A sad Victorian crime is still remembered today when we use the phrase “sweet Fanny Adams” to mean nothing at all, or no result.
Fanny Adams was an eight year old schoolgirl living in Alton Hampshire when the crime took place on 24 August 1867. She went out with her seven year old sister Lizzie, and a school friend, Millie Warner to play in a nearby meadow. On the way they met a young man, Frederick Baker, who offered Lizzie and Millie three-halfpence (1p in modern money) to go and spend in the shops, while Fanny was told she could have a halfpenny if she showed the man the way to a nearby village. She took the money, but refused to go with the man on the two mile journey. He carried the girl into a nearby hop field, and that was the last time she was seen alive.
Later, when the two other girls arrived home, the alarm was raised, and her mother and a neighbour set out to find Fanny. They met Mr Baker in a lane and they asked him if he knew anything. He claimed that he had just given the girls money for sweets, which they accepted, and continued on their way. It should be noted that Mr Baker was a Solicitor’s Clerk so he would be dressed and act in a manner that made him “respectable” and in Victorian times his word would be accepted as truthful.
After two hours of searching, with no result, other neighbours joined in, and they soon discovered poor Fanny’s body in a field. She had been horribly butchered, her head and legs severed, and her eyes gouged out. Her body had also been viscerated, with the otgans scattered around the fields nearby. It took several days to find all the parts, and eventually they were carried back to a nearby doctor’s surgery, of which more later.
The Police set about questioning the suspect Frederick Baker. It was soon found that he had blood on his clothing and two blood stained knives. He was unable to account for these and claimed he was innocent. Questioning witnesses gave circumstantial evidence putting him in the area, but that was nothing that was not already known. More telling was the testimony of a fellow clerk who had been drinking with Baker after work. He claimed that Baker had said that he might have to leave town to which his colleague had replied that if he did he might find it hard getting another job. Baker made a strange reply, “I might go as a butcher.” The final piece of evidence was found two days after the murder, when Baker’s diary was found and in it he had made an entry: 24th August, Saturday — killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.
Baker was tried for murder and although various defences were suggested such as insanity, it took a jury only 15 minutes to return a verdict of guilty. He was hanged on Christmas Eve outside of Winchester Gaol. The remains of Fanny Adams was buried in Alton churchyard.
Two years later, in 1869 rations of tinned mutton were introduced for British sailors. The tinned meat was not popular, and seamen claimed that it was the remains of Fanny Adams. This was perhaps based on the fact that the Royal Navy stores was not far from Alton, and it could be thought that the widely scattered remains of the little girl had found their way into the meat prepared for the sailors. Thus the unpopular mutton was sweet Fanny Adams, which later became sweet FA, and now has rude connotations.
A final twist to the story is that the doctor’s surgery, to which the remains of the girl was taken, later was converted into a pub, Ye Olde Leathern Bottle, and it is claimed that it is haunted by the ghost of Fanny Adams.