TWO retired police officers have shed light on grisly crimes and tragedies in an east Durham village during the Victorian era in their latest book.

John and Stephanie Yearnshire, who have become well-known social historians, will launch their book at the Glebe Centre Murton, during the Murton Heritage Society Weekend, on Saturday November 16 and Sunday.

Mr Yearnshire, a former scenes of crime officer and his wife, who rose to the rank of superintendent commanding South Shields police, said months of extensive research had gone into their book, Grisly Crimes, Hard Times & Tragedies: Murton Colliery during the Victorian Era.

The Northern Echo: John and Stephanie Yearnshire with their new bookJohn and Stephanie Yearnshire with their new book

The book covers about 120 incidents from domestic abuse to pit tragedies and crimes.

He said: “Do not think that Murton has been a quiet community backwater. It has not, as the book reveals.

“Originally agricultural land, the sinking of the new pit in 1838 brought men from all over the UK and beyond. They arrived with their wives and children and either carrying their belongings by hand or hiring a cart.

“Though generally decent and law abiding some of these people created just as much chaos, mayhem and crime as any other generation.”

He added: “Their living conditions were generally poor, lacking any sanitation, and hunger was never far from the door. The book tells of a starving mother collapsed on the floor of the local shop.”

The Northern Echo: Mary Ann Cotton depicted by former forensic artist Norman Kirtland, right, committing one of her murders fro which she was hanged in Durham, right Mary Ann Cotton depicted by former forensic artist Norman Kirtland, right, committing one of her murders fro which she was hanged in Durham, right

Mr Yearnshire said: “We have uncovered some dreadful behaviour, for example the woman who waited until her abusive husband was asleep and poured boiling water into his ear, “boiling him in his sleep” or a miner guilty of a vicious stabbing, who was traced to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

“His journey and subsequent life has been investigated and revealed in the book. The tale is fascinating. There was one case of a child falling into treacle beer and being scalded."

One of the many inquests includes one involving a quack doctor whose herbal treatment killed one of his patients.

The coroner told him: "You had far better attend to your business as a shipwright, because as long as you go on administering these medicines of which you know nothing, you run this risk. And besides, you render yourself liable to a penalty of £50 for using the still without a license from the excise. Doctor Deacon then left; again assuring the Coroner he would put an end to his prescriptions

The book also includes a more in-depth look at the life of Murton’s own Victorian mass murderess, Mary Ann Cotton, who may have killed up to 23 people and was hanged in Durham jail in 1873.

Mr Yearnshire said: "The images that have been published of her at the time aren't very good. The one of her with a shawl looks as though she had been crying.

I am friends with former police forensic artist Norman Kirtlan who has some new images, which I am using in the book to show what we think she should have looked like.

Mrs Yearnshire was inspired to join her husband in writing the book in memory of her father Stephen Wilson and cousin John Cummings MP - both miners at the Murton Colliery.

The books are priced at £6.99p (plus £2 package and postage). Email: