Letter from Lady Hester Pinney to Thomas Hardy, 16 January 1926

[Page 1]






My dear Mr. Hardy

Here is the story of Martha Brown, as I find it, still fresh in the memory of our older neighbours. It was very close to us as the site of where Martha's cottage was can be seen from the room [Page 2] where you had tea. Though just in the Parish of Broadwindsor it is almost the furtherest point from the Village. Many of the cottages have fallen down since & not been rebuilt, Birdsmore Gate was quite a hamlet in those days & these little [colonies] have quite a different outlook on life, & it dies hard. At our little village Club we often sit round our stove & talk of Blackdown in the old days. The old Lane, whose story I send, is one of the old school, a gentle old man whose hard life [Page 3] has not affected his generous outlook on life & his simple moral code. He went out to work at 8. for 1/. a week, walking 2 or 3 miles to his work, married young & buried his frail little wife a few months ago & has been very lonesome since. They reared 13 children, & one grandson, from a few days old, who makes a home for the old man now, in one of our cottages — [Page 4] He served us loyally, when we started farming in the War, & was the man I spoke of, who insisted on the hand drawn reed, & taught our children how to do it, in our ball crush.

Some day, if I may, I will come & have a talk over poor Martha & her day.

With every good wish

Yours very sincerely

Hester Pinney


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Martha Brown. Told by Jim Lane. 13.1.26

John Brown was a tranter, his wife Martha kept a small shop Mary Powell also kept a small shop at Birdsmoregate. John Brown he did bide about with [ her] her ^[Mary P.] ^ — a bad man. Martha went along there one night and found her husband on Mary Powell's knee, she ^[Martha]^ was at the window ^^[outside]^ and she see'd him there, she went home and got there first. After John came home, he sat by the fire untying his boots ., I expect they had a few words, you know. She had a little axe and hit him on the head., (because he had been along with that other woman). She hit him the same night and the blood did made a stain on the wall as never could be got out not till the house fell down, it was near Staple's barton. To make the tale good ^^[of it being an accident]^ Martha had a horse and she carried a hat and a halter down to the field to make people think the horse kicked him but her ^the horse^ didn't because she killed him there and then, and his headstone be out to Blackdown church 50 year and more; I don't mind exactly.

I were a young man at the time and weren't married. Mary Powell ought to be ^^ [have been]^ hanged instead because she did uphold a man to her house.

Martha Brown were hung at Dorchester and tried openly no ^[woman's]^ one's bin hung openly since. They went about th and found the things ^[she]^ they killed he with. There were a bleeding hair on the hatchet. Poor Mrs Brown hired a trap and went and bought her mourning and all out to Crewkerne, she never thought she were going to be hanged. There was one Richard a carpenter, he found out all about it, he was on the jury and he saw the hole in his head and found the hatchet in a little house in the garden. Mary had money and I suppose John liked the younger woman better, she was younger and smarter but Martha was a nice [Page 6] [Page 7] looking lady too. Me andour one or two of other lads went to see the man's body on Sunday morning about 12, before dinner, but they ^[she?]^ wouldn't let us see he. Martha came to the door and said. "The horse have kicked poor John andk killed he." She was not a bit sad, as bright as ever I see'd her. After we heard what had happened we went down to the field and see'd the hat and halter. But John Brown was not there ^^[where he was killed]^, he was up home. Of course they blame^^d^ Mary Powell because she did uphold a man to her house. Mary Powell's husband, whom she marrie-d after this, was an old man, she had one before called Davies, a butcher and she had two sons and a daugh-ter ^see note^. I think Martha was hung in her black silk dress and buried in it too. I went to the funeral ^^(John Brown's)^, I remember it well better than I can things of three year ago.

I'll tell you another thing Mary Powell used to go out to Attesham to do a bit of washing. One morning she rode up-along ^[with]^ of Mr Brown. Thomas Smith, a thatcher went to buy a bit of 'baccy of Mrs Brown and he said = "I see'd Mrs Powell riding along of ^[with]^ your husband. that ^[fired?]^ filled her [worst] up worse, and that very nigt night she killed him. Thomas Smith didn't ought to have gone in and said ^[any]^ nothing. John Brown went home took his horse out and all.

Every one used to go to Mary Powell's shop, people went when they didn't want to buy nothing. She had money but her chil-dren soon got rid of it for her.

One woman went to see Martha hung. Mrs Eliza Plumber, (shepherd's wife down to Bettiscombe she hired to get there and she saw her hanged. Martha was drove to it. John Brown was a very nice man andso so was Mrs Brown. I can't think how it did [Page 8] [Page 9] happen, he used to have a drop or two to drink going about on his job, he had to. It wouldn't haveh happened otherwise. "It is hard to be killed for other folks wrong."

A later conversation with Mrs Bailey (75) corrected some of the above, she remembers all the talk when she was a very little girl but tells me that Mary "Powell" was "Davies" at the time of the murder, she married [gap: cancelled] [Davies] ^Powell^ later. She ^Mrs Bailey^ was indignant at the slur cast on Mary's character & then told me — when noone was near — "Her,, son, young Davies, was my first sweetheart" & "I wouldn't have been allowed to walk out with him if his mother hadn't been quite as she should be." She rather contradicted herself later by telling me that Mary Davies started to walk to Dorchester to see Martha hung, but when she got as far as [Broadwindsor] (8 miles off) they came out & told [w]ould get mobbed of she went there — so she turned back.

An old spinster, Mary Philip[s], of Broadwindsor told me her next door neighbour Amelia Dale, (who died a year ago in the Mental Hospital) had walked all the way from Mosterton to Dorchester, with 13 others, to see Martha hung, & "she was hung in a black silk gown" Mrs Bailey said it was satin & satin went out of fashion for some time after! Mrs Bailey tells me.

The whole story seems ^was^ to have been published in a Sunday pape, a few years ago – but old Lane can't read or write, so his story would be uninfluenced by this.