North Devon hasn’t experienced many murders over the years – but occasionally they have occurred.
In 1906 Lydia Brown, a 32-year-old spinster and Barnstaple collar maker, went to live with the Ash family at Lake, Tawstock.
Here she became romantically involved with their son Henry who was 10 years younger than her and they announced their engagement. Something, however, caused Lydia to break off the link and she moved in with her aunt in Barnstaple.
A little while after this break, William Dean and his fiancée were walking by the bottom of Sticklepath Hill next to the vanished toll house when they met Henry Ash standing next to Lydia’s unmoving body.
William asked if the woman was ill and received the reply ‘Yes, she’s done for’ and then, without any warning, Ash stabbed William in the shoulder and ran off.
The police were summoned and found Lydia dead she having been stabbed twice and her throat ‘had been cut from ear to ear.’
Dean was taken to hospital where his wound was successfully treated.
In the meantime, Ash had rushed home, told his brother what he had done and asked him to ‘see what you can do for her Jim’ before going to the nearby railway line and throwing himself under the wheels of the mail train ‘his mangled remains being discovered 10 minutes later’.
He left a note saying he could ‘not die without Liddie’ and he had murdered her ‘because she had forsaken him.’
An inquest was actually held in the Ash house the next day when the jury heard evidence that the murderer had given no indications as to what he was about to do.
Not unexpectedly the verdict was murder and suicide on the dead couple.
Bizarrely the Ash family ‘expressed a desire that the lovers should be buried close to each other’ but the Browns unsurprisingly ‘could not see fit to agree’.
Lydia was buried in Barnstaple’s Holy Trinity churchyard and Henry at Tawstock – and the Ash family attended both interments.
A rare photograph was taken of the scene of the murder and is reproduced here.
(The photograph comes from Peter Christie’s book A history of photography in North Devon 1842-1914, available post free from the author for £12).