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Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder [Paperback]

Kate Colquhoun
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

In July 1864, Thomas Briggs was travelling home after visiting his niece and her husband for dinner. He entered a First Class carriage on the 9.45pm Hackney service of the North London railway. At Hackney, two bank clerks entered the carriage and discovered blood in the seat cushions; also on the floor, windows and sides of the carriage. A bloodstained hat was found on the seat along with a broken link from a watch chain.

The race to identify the killer and catch him as he flees on a boat to America was eagerly followed by citizens both sides of the Atlantic. Kate Colquhoun tells a gripping tale of a crime that shocked the nation.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349123594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349123592
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Colquhoun's previous non-fiction titles were shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize 2004 and longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her most recent book Mr Briggs' Hat was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Daggers: Non-fiction Prize. As well as writing for several newspapers and magazines, she appears regularly on national radio and television. She lives in London with her two sons.

Product Description


(A) thrilling book, which reads at times like a good Victorian novel... an utterly compelling did-he-do-it (Sunday Times)

Deploying her skill as a historian, Colquhoun turns a single curious murder case into a fascinatingly quirky portrait of the underside of mid-Victorian London. I found it unputdownable (Daily Telegraph)

Kate Colquhoun is a fine, robust writer who makes the most of its every twist and turn (Mail on Sunday)

With a storyteller's instinct for colour and suspense Kate Colquhoun has brilliantly recreated the five-month period from Thomas Briggs' death to Muller's execution (Daily Express)

Kate Colquhoun's irreproachable unpicking of the case is meticulous, patient, thorough and measured (Independent)

Book Description

The fascinating story of the first ever railway murder

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Victorian murder 20 Feb 2013
By Cully
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The tale of the first murder on the railways. Although I already knew the basics of the story it was a good read, although spoilt slightly by the photographs showing the outcome in the centre of the book.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs' Hat 8 May 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Mr Thomas Briggs was an upstanding member of society. On a summer Saturday morning, he left his home for work at his bank. Finishing early, he ate dinner with his niece and then returned home on the train at 8pm. At that time first class carriages had separate compartments, two rows of seats facing each other, without any corridor to go from one carriage to another. Questions had already been raised about what a person could do if they were taken ill or needed assistance. What nobody expected was for a first class passenger, travelling on a short journey home,to be murdered. However, that is exactly what happened to Mr Briggs. When the train stopped, passengers alerted train staff to the fact that the carriage had bloodstains on the seat and the door. There was an empty bag, a walking stick and a crushed hat - later found not to belong to Mr Briggs. The carriage door was locked and the police called, but there was no sign of either an attacker or a victim. Mr Briggs was later found thrown from the train and he never regained consciousness before dying.

The crime was shocking, unprecedented and sensational. It was felt that nobody was safe and the police were under pressure to solve the mystery quickly. Inspector Tanner was given the difficult task of solving the crime. Everything seemed to lead to a dead end until a silversmith, appropriately called John Death, identified Mr Briggs watch chain which was brought to his shop and exchanged for another. Tanner was quickly on the trail of a possible assailant and the chase was on.

I do not want to give away what happens in this wonderful book, but it is just like following the criminal investigation as it happened.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Much More ... 5 Mar 2012
Mr Briggs' Hat is a wonderful account of a truly fascinating murder case. Kate Colquhoun delivers the facts with such incredible clarity, yet tells them in a way which would rival any great novelist, creating a perfect balance of evidence and story-telling. The meticulous research is actually breathtaking. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, I might not have cared quite so much about Mr Briggs, but Ms Colquhoun writes in such a way that I felt as though I were unconvering the truth alongside her, and the discovery of new witnesses and changes in direction meant the pages of the book almost turned themselves. By the end of the story, I cared so much, I wanted to march into the courtroom and plead with the jury to see sense.

This is also so much more than a tale of murder. It's a beautiful insight into Victorian life; a brilliant account of man's reflexive fear of change, of a population fragmented by class and politics, and of a time which found itself on the edge of a moral quandary. It's the story of a man whose fate will be determined, not just by the evidence, but by the attitudes of the society in which he finds himself.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly Sensational 14 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Only 3 stars for this read, I just could not connect with it at all, even though it is a true account, got a little bored !
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
By Keris Nine TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
On 9th July 1864, a murder took place that captured the interest and the imagination of the British public. The victim was Thomas Briggs, a banker in the City, whose body was discovered on railway tracks of the North London Railway line, his watch and hat missing, the first-class carriage he occupied on his journey left spattered with blood and a hat belonging to someone else. What is notable about the incident is that it was the first killing to ever take place on a British Railway, in an enclosed carriage that had no entrance or connecting passageway, but rather only a direct entry from a station platform.

The notoriety of the murder is heightened further by the Victorian public's new-found appetite for grubby crime stories being related in sensational literature, and in the novelty of the progress of a real-life case being relayed in the now readily available newspapers and periodicals. The fascination for the details of the case reaches even greater proportions when it is learned that the chief suspect, a German tailor, has left the country on a slow-boat across the Atlantic. A police detective is dispatched on a faster ship to arrive in the still expanding New York before the suspect, to apprehend him and extradite him back for trial. The Victorian public avidly follow the exciting course of events that unfold before their eyes.

As, nearly 150 years later, should the modern reader following the case as related in fascinating detail by Kate Colquhoun. As you would expect, the book is thoroughly researched - not just for the particulars of the case of Thomas Briggs, intriguing as it is as a murder-mystery, but also for the effort that has gone into putting it into the context of British society during the Victorian era.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood and murder on the railway 28 May 2011
It all started when a train guard heard a commotion coming from the front of the train he was working on and his curiosity led him to a first-class carriage where blood was discovered by two gentlemen who intended to take their seats in the respective compartment. The floor ,the cushions and the windows of the carriage were smeared with blood as well. What was supposed to be a regular railway journey became a sensation: a murder of a respectable bank clerk set in motion a story which would obsessed the Victorians for many months. The drama which unfolded was not only to be followed in England but also in the USA. The clerck, Mr. Thomas Biggs, was not found at the beginning and an immediate investigation started ,well....I would not like to disclose whatever followed.
This book is a very good recreation of many things, especially the atmosphere in those days, where you can learn about the sounds, the sights, the smells, the prisons and investigation rooms, the crowded and unsanitary streets and other places of those times, the Civil War effects in the USA, the scientific methods used in the new science of criminolgy as, of course, the legal proceedings in both the USA and particularly in England. The crowds and their appetite for sensations, blood and drama are extremely well described and one can learn alot about the mentality of the crowd and public opinion during those years, namely the sixties of the nineteenth century.
Was the murderer caught? What about his motive or motives? Please read this book. You will enjoy every part of it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Forget it They give the game away half way through
there is a drawing of the judge passing the death sentence slap bang in the middle. This gives the game away.

the book is a trudge. Read more
Published 1 day ago by david simpson
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping tale
I was surprised at how gripping this story was - told with believable empathy for main characters. Well researched and written.
Published 6 days ago by Catherine Tabbert
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
A true-life 'whodunnit', about a murder which horrified London's middle class, taking place as it did in a First Class railway carriage, which was almost as bad as being attacked... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Miggy
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs' Hat
A very interesting history of early detection methods, before the speed of modern technology assisted police, but with their intelligence and diligence to follow the puzzle... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lizzy
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but ....
Meticulously researched and detailed, and well written with an easy flowing style, this ought to tick all the boxes. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Perfectionist?
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery
A thoroughly well researched storyline with some interesting characters and a good insight into how the police forces of that day worked.
Published 2 months ago by Paul Conway
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Briggs Hat
A great read but why oh why put those photographs in the middle of the book which confirmed Muller had been found guilty and executed, I didn't know the outcome so once I knew I... Read more
Published 2 months ago by jag1808
4.0 out of 5 stars good well researched book but no resolution to the case
An excellent researched book full of detail and an intriguing muder mystery. However the case was never resolved fully so the reader will have to make there mind up about the guilt... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Alex mcintosh
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting History
The fact that this was a true story made it quite fascinating and different to Fiction, such as Agatha Christie.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs Judith Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Would be 5 stars but...
Such a stupid & simple mistake but it ruined the outcome for me: the second section of photographs in the book give away the conclusion to the trial! Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kelly A19
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