|Home||The Road Hill Murder 1860|
|General Village Info.|
Summarised by Terry Silcock and edited by Peter Harris
Based on information published in various sources:
Cruelly Murdered - Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House by Bernard Taylor, pub by: Souvenir Press 1979 ISBN 0-255-62387-7 (this has a list of the main characters at page 13/14 and map on the end covers).
There have been other books on the subject:
The Great Crime of 1860 by Joseph Stapleton pub1861 @ East Marlborough
The Case of Constance Kent by John Rhode pub by Geoffrey Bles in 1928
Saint with Red Hands by Yseult Bridges pub by Jarrolds 1954; ( pub in USA as The Tragedy of Road Hill House by Reinehart in 1955)
Note: In 1860 the village of Road was split between two counties. Most of the village was in Somerset but part, including the area called Road Hill, was in Wiltshire.
Samuel Savill KENT born 1801, son of a prosperous carpet manufacturer, Samuel Luck KENT, who was in business at London Hill. His mother was ? SAVILL, daughter of property owners in Colchester, Essex.
In about 1826 he met Mary Ann WINDUS daughter of Thomas WINDUS, a wealthy coach builder, of Bishopsgate St., London. They married at St. Johns Church, Hackney on 8 Jun. 1829. They lived in Artillery Place, Finsbury Park.
Their children were; Thomas Savill KENT (1), born December 1830, died of convulsions January 1832 ; Mary Ann Alice KENT (2), born October 1831; Elizabeth KENT (3), born December 1832; both were strong and thrived.
Samuel S. KENT's health declined and the family moved to Cliff Cottage, Sidmouth, where he became a sub-inspector of factories, implementing the 1833 factory acts. His wife, Mary Ann, was seriously ill before the birth of their fourth child, Edward Windus KENT (4), born April 1835; followed by Henry Savill KENT (5), born February 1837, died May 1838.
In 1839 a governess had been hired for Mary Ann & Elizabeth; Mary Drew PRATT born 1820 the third of four children to Francis PRATT, a grocer, and Mary, of Tiverton, Devon. Further children were born; Ellen KENT (6), born September 1839, died December 1839; John Savill KENT (7) born March 1841, died July 1841; Julia KENT (8) born April 1842, died September 1842; Constance Emily KENT (9) born 6th February 1844; and William Savill KENT (10) born July 1845. At this time Mr KENT suggested that his wife was insane, but in 1850 their parlour maid, Harriet GOLLOP, thought that Mrs KENT was unhappy, but not insane. Mary PRATT soon became Mr KENT's mistress. This scandal caused the family to move in 1848 to Walton Manor, a spacious secluded mansion in the village of Walton-in-Gordano, near Clevedon, Somerset. But by March 1852, gossip had forced them to move on again to Baynton House (20 rooms) at East Coulston, near Westbury, Wilts. On 1st May 1852 Mary PRATT left to visit her father who was ill in Tiverton, Devon. The next day Mrs KENT became desperately ill with excruciating stomach pains, and died in agony at Baynton House days later. Mary PRATT's father died on 15th May 1852. After a while Mary PRATT's mother also died. A stone was placed in the East Coulston churchyard in memory of Mary KENT.
On 11 Aug. 1853, Mr KENT married his "governess" at St Mary's church, Lewisham; from her uncle's house, which was nearby. She claimed to be of Lewisham. Constance KENT and her 2 sisters (Mary Ann and Elizabeth) were bridesmaids.
Mary KENT's first child (11) was still-born in June 1854.
Edward KENT (4) had entered the service of the West India Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. in about 1850. In Nov. 1854 he was reported as having drowned off the coast of Balaclava, when his ship, Kenilworth, sank with all hands, but he later returned having been one of the few to escape to the shore.
Mary Amelia KENT (12) was born in 1855.
In the autumn of 1855 the family moved to Road Hill House, (built in 1790) at Road Hill, Wiltshire. Just before they moved in Mr KENT found a local lad, Abraham NUTT, scrumping apples and he started a prosecution against him.
In 1856 Constance KENT (12.5y), disguised in boy's clothes, and William (11y) tried to run away to sea, but they were caught at the Greyhound Hotel in Bath.
Francis Savill KENT (13) was born in August 1856, he was normally known as Savill K. Edward KENT (4) died of yellow fever on board his ship, CLYDE, on 11th July 1858. He had written a will leaving his money (£300) to his siblings.
Eveline KENT (13) was born in October 1858.
In 1859 Constance KENT was removed to a school at Beckington, run by Miss SCOTT, with an assistant Miss WILLIAMSON.
On the 29th June 1859 the three main servants at Rode Hill house were; Sarah KERSLAND, cook - general; Sarah COX, young house maid; Elizabeth GOUGH, children's nurse. EG born c1836 was the daughter of William GOUGH, a respected Isleworth baker.
Additionally; Emily DOEL (14y) a local girl came in daily assisted Elizabeth GOUGH; and Mrs. Mary HOLCOMBE came in on Saturdays & Mondays to do scrubbing in the kitchen area.
There were also three outdoor male servants; James HOLCOMBE (son of Mary) who worked when required as a groom/gardener; and Daniel OLIVER of Beckington, an elderly casual helper.
John ALLOWAY had handed in his notice, because his request for a raise had been refused. Henry TOLER a sweep from Trowbridge had swept three flues (paid 4/6d)
and Tom FRICKER an elderly general labourer and jack of all trades had been repairing Mr KENT's "Dark Lantern".
In the 1860s, William GEE of Freshford wrote that Mr KENT was living beyond his means and could not pay the school bills. There was a very high turnover of servants in the Kent household. Over 200 different female servants in four years at Road Hill House.
In the period 1840-1860, there had been 5 cut-throat murders in the area of Road.
The Crime (night of Friday 29th June 1860)
During the night P.C. URCH of Somerset Constabulary based at Road, was on duty until 12.50.
A nearby resident, Joe MOON, and his companion heard barking dogs. They worked at the local lime-kilns, but were out poaching trout from the river.
At 7am on the Saturday morning Saville KENT could not be found. The drawing room windows and shutter were open, and the cot had been slept in.
Mr Kent got up and got HOLCOMBE to fetch Constable URCH. Mr KENT then decided to go into Trowbridge, Wiltshire to get Superintendent FOLEY (It must be remembered that Road Hill House was in Wiltshire). He also sent his son William for a constable. William met Thomas BENGER, a smallholder, and James MORGAN, a baker and also a parish constable at his shop. URCH was a Somerset constable although his house was in Wiltshire.
The news spread quickly through the village. A passing neighbour, Mr GREENHILL, told William NUTT, a shoemaker and the district clerk. Abraham NUTT, brother of William, had earlier been prosecuted for trespassing on Mr KENT's land. NUTT & BENGER searched the garden and then the outside privy. They lifted the seat and eventually found Savill KENT at about 8 a.m. with a blanket wedged between the splash board and the back wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear. Just before Rev. Edward PEACOCK, arrived from the nearby Vicarage.
Meanwhile at Southwick Mr KENT paid the toll to Mrs Ann HALL, the turnpike gate keeper. She told him the nearest policeman was P.C. HERITAGE, Mrs HERITAGE saw Mr KENT passing by.
When Savill KENT's body was brought into the house William was sent to Beckington to summon Dr. PARSONS, the surgeon. The county coroner, George SYLVESTER, was contacted to authorise a post-mortem. Some time after 9am, Supt. John FOLEY arrived with P.C.s HERITAGE & DALLIMORE. Thomas FRICKER was called to empty the garden privy's vault. Stephen MILLETT a local butcher and parish constable assisted with the search. At about 11 am, Roland RODWAY, Mr KENT's legal adviser, arrived with Dr. Joseph W. STAPLETON, a surgeon to the local factories under Mr KENT's jurisdiction. At about 2 p.m., Sergeant James WATTS of Frome police force arrived. P.C. DALLIMORE's wife, Eliza, arrived from Trowbridge to search the females present. Later that afternoon Mrs SILCOX (?Anna tmbs), the undertaker's mother, began her task of laying out the dead child. The next Monday, everyone went to Road Hill House, including Captain MEREDITH, Wiltshire's Chief Constable.
It was held on the next Monday at the nearby Temperance Hall, but this room was too small so the inquest was transferred to the Red Lion Inn. The coroner was George SYLVESTER, foreman of the Jury, Revd. PEACOCK, PC DALLIMORE of Trowbridge and his wife attended. Also attending were Rowland RODWAY (Mr K's solicitor). Some of the jurymen, including WEST & MARKTS, were reluctant to sign the verdict, "Murder by persons unknown".
Mrs Esther HOLLY and her daughter Martha went to collect laundry from Rode Hill House, they found that Constance's night dress was missing from the laundry.
Savill KENT's body was buried on Friday 6th July in the family grave at East Coulston.
Samuel GOUGH, Elizabeth's father, came from Isleworth for the examination of his daughter, Elizabeth had been staying at the saddler's house in Road, with the saddler's sister, Ann STOKES. Constance KENT reported that on the Friday she had walked over to Beckington to pay a bill, and had visited Miss BIGGS and Miss WILLIAMS, but she had not visited any shops.
Inspector WHICHER of Scotland Yard was called in and eventually arrested Constance KENT. Constance was "tried", with WHICHER prosecuting. One of Constance's school friends, Emma MOODY, gave testimony. After the examination Constance was released, with her father entering into a bond of £200, for her to appear if called again.
In August, a further enquiry was set up by a Mr SLACK, he examined many people including Emma SPARKES, a former servant of the KENTs. Elizabeth GOUGH had returned to South Street, Isleworth with her father. But on 28th September, Supt. WOLFE travelled there with a warrant for her arrest. This inquiry began on 1st October and lasted four days. Additional witnesses were; John ALLOWAY (Mr KENT's odd job man), Daniel OLIVER (a jobbing gardener). Elizabeth GOUGH was discharged, but her uncle Arthur SPACKMAN of Blackheath put up bail for the whole sum of £100. It was reported that an Elizabeth GOUGH of similar description had worked in1858-9 for a Mr HAWTREY of Eton, but she had been an "artful" girl and had been discharged owing to her misconduct. Soon afterwards Constance Emily KENT departed for France where, at Dinan, she was registered as Emily KENT at a fashionable finishing school.
In July 1863, Constance Kent was accepted as a guest at 2 Queens Square, Brighton (St. Mary's Home), which was a convent and hospital affiliated to St. Paul's Church, Brighton. It was organised by Rev. Arthur WAGNER, the perpetual curate of the church. He was a "Puseyite" (very high church). The Superior of the convent was Katherine Anne GREAM. Constance took confirmation, probably in 1864.
On 6th February 1865, Constance confessed to the murder in her confessional and authorised Arthur WAGNER to inform the Home Secretary. She requested to be taken to Bow Street (24th April) when her confession was accepted and she was then transferred to Trowbridge and appeared before the magistrates at the Police Gaol on 26th April. She was taken to Trowbridge Police Court on 5th May. Many of the witnesses and others involved had changed in the previous five years. Sarah COX (housemaid) had married George ROGERS, a farmer of Steeple Ashton in the early summer of 1863. Jonathan WHICHER the Scotland Yard Detective had retired and now lived quietly at Salisbury. Sup John FOLEY of Wiltshire police force had died in June 1864, of dropsy in the chest.
Constance KENT was brought into court by Inspector GIBSON of Melksham Police and Mrs ALEXANDER the wife of the gaoler. Mr RODWAY was representing Constance KENT. The court committed her for trial at the next Wiltshire Sessions, to be held at Salisbury on 19th July 1865.
At the trial Constance pleaded guilty, admitting that she killed Savill to get her revenge on the person who had usurped her mother in her father's affections. Considering that this was a greater revenge than killing her step-mother. But in the five years since the event she had repented and so had confessed as an atonement. Despite pressure from the judge, Mr Justice WILLES, she refused to change her plea and emphasised that she alone had been party to the crime. So the judge had no option but to pass the death sentence. The trial had only lasted a few minutes. The judge submitted a recommendation for mercy to the Home Secretary.
On 25th July, the Home Secretary: Sir John GREY, after consulting with the Cabinet, announced that the death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, because if she had been tried at the time of the crime she would have been only 16 years old and she was only convicted by her confession.
A Dr BUCKNILL wrote a letter to the press in which Constance KENT confessed how the crime was committed and her motive - the possession of a devil. However, later he disclosed the true motive, she was taking revenge on her step-mother for disparaging remarks about her mother.
The book critically analyses her confession as to how the murder was committed and concludes while certain parts of it bear signs of truthfulness, it must be acknowledged that other parts were the result of deliberate lying or hasty innovation. The author then expands his theories. He concludes that Constance KENT made a fuller confession to Rev WAGNER, but only authorised him to pass on her confession of guilt which specifically emphasised only her involvement. The author provides a dramatic reconstruction of his hypotheses of the murder and those who were involved.
Madame Tussaud's waxworks put an effigy of Constance KENT on display.
Constance was initially detained at Salisbury Gaol, until there was sufficient space to move her to Millbank Prison in London. At the time of her crime a life sentence was for at least 12 years, 15 years without remission. After an initial period at the prison she was employed in the laundry and later in the infirmary tending the sick.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth GOUGH married a Kensington wine merchant, John COCKBURN, at St Mary Newington, Surrey on 24 April 1866.
The Kent's moved away to Llangollen. Mrs Mary Drew KENT fell ill and died on 17th August 1865, of congestion of the lungs aged 46 years.
Samuel KENT and the younger children moved further north in Wales to Llanynys, Denbigh. Samuel died on 5th February 1872, from disease of the liver aged 72 years. He was buried beside his wife in Llangollen churchyard. The older children had already left home, Mary Ann and Elizabeth living together.
William KENT was working in London as a naturalist. In 1872 he was working at the British Museum. Later that year he married Elizabeth BENNETT, daughter of Thomas Randle BENNETT. The latter appealed to the Home Secretary for Constance's release from prison, which was denied.
By this time Constance had been transferred to Parkhurst Prison. She was working on mosaics for churches; Bishops Chapel, Chichester, St Pauls Cathedral, East Grinstead Parish Ch and St Peters Church, Portland, Dorset. She was later moved to Woking prison and then back to Millbank. It was then realised that at the time of her sentencing, life was at least 20 years. In 1877, 12 years after her trial, the family pleaded her case and submitted a petition for release. This was followed by further unsuccessful petitions in 1878, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883 and 1884.
Meanwhile William KENT's wife Elizabeth had died in 1875 at 25 years old. In 1876 he remarried, Mary Ann LIVESEY. In 1884 they emigrated to Tasmania as the "SAVILL-KENT" family with his half-sister Mary Amelia (29y).
On the 16th April 1885 Constance submitted her seventh petition, as a result of which a release on licence from Fulham prison was granted on 18th July 1885, 20 years from the start of her trial. On her release she was met by Rev. WAGNER, who escorted her by train to his home "Belvedere" at Buxted, Sussex, where he had established a religious community, affiliated to his St Mary's Church.
In 1886 her brother William left Tasmania for England and returned there with Ruth Emilie KAYE, who the author claims was Constance KENT. She stayed with her brother when his family moved to Melbourne in 1887 and again in 1888 when they moved on to Darling Downs in Queensland. But she later returned to Melbourne. In 1890, during a typhoid crisis, the Alfred Hospital appealed for help. Constance began a nurse's training course at 46 years old, which she completed in March 1892.
Her subsequent career may be summarised:
August 1892 matron at a private hospital, Perth WA.
November 1893 sister at Coast Hospital (Now Prince Henry Hospital) Sydney, NSW.
Later promoted to matron and transferred to Lazaret, an annexe for Lepers.
In 1898 (aged 54 y, but recorded as 49y) went to Mittagong - a TB sanatorium.
In 1910 , went to Maitland taking a lease on a property in Elgin St.
She reopened it as Maitland Nurses Home (previously and later known as: Pierce Memorial Nurses Home)
In 1929 a letter was received from Australia in response to the publication of John Rhode's book: "The Case of Constance Kent". This letter of 3000 words is commonly called the "Sydney Document".
In 1936, on her 88th birthday she retired. She then lived at various private nursing homes before she moved to Loreto, a rest home in nearby Strathfield. In 1944 she celebrated her 100th birthday at Loreto, which was publicised in the newspapers and other media. It was reported she was born at Waddon Manor, South Devon in 1844 one of 14 children. She died two months later on 10th April, of old age and was cremated. Sadly nobody claimed her ashes.
Meanwhile in 1896 William and his wife returned to England. He died at Milford-on-Sea in 1908.
The sisters Mary Ann & Elizabeth KENT were by 1896 living at Wandsworth. In February 1913 Mary Ann KENT died at East Hill Wandwsorth of bronchitis aged 81 years and Elizabeth KENT died in 1922, just before her 90th birthday. Both are buried at Putney Vale cemetery.
At Road, the privy and subsequent memorial arbor at Road Hill House have gone, although the house still stands, but now named Langham House and the village is now Rode.
The Red Lion Inn still stands but is now a private house and the Temperance Hall was demolished many years ago.
The headstones marking the graves of Savill KENT and the first Mrs KENT can still be found in Coulston churchyard, but are almost indecipherable.
TMBS 17 Nov. 97