RefNoX144
TitleCharles Peace (1832-1879) of Sheffield
AdminHistoryCharles Frederick Peace was born in Nursery Street, Sheffield, on May 14th 1832, the youngest of the four sons of John Peace, shoemaker, and his wife, the daughter of a naval surgeon. On leaving school Peace was apprenticed at Kelham Rolling Mills in Sheffield, where two accidents left him with a permanent limp and the loss of three fingers of one hand. Both before and after the accidents, he displayed a talent for music, and played the violin at local concerts, as well as public houses.

Peace's early criminal history shows him to have been a largely unsuccessful cat burglar, and he was arrested on a number of occasions. By the 1850s/60s he was serving longer spells in prison for burglaries in Sheffield and Manchester, with three sentences totalling twenty years, substantially reduced through remission. During this period he attempted unsuccessfully to escape from Wakefield prison, where he was serving eight years penal servitude for a burglary committed in Manchester. He also served time in prison at Millbank, Chatham and Gibraltar.

At the age of twenty-seven Peace met, and is believed to have married, Hannah Ward, a widow with a small child. They had a daughter and a son who died in infancy. By 1872 Peace was trading as a picture framer, and supplementing this income by selling musical instruments and small antiques/bric-a-brac. Three years later Peace, Ward and her child moved to the Darnall area of Sheffield, and it was here that Peace first met Arthur and Katherine Dyson. The latter always denied having an affair with Peace, and following physical threats made to the couple Arthur Dyson took out a summons against him. Peace fled to Hull and then Manchester, committing a number of burglaries as he went. It was during one such offence in Manchester that he shot and killed Police Constable Nicholas Cock. The police arrested John and William Habron, and managed to produce ‘eye-witnesses’ at the trial, which Peace attended in disguise. William was sentenced to death—commuted to life imprisonment because he was only eighteen.

Following this incident, Peace returned to Sheffield and later traced the Dysons to their new home in the Banner Cross area of Sheffield. Here an argument ensued, resulting in Peace shooting and killing Arthur Dyson. Once again Peace fled, and accompanied by his wife and stepson, headed south. During 1876-1877 Peace was in Doncaster, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham and London. It was in Nottingham that he acquired a mistress, Susan Grey, a widow who accompanied the Wards (he was now using Hannah's name) to London, where they eventually settled in Peckham. Here the couple called themselves Mr and Mrs Thompson, with Hannah living in the basement and posing as their housekeeper. Whilst the couple gave the impression of affluent respectability, Peace continued to burgle houses across London. He was eventually caught in October 1878, breaking into a house in Blackheath. Ambushed by two policemen, Peace was overpowered by Police Constable Edward Robinson despite a bullet through the arm. The following month ‘John Ward’ (another alias used by Peace) was given a life sentence for shooting with intent to murder, to be served at Pentonville prison. It was Susan Grey who had revealed his true identity and claimed a £100 reward.

On January 17th 1879 Peace was transported from London to Sheffield, where he was charged with the murder of Arthur Dyson in 1876. He was then taken back to London. Five days later he escaped from the train bringing him north for the second hearing. The injuries sustained in doing this enabled his immediate recapture, and the postponement of his examination before the Sheffield magistrate until January 30th. When this took place, he was committed for trial at Leeds Assizes on February 4th of that year. The trial lasted one day, with Katherine Dyson cross-examined about her relationship with Peace, and he maintaining that the fatal shot was fired accidentally during a scuffle/struggle. The jury deliberated for ten minutes, and found Peace guilty. He was hanged at Armley Prison, Leeds, on February 25th 1879, and was also buried there.

Prior to his execution, Peace had confessed to the murder of Police Constable Cock, providing enough detailed evidence to persuade the authorities of William Habron's innocence. Habron was released with a pardon, having served three years in prison.
DescriptionLegal Records, including last will and testament, 1879 (X144/1)

Trial-Related Papers, including statements, correspondence and notes, [1878]-1879 (X144/2)
Date1870s
Extent8 items
AccessStatusOpen
LevelCollection
RelatedMaterialBrief for Peace's defence (photocopy), 1879 (ref. SY623/Z1/1-3); correspondence, 1879 (refs. MD5021 and MD7297); Sheffield Police register of ticket of leave men (ref. SY295/7/3); photographs of Peace (copies) and posters regarding a reward for his arrest (copies) (ref. SY295/7/7).
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