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“A house saturated with blood” - Number 2 Dalton Square, Mortality, and Dr. Buck Ruxton

Harvey Soteriou | Lancaster University

A stone-built Edwardian-era house.
Number 2, Dalton Square, Lancaster – the Ruxton family home, and the site of the murders, in 2024.

In 1930, Dr. Buck Ruxton moved to Lancaster with his wife and young daughter. They settled into Number 2 Dalton Square, a house purchased with the intention of establishing a medical practice and settling the growing family. As most family homes do, Number 2 Dalton Square witnessed the Ruxton family grow, and settle, into their new lives. But, too, it witnessed the increasing domestic violence and control that Dr. Ruxton exerted upon his wife. It saw the financial troubles that the family’s gambling resulted in. And, ultimately, it saw the family’s end. In September 1935, Dr. Buck Ruxton murdered and dismembered his wife and housekeeper. There were no witnesses to his crime – none other than Dr. Ruxton, and the stone walls of the house. Only Ruxton, and those four walls, truly know what happened to his wife Belle, and their housekeeper, Mary. In the years following, those four walls became a ‘site of memory’.


The term ‘lieu de mémoire’ – roughly translated as ‘site of memory’ – was coined by French historian Pierre Nora (1931-present), initially in discussion of the way the French connect with their history. It attempts to articulate the cultural phenomenon by which a place, or object, can become the container of a memory – a manifestation of it. Nora suggests museums, or iconography such as flags as examples; containers of memory that influence a collective memory, that contribute to the way in which history is recalled. These sites usually uphold a cultural significance, operating as a signpost by which people collectively remember their past. For Number 2 Dalton Square, it becomes the sole effigy to explore a grisly case entrenched in Lancaster; a home so reflective of the man that decorated it, it seemed almost to exist as an extension of him. Many of the remainders of the Ruxton case evaporated following Ruxton’s execution in March of 1936; it seems, with war looming, the case that had been the centre of a media frenzy soon was forgotten by all but those in close physical proximity to it, or, indeed, to the ‘site of memory’ – the final physical reminder of Ruxton’s crimes.


It is this proximity that allowed the tale of the Ruxtons to become entrenched in a site of memory. Lancaster soon was imprinted upon by Dr. and Mrs. Ruxton. They settled into the town well, leaving positive social impressions among the population they were integrating into. It did not take long for Ruxton to establish himself as a local figure; he was well-regarded as a kindly doctor. In a pre-NHS world, he would waive the cost of medical treatment for those unable to afford it. It was this kindness that cemented him as a treasured local during his life. Even today, those old enough to remember him – or whose parents did – will remark on his generosity; on how his treatment saved lives. Isabella, too, was a well-known local figure; she was a socialite and thrived in entertaining both friends and acquaintances. The pair settled, and surrounded themselves with friends and money.


Number 2 Dalton Square very soon became the axis by which the Ruxton family’s lives operated; Ruxton’s well-established Doctor’s Surgery operated from the address, with the ground floor of the house being almost entirely dedicated to his medical practice. As their family swelled, so too did the demands of their housekeeping. The Ruxtons turned to hiring local housekeepers and maids to assist with the running of the household, and the raising of the family. The Ruxton home bustled with activity internally and externally. The house was flanked by a cinema and situated across from Lancaster’s town hall – a prime location for a family quickly climbing the social ladder in a new town.


Settling into a new place involves a measure of assimilation – something that seemed to come naturally to the Ruxtons. Dr. Ruxton in particular was a man concerned with appearances – he knew the scandal of being unmarried; he never revealed that his ‘wife’ and he were common-law partners, and had never actually been betrothed. In the same way that he did not reveal that back in India, where he was born, he had already been married – a wife that had been abandoned shortly after he landed on British shores. Ruxton’s preoccupation with social image expanded to the great lengths he followed in order to obscure his gambling habits. Whilst inquiring with a moneylender regarding opening an account, Ruxton implored him to do his character-checks discreetly, describing Lancaster as “small town of people of anti-gambling religious views”. Ensuring the favour of the local population was imperative, especially when his primary income was sourced through them. Beyond this, though, Ruxton’s concern with his appearances can be exemplified in the décor chosen for the interiors of the Ruxton home. The style of the home was lavish; skin rugs of exotic animals from tigers to wolves lay on the floors of bedrooms and drawing rooms. Mahogany furniture and paintings adorned the walls – each inch of the house oozed luxury, inviting visitors to bask in the wealth on display. It was egregious, and yet, it was so distinctly Ruxton – inviting the question of where Ruxton’s ego ended, and where the house began. 

A piece of written archival material.
Letter sent from Dr. Ruxton inquiring about a credit account, June 1934 (author’s own).

The overt display of wealth in the Ruxton home could be suggested as a veneer to disguise the difficulties brewing between Isabella and her husband. Most notably, though, it can be observed as an extension of ego – a displacement of Ruxton’s desires for success and wealth, displayed throughout the home. Each item was purchased and placed with intention; so much so that Ruxton frequently detailed in his diary the extensive – and often expensive – furnishings that were purchased to supplement his spiralling ego. The living and drawing rooms especially were social spaces, where guests were entertained; the places where, perhaps to Ruxton, his social appearances were most likely to be scrutinised. Or the rooms in which he would most like to be in control. But the lavish decor did expand into the Doctor’s Office. Newspapers indicate that Ruxton was seated upon a ‘Bohemian Throne’ when speaking with patients. Much of the information of the case, and Ruxton himself, that was imparted to the public came from newspaper reports – reports that eagerly detailed the lavish lifestyle that Ruxton lived, all told through the details of his house.

A photographic piece of archival material.
Photograph of the drawing room in Number 2 Dalton Square, as seen in the house sale catalogue (author’s own).

The public were soon afforded an avenue to explore the Ruxton home; it was opened to the public during a house-auction in November 1935, with the proceeds supplementing the legal fees that arose during Ruxton’s trial. The opportunity to own furniture from a ‘murder house’ was too great to pass up, and onlookers flocked to the Ruxton home in droves during the allotted observation dates. The scans from the house auction pamphlet remain some of the only images of the interior of the Ruxton home in its original state – further feeding into the decadent, yet distant, site of memory forming within Dalton Square.

A written piece of archival material.
The sale catalogue for the November 1935 house auction (author’s own).

For all that Ruxton is, Number 2 Dalton Square exemplifies it. And all that he was – all that his wife, and housekeeper ever could be – died in that house, on that day. All memory for the Ruxton family ceased within Number 2 Dalton Square. As the case unfolded, and Ruxton arrested, his children were sequestered to safety and given new identities. Ruxton was executed at Strangeways prison in Manchester. The house’s existence as a site of memory in part is maintained through the legend-like status it contributes. Dalton Square becomes a prompt – the physical location that someone wishing to tell their friends of Ruxton will travel to, in order to point out the disturbed house, and its gruesome past.


The Ruxton case was, above all, a domestic dispute – it occurred within the home, within a sole family. Though Ruxton’s bizarre actions in traipsing the bodies to Scotland and dumping them in a river both expanded the geographical reach of the case, and allowed the sensationalism of it to explode in the press, that did not remove the fact that, at its core, the Ruxton case is a local story. It was a local family, with a local crime – and Ruxton was arrested because he bound the bodies in a local newspaper. Number 2 Dalton Square’s central location exemplifies the local ties that this case has – it becomes a site of memory for the people of Lancaster, because, at its core, it is a story for Lancaster. In a strange sense, the house becomes a pilgrimage site – the only remaining location with which to demonstrate the story of Ruxton. Though the bathtub that he dismembered the bodies in sits in the Police Museum hosted at Lancaster castle, or his diary is presently on display at Lancaster’s City Museum, these objects do not have the same draw as a physical manifestation of crime. Dalton Square remains the very site where lives were lost – it becomes the host of the ‘ghost story’.


For those more seasoned in the Ruxton case, the house’s contribution to the site of memory becomes tangible – as it was the very evidence collected in the house that assisted in the conviction of Dr. Ruxton. The Ruxton trial is well known in forensic circles for the advancement in science it bequeathed. Forensic science was in its infancy; convicting a criminal with scientific evidence was a remarkably novel concept, and one that propelled Ruxton’s prosecution. As his medical practice was situated within his house, the defence of Ruxton was rooted in the belief that any blood found within was simply a symptom of his career. The Glasgow Police Department dismantled the staircase in Ruxton’s house and transported it to their scientific offices in Glasgow for analysis. It was this house – saturated in blood – that was able to unveil the occurrence of Mary and Isabella’s murder. A site of memory, taken apart to aid in the conviction of the very criminal whose memory it housed. The methodological dissection of the house was eerily similar to Ruxton’s treatment of his victims; a similar process was soon turned on his reputation, starting with the evidence gained from the house. The autopsy of Number 2 Dalton Square was a metaphorical vivisection of Ruxton’s ego. As the veneer of the Ruxton’s life in Dalton Square was peeled away, so too was Ruxton’s reputation within his community.


Perhaps a symptom of its status as a site of memory, Number 2 Dalton Square is effectively ‘stuck in time’. It is an impressive tool for understanding the psychology of Ruxton; it would not be remiss to suggest that the Ruxton home – and the décor that Ruxton chose to display – reflects on some level the psychological aspects of Ruxton’s character. The analysis of physical sites of memory, therefore, can be an undeniably valuable resource in understanding the underlying behaviour of historic figures. During Ruxton’s occupation, Number 2 Dalton Square became a tangible extension of his ego: a fact that has doomed the house to forever reflect the murder that occurred within the confines of its walls. There has not been a sole occupant following the murders in 1935. Currently – and with no indication of a change – the house finds purpose as City Council offices. It remains impenetrable. Those wishing to engage with its history, perhaps to tell the ghost story of the murderer Ruxton, cannot cross the threshold. Instead, they must stand on the porch, preaching a tale of woe to the only remaining witness. 


Further Reading:


  • Jeremy Craddock, The Jigsaw Murders (Cheltenham: The History Press, 2022).


  • R. H. Blundell, Notable British Trials: Buck Ruxton (London: William Hodge & Company, 1937).


  • Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).


  • Jessie Ramey, 'The Bloody Blonde and the Marble Woman: Gender and Power in the Case of Ruth Snyder' Journal of Social History 37.3 (2004), pp. 625-650.

Harvey Soteriou is an MA student at Lancaster University. His current research is an exploration of the case of Dr. Buck Ruxton – with a particular focus on the language used to describe criminal and victim within the press and courtroom. He is always happy to talk about the macabre - and less so - aspects of the Ruxton case, or other criminal histories, and welcomes any and all conversation on Twitter!

Twitter: @SakisSoteriou


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