|The Campden Wonder|
|"Time, the great Discoverer of Truth, shall bring to Light this dark and mysterious Business"|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Harrison's already profound fear for her husband’s safety was now deepened
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.
Pearce, Plaisterer, and Curtis were questioned and confirmed Perry’s story
so far as it concerning them.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
at their deaths, they all denied that they were guilty of this robbery and
also denied that they knew who did it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
all dutiful respect,