Ficticious tales of ‘cold cases’, unsolved crimes of yesteryear, are incredibly popular in TV and literature but – as the old cliche says – factual accounts are often a great deal stranger. There’s a sinister example from Nottingham’s past that I’ll describe here, and examine in further detail in the next post.
I travel by the tragic site of this mystery several times a week. The main building has been deserted and boarded-up for several years now, but the area round about is being redeveloped. It’s curious to recall this ominous incident amid the positivity of the redevelopment.
The summary below is drawn from the book Nottingham…The Sinister Side by Steve Jones, two articles on the BBC news website, a contemporary Nottingham Evening Post article, and – for geography, distances etc. – information from Google maps and Insight Mapping. I found that some details in the written accounts clash slightly. Where this is the case, I have given preference to the account able to sight its sources most precisely. I have tried quite deliberately to write this in a flat and impartial way, simply to present what is known rather than attempting to lead the reader towards any particular conclusion. In the next blog post I’ll include some conjecture and theories.
The case occurred in an area that was once the wholesale market in Sneinton, before it moved over to Meadow Lane. The wholesale market sat between what is now Sneinton Market and the Ice Arena. Naturally for Nottingham, a pub was established to keep the market folk lubricated. The pub was named the Fox and Grapes, but locals generally used the nickname Pretty Windows, on account of the establishment’s decorative glazing. It sat on Southwell Road, between two streets named Avenue B and Avenue C. The pub later became known as Peggers, and now sits abandoned. The image below of the ‘modern’ pub (thought it’s already out of date) is from the superb website, http://www.sneintonmarket.co.uk.
In 1963, George Wilson was the landlord of the pub. George was a former miner from Rossington in Yorkshire and lived at the pub with his wife Betty, their young son and daughter, and the family dog, Blackie. The building consisted of a pub area at the front, and a connected house occupied by the family at the back. The house abutts a market building immediately to the north-west, and seems to have been built as part of the same structure. There are three exterior doors; the main door from the pub which leads out onto Southwell Road, and two side doors from the residential part, leading to Avenue B, and Avenue C.
On Saturday 7th September 1963, at least four people had worked behind the bar; George and Betty Wilson, and a couple learning the pub trade named Arthur and Irene Ash. A regular named Mr Smith was drinking in the bar along with several others. Towards closing time, a sing song took place. At 10:30pm, the pub closed, the drinkers were ushered out and the door locked. Mr Smith remained behind. The pub was tidied and cleaned-up, and the five people – George, Betty, Mr Smith, and Mr and Mrs Ash – settled down to enjoy a post-work drink together in the Wilson’s lounge in the residential part of the building.
Arthur and Irene left the premises at some point, and George, Betty and Mr Smith remained. At about 12:15am, George left the pub to take the dog for a walk, as was his habit, and bid goodbye to Mr Smith. Betty remained indoors. Reports differ slightly over the time that elapsed, but 20 to 45 minutes after George had left, Betty was disturbed by a noise. It was Blackie, barking outside in Avenue B. Betty opened the side door and found George lying bloody on the pavement outside, barely alive. His keys were beside him. Some slates which later proved to be from a low part of the building’s roof were smashed on the ground near him. George had been ferociously attacked; stabbed 14 times in his face, neck, head and back, with one wound three and a half inches deep. The notion that he may have been mugged was rejected when a wallet containing cash was found upon his person. George passed away before the ambulance arrived.
Two incidents that may be related to the stabbing were reported that evening to police. A security driver said that around 12:50am he had nearly run over a man in Longden Street, about 125 metres from the Fox & Grapes. The man had been running and apparently carrying a chisel in one hand. He wore a light-coloured raincoat and a ‘Robin Hood’-style hat. In the 1950s, certain types of fedora were referred to as Robin Hood hats, and so it’s likely this was still the case in the early 1960s.
The second incident was a couple in a small, black car stopping at the Fox and Grapes around the time of the stabbing and asking for directions to West Bridgford. Who they asked for directions isn’t clear from the newspaper report. The couple came forward the following day, but were unable to provide any information related to the stabbing.
Nine days later the murder weapon was found. Two young boys playing at Polser Brook, near Holme Pierrepont, discovered a sheathed knife which they handed in to police. Bloodstains on the blade tallied with George Wilson’s blood group, and in the sheath fibres were found which matched the clothing George was wearing during the attack.
The significant investigation continued over the following months, with three hundred possible suspects having their movements checked, and thousands of people being interviewed. Images of the knife and appeals for information were put on posters around the city and on Co-op dairy vans. There was a confession from a Radford man imprisoned in Dartmoor which proved false when — despite many details being accurate — the confessor couldn’t identify George or the murder weapon when presented with a choice of images.
George’s family moved away after his murder. Some time later, Betty received an anonymous message stating that she should travel alone to Derby bus station with £100 one night to learn the reason for her husband’s savage death. She didn’t attend. Betty passed away in 1997. In 2013, police appealed anew for information in a bid to get the case finally closed. Newspapers and broadcasters featured reiterations of the stabbing 50 years earlier, and emphasised that — due to the likely age of the murderer and anyone else involved — this was probably the last chance to discover the truth. Despite police stating they were encouraged by the response, the case remains unsolved to this day.
You can watch a contemporary TV news report (now owned by ITV News) on Vimeo by clicking here.
In the next blog post I’ll postulate some theories and raise some possibilities concerning the stabbing. George’s murder is an open case and if you have information handed-down by friends or relatives you should contact Notts Police. If you have ever heard any theories or recollections concerning the Pretty Windows murder, feel free to post them below. This is a public site and George’s relatives may chance upon the article one day, so I’d urge anyone posting to be mindful of this please.