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Tennis Lawn Murder Aftermath and Background

The Ship public house May 2009
The Ship public house May 2009

Bedfordshire Mercury 21st July 1883 page 8: article on the murder of Eleanor McKay and suicide of Hubert Vere at the Ship paddock, Saint Cuthbert's

"THE FUNERALS. - The funeral of the remains of Miss McKay took place at noon yesterday (Friday) at Bedford Cemetery, amid many signs of grief and public sympathy. The service was conducted by the Rev. A. Hawkins Jones, curate of St. Peter's, the Rev. Howard Kempson, rector of St. Cuthbert's, and the Rev. Mr. Phillips (a friend of the family from Scotland); the surpliced choir of St. Peter's Church under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Rose attended and assisted in the singing of the appointed Psalm and the hymns "Days and moments quickly flying", and "Jesus lives! No longer now". The chief mourners were - Mr. Lumsden McKay, Miss McKay, Mr. Henry McKay, Mrs. Trapnell, Mr. Lumsden, Mrs. Lumsden, Mr. Murgatroyd, Mrs. Donald McKay, Mr. Trapnell, Mrs. Murgatroyd, Mr. Taylor, Miss Kempson, Colonel Bourchier, Mrs. William McKay, Mr. E. Kempson, Capt. Fegen, Mr. C. Fegen, Mr. C. G. Johnson, Mr. G. Porter, Mrs. Walling. The coffin, which was of polished oak, with silver mountings, was laden with choice floral wreaths and immortelles, the gifts of many loving relatives and friends, and the service throughout was of a most affecting character, thousands being present, notwithstanding the threatening weather. Mr. J. R. Bennett, of High-street, was the undertaker. - Mr. Vere's funeral took place in the afternoon, and was also largely attended and of an affecting character. Messrs Gilpin and Sloper were the undertakers. The mourners were - Mrs. Vere, Miss Vere, Mr. Vere, Mr. E. Kempson. Mr. C. Stimson, Mr. C. Fegen, Mr. Piper, Mr. Statham, Mr. Phillpotts. The hearse was escorted by seven policemen, five other constables joining the procession at the Cemetery. The Rev. H. Kempson and the Rev. W. P. Beckett rendered the service".


Plan of the Ship paddock
Plan of the Ship paddock [click on the image to see a larger version]

"To enable our readers to understand the evidence given at the inquest, we append a plan of the Ship paddock, and tennis-lawn" [above].

Sadly the scene of this tragedy is no longer a paddock, it now lies somewhere under Saint Cuthbert's Court or its near vicinity, as can be seen from the map below in which the paddock is highlighted in blue. The map dos not completely tie in with the plan drawn in the Bedfordshire Mercury but the best point of reference is Jones the baker's shop, which was at 13 Saint Cuthbert's and is highlighted in red. From the end of his father's property young William would have got the necessary view of the tennis court.

The dramatis personae in this senseless tragedy can be traced on the 1881 census, their details, at that time, as follows:

  • Eleanor Evelyn McKay: living with her mother at 46 Harpur Street; she was then 17 and had been born in Chorley [Cheshire];
  • Eleanor McKay: Eleanor Evelyn's mother, living at 46 Harpur Street; she was a 37 year old widow and had been born in Hull [Yorkshire]; also living there were J. Lumsden McKay, her son, aged 14, a scholar who had been born in Scarborough [Yorkshire] and Elizabeth Walden a cook aged 25 who had been born in Yelvertoft [Northamptonshire];

46 Harpur Street June 2009
46 Harpur Street June 2009

  • Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere: aged 20 and living at Sandhurst as a Gentleman Cadet; he had been born in France but was a British subject;
  • Henrietta Vere, Hubert's mother, lived at 35 The Grove; she was a 48 year old widow and had been born in "East India NWP" this may mean the area of modern West Bengal or Bangladesh. Her daughter Adelaide, 28, had also been born there and lived with her mother, as did a servant, Maud Ann Barlow, 24, who had been born in Moulton near Northampton;

Maidstone Villas - 35 The Grove June 2009
Maidstone Villas - 35 The Grove June 2009

  • Rev. Howard Kempson, aged 55, lived at Saint Cuthbert's Rectory, 14 Saint Cuthbert's Street, he had been born in Birmingham. Also living at the rectory were Howard's wife, Sarah, 54, who came from Wentworth in Cambridgeshire and their children: Frank K., 22, a mechanical engineer born in Romsley [Worcestershire]; Edgar, 19, an articled clerk, also born in Romsley; Maud, 17, also born in Romsley; Ernest L. P., a 14 year old scholar, born in Romsley; James H., a 12 year old scholar born in Cookley [Worcestershire] and Edith M. a year old scholar born in Cookley. There were three servants: Emma Long, 18, from Worcester; Annie Wakelin,18, from Biddenham and Rose Cherry, 17, from Elstow;

14 Saint Cuthberts Street June 2009
14 Saint Cuthebert's Street June 2009

  • Rowland H. Coombs lived at 10 Spring Grove (presumably some part of The Grove or Grove Place), he was a 37 year old general practitioner and surgeon who was Bedford born, though his 24 year old wife, Caroline, came from Liverpool [Lancashire];
  • Inspector Haynes was William Haynes, aged 46, who lived with his wife, 50 year old Eliza, at 15 Silver Street. He had been born in Bedford, as had she. The personnel records of the Borough police [FAC163/2/129] reveal that he had joined the Borough police in 1857, aged 22. He was 5 feet 11 inches tall and retired on 29th February 1884, less than a year after the murder. He served as a drummer in the Rifle Volunteers from 1861 to 1862, when he was barred from the volunteers because he was serving policeman. In 1865 he was reprimanded for being "the worse for drink" but this did not seem to unduly hamper his career path as he was made a detective officer in 1868 and promoted to acting sergeant in 1869 and given 15 Silver Street, the former Chief Constable's house, to live in "at his current rent but rates free". He was promoted to inspector in 1871. Sadly his personnel sheet does not say when he died;
  • Rosetta Darlow was at this time working as a servant for George Cain who ran the Coach and Horses public house in Saint Paul's Square. She was then 18 and had been born in Thurleigh;
  • Interestingly Ann Peacock, wife of Edward Peacock who ran the Ship also came from Thurleigh. She was 56, her husband, who came from Kimbolton [Huntingdonshire], 62. Living with them were their two grandsons Samuel, aged 15, from Lambeth [Surrey] and 3 year old Thomas E. Cain from Fenstanton [Huntingdonshire] - so clearly George Cain at the Coach and Horses was a relation by marriage. Also at the Ship in 1881 were lodgers Charles Williams, a 24 year old groom from Turnworth [Dorset] and Bristol grooms Edward Hemburgh, 31 and Charles Ford, 23. There was also a servant, Sarah Ann Hull, a 19 year old from Great Barford;
  • William Jones, 13 in 1881, was described as a scholar and living at 13 Saint Cuthbert's Street, he had been born in Bedford. His parents were both from Bicester [Oxfordshire], Henry, aged 50, the baker and Ann, also aged 50. William's siblings were Elizabeth, 24, Martha E., 17, Henry F., 14, Annie M., 10, Charles J., 8 and Arthur 6, all born in Bedford.

13 Saint Cuthberts Street June 2009
13 Saint Cuthbert's Street June 2009

The 1881 census has no entry for a Charles Stimson living in Bedfordshire except for the young son of the innkeeper at the Boot in Langford!