258 : Percy Clifford of the Imperial Yeomanry, 1883-1914

The Imperial Yeomanry were mounted infantrymen who were recruited and served in the South African War 1899-1902, an attempt to copy the success of the Boer/Afrikander forces who were superb marksmen and rode well. The yeomanry had a high injury level, and some senior officers thought that the Boers gained horses, rifles and bullets from their encounters. Serving in the yeomanry was Percy Evelyn Clifford. He was wounded and awarded an annual pension of £36 10s. He returned to England but what would have been a more or less anonymous life ended on the scaffold at Lewes prison in Sussex in August 1914. Newspaper and Home Office reports noted that Clifford was a ‘half-caste’, a ‘coloured man’.

Clifford’s father was Francis A. Clifford, a Jamaican who lived in Britain from the 1870s who married, in Sheffield, Ellen, born in or near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The 1891 census finds them at 19 Richmond Road in north London with five children. Reflecting considerable family movement, Florence aged 16 was a draper’s assistant born in Tunbridge Wells, Mabel aged 15 was a confectioner’s assistant born in Hampton Court, a fifteen-year-old boy whose name is not clear had been born in Alderley Edge in Cheshire; and Percy aged 6 and Otto aged 3 1/2 were at school. Their father was a brewer’s yard clerk born in Jamaica. The 1901 census lists the family at Hilton Road near Holloway prison in north London. The father’s occupation was valet and cook, domestic, and Percy aged 20 was serving in the Imperial Yeomanry, born in St Marylebone. There is also a brother Chris, aged 17.

The 1911 census shows Percy Clifford married to Alice Maud (Walton) for 3 1/2 months, and his occupation as electrician. In Brighton on 7 April 1914 Percy shot and killed Maud, and whilst putting a bullet in his own brain, survived and went on trial for murder. With homicides numbering under 800 a year in England and Wales, it was normal to report murders in detail and all over the nation. A ‘man of colour’ was printed in the Dundee Evening Telegraph (8 July 1914), in London’s Daily Herald (1 May 1914), the Welsh Western Mail (9 July 1914), the Birmingham Advertiser (11 July 1914), and the Hull Daily Mail (8 July 1914). The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail had ‘coloured husband’ on 9 April 1914 and London’s Daily Mirror had ‘a half-caste’ and that Clifford had been a dispatch rider in the Boer War. ‘Coloured man’ was used by the Sussex Agricultural Express of 6 August, the Manchester Evening News of 27 July 1914 and London’s The People of 12 April 1914. The Leeds Mercury had ‘coloured murderer’ on 28 July.

The Home Office refused an appeal, regarding the shooting as premeditated for Clifford had left letters. The National Archives in Kew has file HO 144/1323/253968, in which Clifford was noted as a ‘half-caste’ and that his victim was a convicted prostitute. Clifford signed his will in Lewes prison on 2 July 1914 leaving everything (largely pawn shop receipts) to his mother Ellen Clifford. Percy Evelyn Clifford was hanged at Lewes prison on 11 August 1914 and his body buried within the prison’s walls.

The fate of Francis and Ellen Clifford and their other children is not known. Probate was granted to Ellen Clifford ‘widow’ who inherited £10-10s-0d, suggesting that his father had died.

The British executions website – http://www.britishexecutions.co.uk – and that of Sussex Research Online – sro.sussex.ac.uk – which has Lizzie Seal and Alexa Neale, ‘Race, gender and bourgeois respectability – The execution of Percy Clifford, 1914’ in Irish Jurist, Vol 60 November 2018, pp 144-153 are very useful.