Book Review – The First Forensic Hanging, The Toxic Truth That Killed Mary Blandy

This book by Summer Stevens is a fascinating insight into 17th Century life. From the descriptions of Henley, London and Bath of the time to the intriguing details of the justice system and the very beginnings of the forensic science we now so heavily rely on in modern trials.

As a local girl growing up hearing stories of the infamous Mary Blandy and her “ghost” said to haunt areas of Henley, this book was in equal parts interesting and historically informative. Stevens references Henley as “a genteel town” and describes how “prosperity was guaranteed thanks to continuing river trade and the increase in road traffic.” A picture is painted of an up and coming town of the times. The book also contains lovely references to the Blandy’s Hart Street mansion (now a dental practice), and well known inn’s used by many a traveller, which we affectionately know today as the Catherine Wheel.

Using quotes from Mary Blandy’s own accounts and testimonies taken from household staff and family members, the author gives a compelling account of events leading to and after Mary Blandy’s trial and subsequent hanging.

Anyone interested in the history of Henley and the story of Mary Blandy and her ill- fated father would find this an interesting read. Reading this book was an immersive experience and I could well picture the scandal and furore this case would have caused at the time and how it still captures our imaginations today.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in Henley’s history or the story of Mary Blandy, whether you know or think you know the facts, I think there is something riveting for all readers. Whether Mary Blandy was indeed a callous killer or a victim to her infamous suitor Captain Craunston is the ultimate conundrum, still disputed to this day, however this book contains a multitude of unbiased fact, testimony and information for the reader to come to their own conclusion.

Paula Isaac

Park Place – a favourite trysting spot while Mary and Cranstoun were courting. The location where they often met later became romantically known as ‘Miss Blandy’s Walk’

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