David Worthy's 'A Quantock Tragedy: The Walford Murder of 1789' is now available as a Kindle ebook for £4.99.
'A terrible record of rural immorality - too painful, I should almost think, for publication' wrote Elizabeth Sandford of the story of John Walford in her biography of Tom Poole in 1888.
Early in the morning of Sunday 7th July 1789, the body of a young woman, murdered with considerable violence, was discovered by the roadside at the village of Dodington, in the Quantock Hills in west Somerset. She was quickly recognised as Jane Walford, the bride of only three weeks of John Walford of Over Stowey. Beset by incriminating evidence, Walford was arrested for her murder, sentenced to death, and, after confessing at the foot of the gallows, executed and gibbeted on the hillside above Dodington.
The story of John Walford, still remembered in the Quantock villages, was to acquire wider, literary interest when it came to the attention of Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth in 1797. Dodington lies a mile to the west of Nether Stowey, the home of Thomas (Tom) Poole, the prosperous tanner with radical views and literary tastes, who befriended Coleridge, and arranged both a home and financial support for him during the three years from 1797, when he settled in the village and wrote the majority of his best poetry.
New research has added intriguing details to the old tale of the handsome and popular charcoal burner of Over Stowey, whose very human weaknesses led him into the loss of his great love, an unwanted marriage, and finally murder and execution.