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The Tennis Lawn Murder Events

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

The following article on a murder-suicide at the Ship paddock in Saint Cuthbert's is taken from the Bedfordshire Mercury of 21st July 1883.




"On the evening of Tuesday last, the little paddock at the rear of the Ship Inn, St. Cuthbert's, Bedford used for the last few years as a private enclosure for lawn tennis, was the scene of a fearful tragedy which resulted in the almost immediate death of a young lady of great personal attractions and the absolutely immediate death of a young man who had lately served with honour as an officer in Her Majesty's Army at Tel-el-Kebir [13 Sep 1882] and Kassassin [10 Sep 1882]. The circumstances of these two fearful events may briefly stated. Miss Eleanor Evelyn McKay, the daughter of Mrs. McKay of Bedford-terrace, Harpur-street, widow of a merchant, was it appears, about 20 years of age, and was the subject of intense affection on the part of a young gentleman named Hubert Wigram Veasey Vere, aged 22, whose mother is a widow lady residing in St. Cuthbert's parish. Young Vere passed from Bedford Schools - just three years ago this term, July 1880 - into SandhurstMilitaryCollege as a Queen's cadet, and, on the outbreak of the Egyptian troubles, he had obtained a commission as Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment. Having joined the colours he went to Egypt, and served with more or less distinction throughout the campaign, taking part in the affairs of Kassassin and Tel-el-Kebir, and was ultimately invalided home. He appears to have resigned his commission in the army and has recently been residing with his mother in Bedford. From evidence given before the Coroner it will be seen that both MissMckay and her friends were alike averse to the suit of Hubert Vere, and it appears also that at a recent entertainment in St. Paul's schoolroom she refused to be escorted home by her too ardent admirer. In fact it has transpired that there was a quarrel of some kind between them, though probably no one now living will ever know what really took place. It would seem, therefore, that the young lady avoided him as much as possible, and that he, on his side, was brooding over the estrangement which had arisen and the obvious disappointment of his hopes in winning her affections. Such appears to have been the relations between these two young people on the evening of Tuesday last. On that evening Miss McKay and Miss Kempson, daughter of the Rector of St. Cuthbert's, went into the lawn-tennis ground above referred to, situated just opposite the Rectory, and there entered the tennis-play, the other players being Miss Kempson's brother, Mr. Edgar Kempson and Mr Charles Stimson, solicitor, of Mill-street. In an evil hour for Miss McKay and himself young Vere happened to come upon the scene and ascertained that Miss McKay was there. Whether he had a revolver with him then or not cannot be determined, but it is clear that he left the spot. After an interval he returned but left again. A third time he came there, this time at least with a revolver, and entering the Ship Inn, he called for some 8d. worth of brandy, which was served to him diluted with water. He merely tasted it, then left his stick or cane in the house, and went out to the tennis-ground. A moment more, and he was close to his intended victim. Miss McKay, hearing his steps, turned round and looked him full in the face. His hand was raised he fired his revolver point blank into her heart, and she fell to the sward mortally wounded, the bullet having having penetrated the region of her heart. The murderer, seeing the main object accomplished, then placed the pistol to the right of his head, just above the ear, fired and fell dead instantaneously, the ball having gone through his brain leaving a wide perforation in his hat as it made its exit. In vain did young Kempson rush for a doctor to aid the dying lady; in vain was Mr. R. H. Coombs on the spot in times to hear her breathe, she was past all medical skill and died almost immediately. Such, in brief, is a full statement of the awful tragedy which has spread such a gloom over Bedford, and which has bereft two estimable widow ladies, the one of a daughter the other of a son, in whom they had doubtless entered many hopes of happiness for the coming years. The police authorities, on being appraised of the terrible occurrence, took the necessary steps to search the bodies and convey them from the fatal tennis-lawn. That of Miss McKay, at first taken to the mortuary, was by special permission of the Coroner, removed at midnight to the home which her death had now rendered desolate; that of her murderer was taken to the town mortuary, both to await the official inquiry which was fixed for Wednesday afternoon. On the ground beside the body of Vere was found a new six-chambered revolver, by J. Rigby & Co of Dublin and London. The barrel is rifled and there were only two of the chambers discharged, the four others remaining still loaded with ball. The revolver is one of those known as the central-fire class, and attached to the stock was a brown kid glove, which was tied fast to it so as to leave the glove fingers loose. Among the things found in the young man's pockets was a letter addressed to his mother, and also a photograph of Miss McKay. Of course all the articles so found were taken charge of by Mr Inspector Haynes, of the Borough Police, by whom they were produced at the inquest".