A Kilburn shooting: The interfering mother-in-law

This dramatic picture from the Illustrated Police News show the scene outside 42 Iverson Road on the morning of Sunday 28 July 1889. But there’s a fair degree of artistic license. The four people shown were related by marriage: Leonard Handford who is holding a revolver to his head, was married to Sarah Elizabeth (shown on the ground at his feet). She was the daughter of Daniel Deveson and Elizabeth Deveson, (the couple on the right). Number 42, ‘Kent Villa’, was the Deveson’s family home. Daniel had been born in Kent, hence the choice of name.

Deveson had worked as a butler before running a dairy on the Edgware Road, but he was now retired. His daughter Sarah Elizabeth (born 1855), had been married before to Charles Kohler in 1876. He was a merchant with a violent temper, according to Sarah, and the marriage quickly fell apart. In her divorce papers she said that he had attacked her and she left him after just eight months of marriage. She lived with her parents in Iverson Road. She had met Leonard Bowes Handford (born 1856), when his parents moved from Lambeth to 27 Gascony Avenue. Both families were Baptists, and attending the same Chapel in Iverson Road. Charles’ father Ebenezer was a schoolmaster, turned clerk, and then lithographer.

Sarah and Leonard were married on 20 August 1887 and their son Archibald George Handford was born the following year. Sarah’s second marriage had also not gone well, and by the time of the assault the couple had been separated for several months. Sarah said her husband began drinking soon after Archie was born. In May 1889 Sarah began divorce proceedings. Leonard had moved out of Kent Lodge but he hadn’t gone far, renting a couple of rooms from William Butler at 26 Iverson Road. At his trial it became apparent Leonard couldn’t disconnect from his family – he tried but failed to see his son on his first birthday – and he desperately wanted reconciliation. A local policeman believed there was ‘great sympathy’ for Leonard in the neighbourhood.

The Brondesbury Baptist Chapel stood at the Kilburn High Road end of Iverson Road. Sarah and her parents had been to a Sunday morning service and were walking home. A witness saw Leonard leave Number 26 and approach first Sarah then her mother Elizabeth, shooting them both in rapid succession. Handford then turned the gun on himself, firing a single shot to his temple.

Possibly because the revolver had a small bore, neither woman fell unconscious in a pool of blood, as shown in the illustration above. The news report said Leonard pursued Sarah before shooting her, when she turned to face him. In fact, she was shot before she ran away from her husband. Her mother also managed to put some distance between herself and her attacker after being shot, before collapsing.

Leonard was taken to St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, in a very critical condition. But both women were helped into Kent Villa and attended at home by local doctors. Sarah had been shot through the cheek, the bullet lodging in her soft pallet before she swallowed it. Her mother’s wound was more serious, the bullet having passed through her cheek and out again through her neck. Luckily, neither woman required hospital treatment.

Leonard was considered well enough to appear at the first Magistrate’s hearing in early August 1889 where he was charged with intent to murder and attempted suicide. At the second hearing he still appeared very weak, but his head was no longer bandaged. Although Mrs Deveson was too ill to attend, Sarah’s wound had healed and she gave evidence at a further hearing on 30 August. She said Leonard had threatened to kill her on several occasions by blowing her, and their son Archie’s brains out.

Extracts were read out from letters written by Leonard before the assault, which were discovered by police at his lodgings. He blamed his treatment at the hands of the Devesons for driving him to actions ‘he would not have otherwise have done.’

When he married Sarah and against the advice of friends, he had moved into Number 42, because Elizabeth had been so upset at the thought of loosing her daughter. But he said the Devesons had treated him badly; ‘when my son Archie was born everything I did was laughed at, and they said that I was worse than a Kilburn dustman.’

Leonard accused his father-in-law of being mean while his mother-in-law was both unkind and interfering. So far as Sarah was concerned, Leonard started by saying he had married a ‘splendid woman’ who’d been treated very cruelly by her first husband. But he went on to complain she’d become ‘bad tempered and self willed and on one occasion locked herself and baby in a spare room away from him.

Sarah had started divorce proceedings, citing his ‘drunken and violent habits,’ which Leonard said were all lies. But he did admit he was sometimes what he called ‘elevated’, and needing a ‘stimulant’ before he could face going home. He ended his letter:

Sorry, sorry indeed, to leave my child an orphan: but a woman who has promised to love and cherish, in sickness and health, rich or poor, and turns on her husband like a worm, is not a fit person to have charge of any child – at least one of mine. I hope he may be well cared for. I always looked on marriage as a very solemn thing. My wife, having been through the fire, evidently thought, to say the least, lightly of it.

Leonard was tried at the Old Bailey on 16 September 1889. His landlord, William Butler, said Leonard had been very depressed when he separated from Sarah. He slept badly, ate very little and had begun drinking heavily. Butler also said he warned Daniel Deveson that Leonard had a revolver. The defence tried to prove that while Leonard had meant to kill himself, shooting at Sarah and Elizabeth had been a spur of the moment decision. Leonard was found guilty, but the jury recommended mercy on the grounds of his health, and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison on the Isle of Portland.

Both mother and daughter recovered from their wounds; Elizabeth died, aged 83, fifteen years after the shooting. Sarah was still living with her parents at 42 Iverson Road, along with her son Archibald, in the 1891 census. They’d moved to 6 Cavendish Road by 1901, where Sarah continued to use the surname ‘Handford.’

She had however obtained a divorce from Leonard in 1890, the court awarding her custody of Archibald as Leonard was ruled unfit to act as his guardian under any circumstances. Despite this, in the 1891 census return for Portland Prison, Leonard described himself as ‘married.’ More curious was his choice of profession, shown as ‘artist/sculptor,’ rather than the clerk he’d always been. After he was released, Leonard returned to live with his parents in St Johns Wood, working as a wool broker’s clerk, and still claiming to be married. He died in Lambeth Infirmary in March 1909 and was buried in his parents’ grave at Hampstead Cemetery. He was still in love with Sarah and he left her £266 in his will, worth about £22,000 today.

Sarah and son Archie were still at Cavendish Road in 1911, when he was working for a photographer. Sarah had inherited a considerable amount of money from her father and when she died on 21 May 1929 at 19 Exeter Mansions Brondesbury, she left £10,786 (today worth about £511,000), to her son. Archie had moved to Croydon and was married there in 1914. He ran a photographic company, Archie Handford Ltd.

Archie at Croydon Camera Club about 1936

In the 1950s he formed ‘Chorley Handford’, a very successful aerial photographic company which was taken over by Skyscan in 2009. http://www.skyscan.co.uk/

They still have a large collection of old photos from Chorley Hanford. Archie died in Croydon in 1979.

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