Byford Horse Races and attempted murder by deranged would be lover, (The Byford Mystery) amongst other things

1797 – Fire on Byford Farm

Late one afternoon in early February, a fire broke out on J.G. Cotterell’s farm at Byford which resulted in the death of one cow and severe burn injuries to another, along with the destruction of a barn full of barley.

The fire was started by a small child putting a burning stick to the straw by the barn door.

1823 – Sad End to Marriage Ceremony of Byford Woman

Mrs. Smith of Byford, a widow whose first husband had died suddenly whilst crossing the river Wye in a boat, had befriended 70 year old Mr. Hopkins, a former curate of Byford who was a native of Dorston.  He lived with her in her house when gravely ill, and she cared for and nursed him.

When he recovered, he was so grateful to her that he proposed, both of them thinking they would be comfort for each other in their old age.

The wedding was arranged to take place at St. John’s in Hereford and just as the wedding ring was about to be placed on Mrs. Smith’s finger, Mr. Hopkins dropped to the ground, and died almost instantly.

He was taken to the house that he had prepared for his bride, and the post mortem revealed that he had ruptured a blood vessel close to his heart.

1839 – Photogenic Drawing

Dr. Kidley of Byford, was the first person in Herefordshire to apply the art of photogenic drawing – a newly discovered and beautiful art.

It was suggested that a material improvement could be made by washing the paper with a mixture of equal parts of white of egg and water, and afterwards with the solution of nitrate of silver, fixing the drawing as usual with the iodide of potassium.

 1843 – Manslaughter at Byford

James Preece went to a dance at the Boat public house in Byford one Wednesday in August, and had a falling out with Charles Lewis.  On the Sunday morning, at around seven, they met to fight and after some seven rounds James Preece was downed by Charles – he immediately gave in, saying that he was badly hurt in the neck and back.

James was carried to the Byford Boat and after being bled by a woman, was put to bed, but he died in agony just after midnight.

Mr. Giles, the Byford Surgeon, carried out a post mortem and his opinion was that death was due to spinal cord injury and effusion of blood.  He said that the whole of the vessels of the membranes of the brain, as well as the brain itself, were very much congested and gorged with blood.  He also discovered a fracture and dislocation of the sixth and seventh vertical vertebrae.

The verdict at the inquest was Manslaughter

1844 – Horse Races Re-established at Byford

In July 1844, the village of Byford thoroughly enjoyed an excuse for fun, having foregone the old custom of Sunday wakes.

Many hundreds of people made their way to the new racecourse, which was said to be in a perfect state for racing following some much needed rain.

Entries were not as high as was hoped, but this was mainly due to other races taking place elsewhere on the same day, but this didn’t stop the pleasure of the spectactors and the first race for the Byford and Monnington purse of sovereigns was run between Mr. Hall’s Orlando and Mr. Crump’s Running Rein.  Orlando won.

After the horses came the foot racers, who contested for new hats, fabric,handkerchiefs etc., and then the dancing commenced.  The partying continued late into the night, with an eventual adjournment to The Boat Inn, and it was well into the early hours before people went home.

1845 – Attempted Murder by Lover at Byford – As First Reported

Rumours of an attempt on the life of Miss Ellen Davies spread rapidly around Herefordshire, with embellisments being added along the way until the gossipers had her dead and buried.

Eventually, the story became so fantastical that many who heard it decided that it was all a hoax, however it turned out that she had indeed been shot at.   Or so it was said…….

Ellen Davies and her Would be Suitor

Ellen Davies was a pretty daughter of a miller/shopkeeper, who had been pestered for nearly two years by a young man who frequently asked her to marry him, even though he refused to tell her his name or where he lived.  Ellen consistently ignored his pleas to meet him at various places in and around Byford, so that he changed tactics and wrote to her saying that he was very ill and dying.  When that didn’t work, he pestered her even more than before (would be called stalking these days) and eventually he wrote to her saying that he would kill both her and himself unless she married him.

Ellen’s friends were horrified, but rather thought she would be safer to marry him than reject him!  Ellen herself decided otherwise, so continued to spurn his advances.

Ellen’s Would be Suitor becomes Deranged

The young man became so deranged that he was sectioned for a while, and many different people heard him swearing that he would shoot Ellen Davies, and that she would never marry anyone else;  he made more threats of a destructive nature, but nobody took any notice because they thought he was insane.

The Murder Attempt on Ellen Davies

Eventually he was released from the asylum, and shortly afterwards he commenced watch on Ellen’s house.  One Monday night, Ellen went out to the cider house at the back of her father’s house, where she came across the young man of her nightmares who was with a friend of his.  Before she could escape, they had grabbed her and dragged her over two meadows;  the friend held her by the arms whilst the insane would be lover pointed a pistol at her breast.  He fired once, and Ellen felt blood pouring down her neck and arm – just before fainting she heard the man holding her arms cry out “you have shot me”.

When she came round, the men had gone and she screamed for help until her family found her, and not surprisingly, when they saw her covered in blood and in a state of near insensibility, they feared the worst and sent for surgeons from Hereford and Byford.

The surgeons merely discovered a few bruises to her arms, but the effects of her terror were profound and for some considerable time she was said to be dangerously ill from the shock.

Of the men, no trace was found other than blood being found in an adjoining field.

The Papers Are Not Totally Convinced

The papers duly reported the case with the facts that were given to them, but were highly sceptical…….

“That a madman might have fired in the way described is not improbable;  but that a coadjutor could be found to hold the victim, is really out of the range of probability – if not mad too – and who but a madman would occupy the dangerous position of holding a person while a third party shot at the person so held?  He is by far the more culpable, in fact his offence is diabolical.”

The Aftermath of the First Reports of the Byford Mystery

Many people doubted the truth of the facts, especially as it was all related by Ellen Davies herself, along with her parents.

It was felt to be extraordinary that nobody ever saw the “Demon” as he came to be known, except for Ellen and her mother and sister.

It transpired that the letters he sent her were sometimes delivered to Ellen at Credenhill Mill where she occasionally lived, and sometimes to Byford where they were pushed under the door or thrown into the shop.

He gave Ellen gifts, such as a dress and shawl – the papers, and the people, questioned why it was not possible for the shop where they were bought to reveal the identity of the purchaser.

The Truth Emerges – The Verified Report

A truth that was described “a more malicious and unaccountable transaction is not to be found in the annals of either reality or romance.  Indeed, so wild, so heartless, so daring, is the wickedness which the persecution of Ellen Davies unfolds, that the reader will often exclaim – this cannot be true, it must be romance, it cannot be reality.  Let the reader however be not incredulous, the source of this information is the most credible”

So here it is, and the man is no longer a lover, or suitor…….he is The Demon.

The Davies Family

Richard Davies was a miller living in a secluded cottage in Byford.  It was a small cottage, hidden by trees, and was rather cramped with low rooms;  it had an outhouse which was both a cellar and lumber room about twenty yards from the cottage.  Richard Davies’s mill was at Credenhill, some miles away, and he was honest and hard working – very inoffensive;  he had a general store at his Byford house where virtually anything could be bought.

Richard Davies had a quiet hard working wife and three pretty daughters;  there was also a female domestic and a labourer living in the house with them.

Ellen Davies aged 21 and the eldest daughter,  was extremely pretty and was described as being of Venus stature with nicely rounded proportions.  Her hair was beautiful, and she had lovely eyes, teeth and lips.

Ellen Davies Works in her Father’s Hereford Shop

Three years prior to the incident, Richard Davies took a small house and shop in Hereford and filled it with groceries etc., and here he placed his daughter Ellen, but she was not there long before she became plagued by suitors.  She was firm with them all, but it didn’t stop their advances, however she “shook them off as one strikes down an insect buzzing near the ear”.  The continued “hum of swarms” was not pleasant though and the situation became unbearable.

The Demon Appears

One of these men was the one that was to become known as The Demon – a young man of 30, about five feet seven tall with a dark complexion.  His hair and whiskers were dark, and he was not one bit handsome;  he wore a profusion of rings, including one big one which had a sprung cover and when open revealed a miniature painting of himself.

Ellen had often seen him walking around Hereford with respectable gentlemen but never learnt his name.  She was used to living in the country, so was not always happy to be confined to the shop, and often got up early in the morning to walking up Ailstone Hill or Broomy Hill.  One morning in March 1844 she realised that The Demon was following her, tracking her every move, and from that day she could not go for her walks without the man following her, although he never spoke.

The Demon Starts Stalking

Then a letter arrived in which The Demon declared his love for her, and put his case for a happy and successful marriage – he didn’t reveal his name, and never did throughout the whole sorry affair.

Ellen replied, turning him down, and on 1st May 1844 he wrote again pleading with her to change her mind, as well as following her at every opportunity.  Again and again she rejected him, until eventually she was so tired of it all that she begged her father to close the Hereford shop and let her return to Byford, which he immediately did.  This however only seemed to inflame the Demon further, and letter after letter arrived – sometimes by post, and sometimes delivered by a young man who later became the Demon’s accomplice.  Ellen never answered any of his increasingly desperate letters.

One day he saw Ellen in Hereford and forced his company on her, vowing eternal love and pleading with her to agree to be his wife.  She refused, saying that apart from anything else she could never entertain a relationship with a man who concealed his real name from her.  She refused many gifts of rings for the same reason, and he promised that if she would agree to be his wife, he would tell her his name as long as she told nobody else other than her parents.  She left.

The Demon Fakes Illness

There followed over a period of time, increasingly insane sounding letters to Ellen, most of which she ignored.   Then after some weeks, she met the Demon in Hereford and once again he proposed marriage, describing fantastical estates in Cumberland where he would take her after their marriage.  Unfortunately, Ellen’s parents appeared dazzled by this, and perhaps Ellen herself was swayed, because when he wrote to say that he was ill, she resolved to go to see him in Cumberland, but before she could, she met the accomplice of the Demon, the young man on the dappled pony who carried the letters to Byford, who on learning her intentions to go to Cumberland, told her that the Demon was dead.

Two Strange Men Join the Cast

A week later however, he met her again and said that he had made a mistake!  Then followed more letters, all of which she ignored having realised that the man was quite mad, but one day two gentlemen drove up to the shop in a gig – they asked her to sign a document, but she refused having no idea what was written there.  A few days later they returned, but the shop was full of customers so they drove off;  they returned some days later and tried to force her to sign the document, using many threats – once again she refused.

The men returned a week later, and they grabbed hold of her and dragged her towards their gig;  fortunately, two labourers saw her plight and ran to help, at which point Ellen was released and the men drove off.

It would seem clear that these men were working for the Demon, and the document was a marriage agreement.

Everything went quiet – Ellen had no more letters, and the men did not return, so she must have started to relax, but it was not to be for long because the Demon shoved a note through her bedroom window.

The Demon becomes Threatening, and Attempts Murder

The contents were disturbing, and very threatening – he was basically warning her that he would never allow her to marry anyone else and as he wanted nobody but her then they would die together, but incredibly Ellen seemed unafraid.

On a Monday night, the Ellen and her family were eating supper, although Mr. Davies was at the Credenhill Mill.  Ellen went to the cider house for some cider, and was horrified to see the Demon in the lane;  she ran back into the house, and her sister and their man servant rushed out to chase the Demon.  Ellen ran too, and stood by the fence to watch, when the young man who had brought letters to her suddenly appeared by her side, and warned her that she was in great danger because “they” had lost the Demon during the previous 24 hours……he barely finished speaking, before the Demon, who had shaken off his pursuers, sprang over the fence and grabbed Ellen, before throwing her back over the fence.  He and his accomplice manhandled her a hundred yards or so before hurling her over a stone stile, but then their way was thwarted by some wooden rails – the pair failed to get Ellen through these, and the Demon became frantic;  he drew a pistol and pointed it at Ellen, at which point his accomplice threw his arms around her, apparently in an effort to protect her, but the gun went off and hit him instead.

As described in the first report above, Ellen was so badly shocked as to be very ill for some time, but this was not the end of the matter.  She received a letter from the accomplice, saying that he was badly injured and must leave the country until things died down, but hoped that she was okay.  Then a letter came from the Demon, which was very clearly the work of a madman, and in which he once again threatened her.

Disbelief that no Real Attempts were Made to find the Demon

The papers were puzzled, astonished and angry that no apparent attempts had been made by the authorities to trace any of the people involved in this whole affair – the Demon;  his accomplice;  the two men in the gig, and a lad who was holding their horse.  Mr. Davies put up a £50 reward for any information to help find the miscreants, but nothing came of it, and the police continued to turn their backs on the affair.

It all rather smacks of something being hushed up!


1854 – Death of Surgeon’s Son

Herbert Johnson Broome Giles, the infant son of P. Giles, Surgeon, died suddenly.

He had been “cross and sickly” for some time, and the nurse found him dead in bed, with a black face.

Verdict, died by the visitation of God.

1858 – Death by Falling from a tree

In April 1858, 17 year old Joseph Preece of Byford was removing ivy from an elm tree when he fell and landed heavily on the ground.

P.B. Giles, a surgeon of Stanton on Wye, was immediately sent for, and he found Joseph unconscious but could not discover any fractures or contusions.

Sadly Joseph died the following morning, never really having gained consciousness.