Murder in Bedfordshire

During our research for A Right Royal Scandal which features Flitwick and Ampthill, we came across this shocking murder which took place on Monday, 1st December, 1788, in Flitwick Wood, just two miles from Ampthill, Bedfordshire.

The victim was an Elizabeth White, of Ampthill, who according to her sisters, went out on the morning of the murder to meet a Joseph Cook(e), a baker of Steppingley, near Ampthill and told them she would be home by dinner time. There was speculation that Cook was a criminal and that she had gone to meet him for money (there were also rumours which were found to be untrue that she was pregnant). Elizabeth never returned.

A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
A Distant View of Ampthill Park by George Shepherd, (active 1782–1830). Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Her body was discovered between eleven and twelve the following day by an old man and his two sons, as they were gathering sticks in the wood. Her throat had been cut, an incision of about four or five inches in length, and down to the neck bone. There were four or five wounds near her mouth, her jaw bone had been broken and three of her upper teeth were bent out of place, her cheek bone was fractured, there were also several wounds and bruises on her head, one wrist was badly bruised and one of her fingers had been cut off just above the nail in a slanting direction, and another finger had been cut down to the second joint. A white handled case knife with about an inch broken off from the point, and the blade of a new pen-knife (both very bloody) with the piece of her finger, were found on her cloak, close to where the body lay.

The Coroner’s Jury sat to discuss the death. Mr Boldington junior, surgeon, at the request of the jury, cut open her head and found upon the head and face ten wounds, but no other fractures other than on the cheek and jaw bones; it was his opinion that the bruises were given with the claws and face of a hammer.

Cook was arrested and with other corroborating circumstances was committed by the Coroner to Bedford gaol to await his trial. The newspaper reported that he was a married man and described his wife as a very neat, decent woman, saying the couple had three or four fine children.

At the assizes, the trial took upwards of nine hours and the jury went out for an hour and a quarter before pronouncing their verdict: death! At the time of his demise, Cook acknowledged his guilt to the clergyman who attended him and he was then taken to the place of execution in a post-chaise. After the hanging, his body was cut down and delivered to the surgeons for dissection.

St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington
St Andrew, Ampthill © Copyright Paul Billington
Elizabeth was buried on 6th December, 1788 at St Andrew’s church, Ampthill.

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A case of 18th Century Witchcraft in Silsoe Bedfordshire

We came across this curious case in the British Mercury or Annals of History, Politics, Manner, Literature and the Arts 1788 and thought we would share it with you.

A few months since some extraordinary particulars were given in this paper relating to the daughter of Mr. Capon, a considerable farmer at Silsoe, in Bedfordshire, discharging from her stomach 52 brass pins, a pincushion stuck with pins and needles, a pair of small scissors, with an iron chain etc.

The strange propensity of this child to swallow the above and various other indigestible substances, was by the ignorant attributed to the power of witchcraft and a man named Saunders, a gardener at Silsoe, was reprobated as a wizard and was accused of having exerted his diabolical influence over Mr. Capon’s daughter.

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Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

About eight years ago Mr. Saunders and his wife were ducked at Silsoe till they were nearly drowned, on the supposition that one was a witch and the other a wizard.

About a month since the above mentioned Saunders died, and Mr. Capon’s daughter having, through the assistance of the Faculty much recovered in health, the ridiculous notion that her singular conduct was the effect of the super-natural agency of Saunders is amazingly strengthened; for though since April the child had been gradually recovering from a very ill state of health, the untaught multitude obstinately insist that the favourable change is but the natural consequence of the death of Saunders, who notwithstanding the strong prejudice against him was, by the more rational part of his neighbours always considered as an industrious, inoffensive man. Not only in Bedfordshire, but in many other parts of the Kingdom, the absurd notion of the power of witchcraft is as strongly prevalent as at Yatton, Bristol or any part of Somersetshire.

V0025858 A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light of his cauldron surrounded by creatures. Engraving by I. Wood. By: I WoodPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
V0025858 A wizard casting spells from his magic circle by the light
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The case also attracted interested from the media with the national ones giving similar accounts, some stating that the child had to be watched day and night in case she decided to start eating other things not designed for human consumption. We have done some research to try to find out who the child was and so far no luck, so if any of our readers have any luck in tracing her please do let us know. The wizard aka Mr Saunders could have been Thomas Saunders who was buried on 22nd April 1788 at Southill, Bedfordshire but apart from that there don’t appear to be another possible matches, so if those names mean anything to any of our readers please do let us know, we’d love to find out whether there was any truth in the story.

Source:

The British Mercury Or Annals of History, Politics, Manners, Literature, Arts Etc. of the British Empire, Volume 6, Issues 27-39, 1788