The Campden Wonder
"Time, the great Discoverer of Truth, shall bring to Light this dark and mysterious Business"

The Story

The version of the story given below is closely based on Overbury's account of 1676. I have simply modernised the language, spelling and punctuation to help people follow the story more easily and have endeavoured to preserve the original meaning as far as possible.

On Thursday 16th August 1660, William Harrison, aged about 70, manager of Viscountess Campden’s estates at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, set off on foot from Campden in the direction of the village of Charringworth about two miles away, in order to collect rent money owed to his employer.

He did not return by the usual time and, between 8 and 9 o’clock that evening, his wife sent her servant, John Perry, to meet his master on the way from Charringworth. However, as neither Mr. Harrison nor his servant John Perry had come home that night, early the next Morning, Edward Harrison, William's son, set off in the direction of Charringworth to ask after his father. Edward met Perry coming from that village.

Perry told Edward that William Harrison was not there, so they went together to Ebrington, a village between Charringworth and Campden, where they were told by one Daniel that Mr. Harrison called at his house the evening before, as Harrison was coming back from Charringworth, but did not stay. Then they went to Paxford, about half a mile away, where hearing no news of Mr. Harrison, they went back towards Campden.  On the way, they heard news that a hat, collar band and comb had been found on the main road between Ebrington and Campden by a poor woman who had been gathering waste grain in the field. They looked for her and found her in possession of the hat, collar band and comb, which they recognised as belonging to William Harrison.

The woman took them to the place where she had found the objects, on the main road between Ebrington and Campden, near a large bank of gorse. They searched the area for Mr. Harrison, presuming that he had been murdered, since the hat and comb were slashed and cut, and the collar band was bloodstained, but they could find nothing else.

The news of these discoveries reached Campden and caused such an alarm in the town that men, women, and children rushed out in crowds to search for the body of William Harrison, presumed dead, but all to no avail.

Mrs. Harrison's already profound fear for her husband’s safety was now deepened still further.

The fact that Mrs Harrison had sent her servant Perry the previous evening to meet his master, and that he had not come home that night, made people suspect that Perry had robbed and murdered Harrison. So the next day Perry was brought before a Justice of the Peace, who questioned him about his master's absence, and why he had himself stayed out the night he went to meet him. Perry told this story. After his mistress had sent him to meet his master, some time between 8 and 9 pm, he had gone down to Campden Field, a couple of hundred yards towards Charringworth, where he met a man called William Reed from Campden. He had told Reed what he was doing, and had also told him that, since it was getting dark, he was afraid to go on and therefore intended to go back and fetch the horse belonging to his master’s son Edward and come back with him. He had gone to Mr. Harrison's garden gate, where they had separated and he had stayed still. A man called Pierce had come by, and Perry had gone again with him a few hundred years into the fields, and, as before, he had come back with him to his master's gate, where they had also separated.

Perry went on to say that he had entered his master's hen-roost and spent about an hour in there lying down but had not gone to sleep. When the clock struck twelve, he had got up and walked towards Charringworth until it had become very misty and he had got lost and spent the rest of the night lying under a hedge. At daybreak on the Friday morning he had gone to Charringworth, where he asked a man called Edward Plaisterer whether he had seen William Harrison. Plaisterer told Perry that Harrison had been with him the previous afternoon, and had collected £23 from him, but did not stay long with him. Perry then went to see William Curtis, also from Charringworth, who also told him he had heard that Harrison had visited Curtis’s house the day before, but he had been out and had not seen Harrison. Perry stated that he had then set off back towards home, at about 5 am, and had met his master's son on the way and had gone to Ebrington and Paxford with him as has already been said.

Read, Pearce, Plaisterer, and Curtis were questioned and confirmed Perry’s story so far as it concerning them.

Perry was asked by the Justice of Peace how it was that he was too afraid to go to Charringworth at 9 pm but was brave enough to go there at 12 pm, to which Perry replied that at 9 pm it was dark but at 12 pm the moon was shining.

Perry was then asked why, having returned home twice after his mistress had sent him to meet his master, and having waited until 12 pm, he did not go into the house in order to find out whether his Master had come Home before going a third time, at that time of night, to look for him. Perry’s response was that he knew his master had not come home because he could see a light in his bedroom window, which was never normally there so late when Harrison was at home.

However, despite Perry’s explanation of reasons for staying out that night, it was considered inappropriate to release him until further inquiries had been made regarding Mr. Harrison, and he therefore remained in custody at Campden, part of the time in an inn there, and part of the time in the public prison, from Saturday, 18th August unto the following Friday.

During this time, Perry was again questioned at Campden by the same Justice of Peace, but did not alter his story at all. No further clues as to what had happened to Mr Harrison could be found either.

However, rumour has it that while in custody Campden Perry told certain people, who urged him to confess what he knew about his master, that a tinker had killed him; that he told others that a gentleman’s servant of the neighbourhood had robbed and murdered Harrison; and again that he had told others that Harrison had been murdered and hidden in a bean-rick in Campden, where a search was made for him without success.

Finally, Perry indicated that, if he were taken before the Justice again, he would disclose something to him that he would not disclose to anybody else. Thus, on Friday 24th August, Perry was again brought before the Justice of Peace who had originally questioned him. Asked if he was now ready to confess what had happened to his master, Perry replied that Harrison had been murdered, but not by him. The Justice of Peace then told him that if he knew Harrison had been murdered then he must also know who had done it. Perry acknowledged that he did, and, urged to confess what he knew about it, stated that it was his mother and his brother that had murdered his master.

The Justice of the Peace then advised him to think about what he was saying. He told Perry that he feared he might be guilty of his master's death and that he should avoid making himself responsible for the shedding of further innocent blood, for what he now was now accusing his mother and his brother of might cost them their lives.

Perry however asserted that he was telling the truth and that if he would maintain it even if he were about to die. The Justice asked him to explain how and when they did it.

Perry then told him that his mother and his brother had pestered him ever since he came into his master's service to help them get money. They told him how poor they were and that it was in his power to relieve them, by warning them in advance when his master was going to go a collect his employer’s rent money. They planned to attack him on the road and rob him.

Perry continued that on the Thursday morning his master had gone to Charrington, he had gone into the town on an errand and met his brother in the street. Perry had then told his brother where his master was going, and that if he attacked him on the road he could rob him of his money. Perry then said that on the evening his mistress had sent him to meet his master, he had met his brother in the street outside his master's gate. His brother had told him he was on his way to meet Harrison, and so they went together to the churchyard a short way from Mr Harrison's gate, where they separated, John going along the footpath across the churchyard and his brother following the main road around the Church. On the highway beyond the Church, however, they met up again and so went together along the path leading to Charringworth, until they came to a gate not far from Campden Church that enters on to a piece of land belonging to Lady Campden's known as the “rabbit warren” (this being, for anyone who has a key to go through the garden, the quickest way from there to Mr Harrison's House). 

When they drew close to this gate, John Perry stated that he told his brother he thought his master had just gone into the rabbit warren (it was by now so dark that they could not make anyone out well enough to recognise them). Having seen someone go into this piece of ground, and knowing that only someone with a key could get through the gardens, he concluded it must be his master; and so told his brother that if he followed him he could rob Harrison of his money and that he meanwhile would walk around in the fields, which accordingly he did. Then, following his brother about the middle of the rabbit warren, he found his Master on the ground with his Brother over him, and his mother standing nearby.

Perry was asked whether his Master was already dead, to which he answered that he was not, since after Perry had come over to them his master had cried out “Ah rogues, will you kill me?” Upon this Perry told his brother he hoped he would not kill his master, but his brother replied “Quiet, quiet, you're a fool”, and strangled Harrison. When he had done so, he took a bag of money out of Harrison’s pocket and threw it into his mother's lap, then he and his brother carried his master's dead body into the garden adjoining the rabbit warren, where they debated what to do with it. Finally, they agreed to throw it into the great cesspool by Wallington's Mill, behind the garden.

Perry however stated that his mother and brother urged him go up to the courtyard by the House to listen if anyone was around, and they would throw the body into the cesspool. Perry was asked if the body was there, but he said did not know, as he had left it in the Garden, but his mother and brother had said they would throw it in there, and, if it were not there, then he had no idea where it was, as he had not gone back to them again. Instead he had gone through the courtyard gate which leads into the town, and there he had met John Pearce, with whom he went into the field, and again returned with him to his master's gate. Then he had entered the hen-roost, and stayed there lying down until 12 pm that night, but did not sleep.

When he had left his mother and brother he had brought with him his master's hat, collar band and comb, which he had placed in the hen-roost, then carried them and thrown them in the road, where they were later found, having first given them three or four cuts with his knife. Perry was asked what his intention had been in doing this, and said he did it so that people might think his master had been robbed and murdered there. Having thus disposed of Harrison’s hat, collar band and comb, Perry set off towards Charringworth, as has been stated.

Having heard this confession and accusation, the Justice of the Peace ordered that Joan and Richard Perry, the mother and brother of John Perry, be arrested, and that a search should be made of the cesspool where Mr. Harrison's body was supposed to have been thrown. This was therefore done, but no trace of him could be found there; the fishpools in Campden were also dragged and searched but nothing could be there found either. Some people therefore believed that the body might be hidden in the ruins of Campden House, which had been burnt down in the Civil War and which would make a fine hiding place, so these too were searched but all to no avail.

On Saturday 25th August, Joan and Richard Perry, together with John Perry, were brought before the Justice of Peace, who informed Joan and Richard of the accusation John had made about them. They denied everything, swearing they were innocent of all charges of which they were accused. John, on the other hand, maintained to their faces that he had spoken nothing but the truth and that they had murdered his master. He also told them that he could never keep quiet for them, as since he came into his master's Service he had been continually pestered by them to help them get money, which they told him he could do by alerting them when his master went to collect his employer’s rent money. John also stated that he had met his brother Richard in Campden on the Thursday morning when his Master had gone to Charringworth and told where Harrison was going and what his business was.

Richard admitted that he had met his brother that morning and spoken to him, but that there had been no discussion of that kind. Both Richard and his Mother told John he was a villain to accuse them wrongfully like he had, but John, for his part, declared that he had spoken nothing but the truth and would maintain it to his death.

One strange thing happened when these prisoners were coming back from the Justice of the Peace's house to Campden, namely that Richard Perry, walking a good way behind his brother John, when pulling a piece of cloth out of his pocket, dropped a ball of linen tape. One of the guards picked it up and Richard asked him to give it back to him, saying that it was only his wife's hair-lace, but the guard opened it out and, finding a slip-knot at the end, went and showed it to John, who was then a good distance ahead, and knew nothing about the tape being dropped and picked up. Upon being shown it and asked if he knew it, John shook his Head and said, yes, unfortunately, since it was the string with which his brother had strangled his master. This was sworn to in evidence at their trial.

The next day being Sunday they remained in Campden, where the local minister wished to speak to them (hoping to persuade them to repent and make a further confession). They were brought to the church and on the way there, as they were passing Richard's House, two of his Children met him. He took the smaller of the two up in his arms and led the other by the hand, then, all of a sudden, they both went down with a nosebleed, which was thought to be a bad sign.

It is relevant at this point to mention the fact that the year before Mr. Harrison had had his House broken into, between 11 and 12 am on Campden market day, while he and his whole family were listening to the sermon. A ladder had been put up to a window on the first floor and an iron bar wrenched out with a ploughshare, which had been left behind in the room. £140 had been stolen and the culprits never found.

After this, and not many weeks before Mr. Harrison's disappearance, Perry his servant Perry had made a dreadful outcry one evening in Campden garden. Some people who had heard it came in and found him running, and apparently scared, with a sheep-pick in his hand. He told them an unlikely tale about how he had been set upon by two men in white with bare swords and how he had defended himself with his sheep-pick, the handle of which was cut in two or three places, as was a key in his pocket, which he said, had been done by one of their swords.

The Justice of the Peace had already heard these stories, and remembering them, when Perry confessed he asked him first about the robbery, when his master lost £140 from his House at midday, and whether he knew who had done it. Perry replied that he did know, and that it had been his brother. Perry was further asked whether he had been with him at the time, to which he replied that he had not, that he had been at Church, but that he had informed his brother about the money and which room it was in and where he could find a ladder that would reach the window. Perry added that his Brother later told him he had got the Money and had buried it in his garden, and that the plan was to divide it up the following September. At this, the garden was searched, but no money could be found there.

Perry was then questioned about the incident when he was attacked in the garden. He admitted that he had made it all up and that, and that, because they were planning to rob Harrison, he had done it so people might believe that thieves were in the area and when Harrison was robbed, people might think the thieves had done it.

At the next Assizes, which were held the following September, John, Joan, and Richard Perry were indicted on two counts: one for breaking into William Harrison's house, and robbing him of one hundred and forty pounds, 1659; the other for robbing and murdering the said William Harrison, on the sixteenth August 1660.

The Judge of Assizes at that time, Sir C. T. refused to try them on the second charge, because the body had not been found, but they were then tried upon the other charge of robbery, to which they pleaded Not Guilty. However, a whispered conversation took place and they soon afterwards pleaded Guilty and humbly begged to be allowed to take advantage of his Majesty's gracious Pardon and Act of Oblivion, which was granted to them.

However, although they pleaded Guilty to this charge, probably having been prompted to do so by people who did not wish to waste time and trouble the Court with their trial, given that the Act of Oblivion would pardon them in any case, afterwards, and at their deaths, they all denied that they were guilty of this robbery and also denied that they knew who did it.

Yet at these Assizes, according to a number of credible people, John Perry still persisted in his story, that his mother and brother had murdered his master. He further added that they had attempted to poison him in the gaol, so that he dared not eat or drink with them.

At the next Assizes, which were held the following Spring, John, Joan, and Richard Perry were tried on the indictment of murder by the Judge of Assize at the time, Sir B. H., and each pleaded Not Guilty to this charge. When several witnesses gave spoken testimony in the court that they had heard John's confession to the Justice of the Peace, John told them that he had been mad at the time and did not know what he was saying.

The other two, Richard and Joan Perry, said that they were wholly innocent of the charges with which they were accused and that they knew nothing of Mr. Harrison's death or of what had become of him. Richard said that his Brother had accused others as well as him of having murdered his master. The judge invited him to prove it and Richard said that most of the people who had given evidence against him knew this to be true. However, no names were mentioned and nobody said anything about it, so the jury found all three of them guilty.

A few days later they were taken to the place of their execution, on Broadway Hill, within view Campden. The mother (who was thought to be a witch and to have bewitched her sons so that they could not confess to anything while she was alive) was the first to be executed.

Next, Richard, while on the ladder, asserted, as he had done all along, that he was completely innocent of the crime for which he was about to die and that he knew nothing about Mr. Harrison's death or what had happened to him.  Richard earnestly begged and implored his brother to declare what he knew about Harrison, for the satisfaction of the whole world and for his own conscience. John, however, with a resolute and surly attitude, told the people he was not obliged to confess to them. However, just before his death, he said he knew nothing about his master's death or what had happened to him, but they might possibly hear afterwards.

For Sir T. 0. Knight.

Honoured Sir,

As you have instructed, here is my truthful account of how I was abducted overseas, my time spent there, and my return Home.

On a Thursday afternoon at harvest time, I went to Charringworth to demand rent money due to Lady Campden my employer. The tenants were busy in the fields at that time and it was late before they came home, which caused me to stay there until the end of the evening. I expected to collect a considerable sum of money but received only £23.

As I was returning home, in the narrow passage through the gorse bushes at Ebrington, I was met by a horseman who said “Are you there?” I was afraid he was going to ride over me, so I hit his horse over the nose. At this he hit out at me with his sword several times and ran it into my side while I defended myself as best I could with my little cane.

Next another man came up behind me and stabbed me in the thigh, grabbed the collar of my doublet, and pulled me to a nearby hedge. Then came another man arrived.

They did not take my money, but put me on a horse behind one of them, pulled my arms around his waist and fastened my Wrists together with something which I imagined must have had a spring-lock, as I heard give a snap as they put it on. Then they threw a large cloak over me and carried me away.

In the night they stopped by a haystack near to a quarry by the side of a wall, where they took away my money. About two hours before daybreak, as I heard one of them tell the other he thought it to be then, they tumbled me into the quarry. They stayed, I thought, about an hour at the haystack, then they got back on their horses again. One of them told me to get out of the pit and I replied that they had already taken my money and asked them what they intended to do with me. At this he hit me again, pulled me out, and put a large amount of money into my pockets, and put me on horseback me again in the same way as before.

On the Friday, around sunset, they brought me to an isolated house on a moor by a clump of bushes, where they dismounted me. I was almost dead, having been badly bruised by carrying the money. When the woman of the house saw that I could not stand up or speak, she asked them whether they had brought a dead man. They replied, no, it was a friend that was hurt and they were taking him to a surgeon. She answered that if they did not hurry their friend would be dead before they could take him to one.

There they laid me on cushions, and permitted no one to come into the room except a little girl. There we stayed all night and they gave me some broth and brandy. In the morning, very early, they put me on horseback as before, and on the Saturday night they took me to place where there were two or three houses, in one of which I lay all night on cushions by their bedside.

On Sunday Morning they took me from there and, about 3 or 4 o'clock, they brought me to a place by the seaside, called Deal, where they laid me down on the ground. One of them stayed with me, while the other two walked a little way off to meet a man with whom they talked. As they were talking, I heard them mention seven pounds, after which they went away together, and about half an hour later returned. The man (whose name I later heard was Wrenshaw) said, he was afraid I might die before he could get me on board. Then they immediately put me into a boat and carried me on board ship, where my wounds were dressed.

I remained in the ship, as best I could tell, about six weeks, during which time I recovered fairly well from my wounds and weakness. Then the master of the ship came and told me, and the other people who were in the same state, that he spotted three Turkish Ships. We all offered to fight in defence of the ship and in own defence but he ordered us to keep still and said he would deal with them well enough. A little while later he called us up and, when we came on deck, we saw two Turkish ships close by us. We were put into one of them and placed in a dark hole. I do not know how long we stayed in there before we landed.

When we were landed, they led us on a two-day journey and put us into a large house or prison, where we remained for four and half days. Then eight men who seemed to be officers came to view us. They called us and questioned us about our trades and professions, to which everyone answered. One man said he was a surgeon, another that he was a broad-cloth weaver, and I, after two or three demands, said that I had some skill in medicine. We three were set aside and taken by three of those eight Men that came to view us.

It was my luck to be chosen by a solemn eighty-seven-year-old doctor who lived near Smyrna and who had once been in England and knew Crowland in Lincolnshire, which he preferred over all other places in England. He employed me to run his distillery and gave me a silver bowl, double gilt, to drink out of. I was mostly occupied at that place, but once he ordered me to gather cotton wool, and when I did not do it to his satisfaction, he hit me down to the ground and then drew his stiletto to stab me, but I held up my Hands to him and he gave a stamp, and turned away from me, for which I give thanks to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who stayed his Hand and preserved me.

I was there about a year and three quarters and then my master fell sick, on a Thursday, and sent for me. Calling me, as he used to, by the name of Boll, he told me he was going to die and invited me to look after myself. He died the following Saturday, and I immediately hurried off with my bowl to a port, almost a day's journey away. I knew the way to this place, as I had been sent there twice by my Master in relation to the transporting of his cotton wool.

When I arrived there, I addressed myself to two men, who came out of a ship from Hamburg, which, they told me, was bound for Portugal within three or four days. I asked them whether there was an English Ship and they answered that there was none. I begged them to take me into their ship, but they answered that they dare not, for fear I might be found by the searchers, which might lead to them losing not just their cargo, but also their lives.

I was very persistent with them, but could not persuade them. They left me to wait on Providence, which, eventually, brought another man out of the same ship, to whom I explained my position, begging his help to transport me. He gave me the same answer as the others and refused just as vehemently, until the sight of my bowl made his hesitate. He returned to the ship and came back again accompanied by another seaman, and, in return for my bowl, agreed to transport me. He told me, however, that I must be content to lie down in the keel, and endure many hardships, which I was content to do to gain my liberty. 

So they took me on board and placed me below in the vessel, in a very uneasy place, and concealed me with boards and other things. I lay there and they did not find me, despite the thorough search that was made of the vessel. My two accomplices, who had got my bowl, honestly provided me with food every day until we arrived at Lisbon in Portugal. There, as soon as the master had left the ship and had gone into the city, they left me on shore with no money to fend for myself.

I did not know what to do, but, as Providence would have it, I went up into the city and came into a fine street. I was tired and turned my back to a wall and leaned on my stick. Opposite me there were four gentlemen talking together. After a while, one of them came over to me and spoke to me in a language that I did not understand. I told him I was an Englishman and did not understand what he said. He answered me, in plain English, that he understand me, and had himself been born near Wisbech in Lincolnshire. Then I told him about my sad state of affairs and he, taking compassion on me, took me with him, provided accommodation and food for me, and, through his connection with the a master of a ship bound for England, obtained my passage. He brought me on board ship and gave me wine and brandy, and, when he came back, gave me eight stivers, and left me in the care of the master of the ship, who landed me safe at Dover, from where I arranged to get to London. There I was provided with what I needed and came into the country.

So, honoured Sir, I have given you a true account of my great sufferings and fortunate deliverance, by the mercy and goodness of God, my most gracious Father in Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Redeemer, to whose name be ascribed all honour, praise, and glory. I conclude and remain,

Your Worship's

in all dutiful respect,