It really was a Victorian horror story: two 11-year-old boys go into their local print shop to buy some writing paper and envelopes, only to find the shop owners absent. After waiting some time, and noticing blood on the shop counter, they go to fetch a neighbour, who finds two bodies behind the counter. The owners – an elderly widow and her 38-year-old daughter – have been beaten to death with a plasterer’s hammer; nobody is ever convicted of their murders.

This double murder took place on 10 July 1872. The shop was run by the twice-widowed Sarah Squire, who, after the death of her printseller husband, took over his business, aided by her daughters Jemima and Christiana. Jemima then left, leaving Sarah and Christiana to manage the shop, at 46 Hyde Road in Hoxton, together. It was seen as a quiet place, run by two women who were settled in their ways, and who neighbours regarded as “penurious”.

Their deaths were regarded as the result of an attempted burglary, albeit one committed in broad daylight. They were believed to have been attacked around midday, and their attackers had ransacked the building. It was Archibald Trower and William Eyre who had gone to the shop just after 1pm to buy goods and found nobody there to serve them; and it was grocer’s wife Harriet Dodd, of 73 Hyde Road, who was fetched by the two boys and who found the women’s bodies.

Mystery Suspect

A Victorian image shows cartoonist John Doyle looking at his work in the window of a print shop – not unlike the business run by the Squire family.
A Victorian image shows cartoonist John Doyle looking at his work in the window of a print shop – not unlike the business run by the Squire family. (Picture by the Wellcome Collection)

Initially, the police thought they would have little trouble finding the killer. They received information that the women’s shop had been “watched” for a few days, and that the shop may have been subject to an attempted burglary shortly before. In addition, the killer would have been soaked in blood, and he had taken the murder weapon away with him. A waggoner saw a man running from the house at the time of the murder, but by the time he reported this, three days had elapsed and the suspicious man was seen to have had a good head-start from the police and “the scent seems to have cooled”. The women’s savings – or certainly a good deal of it – was found under the sacking of one of their beds, so had not been stolen.

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What is significant is that the police seem to have had a suspect – someone who had been following a “discreditable course of life” for a long time, and who some had believed to be dead because he hadn’t been heard of for a while. No name was given for this man, but it could be significant that Sarah’s eldest child, Edwin, who worked as a musician, had years before walked out on his wife and three daughters, forcing his wife to seek poor relief. In fact, Sarah had been called upon by the authorities to give information about her errant son. However, Edwin later turned up again and reconciled with his wife. Was he suspected of involvement in the murders of his mother and half-sister, or were the police looking for another man?

The killer was never found, but the tragedy for the Squire family did not end with the double murder. Three weeks after Sarah and Christiana were killed, Sarah’s older daughter, Jemima, died in the Poplar workhouse, aged just 42.

This article was first published in the March 2023 issue of BBC History Revealed


Dr Nell DarbyCrime historian and author

Dr Nell Darby is a crime historian and writer, and the presenter of the CBS Reality series Murder by the Sea. Her latest book is Sister Sleuths: Female Detectives in Britain (Pen & Sword History, 2021)