When Edward Higgins arrived in Knutsford in 1756 he took possession of a large house known as the Cann Office. To the local populace he appeared to be a man of high standing. He took to renovating the house and stables and bringing several fine horses, taking on two local youths as apprentices to his groom.
Attending the local hunts, with his skill on horseback and affable manner he was soon welcomed by the local gentry as one of their own. His regular excursions outside the area were assumed to be the actions of a conscientious land owner collecting the rents which funded his extravagant lifestyle.
The following year he married Katherine Birtles, a spinster from a respectable local family and they became closely entwined within local society often dining at their neighbour’s houses and hosting lavish events themselves.
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When the body of a nine year-old boy was found in a well in Lincoln in 1255, the Jewish owner of the well was (despite the lack of any evidence) held for the child’s murder.
Before his execution, he was tortured and coerced into implicating not only himself but also a number of prominent Jews, that had come to the city to attend a wedding, in a ritual murder that among other tortures involved the boy being crucified.
Six months earlier Henry III had sold his rights to tax the Jews to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, this alleged crime gave him an excuse to seize the property of any found guilty of the crime.
92 Jews were arrested and taken to London, 18 were hanged for refusing to take part in the trial and the rest were found guilty and sentenced to death but later pardoned when Earl Richard interceded on their behalf.
Little Hugh’s body was buried in Lincoln Cathedral.
The story of the boy’s death stirred the anti-semitism that was already virulent in England at that time. Read more »