Killers were quickly hanged after Aldbury double murder

Aldbury village stocks
Aldbury village stocks

Dacorum is not without its own ‘Rogues’ Gallery and the over the next few weeks we will explore some of these criminals in detail.

The earlier centuries in the peaceful village of Aldbury were mostly without incidents of reported crime, but from the beginning of the 19th century things began to change.

In 1816, the famous stocks on the village green were repaired on the order of the parish constable, ready for trouble.

Transportation was a real threat to wrongdoers, since for even negligible crimes prisoners could be sent away to the colonies for upwards of seven years – or for life.

The new Game Law of 1828 soon took effect – assaults, threats, damage to property and poaching became recurrent offences in the district.

On the evening of December 12, 1891, two Aldbury men were killed by poachers in Stocks woodland.

The victims were William Puddephat, an under-keeper, and George Crawley, a night watchman.

It was a rough night, but good for poaching. According to a booklet on the case, now available through the Dacorum Heritage Trust: “There was a fitful moon and the roar of a storm which was raging enough to deaden the sound of a gunshot.”

So Walter Smith, Frederick Eggleton and Charles Rayner, all Tring men, embarked on a pub crawl that ended up at the Greyhound in Aldbury.

From there, they went to Aldbury Nowers Wood in search of pheasants.

They had only fired two shots when Puddephat and Crawley came upon them. Puddephat was a strong 37 year-old of muscular build, but that did not save him.

When the two men did not turn up as arranged the next morning, head keeper James Double, together with other locals, set out to search for them.

They first found Crawley’s body, lying in a pool of blood with a crushed-in skull and a broken nose.

“He was dead all right. I could have put my finger in his brains”, one of the poachers later callously claimed.

Puddephat’s body was also found, lying on his back, injured about the face and head and with his hand stretched out, as if for help.

The two bodies were taken back to Aldbury on carts and it was recorded that many villagers could not face their Sunday dinners that day. One small boy saw Puddephat’s mutilated face and walked in his sleep for two weeks after the tragic event.

It is not surprising that the legend grew up that Aldbury Nowers Wood was haunted by the ghosts of the gamekeepers looking for their murderers.

Rayner and Eggelton were caught, found guilty of murder and hanged, while Smith was charged with manslaughter and served 18 years hard labour.

Mrs Humphry Ward, the acknowledged Victorian novelist, who lived at Stocks, later used their story in one of her books. Ruth,

The Aldbury Double Murder, the booklet on the notorious case writter by long-time Aldbury resident Lady Craufurd, is available from the Trust for just £1.