The phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ came into popular usage in Victorian England to mean nothing or very little, but was there a real Fanny Adams? The answer is yes, and her story is anything but sweet.
The rural village of Alton, a quiet and peaceful place in Hampshire, became the talk of the nation when on Saturday August 24th 1867 the abduction of a girl called Fanny Adams and subsequent murder and mutilation created horror and revulsion throughout the land. Nobody at the time could recall any murders in Alton prior to this, let alone one of such savagery.
On that dreadful day three little girls went out to play together not knowing their innocent lives would change forever and one of the girls would not return home alive.
Fanny, eight years old, her sister Lizzie, seven, and friend Minnie Warner, eight, walked off happily together from Fanny’s home in Tanhouse Lane towards Flood Meadow. Soon they met up with twenty-nine year old Frederick Baker, a solicitor’s clerk. He was smartly dressed in a black frock coat, waistcoat and light coloured trousers. Outwardly, Baker looked respectable as befitting his position, but had been drinking fairly heavily.
Baker offered Little Minnie three halfpence if she would take herself and Fanny’s sister Lizzie away somewhere else to play, Fanny was offered a halfpenny to go with Baker to ‘The Hollow’, which led to the village of Shalden, but when he gave her the money, she refused to accompany him. Annoyed Baker picked her up and carried her off into a hopfield and out of sight. This was about 1:30 in the afternoon.
The two girls, Minnie and Lizzie, played together until about 5:00pm and then decided to make their way home. A Mrs Gardiner, neighbour of the Adams’, spotted the girls and asked where Fanny was. When Mrs Gardiner was told what had happened ‘alarm bells’ began to ring in her head. She and Minnie rushed back up the lane in search of them both. Finding Baker returning alone to the village,she demanded to know where Fanny was and what he had done with her, and his reply was simply, ‘nothing’. He refuted the allegations against him including his denial of giving Minnie three halfpence if she and Lizzie would go off and leave Fanny with him but said the money he gave Minnie was for sweets. Baker was threatened with the police but he told Mrs Gardiner to do what she liked and walked away.
Eventually, about 7:00pm, a search party was formed and they made their way to the hop garden and what they found there was the most ghastly sight one could imagine.
In the gateway they found a pool of blood and beneath a hedge the decapitated head of little Fanny stuck on two hop poles. Scattered around the field was the rest of her defiled body, hacked into pieces. Fanny’s father was told of the find, and in a blind rage he made his way back home to get a shotgun, but fortunately for him and for Baker, he was disarmed.
Frederick Baker was arrested at his office but insisted his innocence, but spots of blood were seen on his clothing. The people were outraged at this hideous crime and would have probably ‘lynched’ Baker had the police superintendent not smuggled him out of the back door of the police station.
After Baker was charged with the murder he was held in custody for a week and then transferred by cab to Winchester where an angry crowd was waiting for him, the Police however managed to thwart the baying crowd trying to grab him.
The inquest was held in The Duke’s Head Inn on the Tuesday evening and the evidence was heard and the sad remains of Fanny were viewed. Baker was asked if he had anything to say and all he could say was “I am innocent.” He was remanded for trial which began on Thursday 29th of August in Alton Town Hall. One of the most shocking pieces of evidence was an entry for the 24th of August in Baker’s diary found in his office.
“killed a young girl, it was fine and hot.”
It took only fifteen minutes for the verdict of the jury to find him guilty and the judge advised them that maybe Baker was not responsible for his actions due to him being abused by his father when he was a child. This plea was rejected by the jury and the judge had no choice but to hand out the death sentence. On the 24th of December 1867, Frederick Baker had the dubious honour of being the last person to be hanged in public at Winchester.
To add insult to injury over a murder case so shocking, in 1869 tins of mutton were introduced into the Royal Navy food rations and when sailors opened the tins, they declared the contents must be the butchered remains of ‘sweet Fanny Adams,’ the tins themselves became known as ‘Fanny’s’.