High Bickington Extracts from Devon Newspapers
North Devon Journal, Thursday 5 May 1836
HIGH BICKINGTON—An Inquest was held on Thursday last, by A. Vallack, Esq., At High Bickington, on the body of Thomas Gooding, who in the temporary absence of his mother caught himself on fire, and shortly afterwards expired. Verdict - Accidental Death.
North Devon Journal, Thursday 23 March 1837
BARNSTAPLE—Horrid Murder.—It is our painful duty to report a brutal murder, which was perpetrated in this neighbourhood on Monday last. The victim is a MR KNIGHT, a middle aged man, an itinerant quack doctor, and the murderer is generally supposed to be Robert Alford, a man aged about 28, of profligate habits, son of a very respectable farmer of that name in the parish of Highbickington, about nine miles from this town on the old Exeter road. It appears that on Monday evening the parties were drinking at the Ebberly Arms, a public-house in the parish, and within a mile and half of the village of Highbickington: KNIGHT wished to go to the village but did not know the way, and it was said that Alford would have to pass through it, and would probably accompany him, which he consented to do: KNIGHT then treated him to a pint of two or beer, and they left the house together at half past eight o'clock, Alford carrying in his hand a reap-hook. From this time nothing was seen or heard of the deceased until the following morning, at about half past seven, when his body was discovered by a labouring man lying in the road about half a mile from the Ebberly Arms, and quite dead. His face presented a shocking appearance; he had received a wound, (apparently from a hook) which extended from his chin around by his ear, terminating in a deep incision at the back of his head, his upper lip also was very severely cut and bruised; but there were no marks of violence on the body. It is supposed that after he had received these injuries the deceased endeavoured to make his way back to the Ebberly Arms; blood was traced along the road from a considerable distance, and a quantity of blood was also found by a gate on the road side, which the deceased is thought to have leaned upon; but, doubtless, overcome by increasing weakness, from the very great effusion of blood, he was unable to proceed further, and sank down in the road where the body was discovered, as we have already stated, stiff and cold. His death was probably hastened by the extreme severity of the night. The body was removed to the Ebberly Arms, and messengers were dispatched for the surgeon and coroner, while the constables went in quest of Alford, whom they found at his father's, at work in the garden. He strongly denied all knowledge of the bloody transaction, and said that he came home the preceding evening by another road, but his statement is contradicted by the testimony of three females who met him late at night not far from the spot where the deceased was found. An Inquest was held on the body in the afternoon, before H. A. Vallack, Esq. Coroner, but, after prolonged deliberation it was adjourned to the following day (Wednesday). Alford remains in custody awaiting the verdict of the Jury. It is said that neither of the parties were intoxicated when they left the public house, nor had they quarrelled.
Thursday Noon.—We have just learnt that the Inquest was adjourned again last evening, and will be resumed today.
North Devon Journal, Thursday 30 March 1837
HIGH BICKINGTON—Murder at Highbickington.—The Coroner's Inquest terminated on Thursday last. After a patient and anxious investigation, which was protracted during three following days, the Jury returned a verdict of "Wilful Murder" against Robert Alford, who was fully committed to Exeter Jail, on the following day, to take his trial at the autumn assizes.
Trewmans Exeter Flying Post, Thursday, March 30, 1837
MURDER OF JAMES KNIGHT OF THIS CITY.
We regret again to have to record the perpetration of a most wilful murder in this County.
The unfortunate victim is Mr. James Knight, of this city, known as a Herbal Doctor, in which character he travelled the country. On a journey for purposes such as these, he called on the evening of May 20th inst. at the Ebberley Arms Inn, in the parish of High Bickington on his way to that place, about 27 miles from Exeter, between Chumleigh and Barnstaple. Here he found a person of the name of Robert Alford, who learning from the conversation which ensued, that Knight was going to High Bickington, said, "That's my road, but I'm not going within a mile and a half of the village". Alford however, proposed that, so far as their route lay in the same direction they should go on together. From what cause this apparent understanding was not acted upon, does not appear: nor, if a consequence of impressions unfavourable to the prisoner which had arisen in the mind of Knight, is it now probable that they will now ever be known? But be this as it may, Knight quitted the public house alone. He had not, however, been gone above five minutes when Alford also left, having with him a bill-hook. Nothing more was heard of Mr. Knight until the following morning, when he was found by a waggoner dead in the road. On his head and neck were two severe wounds, apparently inflicted with a bill-hook or similar instrument. One of these extended from the back of the head round by the ear (a part of which was completely severed) and across the upper lip. The other was a little lower down, extending from the back of the neck to under the jaw, severing the fleshy part of the chin so completely that it had fallen down over the neckcloth.
Information of this horrid transaction having been given to Henry A. Vallack Esq. one of the coroners of Devon, that gentleman directed the immediate summoning of a jury, which met on Wednesday, and from the evidence of the landlord of the public house, Alford was taken into custody. The Jury persued their inquiry, adjourning from Wednesday to the following day, and at length returned a verdict of wilful murder against Robert Alford, who, on the coroners warrant, was on Saturday lodged in the Devon County Gaol.
Alford is 27 years of age, a married man and has one child. He is by occupation a farm labourer, and is the son of a small but respectable farmer in that neighbourhood, the sensation in which the consequence of this event is very great.
Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Thursday, August 3, 1837
TRIAL OF ROBERT ALFORD FOR THE MURDER OF JAMES KNIGHT.
The learned judge, (Justice Tyndal) took his seat on the bench at 9 o'clock and immediately after Robert Alford was placed at the bar, charged him with the wilful murder of James Knight, an itinerant Quack Doctor, at High Bickington, on the 20th March, by striking, cutting and wounding him with a browse hook on the head in various places. The prisoner is the son of a respectable farmer living at Votterel Farm, in High Bickington, and is lately married. He is a man of respectable appearance, about 5ft 7ins in height, strong in limb and well proportioned, brown hair of a rather light shade, blue eyes, hare lip, fresh complexion, but with a countenance bearing no particular marks of ferocity, although indicative of great determination. He appeared to be tolerably self possessed and occasionally made notes on the evidence, which he handed to his counsel.
Mr. Pread (with whom was Mr. Kinglake) addressed the jury for the Prosecution, and in a clear and temperate speech stated the circumstances of the case as they afterwards appeared in evidence. The Ebberly Arms, which is frequently referred to, appeared from a plan which was produced to be situate at a cross way on the north side of the turnpike road from Bideford to Chumleigh on the east side of the road leading from Ebberly House, the seat of Henry Hole Esq., towards High Bickington. Five roads meet at this spot.
Thomas Dennis, who lives at Roborough, going to his work on Tuesday 21st of March at about half past 7 o'clock, by the road at the western end of the Ebberly Arms, in the direction of High Bickington, found a man lying in the road about 1/4 mile from the house. The body was lying on his back, with legs crossed one over the other, and his hat was lying at his feet with a box. There were marks of blood on the gate is if a person had been leaning there. Christian Acty, was coming from the opposite direction from High Bickington just at this time, came as far as an oak tree about 20 yards from the body, and spoke to witness. She then went back for assistance. About three feet from the oak tree there was a pool of blood in the water table, near which were the deceased walking stick broken in two places and a bundle. Neither the box nor the bundle were opened. Thomas Hunt and John Cowman came; the body was carried to the Ebberly Arms and locked in the parlour; the flap of the dead man's trousers was unbuttoned, but nothing else that he observed was unbuttoned; the dead man had on dark clothes.
Christian Acty corroborated the statement of the last witness as to what she saw on the road, and added, that she helped to undress the body with the doctor, and cleaned the body; the trousers were very dusty and covered with hoar frost; and saw the bundle opened; there was a vast quantity of bills, socks, a dirty shirt, handkerchief and bandages; the bills were what he gave out for the cures; in the box there were boxes and bladders of pills and powders.
Wm. Copp keeps the Ebberly Arms; brought back the dead body with Thomas Hunt on a door; had kept the Ebberly Arms for two years and a half, and had seen the person whose body was found twice; he came to the house on Monday evening; he went out and returned again in about a quarter of an hour; he remained at my house until between about eight and nine. Alford, the prisoner was at my house that Monday; he came about 10 o'clock in the morning and had a hook with him, a kind of browse hook; he remained all day, and asked me to bind up the blade that he might take it home; he asked me to do that about the middle of the afternoon, and witness thought he was not too good to do it himself; he gave witness the hook, and he put it in the bar for him; it was a new browse hook; a man named Featherstone was there and saw the hook. Robert Alford, the prisoner, went from the Ebberly Arms about 9 o'clock in the evening, with James Knight, the person whose body was found in the road; before they went away from the Ebberly Arms Knight asked the prisoner if he was going to High Bickington Town, and he said he was; did not hear anything particular pass afterwards, saw them go as far as the door; they went together within half a minute, Knight wore a dark dress; did not take particular notice of dress of the prisoner, but it was a light dress. Alford called for the hook and took it with him; there were some notches in the blade. Alford was drinking the whole of Monday, in the course of which he drank ten half pints of beer and a share of three quarts, but he was not so drunk as he had been on former occasions; when he left with Dr. Knight he was able to walk; there was no quarrelling whatever throughout the day. George Warman and Matthew Cock remained drinking; Mark Bennett came into the house about five minutes after Alford left, and Warman went away about 1/4 hour after him; Warman was very drunk—witness saw him go over the footpath towards High Bickington at the east end of the house.
Elizabeth Copp, wife of the last witness, corroborated his evidence.
John Featherstone, mason, was at the Ebberly Arms in the afternoon and again in the evening; knew both the deceased and the prisoner very well; the latter was a very quiet and inoffensive man. Saw the hook the prisoner had there, it appeared a new one; we took particular notice of the hook, and measured the distance of a black mark on the handle from the end of the blade. He heard Knight ask the prisoner to go to High Bickington Town with him, and to wait a few minutes while he went out to gather bills. On his return he told witness he would rather go with the prisoner as he was not so "lushy" as Warman. The witness then produced the hook which he found at Vottrell Farm the next morning and swore it was the same he saw at the Ebberly Arms the day before, and that it was not then in the same state—the point was since broken and there was a notch in the blade about 2 inches from the commencement of the cutting part of the handle.
Mark Bennett was coming from Ebberly House on Monday evening to the Ebberly Arms, and when about 20 land yards from the Inn he saw two men standing at the western end of the house, who as he approached walked down the road to High Bickington; one was dressed in light, and the other in dark clothes; the latter was on the right side of the road.
Rebecca Hammond lives about 100 yards from the Ebberly Arms. On Monday night she left High Bickington Town in company with her Mother-in-law and her daughter, at 8 o'clock in the evening and reaches home at 1/2 past nine; the distance is two miles and a half. At Shuttley Hill (about half way) they met Warman; about a quarter of a mile further on, at a place called Shuttley Barn, they met a man with a light fustian jacket, with a hook or cleaver under his arm: I said, Good night; he replied Good night. I know Robert Alford very well; to the best of my knowledge it was him; I could not see his face; he rather dropped his head; we met no one else. Near Yelland House we turned in to a footpath to the Ebberly Arms, by which we avoided the place where the body was found. We had previously passed through where the path which Warman took joins the road.
May Hammond, aged 74, was called to prove having met two persons on the road, but her sight being bad was unable to identify them.
Maria Popham, a servant to the prisoner's Father, saw the prisoner leave Votterell Farm House with the new browse hook. In the evening about a quarter to nine he came back. I let him in; he went into the kitchen, took off his boots and went to bed. He did not speak to anyone; he did not bring in the hook. The next morning about eight o'clock Mary Bater came in and said a man was found dead near Yelland Moor with his ear cut in two. The prisoner asked if they knew who it was. He left the house after nine o'clock. John Richards showed me the hook on Tuesday morning, to see how it was notched. Prisoner wore the same fustian jacket on Monday and Tuesday but not the same waistcoat. I saw no marks of blood on his clothes or his bed. He was not expected at his Father's house on Monday night; he used to come when he liked. He was living with his wife at High Bickington Town.
John Richards, parish apprentice, to the prisoner's Father remembered bringing home a new browse hook from Barnstaple about a fortnight before. He never observed any notches in the hook before Tuesday. He saw the hook about breakfast time that morning and showed it to Maria Popham. Cannot say what time of day he first saw the hook now produced, or that it was the same he bought from Barnstaple. There were the letters T.V. on each.
Maria Popham was called to prove the hook was shown to her at breakfast.
Mr. John Cocks, a surgeon in the Navy, now residing at High Bickington, went to the Ebberly Arms about 11 o'clock on Tuesday, and saw the body; he removed the sheet and saw some wounds on the face. The body was then dressed and quite cold. The death must have taken place some hours previously. He afterwards assisted in undressing the body and examined the pockets. There was nothing in the trousers pockets, there was a key in the waistcoat pocket and a shoe lift and some soap, and in the coat breast pocket a purse with half a crown in it, and two pence adhering to the purse by blood. He opened the deceased's box with the key and found it contained medicines. The next day he made a post mortem examination in conjunction with Mr. R.B. Rouse, a Torrington surgeon. The witnessed then described in a very clear and intelligent manner, the result of the examination, without using, as far as he could avoid, any technical language. He applied the edge of the hook to the wounds, and formed the opinion that they were caused by such a hook. There were several wounds about the face and head. That which was the most extensive measured 10 inches and a half in length, commencing at the left nostril, dividing the ear and extending to the back of the head. The fatal wound was situate on the right side of the head, and was a little more than an inch in length; it fractured the skull, a portion of which was found on the brain. He found several pieces of metal in the large wound. The examination of this witness occupied more than an hour.
Mr. R.B. Rouse of Torrington, surgeon, had heard and approved of the testimony of the last witness. He produced a small piece of metal, which was applied to the edge of the hook by the medical gentleman, and was exhibited to the judge and jury, who examined it through a powerful lens. The hook with the piece of metal adhering to it, afterwards lay on the table, and was examined by the counsel and several gentleman present. The piece only filled part of the notch, but the general opinion was that it completely coincided with the part to which it was applied.
George Lavey, constable, produced the clothes in which the deceased was dressed, the box, the bundle and other effects which belonged to him. The prisoner was present at the inquest and touched the body.
James Fewings proved the identity of the deceased, and his clothes, stick and box. He was for about eighteen months in the employ of the deceased, and was in the habit of going a day's journey in front of his master, for the purpose of distributing his bills, and the deceased followed, collecting the bills and vending the medicines. They generally met in the evening and slept together. He left the service of the deceased about a month before his death and received two shillings for his services. On cross examination he stated that the deceased was very poor—that he never knew him to have more than four pounds in his possession at any one time, and that he was sometimes under the necessity of leaving his clothes as a pledge, for the payment of his lodging and debts, before quitting a town, which he redeemed as soon as he could procure money for the purpose.
Thomas Jones, a miller from Roborough, produced a bottle, containing a tape worm, which he found in the hedge near the spot where the deceased was found, and a snuff box which was on the other side of the hedge about a dozen feet from it. He recollected having seen the latter in the possession of the deceased.
This concluded the case for the prosecution, the prisoner's Counsel, Mr. Cockburn, then addressed the jury in a most energetic, eloquent and ingenious speech, which occupied an hour and three quarters in its delivery. It was listened to with profound attention, and was calculated to produce a very powerful impression in favour of the prisoner. He reminded the jury in the most forcible terms, that the evidence was merely circumstantial in judging of its effect: that at the last summer assize in this county, a man was condemned to death erroneously of evidence of a far stronger nature, and but for the exertion of some humane individuals would have suffered the extreme penalty of the law. He stated that viewing the case as a charge for murder, it was the most extraordinary one that had ever been presented to the consideration of a jury. No motive whatever was disclosed in the evidence sanctioning such a conclusion. It could not be done for the desire of gain—there was no pretence for suspecting malice or revenge. Both were negated by the poverty of the deceased, and the fact that the prisoner and deceased quitted the Ebberly Arms in the most friendly terms, the deceased proposed that the prisoner should accompany him. He commented on the shortness of the time which elapsed between the prisoner's quitting the inn and arriving at his Father's house: on the fact that several roads and paths were near the spot where the crime was said to have been perpetrated, and that the cries of the deceased would in all probability have been heard by persons passing near on a frosty night, when the air was more than usually favourable to the transmission of sounds: on the slight evidence of identity supplied by Rebecca Hammond, who might have mistaken the prisoner for Warman, or some other individual: and that the prisoner arrived at his Father's house drunk—that he slept soundly—and that there were no marks of blood on his clothes—that he made no effort to abscond from justice, or to conceal the supposed instrument of his crime, and did not hesitate, in compliance with popular superstition to touch the body in the presence of numerous persons at the time of the inquest. He also commented on the evidence with respect of the hook, and concluded his address with a powerful appeal to the jury, to give the prisoner full benefit of the facts which he had stated, and the doubts which no doubt present themselves to their own minds.
The learned judge summed up the evidence in the clearest and most able manner. He coincided in the opinion expressed by Mr. Cockburn, that the charge of the indictment for murder, was the most extraordinary he had ever heard of, on account of the absence of any assignable cause. That it would be for the consideration of the jury whether they were satisfied that the prisoner did kill the deceased, and if they were of that opinion, then as no motive was proved which constitute the crime of murder, the only presumption to be adopted was, that some quarrel had arisen between the prisoner and the deceased in their way, which led to blows and ultimately to a fatal result; and that if the death of the deceased occurred in that manner, the crime of the prisoner amounted to manslaughter, but not to murder. The charge of the learned judge occupied nearly two hours.
The jury after deliberating about twenty minutes returned with a verdict of manslaughter.
The learned judge, in passing sentence on the prisoner, observed that the evidence against him had been carefully collected, and must have satisfied the minds of all who heard it that the decision of the jury was correct. He pronounced the judgement of the Court, which was, that the prisoner should be transported to parts beyond the seas for the term of his natural life.
North Devon Journal, Thursday 22 June 1848
HIGH BICKINGTON—On Monday morning last, as a labouring man named John King, of the parish of Highbickington, was at work on the Taw Vale Railway at Chappletown, employed in drawing off deads from a cutting, a large quantity of earth suddenly loosened and fell upon him. The accident was observed by his fellow workmen, and the poor man was immediately extricated, but he gave very partial signs of life, and expired from his injuries in about half an hour. Dr Jones, of Highbickington, was promptly on the spot, but before his arrival the deceased was beyond all human aid. An Inquest was held on the body before John Henry Toller, Esq., on the following day, at which Dr Jones gave evidence that the wounds on the head caused by the accident were the occasion of death, and a verdict in conformity thereto was returned.
North Devon Journal, Thursday 19 April 1849
HIGH BICKINGTON—Fatal Accident.—On Friday last, an accident occurred to a respectable and aged farmer of this parish, Mr John Alford, 78 years of age, on his return from Barnstaple Market. He had gone to the Market in the morning, riding in his market cart, and accompanied by his son: they left early to return home, when, on the road between Newbridge and Chappletown gate, the deceased, who was sitting by the edge of the cart, accidentally fell over and alighted upon his head: his son lifted him up, but found that he had received serious injury on the crown of his head, and was speechless: he conveyed him home, with the help of Mr Thomas Cann, of this parish, who came up soon after the accident, but the deceased breathed his last before he reached his home. Dr Jones was called in to view the body, in whose opinion death had resulted from concussion of the brain. An Inquest was held on the body the next day, before John Henry Toller, Esq., Deputy Coroner; when a verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned. Deceased was perfectly sober at the time of the mournful occurrence.
North Devon Journal, Thursday, September 10, 1863
ASSAULT.—Richard Webber, of High Bickington, was charged with assaulting Elizabeth Cole, on the 27th. Mr. Tapley appeared on behalf of defendant.—Complainant is a servant living with Mr. Leamon, of High Bickington. On the above day she was sent to defendant's house with some rakes her master had borrowed. On her knocking at defendant's door he came out, and, according to her statement, without any provocation on her part, he gave her a kick, which he repeated two or three times. It appears that there had been some unpleasantness between defendant and complainant's master about his cattle having trespassed upon defendant's land, but why the defendant should assault the girl, the Bench were at a loss to understand. As, however, the complainant did not appear to have received much injury, defendant was fined 10s. and the expenses.
North Devon Journal, Thursday, May 16, 1867>/B>
Fire.—On Saturday last, a farm house, at Hele Town, in this parish, the property of J. H. Veale, Edq., of Passaford, Hatherleight, and occupied by Mr. J. Lemon, was discovered to be on fire, and was very quickly burnt to the ground. The greater part of the goods were fortunately saved. The fire origniated from the chimney, and was an occurrence which no foresight could prevent.