SUCH was the severity of the attack that the sound of man's head being slammed on the street could be heard almost 40 yards away.

There was no love lost between the victim Charles Cozens who had moved in with John Westlake's wife in Grove Street, Southampton, forcing the estranged husband to find a room on the other side of the Itchen.

The catalyst for the drama was her arrest for an unrelated assault for which she was locked up.

Despite their separation, Cozens evidently still cared for his wife and rushing over to the house when he learnt she was in trouble, pleaded with the drunken Westlake to act as a surety so that she could be released.

A row then erupted over who paid the rent, instigating a violent row which spilled out into the street where both fell to the ground. Westlake, a tall, powerfully built individual, got to his feet and in front of shocked onlookers grabbed his rival's head and beat it on the ground three times.

Mary Welsh, a laundress, rushed forward to intervene.

"The blows were not a dull thump but a sort of crashing sound and when I heard that, I ran across the road and took hold of Westlake by the left arm and pushed him off, saying 'Oh, you good for nothing fellow, do you want to kill this poor dear young man.' I tried to help him up nut there seemed to be no life or movement from him. I loosened everything about his neck and he then drew a long breath and moaned two or three times. In the meantime, there was a gurgling in his throat."

Westlake, she added, looked frightened when he saw the extent of his juries, insisting he had been acting in self-defence when Cozens tried to throw him out.

With the assistance of several men and a police officer, Cozens was carried inside where blood was wiped from his face but as he began lapsing into unconsciousness, he was taken to the infirmary where he died shortly after admission.

W B Shorto, the resident surgeon, told the inquest four days later on March 6, 1868, his injuries had been caused by "excessive violence" and not caused by a fall.

"A single blow would not have caused them, nor could they have been caused by a succession of blows from a man's fist only. I think it is probable that his head might have been struck against a kerbstone but more than once or twice."

Westlake was duly committed for trial at Hampshire Assizes where on July 13, he stood trial for manslaughter.

In his summing up, Mr Justice Mellor told jurors: "This story is a very sad and shocking one and the defendant, under the circumstances, was paying for the rent of the house but however immoral the case is, that does not legally affect him. As to who actually struck the first blow does not appear very clear and is certainly not material, for such violence as has been proved, could not have been necessary to eject the deceased from the house.

"A man who is guilty of such violence, as has been proved, must be nothing less than a brute and he must have known such violence could result in nothing less than a fracture of the skull."

Without leaving their seats, jurors convicted Westlake, leading the judge to comment: "Your crime is one of the most violent and brutal character, committed on the husband of a woman with whom he was living in adultery. "

Ordering Westlake to be kept in penal servitude for 12 years, he commented: "To pass less than a severe sentence would be a violation of my duty."