Great Wyrley - The 'Great Wyrley Outrages'

The 'Great Wyrley Outrages'

In 1903 the place was the scene of the "Great Wyrley Outrages", a series of slashings of horses, cows and sheep. In October a local solicitor, George Edalji, was tried and convicted for the eighth attack, on a pit pony, and sentenced to seven years with hard labour. Edalji’s family had been the victims of a long-running campaign of untraceable abusive letters and anonymous harassment in 1888 and 1892-5. Further letters in 1903 alleged he was partially responsible for the outrages and caused the police suspicion to focus on him.

Edalji was released in 1906 after the Chief Justice in Bahamas and others had pleaded his case. But he was not pardoned, and the police kept him under surveillance. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame was persuaded to "turn detective" to prove the man's innocence. This he achieved after eight months of work. Edalji was exonerated by a Home Office committee of enquiry, although no compensation was awarded.

Local myth remembers the Outrages to have been enacted by "The Wyrley Gang", although Conan Doyle believed that they were the work of a single person, a local butcher's boy and sometime sailor called Royden Sharp. Ironically, Conan Doyle’s suspicion was based on circumstantial evidence. It was an over-reliance on this type of evidence which had resulted in Edalji’s flawed conviction.

Poison pen letters in the name of the "Wyrley Gang" continued for another twenty-five years, but these were subsequently discovered to have been posted from outside the town by Enoch Knowles of Wednesbury, who was arrested and convicted in 1934.

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