West Auckland Web Created by Darren Fairclough.          Back to Home Page Site Map                             All images @ Darren Fairclough 2013

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share via e-mail
Share on Google Bookmarks
West Auckland and St Helen`s Community
 Brought to you by Darren Fairclough

Email me

Home History Maps Community and Events Links Message Board

Mary Ann Cotton, She’s dead and she’s rotten,
She lies in her bed, With eyes wide open.

Sing, sing, oh, what can I sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.,
Where, where? ,Up in the air,
Sellin’ black puddens a penny a pair.

Mary Ann Cotton, She’s dead and forgotten,
She lies in a grave with her bones all-rotten;

Sing, sing, oh, what can we sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.

Mr. Justice Archibalds Words

" In these words I shall address you, I would earnestly urge you to seek for your soul that only refuge which is left for you, in the mercy of  God through the atonement of our Lord , Jesus Christ

It only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you will be taken from hence to the place from whence is that you came, and from thence to a place of execution, and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and your body to be afterwards burred within the precincts of the gaol. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul. "

Mary Ann Cotton, A Victorian Serial Killer

Manr Ann Cotton

Mary Ann Cotton  was during the time of her life was a well liked person who was admired as a professional  (nursemaid) and as an individual.  She appeared to be educated  to a higher standard than most in her social class.  She was always well kept clean and tidy.   For many years she fooled lots of people into thinking she was this caring outgoing and loving lady, but underneath this front she nothing more than a cold ,calculating,  Murderess, poisoning their food and drink with the deadly metallic element Arsenic.

Her life began in October 1832 in Low Moorlsey, Houghton le spring , County Durham.  Her mum and dad, Margaret and Michael Robson had her when they were young, she was baptised on the 11th November at Rainton Chapel ( Mary Anne Robson).  Not long after her baptism they moved to East Rainton.  She had a younger sister Margaret born July 28th 1834 and a Brother Robert Robson born 5th October 1835.  When Mary Anne was nine they moved to Murton in 1841.

It is believed that she Pushed her Boyfriend down a mine shaft  back in East Rainton in her mid teens. Possibly her first taste of death. who knows! Her dad died in the early months of 1842. Sometime later her mum remarried a gentleman named George Stott.  

Mary Ann met  William Mowbray whom she married on the 18th July 1852 at the aged 20.  Sometime after the wedding they moved down to the West Country to Somerset and Cornwall. Her Mother Margaret Stott went to visit once for  three months in the four plus years that they lived there.  Within weeks of her mothers departure, back to the  north they followed suit and moved back to Murton.

They did not return alone as they had a child in toe whom was also named Mary Ann. Many people believe she had another 3 or 4 children whom died whilst down at the West Country, these are sometimes added to her death tally.

On 5th April 1857 Mary Anne had her first child in the North East she was named Margaret Jane Mowbray she died soon after.  In September 1857 She gave birth to another girl she named Isabella. 24 June 1860 Mary Ann  Mowbray the girl she had whilst down Cornwall  Died of Gastric Fever. 1st October 1861 had another little girl also named Margaret Jane (2nd child with this name.) November 1863 John Robert (first boy born).  The Mowbrays left Murton and moved to Sunderland and within a year poor master John Robert Died.

William Mowbray injured himself at work so he needed to rest at home and nursed by his wife and from out of the blue he was stricken with Diarrhoea so severe he was dead within hours  his death certificate read "cause of death Gastric Fever and Diarrhoea."  Now Mary Anne on her own moved to Seaham where she met a chap named Joseph Nattrass, she had an illicit affair with him which ended when he married his fiancée and moved to Bishop Auckland area

May 1865 Margaret Jane Mowbray (the 2nd) Died at the age of  three and a half this was also down to Gastric fever.  Isabella was handed to Mary Anne's Mother Margaret Stott.  Mary Anne went back to work at the Sunderland Infirmary Hospital.  It was here that she met George Ward  an in patient recovering from a fever maybe Typhoid and when he was discharged they married 28th August 1865.  Over the year his health suffered with bleeding problems from which he recovered only to fall ill once again with a mystery fever and lost his life 21st October 1866.

 A Mr James Robinson placed an advertisement in the paper for a housemaid to look after his 5 children after his wife had died. Mary Anne applied and got the job and lived in the home in Pallion.  On 23 December 1866 some 3 weeks after Robinsons wife died and 1 week after May Anne arrived on scene 10 Month old John Robinson died from Gastric Fever.

 Within a few months Mary Anne was Pregnant by Robinson.  Mary Anne Went to her mothers to look after her during a period of sickness but deteriorated when Mary Anne lent a hand in fact only nine days later, she died March 1867 Cause of Death Query Poisoning.  Isabella went back to Mary Anne.  

   In 10 days there were 3 more deaths - James Robinson junior Six years old died 21 April - Elizabeth Robinson  aged 8 years died 26 April - and Poor little Isabella aged nine died May 2nd all three suffered symptoms of Gastric fever.  After this Mary Anne apparently became depressed and ill herself but soon recovered , more likely to take the heat of her as James Robinson's sisters were very suspicious of Mary Anne, but James was to ignore them and Married Mary on the 11 August 1867 now five months pregnant.     Mary Isabella was born 29 November 1867 and was Buried 1 Month later after dying from yes you guest it Gastric fever. That was the 5th child to die while living with Robinson

After an incident regarding financial affairs Robinson and Mary split up. Robinsons two remaining children , himself, and cottons second child she had to him survived her evil reign.  Perhaps this was because Robinson would not allow himself to be insured against his death.

Mary Anne over the years had insured a high percentage of those she poisoned with the British Prudential.  She was not discovered because she continuously used different surnames i.e.. to whom she was married to at the time and the fact that she moved house around the north quite a bit.

Soon after Robinson and Mary Ann separated, she went to visit a friend with her last remaining child from Robinson whilst there she asked her friend if she minded looking after it while she ran an errand.   Mary Anne never did return for the child and it was taken back to Robinson himself.

In 1870 Mary Anne met a bloke called Frederick Cotton, after his wife and 2 children died they became lovers (their deaths are not thought to be suspicious), but Margaret Cotton, Freds sister, whom also a friend of Mary Anne (the only person in the way of their relationship i.e. she lived in the same house as Fred Cotton ) died in a manner that could raise a pointing finger.  17 September 1870 she and Fred were married, unbeknown to him, it was a bigamist marriage because she never divorced Robinson and then moved to West Auckland in the summer of 1871. Robert Robson Cotton was born Jan 18 1870.  

They lived at number 20 Johnson Terrace, (now demolished and remaining buildings renamed Darlington road. It is thought that they moved to West Auckland because of Mary Anne's influence because living in the same row was Joseph Nattrass Mary's former lover, ( Fred was obviously unaware of this.)


19 September 1871 Frederick Cotton Died from Gastric fever Married to Mary Anne for only 1 year and 2 days. Only 3 Months later Joseph Nattrass moved into 20 Johnson Terrace.

Mary now  got a job as a nursemaid once again this time she was to look after a Mr. Quick-Manning up at Brookfield Cottage.  He was an excise officer at the West Auckland Brewery.  He was so impressed with her that their professional relationship became a loving one, to the extent of marriage. Within the space of three weeks  between 10 March and April 1st 1872 three lives were lost at 20 Johnson terrace.  Mr Cottons 10 year old son also named Frederick died of Gastric fever.  Robert Robson Cotton 14 months died of teething problems ????????????????.  Joseph Nattrass  died of Gastric fever.

   Now that most of those who got in the way of the relationship with quick manning out of the way she became pregnant two weeks after Nattrass`s death.  Mary Anne moved from Johnson Terrace to 13 Front street overlooking the village green. She moved there with Cottons remaining son Charles Edward and a lodger called Taylor.     On the 6th July Mary spoke to Thomas Riley - she had tried to gain his help in getting Charles Edward to a Workhouse.  When he explained she would have to go with him she retorted that Charles would not live long even though he appeared to be in perfect health.  Over the next week his health deteriorated until he died on the Friday  12 July 1872. Of course Riley became suspicious immediately and reported it to Tom Hutchinson a Police sergeant  at West Auckland.


20 Johnson terrace, west auckland

The inquest was held on Saturday at the Rose and Crown public house next door to Mary Anne's home.  Dr Kilburn said the child died of natural causes "gastric fever".  He came to this decision due the time he had  in which he had to perform the post mortem (one hour before the inquest.)  Mary Anne was relieved but only for a short time. Dr Kilburn was still very suspicious and had not the time to perform a chemical analysis so on the Sunday  he had kept some of the boys organs and performed the Reisch`s test which looked for Arsenic the test was positive.  In the meantime all the regional press where having a ball over the great poisoning case at West Auckland.  Thursday 18 July Mary Anne Cotton was arrested on the suspicion of poisoning Charles Edward Cotton.

    Over the following weeks letters were sent to the Home Office seeking permission to Exhume the bodies of   those that died in west Auckland who were close to Mary Anne.  Arsenic was found in all bodies that  were exhumed. During her trial it was revealed that she had asked various people to get soft soap and arsenic to kill the bugs from their beds from the local chemist.


She awaited trial at Durham prison and had her child on the 10 January 1873 and was christened "Mary Edith Quick-Manning Cotton."  She looked after her until it was taken from her one week before her death. She choose William and Sarah Edwards a couple from Johnson Terrace who had been married for a number of years without any success of conceiving as foster parents.  

Mary Anne`s trial began on Monday 3 March 1873 the judge attending was a Mr Justice Archibald.  The arguments in her defence were those such as . The wallpaper she had in her house in Front street contained arsenic but there had never been a case where it had caused any harm.  Other argument's was that the doctor treating the boy got his medication mixed up and poisoned him himself or the fact that the boy had swallowed it himself  accidentally.  Perhaps during her years as a nursemaid she had seen it used in some patients and thought it had a therapeutic effect in combating illness. Of course non of this was believed and on Friday 7 March 1873  the jury found her guilty of Murder on circumstantial evidence.


Click for PDF

Alleged Killings

Arsenic Poisoning Symptoms

Nausea , Vomiting, Diarrhoea

Abdominal Pain, fever, Cramps

Lethargy, Convulsions, Dizziness

Very Similar to Gastric fever.

No 13 Front street in West Auckland and again on the right the house painted in blue, (now re-numbered as 14).  Click on the pics for a slightly enlarged view

Mary Anne Cotton died by Hanging -  Monday 24th March at 0800 hrs 

At Durham jail 

The Following information was published in the northern echo“memories” by Chris Lloyd,  here is some extracts from it and a link to the full text.
 Northern Echo Link

Mary ann cottons trial had been delayed to allow her to give birth, she nursed her baby in her cell and then a week before her brutally botched execution on March 24, she gave the infant to be adopted by a couple she knew in West Auckland, William and Sarah Edwards.Baby Margaret seems to have been their only child and, according to the 1881 census when they were living in Leasingthorne, she was using the Edwards surname. In late 1890, 17-year-old Margaret married Joseph Fletcher, a south Durham miner, and in 1892, they had a daughter, Clara, who was born at Windlestone.

What clouds hung over the family? In a close-knit community like the Durham coalfield, it would have been impossible for Margaret to escape the notoriety of her birth. Perhaps this is what caused the young family, in May 1893, to sail from Liverpool on RMS Umbria to New York for a new life.The ship’s manifest shows they were bound for Pennsylvania – a coalmining area where Joseph presumably planned to find work. But when their son, William, was born a few months after their arrival, his place of birth was listed as Imperial County in California – a desert through which canals were being dug to create farmland. With this baby still in nappies, Joseph disappeared. It is believed that he was killed in a railway accident. IN October 1894, Margaret, by now a 21-year-old widow, sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, on RMS Cephalonia, with her two toddlers, Clara and William, back to Liverpool. She was coming home to Durham, and to her adoptive parents, pregnant with her third child.

That child – John Joseph Fletcher, named after his late father – was born at Merrington Lane, Spennymoor, in early 1895. The 1901 census found 28- year-old Margaret and her three children living with her adoptive mother Sarah at the Greyhound Inn, Ferryhill – her adoptive father, William, had died aged 54 in 1897, and Sarah was the pub licensee. The census revealed that her boys were working underground – William was a collier and John was a pony driver. Later in 1901, Margaret married Robinson Kell, a miner at the Dean and Chapter Colliery in Ferryhill, and had his son. The 1911 census lists Margaret, Robinson and her three sons living in Watt Street, Dean Bank. Her daughter, Clara, 19, was living with Sarah in St Luke’s Terrace, Ferryhill. Then came the First World War. William and John went off to fight. Neither came home. Both of Mary Ann Cotton’s grandsons have their names engraved on Ferryhill War Memorial.

Perhaps at this point, it would be best to draw a discrete veil over the family tree, except to say that Margaret lived into old age with the stigma of being the daughter of one of Britain’s most notorious killers. It is quite clear that much of south Durham knew her life story, but it is also clear that she was accepted, and even admired, by that community. Her family describe her as being “immensely private, intelligent, warm and kind-hearted, and a devoted wife, mother and grandmother”.

There are many decendents of Mary Anne Cotton in the area but researches have been asked to let sleeping dogs lie.

Over the Years since I first wrote this page back in 1998 in west auckland web version 1,  there have been many new books,  Internet articles, many with conflicting stories, so I have ketp to my last update but added a few extra bits like above,  I have also included some links below that you may find interesting, however a quick search on google will reveal a lot more.  If you are one of Mary Anns descendents and would like to chat privately then drop me a line. One final note I would like to point you to a webpage www.maryanncotton.co.uk  by Robson Cotton who portrays Mary Ann in a different light.

By Darren Fairclough


Margaret Jane Mowbray

John Robinson

Margaret cotton

Margaret Jane Mowbray

Margaret Stott

Frederick Cotton

John Robert Mowbray

James Robinson

Frederick Cotton jnr

William Mowbray

lElizebeth Robinson

Robert Robson Cotton

Margaret Jane Mowbray 2nd

Isabella Mowbray

Joseph Nattrass

George ward

Mary Isabella Robinson

Charles Edward Cotton

Mary Anne Cottons alleged Victims






Home Page