Sunday, 6 November 2016

18th Century Crimes Against Innocent Kentish Girls

Mary Bax's grave, copyright Janet Cameron

Mary Bax and Jenny the milkmaid – The brutal treatment of two innocent Kentish girls.

There was little or no protection for innocent young girls who fell foul of male antagonists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In this first account, the girl’s unnecessary and cruel death was avenged by her sweetheart, but in the second, as happened all too often, the girl’s young man abandoned her and the evildoer escaped justice. 

Mary Bax

In a remote place on the ancient road between Deal and Sandwich stands a stone which simply reads: On this spot / August the 25th 1782 / Mary Bax, Spinster / aged 23 Years / was murdered by / Martin Lash, Foreigner / who was executed for the same

Mary was a beautiful girl who, one day, decided to make the journey across the sand hills to Deal, but on the way she was accosted by the sailor, Martin Lash.  Lash was a Lascar (a sailor from India or south-east Asia) and also a deserter, so he had nothing to lose by assaulting or murdering Mary.  He threw the body into a ditch and the spot is now marked by a tombstone.

Mary was a cheerful and popular girl, so family, friends and neighbours were devastated, not least a young man of seventeen called John Winter who was in love with Mary. At the time of the crime, John’s younger brother, David, had been on his way for a rowdy evening at the infamous smugglers’ haunt, the Checkers-of-the-Hope Inn (the name is said to derive from Chaucer’s Inn in Canterbury) and he witnessed the brutal murder.  David rushed back immediately and spilled out the horrific account to John, who became mad with grief, and then with rage.

John was determined to bring the evildoer to justice, so he went after him, searching night and day until he found him and turned him over to the authorities.  David was able to identify him immediately and so justice was done; Martin Lash was hanged close to where he murdered Mary and where his grave now lies.  The tombstone is still there for all to see.

Later, sadly, David Winter drowned.  John went away for many years, only returning to Deal when the events were all but forgotten.

Mary’s stone now rests high on a levée among the long grass just off the ancient road, but this rise would not have been there at the time, so, although this is the spot where she was killed, it may not contain her grave.  Local people say it is possible her body could have been taken back to Sandwich from where the old Kent surname, Bax, originated.

Jenny the milkmaid

The wealthy Geary family lived at the Old Soar Manor at Plaxol during the eighteenth century. The family employed a milkmaid, a gentle girl called Jenny who knew nothing of the ways of the world.  The only man Jenny ever loved was Ted, a farm worker.  Jenny was unprepared when, during the Christmas celebrations in 1775, a drunken priest discovered her alone in the kitchen, probably washing dishes while hoping she might partake of a small mince pie.  Almost senseless from the consumption of ale, although not enough to render him harmless, the priest grabbed the girl from behind and dragged her away to the barn.  Amidst the general noise and bonhomie, her screams went unnoticed by those partying in the house.

Here, the priest thrust her on the floor and overpowered her. But Jenny didn’t tell anyone.  She was too ashamed, and anyway, she was afraid no one would take her word against his.  Then she found, to her horror, she was pregnant with his child and eventually, her family noticed her expanding waistline.  Her father wanted to know who was responsible, but she refused to tell him, so he told her to leave his home, never to return.

She couldn’t approach her master for help, as he wouldn’t believe her word against that of a priest.  Sadly, Jenny’s young man, Ted rejected her, blaming her for allowing herself to be ‘seduced’ so what could she do but approach the priest, throw herself at his feet and beg for mercy?  Eventually she found him playing hymns on the organ in the chapel.  She pleaded for his help but he would have nothing to do with her.  He could not admit responsibility, he told her, and she must find a young man to marry if she wished to give her child a father.

In despair, Jenny turned away, feeling helpless.  She’d eaten very little through all the worry and began to feel faint.  Nearby was a basin filled with water, called a ‘piscina’, for the priests to wash their hands before preaching. Unfortunately, Jenny, wanting a drink of water, collapsed over it, hitting her head on the side and losing consciousness.  Some people think she may have been pushed down into the basin by the priest. Too weak to resist, she ended up drowning in the shallow water.

As she was only a servant, a brief enquiry was held into her death, and Jenny was laid to rest in unconsecrated ground.  People forgot about her, until one day, early in the twentieth century, a farm labourer claimed to have heard a woman’s footsteps pacing to and fro above a hay and straw storehouse where he worked.  At the time, he had no idea that this was once the original chapel where Jenny died.

The house was bequeathed to the National Trust during the midd-1900s, and again strange occurrences were reported.  It was said that inside the building, lights turned themselves on and off and music emanated from the chapel while the temperature was prone to drop suddenly.  It was also claimed there were sightings of the phantom priest bending over the spot where the basin once was.  The final irony to this story is that the word ‘Soar’ of the Old Soar Manor means grief in Norman French.
From Haunted Kent by Janet Cameron, Tempus Publishing (2005) £8.99

ISBN 0-7524-3605-8)

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