In 1891 a horrific killing took place in Woolton when a pub landlord died after a brutal assault by two customers who he had barred from the premises.
On 2nd April 1891 two labourers named Michael Gallagher and Bernard McKeon entered the Coffee House hotel in Woolton Street and settled down in the smokeroom for some drinks. They had to be asked by the barmaid Alice Frere to tone their language down but they didn't do so. When they went to the bar for more drinks the 66 year old landlord, William Toulmin, told them that they had had enough. They repeated their request but were again denied service and began arguing amongst themselves, leading to Toulmin telling them to go outside if they were going to fight.
Gallagher and Mckeon went into the yard for about five minutes and they were seen to be laughing together. On going back inside Toulmin again refused to serve them and said they would be better off going home for some tea. The two men said they would do this if they could have another beer each, but Toulmin said he wouldn't let them have any more even if they paid him a shilling.
As the men began to get boisterous again the barmaid ran into the yard fearing for her safety. Toulmin decided enough was enough and went to push them away from the bar, leading to a glass being picked up and smashed against his head. The cook Kathleen Kavanagh came to see what was going on and saw one of the men wielding a belt. She ran off for help and on coming back saw Toulmin sat on a chair and three bloodstained glasses on the floor next to him. The barmaid returned inside and saw Toulmin covered in blood and being treated by Kavanagh. She then ran outside screaming leading to a Mr and Mrs Hall coming in and offering assistance.
The whole incident had been witnessed by a beer salesman from Burton on Trent named Mr Doubleday. He tried to leave the pub to go to the police but was stopped by Gallagher, only to be let out in return for a payment of 6d. After Doubleday notified the police an officer arrested the two men on a charge of unlawful wounding.
Toulmin's regular physician Dr Joll arrived and stemmed the bleeding. Toulmin was conscious but dazed and helped to bed but two days later he became delirious. Although he could occasionally talk rationally he deteriorated and died on the afternoon of 8th April.
An inquest took place on 10th April at the Woolton courthouse before the county coroner, Mr W T Husband. Crowds lined the streets hoping to get a glimpse of the proceedings, where the police case was presented by Superintendent Barker from Prescot.
The victim's son Whitfield Toulmin, who sold beer from the Cobden Vaults, told the coroner that his father had ran the Coffee House for sixteen years. The barmaid and cook could say that they saw violence inflicted but not be sure who struck what blow. Mr Doubleday was the best witness and he could testify that Gallagher struck Toulmin with the buckle end of a belt. He then went on to say that after Toulmin had cleared glass from the bar, Gallagher picked some of it up and struck him again. McKeon's involvement he stated was inflicting two blows with a glass, while four other men remained in the smokeroom and did not play any part in the matter.
Dr Joll estimated that Toulmin had lost two pints of blood and believed that if he hadn't arrived when he did then death would have occurred that afternoon. He explained that on conducting a postmortem meningitis had set in and that Toulmin had died from 'a train of symptoms arising from the wounds on the head'. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder after some guidance from the Coroner, who had to explain to them that if the men set out intending to maliciously wound Toulmin then that was the verdict, irrespective of whether there was an intent to kill.
After the inquest Gallagher and McKeon were taken to Prescot where they appeared before a magistrate the following morning. As Doubleday gave his evidence McKeon interrupted and said 'I cant stand here while my life is sworn away'. Gallagher then stood up and said 'Get out of that box, I wonder how you can stand there and tell all these lies'. A fifteen year old girl called Rose Bushell, who hadn't given evidence at the inquest, stated that she lived opposite the Coffee house and had seen both men coming out of the pub putting their belts back on. The solicitor for the two defendants opted not to make any comment and said their defence would be reserved until the assizes trial.
Toulmin's funeral took place at Anfield cemetery on the same day as the police court proceedings. It was conducted by the Reverend Isaac Holmes and the oak coffin was adorned with several wreaths.
At the assizes on 6th May the two men were tried in front of Mr Justice Grantham. The prosecutor opened by saying that Woolton was a 'quiet little place' and that Toulmin was a man of 'considerable means' who had never abused his position. Whitfield Toulmin was challenged over his father's health but said he was not delicate and although he enjoyed a glass of beer, he never got drunk. Alice Frere admitted that the defendants were not drunk but said they had been too noisy which is why they were not served. Mr Doubleday was again a good witness, making it clear that Toulmin hadn't used violence and that at no stage did the men complain about his conduct.
The prisoners' defence was that they had not struck Toulmin and any injuries were as a result of him having fallen on to broken glass. Their counsel also reminded the jury that there had been no ill feeling between them men prior to that day and that they had not tried to escape from the scene. Patrick Gallagher's brother was then called to say that Toulmin had thrown glasses at the two men and also hit one of them. Two labourers took the stand to say Toulmin had struck Gallagher and McKeon.
In summing up the judge said that publicans were in a dangerous position and that Toulmin died doing his duty. After fifteen minutes deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, adding that they could give no credence to the claims of the defence witnesses whatsoever. Prior to passing sentence Justice Grantham said that the prisoners should be grateful that the jury had been merciful. He told them that he had considered sentencing them to twenty years penal servitude, but had decided to reduce this to ten on account of there having been no prior bad feeling between those concerned.