Of murder, a glorious description of Peterchurch, and much much more

1789 – Suicide of Ann Lewis

An inquest was held on the body of Ann Lewis, a woman who had been very depressed for some three years.

She was found hanging in her own house whilst the family were out.

The Jury returned a verdict of Lunacy.

Such a sad thing that in those days there was no distinction between depression and insanity.

1795 – Man aged 108 Dies at Peterchurch

Richard Brown aged 108 died on New year’s Eve 1794;  however there was some speculation that he could indeed have been older than this, due to the custom of not baptising children for some time after birth.

Richard Brown was born into the farming business, and although he had been retired for some years he was still fairly sprightly.  He lived for so long, that he outlived his fortune put away for retirement and ended up being totally dependent on his friends.

This next bit surprised me, because it suggests that even in the 18th century smoking was considered to be a risk to health:

“In the example of this old man, the assertion that smoking is prejudicial to health is completely refuted, as he was seldom seen without the pipe in his mouth, and took his last whiff a very short time before his death.”

He lived through the reign of six sovereigns, and was so little enfeebled by age that he was able to join the haymakers during the last harvest before his death.

1816 – Apartments for the Insane

Dr Exton put an advertisement in the Hereford Journal, in which he informed the public that he had fitted up apartments at his house in Peterchurch, in order to accommodate the insane.

He said that those labouring under this affliction would be taken in on moderate terms, and would experience from his family, the care and assiduity that their unfortunate situation required.

1843 – Theft of Peterchurch Bell Ropes at Christmas

Letter to the Hereford Times from a Peterchurch parishioner:

“Never was there a more dull and inactive Christmas remembered than the present one.  Can it be credited that not a single peal has been heard to echo from the celebrated bells of the Golden Valley?  and if that be owing to a circumstance of any private kind, ’tis high time the public of the 18th century should know it.

As far as the facts have been collected, it is feared that some evil disposed foe to Christmas innocent customs and rural lawful amusements, committed the guilty deed of entering the steeple and taking away four of the six bell ropes, which of course deprived not only the disappointed ringers from exercising a privilege hitherto undisturbed, but also the general body of the respectable people hereabouts from enjoying the delightful sensations which naturally spring up at the hearing of so harmonious a sound as that which merry peals create, especially at so auspicious a season as the present, and for the very solemn occasion of commemorating the nativity of the Redeemer of the World.

For what purpose the ropes were carried away cannot be conceived.  It is to be hoped that no man in his right senses could have done such a piece of ungentlemanly and sinful conduct.  If the party is otherwise than sane, I deplore such a distressed state, and lament for the victim of so loathsome a complaint.

1848 – Wilful Murder of Child

The village of Peterchurch was rocked by this case.

A newborn male baby, the illegitimate child of a 27 year old single woman by the name of Anne Thomas (who had had two previous illegitimate children) died – supposedly at the hands of its mother.

It seems that Anne Thomas’s mother (Catherine)  was also a single woman, and she and her daughter Anne, plus Anne’s two illegitimate children (George aged 8 and Fanny aged 5) all lived together.  Anne had been a “cripple” for three or so years, and had to use crutches to walk.

Witnesses said that for a while they suspected she was once again pregnant, but Anne had strenuously and continually denied the fact, even apparently trying to hide it from her mother, Catherine.   This might be explained by the way that Catherine tore into Anne when she suspected that she was pregnant, saying that she would have to go once again into the Workhouse, and that there would be a great deal of ill will in the parish.  Anne repeatedly denied being pregnant, but the villagers continued to talk.

One day,  Anne said that she was going into the fields to pick mushrooms and find baby rabbits, and she didn’t return until mid evening – soaking wet due to a violent rainstorm.  It was not until a few days later that she admitted to her mother that she had given birth out in the storm in a patch of woodland.

A neighbour was asked by Catherine to help in looking for Anne’s baby, but a search was not really necessary as Anne and Catherine both knew exactly were to look,  some half a mile from Anne’s house in a copse of wood…….the marks of crutches leading to the spot were very evident.

The body of the baby was discovered, with the head and face covered in dirt – there was a lump of earth apparently rammed into the child’s mouth;  it was hard and the child’s upper lip was “cocked up” but the earth didn’t protrude but was quite level with the lips.  The body had been put in a very shallow grave.

Constable Ball was called for, and he took the tiny body away.  A post mortem revealed that the child had been born alive, and that it had breathed.  The lump of earth in the baby’s mouth had been removed at some stage, and was in the apron in which the child was wrapped.  The umbilical cord had been broken;  the hands were clenched and the limbs were bent.  It was the opinion of the doctor that the infant had struggled.

The jury had no hesitation in returning a verdict of Wilful Murder against Anne Thomas, the mother of the child, however when she stood trial at Hereford Assizes, her defence lawyer gave such an able speech that she was acquitted of the capital charge, and purely convicted of concealing a birth.

She received just two months imprisonment

1848 – Fire at Peterchurch

On 12th September, late at night,  a fire broke out in a thatched cottage in the centre of Peterchurch.

The cottage belonged to Thomas Delahaye, but was tenanted by Thomas Prosser.

All the villagers, including Mr. Gwynne of the Boughton Arms, rushed to try to put the fire out, but it was hopeless and in a very short space of time the cottage was reduced to a heap of smoking ruins.

The fire was believed to be the work of an incendiary.

1852 – Dreadful Death of John Gwynne

John Gwynne, who kept the Boughton Arms at Peterchurch, had been out drinking some miles from his home.

Early one morning, a labourer was going through the Bowling Green turnpike gate, when he discovered John Gwynne lying on the road, with his horse standing close by.  John was unconscious, and was removed to the Seven Stars pub at Clehonger where the Peterchurch surgeon, Mr. Jenkins, attended him.

John had received severe wounds, and it was later pieced together that his horse had thrown him at Newton Bridge, where his hat and stick were found in the road, and he was dragged by one foot in the stirrup for over three miles.

The poor man did recover consciousness but had no idea what had happened to him, and he died two days later.

He left two children, being an only parent.

1852 – Pencillings at Peterchurch

This delightful description of a visit to Peterchurch in 1852 is courtesy of the Hereford Journal

“The Golden Valley is, in truth, one of the loveliest portions of our own fair county”

On the Boughton Arms Inn at Peterchurch

The Boughton Arms Inn is an old fashioned country hostelry, having no gay or attractive appearance without, but capable of furnishing right comfortable cheer within.  It is such a charming change to sojourn here after the more ostentatious, though less real, attention exhibited at town hotels.  The crispiest bacon and freshest eggs supply the cuisine of the breakfast table, and for anticipation of a genuine appetite commend us the youthful hostess who attends to the commissariat of the Boughton Arms far before the cadaverous Parisian cook who rules the roast at the Fladongs or the Hummums.

There is a horse block in front of the door to remind one of the days of pillions, when the ruddy cheeked wife was seated behind her helpmate, and thus Dobbin sedately carried both to the weekly market.  Those were rare days it seems, and indeed one can almost realise an impression of the good old times by a stay at Peterchurch.

The postman, blowing his horn and mounted on a Welsh pony, comes in at somewhat irregular intervals, and his arrival is the only important event in the day’s chronicles;  and the bearer of the mail doubtless knows the importance of his office.

The delivery of a London Times newspaper is a thing of fare occurrence, and is duly handed through the village until ragged as Falstaff’s followers in the service.  It is questionable whether some of the inhabitants ever get the sight of a newspaper at all, though we were glad to see the familiar broadsheet of the Hereford Journal a welcome guest in many a family circle.

The kitchen of the Boughton Arms is the place of general resort for the seekers of news, and is an excellent speciment of a country tap room.  There are huge flitches of bacon hanging overhead, and a spacious settle occupies the fireplace;  and here the high and low meet to discuss the topics of the day, but it is of their own little world they love to discourse, not of the great community generally known by the term.

The weather and the crops form probably the staple talk, with just sometimes a zest of village scandal;  there are many little intrigues going on, and lots of innocent flirtations indulged in, which here as everywhere are always relished as a theme for gossip.

On Peterchurch Church

The church is decidedly antique, and from the ancient appearance of the interior might almost take its date before the flood. Hatchments abound and moth eaten old pews, with lanceolated windows and a mouldering, earthy atmosphere – just the sort of place one would choose to discourse on death.  It is so calm and peaceful.  What a contrast from the ecclesiastical edifices of the metropolis, where the sound of busy life in the surrounding street almost drowns the voice of holy worship, raised by the thinnest congregation.  But here, going to church is the rule;  and sound, practical doctrines take the place of theological controversy, which all take to heart, and are thus really edified.

The churchyard is of immense extent, and provision seems made herein for the burial of many a succeeding generation.  The quaint epitaphs chiselled on the tombstones would store the album of Old Mortality himself, and the poetry of some savours most ominously of originality.  Of course, there is a venerable yew, and the seat around affords, by the abundance of its accommodation, a fair speciment of the patriarchal bulk.  It is a queer old tree too – knotted and gnarled, and twisted into the wildest shapes;  a very Gorgon midst the holy places.

On the Charm of Peterchurch

The great charm of all country communities is the family friendship existing within their circles.  It seems eminently so at Peterchurch;  the stranger is welcomed without the necessity of a formal introduction, and finds himself at once at home by the hospitable reception of his entertainers.

There are doubtless rival feuds of the “Montagues” and “Capulets” of the locality, which have grown and strengthened with the spread of families;  but these private differences are never suffered to obtrude on the rites of hospitality.  It is true, the people, being isolated from the busy world, feel but little interest in its communications, but he who has partaken of the toils and troubles of the crowded thoroughfares, knows how gladly he would exchange his lot for country quietude.

It is a pleasant scene even in the long straggling street, with the smith’s forge, from which the fierce flame flickers through the doorway, and the poor old blind proprietor stands with his cheerful face to fill the foreground.

The pigs, it must be confessed, are monstrously free and independent, for they patrol the thoroughfare and sleep just where they like, and apparently form the police of the place, as they never seem off duty.

The unwary traveller had better be careful in penetrating the byeways, for some of these are evidently laid out on the most effectual principles of inaccessibility;  and there would be some reason to bless General Wade if he had only paid a visit to this vicinity.

We shall long entertain a lively recollection of the pleasant time we spent but a few months since among the people of Peterchurch.”

1860 – Child Dies from Burns

Here it is, the inevitable representation of numerous similar stories for each village.

Ann Bedmore, a six year old girl of Peterchurch, the daughter of John Bedmore, was burned so badly that she died within a few hours.

Her mother had gone out of the house to get water, and had left her three children inside;  Ann was nursing the baby.  The mother had told them not to go near to the fire, but only a few minutes after leaving the house, she heard Ann screaming.

She ran back in, and found Ann with her clothes ablaze;  she stripped them off but found Ann was burnt all over her body, and the doctor that was sent for held out no hope for recovery.

Before she died, Ann said that she tried to get some broth from a pot over the fire, and that her pinafore and cotton dress ignited.

1863 – Letter Saved from the Wreck of the Colombo

Mrs. Sinclair of Peterchurch received a “remarkably queer looking letter” on 2nd January 1863.

The words stamped on a corner of the envelope were “Saved from the wreck of the Colombo”, and accounted for the torn, smeared and tatty appearance of the envelope.

Mrs. Sinclair very carefully opened the frail letter, and found another one stuck to the inside of the envelope;  this second one was addressed to her brother in Essex.

The post marks on the letters showed that they had been posted in Melbourne on 20th October 1862, and had eventually been sent to England by the ill fated steamer Colombo, which was wrecked in the Red Sea