The Murder Of Polly Button

words supplied by Gef White

In February 1832 Nuneaton was shocked by the brutal murder of pregnant unmarried weaver Polly Button, real name Mary Green, who lived with her ‘illegitimate’ children in one of the many alleyway courts off Abbey Street (most likely near what is now the Wheatsheaf pub car park).

Her body was found in an old ‘barn’ in fields, which are now allotments near the corner of Aston Road and St Mary’s Road, Nuneaton. Late 19th century Nuneaton maps still had the label ‘Polly Button’s Barn’.

Her lover, a married hired labourer John Danks, and likely father of her unborn baby, was arrested, convicted on his own confession, and hanged on the gallows erected outside Warwick Court. Many Nuneaton folk travelled there to watch the public execution.

The Polly Button stone, now housed in Nuneaton Museum

The Polly Button stone, now housed in Nuneaton Museum

The following children’s rhyme tells the story. The first verse is traditional oral memory. My gran, Dorothy Handley, of 18 Attleborough Road, taught it to me when I was a child. The rest was added as part of the script for “Pranks”, a play I wrote for the Milby Theatre Society, staged at Nuneaton Arts Centre in 1982. This was 150 years after the murder. Her ghost is said to still haunt the path from Abbey Green to the barn.

Johnny Danks, he played his pranks
Upon poor Polly Button.
He drew his knife, to please his wife,
And cut her up like mutton.

Polly lived in Twitchell Yard,
To five she were a mother.
Wi’ men in bed, and never got wed,
And now she’ll have another.

“Pay me, Johnny, pay me quick,
Or I will tell the vicar!
Pay me one-and-six a week* –
Me belly’s getting bigger!”

Sat’day night it served her right,
When they went a-walking.
He took her over Burgage Fields
To stop his Polly talking.

“Pay me, Johnny, pay me quick,
Or I will tell your missus
How you took me over the fields
And covered me wi’ kisses!”

Johnny knocked his Polly down
And she began a-crying,
So with his knife he slit her throat
And left her there a-dying.

Guilty, guilty! Johnny Danks,
The nastiest of fellows!
Tie a rope around a plank
And hang him from the gallows!

* One-and-six a week was the amount due for a paternity (or ‘bastardy’) summons for child maintenance paid out by the parish. A full account of the crime can be seen HERE

For a longer account of the murder, where she is said to have had one more child, however, see webspinners

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2 thoughts on “The Murder Of Polly Button

  1. I have heard of Polly Button but did not know the full story thanks for bringing this piece of Nuneaton history to light

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