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A village history in West Sussex


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Between 1897 and 1910 Rev. J. H. Mee wrote a regular series of articles for the parish magazine on the history of Westbourne, these articles were later collected together and published in 1913 under the title Bourne in the Past. Charlotte Pile related the following story to him about an incident in Westbourne involving herself and her mother.

In 1854 Martha Piles was living at Ivy Cottage next to the Cricketers Inn near Commonside with her daughter Charlotte who was fifteen.

The landlord of the Cricketers Inn at this time was Emery Spriggs, he and his wife Rebecca had married thirty years earlier just two weeks before George Pile married Martha Martin. Their relationship had apparently been a tempestuous one, Rebecca was known as an alcoholic and Emery had threatened and beaten his wife many times and on occasions he had locked her in a rear room where she relied upon her neighbours for food and drink.

On the afternoon of January 6 1854 Emery and Rebecca Spriggs were preparing to host a Forester’s Ball at The Cricketers, both were reported to be drunk. Spriggs had warned his wife to behave that evening and had threatened her saying “you know what is in there”, pointing to the clock case in the bar in which he kept a loaded gun.

The Cricketers only held a beer licence so during the afternoon Thomas Goddard, a blacksmith, was despatched to The Lamb to obtain a gallon each of whisky, gin and brandy for the evening’s refreshment. Rebecca Spriggs somehow got hold of the spirits and Mr Goddard had to return to The Lamb for a further supply; Emery and Rebecca quarrelled violently as a result of this and she, now very drunk, was locked in the brewhouse.

Nineteen couples attended the Forester’s ball but Emery Spriggs did not entertain his guests remaining upstairs and leaving the ball to Mr Goddard who was doorkeeper and Charlotte Creese (Martha Pile’s youngest daughter) who attended to the company. By 2.00 am the ball had finished and Rebecca Spriggs has reappeared, Mr Goddard gave Rebecca the nineteen shillings he had taken at the door then he, Charlotte and Martha Pile went to their homes and beds.

At five O'clock in the morning (Mee erroneously says 3.30am) Martha and her daughter Charlotte were awakened by Spriggs shouting “Get up will you? there is a dead woman at my house." Martha replied “Oh, Spriggs, don't say that!" Spriggs then said “Yes there is, for I have been and shot my wife!” and begged Martha to come over; at first she thought Spriggs was drunk but eventually went over and found the body of Rebecca Spriggs lying in the doorway of the taproom, she had been shot in the head. Spriggs admitted to Martha that he and his wife had argued and then he shot her. Martha then went to fetch another neighbour, Anne Hedger and her daughter and between them they carried Rebecca Spriggs body into the parlour, Spriggs even held a candle to light the way; Martha remarked to at the trial that Rebecca had a wound to the right side of her head and that there was a lot of blood on the floor and walls, Mrs Hedger said that she wiped some blood and brains from a door post.

Spriggs asked for Thomas Goddard to be fetched and told him that he had shot Rebecca with one barrel of his shotgun after she had attacked him.

Goddard told the trial that both Spriggs and his wife had been very drunk that evening and that Rebecca had fallen over a couple of times, he had also heard her refer to Spriggs “fancy woman”, Goddard did not believe this.

At seven o’clock Constable William Neelance arrived and arrested Emery Spriggs and shortly afterwards a surgeon called Baxter was called to examine the body and he confirmed that Rebecca had received what appeared to be a shotgun wound which had passed completely through her head.

On 9 January an inquest at The Lamb returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against Spriggs and he was tried at Lewes Assizes on the 11 March. Mr Creasey defended Spriggs and successfully convinced the jury that he had shot his wife whilst drunk and suffering from gout, he had also shown considerable remorse.

The jury convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to transportation for life.

Spriggs served thirteen years and then returned to Westbourne. He died in the workhouse in August 1875 aged 71 and was buried in the churchyard. Rebecca Spriggs was sixty when she was killed; she was buried in the parish churchyard on 10 January 1854.

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