Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore

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Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore

Category: True Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: An account of the Oddingley murders in Worcestershire in 1806, the victims being the Reverend George Parker and his murderer, a business not fully solved for over twenty years.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 364 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099554677

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In 1806 the Reverend George Parker was Rector of Oddingley, a quiet little Worcestershire village. Married with a small daughter, he was also a part-time farmer and kept a herd of four dairy cows which were taken by a servant to graze in a meadow in the north of his parish every morning. This gave him the chance to enjoy a gentle stroll along the peaceful lanes when he went to fetch them home in the afternoon for milking.

On Midsummer’s Day, 24 June, he set out for his animals at the usual time, but for once he did not manage to collect them. Instead, two passing men heard the report of a shotgun being fired behind a hedge, and a desperate cry of Murder! When they went to investigate they found a man running away, having shot the clergyman at point blank range, beaten him and left him mortally wounded. The culprit was identified as local wheelwright and carpenter Richard Heming, but although he escaped and the authorities tried to bring him to justice, even offering a reward of fifty guineas for information leading to his arrest, he was never seen alive again – or so everyone, or nearly everyone, thought.

At the time, tithes or local taxes were collected by the church. Parker, who was thus a tax collector for the community in addition to his other duties and activities, had recently imposed a swingeing increase on the local farmers, demanding and taking a tenth of each parishioner’s corn, hay, eggs and even hedge clippings. Naturally he made several enemies in the process and one of the most outspoken, Captain Evans, refused to give in to his demands. In effect he put a price on the clergyman’s head, proclaiming loudly and publicly that there would be no more harm in shooting him than a mad dog. He and five other farmers had been instrumental in hiring Heming to do the dirty deed.

The trail eventually went cold and officers of the law lost interest until 1830, when the hard-drinking, hard-gambling and now hard-up farmer Thomas Clewes was forced to sell his farm. It was partially demolished and rebuilt by the new owner, and while the barn was being dismantled, a skeleton was discovered under the floor. Through the remains of his clothing, even after such a long interval, the body was identified by Heming’s widow. Although some of the people implicated in the crime had long since died, Clewes and others were still very much around, and as a result of the subsequent inquest they were tried for murder.

To reveal the outcome of the case would no doubt constitute a spoiler. But the story, and Moore’s vivid reconstruction in this book of the murders and the years in between when the trail went cold, is plotted, described and brought to life with all the vividness of a thriller. In a sense it is – but it is a real-life one. All the loose ends are tied up, and we learn what happened to all those who were involved. One thing which irritates me about books of this kind is when no mention is made of what eventually became of some of the protagonists, and I’m glad that’s not the case here.

As well as telling the story skilfully, Moore has painted a vivid picture of English rural life in the early nineteenth century. It was a time when the country was suffering under William Pitt’s increases in taxation to finance the war against Napoleon, and the threat of French invasion, as well as a countryside where violence was endemic and dislike of outsiders, and a rural community of mutually suspicious neighbours, united in a common cause against the enemy in their midst. As the sorry tale of the Rev George Parker shows, it only took hatred of one man to provoke hostility and in this case murder.

A small but interesting point is made by the author in that we are told how 'damn' was perfectly acceptable as an oath in everyday language in those days, before it became an expletive in the Victorian age and beyond when it was only spelt out in print, if at all, with a couple of discreet dashes. It is also fascinating for the way in which details of the historical background are woven into the story. For instance, we are reminded that the 1820s were a pivotal albeit brief period in British history, between the Georgian and Victorian periods. There were great advances in modern technology such as the telegraph, the steamship and the railway, as well as reforms in English law under the new secretary Robert Peel. The England of 1830, when the 'mystery' was finally laid to rest, was in many ways a very different nation from the country of 1806.

The book is well worth reading not just as a gripping true crime tale, but also for its portrayal of the processes of law, the social background and the evocation of rural life two centuries ago.

For more true crime, we can recommend:

The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England by Elizabeth Cooke The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

Buy Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution by Peter Moore at Amazon.com.


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