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29 October 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > Entertainment > Days Out > Outdoors and Attractions Features > Hang Day Fayre

Hang Day Fayre - Purton Stoke

Hang Day Fayre

Both the murderer and his victim's family head to Purton Stoke, this autumn, on his hanging day...

So what would it be like to find out you have a murderer in the family, be invited along to their trial and even meet the family of their victim?

Well on Saturday September 29th, the family of local murderer Robert Watkins are doing just that when they head to the Bell Pub, at Purton Stoke for the village's first ever Hang Day Fayre.

A notice in the Bell Inn in Purton Stoke

The notice hanging in the Bell Inn in Purton Stoke

It was 188 years ago, on 30th July 1819, when according to The Times newspaper "10,000 to 15,000 people" from all over Wiltshire and Gloucestershire headed to Purton Stoke to see the public execution of Robert Watkins.

Robert Watkins, a local ruffian and bare knuckle fighter from Wootton Bassett, had been found guilty of murdering a 'respectable salt and coal merchant' Stephen Rodway and, at the Salisbury Assizes, had been ordered back to the scene of the crime by a judge to be hanged.

Killed to impress a lady

But what exactly had happened on the night of May 7th and what were Robert Watkin's motives for murder:

"Well," says Jim Caslaw.  "He was working on a canal in Chichester and had formed a liaison with his landlady's daughter Sophia. 

"He was quite a rough diamond, from what we can gather, and she was rather a refined lady and he wanted to impress her.  So, obviously, he needed to have a lot of money and he came up with a plan which unfortunately for him went wrong."

Bare knuckle fighting

Robert Watkins was a bare knuckle fighter

And the plan was simple… cold blooded murder.

His victim, Stephen Rodway, was the owner of a wharf in Cricklade who often carried around large sums of money.  It was at 9:30 pm at night on the turnpike road just outside Purton Stoke, now called Watkin's Corner, that Rodway was to meet his murderer:

"It was dark," says Jim.  "The moon was just rising and this guy, who would have been hidden in a group of trees when his victim came along. 

"He jumped out, got the gun out and… BANG… and that was it.  Robbed him…."

A pub autopsy

Shot in the chest, Rodway's body was taken straight to the Bell pub at Purton Stoke where an autopsy was carried out by a local surgeon. With incriminating bank notes, tracing back to him, Watkins was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to hanging.

Although over 200 hangings took place annually in England, at that time, it was only the third hanging in Wiltshire that year.  As a result the execution of Watkins turned into more of a fair than a hanging as traders descended on the small village to sell their wares to the enormous crowd.

10,000 headed to Purton Stoke to watch the hanging

10,000 headed to Purton Stoke to watch the hanging

Purton Stoke Historic Fayre

At the end of Semptember, it's hoped, that a huge crowd will again descend on the Bell pub in Purton Stoke to witness a re-enactment of the trial and events surrounding the hanging of Robert Watkins.

Working from local trial reports, and other detailed accounts, of the events and the background of Robert Watkins life and times it's hoped that the atmosphere of the Hang Day Fayre of 1819 will be re-created in 2007.  

Plus, in an unusual twist, relatives of both the murdered and murderer have also been invited:

"We're actually going to have descendents of Robert and descendents of the guy who was murdered, Steven Rodway, there on the day.

"They're a bit concerned about it, especially the Rodways…"

The Purton Stoke Historic Fayre is being held in the field behind The Bell at Purton Stoke on Saturday 29th September from 1.00 pm.

For more information contact The Bell, Purton Stoke on  01793 770434.

last updated: 12/09/07

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