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24 September 2014

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You are in: Coventry and Warwickshire > Places > Weird Warwickshire > Warwickshire's sinister secret

A witch weather vane

A witch weather vane in Lower Quinton

Warwickshire's sinister secret

Was there a link between murder and witchcraft in Lower Quinton in the 40s? We take a closer look.

Valentine's Day may mean romantic celebration for most people but for some in Lower Quinton, thoughts will turn instead to a terrible murder that took place on 14 February, 1945 amid rumours of witchcraft and black magic.

The Victim

The murder victim at the heart of this tale is Charles Walton, a farm labourer who had lived in Lower Quinton all his life.

He lived in a rented cottage opposite the village church, which he shared with his niece, Edie - and the cottage is still there today.

A timber-faced cottage

Charles Waltons' cottage still stands

Despite Charles' advancing years - he was 74 when he died -  he helped out on the local farms right up until the day of his murder.

Charles was an unusual character, he was reclusive and spoke little to his neighbours. He was rumoured to be clairvoyant and was known for his amazing ability with animals - it was said he could summon them to his hand for feeding.

He was a real country man and knew many rural tales and the old ways of the countryside. However, some villagers were said to believe Charles' knowledge and talents were down to witchcraft and some believed he took midnight trips to nearby Rollright and Meon Hill to take part in rituals.

A country lane in Lower Quinton

This lane leads to Meon Hill

The Murder

On the day of his murder, 14 February 1945, Charles was tending hedges on the lower slopes of Meon Hill. All he carried with him were his pitchfork, a billhook and a piece of fruitcake packed by Edie for his lunch.

Evening came and Edie, who carried out housekeeping duties for Charles, began to get concerned when he didn't return from work. She alerted a neighbour and the pair travelled out to the field where Charles had been working.

It was there they made the gruesome and terrifying discovery. Charles body lay contorted by the hedge. He had been pinned to the floor by his pitchfork and his hook was embedded in his body Perhaps most disturbing of all was the sign of the cross, which had been carved into Charles' chest.

Who had carried out such a grizzly killing? And what could possibly be the motive for such a frenzied attack on a peaceful country man?

A country church viewed through trees

St Swithins' Church in Lower Quinton

Warwickshire police were baffled - it was time to bring in a specialist.

Fabian of the Yard

Inspector Robert Fabian was one of the first real star policemen. He was world-renowned for his sleuthing skills and he became famous for his roles on television and in film.

He worked with Supt Alec Spooner of Warwickshire CID and his assistant, Sgt Albert Webb, to try and track the killer.

As the inquiry continued, a recurring theme emerged - Witchcraft.

Spooner gave Fabian a book, Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeare Land, in which the murder of young Alice Turner was detailed. She had been mutilated with a pitchfork by a man who believed she had bewitched him. Carving the cross and pinning her to the ground, her assailant said, was the only way to stop a witch rising from the grave.

Eerily, elseshwere in the book there was a tale related by a young man by the name of Charles Walton. It was claimed as a youngster, this Charles had seen a ghostly black dog roaming Meon Hill on three succesive days.

Lower Quinton village centre

Lower Quinton village centre

The black dog was believed to herald death in local folklore and, a few days later, Charles' sister died.

Was this Charles Walton the same as was so brutally slain in the fields?

Towards the end of the enquiry, Fabian was walking by the murder place and was passed by a large black dog. A spooky coincidence?

Faced with increasing reticence by members of the public in the face of the enquiry, Fabian was forced to concede defeat and headed back to London with the case unsolved.

The place for witchcraft?

Meon Hill, the furthest of the Costwold mounds, has been surrounded by strange tales for many centuries, concerning devilish deeds and ancient hauntings.

One legend from the eighth century says the Devil kicked a boulder from the top of the hill, intending to smash the recently built Evesham Abbey.

His angry deed was thwarted by the locals' prayers and the stone instead fell on Cleeve Hill, outside Cheltenham.

Meon Hill bathed in winter sunshine

Meon Hill bathed in winter sunshine

People there then carved the stone into the shape of a cross to rid it of evil from the Devil's touch.

Another version of the tale says the Devil threw a large clod of earth to smother the newly built abbey. However, the Bishop of Worcester saw the devil and with the power of prayer altered the devil's aim.

In this version, the clod fell short of its target and formed Meon Hill.

There is also a legend that phantom hounds of the Celtic king Arawyn hunt the hill at night.

The king was the lord of departed spirits who would hunt to gather souls, riding a pale horse and accompanied by a pack of white hounds with red ears.

Mysterious black dogs have also been sighted in the area on many occasions.

last updated: 18/04/2008 at 11:22
created: 26/06/2006

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