Unknown female 1882 June 24th Amesbury
Discovery of a Dead Body on Salisbury Plain
On Saturday morning, the shepherd of Salisbury Plain, not the poetic inspiration of quaint Herbert, but the quiet John Howell in the flesh, had to perform a duty most unusual to him – to procure assistance to remove a dead woman, who was entirely unknown to him and to the neighbourhood, who had evidently fallen over the edge of a disused quarry near Woodford, and had died probably from the effects of the shock, accelerated by exposure and hunger. An hour later and ominous rumours of murder having been committed had disturbed the quietness of Amesbury – where the body had been removed – into something like excitement, which, even when the truth became known, scarcely subsided.
The poor creature’s last few days had evidently been of the most degraded unhappy nature. One of the class who unfortunately haunt the city of Salisbury – unknown here to all, she had been seen walking in the streets on Friday evening, was, indeed, dislodged from doorways where she had sought shelter. On Saturday she was again seen seeking the shelter she could not find; and on Monday, looking more dispirited than ever, the laconic word “rough,” with which she replied to the policeman who accosted her, too well testified to the character of her rest.
On Tuesday and Wednesday she was seen loitering about the neighbourhood of the Druid’s Head, where once she was charitably relieved. It is then imagined she got on to the Plain – the wide open, unsheltered plain; and being rather near-sighted – and already saturated by the downpouring showers of Tuesday and Wednesday and weakened by continued exposure and want of nourishment – innocently fell into the open, almost entirely-unprotected quarry pit, where her body was eventually found. This had been the end of the poor woman; no marks of personal injury could warrant a thought of violence having been used; the saddest marks were those of exposure and starvation which were only too-significantly apparent on her travel-marked body.
The inquest was held at the Amesbury workhouse on Monday morning before Mr R M Wilson (county coroner). The body presented a sad condition, decomposition having set in. The deceased was apparently nought but a collection of bones; she was all angles.
John Howell, a shepherd, of Woodford, was the first witness examined. He stated that on Saturday he was tending his sheep along the bottom of the downs at Woodford, when, as he was walking by the side of chalk pit, he saw someone, as he then believed, lying down. Imagining that the person was asleep, he called out, but as no answer was returned he went up. He then found that it was the deceased – life being quite extinct. She was lying on her back with her head turned round. The body had the appearance of having been there a day or two. He immediately gave information to Mr Trask. Afterwards, Mr Supt Stephens arrived and took charge of the body.
A juror : Was there any appearance of a scuffle having taken place?
Witness : No; it seemed to me that she had fallen over from the top.
Another juror : Were there any marks of an encampment there or in the vicinity? No.
Mr John Stephens, the superintendent of police for the Salisbury district, stated that on Saturday from information he received, he proceeded to Woodford Down, where he found the dead body of a woman lying in a disused quarry. On examining the body – which was lying on its back slightly inclined to the left side – he saw a fresh abrasion on the left hand, which was partially under the body, and unlike the position of the right arm, which was extended. The body was lying on a quantity of rough stones which had fallen from the top. There were no other marks of injury that he could see. On examining the ground he found no signs of any struggle having taken place. As far as he could judge, the woman was from 40 to 45 years of age. He caused the body to be conveyed to the workhouse. On searching the clothes, he found in the pocket a black leather purse with steel clasps, containing 6½d in money; also a skein of silk and a pencil, and a comb, soap and flannel. The clothes on the body showed that before the woman came into the pit they had been sodden with water.
A juror : Do you consider she died a natural death? I do.
The juror : From exposure? From exposure. But I also think she fell over the edge of the quarry. The edge is only protected by a low fence.
Arabella Foyle, unmarried, and who resides at Mr Golby’s farm at the Druid’s Head, deposed that she had seen the body, and she could now state that she saw the same woman on Tuesday evening between the times for tea and supper pass the Druid’s Head. On the following morning, as they were at breakfast, she came to the house, and had some food given her. In answer to her inquiry, she said she had intended going to Devizes, but finding that she would not be able to get there she had returned. Two hours later, she again saw her – seated by the side of the road leading to Devizes. At about eleven o’clock, she saw her seated by the side of the road leading to Salisbury. She certainly did not appear strong. She could not talk plain, and when she came to the house she was all in a tremble. She was certain that she saw her first on the Tuesday.
A juror : Did you consider her a weakly person? I thought she trembled from weakness.
James Ingram, a servant in the employ of Mr C R Smith, stated that on the previous Tuesday at about eleven o’clock as he was driving his master to Salisbury, he saw a woman who he believed to be the deceased lying by the side of the road on the Salisbury side of the Druid’s Head. She then appeared very badly clad and weak. He did not see her face, but he identified the clothes of the deceased as the same that this person wore.
PC Bond, of the Salisbury city police, stated that on Saturday week evening (the 10th) – just as the public-houses were closing – he saw the deceased in the streets. She accosted him and inquired where she could get a bed. The landlady of the “Waggon and Horses” was standing at the door at the time, and he suggested that she should try there. The landlady, however, could not accommodate her. On the Monday morning following, he again saw her on the Devizes-road near the style leading to Stratford. She was then going towards Salisbury, and on his asking where she had come from, she said Southampton. On his telling her that that couldn’t have been so, she said, “Oh, I’ve forgotten; it was Romsey.” He then asked where she had slept, and she replied “rough.” He asked her where she was going, and she replied to Devizes. He then told her that she was going in the opposite direction, and advised her to turn round and pursue the Devizes-road. This she did.
The witness – subsequently re-called – stated that the woman was in Salisbury all Friday night, as a policeman started her out of several doorways. She then told PC White that she originally came from Bath.
Mr Pyle, surgeon, of Amesbury, stated that he first saw the body – in company with the superintendent – on the previous Saturday. The deceased was about 5ft high, from 25 to 30 years of age, of light complexion with reddish-brown hair; her face was sunburnt; there were several front teeth gone in the upper jaw; there was an old bruise on the right hip, an abrasion on the left hand, and a discolouration of the right side of the face. There was great emaciation of the body. There were no external marks of injury sufficient to account for her death.
A juror pointed out that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday there was no rain; and that consequently – as the poor woman’s clothes were wet – she must have lain in the pit some days.
The Coroner, in summing up the evidence, pointed out that nothing whatever was known of the woman – she was what was commonly known as a tramp. She died, possibly from exhaustion or from an accident, but there was no evidence to show that it was at all the result of an act of violence.
The jury returned a verdict of “Found dead – with nothing to lead to the conclusion that she died other than a natural death.”