Matricide – “Murder most foul” in Bridgend Road, Pontycymer
Submitted by David Jones
Matricide is an extremely rare occurrence and quite possibly the only ever case of it in Wales took place on Tuesday 10th September 1907 at 7 Bridgend Road, Pontycymmer. My Grandmother, Sarah “Sally” Garfield lived just three doors down at number 13 and despite being only four years old at the time often referred to this murder throughout her life although her memory of it was somewhat sketchy in later years. I therefore researched it.
Number 7 Bridgend Road (now demolished) was the Stills family home who were originally a Derbyshire mining family but had arrived here from Nottingham to work in the mines some sixteen years earlier in 1891. The family was comprised of mother Rachel (70), father George Snr (66) and brothers John (21) and George (30). The family were heavy drinkers and the police were regular callers to domestic disputes that often took place at their home.The mother Rachel Hannah Stills would go to the snug of the Royal Hotel just a few yards away and return home drunk daily. Her son George Stills (30), who was known as “Notty” was a regular at the Ffaldau Arms. Notty worked in the International Colliery, Blaengarw and also played cricket for Blaengarw Cricket Club. There were no licensing hours restrictions prior to 1914 and the Stills family took full advantage of this.
On the morning of Tuesday 10th September 1907, “Notty” Stills went to the Ffaldau Arms early and got very drunk which was quite normal behaviour for him. At this time, his mother Rachel was in the Royal Hotel doing very much the same.
At around 12:50pm both Notty and his mother went home. Inside their house an altercation then took place which projected the town of Pontycymmer on to the front pages of all Welsh newspapers.
Two sisters named Margaret (12) and Rebecca Leyshon (14) were returning back to Bridgend Road school after lunch and their attention was drawn through the front downstairs window to the lifeless body of an old lady who was laying on the floor of her front room. The young girls panicked and ran across the road. At this time the door of number 7 opened and “Notty” Stills appeared, covered in blood and shouted something in Welsh.
A few minutes later Stills reappeared but this time he was dragging the body of his mother behind him. He dumped the body on the pavement outside his house, lifted up her dress and covered her face and went back inside the house, slamming the door behind him.
Rachel Stills had severe facial and head injuries and had been beaten and kicked to death by her son. Her other son John had been in the house at the time of her death but had taken no part in the attack.
The police were called and “Notty” readily gave himself up saying, “I’m the one that you want”. He was taken to Pontycymmer Police Station where he was duly processed and interviewed and awaited to be conveyed to Cardiff Prison to be remanded.
A huge, hostile crowd had gathered at Pontycymmer Train Station in anticipation of getting at least a view of the killer and many would clearly have lynched him there and then. With this in mind Stills had been smuggled out of the rear of the Police Station and taken to a part of the railway line near the Alexandra Hotel where the train was stopped in between stations and he was then hidden in the guards van. The police plan worked perfectly.
The community leaders of the Garw Valley at this time were mainly the Clergy, Vicars, Ministers and Deacons etc of the numerous Churches and Chapels and they were outraged by the apparently lax licensing laws and lawlessness that prevailed. This caused much correspondence in the Glamorgan Gazette and one such letter from the committee of the Pontycymmer Constitutional Club responded along the lines of “Don’t blame us, we turned down George Stills for membership” !!!
Stills was visited in prison by his father and the Minister of Noddfa Chapel where his father forgave him.
His trial arrived with almost indecent haste, in just over three months later on 21st November 1907. He pleaded “not guilty” stating that he had only struck his mother once. The jury inevitably saw through this lie though by hearing about the severity of Rachel Stills’ numerous injuries.
On the second day of the trial a sensation ensued when the courtroom was visited by the most famous actor of the time, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (who was Oliver Reed’s Grandfather). He was performing at a play in the nearby New Theatre and decided to attend the visitor’s gallery of this perversely celebrated trial.
George “Notty” Stills was found guilty and after a last breakfast of bread, butter and tea was hung at Cardiff Prison at 9:00am on Friday 13th December 1907 by hangman Henry Pierrepoint.