New book puts right a tragic injustice

Dave and Mary Halliwell
Dave and Mary Halliwell
Share this article

A LEIGH couple have written a book about one of their relatives who was wrongly hanged more than 190 years ago.

The truth about the trial and subsequent execution of John Horwood was discovered by Mary Halliwell when she was unearthing her family tree and all the details have now been published in a book written by her husband, Dave.

The couple were astounded when, for the first time in 2008, they learned of how the murder he was accused of wasn’t actually committed by him.

Dave and Mary, who live in Leigh, are recently retired after running a taxi firm, and these days they are keen genealogists.

The story goes that while out walking one day, spurned lover Horwood saw his ex-girlfriend Eliza walking with another man in Bitton, Glocestershire.

So upset with this, the 17-year-old picked up a rock and threw it in the couple’s direction, striking the young girl on her head.

A surgeon named Dr Richard Smith carried out an operation on Eliza but in doing so caused a fatal abscess which resulted in her death.

In a desperate bid to avoid punishment, the doctor passed on Horwood’s named to police and he was arrested and sentenced to death with Smith acting as a witness during the trial.

And in a cruel turn of events, Horwood’s body was passed onto Dr Smith for dissection and he skinned the body, binding a book with his notes from the case against Horwood inside.

The warped doctor then decided to keep Horwood’s skeleton at home until he died.

After nearly two centuries, 69-year-old Mary found out that Horwood was in fact her great, great, great, great uncle.

Outraged by the story and the fact that her ancestor was denied a proper funeral, she went about putting things right and found out that the skeleton was just hanging in a university cupboard. Her goal was to give Horwood the funeral he deserved after his wrongful killing.

Mary’s husband, Dave, 68, kept notes on the different events which took place since they found out Horwood’s story and decided to put them into a book. Dave’s book, entitled “An unjust hanging” tells the story in various stages, starting with the details of the stone throw before describing how Horwood was arrested and tried. The book can be purchased from or from Memoirs Publishing at