Murders in the village...

 

Although murder or manslaughter is fortunately a rare occurrence in any village, it is remarkable that there were two in Bere Regis within the space of less than ten years - one in 1877 and the other in 1886. In addition there was one earlier on in 1818. There have doubtless been others during the course of the village's history but any records regarding them have not survived. The two referred to are, however, well documented by detailed contemporary newspaper accounts of the initial reports, inquests and subsequent trials.

Below is a press cutting about the first murder in the village...

MURDER OF PREGNANT WOMAN

A Bere Regis woman, Priscilla Brown was murdered on 14 May 1818.  She had been about 7 months pregnant according to Thomas Nott the Bere Regis surgeon who examined the body which had been found on a dung hill in Back Lane, behind West Street, Bere Regis.  She had been suffocated. 

The father of her unborn child, John Gollop (who had recently married Charlotte Gilham) was arrested, tried, found guilty and hanged at Dorchester gaol on 27 July 1818.  The motive had been to avoid the possibility of having to pay maintenance money under a Bastardy Order.  Priscilla Brown had already been receiving maintenance of 2s.0d per week on account of her 8 year old son by another man under a Bastardy Order.

The next murder was that of a Policeman...

Woodbury Hill fair had always attracted a large influx of visitors to the village, and there was often a good deal of associated drunkenness and rowdyism among both visitors and local inhabitants when ugly situations could rapidly develop. On such occasions it was customary for the one local policeman to be reinforced by additional colleagues so that most of the potential trouble spots could be patrolled.

Woodbury Hill Fair

On the evening of 20 September, 1877 the local policeman Pc. Thomas Bishop and Pc. Sansom were on duty in West Street, when at about 11 pm a dozen or so people came out of the Drax Arms. A quarrelsome and noisy situation soon developed during which one of the number, Henry Lock, a 25-year-old labourer, was heard to mutter threats against Pc. Bishop who had previously summoned him for being drunk and disorderly.

The Drax Arms today

The two policemen tried to persuade the troublemakers to go quietly home, and towards this end Pc. Bishop separated the ringleader, Lock, from the rest to escort him along a passageway to his home, whilst Pc. Sansom kept the remainder at the entrance to the lane.

Shortly afterwards a neighbour came running for the assistance of Pc. Sansom, saying "Come quick as your mate is beaten bad." Sansom found Pc. Bishop lying on the ground with severe head injuries after Lock had been seen to attack him about the head with a large flint. Pc. Bishop was taken home, and in spite of Dr. Lys having attended him all night, he died at 5.30 the following morning.

Henry Lock was arrested, subsequently convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a long term of imprisonment.

Pc. Bishop, who was 38-years-old, had been the village policeman for the past 2 1/2 years and had been held in very high esteem, for on the day of the funeral all the village shops were closed and window blinds were drawn in every house. The funeral procession was headed by a contingent of 24 Constables under the command of the Chief Constable, followed by members of the inquest Jury and practically the whole population of the village. The village schools were also closed, as in the log-book for the boys' school the following item occurs for 24 September, 1877:

Holiday in the afternoon on account of the burial of the Pc, who was killed.

Constable Bishop left a widow and an 11-year-old child, and the villagers started a fund for them which was opened with a donation of £50. The highest sum which was at that time payable in such circumstances from official sources was £63 17s. 6d. and it was not until 14 years later that widows of policemen killed in the execution of their duties were entitled to a pension.

The third murder was of a Grandmother by her Grandson...

The murder occurred in 1886 at Chamberlaynes in a cottage opposite the school, and was reported in the Dorset County Chronicle of 14 October, 1886 as follows, under the heading:

SHOCKING MURDER
at Bere Regis
A YOUNG MAN SHOOTING HIS
GRANDMOTHER

Shortly before going to press information reached us of a murder committed in this village. A young man named Sidney Russell, aged 21, on Tuesday night shot his grandmother, Sarah Scutt, aged 79, with a pistol. After committing the dreadful deed he went to the police station and gave himself into the custody of Pc. Bugby, to whom he confessed his crime, for which no motive has yet been assigned. When surrendering himself he said to the constable "I have shot my grandmother; you must go and lock into it." This was at five o'clock in the morning. The young man lived with his grandmother, with whom, it is said, he was not on very friendly terms.

The latter sentence appears to be something of an understatement as Russell had been about to leave his grandmother for good by emigrating to Australia. In fact his departure was so imminent that his luggage had already been taken to Wareham station, and he had spent the evening going around Bere Heath and Hyde making last farewells to various friends and acquaintances. No really clear motive emerged at his subsequent trial, but it was by some supposed that the number of farewell drinks he had taken with friends during the evening had been sufficient to unbalance him.

The effect which this episode must have had on the neighbouring school can be imagined from the following relevant entries in the Heath School log book by the mistress, Miss Horth:

Oct 15. No school on Thursday afternoon as the room was required for the inquest up-on the body of Mrs Scutt who was murdered by her Grandson Sydney Russell in the cottage opposite the school on the previous Tuesday night.

Nov 9th. Compelled to close the school this afternoon as I have to go to Winchester to appear as a witness against Sydney Russell.

Nov 16th. Returned from Winchester & reopened school on wednesday morning - was kept at Winchester 7 days waiting the trial which took place on Tuesday 16th & the unhappy young man was condemned today, but with a recommendation to mercy on account of mental-weakness.

 

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