On this day in 1896, Amelia Dyer – having been tried and found guilty at the Old Bailey – was hanged at Newgate prison for murder. Her victim was a baby called Doris Marmon. But baby Doris was one of possibly hundreds of babies murdered by Dyer in her role as a “baby farmer”. Baby farming was a late Victorian profession, or service. At at a time when having an illigitimate child carried considerable social stigma, contraception was virtually non-existent and abortion both illegal and highly dangerous, unmarried mothers frequently handed their babies over to baby farmers, i.e. surrogate mothers. The fee was usually £10 – £12, with normally a monthly payment on top, around five shillings.
Unfortunately, not a few baby farmers took the cash and murdered the babies. The most notorious and prolific was Dyer. She was a trained nurse from Bristol who managed to continue her foul deeds by staying on the move, changing her name and other slippery tactics. Her orbit was the south west, in an area encompassing Somerset, Berkshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol. Her only connection to London was her trial and death. But London did have its own baby farm murderers, who included: Margaret Waters, convicted in 1870 of murdering five children in the Brixton area; Anna Chard-Williams of Barnes, the last woman to be hanged at Newgate, in 1899; partners in crime Annie Walters and Amelia Sach – the “Finchley Baby Farmers” – who were the first prisoners to be executed at the new Holloway Prison in 1903.