William Herbert Wallace: Biography and Life Timeline

William Herbert Wallace looking like a member of the Cosa Nostra.

William Herbert Wallace is of course one of the most important characters in this true crime case.

William Herbert Wallace was born in Millom, Cumbria, to relatively well-to-do parents Benjamin and Margery Wallace. The first of three children, he would go on to have a brother Joseph Wallace, and sister Jessie. Wallace was a bright boy, being skipped ahead a year at school when he was just 5 years of age, and spent much of his early years developing a keen interest in music and academia which he would retain throughout his life.

It would seem that these days he spent growing up near the Lake District were happy ones for William, and it seems that like Julia he had quite enjoyed the beauty of the English countryside.

An old photo of Millom, Cumbria, where Wallace was raised.

Having presumably left school to begin working, his first career path was in the drapery trade, spending 5 years as an apprentice draper. Although he visited various towns to take up positions in this field, he soon became bored of England and was seized by a desire to travel the world. By the time he was 23 he had decided to leave Britain – following in the footsteps of his younger brother Joseph – and set sail for Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), India in 1902.

It was there that he secured a position as a salesman in the drapery trade for ‘Whiteway, Laidlaw & Company’.

Unfortunately his stay was short lived, as in 1905 one of the many kidney flare-ups which would come to plague his life brought his life screeching to a halt. Deciding to travel to a location with a milder climate, he then travelled to Shanghai, China (where his brother Joseph was living), taking up a position as an advertising manager for a general store.

While Shanghai helped to quench his thirst for adventure, he was also exposed to a number of grizzly sights. Criminals would often be seen walking the streets with their arms and necks in heavy wooden collars; or tied to a stake standing upon a pile of rocks… Each day a rock would be removed until the poor miscreant was left hanging by just his arms with no foot support at all.

He also witnessed a public beheading which he recounted:

“Six condemned men knelt in a row awaiting the sword of the executioner, the fellow struck an awkward blow and failed to decapitate the first man. The other five took this as a great joke and roared with laughter though a few moments later their own heads were rolling in the dust.”

In 1906, just one year after his arrival in Shanghai, he was again seriously ill with a kidney complaint and was admitted to hospital. His left kidney was operated on, after which his right kidney developed an abscess. He then required yet another operation on his left kidney owing to a urinary fistula.

This did little to relieve his suffering, and he was forced to return to England. Arriving back at 14:35 on the 19th of March 1907, he was admitted to Guy’s Hospital London, and on the 7th of April had an operation to remove his left kidney. This operation left him unable to work for 18 months, and money began to run low.

After an unsuccessful venture back into his old job with Whiteway, Laidlaw & Company (a Manchester branch), he became interested in politics and in particular the liberal party, speaking at meetings, before becoming a registration agent for the Liberal Party’s Ripon Division, in West Riding, Yorkshire. At this time he was living at 9 Belmont Road, Harrogate, just a couple of streets away from where Julia Wallace would take up residence (11 St Mary’s Avenue).

The two would eventually cross paths, and according to Wallace a connection quickly blossomed between the two. Julia would indulge Wallace as he milled over his philosophical thoughts, and it was apparently Julia who first introduced Wallace to Marcus Aurelius whose writings on stoicism would inspire him immensely. Following these stoic principles, Wallace – according to his own words – spent years drilling himself in ironclad self control.

Aside from restraining from outbursts of emotion, he also adhered to the motto of not expecting too much from life – essentially accepting whatever cards were dealt. This is perhaps a coping mechanism to deal with the many of the disappointments in his life – as he continued to suffer from bouts of depression, alongside headaches and kidney trouble.

After a two year courtship, the pair married in March of 1914. It would seem that the death of Wallace’s mother in late 1913 may have delayed what would otherwise have been an earlier marriage.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War One for which Wallace was deemed unfit for service (although he was eager to join the army), he took a position as an insurance agent for the Prudential where he was to collect premiums in the Clubmoor district, a career and position he would keep for the rest of his life.

Wallace and Julia resided at 26 Pennsylvania Road, Clubmoor, Liverpool, for just four months before making the move to the final home they would share together: 29 Wolverton Street, renting it from their landlord Mr. Samuel Evans for 14 shillings and sixpence per week.

Although Wallace was not exactly an “outgoing” type, he continued to indulge in his academic passions which included chemistry and chess. He founded the Central Liverpool Chess Club in 1922 with his friend James Caird who lived just one street over at 3 Letchworth Street, and had at some point after moving in turned one of the upstairs rooms of the home into a makeshift laboratory. After gaining qualifications in electricity and chemistry at the Liverpool Technical College, Brown Street, he began to occasionally lecture there on the subject – which he continued to do for five years.

It was his dream to one day make a great scientific discovery that would impact mankind – a dream he would never be able to fulfill.

Since moving into Wolverton Street, it seems that Julia and Wallace settled into a rather ordinary humdrum lifestyle. Julia would attend church, Wallace would do his insurance rounds and visit the chess club. In their spare time it was not unusual for them to both engage in a “musical evening”, where Julia would play the piano while Wallace played along on his violin, which he had been taking lessons in since 1928.

At the end of December 1928 Wallace fell ill with bronchitis and was laid up in bed sick for two weeks and according to him, was aided by two men he acted as supervisor to: Richard Gordon Parry and Joseph Caleb Marsden. Presumably written after the fact, a diary entry for December 31st 1928 reads:

“Off with bronchitis. Parry does work for a fortnight but is not methodical enough.”

Unfortuntely it seems that Parry was “cooking the books”, as Wallace found discrepancies in the amounts written in the account book and the amounts Parry was handing over to him. When confronted about this matter, Parry explained that it had been a simple mistake.

Wallace would continue to see Parry and Marsden occasionally, and had referred to Parry as a “family friend” in his own statement. The last time Wallace saw Parry prior to the murder was on the December of 1930, where Parry had given Wallace a calendar from his new company (he had taken a position as an insurance agent at another company).

On the 19th of January 1931 Wallace would attend the chess club and receive the mysterious message from “Mr. Qualtrough”. According to Wallace, he asked Julia whether he should go, and it was she who had told him that he had better go since it’s a match game, but to not linger around chatting afterwards. Julia was unwell at this time and that may be why he had asked her whether it was okay for him to attend.

The following night, he would go out to meet “Mr. Qualtrough” on business at a fictitious address, and return home to find his wife Julia dead.

On the 3rd February 1931 Wallace was arrested for the murder of Julia Wallace. His trial began on the 22nd of April 1931, and ended after four days with a unanimous guilty verdict, and a sentence of death by hanging.

Full trial text (unabridged)…

Wallace’s appeal application was written on the 5th of May, 1931, with the appeal trial taking place on the 16th of the same month, ending in the quashing of his conviction and release as a free man.

Appeal application…

Full appeal trial…

After his release as a free man Wallace returned to his home at 29 Wolverton Street and was given back his position with the Prudential, but found his reception less than warm. Locals would shout through the letterbox “killy Willy, killy Willy!” and other such taunts. Some locals claimed they heard the ghost of Julia exlaim “Herbert how could you!”. Because of the negative feelings towards him by the locals, he was given a different position, working in the offices for the Pru as opposed to doing his usual collection rounds.

By the end of June Wallace was unable to continue living in Liverpool due to the public disdain against him, and moved to Summer House, Meadowside Road, Bromborough – employing a housekeeper by the name of Annie Mason. He noted in his diary that his reception here was rather more pleasant.

He would remain at this dwelling until his death in 1933 from kidney complications. The housekeeper Annie Mason would go on to state that Wallace “had no wish to remain alive” and that he was “committing slow suicide”. This is corroborated by a colleague at the Prudential (Hal Brown) who spoke to Roger Wilkes during the airing of his radio show in the 1980s. Apparently Wallace had told Brown that he needed an operation on his kidney or he would die, and asked for advice on what he should do. Brown told him that he can’t possibly make such a decision. Wallace responded that he’s sorry and didn’t mean to give him that job, but that he has nothing to live for now and so has decided not to have the operation.

In personality, much like Julia, there appears to be various opinions. On one hand an ex-colleague Alfred Mather described him as cool, calculating, despondent, soured, and bad tempered – and who thought it was beneath him to be working as an insurance agent. This same colleague would also speak harshly of Julia, and so it seems whoever this man was had a personal dislike for the Wallaces.

Others such as a nurse (Mrs. Florence Mary Wilson) who had attended Wallace during a bout of pneumonia described him as seeming to have suffered a “great disappointment in life”. She too would speak harshly of Julia stating that she was a dirty, unenthusiastic, and peculiar woman.

On the other hand, others who had known him spoke high words of praise. According to friend James Caird he was a very placid and kindly man, who “bears the highest character absolutely in every respect” and that “no form of words would be too high praise for Wallace in that respect”. Chess captain Samuel Beattie also stated that Wallace was a very likeable man once you had broken through his reserve.

His clients also seemed to be very fond of him, a few of whom spoke at the trial. A client named Mrs. Ann Miller would state that she had “never met a nicer man”.

All in all it would appear to me that Wallace is a bookish man with old-fashioned values. Very much reserved and interested in his hobbies; the epitome of an introvert.

A character report was commissioned at the time and can be seen here.


29/08/1878: William Herbert Wallace is born to parents Benjamin Wallace and Margery Wallace (née Hall).

Residence: 44 Newton Street, Millom Cumbria.

44 Newton Street, Millom, Cumbria.

Joseph Edwin Wallace pictured on the far right, standing beside brother William Herbert Wallace.

1880: Brother Joseph Edwin Wallace is born.

1883: Sister Jessie Wallace is born.

1888: The Wallaces move to Blackpool, Lancashire, soon after which William contracts typhoid fever and nearly dies. It is believed that this condition may have led to his lifelong kidney ailment.

Residence: Blackpool, Lancashire.

1890: William is now 12 years of age and the family are living at 151 Chapel Street, Dalton-in-Furness. Wallace becomes a pupil at Dalton Board Boys School, Broughton Road. He is decidedly less introverted during this period, being the “leader” of a gang of friends who would climb trees, swim in ponds, play with makeshift tomahawks, and other such youthful activities.

Residence: 151 Chapel Street, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria.

151 Chapel Street, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria.

1892: William takes a five year apprenticeship in the drapery trade with a Mr. Thomas H. Tenant, at Cavendish Street, Barrow. For this work he earned 3 shillings a week, with a raise of 2 shillings per year. According to online calculators, this would have a purchasing power of around £12 to £20 in today’s currency.

1897: After completing his 5 year apprenticeship Wallace would take up positions in the drapery trade in several different towns and cities around the country including Manchester.

Residence: Various.

1901: Wallace moves back to Dalton-in-Furness, residing at 19 Victoria Street.

Residence: 19 Victoria Street, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria.

19 Victoria Street, Dalton-in-Furness.

Late 1902: Wallace moves to Calcutta, India, where he works as a salesman for Whiteway, Laidlaw & Company.

Residence: Calcutta, India.

Calcutta in 1902:

April 1905: Wallace is seriously ill and hospitalized with kidney complaints.

Shortly after April 1905: Wallace decides to move to Shanghai, China, for the milder climate, taking a position as an advertising manager.

Residence: Shanghai, China.

Shanghai in 1905.

1906: Wallace is again admitted to hospital seriously ill with kidney complains. He has two operations on his left kidney, and develops an abscess on his right kidney.

19/03/1907: Wallace returns to England and is admitted to Guy’s Hospital, London. An operation to remove his left kidney is successfully completed on the 7th of April.

A ward at Guy’s Hospital in 1907. It is here that Wallace has his left kidney removed.

Following the operation Wallace is unable to work for 18 months and thus begins to suffer with money troubles. Some time between his release from hospital and 1910, he attempts to re-take his position at Whiteway, Laidlaw & Company’s Manchester branch but finds the work too difficult.

He also develops an interest in politics and the liberal party.

1910: Wallace is now living at 9 Belmont Road, Harrogate, with his father, mother, and sister Jessie. His future wife Julia will move just a few streets away to 11 St Mary’s Avenue.

He becomes a Liberal Registration Agent for the Ripon Division.

Residence: 9 Belmont Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

9 Belmont Road is the middle house pictured here.

1911: In this year or shortly after, Wallace meets Julia Dennis, and the two begin courting (dating).

October to the end of 1913: William’s mother Margery dies.

24/03/1914: William Herbert Wallace marries Julia. William moves with his father out of their home at Belmont Road and in with Julia.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge. (Credit James Murphy).

As can be seen, none of Julia’s living relatives are seen on the paper, and her father is listed as a veterinary surgeon although he was in fact a farmer and innkeeper (I can find no evidence of veterinary work). Instead it is signed by Wallace’s sister Jessie, and Wallace’s best man J.S. (John Smith) Allanson, a neighbour who lived a couple of doors down from Julia at 15 St Mary’s Avenue.

The church was a temporary church known as the “Tin Tabernacle” by locals.

The Tin Tabernacle (Credit James Murphy).

Early Part of World War One (started 28th July 1914): William attempts and fails six times to join the army, owing to his single kidney. Because of this, he instead takes a position as an insurance agent with the Prudential, where he was to collect in the Clubmoor district of Liverpool (a position he maintained until Julia’s death).

About February 1915: William’s father Benjamin Wallace dies.

March 1915: William and Julia move into 26 Pennsylvania Road, Clubmoor (a relatively poor district).

Residence: 26 Pennsylvania Road, Clubmoor, Liverpool.

The gap is where 26 Pennsylvania Road used to be, until it was torn down after a fire in 1928/1929.

July 1915: Just a couple of months after moving to 26 Pennsylvania Road, William and Julia move into 29 Wolverton Street, the residence they would remain at for the rest of Julia’s life, and where Wallace would continue to live for a short time after his successful appeal.

Residence: 29 Wolverton Street, Anfield, Liverpool.

29 Wolverton Street.

1922: William forms the Liverpool Central Chess Club with his friend James Caird. The club meets at Cottle’s City Café, North John Street.

Cottle’s City Café, 24 North John Street, Liverpool.

Late 1928: Wallace falls ill with bronchitis and is unable to work for two weeks. According to him, it is during this time that Richard “Gordon” Parry and Joseph Caleb Marsden help to do some of the work for him. According to Parry in a statement he made, he paid in the money he had collected to Wallace on the Thursday morning of the first week, and the Wednesday evening of the second week.

19/01/1931: After asking his wife if he should attend his chess club that night (perhaps because she was poorly), she tells him that he had better go but to not stand around chatting afterwards. As a result Wallace will go to the chess club, and it is here that he will receive a message from “R. M. Qualtrough” requesting that he call on him the following evening at 19:30 at 25 Menlove Gardens East.

20/01/1931: William goes out on the business trip to meet Mr. Qualtrough (again – apparently on his wife’s advice), and comes home to find his wife Julia murdered in their home at 29 Wolverton Street.

Colourized by Laiz Kuczynski.

Click to enlarge. (Credit James Murphy).

Julia’s age is listed as “about 52”, and her cause of death reads:

“Fracture of the skull caused with an unknown instrument.
That the court of criminal appeal allowed the appeal of William Herbert Wallace against his conviction for the murder of Julia Wallace and quashed [illegible] conviction.”

Judging by this, the death certificate was written after Wallace’s successful appeal.

Late June 1931: Due to public feelings of animosity towards him, Wallace moves out of 29 Wolverton Street to Summer House, Meadowside Road, Bromborough. He employs a housekeeper Annie Mason.

Meadowside Road, Bromborough. Wallace would have lived in one of the houses on this street.

26/02/1933: William Herbert Wallace dies of kidney complications. He is buried with his wife Julia.

William’s movements through England before travelling…

After living in Calcutta, then Shanghai, he returns to England.

William’s movements through England after returning from Shanghai…

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