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The Murder of Edward Gummery and his Family, Berrow, Worcestershire 1780


Whilst checking off entries from the Worcestershire Burial Index I noticed that three people from the parish of Berrow in southern Worcestershire were buried on the same day, 11 May 1780, and all were from the "Murder House". Obviously my curiosity was aroused and what follows is the story as discovered in the newspapers of the day. The events are related by the original authors with a horrifying simplicity, and have the ability to shock even today.

Often when interesting or exciting events occurred, or a proclamation made, or a ballad or poem was topical, a "broadside" was printed and sold about town by hawkers and pedlars. A broadside was a single sheet of paper usually printed on one side only. A broadside was published on 9 May 1780 described the events that occurred around 4.00am Sunday morning, 7 May 1780 at Berrow, and embellished with a woodcut which seems to show something else:-

The Berrow's Worcester Journal of Thursday, 11 May 1780 on page 3, column 4 reported the events as follows:-

In the night between Saturday and Sunday last, a man, his wife, a child about nine years of age, and a brother-in-law, who had taken up his lodgings there for the night, were barbarously and inhumanly murdered in a cottage at Birch-Morton, in this county. This shocking scene was discovered by a man, who called upon the cottager early on Sunday morning; but hearing some horrible groans, and finding the door fast, went to a neighbour for his admittance -- On their return the door was open, and the miscreants, who were supposed to have been in the house when the man first called, were decamped. By this time the whole neighbourhood were alarmed, and immediately went in search of the murderers, when they came up with six tramps, whom they secured, and are now strongly guarded. Nothing yet has transpired to accuse them of the crime, except that a child in company with them , saying "It was not my daddy that killed them, but two men who are gone to Tewkesbury." They are all confined in separate places and the coroner's inquest is expected to be taken this day. The horrid deed is supposed to have been done by an axe, but for what cause is only conjecture, as no property appears to have been taken.

On Thursday, 18 May 1780, Berrow's Worcester Journal published an account of the inquest into the murders conducted by the Coroner, Harry Long. This was the most detailed account of what happened on the night of Saturday/Sunday 6/7th May 1780 at the Gummery cottage in Berrow.

The story doesn't end here. Nearly thirty years later, the Worcester Journal of 2 February 1809, on page 3, column 5, reported the hospitalisation in the Worcester Royal Infirmary of James Taynton, a road labourer from Malvern Link, aged 80 years, with a fractured leg:-

Many of our readers may probably recollect that on the 7th of June, 1780, a whole family was murdered in a cottage at Birtsmorton, in this county, and that the persons who were so active in destroying the fences of the Malvern Link inclosure were suspected of being concerned in the perpetration of the horrid deed; however, from that time to the present, the murderers have never been discovered, but circumstances have within these few days occurred at our Infirmary which seem to have a very close connection with the business: - On Thursday se'nnight, a man of the name of James Taynton, of Malvern Link, about 80 years of age, a labourer on the highway, was brought to our Infirmary with one of his legs dreadfully fractured; the day after his admission, he began to be delirious, and continued so with little intermission till the day of his death; during this time he often exclaimed, "I only reared the ladder against the window, and supplied them with drink;" these words being heard by another patient, who remembered the murder at Birtsmorton, he asked Taynton if he knew any thing of the murder? he replied, "I helped to throw down the railing (he meant by this, the railing of the Link Inclosure) and to burn it, and I found them drink:" he was afterwards asked whether the murderers were living? he replied they were all living, and as old as himself. On Saturday, last, the nurse, in his hearing, was remarking to some of the patients that it was a pity he would not own to the murder, as she thought he knew something of it; he exclaimed quickly, "aye, damn you, but you have not got hold of it yet:" in consequence of being asked what he took with him to the house; he said bills: and from the nature of the wounds inflicted on the bodies it appears that these must have been the instruments used in committing the murders. He fancied continually that demons were coming to seize and torment him; and was upon the whole a most affecting instance of the power of conscience upon a guilty mind; since his death it has been ascertained that he was one of the labourers employed upon the Link Inclosure, and bore a very bad character: he died on Monday.

It would appear that James Taynton was involved in the murders, but took the truth about what really did happen and why, to the grave with him. He claimed that the murder weapons were "bills". A bill was a concave battle-axe with a long wooden handle; a kind of hatchet with a long blade and wooden handle in the same line with it , often with a hooked point, used in cutting thorn hedges, or in pruning. Such items would be easily found in a rural, farming area such as Berrow.

Possibly, Edward Gummery was a member of the Woolhope, Herefordshire Gum(m)ery family - the Edward baptised at Woolhope on 8 March 1734, the son of Edward Gombery/Gumbery and his wife Anne Phillips. Berrow parish borders onto Herefordshire, being 18 kms due east of Woolhope. Edward junior married Elizabeth Miles at Berrow on 2 November 1767, the Berrow parish registers recording the event as:-

Edward Gummerry and Elizabeth Miles both of this Parish were Married in this Church by Banns the 2nd day of November 1767 by me John Cowcher, Cur'te of Berrow - witnessed by Joseph Miles and Joseph Wood

Edward and Elizabeth Gummery had a son, Edward, baptised at Berrow on 22 May 1768, but he was buried just 5 months later on 30 October. A daughter, Anne, arrived and was baptised at Berrow on 9 July 1771. It was this daughter, Anne, who was murdered together with her parents on 7 May 1780.

The parish church at Berrow is medieval, with a Norman nave, chancel and doorway. A stone on the outside wall marks the grave of the Gummery family. The Berrow burial registers records the event as such:-

Gummery
Edward - husband
Elizabeth - wife
Anne - daughter
This is the record of the celebrated murder at the Murder House; May 11, 1780

Elizabeth Gummery's brother, Thomas Sheen, "of Castle Morton who was murdered with three others, in Berrow parish, in a most inhuman & barbarous manner, was interred May 11" at Birtsmorton church, Worcestershire.

If you have any comments to make or are connected to any of the abovementioned people I would be very interested to hear from you - please email me .

References:-
Without the invaluable help of Gus Tysoe this page would not have been possible - thanks so much, Gus, I owe you a pint or two !!
Broadside, 9 May 1780 - B.A.6218/7, ref: 850; original at Worcestershire Record Office
Berrow's Worcestershire Journal, 11 May 1780 - page 3, columns 3 & 4; and 18 May 1780 - page 3, columns 3 & 4 - on microfilm at Worcestershire Record Office
Berrow & Birtsmorton parish registers - on microfilm at Worcestershire Record Office
The Worcestershire Village Book; compiled by the Worcestershire Federation of Women's Institutes from notes and illustrations sent by Institutes in the County, 1988
URL=http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~gomery/murder.html
Last revised: 31 July 2001
Linda Hansen 2001-2006