Chapter 3 Relic Hunters ( first draft) part 1 of 2
Manor Farm in Colwick was a hive of activity on the morning of Thursday 22d May. News of the dreadful murder continued to spread and excite interest in all of the neighbouring villages. The Inns and Taverns in nearby Nottingham were also witness to tales as to what might have happened at nearby Colwick. First came news that a family was missing. The next story was that the mother and children had drowned in the River Trent. Soon the truth was out; a woman and three children had been found with their throats cut in a small wood or spinney near Colwick. Some residents of Colwick, Sneinton and Nottingham believed they may have seen the missing family on the Tuesday morning. Others thought they might know them. In consequence of such interest there was no shortage of witnesses and constable Parr was kept very busy all morning taking down depositions for the forthcoming inquest. He had to be careful in recording exactly what was said and the process took some time. The witnesses came from Colwick, Carlton and Sneinton :the youngest witness was a servant boy of fourteen years, the eldest was John Swinscoe aged seventy years and the discoverer of three bodies. Among the witnesses were people claiming to be friends of the deceased and one offered to identify the bodies. Those who could read and write signed their own depositions. Those who could not made their marks. While some people genuinely wanted to help with the Inquisition there were others who had another interest in the murders. Nottingham was in the process of becoming an industrial town and many were those who had come to live there who previously lived in outlying villages. Many of these still hung to old beliefs, most especially the women. Some believed in earnest that relics from a murderer or objects from near a murder location could somehow be used as a talisman. Many other people were simply excited by a macabre interest in seeing the dead bodies for themselves and if that were not possible, to visit the site of the murder.
The fact of the wife and three children being discovered with their throats cut, spread through the town with a rapidity unexplained, and caused a consternation and horror which may be conceived but cannot be described. So intense was the morbid excitement to get a sight of the bodies and place where this foul and unnatural crime was perpetrated, that upwards of twelve thousand men, women and children hurried to the plantation where the bodies were found.[i]
The morning over Parr enjoyed a hearty lunch in his kitchen. Returning to his police duties, he decided to read through the depositions in his parlour where good light was afforded by the windows facing his orchard. Parr was an organised man with a tidy mind and his depositions were neatly stacked in order; on top of the pile was the statement given by Swinscoe. Parr had barely begun reading this when he thought he saw a shadow cross his window. Looking out he could see nothing so returned to Swinscoe’s statement. Next he distinctly saw a black shape pass the window. Racing out through the kitchen and round into the orchard, he found two men trying to get into his barn. He told them in no uncertain terms to leave his farm! He decided to follow as they slowly walked off down the lane leading to Manor Farm. Parr noticed with some dismay there was a large crowd of people waiting at the end of the lane. He rushed back into the farmhouse and donned his tunic and tall black hat and scooped up the depositions placing them carefully in a box under a table. He warned his wife and servant boy to stay in the kitchen and lock the doors. He then returned to the lane to find the crowd moving slowly towards him. Parr now had three concerns. He was responsible for the safe-keeping of the bodies. As yet the bodies had not been examined and they still lay in the barn. Not even the clothes had yet been searched. The depositions were also important evidence which had to be preserved. His final thought was for the safety of his house and family; inside were his wife and servant boy. No matter, Parr had decided he would let no-one pass and strode to meet the crowd as they moved towards his farm.
The crowd now filled the lane and kept on coming. Not just men and women, there were children of all ages too. They soon began making very clear what they wanted. Just as Parr feared, they all wanted to see the bodies. Parr asked them all to stop and was about to demand their immediate removal when he recalled a previous incident when a huge mob had descended on Colwick. In the reform riots of October 1831 a large mob had descended on Colwick Hall , seat of a notable opponent to reform, John Musters. An effort had been made there to turn them back. The response was a stoning for the defenders, then the crowd entered the hall and proceeded to sack it and attempted to burn it down. No lives were lost but the incident led indirectly to the death of the squire’s wife Mary Chaworth. Fearing a repeat of this outrage Parr had to act quickly. He asked to crowd to kindly stop while he made some arrangements. He would allow access to his barn but only on his terms. The crowd must be respectful and silent, must not touch the bodies nor anything at his farm, and must leave immediately once they had been through his barn and never return. He asked them to wait while he prepared the barn. Racing into the farm house he told his wife and servant boy what was happening. He asked his servant boy William Parker to race across the fields to the farm of John Blackner, explain what was happening at Manor Farm and to request urgent help from the police in Nottingham. He told his wife to lock all doors after he was gone, to keep away from all windows and sit on a chair in the pantry until his return. She tearfully obeyed he husband then Parr left the house to check the barn. He opened a side door and the main door in the barn, checked the bodies were mostly covered with blankets, then proceeded to the lane. Reminding the crowd to show respect and be gone quickly he took them slowly down to the side door, went in first to stand by the bodies then called the crowd to begin the procession.
They slowly filed in, the small doorway funnelling the crowd and making the process slightly easier for Parr to control. They shuffled silently past the bodies, eyes taking in the terrible scene. They left with tears in their eyes, with grim expressions and with many a shake or nod of the head. Most men doffed their hats and those that did not were reprimanded by Parr, eager to stay in control and protect the bodies at all costs. This macabre procession went on for the best part of two hours with Parr becoming increasingly worried. He could not guard the bodies and his house and home single-handed for ever. He wondered what the mob could be up to out of sight and feared for his wife. Just when he thought he could take no more he heard shouts and commotion in his farmyard. The procession thinned and then two police officers burst into his barn and proceeded in throwing out any spectators who didn’t move quickly enough. He recognised the uniforms, these were Nottingham Police. His message had got through. He left the barn and helped the two constables move people down the lane and away from his farm. At the top of the lane were two more constables and a sergeant who were stopping any further visits. The police now formed a cordon and finally Parr was free to check his farmhouse and his wife. He released her from her sanctuary in the pantry. Hugging each other tightly they gave thanks for their deliverance. Shaking with delayed shock, Parr realised the ordeal was now over. His intelligence and tact and ability to deal with people had saved the day. He had preserved the bodies, the evidence including clothing, possessions and statements. He and his wife were unharmed and his farm had not been fired. Without Parr’s quick thinking things could have turned out very differently.
Even as the crowds were filing past the bodies in Parr’s barn, events were taking another turn in Nottingham. A man charged with drowning his wife and three children was brought into a room in the Police Watch House to be examined again. This time he saw four gentlemen looking at him intently. Inspector Wilkinson introduced the mayor, Alderman Heard and Chief Constable William Barnes. The Mayor spoke first………………….
Copyright@Michael Sheridan 2013 All rights reserved
[i] Derby Mercury Wed 29 May 1844