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Comment: The murder of squire Edward Watts of Hanslope

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MANY tales of the local past are well known and have often been told.

However, to refresh the reminiscence of the region’s heritage it is as well to retell a few. One such story is the sensational murder of Edward Watts, a popular squire of Hanslope.

Well regarded by his tenants, he had initially undertaken all the game keeping duties on his estate until, heeding the advice of his son in law, in 1910 he employed two gamekeepers instead.

One, an ex-miner, was William Farrow, who with his wife and small children moved from the Old Wrestlers Inn at Mursley to take up the occupancy of a small cottage at Tathall End, Hanslope.

A middle aged man, well built and about six feet tall, he seemed to possess a quiet disposition, until in 1911 while out shooting with the squire he was badly affected by sunstroke, having to be carried home as a result.

Thereafter, his behaviour became increasingly strange, and concerns were raised about his bouts of heavy drinking. Nevertheless, during the early part of 1912 when Edward and his wife went abroad for a holiday they entrusted him with the care of their favourite retriever.

However, through supposed neglect the animal died and Farrow was given two weeks immediate notice. Then it seems that the gamekeeper began to plan a deadly revenge.

Since estate keepers were expressly forbidden to carry firearms on the Sabbath, he hid his gun in a roadside spinney and, when Sunday arrived set off on his deadly mission.

Along the way he briefly stopped at Manor Farm to ask for a drink of beer but, as the farmer’s wife would later recall, ‘his eyes were glassy, and he did not seem natural’. Farrow then made his way to the North Spinney and having retrieved his gun concealed himself in the undergrowth.

On that lovely summer day, Edward was strolling home from church when, as he approached the gates of his mansion, a gunshot suddenly rang out.

As he fell Mrs Watts rushed to his aid but on glimpsing the assailant half hidden in the trees she dropped to the ground and shouted, ‘he’s firing again’. The first blast had embedded over a hundred pellets into Edward’s head, while tearing his black frock coat to shreds the second shattered his back.

Hearing the shots, the coachman’s wife and son hurried to the scene and meeting his father on the way the boy told him about the tragedy. Displaying great courage the father climbed the fence to search for the murderer, but the sound of a third gunshot brought the gruesome deeds to an end. With his gun beside him William Farrow lay dead in the long grass and, having been summoned by telephone, police officers arriving by car from Newport Pagnell discovered several cartridges in Farrow’s pocket. His body was taken to his cottage while the lifeless form of the squire was conveyed to the mansion by a stretcher party.

In a distant corner of Hanslope churchyard, Farrow was buried after dark, his suicide having left a widow and three daughters to fend for themselves. Since Mrs Farrow had been unaware of her husband’s intent, much sympathy was extended to her and the family but this vanished when she erected a gravestone inscribed with the words, ‘waiting ‘till all shall be revealed’. This so enraged the locals that a police guard had to be placed at the graveside to prevent the stone from being smashed.

Edward’s body was cremated at Golders Green and the ashes returned to Hanslope, to be carried into the church at the funeral by two of the estate tenants.

As for Sophie Watts, she never recovered from her husband’s murder. Often she would wander alone to the scene of the tragedy and by arrangement with the county council the road was diverted from the location. The site of the killing was left to become overgrown and forgotten, but today a plaque marks the site.

 

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