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The Killing of a Gamekeeper

The following case was brought to our attention by Delia Gleave, a relative of the victim. On 29th August 1836 Colonel Hanmer's gamekeeper was killed at Bragenham Warren. This was just over the border in Buckinghamshire and the case was tried at Aylesbury. The perpetrator, however, was from Heath and Reach. Our knowledge of this brutal crime comes from newspaper articles such as the following, from the Northampton Mercury of 3rd September 1836.

"Murder of Colonel Hanmer's Gamekeeper. - On Tuesday morning last, about ten o'clock, the neighbourhood of Leighton Buzzard, Beds and Great Brickhill, Bucks, was thrown into a considerable state of alarm by the information that James Giltrow had been found dead on the south-west side of Bragenham Warren, half way between the above places. The forehead, eyes and nose of the deceased were completely beaten in, apparently by some blunt instrument, and the whole of his features were so completely disfigured, that his most intimate friends recognised him with difficulty. He had not been home during Monday night, and his wife went up on Tuesday morning to Stockgrove House, the residence of Colonel Hanmer, M. P., and an immediatev search was set on foot. Jonathan Chew, the Colonel's gardener, went in a south-west direction, and found the body on the spot described. He gave the alarm, and summoned to his assistance some labourers who were at work in an adjoining field of Mr. Mortimer's In a short time several persons were collected to witness the melancholy spectacle. This corner of the warren is covered with high fern and small oak trees, with their boughs almost bending to the ground, and is a spot well selected for the perpetration and concealment of the desperate and horrible deed. A small piece of stock of a gun, with the guard and percussion lock, was picked up by John Adams about seven or eight yards from the body, and were immediately recognised as belonging to a gun which a man, named Thomas Bates of Heath and Reach, had in his possession the previous night. This of course led to the imemdiate apprehension of Bates".

"On Wednesday afternoon, at three o'clock, the Coroner for Bucks. J. W. Cowley, Esq., impannelled a respectable jury from the neighbouring parishes, at the Boot public house, at Soulbury, Bucks, the parish in which the warren is situated. The body having been brought to the cottage close by, it was viewed by Mr. Penrose, the Surgeon, and the jury. The first witness called was Bernard Fossey, a lad about 14 years old, who deposed that he saw Giltrow on Monday evening, between seven and eight, near Baker's Wood Gate, south. Thomas Line, the next witness, stated that he took a gun down the village at the request of, and gave it to, the prisoner, on the Common, near Rushmere Pond, about six o'clock, and several witnesses proved that they saw the prisoner go in the direction of the warren about the same time, and that part of the gun found near the body was part of the prisoner's gun. During the examination of the witnesses, the prisoner's wife asked leave of the constable to see her husband, who was in a small room at the other end of the public house, which, being granted, the constable retired, and for a few minutes left the prisoner with his wife and the guard  to whom he was handcuffed. When the constable returned Bates cried, and said, "come here, and I will tell you all about it". He then detailed the particulars, nearly in the following words: - "When I left Rushmere Pond, I went through the warren into Mr. Chew's wheat stubble field. I sat by the gate a little while, thinking to see a rabbit. I saw a cock pheasant coming towards the hedge. I waited till it got near enough, and then I shot at it. I thought I hit it but it flew into the warren. I then went into Six Acres, under the hedge. At that instant I saw Giltrow running towards me, as fast as he could, and I popped through the hedge into the warren, and squatted in the ditch. Giltrow passed me; he went into Mortimer's field, and soon came back again. When he saw me in the ditch, he said, "I've got you at last; I have been looking for you a long time, and now have got you". I said it was the first time, and hoped he would forgive me. He said no, he would not; he told me to come out of the ditch. I said I would not, but I soon got out of the ditch, and we walked up by the side of the freeboard, and I again asked him to forgive me several times, but he said no. I then raised my gun, and knocked him down with the butt-end. He said, "oh dear!" and I kept hitting him. I then left him, and went home, and got to bed about half-past eight. I got up early next morning, and went to look for the piece of gun. The moon shone bright, but I could not find it. I was there an hour, and then left, for fear somebody might see me, as it was getting light, and went to work on the railway, where I was taken"".

"The prisoner afterwards told the constable where the other part of the gun was; the Coroner directed a search to be  made for it, and at half-past eight adjourned till Thursday morning, at ten o'clock. Bates is about 22 years of age, and is a strong, active young man, very fond of a gun and poaching; he stated that no one but himself was implicated, and that he had no previous thought of committing the rash act. - The inquest was again resumed on Thursday morning, when the pieces of the gun were produced, having been found in a pond described by the prisoner. After some further evidence as to the identity of the gun, the Coroner summed up, and the jury, after a few minutes' consideration, returned a verdict of "Wilful Murder" against Thomas Bates, and he was committed accordingly for trial".

Bates' reference to working on the railway must be to the preliminary work on the London to Birmingham railway, passing through Linslade. The Woburn Poor Law Union made the following observation in a report that same year [PUWM1]: "The Board think it right to observe that a certain extent this reduction [in poor rate] has been assisted by the demand for Labour on the London and Birmingham Rail road now in progress near this district". Bates' fate is desrribed in the Northampton Mercury of 18th March 1837.

"MURDER. - T. Bates was indicted for the murder of James Giltrow, game-keeper of Colonel Hanmer, M. P. on the 29th of August last, at Soulbury. We noticed this case at the time of the apprehension of the prisoner, and a gun, which was proved to belong to the prisoner, was found in a pond where it had been thrown by the prisoner. He also admitted that when the deceased discovered him in the act of shooting a pheasant, he threw himself on his mercy, but the deceased said he would not pass it over, for he had caused a great deal of trouble; on this he struck him with the butt-end of his gun, and continued his assault until the stock broke".

"The evidence fo teh surgeon who examined the body shewed that there was a severe wound on the front on the head; there was also a great loss of the frontal bone; all the bones of the skull were severely broken; the nose was beaten flat; and he had no doubt that death ensued from the sounds inflicted".

"The prisoner was found guilty, and the Learned Judge passed sentance of Death on him".

"In the course of the examination it appeared that the deceased was a passionate man, and about six months previous to this transaction, had accidentally shot a man. The two were out shooting rabbits; the other man was stooping down at a rabbit hole for the purpose of pulling one out, and at that moment one jumped up close to the man. Deceased shot at it, intending to shoot over him; but at the instant deceased puleld the trigger the other rose up from the hole, and was shot. An inquest was held, and it was most satisfactorily proved to the Jury to be wholly accidental".

"During the passing the sentence the prisoner manifested no peculiar emotion, although his whole demeanour was marked with calmness and attention to the proceedings".

Thomas Bates was hanged at Aylesbury Prison on 31st March 1837. He was 23 years old.