Fred went for a walk in Foster Hill Road Cemetery. When he reached the upper part of the cemetery he approached James Horrell, a labourer who was employed there. Fred mentioned the grass, which he was cutting, and went on to say that, he had enjoyed his walk by Brickhill Farm, and added that he had been unwell recently. James Horrell thought he looked strange as he walked away and caught sight of a couple of bottles in his pocket. When Fred saw they were seen he pulled his coat over them to hide them.
A few minutes later, James Horrell looked round to see if he could see Fred going round the top of the cemetery. At first, he did not see him, but on looking at a seat 50 yards away, he saw Fred leaning on his left side wearing his hat. James Horrell carried on with his work for a few minutes when he looked for him again, he could not see him He knew he could not have gone far, and he made his way towards the seat on which he had seen him earlier. He found him lying as though he had slipped, the tail of his coat being on the seat. He lay on his right side supported by his arm and was gurgling at the throat. On the seat by the side of Fred were two bottles. One bottle thought to be of rum and the other containing some white substance.
James Horrell called his brother, who was at work some distance off, and together they laid Fred on his back and placed a coat under his head. He did not move and his eyes were in a fixed stare. He ran down to Mr. Dann the Cemetery Registrar and Superintendent to send for the doctor.
He was not dead when the doctor arrived, and on the instructions of the doctor, they carried him to the Chapel. They laid him down on to the floor of the entrance to the Chapel. The doctor made another examination and pronounced him dead.
An Inquest held at Bedford Corn Exchange the following Monday morning confirmed inside one of the bottles found at the side of the deceased was that of cyanide of potassium. Found in his pocket, several pawn tickets for watches and jewellery, and several letters relating to business and a County Court summons for a large amount of money besides documents showing he was in arrears with his payments at two loan offices.
Dr. Hugh Cecil Addison of 94 Foster Hill Road stated he went at once to the cemetery and found the deceased lying near the bench, on his back. The bottles were lying on the seat, and the round one had a strong smell of bitter almonds about it, and the other smelt of either brandy or rum. The deceased’s breath had an odd odour of bitter almonds. The crystals were cyanide of potassium, a very deadly poison used in photography and electroplating. Five grains of it would have a fatal effect.
His son Frederick stated that he was a jeweller at Tunbridge Street, Kings Cross, London. He told the inquest that he last saw his father at Kings Cross Station, a fortnight before he died. He said his father appeared to be his usual self. He did not complain of trouble, and he did not know why his father was visiting London. He said his father never mentioned being unwell.
The Coroner called attention to the fact that it was laid down under 17 of the Pharmacy Act of 1868, that it was unlawful to sell deadly poisons, among them cyanide of potassium, unless the vessel containing them were labelled clearly with the name of the item, the word “Poison,” and the name and address of the seller. The round bottle containing the cyanide of potassium in this case bore only the name of a London Chemist, but the Coroner pointed out to the Jury that it was quite possible for the deceased to have taken crystals from a large bottle, which might have been correctly labelled. He mentioned those facts to show that possibly the formalities of the law had not been complied with.
Verdict: Fred Leyman killed himself while the balance of his mind was disturbed.
After his death, Charlotte moved to London to live with her son Frederick. Sadly, in 1899, she died aged 53 years.
The grave has recently been given a wooden marker with a plaque.
Section B6 Grave 56
Source Bedfordshire Times and Independent May 1896
Researcher Linda S. Ayres
January 07, 2021
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