In the summer of 1865 Charles Gordon Sprague, a surgeon, was brought to trial, accused of attempting to poison his wife, in-laws and their servant at Ashburton. His alleged weapon of choice - a rabbit pie. It excited regional newspapers far and wide: I have seen accounts of it in Welsh, and it had extensive coverage in The Times.
You can read a good account of the trial on the Legendary Dartmoor website http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/index.htm – and go there now if you don't want me to spoil the ending for you. Here are a few extra details about the participants in the drama.
Sarah Cousins Chalker was baptised on 12th May 1826, Ashburton, the daughter of James Chalker and his wife Sarah (https://www.familysearch.org/) Sarah's middle name is spelt Cosens elsewhere.
The 1861 census for Ashburton shows James Chalker, an ironmonger, living with his wife Sarah and their family in North Street. They have an unmarried daughter, Sarah C – she is 35 years old, and is described as a 'Fundholder'. (http://www.freecen.org.uk/)
The same census for Yorkshire shows 21 year old Charles Gordon Sprague as a Member of Royal College of Surgeons, living at Pateley Bridge. He was born in North Jafferham, Rutland, and is an assistant to Edward Warburton, a General Practitioner.
1861 census RG 9; Piece: 3193; Folio: 7; p8
It is worth reflecting here that for women in the 1800s society's main, if not only goal was for them to be married. As a fundholder, Sarah C perhaps had sufficient means of supporting herself - nevertheless James would have been an unusual Victorian father had he not wished for some eligible bachelor to come along.
If this indeed was his wish, two years later he must have thought that it was granted.
In February 1863 a marriage was announced at Ashburton of Charles Gordon Sprague, member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Sarah Cosens Chalker, the only daughter of James Chalker. Charles is described as being the eldest son of C Sprague Esq., surgeon, of Kimbolton, and the grandson of Dr Sprague, formerly of Long Ashton. (Bristol Mercury 21 Feb 1863, p8 col 5)
The Rev W Mills officiated. (The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of February 6th - p5 col 3 - has the Reverend as The Rev Walter Mills. He is not listed as a vicar in the Guide to St Andrew's Church - Crockford's Clerical Directory of 1868 has him formerly as a curate of Buckland-in-the-moor, Devon)
Later, in 1865, Charles is described as a young man of 24, but he was probably born in the June Quarter of 1839, in Uppingham registration district (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/) – making him about 26, and 24 when he married his 37 year old bride.
A year after their marriage a Charles Gordon Sprague (presumably the same one) was admitted to the Camberwell H asylum in Surrey on March 7th 1864. He was discharged on April 4th, but readmitted on the 5th, and again on June 17th.
UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1912
The new Mrs Sprague had returned to her parents, but Charles then came to stay, and it is then that the family, including their servant Mary Jane Pidgeon, became exceedingly ill. The cause was established as a rabbit pie, and there were suspicious circumstances.
In 1865, at the petty sessions held at the London Inn, Charles Sprague appeared on a charge of poisoning. He was brought before J S Amery* and H B T Wrey (the last-named is spelled differently in different reports) Mr Tucker (of Tucker and Sons, solicitors) appeared for the prosecution** (Western Daily Press 27th July 1865 p 2 col 6)
*John Sparke Amery (snr) magistrate and landed proprietor
** Either Robert Tucker snr or Robert C Tucker, his son. (http://www.freecen.org.uk/)
Mr Caunter was clerk to the magistrates
(Cheshire Observer 29 July 1865 p4 col 5)
Mary Jane Pidgeon, the servant who was both a victim, and a witness in the case, was the daughter of John Pidgeon, who in 1861 had been living with his wife and family at the Golden Lion Tap in East Street.
Dr Gervis (sometimes spelled Jervis or Jarvis), another witness, was Walter S Gervis, living in West St in 1861. There is a memorial stone to Walter Soper Gervis M.D. in St Andrew's churchyard.
The trial moved to Exeter Assize, where Sprague was acquitted. However, there is a postscript to the story - in August Mr Sprague was once more in the papers. He had been arrested again - this time accused of raping a servant, presumably in his new lodgings.
In September the Grand Jury threw out the case, and directed that he be immediately discharged from custody (Reynolds's Newspaper, 27 August 1865 p 6 col 5 and London Standard, 20th September 1865 p7 col 3)
A local newspaper wryly commented: “Fate seems to lay heavy upon Mr Sprague, although he has had the good fortune to escape legal consequences”
(Exeter Flying Post 27 Sept 1865 p7 col 6)
James Chalker died 14 August 1869, aged 74. He was described as an ironmonger from North Street.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 20 August 1869 p5 col6
Charles Sprague committed suicide in Liverpool in 1870, aged 31. According to the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, he had contracted pyaemia* some time previously whilst conducting a post mortem, and this had affected his mind. Disappointed at not being appointed as a surgeon on board a ship, he went to stay at the premises of publican Joseph Bryant in James Street. During the night he apparently jumped from a window, and died from his injuries within hours. The verdict of the jury was 'suicide during temporary insanity.'
The Daily Courier added the details that Charles' father, a surgeon practising in Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire, had visited him about three weeks beforehand.
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 4 October 1870 p6 col4
The Daily Courier 3 October 1870 p5 col7
Many thanks to Lena Andrews for providing this information.
Sarah Sprague died in the March Quarter of 1890, in the Newton Abbot registration district.
A Horrible Murder
Twenty years earlier, in 1843, a 'horrible murder' took place in Ashburton, and a 'thrlll of horror' went through the 30 or so people who had been led to the scene near the Broadhempston/Denbury road. A boy picking ferns in a field found the body of a small woman lying in a hedge drain - when examined by Dr. Hele, she was found to have severe head injuries. A man named Harding identified her as Rebecca Tooley from Totnes, who had been at the fair on the 10th August, selling nuts. The body was taken on a hurdle to the Old Bottle Inn in Lawrence's Lane, where more injuries were discovered. She was aged about 32.
In the absence of the coroner, John Caunter, magistrate, opened the enquiry at the London Inn, and on Saturday Joseph Gribble opened the inquest.
Four females from Totnes, including Jane Avent (aka Long Tom) were questioned and at one stage held in custody, together with a man named Edgecumb. When the inquest jury came to a verdict is was that there had been 'Wilful murder' by person or persons unknown. £25 was raised by public subscription as a reward for the conviction of the perpetrator.
The following Monday evening the body was interred in the churchyard after a private service read by the Rev. W. Marsh. The body was taken by a back route from Lawrence's Lane because of concern that the main streets would be crowded. On Wednesday the body was disinterred to remove a shawl and other items of clothing, and onlookers were kept at the gates.
By the 26th August all those held in custody had been released, and the reward was raised to £50, with a free pardon for anyone connected to the murder but who did not actually commit it, if they gave information which led to an arrest.
North Devon Journal 17 August 1843 p3 col4
Western Times 19 August 1843 p3 col3
Western Times 26 August 1843 p3 col5
At least two further people were questioned about the murder, but it was not until October that a breakthrough seemed to have been made. Constable Hele brought down two people from Exeter, and they were questioned by Sir W H Tonkin and J Caunter at the London Inn. Mrs Lukey, of the Red Lion, stated that she knew the prisoner Edward Webb, aka Deaf Ned, and had seen him in the Red Lion on fair day, August 10th. Deaf Ned had bought cider and a pipe, and had paid for a bed that night at the inn, but when he arrived back at the inn that evening, accompanied by a woman, he said that he was not staying after all. He had seemed, said the witness, very excited.
At this point a pipe was produced that had been found in the field near the body, and was shown to be very similar to the pipes sold at the Red Lion and nowhere else in the town. Several people were then questioned, including the Totnes women previously held in custody, but no-one had seen him with Rebecca Tooley, the victim. The magistrates had to release Deaf Ned and the woman with him, 'his accomplice.'
Suspicion continued to dog Edward Webb, and in December he and his companion, Charlotte Williams, were examined once more at the Castle of Exeter. They were then remanded in custody in the county gaol, and were to be tried at the next assizes.
Exeter Flying Post 19 October 1843 p3 col6
North Devon Journal 21 December 1843 p3 col3
In March 1844, as Deaf Ned's trial had just begun, a small paragraph in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette stated that a man passing through Paignton had confessed to the murder of Rebecca Tooley. He was put into gaol to await trial, but next turns up at Ned's trial giving evidence. Nathaniel Macleod, a man of 'most forbidding aspect', had by this time retracted his confession, and stated that he heard Ned saying ' "the bloody w____ lies quiet on her back" (sensation)'. After careful questioning by the judge, Macleod was remanded in custody, and the jury found Deaf Ned not guilty.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 23 March 1844 p3 col3
Western Times 30 March 1844 p3 col4
Whether Macleod, or anyone else, was ever convicted of Rebecca's murder I do not know. But Charlotte Clarke alias Williams turned up before the Exeter mayor in 1850, when she was still remembered as the companion of Deaf Ned who had been tried for the Ashburton murder. John Connett accused her of picking his pocket in a back street in Exeter, and she was committed for trial. Mr. Connett was strongly reprimanded, however, for the circumstances in which the offence took place - the assignation had been 'highly improper'.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 18 May 1850 p7 col5
In Linkinhorne, Cornwall, in the middle of the 1800s, auctioneer Edward Wadge and his wife Ethilia decided to give all their children names beginning with 'E'. By the time of the 1851 census the couple had produced: Edwin H and Emma H, 15 and 14; Erwin H and Edmund A, 12 and 6; and Edward P, not yet 1.
1851 census HO107, piece no. 1901, folio 303, p24
The two members of the family who later arrived in Ashburton were Edwin Harvey Wadge, baptised in Linkinhorne in 1836, the son of Edward and Ethillia, and Erwin Harvey Wadge*, whose birth was registered in 1839.
Cornwall baptism transcripts
Liskeard district, March quarter 1839, vol 9, p169
*Ann Wadge, who has been researching the Wadge family for 30 years, says that Erwin's association with Ashburton was brief - possibly 'a temporary refuge whilst he was hiding!' Many thanks to her for her comments and help with this section.
At a meeting of the West Ashburton mine in October 1860, the accounts of Messrs Wadge and Gillard, 'the late pursers' were passed. The current accounts showed a debit of £11 7s 1d and a call of 2s a share was made.
Royal Cornwall Gazette 2 November 1860 p7 col3
Western Times 1 December 1860 p7 col3
Edwin Harvey Wadge married Mary Ann Harriet Mortimore in the Independent Chapel in March 1861. He was described in the Western Times as 'clerk to the Ashburton United Mines'.
At the census taken shortly after their marriage the pair were living with Mary Ann's parents, Edward Mortimore, a seedsman, and his wife, also called Mary Ann. Edwin Wadge's birthplace is given as Linkinhorne, Cornwall; he was 25.
Western Times 23 March 1861 p5 col5
same April a case was heard at Exeter County Court where William
Richards, captain of the West Ashburton Mine, was claiming £10 10s wages
from Charles Wescomb, as one of the shareholders. The defence was that
Mr Wescomb was merely acting as an agent, and was not therefore liable.
mine, originally called the East Hazel mine, was started in 1859 and eventually had four shareholders, of whom Mr Erwin H Wadge, brother to Edwin, was one. By the time of the court case Erwin was articled to a solicitor in Teignmouth, but had previously been living in Ashburton. Within a year Mr Wadge had
transferred all his shares to a new shareholder and resigned from the
partnership, but when the new shareholder had the books examined, Mr Wadge
was called upon to correct errors and omissions before a meeting to be
held in July 1860. Instead Mr Wadge, his brother Edwin and others seized the books and carried them off. The case was
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 12 April 1861 p10 col3
Western Times was forthright in its analysis, heading one report 'The mine rigging case'. It stated that 'fine copper
lodes' had allegedly been indicated (the judge caused laughter by asking whether it was copper lodes or loads of copper) and the paper said that 'gross
swindling may be perpetrated under the form of mine speculations.'
People who tried to get rich quickly might keep their innocence, the
Times said, but not their money.
Western Times 13 April 1861 p5 col3 and p9 col3
Erwin's career in mining was not over. In 1866 a presentation banquet was held at the Albion, Aldersgate Street, London, when the committee of the Wadge Testimonial Fund 'presented to Mr Erwin Harvey Wadge FGS, on behalf of the subscribers, a piece of plate value 300 guineas, and a marble bust, executed by Mr Neville Burnard, the eminent Cornish sculptor, in recognition of the "magnificent services rendered by him to the cause of metallic mining enterprise throughout the United Kingdom, but more especially in the colonies and abroad." '
Wadge Testimonial Fund, Manchester, 1866, p7
In 1873 at the Manchester Assizes he was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude for fraud concerning a lead mine in Cornwall. By 1882 he (or his brother) was being charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with the Cornwall Great Consols Mining Company.
Edinburgh Evening News 10 December 1873, p2 col3
Derby Daily Telegraph 26 July 1882 p2 col6
In 1863 Edwin H Wadge is advertising in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette as an auctioneer, appraiser, surveyor and general accountant, operating from West Street. He can deal with wills, letters of administration and inventories, and can advance money on securities. His father, the advertisement says, has had 30 years experience in these fields.
Edwin's father may indeed have had 30 years experience, but he had gone bankrupt in 1855 - Edward Wadge, auctioneer and mine agent, of Westcott Cottage, Linkinhorne, had mortgaged property of approximately £800 and other debts of over £500 at the time.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 20 February 1863 p8 col5
Edwin's brother Erwin gets married in the Kensington registration district in the June quarter of this year - to Julia Stephens.
In December of the same year 29 year old Edwin Harvey Wadge, auctioneer, is a resident of Callington, Cornwall, when he joins the Loyal Victoria Lodge.
1871 census shows Edwin and his wife in North Street, with Edwin's
occupation as seedsman. They have three children, and the eldest, 8 year old Amy, was born in Callington,
1871 census RG10, pice no. 2080, folio 54, p20
By 1873 Edwin Harvey Wadge is in Bodmin Gaol, working the treadwheel. A land surveyor, he is 37 and married. The criminal register shows that he is serving 4 months for larceny.
Cornwall, England, Bodmin Gaol Records, 1821-1899, Ancestry online database.
England and Wales criminal registers, class HO 27, piece 164, p83
At some stage during the same year Erwin Harvey Ware alias Erwin Harvey Wadge, is serving 5 years in Lancashire for obtaining money by false pretences and conspiracy to defraud.
England and Wales criminal registers, class HO 27, piece 165, p104
A trial in Plymouth in 1876 saw Edwin Harvey Wadge, aged 40, convicted of obtaining money by false pretences. Described as a coal and seed merchant, he had told auctioneer Mr Jackson that he had a cargo of coal in a harbour for sale. There was no coal - Wadge had forged the required documentation. Not only that, he had also forged the name of Thomas Pearse, of Ashburton, on a cheque drawn on Watts and Whidborne's Bank. He was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, with the Recorder suggesting that he now be proceeded against for forgery.
The Tiverton Gazette added the information that during the trial it was revealed that Edwin had stolen a coat 'some years since' and had been convicted at the Bodmin assizes.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 13 April 1876 p5 col6
The Tiverton Gazette 18 April 1876 p3 col4
In 1878 Mr E H Wadge* gave a talk on Temperance at the Market Hall. He 'dwelt at some length on the evils of drunkenness.'
Western Times 17 September 1878 p8 col6
White's Directory of Devon for 1878 shows Edwin Harvey Wadge at Tudor Buildings, North St., selling statuary, and as a coal merchant operating from Fowler's Square, Buckfastleigh.
White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devon, 1878, p110
1879 an Edwin 'Arthur' Wadge was apprehended by Mr H Press of the CID,
Great Scotland Yard; the charge was of obtaining goods by false
pretences. Wadge had a marble mason's and tombstone shop in Ashburton,
but had recently been touring Devon and Dorset, lecturing on temperance
and holding auction sales. During this time he had persuaded a Mr Rippin
to supply goods to a fictitious purchaser - Wadge signed for the goods
using the alias, but never paid for them. Wadge had previously been
twice convicted of larceny - the trial was set to be heard at the Old
Bailey in Essex.
The Chelmsford Chronicle added that the prisoner had only lately come out of prison.
The criminal register for Essex for 1879 shows Edwin Harvey Wadge serving 5 years for obtaining goods by false pretences.
North Devon Journal 5 June 1879 p2 col3
Chelmsford Chronicle 6 June 1879 p6 col4
England and Wales criminal registers, class HO 27, piece 182, p196
Mary Ann Wadge, (Edwin's wife) with her children Henry and Jenie, are with Mary's parents on the night of the 1881 census. Her occupation is Assistant Housekeeper.
Meanwhile Edwin H Wadge is an inmate at H M Convict Prison, Brixton Rise, Lambeth. The census has him slightly older than his actual age, but his occupation is recorded as a stonemason. Married, he was born in Linkinhorne.
1881 census RG11, piece no. 2161, folio 57, p29
1881 census RG11, piece no. 625, folio 112, p7
Edwin, or more likely Erwin* is in trouble in 1883: the Royal Cornwall Gazette has his name as Edward Harvey Wadge, some papers have Edwin and some have Erwin(e). Charged at Bow Street with fraudulently issuing a bill of exchange, he had been extradited from New York to face the charge. The prisoner apparently went under the aliases of Captain Archer and Major Templer - as one of Erwin's children was baptised Erwin Adolph Archer Wadge** this might suggest that Erwin was the miscreant; in addition, unless he was released early, Edwin should still have been in prison. The case was adjourned.
The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough said that Wadge had been convicted of forgery some time ago, and had been sentenced to 5 years, after which he set up as a mining operator called Captain Archer. Under the name of Bishop, Earle and Co. he set up the Cornwall Great Consols Mine at Callington, with a capital of £20,000. The company promised huge returns but provided none, and when shareholders became suspicious the whole enterprise was revealed as a fraud. Wadge was arrested in India and brought back to Bristol: although bail was initially refused, eventually it was granted. At the trial, 'on Wadge being called no Wadge appeared'.
Royal Cornwall Gazette 15 June 1883 p5 col5
* Ann Wadge says this was definitely Erwin, and adds that the name Archer came about because of Erwin's association with a landowning family.
** Baptised in August 1864 in Dublin, Ireland, with parents Erwin Harvey Wadge and Julia Stephens.
Select Births and Baptisms, 1620-1911, online data base from Ancestry.com
The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough 13 March 1883 p3 col2
1885 Mr Wadge was selling a quantity of drapery and jewellery at his Tudor sales rooms in North Street.
Totnes Weekly Times 14 February p4 col6
Mary Ann H Wadge, aged 54, died in the Newton Abbot district in 1886.
Edwin seems to have remarried in Liskeard in 1890, to an Isabella Cundy. At the end of the year the Royal Cornwall Gazette published a notice of bankruptcy on the estate of Edwin Harvey Wadge, of no occupation, and Isabella Wadge, farmer, both of Trefrys, Linkinhorne.
Royal Cornwall Gazette 25 December 1890 p7 col3
Isabella died in 1891, and Edwin possibly married again in Llandilofawr the same year and maybe even in Plympton, as Edwin Harvey A Wadge, in 1904.
Ann Wadge confirms this to be correct - there were complications with the Welsh marriage because the woman already had a living husband...
An Edwin Harvey A Wadge, died in the Plymouth registration district in 1909, aged 73.
1831 Ashburton did not respond well to the appointment of two Special Constables to the area - Capt Pellew and Mr Chichester. In fact, general opinion at a meeting was that Constables were unnecessary, and the townsfolk would not submit to their authority. This was in spite of Capt Pellew's anger, and a long speech from Mr Chichester.
Western Times 22 January 1831 p2 col2
But in 1847 the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette said that it was 'high time' that a police force was organized in the area. The incident that led to this demand was the stealing of two horses from Mr Joseph Skinner's field at Caton.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 6 November 1847 p8 col4
In February 1849 a resolution was passed at a vestry meeting that a police force be established at a cost of £80 a year. Landowners and ratepayers met in March to discuss the resolution - R Hext, of Hele Farm, said that police were unnecessary, and proposed a motion that the vestry decision be rescinded. Mr W Mann, of Goodstone Farm, seconded, and the motion was carried virtually unanimously. The Western Times commented, 'Taxes already fall heavily on the tradesmen, and the industrious classes.'
The Western Times 10 March 1849, p7 col3
Sheep were being stolen in the Ashburton district in 1851, and the constables were disinclined to look for the culprits as they received no reward. The previous year a man named French had stolen 15 sheep and a horse, and had been transported for 10 years as a result, but the constables, Mann and Brown, were out of pocket by ten shillings as a result.
North Devon Journal 30 October 1851 p5 col4
Forensic techniques were used in 1852, when John Cornish was charged with stealing a sheep from John Sparke Amery Esq. A sheep went missing from Brim Park, and entrails were found near a gap in the hedge. A man's footmarks were found in the gap, and these footmarks indicated that the footwear had nails. In addition there were the footmarks of a dog, and the impression of a man's knee - it appeared that the person had been wearing corded trousers.
Cornish's boots did not appear to have made the marks, but when Thomas Hex, the constable, searched his house he found another pair of boots hidden in the back-house, and these were a match. Cornish's trousers also corresponded with the knee mark found at the field. The constable also found several pieces of mutton under a floor, and one piece behind a rabbit hutch. A sheepdog was in the house.
Cornish was found guilty by the magistrates, and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.
North Devon Journal, 16 September 1852, p2 col1
1853. The Western Times stated that there was no lock-up in Ashburton - prisoners had to be kept in a lock-up at a public house.
Western Times 3 December 1853 p6 col3
In 1856 a police officer, described as very efficient, was appointed at Ashburton - 'and not before one was wanted'
The same article announced the appointment of H B T Wrey, of Holne Park, as a Justice of the Peace. This led to the hope of monthly court sessions in the town - up until that point people had had to travel to Newton Abbot.
Exeter Flying Post 26 June 1856 p8 col3
In 1861 Mr Henry Eddy drew up plans for new Police offices and a lock-up house between North Street and Cad Lane. The site was, according to the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, adjoining what had been known as The Mermaid Inn, where Oliver Cromwell's officers stopped.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 5 April 1861 p7 col2
Devon Heritage Centre has deeds for some properties in North Street and Cad Lane, including the old Police Station.
Devon Heritage Centre, Ref 6290M, quoted on http://www.devon.gov.uk/prisons_in_devon - Accessed 25-01-2017
The 1891 census shows Abraham Nott as the Police Sergeant in Cad Lane
In 1893 Ex-Police Sergeant Nott was presented with a purse in recognition of 16 years service.
Exeter Flying Post 16 September 1893 p7 col1
The Old Police Station, Stapledon Lane (formerly Cad Lane)
The death of Priscilla Small
In January 1910 there was the usual excitement in Ashburton after the parliamentary elections. But excitement turned to shock when two people died on Sunday 16th, in unrelated incidents. The first concerned Joseph Skinner, aged about 60, who was found just before daybreak in the river at the top of North Street. He had last been seen outside the Post Office and the Constitutional Club, amongst the crowd waiting for the results.
It seems likely that this was the same Joseph Skinner who was 52 in the 1901 census, a woodman living at North Mill, close to Great Bridge. At the time of the census he and his wife Elizabeth had five children living with them.
1901 census RG13, Piece 2053, Folio 30,p 25
More news was to come. At 10am a boy named White reported that the body of a woman was lying in a field near Place. All her clothes had been taken*, but there was a pedlar's basket by her side, and she was identified as Priscilla Small, the wife of James Small, a gipsy.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 17 January 1910 p4 col7
*Later reports say that Priscilla was wearing her chemise, stockings and boots.
The inquest was held on Monday. The place of death was now stated to be near Rock Park Cross, and the name of Priscilla's husband Noah. Noah said that he and his wife, who was aged 45, were living in a van on Ramshorn Down, and had come into Ashburton on Saturday to do some hawking. During the day they drank at several public houses, finally making their way up North Street at about 6.30pm. Priscilla was fairly drunk, and after a while she told Noah to go on ahead, and she would catch up with him. He got as far as Rew and then went back to look for her, but could not find her. He then went into the Bay Horse until 11pm. He then returned to Ramshorn Down via Bickington. Noah said his wife would often stay away for weeks; nevertheless he went to look for her on Sunday morning, taking his brother with him. When they got near to the Lime Kilns they asked a boy if he had seen her, and the boy said that there was a basket just inside a gateway. When he saw the body he went to fetch the police.
The medical evidence.
Dr. Fitzpatrick was called to the scene, and stated that the deceased had been dead for some hours. He conducted a post-mortem examination at the mortuary. There were various wounds, which included a swelling above her temple consistent with being kicked by a boot. A large clot of blood was found inside her skull.
The inquest was adjourned, and on Wednesday Noah Small was charged with the murder of Priscilla, and was remanded at Exeter Gaol.
Western Times 21 January 1910 p3 col6
When the inquest resumed, Dr. Wilson confirmed that Priscilla had died from a blow to the head, but he suggested that a smooth object, such as a broom, was probably used. She had defensive injuries on her arms.
Questioned by a juror, he did not think that the injury to her head could have been caused whilst running, or after turning a somersault.
Bessie Elford.The landlady of the Bay Horse, Bessie Elford, said that both Noah and his wife had been in the public house earlier in the day, and had had two three half-penny worth of beer. In addition, Priscilla had had a clay pipe. They had both behaved quietly. In the evening Noah returned on his own, and stood drinks all round. He seemed to be known by everyone in the bar.
Alfred Northway, of Rew Lea Cottages, confirmed this sequence of events.
Ethel Gill of Pitt saw the couple at the Terrace Steps–the wife sat down on the steps, and fell down when she tried to stand up.
Wilfred Routley said much the same thing, saying that the wife was drunk and the husband was carrying brooms.
Robert Hewings saw them between Tucking Mill and Barnsey Bridge.
William Endacott, a baker's assisant, heard Noah say that the next time she went to prison 'she would have to take the children with her'.
William John Hamlyn said that he saw the couple at Rock Park Cross. The woman was lying still on the ground, and her husband, holding a broom, was bending over her. Noah asked for assistance, but then decided he could manage, and threatened Mr. Hamlyn when he persisted.
Samuel E Edgecombe, of Place Lodge, said that Noah Small and his brother asked him if he had seen a woman with a basket.
William Henry Mogridge gave evidence that he had shown the brothers the field where the basket was.
Samuel Frank Willis said that he had found the deceased's jacket in the road.
Abraham Knott, a former policeman, found Priscilla's hat, and P S Broughton found her skirt and bodice.
The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter.
Western Times 25 January 1910 p8 cols 5,6
On Thursday 22nd January Noah Small appeared before magistrates Major R C Tucker and J P Tucker in a crowded court at Ashburton. He was charged with wilful murder with malice aforethought, and sat trembling throughout the proceedings. The prosecution said that the prisoner had to explain his reaction on seeing his wife in the field, ie that looking over the gate, without going to her, he said, 'Oh, my missus is dead!'.
Another consideration in the case was the fact that Priscilla's clothes were scattered, as though there had been a struggle. Her skirt and jacket were found further along the road, and the blouse and another skirt** were found in the field with the basket. The jacket's sleeves were inside out, as though it had been tugged off.
The evidence given at the inquest was repeated to the magistrates, and the prisoner was committed for trial at the Assizes.
Western Times 28 January 1910 p10 col4
**Women's clothing of this period consisted of multiple layers.
3rd February 1910. Noah Small was found guilty at Exeter of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 5 years' penal servitude.
North Devon Journal 10 February 1910 p7 col2
By 1910 both Noah and Priscilla had had many encounters with the law, usually because of drunken behaviour. This included previous appearances at Ashburton Police Court for Noah in 1892 and 1899, when he had been arrested for being drunk and (in 1899) disorderly.
But in 1891 he was the victim - his father, James Small, was charged with causing grievous bodily harm to his son. Both men were drunk in Teignmouth, and when Noah had an argument with his wife his father intervened. In the ensuing fight James bit Noah's thumb, and also bit two pieces of his ear off, which were produced in evidence. Noah's wife Priscilla corroborated her husband's account.
The charge was reduced to common assault, and James was sentenced to two months' imprisonment with hard labour.
Western Times 22 November 1892 p5 col7
Western Times 16 May 1899 p5 col3
Exeter Flying Post 11 April 1891 p7 col3
Priscilla was fined 2s 6d plus costs for drunkenness in 1895, and in 1902 was charged with telling fortunes at Chudleigh. In 1903 she was charged with being drunk whilst in charge of a child. It was stated that her husband was living in a van at Ashburton.
When charged with 'sleeping out' in 1905 she was fined 10s, which her husband paid. When she appeared in court in 1906, she was too drunk to answer the charge of being drunk at Buckfastleigh the previous Saturday. She was fined and ordered to be detained until she was sober.
In 1909, when again charged with being drunk in charge of a child, she claimed that a woman in a motor-car had given her 'a drop of brandy'. She promised that it would not happen again. When fined 5s by the magistrate she said, 'Thank you, Sir. God bless you Sir.'
Western Times 25 December 1895 p3 col4
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 July 1902 p6 col2
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 31 October 1903 p3 col2
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24 May 1905 p3 col3
Western Times 11 December 1906 p5 col7
Western Times 4 September 1909 p3 col2
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 30 September 1848 p7 col4
In 1850 an unnamed person was fined £20 plus expenses under the Game Laws. There was talk of 'tyranny and injustice' as the defendant had had to face: one magistrate, three lawyers, one squire and one huntsman.
Western Times 26 January 1850 p5 col4
1853. James Coneybeare, landlord of the New Bottle Inn, was summoned for allowing gaming on the premises. The constable, Thomas Foaden, had gone to the inn and found a card game of 'all fours' in progress, with 'money on the table'. The defence claimed that in fact the men were conjuring with the cards.
Hearing that the landlord was of good character and kept 'as good order and rule...... as any landlord in Ashburton', the case was dismissed.
Exeter Flying Post 29 September 1853 p4 col3
John Windos, aged 23, was convicted of stealing a half crown (2s 6d) from John Berry
Punishment - 2 months imprisonment with hard labour.
Western Times 4 March 1854 p6 col4
1858. George Leaman, a Staverton farmer, had an altercation with Mr Sawdye in West Street on 31st March. Leaman used 'insulting language', and Sawdye turned round to see that Leaman had raised his stick. Sawdye pinned Leaman against a wall with his umbrella, and then marched him to the police station. The ensuing law case was however not about the altercation itself, but about a summonses that Mr Leaman later took out, alleging that Mr Sawdye attacked him with a stick. As the weapon used was an umbrella, not a stick, Mr Sawdye summonsed Leaman for perjury.
The jury returned a verdict of 'Not guilty'
Western Times 31 July 1858 p6 col6
1863 Elizabeth Honeywill and Nancy Caunter were charged with the stealing of two turnips, value 1d, from John Langler at Rew Farm
Punishment - £1 each to cover costs.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 18 September 1863 p5 col5
Petty Sessions 1864 A boy named Grute was fined for throwing stones at an old woman called Williams
Punishment - 2s 6d fine and 14s expenses.
John Williams, the husband of the woman concerned, assaulted the boy Grute.
Punishment - 2s 6d fine and 7s 6d expenses.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 25 November 1864 p6 col5
1865 William Thorne, aged about 16, pleaded guilty to stealing chestnuts from the vicarage. The Rev C Worthy had asked for leniency.
Punishment - confinement until 9pm.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 10 November 1865 p6 col5
1870 William Stevens, of the Red Lion Inn, was accused of letting 'notoriously bad persons' gather in his house.
The case was dismissed.
Exeter Flying Post 23 November 1870 p7 col5
1872 P C Hobbs summoned Henry Hearn for erecting a 'roundabout velocipede machine'* at the Bull Ring and causing an obstruction. Lord Clinton reserved the right to use this area of the town, where the old market house had stood, for exhibitions etc., but on this occasion his steward Mr Whiteway had refused permission. However, Mr Hearn had paid a toll to a Mr Coleman.
Punishment - a fine of 1s and 10s 6d costs, which was paid by Mr Coleman.
Western Times 24 May 1872 p9 col3
*A roundabout consisting of bicycles, which the riders possibly pedalled around themselves. There were also steam-driven versions.
http://www.nfa.dept.shef.ac.uk/history/rides/history.html has a photograph of a bicycle roundabout
1877 William Noon, a coachbuilder, was convicted of stealing a gig from another coachbuilder, William Whiddon.
Punishment - 4 months imprisonment with hard labour.
Western Times 4 January 1877 p3 col1
1894 Hedley Boon, a painter from Ashburton, and another youth from Buckfastleigh, were charged at Ashburton Petty Sessions with 'Furious riding.'
Punishment - a 7s fine, inclusive.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24 April 1894 p7 col5
At Ashburton Petty Sessions Mr Richards, appearing for the Ashburton Drug Company*, did not deny that the company had sold poison without the required label showing the seller's correct name and address. The bottle in question was labelled Coleberd and Co., Sidmouth - the shop had previously been a branch of this company.
Punishment - a £3 10s fine, inclusive.
Western Times 29 September 1899 p6 col4
*The Ashburton Drug Company was Company No. 60718, incorporated in 1899 and dissolved before 1916.
National Archives BT 31/8356/60718
Board of Trade and successors http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk - Accessed 15-1-2014
Evelyn King, aged 7, was charged with stealing flowers from the
churchyard. The disappearance of flowers from graves had become quite a
problem, and the parishioners had decided to prosecute the first person
caught taking them. The sexton, John Palk, spotted the child one morning
with something under her apron, and when he lifted the apron found
flowers concealed underneath. J. H. King, father of Evelyn, pleaded
guilty on her behalf, and told the court that Evelyn said she took the
flowers to school for lessons. The girl was 'severely cautioned', and
was warned that she might be called up for judgment.
Western Times 29 August 1906 p4 col6
*See Growing Up in the 1960s.
In The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, 1926-27, vol 7, p67 it is said that Ashburton Police, at the instigation of James Mortimer, made 'inquiries' into Alfred John Hardy's claims. The inquiries do not seem to have deterred him.
'It was not uncommon to see two warders from Princetown Prison arrive, on horseback, and we knew then that a prisoner was on the run. A poster with a photograph and description of the fugitive would appear in Saddler Eales' window, and as a child I always felt sympathy for him, especially as the mother of one of my friends said, 'He's some mother's poor boy'. It is difficult to imagine life in those days when communication was so limited, few people had telephones, so news came a day late when the newspapers arrived. Interesting items were passed by word of mouth, getting more exaggerated with the telling.'
Many thanks to Hazel Bray for the above account