Murder memorials: A grisly history written in stone

Here’s another interesting piece from the BBC news website on murder memorials dating from the early 19th century.  They are usually found in country areas as the victim and murderer would often be known to the community.
  • 26 October 2018
Murder stone in St Catwg's church
The tragic tale of Margaret Williams is hinted at on the stone which condemns her murderer

Wandering around the picturesque cemetery at St Catwg’s church in Cadoxton, Neath, a first-time visitor might be startled out of their gentle stroll by the stark message on top of one tall, weathered stone – MURDER.

This memorial in south Wales is one of a handful of “murder stones” erected around the UK, the majority over a period of about 100 years, to commemorate violent deaths that shocked the local communities.

The Cadoxton stone is dated 1823, and recounts the death of Margaret Williams, 26, who was from Carmarthenshire but was working “in service in this parish” and was found dead “with marks of violence on her person in a ditch on the march below this churchyard”.

Miss Williams’ story, such as is known from contemporary reports, tells of an unmarried young woman who had been working for a local farmer in Neath when she became pregnant.

St Catwg's Church, CadoxtonImage copyrightCR LEWIS/GEOGRAPH
Image captionThe peaceful graveyeard of St Catwg’s in Neath hides a harrowing tale in its midst

She had declared the father of the child was the farmer’s son, and when her apparently strangled body was discovered head down in a watery inlet in marshes near the town, he was the prime suspect.

But whatever local opinion may have believed, there was no evidence to tie him or anyone else to the crime, and her murder remained unsolved.

However, the murderer was left in no doubt as to the feelings of the local community after this stone, part gravestone and part warning, was erected over poor Margaret’s body.

Giving the details of her fate and the date of her death, the stone, erected by a local Quaker, continues: “Although the savage murderer escaped for a season the detection of man yet God hath set his mark upon him either for time or eternity, and the cry of blood will assuredly pursue him to certain and terrible righteous judgement.”

This unsolved killing is unusual in the history of the surviving murder stones in that the murderer escaped justice. Most of the other memorials are to people whose killers were quickly detected, sentenced and dispatched via the gallows.

Dr Jan Bondeson, a retired senior lecturer at Cardiff University and a consultant physician, has made a study of the history of crime alongside his medical career and has written a number of books on the subject.

He became interested in murder stones after editing a book which featured them.

He said: “The murder stone in Cadoxton is the only one in Wales. There are plenty of them in England.

“There was an instinct for the local people to erect them. There was a strong instinct to commemorate a tragic murder.”

Dr Bondeson has documented several further murder stones across the English counties, and one early example of the type in Scotland.

One murder stone has been immortalised by no less a writer than Charles Dickens himself. In the novel Nicholas Nickleby, the eponymous hero walks through the ominously named Devil’s Punch Bowl at Hindhead in Surrey.

Stone to unknown sailor, Hindhead, SurreyImage copyrightPETER TRIMMING/GEOGRAPH
Image captionThe murder stone at the Devil’s Punchbowl, Surrey, features in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby

There, he and his companion come across the real-life stone marking the 1786 murder of a man known only as the Unknown Sailor.

The unnamed man was en route to his ship in Portsmouth when he visited a local pub in Thursley. There he fell in with three fellow sailors, and paid for their drinks and food before leaving with them.

The sailor was repaid for his generosity in the following way: They “nearly severed his head from his body, stripped him quite naked and threw him into a valley”.

The three did not get far. The sailor’s body was found soon after, and James Marshall, Michael Casey and Edward Lonegon were chased and captured after trying to sell the dead man’s clothes at a pub.

They were hanged from a triple gibbet near the murder scene, and the unknown man was buried in Thursley with a stone paid for by local people.

But the local mill owner, James Stillwell, went a step further. He placed a stone in Devil’s Punch Bowl itself, with this grim warning to future generations:

“ERECTED, In detestation of a barbarous Murder, Committed here on an unknown Sailor, On Sep, 24th 1786, By Edwd. Lonegon, Mich. Casey & Jas. Marshall

“Who were all taken the same day, And hung in Chains near this place, Whoso sheddeth Man’s Blood by Man shall his, Blood be shed. Gen Chap 9 Ver 6”

Dr Bondeson said the majority of the stones appeared around the 1820s, adding “That was the high level for the erecting of murder stones. All of them are in the country – none are in urban areas.”

Elizabeth Sheppard murder stoneImage copyrightDEBORAH MCDONALD/GEOGRAPH
Image captionBessie Sheppard was murdered on her way home after going to look for work

Elizabeth – Bessie – Sheppard was just 17 when she set out from her home in Papplewick, Nottingham, on 7 July 1817, to seek work as a servant in Mansfield, seven miles away. She found a job, but she never found her way back home, because on her return journey, a travelling knife grinder found her.

Charles Rotherham, a man in his early 30s, had served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars for 12 years before beginning this new stage in his life.

He was seen on the road coming from Mansfield after drinking several pints where his path crossed Bessie’s.

Her severely battered body was found in a ditch by quarrymen the next day. Her shoes and distinctive yellow umbrella were missing and there was evidence her attacker had tried to remove her dress but had failed.

Rotherham had sold Bessie’s shoes and was on his way to Loughborough when he was arrested. He confessed to the crime and was returned to the scene where he showed a constable the hedge stake he had used to kill Bessie.

Like all murderers at the time, Rotherham swung for his crime. Local people, outraged by the attack, banded together to raise money for a stone to commemorate Bessie, which was placed on the site where she was attacked.

Bessie’s stone simply honours the memory of the dead girl, but another stone erected to a female victim of violence has more of a moral tone, seemingly warning women against certain behaviour as much as expressing anger with the killer.

“As a warning to Female Virtue, and a humble Monument to Female Chastity: this Stone marks the Grave of MARY ASHFORD, who, in the twentieth year of her age, having incautiously repaired to a scene of amusement, without proper protection, was brutally violated and murdered on the 27th of May, 1817.”

The story behind Mary Ashford’s death and its aftermath is one which left a permanent mark on English legal history.

Mary Ashford and Abraham Thornton
Mary Ashford and the man accused of her murder, Abraham Thornton

She had gone to a dance in Erdington, Birmingham, with her friend Hannah Cox, whom she planned to stay with overnight before returning to her place of work at her uncle’s house in a neighbouring village.

At the dance, she met a local landowner’s son, Abraham Thornton, and later reports confirmed the pair spent most of the night dancing together and having fun.

When they left the dance, Mary told her friend she would spend the night at her grandparents’ home – possibly a ploy to spend more time with Thornton – and Mary and he went off together.

Mary returned to Hannah’s house at 4am, changed her dancing clothes for her working clothes, collected some parcels and set out for her uncle’s home.

About two hours later a labourer found a bundle of clothing and parcels on the path leading to Mary’s home. The alarm was raised and her body was found submerged in a water-filled pit.

An autopsy showed she had drowned and had been raped shortly before her death.

People believed Thornton, having been rebuffed by Mary during their hours together, had lain in wait for her to return home and raped her before throwing her into the pit to drown.

He was duly arrested and tried, but a number of witnesses placed him at another location at the time of Mary’s death and he was acquitted.

But the story does not end there. Mary’s brother William Ashford began a private prosecution under an obscure ancient law, which allowed relatives of murder victims to bring an “appeal of murder” following an acquittal.

Thornton had a surprise up his sleeve though. In response, he demanded a trial by combat as was his right under that law, under which he could legally have killed Ashford, or if he defeated him, gone free.

Ashford was much smaller than Thornton, and declined the battle. Thornton was a free man, and the case was swiftly followed by a change in the law in 1819, banning such appeals and therefore trial by battle.

Murder stone commemorating William WoodImage copyrightCOLIN PARK/GEOGRAPH
Image captionThis murder stone at Disley in Cheshire commemorating William Wood was erected 50 years after the crime

Other victims include:

  • William Wood, of Eyam, Derbyshire, murdered by three men who robbed him of £100 in 1823 – his head was “beaten in the most dreadful manner possible”. Two men were caught, one escaped justice. A permanent memorial was erected over 50 years after the crime after earlier versions were destroyed or removed, which showed the strength of feeling still present in the community about the murder.
  • Father and son William and Thomas Bradbury, who were brutally attacked in William’s pub The Cherry Arms, known as Bill O’Jacks locally, on 2 April 1832 in Greenfield, Saddleworth. Their unsolved killings were recorded on a stone which noted their “dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies”.
  • The Marshall family – the “special horror”, as noted in The Spectator at the time, of the Denham murders in Buckinghamshire, where a family of seven including three young girls were beaten to death at their home attached to their father’s blacksmith’s premises. The youngest, Gertrude, four, was found still clutched in her grandmother Mary Marshall’s arms. Killer John Jones was found a few days after the killings on 22 May 1870 and speedily tried and executed. They are buried in one grave in St Mary’s Church, Denham, where the original worn murder stone has been supplemented by a modern plaque to remember the victims.

The last word goes to those who chose to commemorate Nicholas Carter, a 55-year-old farmer from Bedale, Yorkshire, killed by a farm labourer as he rode home from market.

The stone laid at the murder site in Akebar – later to become a Grade II listed monument which hit the headlines earlier this year when it was badly broken in a car crash – had a very simple message, along with the date of his death, May 19, 1826.

Do No Murder.

 

 

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The Lord of the Manor and the local ratcatcher lie equal in their eternal sleep under the traffic’s drone – a visit to St Leonard’s, Streatham

 

View of exterior St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
View of exterior St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The substantial church of St Leonards at Streatham could almost be seen as God’s’ traffic calming measure as it makes the drivers on the busy Streatham High Road inch past its walls.  But once inside St Leonards churchyard the noisy flow seems to fade to a hum and you can appreciate a church which has had a chapel on its site for over 1000 years.

I was on a guided tour organised by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and our guide was John Brown who had an obvious affection for St Leonards.

The first church was built in 1350 and the lowest part of its tower still stands.  St Leonards was then rebuilt in 1778 and altered again in 1831 when the nave was completely rebuilt and a crypt created.  During the 1860’s a chancel was added.  But, on 5 May 1975, disaster struck when a fire completely destroyed the interior.  It was then re-designed and St Leonard’s now has a whitewashed interior within its 19th century walls.  This has created a wonderful backdrop on which the surviving wall tablets and memorials are well displayed.  An inspiring blend of the ancient and new.

We began by exploring outside  and stopped to admire the tower which is known as Sir John Ward’s Tower .  According to John, it has the highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon  growing halfway up it. The tower is built from Surrey flint and is topped by a modern spire dating from the 1841.

The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward's Tower, St Leonard's Streatham. ©Carole Tyrrell
The highest oak tree between the Thames and Croydon on Sir John Ward’s Tower, St Leonard’s Streatham.
©Carole Tyrrell

The churchyard contains over 250 memorials  dating from the 18th century with the last burial in 1841. Part of the graveyard was  bombed during the 2nd World War and, as a result, has been landscaped to create a Garden of Remembrance.  John revealed that some of the burials had only had a wooden graveboard  which had long since disintegrated.

St Leonards was a very fashionable church during the 18th and 19th centuries and, as a result, a chapel of ease dedicated to All Saints was built in a nearby road. Alas, even God was expected to adhere to the rigid class system of the time as the local gentry worshipped at St Leonards and their servants would attend their own service at All Saints.  Dr Johnson and James Boswell are known to have visited the church.  This may be one of the reasons that there are several prominent local people buried in the churchyard.  John pointed out some of the more illustrious tombs;  Merian Drew, the lord of the manor and his daughter Jane Agnes Fisher, George Pratt of Pratts Department store in Streatham and  the Colthurst family member who had owned Coutts bank.

William Dyce, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and polymath, lies under a broken cross.  He designed the florin coin and was a much in demand portrait painter.  Amongst his many achievements were the frescoes in the robing room of the House of Lords although they remain unfinished. He also painted another celebrated fresco for the House of Lords, ‘The Baptism of Ethelbert’.    My own favourite of his paintings is ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858’ with its haunting, melancholy atmosphere and muted colour palette.     He was also a churchwarden at St Leonards and was responsible for designing the chancel in 1863.  Dyce’s ‘Madonna and Child’ of 1827 featured on the Royal Mail 2007 Christmas stamps.   Robert Garrard, the royal jeweller s also lies here and there was a  flat, plain slab on the grave of one of novelist Trollope’s nephews  who was the owner of the building firm, Trollope and Colls. I also admired the small sculptures of angels on the Montefiore monument. There were also several tombstones dating back to the 1700’s with a scattering of skull and crossbones.

A large monument had been made from the wonder material of the 19th century, Coade Stone.  A Mrs Coade, invented it but for a long time the recipe was lost.   However it and the techniques for producing the stone have now been rediscovered and a new range of Coade sculptures are currently available.

We then followed John inside to admire two 17th century imposing and magnificent monuments in the porch.  The striking Massingberde memorial commemorates a London merchant and Treasurer of the East India Company who died in 1653.  The two figures facing each other symbolise the triumph of life over death. The dramatic Howland monument   was erected by a grieving widow, Elizabeth, to her husband John who died in 1686 and features a brooding skull and several cherubs.

The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman - reputedly drawn from the life. copyright Carole Tyrrell
The Thrale memorial tablet by John Flaxman – reputedly drawn from the life.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

At the top of the chancel by the altar were the Thrale monuments. These were to Henry Thrale and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury.  Henry, who is also commemorated by the nearby Thrale Road, was a wealthy brewer and MP.  He and his wife, Hester, entertained the well -known movers and shakers of the day including Dr Johnson and James Boswell. There were two epitaphs written in Latin by Dr Johnson and a beautiful  tablet by John Flaxman is set into the wall.  It has  three female figures on it which were reputedly carved from the life. One of them is Sophia Hoare.  John Flaxman (1726-1803) was a prolific sculptor of funerary monuments, mainly in the Classical style, and his work can be seen in Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral as well as many churches.

The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
The mutilated statue of Sir John Ward. St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

A somewhat dog eared and damaged figure lies on top of what looks like a table tomb.  This is what’s left of an effigy of Sir John Ward in his armour.  Colin Fenn of FOWNC has compiled a list of helpful notes to accompany the reconstruction drawing of it and estimates the figure as dating from 1350-1380.    Sir John fought with the Black Prince at Crecy and, in the modern Streatham stained glass window, he appears holding a model of the first, 14th century chapel that he built.  The rest of the window records the history of Streatham and St Leonard’s and is well worth seeing.  It’s by John Hayward as all the stained glass within St Leonard’s.

There are more  intriguing memorials in the Chapel of Unity and  John drew our attention to Edward Tylney’s. He was the Master of Revels, under Queen Elizabeth 1 and King James 1, and who put on plays and other entertainments for the Court.  He was renowned for being vain and had the memorial created during his lifetime which is why there is a blank space for the date of his death in 1610. But there is another version in which the mason was so relieved at Tylney’s passing that he omitted to add the date of his death.   Nearby is William Lynne’s affectionate tribute to  his wife, Rebecca which dates from Cromwell’s reign. Part of it reads: ‘

 ‘Should I ten thousand yeares enjoy my life I could not praise enough so good a wife.’

The oldest inscription, dated 1390, was below the altar and is a small brass plate which asks for prayers for the repose of a long past rector, John Elsefield.

Then we descended the spiral staircase to the crypt.  This was an unexpected surprise. Although not as extensive as West Norwood or Kensal Green it was still impressive and atmospheric with incumbents in their loculi.

Loculus which is Latin for ‘little place”, plural loculi, is ‘an architectural compartment or niche that houses a body, as in a catacomb, mausoleum or other place of entombment’  Wikipedia

The crypt is laid out with 2 corridors and the gated individual family vaults lead off them.  Some contained entire families including the Thrales.  John showed us one in which the loculus had been bricked up as the occupant had been buried in only a shroud.  This was Mr Costa, a silk merchant, who left instructions that every pauper who carried his coffin was to be given a guinea.  Needless to say, his coffin was carried by many poor men and so his wealth was redistributed.  Only the undertaker was left empty-handed.  There’s also two earls who ended up down there whilst visiting Streatham but I don’t think that the two events are connected.

 

 

 

The crypt was rebuilt in 1831 and was used as an air raid shelter during the 2nd World War during which time an experiment was carried out to determine the depth of the charnel pit under the flagstone floor. The measure went down as far as it would go which was 20ft but the pit extended far below that.   More recently it became the home of a local tramp called Black Tommy who had his mail delivered there.  One wonders with whom the postmen would have left large packages when Mr Tommy was out.

Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard's Streatham ©Carole Tyrrell
Tombstone of the local ratcatcher St Leonard’s Streatham
©Carole Tyrrell

As a finale, John showed us the substantial headstone of the local ratcatcher which proved that he was certainly busy, successful and appreciated.   Sadly, the epitaph appears to have completely vanished.  Afterwards a couple of us strolled about the churchyard reading the fine epitaphs on several  memorials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Our grateful thanks to John Brown for his knowledge and enthusiasm, St Leonard’s, and Cathy Mercer of FONC for organising the visit.

http://www.stleonard-streatham.org.uk/church.html

http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn_07/articles/wrig_09.html  baptism of ethelbert

http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artist.php?artistid=120 – portrait of William Dyce

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loculus_(architecture)

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lotta – the dachshund with the waggiest tail…….Knebworth House’s pet cemetery

Henna. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A poignant tribute to Henna.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

As you enter the formal gardens at Knebworth, please take a moment to visit  the eternally slumbering residents of its pet cemetery which is nearby.   Although not signposted it does appear on the Knebworth map.Most stately homes have one if you know where to look and they give another insight into the lives of the owners and the animals who shared their lives however briefly.

However, although  Knebworth House has been the home of the Lytton family since the 1400’s it wasn’t until the 19th century that the family’s pets were formally interred in their own private resting place.

There are varying dates as to when the cemetery came into being.   Apparently it started in 1825. but the official Knebworth map has it as dating from 1852.  The cemetery not only contains the beloved pets of the Bulwer-Lytton family but also those of their tenants.  All are equal in the small well tended  graveyard.

But I’m sure that most visitors don’t notice it.  It nestles in front of the yew hedge which is known as the Iron Hedge.  Yew is traditionally associated with places of burial and death such as churchyards and there are supposedly many traditions associated with this.  It’s also seen as a symbol of everlasting life as yew trees have been known to live for centuries.  Most of the epitaphs are laid flat so can easily missed by the casual passer-by but a closer look reveals some marvellous memories.

As with other pet cemeteries, it’s the touching epitaphs that I find most interesting as well as the names that owners give their pets.

Beau was Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s cherished pet dog

A better view of Beau's epitaph. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A better view of Beau’s epitaph.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

There is a small monument to ‘The first of the Tibetans’, Chumbi and Ruby.  It goes onto say that they were both found in the Chumbi Valley in 1929.  It also adds, sadly, that Chumbi was ‘Lost on the Great North Road 1929.’ and that Ruby ‘Died at Knebworth in 1929’.   There is also an inscription around the base of the monument.  It reads ‘May the love they had and gave help them even beyond the grave.’  Short lives but much missed.

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Here is a selection of the epitaphs: