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Bledlow Tragedy

A Brutal Murder

The February blogging prompt from the Society for One-Place Studies is ‘Tragedies’ and, although a little late, I have chosen the brutal murder in September 1893 of Farmer, John Kingham, from the hamlet of Bledlow Ridge.

On a Friday morning in September, 1893, rumours circulating at Wycombe market was causing ‘Considerable excitement’, according to the Bucks Herald. Apparently, a farmer, named Mr John Kingham, from Bledlow Ridge just 6 miles from High Wycombe, and a hamlet of Bledlow, had been brutally murdered not far from his residence. The newspaper then went on to explain the rumoured circumstances.

The 1891 census shows that he was indeed a farmer and lived in Church Lane, Bledlow Ridge, a hamlet of Bledlow, Buckinghamshire. He stated that he was married although he lived alone at the time and, as we find from the inquest after his death, he had been separated from his wife for some time.

John Kingham was born in the parish of Ilmer, near Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire, about 1828. I have not been able to confirm his baptism or his whereabouts in 1841 as there a few possibilities. By 1851, it appears he was an Agricultural Labourer working on a farm near Quainton, just north of Aylesbury, Bucks.

John Married 23 year old Susanna Gregory on 1 Nov 1852 in the parish of Dinton, Buckinghamshire, about 10 miles from Quainton where John was living the year before.  In 1861 they had arrived in a small village in Bledlow, called Common Leys with a son, George and daughter, Sarah. John is still an Agricultural Labourer. They remain at Common Leys for, at least, the next 10 years but by 1881 John has done well for himself and is now a Farmer of 44 acres employing 1 boy. Susannah is still with him as is their daughter, Sarah. The Martins, who was to become John Kingham’s daily help are living 2 houses down.

Two years before his murder, in 1891, John Kingham is living alone and still a farmer. The address was Church Lane, Bledlow Ridge, this could still be Newell Farm as news reports of his death gave this as his address. His grandson was to live with him in the next couple of years. It would be said in newspaper reports to come that he was well known and respected.

It was originally reported in the newspapers that Mr Kingham had been walking with his little son close to a wood and upon hearing a shot being fired went to see where it had come from. His son apparently waiting a while and, when he did not return, raised the alarm. Many hours later, after a search, Mr Kingham was found lying in the wood ‘quite dead’. The Bucks Herald didn’t hold back on the gory details and stated that the deceased had his ‘brains dashed out & his throat cut, the body presenting a ghastly sight’. And hoped that the ‘miscreants who so foully did him to death were speedily captured & brought to justice’.

It transpires that, not surprisingly, some of these rumoured details weren’t quite correct.

Yes, Mr John Kingham, about 57 years, had been brutally murdered that night and, as the Bucks Herald reported the following week, a suspect in the name of John Avery, had been arrested. Mr Kngham, they reported was a steady industrious man although he did have many domestic troubles as his wife was living apart from him. He occupied Newell’s Farm, near the wood and his 13 year old grandson was living with him not, as rumoured, his ‘little son’. It was said a neighbour, Mrs Martin, would come in daily for the housework but Mr Kingham did all the cooking for himself and his grandson. A few days later 49 year old labourer, John Avery, was arrested on suspicion of the murder.

The body had, after the scene had been examined, been taken to the nearby The Boot beerhouse, close to where the deceased had lived, in Bledlow Ridge for the coroner’s inquest.

His widow, Susannah, in identifying the body, had little to say about the tragedy and was seen to be not so grief-stricken as she could have been, having not lived with the deceased for some time. Giving evidence, the 12 ½ year old grandson, Herbert Kingham, said that he had been playing and when he went home, he noticed the cows had not been milked and nothing had been given to the horses, which he though was odd. He went to Mrs Martin’s and after a while they looked for Mr Kingham but, not finding him they returned and Herbert stayed there for the night.

The Police officer gave evidence that there was blood on the back of Mr Kingham’s head but not much anywhere else. There had been no footprints, as it had been very wet that evening, no sign of a struggle as he had been struck from behind and therefore had no chance of resistance. No money or anything of any importance was found in the pockets and he mentioned that Mr Kingham was a ‘civil, quiet, harmless man’. No weapon had been found when the woods, fields & neighbourhood had been searched. The Medical Practitioner found there was an extensive wound across the front of his throat, about 2ins, which divided Mr Kingham’s windpipe, a small wound by the ear and a large wound at the back of the head which was ‘extending to brain substance’. There was also a fracture on the lower part of the head. It was said that the throat was cut after the blows to head and the body was ‘lying in natural position’ and, therefore, didn’t fall to that final position. It was thought that, after hearing shots he had ventured into the wood where he disturbed poachers.

The Coroner concluded that the deceased was brutally murdered and the circumstances were shrouded in mystery. The preliminary enquiry would be adjourned for a fortnight as the only evidence shows the deceased could not have done the injuries to himself.

There was a good deal of local interest at the County Police Station in High Wycombe, with a crowd surrounding the gates, when Mr John Avery was charged with the murder. The Bucks Herald reported that John Avery ‘preserved a very solid & cool demeanour during the enquiry’. He was described as a tall, wiry, powerful looking man of sallow complexion with a small head and face, grey eyes, hair light & thin & scanty grey whiskers with a short, closely cropped light moustache.

The Police Superintendent gave evidence of the scene, enquiry and a volunteered statement from the prisoner, Mr Avery. In this statement the prisoner claimed he did have his gun with him and had heard shots in woods. While walking further along the lane he had heard two further shots and voices. He could tell who they were but, when asked who they were, he would not like to say. The prisoner’s clothes had blood stains and when a knife was found in his pocket said ‘You’ll find none of the old man’s blood on that’. After making further enquiries between the Friday and Sunday, the Superintendent charged the prisoner, Mr John Avery, with wilfully murdering John Kingham. The prisoner had then told who he thought the voices were and named Jim Brooks and Mr Dell.

Mr Wood who was representing the prisoner said that there was no evidence against his client.

The following week the Bucks Herald reported on the arrest of the prisoner’s twin brother, Richard Avery on ‘suspicion of complicity in murder’. They lived together and, upon their house being searched a second time, trousers and a shirt with blood on them had ben found resulting in Richard Avery being arrested.

Many witnesses at the continued inquest gave evidence that there had been a previous case of poaching in which Richard and the deceased were witnesses against Mr Brooks and Mr Dell, therefore, causing ill feeling between them and both the deceased and Richard Avery. It was claimed that Brooks had previously threatened John Kingham.

Mr Thomas Horwood, who Richard Avery worked for, gave evidence that when asked Avery had named Brooks and had said that he would be next as Brooks had also threatened him.

The coroner concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to put the case to trial and the prisoners were discharged to a large crowd waiting outside ‘alternately cheering and booing’. I can only imagine how young Herbert would have dealt with the tragedy and also, having been living with John Kingham at the time, would he have moved back home to parents?

The brutal murder created much interest nationwide as the case was reported far and wide, including newspapers in Portsmouth, Newcastle and Leeds.

The next question would be, was anyone charged with the murder? Who was John Brooks and Mr Dell and were they involved?

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