A Saturday afternoon late 1970s two brothers busy on their farm at Outhill (on the road from Mappleborough Green to Henley) a visitor arrives asking questions about local history. Has anything interesting ever happened there?
The answer they gave me (for I was the intruder) was Yes, a murder was committed here, so they say. Apparently, a maid had been flaunting herself leaning out of the upstairs window and her jealous farmworker lover shot her. When? About 100 years ago.
Curious to unravel the mystery, I was at a loss where to start. I could not read all the newspapers for the second half of the 19th century and the Studley burial register made no mention of a murder at this time (although earlier murders are recorded) The mystery remained frustrating but not forgotten. To my aid came a pipe-smoking man in a deerstalker hat; not a resident of Baker Street but of High Street, Studley. While recording the gravestone inscriptions in Studley parish church yard our own Arthur Daniels had come across the grave of Sarah Kirby,d.April 2?th 1862, age 23? and he had been told that this was the grave of the girl murdered at Outhill. A lead at last! Now I could check the appropriate time in the newspapers and burial register.
The burial register entry: Buried April 26, 1862, Sarah Kirby
of Outhill, Studley, age 25 years (no mention of suspected foul play or murder). But the
Warwick Advertiser for Saturday, April 26, 1862 was more helpful. It had a
HORRIBLE MURDER AT OUTHILL FARM, NEAR STUDLEY. The story read like a Victorian melodrama, with a charming, God fearing heroine and an evil, nasty villain. Below is a precis of the newspaper article with much of the original phraseology retained:-
On Wednesday forenoon (i.e. 23 April) an atrocious murder took place at Outhill Farm. The farm has been occupied for some time past by Mr.Edge an unmarried gentleman, whose aunt, Miss Davis, acts as housekeeper. The murderer is a man named George Garden er who gives his age as 21 hut appears much older. He is a short, thick-set; fellow with sandy whiskers and moustache and a sensual cast or countenance. For the last eleven months he has worked for Mr.Edge as a waggoner and lived in the house during all that time.
The victim was a young woman who had served Mr. Edge for nine months as domestic servant. She was called Sarah Kirby, about 24 years old, a rather good-looking girl who bore the best character. Her master had utmost confidence in her. She was decidedly pious and regularly attended a class meeting at Studley. Last summer Gardener began to pay his address to the girl but. she repulsed him and his attentions annoyed her so she complained to Mr. Edge who told Gardener he would discharge him if he gave any further cause for complaint. Gardener became more reserved but his love changed to hatred.
Early on Wednesday morning Mr. Edge noticed Gardener looked wild and strange while ploughing a field near the house. Then when Mr.Edge had gone away Gardener used extraordinary language and said he would commit a murder one night, He also threatened to murder the boy who led his horses and was only prevented from thrashing the lad, who had done nothing wrong by the interference of another man working nearby. At 9.30 a.m. Mr.Edge left the farm to go to Tanworth on business, leaving Miss Davis and Sarah Kirby in the house. One hour later, Gardener went to the house and found Sarah Kirby washing in the back kitchen asked her to get him the gun, which he had often had before, to shoot rooks. She fetched it from the sitting room; it was a doublebarrelled birding gun loaded. Then she continued washing. He took the percussion cap off the nippleand pricked the nipple in order that when the gun was discharged it might not hang fire. He then put the cap back on the gun and as the girl was stooping forward over her tub he fired at her, the charge entering the spine just below the neck. The poor girl fell down backwards and died without a struggle. Miss Davis, who was in the kitchen, went into the back kitchen as soon as she heard the report of the gun and saw Gardener standing near his victim, gun in hand. She was much frightened but ordered Gardener to leave the house at once. He turned on her and presented the gun as though he was going to fire.
She ran along the passage into the sitting room and slammed the door and locked it before Gardener could reach it. He tried to force open the door but could not and went back to the kitchen. He then returned and asked her to open the door. She refused. He went into the yard with his gun as though to shoot her through the window. The room has two windows looking out on different sides of the yard. She hid in the corner between two windows where she could not be seen from the yard. He apparently thought she had escaped so he searched the outside of the house. A boy was at work in the garden and as Gardener passed he presented the gun at the boy, who laughed, thinking this was done in fun. Gardener did not fire at him. Not finding Miss Davis, he went back into the house and with a coal hammer he broke open the desk in the large kitchen and took from it powder and shot and money.
Miss Davis heard him break the desk and she escaped through the window. Next to the house is a well and a quickset hedge separating the yard from the garden. Miss Davis stood on the well -bucket and eventually got over the hedge with the help of the boy in the garden. She ran to the house of Mr.Savage --- a farm nearby, where she took refuge. Gardener made off by Pooles Wood, unpursued.
Later newspaper reports show that Gardener did not remain at liberty for long. The Warwick Advertiser for 10 May, 1862 mentions the case in passing. Sergeant of Alcester was unable to deal with a suicide there because he was lodging George Gardener in the county gaol in Warwick. Gardener had probably been kept in custody in Alcester prior to this and was then transferred to Warwick ready for trial. The newspapers of the following weeks do not mention the case but further research will probably show that Gardener was hanged at Warwick for the foul murder he had committed..
Does anyone know of any other exciting crimes or happenings rumoured to have happened in our area? I would be pleased to investigate. Readers will note that the newspaper report of this crime was not exactly the same as the story which has been passed down: but rumours usually have some foundation.
Summer 1986 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1991