Hello readers. Its here at last, I am posting up a draft first chapter of my book “Saville’s Spinney”. I have finally decided how to write this story. This is a story told by generations of my family. My late father used to take people to Saville’s Spinney in Colwick Woods and spin his own version of this tale. From 1963 to 1971 I lived in Carlton and unknowingly walked very close by the murder site countless times. I strongly feel a duty to set out the full and true story and not fictionalise it and create fictitious characters. My deep research has uncovered all the facts and I have found the current version of the story passed down through generations is not correct. My book will be like Kate Colquhoun’s “Mr Briggs Hat”, an account and not a novel. The novel can wait, this story must come first and now I am almost ready to begin.
Wanting to use the exact speech and grammar used in 1844 I have included it where possible and identified it by putting such in bold italics in speech marks. Other text marked in bold italics is taken from contemporary accounts like newspapers, trade directories, pamphlets etc. I will fully reference the book and explain exactly where the information came from. PLEASE NOTE, all text is my copyright, please do not take and use any of it, it has taken me two years of research and a book will be produced in 2014……..
Let the story begin………………………….
Chapter 1 – An Yll Wynde ( second draft)
Nottingham was experiencing some strange and unseasonable weather towards the end of May 1844. After a hot and dry spell in the first two weeks, the weather had suddenly changed, becoming very cold, windy and wet. It seemed as if the air suddenly changed. Frequent and heavy showers mixed with strong sunshine had produced a double rainbow over Nottingham, a sight seldom seen. Cold winds came howling in from the direction of Colwick and Arnold blowing to near gale-force on occasions. On Friday night 17th May, a very sharp frost was reported which caused damage to early crops of kidney beans, dahlias and potatoes. The strong and cold winds and frost were causing problems for many farmers and gardeners. The effects were noticed in the gardens at Sneinton Hermitage down to the farms and closes of a sleepy village just a few miles east of Nottingham.
Colwick farmer William Edward Parr was busily inspecting his orchard just before his lunch on Wednesday May 22nd. He was lost in thought, noting the damage to the fruit blossom. Holding the remains of some frost-damaged apple blossom in his hand, he suddenly noticed a boy waving at him. Then the boy shouted.
“Here I want you to go along with me¸ there’s three children found in the wood with their throats cut!”
Parr wheeled around, and dashed back into his farmhouse for his large buttoned tunic and black hat. Parr was no ordinary farmer; like his father before him he was also parish constable of Colwick. Finding his servant-boy William Parker at the table, he instructed him to follow him down the Carlton path with the horse and cart. He also asked him to bring some sacks from the barn. Leaving the farmhouse Parr ran over to the boy and asked him to lead the way. The boy ran ahead with a strange gait, limping badly on one leg. He headed towards a foot road leading from Colwick village to Carlton, quickly followed by the parish constable. Very soon the boy had turned left and was hobbling towards a steep green hill. At the base of the hill and slightly to the left lay a small spinney, part of Colwick Park and owned by the Musters family of Colwick Hall. The spinney had at one time been fenced around to keep out the Colwick Park deer. An old gateway provided easy entry and Parr saw an old man standing and beckoning to him in the trees. Parr walked through the gateway, into the spinney and the old man introduced himself as John Swinscoe. He pointed to where the bodies lay and Parr moved slowly and quietly through a peaceful wood, small bushes and trees just visible though the long green grass. All was still and silent. Parr stopped. There just below a small bank he could see some tiny bodies. He noted the dreadful scene before his eyes.
The children all touched each other. The biggest lay on its back with mouth and eyes wide open, looking up at the skies. The next child lay by the side of it as if they were looking at one another, its eyes were also open and the little boy lay rather at the feet of the two girls; it lay rather on its belly and the head resting upon the girls feet, and its face was partly covered by its petticoat. The bodies lay about nine or ten yards from the footpath, and no-one walking on the footpath could see them
Parr examined the bodies and found them all “stiff, cold and dead” and noted “the throats of all of the children were cut”. He returned to John Swinscoe and asked him to assist in putting the bodies in the cart. He replied he could not. Parr then decided to “look if any instrument had been used”. He returned to the bodies with John Swinscoe as witness and made a new discovery. Noting some marks in the long grass near the bodies he followed them; his first find was a woman’s right shoe just two yards away. Five yards away was a small bush and Parr found it was concealing a fourth body.
“Oh dear ! Here’s a woman with her throat cut”
Parr raised the woman’s left hand up as it was hidden by weeds. An open razor was in her hand, quite loose. He took the razor to examine it. The razor was covered in dried blood and half of the scale was broken off. “Here is the thing that’s done the job sure enough!” He took a handkerchief and carefully wrapped the razor, then placed it in his pocket.
Parr left the spinney to find his servant boy, returning with him and several sacks to move the bodies to his cart. The bodies were taken away one by one with the utmost care. Pools of congealed blood were left in the spinney where the bodies once lay. Parr asked both John Swinscoe and his son to follow them back to his farm; he required them to make a statement about what they had witnessed. The journey back to Manor Farm took little more than five minutes. The four bodies were moved carefully into Parr’s barn and placed on some fresh hay. The barn door was then bolted. Both Parr and his servant boy then washed their hands at the pump. John and Abraham Swinscoe were invited into Parr’s kitchen where Parr took down their depositions. Unable to either read or write they made their own marks at the foot of their statement. They were both asked to return to the farmhouse for a Coroner’s Inquisition and to be prepared to give testimony; they would be contacted when the date and time was set. Parr now had to urgently contact the County Coroner. He wrote a letter to Christopher Swann, County Coroner for South Nottinghamshire, outlining his discoveries. He wrote a second letter to a neighbouring farmer Mr Blackner. Parr had seen a tramp walking the Colwick to Carlton path only the previous day. The letter described the man and requested Blackner take him up and bring him to Parr’s farm for questioning. It also kindly and urgently requested him to convey a very important letter to Christopher Swann in Nottingham. William Parker was sent off by cart to deliver the letters. He drove to Mr Blackner’s Colwick Farm and then returned. Parr himself could not leave the farm now until the Coroner’s Inquisition was complete.
Pacing around his orchard, Parr was lost in thought once more. His parish duties were now weighing heavily on his shoulders. He had seen bodies before but nothing like this nor anything so savage. The sight of the dead children had particularly troubled him. He did not recognise any of the victims and concluded they must be from Nottingham. Parish Constables rarely had to deal with crimes like murder; this was Colwick not Nottingham! It was a peaceful parish with little more than one hundred souls. He realised that these were the worst murders he had ever heard of and that fact was made worse by one important detail; they had taken place barely five minutes journey from his farm. He had done his duty and already had a suspect for the dreadful murders. With luck he would be taken up and brought back to the farm. Parish constables were also volunteers and not full-time policemen. Parr was a busy farmer of fifty acres. He also had to find time to collect taxes and rates, arrest suspects, catch escaped prisoners, deal with church non-attendance, and evict vagrants from the parish. Parr represented the old system of policing which could be traced way back to the saxon tythingmen.
The coming Coroner’s Inquisition would be held within a few days as was the custom. It was for the Inquisition jury to determine the cause of death and also charge someone with wilful murder if possible. The bodies would have to be examined and Parr’s kitchen table, usually used at inquisitions, would not suffice this time; the examinations would have to take place in his barn. Parr was aware that news of these dreadful murders would soon spreadand that he must keep the bodies secure. Parr feared that Colwick would not be peaceful for much longer, indeed news of the murders was already spreading from Colwick to Carlton, Gedling and Arnold and many other nearby villages. News soon reached the town of Nottingham too and trouble was flaring in the Sneinton district. A local woman and her three children had not returned from a walk to Carlton. There was talk that she had thrown herself and children into the River Trent at Colwick Weir. Another rumour held a man responsible, a man well known in the Sneinton district. Wood Street filled rapidly with a loud and boisterous crowd, all paying special attention to one house. Inside were Samuel and Lucy Wardle, friends of the missing woman and children. Also present was the woman’s husband. He had returned from the walk to Carlton on the previous day. His wife and children had still not come back.
According to an old saying “An yll wynde that blowth no man to good, men say.”
Copyright@ Michael Sheridan 2013
All Rights Reserved
OK readers, hope you enjoyed it, comments welcome, it is a first draft. Next chapter “Taken Up” will be posted next, possibly in parts and should be available soon. Feel free to share this with anyone interested in Victorian / historical crime or indeed Nottingham history. Tis an opportunity to watch a work in progress, to see how it develops. I do plan to upload all first drafts to this account.