As we wander from town to town living in various locations and sleeping in different beds we always do our very best to explore the local area and visit as many new places as possible. We have been lucky enough to discover an increasingly large number of quaint villages and fascinating towns on our travels and always search for interesting local stories and history.
Sometimes we know what we’re looking for, guided by a leaflet or advised by the local tourist information office, but occasionally we stumble across a story that we had absolutely no idea about. This is one of those occasions.
Visiting the market in Alton, Hampshire
We are currently housesitting in Cheriton in Hampshire which you should know if you’ve been following the blog (if you don’t then I’m shocked) and thought we would pop over to the town of Alton about 30 minutes east to have a look at their Tuesday morning market. Alton seemed like a nice place but didn’t appear to have much history so we headed for the Curtis Museum to see what we could discover.
Two extremely friendly ladies welcomed us with the wonderful news that the museum was free. Our favourite type of museum! A mixture of local and national history was displayed excellently but the story that caught our eye and attention was this.
Sweet Fanny Adams
Now we’d heard the expression ‘Sweet Fanny Adams‘ or ‘Sweet F A‘ as I sure everyone else had but just assumed it was some sort of Americanism that didn’t really mean much. In fact I thought that ‘Sweet F A‘ stood for ‘F*** All‘ and the name could have been some sort of rhyming slang added. We had no idea that it was a real person. Fanny was a little girl that was born in Alton in 1859 and suffered a terrible fate.
On August 24th 1867 eight year old Fanny, her younger sister Lizzie, and best friend Minnie Warner went off to play in the local Flood Meadows not far from their homes in Tanhouse Lane. It was a hot sunny afternoon and as the girls approached the meadow they met a man called Frederick Baker. They had seen him around the village previously so weren’t worried when he offered them a halfpenny to buy some sweets. They played happily in Flood Meadows for an hour or so until the younger two girls, tired and hungry, decided to go home. At this point Baker grabbed Fanny picking her up and carrying her off screaming into a nearby hop garden. The other girls ran home and told Minnies mother what had occurred but Martha Warner ignored their confusing story and sent them out to play.
A couple of hours later when the girls returned to Tanhouse Lane and retold their story to a neighbour who raised the alarm with Fannys mother. The two ladies immediately headed for Flood Meadows where they met Frederick Baker demanding to know what he had done with Fanny. He denied harming the girl and dismissed their worries completely. Being a solicitor and a respected local citizen they took his word and returned home.
Between 7 and 8pm Mrs Adams and fellow neighbours became seriously concerned and headed out to search in earnest for her daughter. At the same time a local labourer, Thomas Gates, was tending his crop in a nearby hop garden when he discovered the head of Fanny Adams impaled on a couple of sticks. Not only had the poor girl been beheaded but she had been completely decapitated with body parts spread all around the field. Bizarrely hundreds of people flooded the area the next day searching for pieces of the body which were then taken to a local house.
Baker had gone to work in the solicitors office as normal but was arrested that evening as the only suspect. Searching him they found two small clean knives and a couple of minor blood stains on his clothes. He pleaded innocence and appeared calm and collected throughout the arrest. A later search of his office discovered his diary in which he had written “Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.“
Taken to Winchester Prison, Baker was tried and convicted of murder based on further forensic evidence and the testimony of a young boy who claimed that he saw Baker washing blood from his hands in the river. a crowd of over 5000 people watched Baker hang on Christmas Eve. Determined never to forget poor Fanny the community of Alton collected enough money to erect a headstone to her memory in Alton cemetery.
Not quite the end of the story
That should have been the end of the story but a strange turn of events caused Fannys name to go down in history. Two years later, in 1869, tinned mutton was introduced as new rations for the English navy and was apparently so awful that the seamen joked it was the remains of Fanny Adams. This expression stuck and the term became slang for bad meat, leftovers, stew and eventually anything that was worthless. The tins of mutton became known as ‘Fanny’s‘ and are still referred to that way in todays navy.
The phrase soon filtered into general society where it came to refer to something not worth having or even having nothing at all. This also developed into ‘Sweet F A‘ of course which is as common today as it has ever been.
It’s tragically sad that this poor girl’s name lives on but her story has been forgotten.
So we headed out to find Alton cemetery and soon located Fannys final resting place where we paid our respects. A sad but fascinating story that we’ll never forget.
Sorry it’s such a tragic tale, not too depressing I hope? We found it so interesting but just in case you’re feeling a little sad here’s a happy shot of me and a couple of young girls ……………..