Charles Peace

The railways next and probably most momentous event took place on January 17th 1879 and involved one of the country’s most notorious criminals – Sheffield-born Charles Peace.

A quick-witted and prolific burglar, Charles Peace graduated to the ultimate crime in November 1876 when he murdered Arthur Dyson at the latter’s home in Banner Cross. With a £100 price on his head, he went on the run and evaded capture for almost two years. A burglary in London on October 10th 1878 did not go as planned and in trying to make good his escape he shot and injured a police constable. Following his arrest, he gave his name as John Ward and was charged with burglary and attempted murder and sentenced to penal servitude for life. However, his true identity soon came to light and he was taken from Pentonville Prison to stand trial for the murder of Arthur Dyson.

On January 17th 1879, Peace was taken from Pentonville to King’s Cross Station where along with two warders he was put on board the 5.15am train to Sheffield Victoria which was due to arrive at its destination at 8.45am. Throughout the journey, he kept making excuses to leave the train whenever it stopped. To lessen the noise the two warders had provided him with special bags which Peace could use and then throw out of the window. Just after the train had passed Worksop, Peace asked for one of the bags and the carriage window was duly opened for him to dispose of it.

Peace, with lightning agility, took a flying leap through it. One of the warders caught him by the left foot. Peace hanging out of the carriage grabbed the footboard with his hands and kept kicking the warder as hard as he could, with his right foot. The other warder, unable to get to the window to his colleague, was making vain efforts to stop the train by pulling the communication cord. For two miles the train ran on with Peace struggling desperately to escape. At last he succeeded in kicking off his left shoe and dropped onto the line. The train ran on for another mile until, with the assistance of some gentlemen in other carriages, the warders were able to stop it. They immediately hurried back along the line and there, near Kiveton Park, they found their prisoner lying alongside the track, apparently unconscious and bleeding from a severe scalp wound. A slow train from Sheffield was stopped to pick up the injured man and he was lifted into the guard’s van where he asked them to cover him up as he was cold.

By January 30th, a doctor pronounced Peace fit to face the magistrate, the proceedings taking place in one of the corridors of Sheffield Town Hall. He was committed for trial at Leeds Assizes on February 4th 1879 where he was found guilty of the murder of Arthur Dyson and inevitable sentenced to death. Before his execution on the 25th of February he made a confession to a priest and admitted to the shooting of another police officer in Manchester on August 1st 1876. 18 year old William Habron had been arrested and sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) for the killing. Peace had even attended the trial, but had kept silent thereby condoning a miscarriage of Justice. He was executed at Armley Prison on Tuesday February 25th 1879, aged 47.