Friday, October 31, 2008

The Murder Stone

To Record
This stone was erected
over the body
Margaret Williams
aged 26
A native of Carmarthenshire
Living in service in this Parish
Who was found dead
With marks of violence on her person
In a ditch on the marsh
Below this Churchyard
On the morning
Of Sunday the Fourteenth of July
The savage murderer
Escaped for a season the detection of man
God hath set his mark upon him
Either for time or eternity
The cry of blood
Will assuredly pursue him
To certain and terrible but righteous
As it's Halloween, I figured it was the perfect night for a creepy story from Wales. Here's one I grew up with that was literally outside my own back door.

In the village of Cadaxton, South Wales, just outside my hometown of Neath is a picturesque parish Church. A small and leafy path leads from Birch Lane and the Main Road to the Church, meandering through a charming small cemetery. The cemetery is very small, holding no more than 30 or so graves dating from the 1700s, while the church itself dates back to the 1200s. One of those graves stands apart from the others and bears the epitaph "MURDER" (see the complete inscription above). My Dad first took me to see the grave when I was a young boy, and it always sent a chill down my spine. When he showed me these pictures he'd taken with his digital camera I found myself just as fascinated with this story now as I was then. My dad is a much better story teller than me, but I'll try my best.

Margaret Williams was a young girl who lived in the early 1800s. Originally from the rural West Wales farming community of Carmarthenshire, she was employed as a serving girl in the house of the local Squire and allegedly embarked on an affair with the Squire's son. In the summer of 1822 her lifeless body was found near the marshes - she had been strangled and her body thrown into a ditch. Suspicion immediately fell on the Squire's son amid rumors of a secret pregnancy, and several witnesses who had seen him with the girl on the night of her death. But times being what they were, no charges were ever brought.

She was buried in the Churchyard, not far from the spot where she had been found, and the locals erected the headstone you see above, positioning it to face the manor house. The trees to the front were cut down so that every morning when the Squire's son looked out of his window, he saw the gravestone looking back at him - a constant reminder of his crimes.

Today, if you find yourself in Cadaxton, in front of this beautiful old Church, there's an eerie stillness to the place. The leafy trees swish in the breeze and traffic from the Main Road is muffled. Although the manor house is no longer standing, it is easy to imagine looking up and seeing a shadowy figure standing in the window staring. When I went home last Christmas, part of my early morning run took me through this graveyard and it's still a creepy little place, especially in the dark.

I love these old Welsh stories - it seems that there's at least one in every little village. Ghosts of the old millenium and dust beneath our feet, yet the story still lives on in legend - the life breath of an ancient land steeped in mystery and storytelling that I call home.


Anonymous said...

I lived next to the church where the old laundry was,in fact my Father managed the buisness.I believe it changed over to a photo shop then a funeral home! I was Christened, Married and my Son was also Christened in Cadoxton Church. I lived there for all my chilhood and teenage years, leaving to start Nursing at 'Cardiff Royal Infirmary'. As a child most days I visited the sweet shop and had to go past 'The Murder Stone' every day. I was so scared, especially at night when I walked through the grave yard.I rang the bells for a short period of time and that was usually at night. The story of her murder was always on my mind, so I ran past that stone every time, sometimes tripping and becoming frantic. Cadoxton Church is the most beautiful church inside I have ever seen. Living in Canada, I might have glorified it, as I am so deprived of the wonders of Wales. I also used to vist the delapidated Squire's house, illegely. It must have been a glorious house in its time. That experience was also to make us daring and scared with a great high when we had finished looking through the rooms. Do you know the canal and the walk to it from the church and under the raiway bridge? I loved the canal as wild daffodils, bluebells foxgloves grew on the bank. There was one area where you could change the way the stream ran into the canal. I always had a sense of achievment. Being an only child I would do most of my walks with my boxer dog named Vicky, named after Victoria Laundry. I would visit the canal every day of my holidays also the Woods leading up to the Golf Club. It cannot be the same now, and you may not have even been born, during my life in Cadoxton. My Son e mailed The Murder Stone to me after hearing about my tales and adventures. When he was older and visiting Wales, he went to see The Murder Stone. Thankyou for putting this story on your blog, as it has brought back many happy memories of my life in Cadoxton, which I loved so much.

Anonymous said...

There is a serious error in that the writer says that the cemetery is a small one and only contains 30 or so graves. I am currently conducting a location survey of the entire graveyard and can assure you there are several hundred graves. I cannot be exact as we are only part way through the survey but the graveyard extends to the back of the church as images on google show. Many of the 'occupants'played a significant part in Cadoxton / Aberdulais history such as the Tennant family and Evan Bevans family.

Mark said...

Thanks for the clarification, and yes you are completely right. I just had the opportunity to revisit this beautiful old cemetery, and it is a lot bigger than I remember. I guess memory is a funny old thing.

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