The Lynn Man, The Pub, and The Ruptured Spleen

There are many ways of categorising death. There are both natural deaths (from old age, for example) and unnatural deaths (such as murder). And there are official deaths (such as executions) and unoffical deaths (such as accidents or murder).

The drinkers and diners who frequent the bar in King’s Lynn’s Globe, an early coaching inn now owned by J.D. Wetherspoon, are usually unaware of the drama that took place in 1891 where they sit. And if they became aware of it, they might well like to contemplate how they would categorise the death. Was it natural or unnatural? Was it official or unofficial?

The Stables At The Inn

The Globe, which has been in existence since at least 1779 used to advertise as having stabling for 40 horses. In the 1960’s the redundant stables were carpeted and turned into a dining area leaving no trace of the former usage.

The Globe Hotel, King’s Lynn
Photo © James Rye 2002

On 1 September 1891 54 year-old Philip Smith arrived back at the stable yard. Smith was an ostler – someone who looked after the horses at the hotel and who also acted as a “cabbie”. It was around 6:00pm and he had just returned from delivering a fare paying passenger. He was not a well man and had suffered from heart and liver problems for a number of years. On his arrival at the stables he was already under the influence of drink.

Charles Saunders was also employed by the hotel as an ostler and was working in the stables at the time. He became the victim of Smith’s aggression. At the inquest it was suggested that the source of the dispute was Smith’s perceived insult at not being invited to a wedding party. Whether or not his was true, Smith apparently said to Saunders: “Saunders, if ever you call me a – old – any more, I’ll knock your nose off!” Smith then struck two blows to Saunders’ face.

The Strike

Saunders apparently indignantly protested his innocence claiming that he had never said anything unkind about his co-worker. He asked Smith to “Come out and fight it fair”, but Smith refused and again struck Saunders. Saunders admits landing one blow in retaliation, but cannot remember precisely where he hit Smith. They both emerged into the yard swearing at each other, but the dispute was broken up by a Mr Marshall. About 45 minutes later Smith was seen leaning against a door post and looking very white.

The Death

From this point Smith’s health started to seriously deteriorate. He initally refused any suggestion that he should go home but he was soon driven to his dwelling in Market Lane. At 8:00pm he was visited by Jackson, a surgeon and found to be in a state of collapse and without a pulse. Jackson left him with some “restoratives” at 11:00pm, but returned the next morning at 7:00am. Smith died soon afterwards.

The Post-Mortem

Two surgeons, Jackson and Plowright, conducted a post-mortem. They found convincing evidence of his heart and liver problems, but judged that these were not sufficient to have caused his death. His abdominal cavity contained a large quantity of blood (about a pailful) and his spleen was ruptured. It was the latter which was given as the cause of death.

It was admitted that a blow over the spleen would accelerate death, but neither surgeon would commit to linking the fight to Smith’s death. The inquest jury recorded, “That the deceased died from a rupture of the spleen, but there is not sufficient evidence to show how the rupture was caused.”

It was not a fight to the death, but an unprovoked fight, probably fuelled by alcohol, that resulted in death.

© James Rye 2023

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  • Gifford, A. (1986 ) Ghosts and Legends of Lynn, Amaryllis Press
  • Lee, Paul (2021) The Ghosts of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Unlisted Publisher

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