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Authors: Sheila Hardy

The cretingham murder




Dedicated to Diana and Henry Mannwhose love of the past and curiosity toknow more led to this investigation.

First published 1998

This edition published 2008

The History Press

The Mill, Brimscombe Port

Stroud, Gloucestershire,GL5 2QG

This ebook edition first published in 2013

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© Sheila Hardy, 2008, 2013

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This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

EPUBISBN978 0 7509 5259 0

Original typesetting by The History Press



Foreword by Terry Hunt


1. Background to the Case

2. Sunday 2 October 1887

3. The Aftermath

4. Monday 3 October 1887

5. Thursday 6 October 1887

6. Friday–Sunday 7–9 October 1887

7. The Assizes, 15 November 1887

8. Finale

Appendix: Members of the Inquest Jury


Iwish to express my sincere thanks to the many people who have helped me build up the background to this case: Vic Llewellyn of The New Bell, Cretingham; the late Mrs Phyllis Burman; Mrs C. Ransome; Michael Brown; Alan Lettin; Neil Langridge; Mrs Wilda Woodland; A.A. Lovejoy; Beryl and Peter Smith; Julie Ashwell; Sarah Mitchell; Helen Vallier; Brenda Tracey; Rae Atkins (NZ); Michael Pinner; Peter Mays; Ann Hoole, Librarian of Framlingham College; Brian Martin, Magdalen College School; Robert Leon, archivist, St Luke’s Hospital; Rita Read, Haringey Museum & Archive Service, for details of Northumberland House;the helpful staff of the County Record Offices of Berkshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and Wiltshire; Ilfracombe Museum; Portsmouth City Record Office; the PRO at Kew and the British Library newspapers.

And an extra special thank you to Mike Reynolds and Patricia Burnham who ‘dug deep’ into records on my behalf; Trish not only entered into my enthusiasm to find the elusive Harriet Louisa but has kept the search going.


Igrew up in the village of Cretingham in the 1960s. Throughout my childhood, I heard older villagers talking about the terrible murder of the vicar which had happened so many years before. I believed the tales (fanciful or not?) that his spilled blood still stained the wooden floorboards of the bedroom at Cretingham House, where the awful deed had taken place. With each telling, the story became more and more grisly – not that my youthful imagination needed much prompting to run riot!

In 1998, I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword for Sheila Hardy’s original, limited edition ofThe Cretingham Murder. I am delighted to reprise my thoughts for this updated version, which will deservedly be reaching a wider audience.

For the past decade I have been privileged to have the role of Editor of theEast Anglian Daily Timesnewspaper. There is, of course, a strong link between the newspaper and the murder which took place in Cretingham in 1887. This sensational occurrence was one of the newspaper’s biggest early stories and was reported in full, graphic detail in the days following the heinous crime. Far more detail than we would be allowed to use, or indeed would want to use, in these modern times!

This is indeed a dramatic tale in which the truth is every bit as compelling as the myths and legends which I heard during my childhood, and this time no youthful fantasies are required.

Terry Hunt

Editor,East Anglian Daily Times


In the late summer of 1887 carpenters Frank Dodd and William Woolnough were among the craftsmen putting the finishing touches to a hunting lodge of mansion-like proportions, close to the upper reaches of the river Alde in Suffolk.

William lived in the nearby village of Friston where Frank, who was an Essex man, had found lodgings – and a young woman called Elizabeth Ellen Gildersleeves – for the duration of his contract. As they worked sawing planks for floorboards, or hammering into place the pieces of good seasoned oak which would cover the tops of the columns that rose high from the ground floor to support the massive arched glass dome stretched above the first floor gallery, the thick leaded pencil, an essential tool of their trade, was never far from hand. Used mainly for marking where incisions should be made, they occasionally used it to leave messages, not just for each other but for those who would come after them. It takes very little imagination to reconstruct what led one of them to write on a handy plank, somewhat piously, ‘our poor heads wont ache when this is taken down. This ought to be a good warning to young men to keep away from the beer.’ Thick head or not, the handwriting is both steady and remarkably good, a testimony to the solid basic education of the period.

The men seem to have been very conscious of the fact that what they were building would be there long after they were dead and buried, for in another inscription they direct future craftsmen working on the lodge to seek them ‘among the moles’. The desire to leave one’s name for posterity appears to loom large among the company, for George Rackham of Snape and Bob James from Leiston both added their signatures to pieces of wood which would be hidden from contemporary eyes.

Not all the writings were of sombre aspect. Inspired on one occasion to break into rhyme, the verse they produced is far too lewd to be incorporated here! Pride in their work is contained in the words ‘This cornice was fixed October 8th 1887 by Frank Dodd of Chelmsford Essex and William Woolnough of Friston Suffolk.’

8 October was a Saturday and the two had had much to talk over during that week: news so gruesome that one of them had written the important message which was to provide the inspiration for this book.

Just over a hundred years later, in the late summer of 1996, Henry Mann, a carpenter from Peasenhall, was engaged in carrying out renovations to that isolated hunting lodge. Taking out the old boards, he suddenly found himself reading the words left by his long dead predecessors. Being the sensitive craftsman he is, he found himself forming a bond with them, unable simply to jettison these messages from the past into the waiting skip. One piece in particular caught his imagination. Written along the edge of a board were the words ‘A fearful murder’. Tantalizingly, a second board carried the same three words and no more, as if lack of space had led to the abandonment of the project. Undaunted, Henry scrutinized every board until at last he found the one which read ‘A fearful murder was committed the first day of this month (October 1887) at Cretingham.A curate (Revd Cooper) cut the vicar’s throat at 12 o’clock at night. He stands committed for trial.’

Coming from Peasenhall where even today every villager knows the story of the murder of Rose Harsent, just as every Suffolk resident has heard of Maria Marten’s murder in the Red Barn, Henry wondered why he had never come across an account of this ‘fearful’ murder. Following his discovery, Henry and his wife, Diana, came to a talk I gave in Saxmundham. Their simple question – could I verify the statement on a piece of wood – started me off on a long, fascinating, and at times frustratingly infuriating quest to find the background to and perhaps the truth of a little known but quite bizarre Suffolk story.



The Revd Farley

When the Revd Mr William Meymott Farley was appointed to the living of Cretingham in 1863, there was no house available in the village considered suitable for a gentleman and his family. So, with the aid of a mortgage of £300 from Queen Anne’s Bounty, a clerical building fund, plans were promptly put into place to build a new parsonage. We have come to expect to find the large Victorian village vicarage situated close to the church it served but as this was not feasible in Cretingham, the new house was set in pleasant surroundings on the approach to the village on the Otley road. Until the house was ready, the Farleys lived in the nearby village of Brandeston, the vicar commuting to attend his parishioners.

In his late forties, Farley had been a clergyman for twenty-three years, having trained at St Bee’s, a theological college noted for its advancement of the Evangelical cause in the Church of England. In entering the Church he was following a family tradition, his father having held the perpetual curacy of Broad Town in Wiltshire.

The vicarage at Cretingham, from a painting by Frederick Farley, 1875. (Author’s collection)

The young man, having served his apprenticeship acting as curate in two parishes in Lancashire, was given better paid employment at Baldock in Hertfordshire in 1841, which had enabled him to embark on marriage the previous year and later, the responsibilities of fatherhood. His firstborn, a son called Frederick, marks this period in his father’s career by bearing Baldock as his second name. A curacy in Saffron Walden provided extra income but by 1845 William had been appointed to the living of Haddenham in Buckinghamshire and another son, Thomas and a daughter, Ada were added to the family.

In 1848 Mrs Farley died. The following year, William married Miss Susannah May who was to provide him with two further sons, William and Arthur and two daughters, Susannah and Elizabeth.

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Twelve years in Haddenham were followed by five in Kent and it was from the parishes of Bexley and Erith that William was to make his final move to Cretingham.

By the time the family moved into the new parsonage with its ‘favourable southerly aspect’, the family was growing up. Frederick at 21 had already left home. Described in the 1861 census as a ‘chymist’ he later became a ship’s surgeon. Thomas was 15, William 13, Susannah 11, Elizabeth 10 and Arthur 7. The 12-year-old Ada had died in 1860.

Curiosity makes us ponder on what life was like for the family in those early days. Since the later census records no living-in staff, we can only assume that the domestic staff came daily from the village. There would surely have been at least two maids as there had been in their Bexley household, with a gardener to attend to the extensive grounds and also act as groom when carriage transport was required.

And what of the education of the children? William, it has been established, spent the years 1865–6 at what is now known as Framlingham College. Arthur was probably taught at home with the girls until such time as he went off to school. Maybe they employed a daily governess and possibly both parents helped with the children’s education.

Such speculation is beyond this present narration. All we do know is that the Revd Farley performed his parochial duties according to the evangelical precepts held by most of his fellow clergy in Suffolk at that time. That he felt strongly about his own faith and the need to inspire higher and more moral principles into that faith is witnessed by his one known published work on the subject, a tract entitledOn Regeneration. Sadly, I have been unable to trace a copy of this work. His memorial tablet in Cretingham church states that he was a Greek scholar. Possibly, like many clergymen of the period, he had set himself the task of translating or commentating upon the great classical works.

During his early years at Cretingham, he was also very involved in politics, actively campaigning locally for the Liberal Party. However, in 1868 he severed all connection with that party when Gladstone introduced the measure to disestablish the Protestant Church of Ireland. No doubt, like so many of his colleagues, he saw this as a dangerous move which would encourage the spread of Roman Catholicism in England. A stalwart member of the Church of England, Farley was essentially a Protestant and as such, he was willing to befriend those who took their faith from within the Non-Conformist churches. A brief glimpse of Farley as outsiders saw him came in this tribute by Samuel Pendred, the Minister of the Union Chapel in Aldeburgh:

The good vicar of Cretingham...had been a visitor at Aldeburgh (1886) and when here, occupied lodgings where his gentle disposition was noticed and felt; he also manifested the goodness and charitableness of his Christian character by worshipping on several occasions with nonconformists. It was not only the pleasant surprise of seeing a clergyman in our dissenters place of worship that has made his visit remembered but his warm grasp as he took me by the hand when service was over, his fatherly, ‘God Bless you’ and earnest words about ‘the one way to that home where we all shall meet as brothers.’ . . . I have some hymns of his own composition sent from Cretingham among them, ‘His love shall keep me every hour/And raise me to the sky.’

Physically, Farley was a very large man, his weight increasing further as he aged. A newspaper report recalls that ‘his well known portly figure was often seen in the streets of Framlingham’. It was rumoured that at the time of his death he weighed nearly twenty stones. In old age he sprouted a long, bushy white beard which gave him a truly venerable appearance.

In later life his par ishioners found him of somewhat irascible temperament, given to impetuous outbursts over minor matters or indeed over nothing at all. With true Suffolk forbearance they ‘never took much notice of it’. One gains the impression too that he could be of a jealous disposition and was likely to be mean where money was concerned. Certainly he was reluctant to pay his curates their due. It may be that at some stage he had financial problems, as there is evidence that he had found it necessary to borrow £100 from the Trust Fund set up for his son, Thomas by his maternal grandmother.

Not an easy man to live with it would seem, though perhaps the situation was not helped by the long illness suffered by his wife, Susannah, nor the tragedy which struck the family just before her death.

In early 1880, their son, William brought his wife, Ellen, their 12-year-old daughter and new baby son of 2 months for a visit. On 19 January, the baby had a slight cold but not enough to prevent it being taken out for an airing. At five o’clock the following morning, Ellen fed the child and returned it to its cot but when the nursemaid went into him at eight, the baby was dead. A coroner’s inquest was held at the house – foreshadowing the similar event which would occur seven years later. The tiny corpse was laid to rest in a corner of Cretingham churchyard, close to where Mrs Farley would join him in March the next year.

At her mother’s death, only Elizabeth was still living at home. Frederick had by then qualified as a surgeon and was serving on board a ship. Thomas had followed his father into the Church, William was a hydraulic engineer’s clerk and Arthur eventually became an attendant in an asylum. Daughter Susannah had been married at Cretingham church in 1878 to Mr Gilbert Palmer, the son of a London wine merchant. The young people made their home at the Black Bull Inn in the Old Kent Road, London.

Then 28, Elizabeth had no plans to remain at home as the dedicated spinster daughter of a clergyman. Not for her the role of housekeeper of her father’s establishment, shouldering the attendant parochial duties of sick visiting and Sunday schools. Six months after her mother’s death, in September 1881, she was married in Portsea, Portsmouth to Archibald Court, a naval officer aged 34, who carried the rank of paymaster on board HMSWellington. Court has the rare distinction of appearing twice on the census records for 1881. He is listed with the complement of his then ship, HMSDukeand also at private lodgings at 45 St Thomas Street, Portsmouth.

Elizabeth’s brother, Arthur acted as a witness to the marriage but we can only surmise that the Revd Farley travelled to Hampshire for the celebrations. For now, a strange coincidence occurred. From those same census records mentioned earlier we learn that also living in Portsea at that time as a boarder at 6 Gordon Terrace was (Harriet) Louisa, the 40-year-old widow of Lt-Col William Moule. Where the pair met, who introduced them, we shall probably never know but on 9 November the Revd Farley had his third wife.

They were married at St James’s church, Clapton, in the London district of Hackney. One of those who signed the marriage register as a witness was Farley’s other son-in-law, Gilbert Palmer. Thus we may conclude that the match had family approval. Although the marriage was by licence rather than Banns, Louisa gave her place of residence as Clapton – perhaps she had moved into lodgings for the statutory period. Two of the other witnesses offer a clue to the intricacies of this affair. One, Charles Atkins, a shipping agent, was a middle-aged widower who had also recently remarried. His bride, a widow, was another Louisa, and she had been born Louisa Farley. Coincidence? Or was she the Revd Farley’s niece? And was it in her home that the bride-to-be, Louisa Moule, stayed in the weeks before the wedding?

Harriet Louisa

What sort of woman did the vicar bring back to Cretingham? Described as still being in her prime, she was lively and extroverted, used to the gregarious life of the wife of an army officer. So how did she take to the quiet rural life and what were the villagers to make of her?

The old Suffolk saying ‘Tha’s a mystery’ just about sums her up. Research has shown that her early life is indeed shrouded in mystery. If, as she stated for the census return of 1881, she was 40, then she was born around 1840. She gives Windsor as her place of birth and on her marriage certificates her father is named as Robert Head, a grocer. So far no record of either her birth or details of her parents have been found.

The earliest records that can be found for her are in Gloucestershire, where she turns up in the 1861 census living at a house called Spring Vale in the village of Hewelsfield just outside Gloucester. She is listed there as the 19-year-old ward and niece of a retired army captain called Charles Paget. However, one could easily have missed her because she appears on the census form as ‘Louisa Howard’. Matters were clarified somewhat when, the following year, Capt Paget died. His will makes very interesting reading. At the beginning of the document comes the slightly macabre injunction that his body is to be placed in an open coffin and remain there until visible changes remove all doubt of suspended animation. Only then may his funeral take place. He then bequeaths all his property to ‘Harriet Louisa Head now under my care in the name and by my request of Harriet Louisa Howard’.

There may be a perfectly logical explanation for this. Perhaps Harriet Louisa was the child of his married sister whom he had taken into his care or she may have been his wife’s niece and he preferred to maintain her family’s name. Perhaps the childless captain and Mrs Paget had adopted the grocer’s daughter;such informal arrangements were common in the nineteenth century as was the assumption of different surnames. But taking a more romantic view, could it have been that while Capt Paget was on military service in the Windsor area he fathered a child and that for some reason, the mother, a Miss Howard, then married Robert Head who gave his name to it? Maybe, years later when he was retired, the captain took responsibility for his child to be his companion in his old age.

Whatever her background, Harriet Louisa Head was certainly known in Gloucester as Louisa Howard but when, as a young woman of some means, she married at St Michael’s church in that city on 1 December 1862, she signed the register in her original name, adding the words, ‘otherwise Howard’.

Some sixteen years her senior, her new husband, William Moule, described himself on the marriage certificate as a ‘gentleman’ and his father, John as a ‘soldier’. That was a piece of understatement for a father who was actually a Major General in the Indian Army. On that same certificate Harriet acknowledges Robert Head, grocer, as her father and since the word ‘deceased’ followed his name on her second marriage certificate, we can assume he was still alive in 1862. Of the two witnesses who signed the certificate, one was an Eliza Head. Whether this was Harriet’s mother (née Howard) or a sister remains unresolved.

Like his father and Capt Paget, who may have been a relative or very close family friend, Moule was also in the army, having received his commission in 1857. Almost immediately following her marriage, Louisa must have found herself en route for an eventful life in New Zealand where her husband was to play an active role helping to put down the various Maori uprisings against the colonial government. Moule was gazetted as a captain in July 1863 and shortly afterwards appointed Acting-Adjutant of Miltia in command of the Esk Redoubt when the Waikato tribe marched on Auckland intent on driving the Pakeha (European settlers) back into the sea.

When the British successfully ended the war in 1864, the Waikato land was seized and Moule was given the task of settling the area with men able to defend it. To achieve this, a Special Regiment of Militia was recruited from the Melbourne and Sydney areas of Australia. This became the 4th Waikato Regiment and Moule, by then a Lieutenant Colonel, was its first commanding officer.

In return for their readiness for military service when necessary, the members of the battalion were given grants of land according to their rank. With a field officer receiving 400 acres, the amount diminished until the lowly private was due but fifty. In addition, each man was to be allotted a town section and 1,000ft of timbers with which to build his house.

The site chosen for the new town was a deserted Maori village. Here, in 1864, Moule wrote, ‘I cleared a spot at Kirikiriroa upon which to pitch my tent. I had the honour of naming the settlement after the late Capt Hamilton of HMSEskwho died fighting for his country and the colonists of New Zealand at Gate Pa.’

While some of the men were clearing the land, setting up a sawmill and preparing the first houses, the main body of the regiment and their families were living in cramped, overcrowded conditions in Onehunga. However, pressure was put on them to move and although the settlement was not ready, they were installed in Hamilton by December 1864. The population of the new town consisted of 443 men, 287 women, and 766 boys and girls under the age of 21. It is not known if Harriet Louisa made the move or if she stayed on in Onehunga but given her position, one assumes that her home was among the first to be ready.

Moule’s proven capabilities, both as a soldier and a civil administrator, led to his being made Colonel-Commandant of all the Waikato forces in 1865 and in 1868 he was given the duty of enrolling and organising two divisions of the Armed Constabulary. In addition, he was appointed registrar of marriages for his district and he also acted as a justice of the peace.

As the wife of the commanding officer, Harriet Louisa’s life would not, one supposes, have been quite as rigorous as that of the wives of lesser ranks. Among her duties, she would have been expected to entertain her husband’s junior officers, a task, which by her own account, she enjoyed. But, no doubt, she welcomed the opportunity of the more sophisticated lifestyle which came with Moule’s further promotion to Commander of the Armed Constabulary which took them to live in Tauranga. A final move to Wellington when Moule became Under-Secretary for Defence in the New Zealand Government would have brought her into the very cream of society.

Thus, it must have been hard for her when her husband’s health began to deteriorate and sometime towards the end of the 1870s, Col Moule took the decision to return to England. Here he died aged 55 on 25 June 1880. His death certificate states that he died from Bright’s Disease, a condition that had prevailed for some years. How incapacitated he was by this disease of the kidneys which can lead to dropsy, we don’t know. Again, the death certificate records his occupation as ‘Colonel in the Army’ so we know that he had not been retired as medically unfit. At the time of his death, the Moules were living in the Surrey town of East Molesey.

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This raises the question of what was Harriet doing the following year in Portsea? Was she hoping this time to find a husband from the Royal Navy? Did she need to find a husband to support her? She is described on the census as an ‘Annuitant’. This means she was in receipt of a regular income which may or may not have been more than adequate to keep her. There is no way of telling how much, if any, of her original inheritance from Paget was left but from her late husband she apparently received very little.

Reading the will made by Col Moule just eleven days before his death, it would appear that it was not just his health that had deteriorated. From its tone and the bequests that he made, it looks as if his relationship with Harriet Louisa had become very strained and from some of the wording, one might wonder if, in fact, the couple were living together at the time of his last illness. The colonel started by making a large bequest to his mother of shares in the National Bank of New Zealand and London, the London Steamboat Company and some Japanese Bonds. His sister in New Zealand was also to receive shares and a mortgage on some land in that country while his sister in Essex received shares in a New Zealand woollen factory. To his brother, Robert, he left the house in East Moseley and all its contents excepting ‘wearing apparel jewellery trinkets belonging to and appertaining to my wife and such furnishings as he may feel disposed to give to my wife.’ Harriet Louisa was also left fifty shares in the Wellington Gas Company and some Ottawa Bonds and along with all the other legatees was to receive £15 immediately following the colonel’s death.

Sorting out this will was a very protracted affair involving solicitors both in this country and New Zealand. It was years before it was finally settled, by which time Harriet had remarried. Possibly in the interim she did receive the interest on her shares in the Gas Company but when what was left after all the legal fees had been settled was finally paid out, there was no mention anywhere of the Wellington Gas Company. Perhaps it was her dubious financial position that made Harriet accept the Revd Farley’s proposal.

If, as she later said, she had been used to looking after the young officers in her husband’s regiment, then the villagers of Cretingham must have been in for a shock as she began her cheerful ministrations among them. Having been left to themselves as the previous Mrs Farley had become increasingly infirm, they were probably not ready to be organized on military lines by the colonel’s lady. How fitted she was to take on religious affairs we can’t tell but certainly she involved herself in matters clerical, discussing parish affairs with her new husband.

Cretingham was not a particularly taxing parish. One service a week was the norm, two on special occasions and festivals. ‘Communion Sundays’ were held on an irregular basis while weddings, funerals and baptisms came at infrequent intervals. So Mr Farley was not unduly overworked. This was just as well as his health began to fail. With his increasing weight, he became less mobile, relying on Frank Bilney, the young groom, to drive him to wherever he needed to go. It appears that sometime in 1886–7 he had a minor stroke which incapacitated him further. One of the effects of this was a constriction to the throat which made speech, and therefore the taking of services, very difficult.

His fellow clergy in neighbouring parishes helped out when they could but a long-term solution was needed. It may have been Archdeacon Groome’s suggestion, or perhaps Harriet Louisa’s, that Farley should secure the services of a curate. Somewhat reluctantly, since he would have to pay the curate’s stipend out of his own pocket, Farley agreed to accept the young man recommended by the archdeacon.

The Revd Arthur Gilbert-Cooper

And so it was that in late September 1886, the third player in this drama entered upon the scene. Into this household of an ageing, infirm and short-tempered man, his much younger, still vivacious, and probably frustrated wife, came 33-year-old Arthur Edward Gilbert-Cooper. Small in stature, not much over 5ft tall, he was a good looking, open faced young man. He had thick black hair, and in the fashion of the time, a light brown moustache and neat, small side-whiskers. His vivid grey eyes dominated a face that was still boyish. Here was enough to set aflutter the hearts of susceptible village maidens – and possibly that of the vicar’s wife, too.

Arthur was not only presentable to look at, but he also came from an impeccable background. The Gilbert-Coopers could trace their lineage back at least to the fifteenth century. In return for service to the Crown, Henry VIII had granted early members of the family lands in Nottinghamshire following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Thurgarton Priory became the family seat for generations and it was there that Arthur’s father, the Revd William Wright Gilbert-Cooper had been born. That he had not had to struggle on a clergy stipend is revealed by his will which not only mentions substantial financial settlements made on his marriage, and later those of his daughters, as well as large bequests to each of his children, but also lists among household items family portraits by the renowned artists Kneller, Lely and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Arthur’s mother, Catherine (née Shuldham) also came from an ancient lineage. Her family was well established in Norfolk by the fourteenth century but coincidentally, could be traced back to Suffolk when in the first years of the fifteenth century an early Shuldham had married a co-heiress of Roger Wolverston who owned the lands of the village that bears that name. Catherine, however, had a much closer connection with Suffolk, her mother having been the daughter of the Revd Naunton Leman of Brampton Hall. Her father, who was descended from the Irish Shuldhams, was a Royal Navy Commander who had seen action at the famous Battle of Copenhagen alongside Nelson. The commander was also an inventor and one of the many ideas he laid before the Admiralty in the first years of the nineteenth century was that for a torpedo. However, their Lordships rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was ‘too cruel an instrument of war’!

Catherine’s two older brothers are of interest because they were both to play a small part in the subsequent history to be unfolded. Lt-Col. Arthur Shuldham had served in India in the 1850s and 60s in the Inniskilling Fusiliers. (Lt-Col. Moule had also been in this regiment.)The second brother, Naunton, was an academic who went into the Church. He was for a time a master at Eton and had the distinction of being chosen to act as personal tutor to Prince Leopold, one of Queen Victoria’s sons. Later, taking up a living in Lincolnshire, he spent his last years diagnosed as irrevocably insane.

The Revd William Gilbert-Cooper and Catherine started their life together in the Dover area where William had the curacy of the parishes of River and Guston. Then, in 1854, perhaps prompted by his brother-in-law, he took up an appointment in India as chaplain to the Ecclesiastical Establishment in Madras where he remained for over twenty years. It was in India that Arthur and his brother and four sisters spent their childhood. The only known fact about this period is that when Arthur was about seven he had very severe sunstroke which gave great cause for concern as he was racked with fever for more than six weeks.

Following the pattern of the period, he was later sent home to England to attend Magdalen College School in Oxford. Of his academic prowess there is no record but he does feature in theMCS Journalfor 1870–3 as having played cricket for the Next 22 against the 1st XI in a match where he scored four runs before being bowled out by a pupil named Faber. In a subsequent match he was out for a duck, so he was not a gifted sportsman. He went on to enter Magdalen College itself, graduating with a BA in 1875 and at the same time being ordained as a deacon in the Church of England.

Again following the trend, he now embarked on a short career as a schoolmaster. He found a position at a school in Godalming in Surrey run by the Revd E.S. Dodd. Although he was immediately popular with both staff and boys, his tenure was brief, receiving instant dismissal for a sudden and frenzied attack on one of the pupils.

A temporary curacy was found for him at Hadzon. It was unlikely he could do much harm in this remote parish near Alnwick in Northumberland where the population of 116 was crammed into eighteen houses.

After a family holiday in Brighton in 1876, his next attempt at employment was in Dorset in the parish of Stourpaine with the much smaller one of Iwerne Steepleton. It was here that Arthur was ordained into the full priesthood. And it may have been here, too, that he was admitted to the brotherhood of Freemasons.

Just when it must have looked as if the Revd and Mrs Gilbert-Cooper had finally got their second son settled, news came in mid-July of 1878 that he had been taken ill and admitted to a private home for the mentally sick in Blandford. The Revd Gilbert-Cooper arrived from his home in Burwash Weald in Kent and, assessing the situation, arranged for Arthur to be removed to London to Northumberland House, opposite Finsbury Park.

Described as ‘a private Home for the reception and treatment of patients suffering from Nervous and Mental Diseases’, Northumberland House was opened in 1814 for the care and treatment of ladies and gentlemen of the upper and middle classes. The prospectus showed an elegant country house, set on high ground, surrounded by gardens extending over seven acres. Information is given that ‘arrangements are made for the classification of the patients according to their various mental conditions and separate villas away from the main Institution afford excellent accommodation for suitable cases, and have nothing of the asylum character about them. Besides medical treatment, every effort is made to promote recovery by means of occupation, exercise and excursions, whilst various indoor amusements, such as Dances, Re-unions, Billiards, Music etc. are provided.’

The rooms were furnished very much as one would expect of a comfortable house of the period. Sofas, easy chairs and pianos feature in the sitting rooms where pictures, pot plants and flowers abounded. Similarly, the dining rooms showed the elegance of gracious living. Only the bedrooms with their six beds in some of them suggested that this was an institution rather than a large family home. Outside, among the well-tended gardens and walks, summer houses offered quiet areas for sitting out while for more active recreation there were tennis courts.

Arthur, however, did not respond to the treatment at Northumberland House. Dr Wright, the medical superintendent, reported that his patient seemed to be under the delusion that he was being poisoned. He was convinced that toxins were seeping out of his body through his fingertips.

His stay there was brought to an abrupt end. One day, at the end of a meal, he rose from the dining table, taking with him one of the dummy knives with which the inmates were provided. Walking past his fellow diners, he stopped behind the chair of a Mr Abbott. He pinioned the poor man and then proceeded to draw the blunt knife across his victim’s throat.

The assault led to Arthur’s immediate transfer to the more secure St Luke’s Hospital. Situated just outside London Wall, the asylum was already almost a hundred years old, having been built in 1787. Vastly overcrowded, it accommodated 300 patients in premises that the contemporaryCommission on Lunacydescribed as gloomy and lacking in space for the recreation of the patients. The acquisition of a disused burial ground did something to alleviate the latter situation! Images of the worst asylums we have seen depicted in period films spring to mind but we are assured that after 1856 ‘restraint’ was no longer in use in the hospital and that during the time Arthur was there, bars were removed from the windows to avoid the impression that the institution was a prison.

The food served was nutritious, if uninteresting, but the chief criticism was the lack of activities such as had been available at Northumberland House to occupy the mind. The hospital did, however, have a high reputation for its medical treatment, with most patients being admitted in the expectation that they would be cured. Very few were held indefinitely.

Diagnosed as suffering from ‘Mania’, Arthur entered St Luke’s on 2 November 1878, his father paying 14sa week for his maintenance.

Almost four years were to pass before he was discharged by the hospital on 8 September 1882 as ‘relieved but not cured’. The hospital records show that the request for his discharge came from ‘friends’. This term is often used in Victorian times to indicate relatives but it is known that Arthur did have friends who had supported him throughout his illness. One of these was John Stainer, better known to us as Dr Stainer, the composer of the oratorioThe Crucifixion. He had been organist at Magdalen College during the period that Arthur had been resident there but now he held the prestigious post at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was to Stainer’s lodgings that Arthur went when he left hospital. The musician being at St Paul’s at the time, Arthur was directed to seek him there. Accounts vary about what happened when the two men met. One version was that Stainer offered him accommodation for the night and sent him off next day to other ‘friends’. The other is that Stainer gave him the address of a relation who in turn gave him half a sovereign to pay for a bed in a hotel for the night.

His movements from his release until 1884 are unknown. It is possible that he returned to his father’s home in Burwash Weald in Kent, occasionally assisting with services and parish duties there. Certainly he was known and well liked by his father’s parishioners. When it seemed that he had sufficiently recovered, he became a curate for the parishes of River and Guston on the outskirts of Dover. That his father had held a similar post here some thirty years earlier suggests that the living was held by a family connection.

Was it here or at his father’s home that he became romantically involved? Wherever it was, the prospect of a liaison between his son and the daughter of a farmer did not meet with approval. The newspaper account which mentions this affair implied that the match was not allowed on grounds of class. It was reported that as one of Arthur’s sisters had just married into the upper echelons of Kent society, his forming an alliance with farming stock was unthinkable. It seems much more likely that in view of his history, his family thought it prudent he remain single. This episode may also account for certain actions which were taken later at Cretingham.

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In the event, Arthur was sent again to Dorset, this time to the safe keeping of his widowed godfather, the Revd T.H. Roper, rector of Piddlehinton, a few miles from the county town of Dorchester. There he remained for nine months until 29 September 1886.

While he was at Piddlehinton, one imagines he would have been a regular visitor to Dorchester for shopping and entertainment. This is, I know, venturing into the realm of pure speculation, but it is very likely that on social occasions his path crossed that of the author Thomas Hardy. Dorset born Hardy and his wife had in 1885 taken up residence in their new home, Max Gate, Dorchester where the writer was working onThe Woodlanders. What is probably more certain is that Arthur would have heard about the Revd Henry Moule who had been vicar of nearby Fordington. An academic with a leaning towards science, he had fathered eight sons, most of whom were to become distinguished in their chosen fields. One of them, Horace, had been a close friend and mentor of Thomas Hardy.

Arthur must surely have known the tragic story of how Horace, an inspector of the Poor Law had, in 1873, following a tour of inspection in Ipswich, gone on to visit his brother in his Cambridge college. Retiring early to bed, he ended his life by cutting his throat with a razor.

What is an even stranger coincidence is that there is a strong likelihood that Harriet Louisa’s first husband was related to the Revd Moule.

Just how much did the Revd and Mrs Farley know of the young man who was to become their curate immediately after leaving Dorset? Harriet was to say later that she had no knowledge of Arthur’s time in the asylum. She did know that ‘his mind was wrong’. She said that Archdeacon Groome read two letters to the Revd Farley which she had not heard. Her husband, she said, gave her the impression that the curate was ‘not quite right’ but perfectly safe. Her husband had said that he (the curate) was ‘a very worthy, good young man but a little weak. He was perfectly harmless.’

Did Farley accept him knowing that with his uncertain history, Arthur was likely to settle for a lower stipend than usual? Was the simple household of the elderly vicar and his wife considered a safe environment for Arthur? Whatever the circumstances surrounding his appointment, Arthur must have been considered fully capable as he was contracted to Farley to take complete control of parish work.

The curate was to liveen-famille. Somewhat surprisingly, since the house had a number of bedrooms, he was given the one adjoining that of the vicar and his wife. Their room situated above the dining room had windows facing both south and east. A well proportioned chamber some 18ft x 15ft, it had leading from it a large, oblong dressing room almost 19ft x 10ft. It was here that Arthur was accommodated. The interconnecting door was, we are told, padlocked on the vicar’s side. Both rooms also opened onto the narrow landing. It seems to have been a feature of the house that most of the bedrooms had intercommunicating doors. Whether there was a bathroom in the house at that time is not known but Arthur certainly had a bathtub placed in his room at the foot of his bed. Of the rest of the furnishings, we know only that there was a dressing table with a looking glass upon it situated under his east-facing window. There was also a washstand and towel rail, hanging space for his clothes and a chair or two.

From later evidence, one gains the impression that the rest of the house was little used. Arthur used the dining room to sit and read, prepare his sermons or pen the occasional articles he contributed to theIpswich Journal. Supper, we know, was taken in the kitchen and it may be that other meals were too. Harriet did not employ a cook so the responsibility for catering for the household would have fallen to her.

Arthur appears to have settled well to his duties. If there was any contention between him and his superior initially it was over the conduct of services. Farley was a Low Church man while Arthur leaned towards the High Church practices that were fashionable in that era. Farley had no time for weekly, let alone daily celebrations of the Holy Communion and the observing of saints’ days would have been anathema to him.

Arthur’s sermons may have been a bit too academic for the bulk of his parishioners but he certainly endeared himself personally to William Emmerson, the parish clerk who came to look upon him as a friend. Arthur was active in visiting the homes of the villagers and was popular enough for them to want to purchase the commemorative photograph of him which, like one of the vicar, was sold during a fund-raising effort for the church in September 1887. (Those who had one of these must have wondered later whether to hang on to it or destroy it. How much would one have been worth to members of the press?)

As for Harriet Louisa, she surely welcomed the diversion the newcomer offered. It must have been such a relief for her to have someone young and active with whom to talk and more importantly, to join her on daily walks and occasional excursions to the little market town of Framlingham. It was not long before the pair became a familiar sight in the village, walking together to and from services, making parish calls and taking health-giving constitutionals. That she came to regard Arthur with affection we shall hear later.

She did not, however, share his passion for tennis. Perhaps the game provided Arthur with his only means of escape from her. She, ever solicitous, was concerned that he would overtire himself with all the walking back and forth to a neighbouring village to join in tennis parties. During the early summer of 1887 she did have some justification for her concern. June that year was excessively hot. Professor Grant of the Glasgow Observatory described the great heat of the third week of the month as phenomenal, prevailing ‘throughout the whole week with an intensity which, for the month of June has not been paralleled during the last quarter of a century, and probably has not been unsurpassed during a much longer period.’ The highest temperature was reached on the 25 June when the maximum in the shade was 82.7F and the maximum in the sun was 133.2F. The lowest reading was on the 20th when it was 65.9F in the shade and 118.5F in the sun. During the days of the 23rd, 24th and 25th, it was above 130F in the sun.

His physical welfare apart, was some of Harriet Louisa’s concern not concentrated upon the much younger ladies who were present at these gatherings?

There were two other occupants of the vicarage, both vital to the running of the household and important in the events that were to follow. Twenty-one-year-old Francis Bilney, known as Frank, was employed as valet to both the vicar and the curate as well as acting as groom. The maid-of-all work position may well have been an unenviable one since the turnover rate was quite high. Mary Friend had the job when Arthur arrived at the vicarage, but she was replaced by Annie Eade, who in turn gave way to Annie Wightman. Both servants lived-in, occupying rooms on the second floor approached by stairs leading from the domestic quarters of the house.

On Sunday 21 August 1887 Arthur took the weekly service at which he read for the second time the banns of marriage for Lilian, daughter of Noah Nesling, one of the local farmers. The following day he was given a holiday, albeit a working one. His destination was Piddlehinton where his godfather, the Revd Roper, was ill. During his five week absence he ‘rendered valuable assistance to his host and his health and conduct alike were satisfactory’.

He returned to Cretingham in time to baptize Hugh and Sarah Lockwood’s daughter, Lizzie after he had conducted the Harvest Festival services on 25 September. TheSuffolk Chroniclein its edition for Saturday 1 October reported that at Cretingham:

The church had been tastefully decorated by Mrs Farley and other ladies and at the morning service the Revd A E Gilbert-Cooper had preached an excellent and suitable sermon from the words ‘Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth’ (James 5:7)

Little did the reporter realize that in the following week’s issue the Revd Gilbert-Cooper would be making the headlines.

Harriet Louisa was delighted to see the return of the curate, not least because over recent days, her husband’s health had deteriorated. Farley had become so infirm that he needed the assistance of Frank Bilney to get out of bed where he now spent most of the time. On Tuesday, 27 September, Harriet Louisa who seems to have struck up a correspondence with Arthur’s mother wrote to her telling how glad she was that they had her son back with them. He had, she wrote, been greatly missed in the parish where he was so bright and cheerful. Mr Cooper’s heart, she said, was so good and she felt he was one of God’s own children. Was there a hint in this letter that Mrs Gilbert-Cooper might suspect too much partiality on her behalf, for she went on to stress that Mr Farley was also glad to have him back. The vicar, she continued, had affirmed that his own family could not behave better towards him or be more kind and gentle. This same kindness and gentle approach made him so good at visiting the sick parishioners.

Becoming more confidential in her tone, as one woman to another, she added that she was well aware of Arthur’s (she, of course, called him Mr Cooper in her letter) ‘little faults and failings.’ She had told him to be more watchful and to try to keep himself closer to his Great Master. She was concerned about his health as was the vicar who had told him he was overtiring himself. She was of the opinion that he had over-exerted himself in the summer with all the walking to play tennis. She finished by saying that at times Arthur was fretful.

This letter, which starts so full of her delight in the return of her young companion, hints that everything is not quite right. Something has happened in the three or four days since Arthur’s return for he himself had written earlier to Dorset to say how well he felt. What was Mrs Gilbert-Cooper to make of Harriet’s letter as she read it over the breakfast table? If she heard warning bells, then they would have been reinforced by the letter, written the same day, that Arthur sent to his father to wish him a happy birthday. After the greetings, Arthur described in some detail the Harvest Celebration and the sermon he had preached. Both parents must have been concerned when they read:

I am all mops and brooms, and have been for the last fortnight. I cannot understand why, as I have been very regular and abstemious, and I am not at all the thing, and I thought perhaps it was smoking too much. I have knocked it off, but the good results have not yet shown themselves. My nights might be a good deal better than they are. However, I must keep out in the open air as much as possible, and interest myself in my work and I hope it will gradually pass off.

This very intimate paragraph reveals a great deal. It shows the relationship between father and son was such that Arthur felt able to confide his feelings, yet there is almost a childlike quality to his description of the regular and abstemious habits. Then, grown-up again, he attempted to take charge of himself, looking for a cure for his sleepless nights in fresh air, exercise and hard work. What is perhaps even more interesting is that Arthur appears to have been suffering from nicotine withdrawal symptoms. In believing that excessive smoking was causing his depression – his ‘mops and brooms’, by giving it up, he exacerbated the situation. It is a chilling thought that if Arthur had continued to puff away, the Revd Farley might not have died when he did!

On Friday 30 September Harriet accompanied Arthur on a visit to the home of William Emmerson, the parish clerk, where Arthur administered the last rites to Emmerson’s dying son. Emmerson was full of praise for the concern and kindness shown by Arthur to the grieving parents and the bereaved young widow. He saw no sign of the curate not being ‘right in the head’, as Mrs Farley had suggested to him as she was leaving.

Again I ask, what, apart from Arthur’s abstinence from smoking, precipitated events in that final week? What changed Harriet Louisa from being delighted to have Arthur’s merry, childlike presence with her to her concerted attempt to convince him and those around him that he was not quite right in the head?

In spite of writing to Mrs Gilbert-Cooper that Farley was glad to have him back, there is a suggestion that Farley was abusive towards him and that on at least one occasion he had even attempted to strike him. Harriet was later to say that this had been because Farley was upset over some family business. Had Farley decided that the curate’s position in the household had become untenable or was it Harriet Louisa who wanted Arthur out of the way? Either way, she now set about convincing Arthur that he was not well and could not cope with his church duties. The vicar, she told him, intended to advertise in theGuardianfor another curate to assist them for a few weeks. But, so she said, she had assured Arthur he could stay on with them and perhaps after a while ‘he would be better’.

Her concern – or threat – worried Arthur, for later, on Friday, he wrote to his father saying, ‘I must be careful or I shall be incapacitated from carrying on my work here and then I don’t know what I shall do’. Here was yet another cause for his inability to sleep.

It is possible that he was not the only one suffering from disturbed nights. On the morning of Saturday, 1 October, Harriet Louisa gave orders for a couch to be taken up to the marital bedroom. This was placed at the foot of the bed and it was there she intended to rest that night. It is quite feasible that Farley’s restlessness was depriving them both of sleep.

Arthur spent most of the day in the dining room reading and writing. Harriet Louisa divided her time between the kitchen and her husband’s room, where, during the late afternoon and early evening, she read aloud. It says something about the timbre of her voice or the construction of the house that Arthur was reputed to have complained to her later that her reading to the vicar had irritated him.

At some point during the evening she allegedly had a discussion with Arthur about his fitness to take the following day’s service. She was of the opinion that she should send a note to the Revd Allen of Winston, asking him to come and take the duty. At about eight o’clock, Emmerson called at the vicarage. As parish clerk, it was his duty to collect the Communion plate from the vicarage safe ready for the Sacrament service which fell that Sunday. Emmerson did not see the curate but talked in the kitchen with Mrs Farley who reiterated her fears for Arthur’s state of mind. She mentioned to him the possibility that a deputy might be taking the service so Emmerson decided that, if that was the case, he would leave the silver where it was and come early the next day.

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For whatever reason, Harriet did not write the invitation to the Revd Winston to officiate. After Emmerson had left, she summoned Arthur to join her in the kitchen for supper. In her solicitude for his welfare, she tried to tempt his poor appetite with oxtail soup, made especially for him. But even this delicacy failed and he ate sparingly.

At nine o’clock they were joined by Frank Bilney and Annie Wightman for family prayers which were read by Arthur. Neither maid nor manservant was aware that there was anything untoward in Arthur’s behaviour.

Having said goodnight to each one, the mistress of the house left the kitchen by one door and mounted the front stairs to her room. The servants went to their quarters in the attic using the back staircase as did Arthur to gain access to his room next door to his employer.

By just after ten o’clock, the stillness of night descended upon the vicarage.



Only three people were privy to the momentous event which was to disturb the peace of the vicarage as Saturday turned into Sunday 2 October. Of those, one was soon to be dead while the second was to remain almost silent upon the subject. Only Harriet Louisa Farley ever described in any detail what had occurred; she being the principal witness at the coroner’s inquest and the subsequent trials which followed it.

At about fifteen minutes past midnight, Frank Bilney heard his mistress calling to him from the foot of the attic stairs. Still half asleep and in his nightshirt, he came down to be told that his master was ill and in need of urgent medical attention. Harriet Louisa took him into the bedroom where he saw the vicar lying face down on the floor, having apparently fallen out of bed. He must have leaned over the body for he assured himself that Farley was still breathing. He was not aware of any blood flowing and Harriet Louisa said nothing beyond urging him to dress and go as fast as he could to Framlingham, some four miles away, to fetch Dr Jones. As Frank passed the open door of Arthur’s room, he heard what he later described as ‘moaning noises’. That he was at that time totally ignorant of there being anything amiss with his master’s ‘accident’ is borne out by the fact that during the course of his journey, he passed the local policeman but did not stop to inform him of what had occurred. After his departure, Harriet Louisa attempted to raise her husband’s head and cradle him in her arms and in so doing she discovered that he was haemorrhaging severely from the throat. In a matter of minutes he was dead.

Annie Wightman, the maid, was now up and dressed and was either sent or volunteered to fetch help from a neighbour. Mrs Smith was often in attendance at deaths and was well practised in the procedure of laying-out a body. Accompanied by her friend, Mrs Coates, the women came first to the vicarage kitchen where they found Mrs Farley in a dazed, fainting condition, quite unable to tell them what had occurred. When Mrs Smith viewed the body it was lying on its left side.

When Dr Jones arrived at a quarter to two he found the corpse lying on its back. The doctor, who was Farley’s regular medical attendant, had not been prepared to find that his patient’s throat had been cut. An incision some 7½in long had wounded but not penetrated the windpipe. The external jugular vein and the muscles surrounding it had been cut accounting for the severe haemorrhage. Death was due to the resultant loss of blood. As was to be expected in such a case, Dr Jones ordered that the police be informed, though whether the doctor suspected suicide or foul play was never made clear.

Without waiting for the police to examine the scene, Mrs Smith, who had now been joined by her husband John, and Mrs Coates began their business. A board was found and placed across three or four (accounts vary) chairs and with some difficulty, the exceedingly heavy corpse was raised and laid out upon the makeshift trestle.

While all this activity was going on, Arthur dressed in his outdoor clothes and left the house. No attempt was made to stop him or perhaps in all the bustle, no one noticed his going. Had Harriet Louisa not mentioned his part in the dreadful business at this stage? If she had, it is surely strange that the doctor or Frank had not taken the precaution to lock him in his room until the police came. Instead, Arthur was able to slip away out into the countryside in the dark hours before dawn. But far from running away, at around half past four, he was seen walking back towards Cretingham. Fred Read, a farm labourer from Framsden, was on his way to start his day’s work at Jeaffreson’s farm when he met Arthur on the Otley road. Read, struck by the strangeness of such an early encounter, noted that the curate was leaning heavily upon a stick and walking very slowly.

In the meantime, PC Robert Moore of the Suffolk Constabulary, based at Brandeston, had arrived and carried out an initial examination of the premises. It was now that Harriet Louisa told her story implicating Arthur – and his supposed flight from the scene must have made him the prime suspect. Yet Moore found no indication of anything untoward in Arthur’s room; no sign of a blood trail between that and the adjoining scene of the crime and no evidence from the bowl on the washstand of Arthur having washed blood from his hands.

When Moore was later joined by PC Edward Clarke of Framsden, a more thorough search of the room revealed stains, believed to be blood, on the left sleeve of Arthur’s dressing gown. His shaving cloth, however, showed no marks of any sort but there was a small bloodstain on the towel. Most incriminating, yet missed in the original search, was the discovery of Arthur’s razor with fresh blood on it, lying beneath the looking glass on the dressing table.

This appears to have been sufficient evidence that Arthur had murdered the vicar and his absence confirmed that belief. Therefore, it must have come as a shock to PC Moore when at 5 a.m. he answered a knock at the front door of the vicarage and found Arthur standing there. As if there was nothing amiss, the curate stepped into the hall and removed his coat and hat. Taken aback, the constable observed that what had happened to Mr Farley was a bad job. A simple reply of ‘yes’ from Arthur, nonplussed Moore even further. Arthur then moved towards the stairs and on being asked where he was going, he announced calmly that he was going to his room. This he was allowed to do with a police escort. And there he sat, in silence, except to ask for a cup of tea which the constable obligingly ordered for him.

It was in his room that William Emmerson found him at six o’clock. Although still early, and living at the farther end of the village, Emmerson had already heard the news of the vicar’s death from Annie Wightman’s father. He had, in any case, as was mentioned before, told Mrs Farley that he would come early on Sunday morning to fetch the Communion plate and find out exactly who was taking the service that morning. Emmerson had also heard the gossip surrounding the circumstances of Farley’s death yet he still asked if he might speak with the curate. Whatever wariness he might have felt about the interview was immediately dispelled when, after exchanging greetings, Arthur showed only concern for Emmerson himself and how his family were bearing up under the grief of their bereavement.

Emmerson had held Arthur in high regard and the curate’s kindness softened any feeling of revulsion he might have had, so gently he tried to persuade Arthur to talk about what he had done. There must, he suggested, have been a cause for such action, something that had been said or done to drive him to it. If he was hoping for a confession, he was disappointed for Arthur had no reason to offer. The parish clerk pressed him again for a reason; maybe the man had grounds for thinking that he knew what the cause might be. But again Arthur responded in the negative. Trying a different line, Emmerson wondered if Arthur had ever thought about doing it before. This time the questioner was more successful. After some delay, Arthur volunteered that he had thought about it the previous day.

Emmerson remained with the curate until Supt Balls from Framlingham arrived to formally arrest him. When the time came, Emmerson helped Arthur on with his coat, the curate then shook his hand warmly, wished him goodbye and was led off to the waiting transport which would take him to spend the next few days at the lock-up in Framlingham.



Even in 1887 the media was quick to take up a ‘good story’. Although without the sophistication of twenty-first century communication methods, the telegraph service and the telephone were in operation, though the latter was rare in country areas. Thus, by Sunday afternoon, at least two reporters for theEast Anglian Daily Timeswere in the village to cover the murder. One of them chose to concentrate on providing local colour by describing the atmosphere of the place:

Upon driving into Cretingham on Sunday afternoon, there were but few indications that the parish had been the scene of a tragedy which is almost unique in the annals of crime. At the Vicarage the blinds were drawn, and at the back of the house two or three policemen were standing about; here and there, down the long street (if such the scattered houses may be called), groups of villagers were discussing such details of the occurrence as they had been able to gather; and it is hardly necessary to say that there was no service in the parish church. That this latter circumstance was due to the facts that the vicar had been murdered and that his curate was in custody were considerations which might have occasioned a good deal of excitement. But, truth to tell; the whole affair was apparently regarded with phlegmatic indifference. The only perceptible effect of the tragedy upon the ordinary routine of parochial life was that, after the dinner hour, there was a larger gathering than usual at the Bell Inn.

Cretingham is a small parish, containing barely 350 inhabitants, lying about 4 miles WSW of Framlingham and ENE of Debenham. The nearest route from Ipswich runs through Tuddenham, thence for some distance in the direction of Debach Post, turning off sharp to the left near Clopton Crown. Almost the first house to be seen, upon entering the parish from this direction is the square, red bricked vicarage, standing somewhat back from the main road, and partially hidden by shrubs and trees. It is an unpretending edifice, the porch over the front entrance facing south and even at this time of the year bright with roses and clustered over with foliage. The red brick, of which the house is built, and the tiled roof have weathered into a warm red, and the whole place has a pleasing and picturesque appearance not at all suggestive of the horrible associations with which in future it will be invested....

. . . although it is at some distance from the centre of the street, the situation is by no means lonely. Two or three houses, one of them used as the Post office, stand close by, and there are several cottages, at short intervals, all the way down to the church. Most of these tenements are old fashioned, with thatched roofs and although the gardens were gay with autumn flowers, Cretingham does not have the appearance of being a very flourishing place. On Sunday afternoon, however, the weather was wretchedly dull, and everything was seen at a disadvantage. The church, which stands on an eminence halfway down the village, has a lofty tower, built of flint, with nave, chancel and south porch... Just at this time the interior, which is yet furnished with the ancient square pews, is decorated for harvest thanksgiving. Upon all the window sills there are flowers, fruit and vegetables but the doors were locked and no opportunity was afforded of making any inspection except through the windows.

These paragraphs, setting the scenes, as it were, are not to be taken as mere space fillers until further information could be obtained. On the contrary, by breakfast time on Monday morning, the story of the murder filled two and a half columns of the broadsheet. Under the triple headlines of:




appeared details of the case which had been revealed to the police. Describing the events already mentioned in preceding pages, we are now presented with the first version of what actually took place between the household going to bed and Bilney being called; that is, Harriet Louisa’s statement. The report stated:

Mr Farley called out, ‘What is that?’ This awakened Mrs Farley and she then heard what she describes as a ‘rattling noise’ outside the bedroom door. She at first thought it was the maid rattling with a candlestick and got up and went to the door, which was locked on the inside as usual. She unlocked it, and upon opening the door, saw the curate standing in his dressing gown, with an earthenware candlestick, holding a lighted candle, in his right hand. He was perfectly quiet but deathly pale, and she cried out, ‘Good gracious, what do you want?’ He replied, ‘I want to come in,’ and tried to force his way into the bedroom. With some difficulty she prevented him, and having succeeded in closing the door, turned the key, exclaiming to her husband as she did so, ‘Why, he is mad.’ Mr Cooper called out, ‘I want to come in and see the Vicar.’ Mr Farley replied, ‘Oh, poor fellow, open the door and see what he wants.’ Mrs Farley accordingly opened the door again, and Mr Cooper walked into the room. He made no remark, but walked right into the room round by the foot of the bed, past the crib on which Mrs Farley had been sleeping, and then to the side of the Vicar’s bed. All this time he had the candlestick in his right hand. Nothing was observed in his left, but that he had a razor there can be no possible doubt. He approached the bedside and quietly put out his left hand in the direction of the Vicar’s throat. ‘Mr Farley exclaimed, ‘What do you mean? What do you mean?’ The curate laughed, turned round and walked quietly out of the room. Before he reached the door, Mr Farley exclaimed in a feeble voice, ‘He’s cut my throat.’ Mrs Farley at first believed her husband was in a delirium, and as she could see no blood she replied, ‘Oh, nonsense.’ She, however, followed the curate to his room, and while going thither she heard Mr Farley call ‘Frank,’ the coachman, by name twice. She went up to Cooper, and in as firm a voice as she could command, said to him, ‘What have you in your hand? Give it to me.’ He replied, ‘I have nothing,’ and even then she could not see that he had any weapon. She then went back to her husband’s room, and found Mr Farley lying on the floor with blood rushing from his throat. Stricken with horror, she ran back to the curate’s room, and said to Cooper, ‘Come and help me; you don’t know what you have done.’ Cooper made no reply, and she ran back to her husband and tried to staunch the blood. Meanwhile she despatched the groom for Dr Jones, of Framlingham, but long before he arrived Mr Farley had expired.

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Presumably this account was based on statements made by the police but the reporter also managed to obtain an interview with William Emmerson who gave the information, mentioned earlier, of his conversation with Mrs Farley as to Arthur’s state of mind and the likelihood of her getting Mr Allen to take the service.

However, the second reporter, in his piece, makes a conflicting reference as to who should take the Sunday service:

On Saturday there was nothing in his [Cooper’s] conduct to excite alarm, although it is understood that Mrs Farley felt some concern about him. He complained of want of sleep; he was anxious that some other clergyman should be called in to take the Sunday service; and he added, somewhat ominously, that while he should be bad on the coming Sunday, he should be worse still on the Sunday after that. No arrangement, however, seems to have been made to relieve him of his duties.

Unfortunately, the journalist does not name his source for this overheard conversation. If it was not Emmerson, then it must have been either Bilney or Annie Wightman, they being the only others in the house, but strangely, this information that Arthur himself wished to be relieved of his duties was not to appear again.

This same representative of the press mentions in passing that Arthur frequently accompanied Mrs Farley to Framlingham and elsewhere and then goes on to make some pertinent comments on the case:

Although in all the main particulars, the tragedy seems to be as simple as it was horrible, there are two or three mysterious circumstances which have yet to be explained. Mrs Farley was under the impression that the curate, after he committed the murder, took his own candlestick with him to light the way back to his room. Afterwards, however, both candlesticks were found in the room of the murdered man. How that came about is still a mystery.

So it was, that by the time the inquest was held on that Monday afternoon, most, if not all of those who were called to take part, would have been fully acquainted with what had been written in theEast Anglian Daily Times.

That this was no run-of-the-mill case is borne out by the fact that after Supt Balls of Framlingham had visited the scene on Sunday morning, he immediately sent a telegram to the Deputy Chief Constable, Mr F. Fisher. He, accompanied by Inspector Shipp and several more constables, arrived later in the day and having been fully informed as to what had occurred, took the preliminary measures for setting up the inquest at the Bell Inn at 2 o’clock on Monday.

Arthur, meanwhile, had been placed in an ordinary cell in Framlingham police station, but under the close supervision of a constable. He was reported as saying nothing either during the journey or thereafter but presented ‘a quiet but sullen demeanour’. Both reporters commented that he dozed fitfully most of the time, the more ‘atmospheric’ writer ascribing this to weariness following his wandering around the countryside during the night.

As Sunday drew to a close, telegrams must have been sent and delivered all over the country. Farley’s sons and daughters had to be informed of the awful fate that had overtaken their father, while in Kent, the Revd and Mrs Gilbert-Cooper must have been distraught to learn that their son, whose last letter had suggested he was depressed, now stood accused of murder.



Early Monday morning, Sgt Bragg and PC Codd, who had been detailed to guard Arthur throughout the night, were able to announce that the prisoner had slept soundly from 10 p.m. the night before right through to 8 a.m. that morning. After washing and dressing he had eaten a hearty breakfast. The two police officers described his behaviour at times as eccentric, though without any elaboration as to what that involved, but what struck them most was that he did not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation in which he found himself.

Promptly at 11 o’clock he was brought up from the cells to the courtroom. Since this was only a remand session, there was only one magistrate present, the Revd R.G. Gorton. The only others in attendance were John Martin, the magistrates’ clerk and two members of the press.

Before the prisoner was taken into the court, Supt Balls made his sworn statement that he had ‘just cause to believe and suspect, and did believe and suspect that on the second day of October at the parish of Cretingham, one Arthur Edward Gilbert-Cooper did feloniously, wilfully and with malice aforethought, kill and murder one William Meymott Farley, against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.’

When Arthur was led in he appeared bewildered as he looked about him. He flatly refused to stand on the raised platform used as a dock and when Supt Balls tried to force him forward, he resisted, throwing his arms back and shaking himself free. The magistrate decided that he should be allowed to stay in the body of the court while the formal charge was read.

On hearing the words ‘wilful murder’, Arthur, much surprised, turned to the clerk and said, ‘Isn’t he alive?’

After the formalities regarding the superintendent’s need for time to complete his enquiries, a remand in custody was requested. The clerk then asked Arthur if he had any cause to show why he should not be remanded on the charge. To this Arthur responded with ‘I don’t think there is any charge made out. I am not aware that Mr Farley is dead.’

Granting a remand for three days, the magistrate cautioned Arthur to say nothing until the proper examination took place. He then enquired of Supt Balls if the prisoner’s friends had been informed. On learning that this had been done, the magistrate, who, as a member of the local clergy may well have met Arthur on social occasions, then asked him if there was any particular friend he wished to be informed. Arthur said there was no one, adding, ‘I don’t know anything about it at all. I am not aware, as I said before, that Mr Farley is dead; I don’t think he is.’

‘But,’ Mr Martin, the magistrates’ clerk responded, ‘We understand that he is dead and you are charged with the murder.’ ‘I don’t think he is,’ Arthur persisted.

John Martin gave up and reminded Arthur that the best advice had already been given to him, namely to say nothing until the next hearing. That was then set for 11 a.m. on the coming Thursday.

In Cretingham they were preparing for the inquest. Before the formal proceedings were opened at The Bell Inn, at that time situated opposite the church, those who were to form the jury were summoned to the village clubroom which stood in the vicarage grounds. Here twenty-two men from the surrounding area were sworn in (seeAppendix for list). Samuel Stearn, a small farmer and pig-breeder from Brandeston, was elected to act as their foreman. The all-male jury was a mixed group, mainly farmers with a sprinkling of craftsmen; blacksmith, builder, wheelwright, miller and an innkeeper. Most were of middle age. It was unfortunate that two pairs had the same surname and since forenames or initials did not always appear in the press reports, there is, for example, no way of knowing when we come to the inquest, which Mr Juby it was who adopted the aggressive line of questioning.

The presiding coroner was Mr Cooper Charles Brooke whose first task was to lead the jury into the vicarage to view the scene of the crime. In the vicar’s bedroom the ‘horrible gash in the victim’s throat was exposed’. (Something that has puzzled me was Farley’s full beard. Two photographs show it to be long enough to touch his collar bone. It was never made clear if it had been trimmed before his death. If it had not and if Farley had been lying on his pillow at the time of the murder, how had Arthur been able to find his victim’s neck with such accuracy?)

The bloodstains on the carpet which showed the position in which Mrs Farley had found the body were also inspected closely. The jury noted too the padlock which fastened the intercommunicating door before moving on to look at the curate’s room. This too, had been left untouched, so they were able to see for themselves the rumpled bed which suggested that Arthur had been tossing from side to side.

Having completed their examination of the premises, the coroner and jury moved on to The Bell Inn where Major Heigham, the Chief Constable, the witnesses and the gentlemen of the Press and as many others as could squeeze in had already assembled.

One can imagine the hush when Arthur was brought in by Supt Balls and Sgt Bragg. He was still wearing his clerical garb topped by a thick overcoat and a round soft hat. He failed to remove his hat and one of the police officers took it off for him. We are told that he was given a seat among (beside?) the jury. Although at first he seemed somewhat bemused by it all, after a while he appeared to be taking an intelligent interest in the proceedings.

The first witness was, naturally, the widow. Most of the newspaper accounts were to comment on how calmly Mrs Farley conducted herself but some were surprisingly critical of the widow. TheDorset County Chronicleprimly stated, ‘Mrs Farley is still in the prime of life . . . She was wonderfully calm and still wore coloured flowers in her bonnet.’ This was indeed an affront to the Victorian code of decorous behaviour. However, theDevizes and Wiltshire Gazettehad worse: ‘. . . the wife of the deceased who was the principal witness, in the course of her evidence exhibited extraordinary levity.’

No doubt, given the horror of the circumstances in which she had been embroiled, the spectators had expected a display of heart-rending emotion from the grieving widow. That they were disappointed may have been the result of Harriet Louisa still being in a state of shock. Another possible explanation is that her years spent with the army had taught her rigid self-control.

Had she presented a more pathetic picture, it is possible she would not have been subjected to the rigorous questioning that followed her initial statement of events. As the inquest progressed, so it became clear that not only was she not particularly liked by the local people, but she had in fact been the subject of gossip among them.

Having detailed the events leading up to her going to bed, she was asked about the rap at the door. This, she said, she had not heard herself, yet in the previous account she was reported as saying she had heard what she thought was the maid rattling the candlestick.

The next discrepancy came in her account of what happened when Arthur reached the side of the bed where the vicar was lying. She now said that it was Arthur who had twice said ‘What do you mean?’ The coroner picked her up on that, asking, ‘Mr Farley said so?’ On the contrary, she replied that it was definitely Arthur who had said it and her husband who had laughed. Mr Farley had laughed in his usual bright way as if not sick, as much as to say ‘Don’t be foolish’ or something like that.

TheSuffolk Times and Mercuryreport continued:

Coroner: He said to the prisoner ‘Don’t be foolish?’

Mrs Farley: No, he didn’t say it, but it was in that kind of way. The vicar made no remark. He only laughed. He saw Mr Cooper was wrong and tried to intimidate him and send him away. When Mr Cooper made the remark, ‘What do you mean?’ I knew there was something wrong, and I went to him and ordered him out of the room. I said to him, ‘What do you mean talking like that? Get out of the room,’ and sent him out and followed him out.

Coroner: What took place then?

Mrs Farley: I did not close the door.

Coroner: Did you observe any blood flowing?

Mrs Farley: My husband said, ‘Oh Louie, he has’– done so and so.

Coroner: The deceased said his throat was cut, didn’t he?

[The witness nodded her head]

Coroner: Was that when Mr Cooper was in the bedroom?

Mrs Farley: I should say it was when he was passing out. He was most likely on my side of the bed, near the door. I went round immediately to my husband, and said, ‘Nonsense, nonsense, you fancy things’.

Coroner: Did you see blood flowing then?

Mrs Farley: No, I did not. I didn’t believe it; didn’t believe it was true.

Coroner: How long was it before you saw blood?

Mrs Farley: I followed Mr Cooper to his room, fearing that he had something in his hand. My first thoughts were that he would go to the servants.

Coroner: Did you go to the prisoner’s room?

Mrs Farley: Yes.

Coroner: Was he there?

Mrs Farley: Yes.

Coroner: Did he make any observation to you?

Mrs Farley: No.

Coroner: Did you see him put a razor or anything of that kind down?

Mrs Farley: No; he was standing quite upright in his room. He said nothing. I asked him what he had in his hands, and he said ‘I have got nothing.’ I tried to intimidate him, but he held out his hands and said ‘I have got nothing.’

Coroner: Were his hands open?

Mrs Farley: Yes.

Coroner: Both of them?

Mrs Farley: Yes.

Coroner: How long did you stay with him?

Mrs Farley: Not a second. I ran across the room and took his razor case off the dressing-table. He didn’t seem to notice that I took it but I did. I threw it into another room, and then ran back to my husband.

Coroner: You didn’t know whether the razors were in it or not?

Mrs Farley: No. I did not. My only thought was that he might make use of them.

Coroner: On your return to the deceased did you see any blood?

Mrs Farley: My husband was on the floor.

Coroner: Did you observe any blood?

[The witness nodded]

Coroner: Did you see any wound?

[The witness shook her head]

Coroner: Did you notice where it was flowing from?

[Again the witness shook her head]

Coroner: Where was your husband lying?

Mrs Farley: At the foot of the bed.

Coroner: How long did he live after that?

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