Lower Quinton, just a stones throw away from Upper Quinton is a small, unassuming Warwickshire village, just six miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, the last home and final resting place of the immortal Bard, William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

One may spend a very pleasant few hours there, taking in an eclectic mix of the old and the new. From Tudor period thatched cottages to bland seventies council stock, it wouldn't be complete without at least one ancient hostelry (the College Arms) and a mediaeval church, St. Swithin's, founded c. 1100. Indeed, the tomb of Sir Henry, Knight, who fought with distinction at Agincourt can be found within the old church. In this small village, consisting of little more than a few streets surrounded by countryside, one could escape from the rest of the world and find peace of mind and tranquillity in equal abundance.

However, our story begins when the world was younger, back beyond the founding of St. Swithin's (a mere nine hundred or so years ago), before Lower Quinton was called such, back into antiquity even before old Caesars armies marched upon these fields and claimed this land as a back-water of his Empire.

Where ever one wanders in Lower Quinton one cannot fail to notice the plateau-like bulk of Meon Hill. It is said that if one can see Meon Hill, then it will rain. If it cannot be seen? Then it's raining! Meon hill has existed here pretty much unchanged since the last glaciers rolled ponderously across the landscape, at the end of the last ice age. The ancient Britons made their home here, and cultivated the land as it it continues to be tilled by the village's farming community, today.

It is Meon Hill that interests us, here. One can only imagine what Druidic rites were performed on its slopes and for what purposes in the time of our ancestors, though a particularly horrific 'rite' was enacted within living memory. Legend has it that, enraged by the construction of the 'new' abbey at Evesham (c.8th Century) the Devil himself uprooted a huge clod of earth and hurled it at the abbey, hoping to destroy it. St. Egwin, then Bishop of Worcester sighted the flying mountain and prayed for salvation. His prayers were answered and the earthy missile fell short of its target to become, that's right, Meon Hill.

In the closing months of the Second World War, specifically St. Valentines day 1945, seventy four year old resident of Lower Quinton, Charles Walton, set out for another days work at Meon Hill, not knowing that it would be his last. A jobbing farm labourer he made his way there, with the help of a stick, to continue planting a hedge for local farmer Albert Potter of the Firs farm, who owned the land.

Nothing unusual in that you may think? His niece, with whom he lived, returned home from work at 6pm that evening to find the thatched cottage they shared empty. Old Charles kept his own hours though would always be home to make his tea before his niece arrived. Not tonight. Knowing her uncle to be frail and rheumatic, Edith Walton called on her neighbour, Harry Beasley in a state of panic. Together, they headed for Potters farm. Had old Charles fallen? Was he injured?  

Charles Walton, a life-long resident of Lower Quinton was not a particularly social member of the small community, though he was generally regarded as 'quiet and inoffensive'. Keeping himself very much to himself you wouldn't find him drinking pints and spinning yarns with the locals in the village hostelry 'the College Arms', rather he would buy cider by the barrel-full, wheel it back to his cottage in a barrow, and consume it alone.

As a young plough boy in 1885, at Alveston (roughly six miles the other side of Stratford, from Quinton) Charles met a dog whilst on his way home from his labours. On nine consecutive occasions. Nothing unusual there, one might suppose, though the next evening he was allegedly met by a headless lady no less. The next day his sister died. Mocked by his colleagues he became a morose and withdrawn young man, a characteristic that would remain with him for the rest of his life. What has this to do with his end that February day decades later? Local  superstition and indeed the day on which it was perpetrated may prove to be more that just coincidence.

Returning to the day in question, Edith and Harry paid an unexpected visit to Potter. All three set out by torch-light to where the mutilated corpse of Charles Walton was found on the slopes of Meon. Seemingly, Potter led them directly there. The old man had been savagely murdered. His trouncing-hook, part of his working tools, was found embedded in his chest, which was dreadfully slashed in the shape of a cross whilst his pitch-fork had been driven through his neck and was embedded deeply in the earth beneath... occult lore tells us that such was the method of dispatching a witch, not only to end their earthly existence but to prevent any further post-mortal mischief.

The local police, namely PC Lomasney was swiftly conveyed to the spot, confirming Walton's death, his pockets empty and his cheap tin pocket-watch missing (the chain, however, remained). Shortly afterwards, Professor J. Webster of the forensic science laboratory &  Superintendent A. Spooner of Warwick were involved. Realising that investigating such a death was beyond their remit, Scotland Yard in the guise of Detective-Superintendent Robert Fabian arrived at Lower Quinton. Despite the full investigative and forensic arsenal at their disposal & the hill being scoured for evidence, Fabian of the Yard drew a blank. The villagers were reluctant to talk and were happy to simply let the dead rest undisturbed. The wall of silence remained throughout the investigation and, indeed, does so to this day.

Confounded by their reluctance to talk, Fabian returned to London empty handed. Years later he admitted that he had only one suspect - the farmer Potter, though without the evidence to convict him Potter lived out the rest of his life dying in 1964, a free man. Sullen, withdrawn, of violent temper when with drink, in debt and apparently owing Walton 'a considerably sum' of money, Potter was the last to see him alive on he day he died. Moreover, his fingerprints were found on the handle of Walton's pitch-fork.

The day Walton was murdered, the 14th February is the first day of February according to the old calendar, a day on which the ancient Druids performed human sacrifice in an attempt to appease the old gods & to ensure their land remained fertile. Walton, so local gossip went, had an understanding of animals and would harness toads to a miniature plough, using them to till the land. He was also allegedly in possession of an unusual piece of dark glass about which he was most secretive.

It is interesting to draw a comparison to the death of one Ann Turner, seventy years earlier in the village of Long Compton, not far from Lower Quinton. Local half-wit John Haywood dispatched this 75 year old woman in an almost identical manner to Walton, in 1875. He claimed that she was a witch (along with another fifteen he suspected in the village).

The peaceful and lonely cemetery of St. Swithin's is the final resting place of Potter and Walton. The author of this piece visited the Village Church on a cold & bright October morning, hoping to find their graves. Alas, he was confounded. After an extensive search of the entire plot they were not to be found. One can only assume that the villagers, not wishing to be associated with what may be considered an occult murder, and a particularly well publicised and gruesome one at that, have had the headstones removed.

We will perhaps never learn who killed Charles Walton, or why. Two things remain certain: the case remains open & Meon Hill guards its secrets well. 

Sources:

  • Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology, pp. 122-123, Octopus Books, 1974.

  • Ghosts and Witches of the Cotswolds, J. A. Brooks, pp. 49-56, Jarrow Publishing, 1986.

  • The Supernatural Murders, Ed. Jonathan Goodman, pp. 9-19, BCA, 1992.

  • Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Stratford & South Warwickshire, Nick Billingham, pp. 133-142, Wharncliffe Books, 2006.

  • All photographs - taken by The Author (October 2008).  Use them freely, if you wish.

Burgers eaten since I last checked

occult murder, Lower Quinton, Upper Quinton, Stratford upon Avon, William Shakespeare, Charles Walton, Albert Potter, witch, witchcraft, Meon Hill, druid