READER E.H. Austin, of Wall Heath, reminds us of a murder case from 1829, which when we first researched it back in 1989, we described as “The Curious Case of The Speaking Skull”. The farm involved in the case has in recent years been inhabited by a well-liked Black Countryman, who sadly passed away this this year. Mr Austin writes as follows...
“Earlier in the year, whilst casually listening to the radio, my attention was alerted by the mention of the Oddingley Murders and Netherwood Farm (near Droitwich), by the reader of the book of the week on Radio 4.
“The reason for my interest was that only a few days previously l had been in Oddingley Church and Netherwood Farm to attend the funeral of an old friend Josiah (Si) Wilkinson who had farmed Netherwood for the past twenty five years or so.
“My association with Si dates back to the late forties when he married Olive Danks who was a school friend of my wife. Si's family were coal merchants in Burnt Tree, Tividale, using horses and Olive's were dairy farmers in City Road, Tividale. When they married they originally lived in Brades Row, Oldbury from where he kept a few poultry on nearby land whilst still working in the family business.
“It soon became apparent that there was little opportunity to develop locally so they purchased Battens Farm in Beoley, near Redditch.
They worked very hard to develop this farm, milking a small dairy herd, initially by hand, as there was no electricity supply, but after a number of years they lost the whole farm under a compulsory purchase order with the Redditch New Town development.
“Undaunted, they then purchased Netherwood Farm and they, with the help of their family, built up a thriving business, despite at one time losing every animal on the farm due to Foot and Mouth disease.
“Si was a born farmer but he was also a true Black Countryman, he never lost his accent and he maintained contact with a lot of friends in the area, including my wife and l, and he loved to reminisce about the old days with any of his many visitors. He also made a lot of friends in and around Netherwood and was well known and respected locally, the small church was packed with people on the day of his funeral.
“The book of the week that was being broadcast was "Damn his Blood" by Peter Moore.
“This is a very well researched account of a conspiracy and murder that occurred two hundred years ago.
“I was vaguely aware of this having seen a plaque in the barn at Netherwood but l did not know the facts, so l read the book.
“Briefly.... There was a conspiracy between four local farmers one being Thomas Clewes the then incumbent of Netherwood, who allegedly hired a local man, Richard Hemmings, to murder the local rector, Rev George Parker, in a dispute over tithes. Following the death of the rector, Hemmings disappeared and his body was not discovered until twenty five years later buried in the barn at Netherwood.
“Clewes was tried and aquitted of Hemmings murder, due mainly to the efforts of an astute local lawyer, but no one was ever charged with the murder or conspiracy to murder the rector.
“The case was notorious at the time as it involved all aspects of law, coroners courts, magistrates courts, the judiciary, the Home Secretary and even the Prime Minister, making the book a fascinating read.
“Richard Clewes comes across as a weak disreputable character, in complete contrast to my friend Si”.
E.H.Austin, Wall Heath.