Murder, alleged infanticide at Brilley and other excitements

1846 – Child Burns to Death at Brilley

Mary Ann Powell, aged 7 was another “victim of the too common and reprehensible practice of leaving children where there was fire without a competent protector to take charge of them”

Mary was left at home with her brothers and sisters, and as they played, her clothes caught fire.  A nearby labourer heard screams and ran to the house, but he was too late to do anything as the flames had burnt all the clothes from the poor girl’s body.  She died a few hours later.

1848 – Murder at Brilley

Thomas Whitford lived at Brilley with his wife Elizabeth;  they had no children but had cousins living in neighbouring villages.

Mary Price, a cousin of Thomas, said that they were “comfortable” together, but that Thomas could be a little odd.  One morning, Mary called on them, and the door was answered by Thomas, who declared that his wife Elizabeth (known as Betty) was dead in bed and that he had lost the key to open the door.

The Body is revealed

The cousin Mary, ran off for help and when she returned with reinforcements, the door was open – Betty was lying on the kitchen floor, with her head bashed in, and was naked except for a small bit of cloth round her middle.  There was blood all around her body, and there were bits of bloodied broken ladder by the body.

Thomas Whitford Admits Murder

James Bromage, the village constable, turned up to take Thomas into custody – Thomas admitted to killing his wife, and said that he was fulfilling the scriptures;  he then said that he had no idea it was his wife that he had been fighting with, he thought that it was the great goddess Diana, “the queen of the whores of the bottomless pit”.

Post Mortem on Elizabeth Whitford

The post mortem revealed that Betty’s frontal skull bone was shattered, with all of the bones of the face and jaw also fractured.  The left temple bone was broken to the occipital bone, and parts of the scalp were so badly lacerated that they were detached.  Portions of the brain were scattered over the floor, along with bits of the skull.  Five of her ribs were broken, along with her left bladebone.

It was the surgeon’s opinion that the death of Betty was caused by injuries received to her head.  (Stating the obvious!).  But he was doubtful that mere wood alone could have caused such damage.

The Verdict

The jury were asked to ignore the state of mind that Thomas was in, and they returned a verdict of Wilful Murder whilst not in his proper senses.


1862 – Alleged Infanticide at Brilley

The village of Brilley was alight with gossip when they heard about a newborn child being found in a loo at Brilley Court.

Mary Ann Williams

Mary Ann Williams was a servant at Brilley Court, and for a while many had suspected her of being pregnant;  she was discovered in bed one day, and when asked what was wrong she said that she had taken too many tablets that her mother had sent for her.  She as challenged about being pregnant, but denied it.

Mary Ann Williams was confronted, but she still denied having been pregnant or having given birth, despite the fact that her bed at Brilley Court was covered in blood, including a baby shaped patch to one side.

Also, Mary Ann had complained of a pain in her bowels,  and Mary Abbott had given her brandy and then later, some breakfast.  In the early hours of the following morning, Mary Ann asked for the key to the store room – she was carrying something under her arm which was concealed by a shawl, and from the store room there was a way through to the water closet where the child was found.

A couple of days later, acting on information received from Mary Higgins and Mary Abbott, P.C. Lewis from Eardisley and Sergt. Davis went to Brilley Court and inspected one of the water closets…..the drop to the sewer beneath was some 15 feet, so P.C. Lewis was lowered down by rope.  He discovered the body of the newborn child at the bottom.

The Post Mortem

A post mortem revealed that the baby was full term, and had a skull fracture, most probably caused by the fall to the sewer.  The baby had breathed at birth, but had had no food.

The Verdict

Despite further evidence, both Mary and her mother continued to deny that she had given birth, saying that the blood on the bed was “the usual”, and the jury returned a verdict of Found Dead.  Mary Ann however, was detained in custody.

When she again came before the court, she pleaded guilty to concealing the birth of her illegitimate child, but her clever lawyer managed to convince the Judge that she had not wilfully killed the child, and she was imprisoned for just one month.

1863 – Deserter Steals Donkey

George Lewis, a deserter from the Radnorshire Militia, and Sarah Vaughan of Brilley who lived with him, were accused by an ostler of Kington of stealing his donkey.

The Magistrates decided that there was not enough evidence and the couple were discharged.

1867 – Skeleton found in Brilley Wood

In September 1867 the skeleton of Maria Price of Lyonshall, aged between 70 and 80, was found in Cwm Thomas Wood, Brilley.

Enquiries revealed that Maria had left home in June, and simply disappeared, and it was thought that she had probably got lost and wandered around until totally exhausted, when she lay down and died.  She then became “a victim for the fowls of the air and other animals of prey”.