Ballad "Unfortunate Girl"
Ballad “Unfortunate Girl”

Emma Rolfe, born and brought up in Barnwell, moved from the family home to lodge at a well known brothel in Crispin St. On the evening of Thursday 24th August she met Robert Browning, a former soldier, aged 25, who worked as a tailor in Covent Garden. Shortly after they had been seen going off to Midsummer Common together, a shriek was heard, and Police Constable Joseph Wheel, came to investigate. Almost immediately Browning ran into him and promptly told him he had murdered a woman. He led the constable to where Emma Rolfe’s body lay with her throat cut.

Many citizens viewed her body when it was taken back to her family home and 2000 people attended her funeral in Mill Road Cemetery. The Rev Edward Leake read the service and then, away from the grave, addressed the crowd on the need to turn away from a wrong life.

Browning was tried on the 29th November at the Norwich Assizes. He was found guilty and a plea of insanity was rejected. The Home Secretary rejected a plea of clemency on the grounds of his youth and on the 15th December 1876 he was hanged in the Cambridge Borough Gaol on the south east corner of Parkers Piece, where the YMCA and multi-storey car park are now sited.

Rolfe grave
Rolfe headstone



Parish : St Andrew the Less

See family grave page for more information






Dr Philip Howell BA PhD, ‘Midsummer Murder’, Emmanuel College Magazine XXXV1 (2003/04), pp 122-27
‘Midsummer Murder

By Caroline Wilson on basis of Howell article

Emma Rolfe