Deadly Game: death of a poacher at Red Lodge Farm in Braydon
Wiltshire Buildings Record was recently asked to look at Red Lodge Farmhouse, Braydon. This was a farm created in the mid-17th century out of the royal forest of Braydon, which had formerly been a royal hunting ground. The house is of great interest and reflects changing ownership over time until the 20th century, as does almost every house we look at. This time, however, it was a very human tragedy that took our attention.
By sheer coincidence I was on my way there and had called into another farm at Brinkworth nearby. When I mentioned my destination, the farmer exclaimed that his great, great uncle, Hezekiah Matthews, had been killed as a poacher at Red Lodge in 1882, and gave me a transcript of the poor man’s inquest.
Hezekiah Matthews had been one of a group of poachers, all cousins from Brinkworth, who were looking to bag something for the pot on the night of 27th December 1882. Because of previous incidents, a watching party consisting of the Neeld Estate head keeper, William Collins, Henry Reeves, Henry John Reeves, Thomas Reeves, and three others ambushed them, and after a struggle, apprehended them. Unfortunately, two of the keeper’s party were accidentally shot, and Hezekiah Matthews received a blow to the head. They were all taken off to Red Lodge Farmhouse to await the doctor and the police, who were coming from Purton.
The following is taken from an account of the inquest in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette dated 15th February 1883:
The doctor found nothing serious, and the three prisoners were conveyed later on to Cricklade, to be taken before a justice of the peace for the purpose of a remand. Before arriving at Cricklade, Hezekiah, who had spoken but little since the capture, showed alarming symptoms, and when Cricklade was reached he was taken to Dr. Langley, who made a minute examination, and finding his condition precarious, suggested his removal to the Purton Cottage Hospital. He was accordingly conveyed thither, but died shortly after his admission, not having recovered consciousness since his arrival.
An inquest was heard to determine the cause of death. Henry Reeves was found to have delivered the fatal blow, but was himself at Purton Cottage Hospital, having been one of those who had been shot. The inquest was adjourned until the following February to allow Reeves to recover so he could attend. After hearing all sides, the jury returned the verdict:
"That Hezekiah Matthews was feloniously killed by Henry John Reeves striking the deceased upon the head with a bludgeon in Braydon woods." The verdict having been accordingly given, the Coroner made out a warrant for the commitment of Henry John Reeves on a charge of manslaughter.
Needless to say, the current owners of the farmhouse had no idea of the dramatic events that had been played out in their very living room 130-odd years ago.
Principal Buildings Historian, Wiltshire Buildings Record