James Cluff, c. 1698-1729

A Miscarriage of Justice?

Tried and acquitted of murdering his lover in 1729, James Cluff was forced to undergo a second trial, when he was found guilty and condemned to death. He maintained his innocence, however to his dying breath, and even beyond the grave.

Early Life, Education, and Employment

James Cluff (sometimes spelt "Clough") was born around 1697. As he told the Ordinary of Newgate, his parents were honest people who ran a public house near Clare Market. Cluff was taught "Reading, Writing, Cyphering, and such things as were proper to make him fit for Business". When he reached the age of thirteen he was apprenticed as a vintner at the Swan on Tower-Street in London. He successfully completed his apprenticeship and went on to work in various taverns all over London, including the Horseshoe in Blow-bladder Street, near Cheapside, where he spent two years, earning the good-will and approbation of his master.

By this point, according to the Ordinary, Cluff was "addicted to Drinking, Whoring, Swearing, and such other Vices", and he had acquired some small debts, which "he was not capable, though willing to discharge".

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Life with Mary Green at the Green Lattica

At some point in 1727 Cluff began working as a drawer for John and Dianna Pain at the Green Lattica (also spelled Lettice) in St Andrew Holborn. Whilst working at the Green Lattica, Cluff met and subsequently began a relationship with his fellow servant Mary Green.

The relationship was clearly turbulent. According to a pamphlet published after his death, "some suggested he had an affection for [her], but whether that were so or not, did not very clearly appear".1 Cluff maintained that "they were very loving together", and "tho' they had had high Words, yet they never had had Blows".

Others differed. Ann Duncarton, a friend of Mary, stated that she saw Cluff beat Mary in the back-kitchen seven weeks prior to her death. After the beating Mary spoke to Ann and explained why Cluff had beaten her, stating "she had taken some Sticks to light her Fire, that (Cluff) had laid by to light his".

Mrs Groves, who washed for Mary’s mistress, recalled a conversation with Mary about these beatings only six weeks prior to her death. During this conversation, Mary "show'd her her Head, and there was a great Bump upon it as big as an Egg". On another occasion, Cluff apparently threw a candlestick at her, narrowly missing, whilst she was treating the bump with rum. Groves reported that she overheard Cluff remark once to Mary that "If you do me a Mischief, if I do not live to see it, I have those that will live to see you hang'd".

Mary even went to her mother, Elizabeth Green, due to the beatings. Elizabeth said that Mary came to her on Easter Tuesday, days before the murder, and told her "I have been wild, and have not kept my Places, but now I am used so barbarously by my Fellow-Servant that I cannot bear it". Mary’s mother was going to tell her employer, but was persuaded against it by Mary, who could not afford to lose the work.

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The Death of Mary Green and the First Trial

On the 11 April 1729 around two o’clock, Mary and Cluff were sitting for dinner in a box in the Green Lattica. Four to five minutes after Cluff had sat down in the box he called out "Madam Pray come here" to his mistress. Upon entering the box Mrs Pain saw Mary on the floor with Cluff holding her up by the shoulders with blood rushing out of her.

Mrs Pain asked Cluff if he had done this, Cluff explained "No; but he saw her in the Cellar with a Knife in her Hand". Mr Pain ran and fetched an apothecary, who when he arrived quickly realised that Mary was dead. Cluff was immediately arrested.

Cluff was tried at the Old Bailey on 16 April 1729 for the murder of Mary Green. During the trial all the earlier details of Cluff and Green’s relationship emerged, but to begin with the trial focused on events that occurred on the day of the murder.

Mrs Pain deposed that ten minutes before the crime occurred, she saw Cluff take a pot of drink out and saw Mary go down the cellar and bring two pints up, one for herself and one for a customer. After Mary and Cluff entered the box, she neither saw nor heard anything else.

Mr Pain saw a similar set of events, but specified that when Cluff entered the box "he threw the Door with an uncommon Violence". He testified that though he stood near the box, while they were inside he heard no noise, and that he did not see Mary carrying a knife with her when she left the cellar. Mr Pain instead recounted something that happened earlier that day.

At about nine o’clock that morning, a man who claimed to be Mary’s sweetheart came in. Having finished mopping upstairs Mary went and sat with this man. Pain claimed that whilst he watched they sat at the bar and "the Man did kiss her, or whisper'd with her". According to Pain, Cluff was also a witness to this act, and whilst Mr Pain did not know of any relationship between the two he "saw an Alteration in the Prisoner's Countenance, and that he look'd ruffled".

This episode was further expanded by the testimony of Mr Baldwin, who was also at the Green Latica at nine that morning. He overheard a conversation between Cluff and Mary, in which Cluff said "She knows what's what" and whilst walking upstairs Mary replied "I never had a Bastard". When Mary returned downstairs, with Mr Pain having gone out, she remarked "He was always out when he was most wanted". In response to this comment Cluff apparently hit Mary on the backside with a poker and said "You Sawcy Slut must my Master give you an Account?". Baldwin thought Cluff had a malicious look on him and concluded that he "thought him to be an ill-natur'd Fellow".

In his defence, Cluff maintained that he did not realise he touched her with the poker. He stated any concern on his face when Mary was with the man at the bar was because "he only desir'd him not to give her more Drink than would do her good".

Cluff’s description of the events appears slightly contrived, but it is a story he maintained consistently both immediately after the crime and during the trial. He stated that they were both in the box eating dinner when they were interrupted by their duties. When Mary came down to the cellar Cluff noticed she had a knife and asked what it was for, to which Mary replied "What is that to you James?" He then left the cellar and the building to carry the pot of drink outside. He believed that Mary had stabbed herself while in the cellar as when he returned to the box he saw Mary leaning with her head on the table and saying "I am a Dead Woman". Upon asking Mary what was wrong with her, she collapsed and Cluff called for his mistress.

This narrative was challenged as soon as it was first told, just after her death. Thomas Saunders, who was sitting at the bar throughout the evening, stated that he saw no knife. Mr Pain lit a candle and investigated the basement and found no trace of blood.

The most significant evidence of the first trial comes from Mr Cox, the surgeon who first arrived at the Green Lattica just after the death. Investigating the body, Cox found that Mary had died when her femoral artery had been cut from a "Wound on the Right Thigh, of the Breadth of one Inch, and Depth of five Inches". He found a bloodied knife amongst the items on the table, and believed it to be the murder weapon as it matched the cut on Mary’s clothes. It was a broad-pointed knife and Cox imagined that a great deal of force was needed for it to penetrate through Mary’s clothes (an apron, a quilted coat and a stuff-petticoat) and still penetrate into her flesh five inches. He doubted that Mary could muster such a force in the position she was sitting in.

Cox also calculated that the severity of the wound meant that Mary would have only lived for two or three minutes once it had been inflicted, meaning that Mary could not have inflicted it upon herself in the cellar. Cox found the knife four feet away from where Mary was sitting; he doubted she could have moved once the wound was inflicted. Finally Cox found marks of previous violence on her chin, elbows and under her left ear.

Cluff stood by his story and provided several witnesses to "prove that he did not seem to be any ways out of Temper that Day". The jury, hearing all this evidence, acquitted him.

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A Second Trial

Mary Green’s relatives were not satisfied with this outcome. William Green, Mary’s brother, launched an appeal against the sentence, and it was granted due to the severity of the crime and the contradictory nature of the evidence.

William was granted the appeal at the May sessions of the Old Bailey. The trial was meant to take place in the same session, however there was difficulty in finding jurors and so the trial was delayed until the next sessions.

Cluff was tried again at the Old Bailey on the 9 July 1729.2 Whilst much of the same evidence was repeated, some new questions were asked.

Mr Pain repeated his account, but acknowledged that when he saw what had happened, he called Cluff a "villain" and asked Cluff to explain his actions. Asked about Mary’s behaviour on that day, he deposed that "She was Singing and merry as she was doing her Business". This damaged Cluff’s case that Mary committed suicide.

The surgeon, Mr Cox, provided valuable additional information. When asked if Mary could have thrown the knife onto the table, he responded saying she could only achieve that by a miracle. Another surgeon, Mr Denis, confirmed Cox's evidence. He said the cut was so severe that Mary could not have inflicted it in the cellar or thrown the knife as a "Person having receiv'd such a Wound, falls immediately into Convulsions, and grows insensible". Denis even mentioned he learned this, saying "he had try'd the Experiment on a Dog".

Numerous others provided the same evidence about Cluff’s misbehaviour towards Green in the weeks before the murder occurred. Cluff’s council tried hard to defend him, but ultimately could only do so by "remarking on the Testimony of the Appellant's Witness whatsoever they thought might make to the Advantage of the Appellee".

Perhaps influenced by additional evidence provided by the surgeons, this time the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and Cluff was sentenced to death for murder.

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In Newgate Prison

After receiving his sentence, Cluff was moved into Newgate Prison, where he was expected, under the guidance of the Ordinary, to admit his guilt and behave penitently until he was executed. It is clear from the Ordinary’s Account that Cluff refused to comply with this, maintaining his innocence up until and even after his death. On the morning of the execution, the Ordinary commented that "rarely any Malefactor hath been seen (at least) apparently so unconcern'd and indifferent".

At some point the Ordinary felt like he was on the verge of receiving a confession. None came beyond Cluff’s admittance that he had often stuck Mary, but only that he had only done so as she was a "very Ill-natur'd Girl, that she swore and cursed often". Nonetheless, he refused to blame those who testified against him, saying "He own'd, that his Master and Mistress were very Kind to him, that he had been a very dutiful Servant, having never given any Occasion of Discontent to them, and that he could not think they entertain'd any Prejudice against him".

During his time in Newgate Cluff was visited regularly by his friends, much to the Ordinary’s annoyance. The Ordinary accused these friends of giving him false hopes and preventing him from finding forgiveness. In fact, they were gathering material for a pamphlet maintaining his innocence, to be published after his death.

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The Execution

On the way to Tyburn, Cluff requested the cart he was in stop at the Green Lattica, where he Cluff "call'd for a Pint of Wine, and desired to speak with" Mr Pain. When Pain stepped out Cluff told him,

Cluff further subverted the events by taking it upon himself to order the carmen to take him off to Tyburn.

The Ordinary was impressed with Cluff’s ability to maintain his composure at Tyburn, stating "the like is Seldom seen in those unfortunate People at their last Moments". He called for Psalms to be sung, and made two speeches to the crowd, expressing his innocence and his conviction in being saved by God. Cluff apparently overheard someone in the crowd mention his mistress was present, which may explain his continued display. He even requested that his friends carry him to Hand-Alley in Holbourn and bury him next to his brother.

The hanging took place on 25 July 1729.

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After his Death

Following his death, the case continued to attract attention. Two pamphlets were published about the case, and it featured in collections of the most notorious trials which took place at the Old Bailey.

One pamphlet, A True Copy of the Paper Delivered By James Clough, was apparently written by him. It starts with a declaration of innocence: "I am not (nor at any time whatsoever confessed myself) guilty of that crime".3 The account provides Cluff’s narrative of the events, and identifies what he believed was the mis-information that caused the jury to find him guilty: that he had spent four minutes in the box with Mary rather than the one minute he himself claimed to have spent.

He admits that he did hit Mary with a Poker earlier that day, but states "it was done only, by way of a joke, and I cannot but think, the person who swore it believed the same".4 He complained that his testimony had been misconstrued; he did not claim or imply she stabbed herself in the cellar. He only mentioned that he had seen her with a knife, which she could have brought with her into the box and then stabbed herself. The final part of this pamphlet is the most intriguing: Cluff states that since being in prison, Mr Pain defamed his character, claiming "that I have before been in Newgate for a robbery".

Another pamphlet, The Whole Life of James Cluff, Character, Birth, Parentage, and Conversation, Last Dying Speech, and Confession of James Cluff was also published in the year of his death. This provided a chronicle of his life along with a copy of a letter he sent to a friend and one sent to a cousin.

Finally, the case was reprinted in 1735, albeit in a form shaped by an assumption of his guilt, in the third volume of The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals. Even this account, however, still highlights the uncertainties a case could create in the eighteenth century when an individual claimed his innocence so vehemently.

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External Sources

  • James Cluff, A True Copy of the Paper Delivered By James Clough. 1729.
  • The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals. 1735, vol. 3, p. 144.
  • The Whole Life of James Cluff, Character, Birth, Parentage, and Conversation, Last Dying Speech, and Confession of James Cluff. 1729.


1 The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735), vol. 3, p. 144.

2 Confusingly the trial account lists the appellant as John Green rather than William Green, but this is probably a mistake rather than a new sibling.

3 James Cluff, A True Copy of the Paper Delivered By James Clough (1729), p. 1.

4 A True Copy of the Paper Delivered By James Clough, p. 1.

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker