DURING his research as a history student at Manchester University, Jason Menzies came upon this 100-year-old story of two young Blackburn weavers. He has set out the tragic tale, which began with love and ended in death, for Looking Back.

ONE hundred years ago, while the nation mourned the victims of the Titanic disaster, Blackburn was gripped by another dramatic tale.

The story concerns two young lovers whose relationship came to an abrupt end, in death.

Alice Beetham, 18, and Arthur Birkett, 22, both worked as weavers at the Jubilee Mill, in Gate Street, Copy Nook, and had been courting for a month when Alice told her beau she no longer wanted to be with him.

Broken-hearted, Arthur confronted Alice at the mill on the morning of Monday May 20,1912 and, after having his pleas ignored, drew a razor from his pocket and slashed her across the throat.

He then turned the blade, which he had bought that morning for 1s 6d, on himself.

They lay side by side on the blood-stained floor of the weft room, and the Northern Daily Telegraph reported later that day: “There was at once a scene of excitement, almost approaching panic, in the mill.”

Alice died almost immediately and her body was moved to Copy Nook police station, but Birkett survived and was taken by horse ambulance to Blackburn Royal Infirmary.

Eye-witnesses described their shock and horror at the bloody scene and sensational details fuelled the gossip on the streets.

Said the NDT: “The tragic occurence created a tremendous sensation both inside the mill and in the surrounding district.

“The manager found it utterly impossible to continue the working, so upset were the operatives and eventually the mill closed. Many of the women weavers fainted outright.”

Alice, of Billinge Street, was said to be bright and cheerful, and a favourite with everyone, while Arthur, who lived in Riley Street and was the breadwinner of his family after his father’s death, was described as friendly and quiet.

Over the following weeks, newspapers continued to carry the story as more details emerged.

Public sympathy curiously sided with the murderer and not the victim.

A letter sent from Birkett to his mother after he had been sentenced to death at Strangeways Prison was also published.

In it, Arthur expressed remorse, hoped God would forgive him, and asked for a photograph of Alice, who he hoped to meet again in heaven.

A petition with 66,000 signatures was sent to the Home Secretary asking for a reprieve, but this could not stop Birkett from paying with his life.

On the morning of July 23, mourners – including Alice’s mother – gathered at the Birkett household.

Bells tolled to mark the moment of the execution.

The Blackburn Times reported it simply, stating that Arthur had ‘passed into eternity’.