Stoke-on-Trent war hero hanged over love triangle murder


Charles Colclough survived the Great War, but was sentenced to death a year after he was de-mobbed. We look back at the love triangle between a fish seller, an ex-Grenadier Guard, and his estranged wife – which led to murder

Charles Colclough was one of the many soldiers who came home from the Great War to pick up the pieces of his ordinary life.

After five years of horrific violence and slaughter on a scale never seen before, these men were expected to put away their uniforms and go back to living the way they had in the years before the war. Few can have been immune to the horrors they witnessed during that bloody conflict, but many were successful.

They managed to bottle up their feelings and go back to their jobs, their wives and their children.

Most of them rarely – if ever – spoke of the trauma they had lived through.

It is difficult to say how badly Colclough was affected by what he saw on the battlefields of France, he was certainly no model soldier; but he was not destined to live long as a civilian after the war.

For a time, it seemed as if his life was moving in the right direction.

Father-of-two Colclough, a fish salesman, had been married before the war, but had separated from his wife when he grew tired of her addiction to drink.

Then he had met Annie Shenton, a married woman who had left her husband when she became sick of his drinking and violent ways.

Annie had soon moved into Colclough’s home at Oak Street, Northwood, in August, 1920.

They lived together, as far as can be told, perfectly happily, until one day in October, 1920, when Colclough returned home to find a letter had been left for him by Annie, telling him she had returned to her husband.

Colclough was angry at the sudden betrayal and went to see Annie’s husband, George Shenton, at his house in Durham Street, Shelton.

The confrontation soon turned to a fight.

At 6ft tall, Shenton, a marl worker, towered above 5ft 5ins Colclough.

But the much smaller man reacted with extreme violence.

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After a struggle lasting less than three short minutes, Shenton lay on the floor choking in a pool of his own blood, the life rapidly draining out of him. Colclough was arrested soon afterwards at his sister’s house. He was charged with murder and taken to prison to await trial.

Colclough had been born around 1873 in Dresden. According to the 1911 census, he was a fish hawker, then living at 5 Albert Street, Hanley, with his wife Lily, and his two sons Frederick, born in 1902, and Albert, born in 1905.

Colclough was not a particularly good citizen. In April, 1903, he had stolen a coat and a vest from George Siddall at Tunstall and was sentenced to three months of hard labour.

By then, Colclough had been convicted nine times for drunkenness, between 1898 and 1902, and once for stealing brass.

But perhaps fatherhood caused him to settle down and leave his criminal ways behind him.

When he enlisted in the Army, on August 17, 1916, he named his wife, Lily, as his next of kin and their address as 35 Vincent Street, Hanley.



A contemporary illustration showing Field Punshment Number One.

He joined the 4th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and landed in France on March 23, 1917.

But he doesn’t appear to have been a good soldier either.

In May, 1917, two months after he landed in France, he was in trouble with the Army for disobeying an order and using obscene language, and was subjected to 28 days of field punishment.

That month, he was transferred to the Labour Corps, where his duties would have included building and repairing trenches and carrying ammunition to the front, as well as picking up a rifle when required and fighting as an infantryman.

Colclough was given more punishment for being absent on four occasions – only for a few hours at a time, once for just 45 minutes – between April and September, 1918.

He was also court martialed for using ‘insubordinate language’. He was also punished for being drunk and causing a disturbance in his tent.

On one occasion he appeared to threaten his superior officer, telling him: “I’ll settle with you before I leave France Mr f****** Thompson.”

But apart from the days he spent suffering Field Punishment Number One – which was where a soldier would be shackled to a fixed object such as a gun wheel for up to two hours a day – Colclough faced all the dangers of the Western Front; the continually falling shells, the stealth threat of snipers, and attacks from the enemy.

There is no doubt he witnessed more than his fair share of horrors – and probably saw many of his comrades killed.

After his discharge from the Army, Colclough went to live at 10 Oak Street, Hanley, seemingly away from his estranged wife. He returned to work selling fish.

George Henry Shenton, aged 40 in 1920, some five or six years younger than Colclough, was also a soldier who had served in the First World War, with the Grenadier Guards.

Shenton was described as a ‘good, sober man’, in his Army records.



Strangeways, where Charles Colclough was hanged.

However, he was discharged long before he reached the Western Front as a result of an injury he had received before the war.

In 1912, Shenton was engulfed by a gas explosion at a house in Brown Street, Hanley.

Even years after the accident, he still suffered the scars – and constant pain – from his injuries.

The accident had left him of a nervous disposition, and although he joined the Army in March 1915, he was discharged as being unfit for service a year later.

He returned home in January, 1916, and went to live with his new bride Annie at 15 Durham Street, Shelton.

According to court reports, Shenton was prone to drinking and was quick with his fists around Annie.

So after leaving him in August, 1920, she then went to live with Colclough, who she had known, and briefly lived with, before she was wed.

Two months later, Annie had a change of heart and returned to her husband.

She left Colclough a note, which he found when he returned home from selling fish at market. Annie’s letter said: “I hope you will forgive me for the step I am taking, as I am only making you miserable as well as myself, and you so often get vexed with me; and I think it is as well for us to part.

“I do hope you will not make things harder for me by coming after me. I feel I am going to have another illness and then I could not look after you.”

She advised him not to ‘fly to drink’, and concluded her letter: “I am always your loving wife that should be, Nan.”

The next day, Sunday, October 31, 1920, Colclough left his house in Oak Street, Northwood, and marched to where the Shentons were holed up in Durham Street, Shelton.

He arrived at about 4.30pm. Mr and Mrs Shenton were in bed when they heard Colclough holler, “come down, I want a reckoning with you”.

Annie looked out of the bedroom window, saw her ex-boyfriend below, and told him: “Oh Charlie, do go away.”

But Colclough shouted back: “I don’t want anything to do with you. I want a reckoning up with him.”

That conversation was later recorded by The Sentinel, on November 27, 1920, after it was repeated in front of Stafford Assizes.

Shenton came downstairs, wearing just his shirt and socks and opened the door to confront Colclough, who, according to Annie’s account, cried out, “come on”.

The Sentinel reported: “They closed together and the whole thing was over in three minutes. Her husband gave a moan and fell to the ground, blood coming from him. The prisoner (Colclough) was on top of him.“

The horrified wife tried to drag the prisoner off, but could not, but he got up and made for the door; and, when she attempted to detain him, he said ‘come out of the road or I will do you in as well’. He then left.

Shenton’s throat had been slashed by two strokes of ‘wonderful ferocity’ with a razor blade which was found lying near the body.



British soldiers on the Western Front

When arrested by police, Colclough said: “I have a perfect answer. I didn’t go to see him. I went to see his wife with regard to some money she has taken and other things. I asked them to come down and let us have a fair understanding.

“He came down and sprang on me and got me on the floor. I didn’t know I had got a razor on me.

“As I lay on the floor, and he on top of me, I put my hand in my overcoat pocket and felt a razor. I pulled it out. I then lost control of myself.”

Colclough pleaded not guilty to the crime of ‘willful murder’.

His defence argued that Colclough had acted in self defence, and at worst the crime was ‘manslaughter’, not murder.

Colclough’s son Albert, a soldier, was at the court to support his father.

Colclough told the court he had been married to Lily, but separated from her because she was ‘addicted to drink’.

He said that Annie had lived with him before she married Shenton, and came to live with him again after she left her husband.

He said he had no idea that she was planning to leave him, until he came home on the Saturday night.

Colclough said he drank three or four pints at the Albert Inn before he visited Mr and Mrs Shenton.

He told the court the razor was not his, but had been loaned to him a couple of days earlier by a Mr Peake of the Albert Inn, because at the time he was going to supper at the Grand Hotel, but it was too late to shave.

Colclough claimed that Shenton had pinned him down and was throttling him.

In fear of his own life, Colclough said he went for his keys, intending to jab Shenton to try to get him to release his hold. Instead, his hand fell on the razor.

The case hinged on whether Colclough intended to murder Shenton with the razor, or if he had reacted on the spur of the moment in self defence, as he claimed.

After considering the facts of the case for 27 minutes, the jury returned – and delivered a verdict of ‘guilty’.



Executioner John Ellis

Donning his black cap, the judge announced the sentence – death.

A petition signed by 2,700 people calling for Colclough to be given a reprieve was sent to the Home Office. It was rejected.

On a dark, rainy morning on New Year’s Eve, 1920, Charles Colclough was led to the gallows at Strangeways Gaol in Manchester.

He made no comment as he stepped up to the scaffold, “with a firm step”. At 8am, he was hanged.

The prison bells began to toll to announce the execution of a murderer.

A report which appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post later that day, said: “On the last toll of the prison bell signifying that Colclough had gone to his death, a postman inquired who had been executed.

“On learning that it was Colclough, he remarked: ‘That’s hard luck. I have an express letter for him here’.”

Six months after Colclough was executed, his estranged wife Lily received his British War Medal and his Victory Medal from the War Office.

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