In 1807 Sarah Pugh and her 12-year-old daughter were amongst the poorest people in Hereford. They lodged in a bad part of the city, near Gaol Lane, sharing a room with their landlady, and eked out a living from a small allowance from the parish of Clifford, 20 miles from the city. The whereabouts of Sarah’s husband Thomas at this time are not known but a man of that name was buried in 1809 in Dinedor, eight miles on the other side of Hereford. Perhaps the marriage had broken down, or perhaps Thomas was debilitated by illness and unable to provide for his wife and children.
Whatever the circumstances of her separation and extreme poverty, Sarah Pugh’s miserable life was set to get worse. Unable to pay the rent and given notice to quit, she was facing the loss of her daughter (also called Sarah). The Hereford Journal[ref]19 August 1807.[/ref] reported this was “at her own request”, from which we can speculate that the child was to enter the poorhouse or be farmed out as a parish apprentice. Perhaps this anticipated departure tipped Sarah over the edge. As she went to bed in the evening of 11 June, she told her landlady that she did not expect to live long.At five in the morning the desperate mother took a razor and slit the throat of the child sleeping beside her. Young Sarah’s gasps for breath woke the landlady, who saw the mother try to cover her daughter with bedclothes and then attempting to cut her own throat. While the landlady tried to wrestle the razor from the mother, the child, covered in blood and in shock, ran naked into the street, apparently trying to find her sister in nearby Bye Street. She soon returned to the lodging house and collapsed on the floor. The Hereford Journal reported that her mother, in a display of “savage apathy” calmly stepped over her daughter’s prone form as she was led away to a place of confinement. The child died at around midnight, despite the ministrations of surgeons.
After what must have been a perfunctory trial at the Hereford Assizes, Sarah was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was executed on 28 March 1808.