IT’S Station Road, Winsford, on October 12, 1908, and 10-year-old Elizabeth Warburton, known as Eliza was playing with her friends including her twin sister Phoebe and other friends of the same age, Fred Blagg and Lillian Goulding.

Winsford Guardian: Station Road 1916Station Road 1916

A 21-year-old unemployed painter and local man James Phipps approached the children as it was getting dark. He asked if one of them could go to a nearby shop and get him some cigarettes, the volunteer would get 2d for going.

Eliza being a helpful girl, volunteered. She went and bought the cigarettes, and when she returned with them, Phipps asked her to show him where a man called Hulse lived, Eliza knew Hulse as the local lamplighter from Ledward Street, again, the ever-friendly Eliza agreed.

It was 7.30pm when they were last seen walking along the footpath in Ledward Street. The vibrant, fun-loving Eliza Warburton was last seen near Wharton church by a neighbour. She was not seen alive again.

Winsford Guardian: Ledward St 2009Ledward St 2009

Phipps was known in the area, but additionally, he had one eye covered by a white scarf due to losing the eye as a child when a stone hit him in the playground.

When walking off with Eliza, a local lady named Mrs Latham had seen the pair and called Eliza to come back. Eliza looked back but carried on walking. Mr Latham recognised Phipps, and they told her sister Phoebe to go and tell her dad about Eliza and the man.

Mr Walter Warburton was a salt boiler; they were not very well off and had five children. He set off to search for his daughter. After walking to the end of Ledward Street and the path known as Coronation Road with no sign of his daughter, he returned home.

Several locals, including Mr Warburton and Mr Latham, set off again to search for the girl.

When news got around, they were joined by a large crowd, and they came upon Phipps walking across Middlewich Field towards the stile near the top of School Road.

Winsford Guardian: School Road Wharton 1920'sSchool Road Wharton 1920's

He ran off on seeing the advancing crowd, by now more than 20 to 30 people were chasing him. A cyclist caught him in School Road and the local policeman PC Jones took hold of his arm. The cyclist told the officer that Phipps had been interfering with a young girl.

When asked by the officer if this was true, he replied that he would tell the officer at the station. When taken to nearby Wharton police station, Phipps explained that children had been throwing stones at him and he had grabbed a girl and wrung her neck, throwing her body into a ditch. Sgt Beech attended to guard the prisoner while PC Jones joined the searchers.

Winsford Guardian: Wharton Village By The ChurchWharton Village By The Church

By this time the body of young Eliza had been found in a ditch half-filled with water by a local joiner called Spilsbury, and after checking the child PC Jones declared her quite dead.

The body had signs of being beaten and had a piece of string tied loosely around the neck, although this was not the cause of death which was more likely drowning.

The small Wharton police station, now a house and barbershop, was besieged by crowds of locals and Phipps was taken to Over police station on the High Street, where he was charged with murder.

Winsford Guardian: Wharton Police station with the cells attached, now a house and barbers.Wharton Police station with the cells attached, now a house and barbers.

Dr Okell of Over examined the body and among other things found injuries that ‘suggested the girl had been violently outraged’ (attempted rape). She had also been punched hard in the face, but there was no sign of a struggle. At the inquest, the verdict was ‘wilful murder by James Phipps’. He was committed for trial.

The Warburtons were poor people, and the neighbours and other friends and family provided the coffin, the monument, and the funeral cost. Thousands of people lined the route, and the curtains were closed on every house it passed.

The inscription on the coffin read: “There’s home for little children beyond the bright blue sky”.

Winsford Guardian: Wharton ChurchWharton Church

The service and burial were at Wharton church; this was about 200 yards from the murder scene on the waste ground known as The Claphatches, off Crook Lane and opposite the end of School Road.

Phipps was remanded to Knutsford prison and tried at Chester Assize Court, he pleaded not guilty through insanity, but the jury took just seven minutes to find him guilty of murder.

The judge assumed his black cap and delivered his sentence of death, his speech ending with: “You will be taken to a place of execution and that you be there hung by the neck until you are dead, and then your body will be taken down and buried within the precincts of the prison. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul”. He was returned to Knutsford prison but this time to reside in the condemned cell.

On November 12, 1908, he was executed at Knutsford prison by Henry Pierrepoint, father of the more famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint. He was assisted by his brother Thomas.

There were only eight death sentences carried out at Knutsford Prison.