It can be imagined what a sensation the news caused when it broke. Particulars of the shooting were published both locally and nationally and can be read by following the links below.
Press Reports on the Death
The original spelling, punctuation and phrasing have been retained. It is interesting to note the differences in the press reports regarding details included and excluded, depending on whether they were published before or after the inquest. There are some clear inaccuracies over names and places (and possibly even the facts of the crime) in some of the reports. It seems that in the absence of clear statements and facts, the papers added small points and linking commentary, which became accepted as fact.
In his book, "The Hanslope Park Tragedy" publ. 1968, the Squire's nephew, Edward French, also gives an account of his uncle's death.
Map showing the key places mentioned in the text. Note that Manor Farm is just off the map, being north of the road leading off the south side of the map.
The inquest into the two deaths was held on the following day, Monday July 22nd, at the Greyhound Inn, Tathall End - only yards from the cottage where the Farrows lived.
The question on everyone's lips was of course - Why?
Evidence given at the inquest revealed that William Farrow had been given notice to quit (apparently Squire Watts had two gamekeepers and had decided he needed only one). It would appear that Annie Farrow knew nothing of this till informed of it by the policeman. In her evidence, she stated that on the day of the murder her husband had left the house between 10 and 10-30. He returned at around 11 and consumed a jug of primrose wine which she had felt was too much and she had said so. He left again, taking with him some cartridges which he said were for a neighbour and logged this in his game book as usual. He did not carry his gun as Hanslope Park keepers were not allowed to do so on a Sunday. She could throw no further light on the occurrences of that day.
Farrow's cottage at Tathall End. An Illustration from an article in Lloyd's Weekly News, July 28th 1912.
Mrs Mary Beasley of nearby Manor Farm told the inquest that William Farrow had called on her at 11-45 that Sunday morning requesting a beer to quench his thirst. She gave him half a pint but felt it was a strange thing to ask and that he had seemed agitated and his eyes were glaring.
Mrs Lily Green confirmed the sequence of events as described in the tragedy.
Dr Rutherford testified that Farrow had suffered a serious bout of sunstroke a year previously, and that the recent hot spell might have brought on a recurrence. However this would have been in the form of an apoplectic seizure. He would not have been capable of shooting a man.
P.C. Cooper, who had been summoned to the scene confirmed the discovery of both bodies.
Mrs Watts was too distressed to attend the inquest. The family was represented by Mr H. E. Bull, a nephew of the Squire.
The jury found at its summing up that the Squire had died as a result of wounds by gunshot fired by William Farrow and it was a case of wilful murder. Also William Farrow had died of self inflicted gunshot wounds. They returned a verdict of felo-de-se.(Suicide)
Press Reports on the Inquest
The official Coroner's Report is now lost. It seems to have been discarded when Bucks Constabulary was merged with the Berkshire and Oxfordshire Forces to form The Thames Valley Police Force. All that survives is what can be found in the newspaper reports of the time. However, none of these are exactly alike. While there is a common core of detail, the inclusions, omissions and emphases vary.
(The same caveats as those regarding the reports of the death apply -there are errors of detail in some Inquest reports. Consequently, the reports sometimes contradict one another)
Lloyds Weekly News - Sunday July 28th (also reports the death)
Some fascinating footnote details to the Inquest were reported in the "Bucks Whispers" column of the Northampton Herald.
The Bucks Standard - Saturday July 27th re-reported the death, but though this is substantially the same as the Special Edition of the Monday, it adds some quite important details, which had not come out at the Inquest, and which throw light on the Farrow household.
It can be seen from reading the press reports of the death and the inquest that apart from bringing in a verdict of wilful murder, there was and remains no consensus on the reason for Farrow's act.
The facts are that he had had an extremely bad case of sunstroke a year previously; that he was under notice to quit and the notice had about a week to run; that he had said nothing of this to his wife; that he had drunk a jug of primrose wine and a glass of beer on the morning of the murder, with nothing to eat the day before; that he used two shotguns - his own and one borrowed from a neighbouring farmer, and that he had armed himself with cartridges. No one else was sought for the murder. Witness testimony had him apparently normal on the eve and the early morning of the murder, but also in a glassy-eyed and staring state shortly before the crime. His recorded movements show that he passed the gates to the Park at least twice (on his way to and from Manor Farm).
The press reports show that his act was so unexpected and so shocking that people found it inexplicable and cast around for all sorts of reasons to account for it, such as William Farrow being mad, drunk or affected by the sun. Mrs Farrow on the stand is at pains to point out that there was no history of insanity in her family; and the Coroner asks pointed questions about Farrow's drinking and his sunstroke a year before. Two of these potential causes reported at the time can be discounted:
The Sunstroke Theory
Dr Rutherford's testimony at the inquest was that if he had suffered a recurrence of sunstroke this could have induced an "apoplectic seizure", but this would have rendered him incapable of shooting a man. Several papers omitted this final point and interpreted "apoplectic seizure" as "apoplectic fit" - as in the popular term for sudden rage - thus explaining the act.
The Drink Theory
The Northampton Herald in particular made great play of the fact that his wife remonstrated with him for drinking a jug of wine when he had had nothing to eat the day before, and that she testified that on occasions he had had a lot to drink. This, considered with the glass of beer he obtained at Manor Farm, was taken to be a possible cause for his act. This however does not account for the premeditated nature of the crime, since all reports agree that he must have concealed the shotguns in the spinney on the day before the murder at least.
In his book "The Hanslope Park Tragedy" Edward French, the Squire's nephew, states that while his uncle and aunt had been on holiday shortly before the murder, Farrow had been put in charge of Mrs Watts' favourite dog, and that it had died from neglect during this period. He even alleges that Farrow overheard his aunt calling him "that murderer". According to Edward French, Squire Watts had decided that the time had come to dispense with Farrow's services. In time, this dismissal came to be regarded as a probable reason for the shooting, though such a brutal act does now seem something of an over-reaction to being made redundant. But who can tell what goes through the mind of a man under notice to quit his tied cottage, devoted to his unsuspecting family, facing unemployment and two days short of his 46th birthday, who has eaten little and drunk at least a moderate amount of alcohol?
Elsewhere in his book, Edward French cites Farrow's poor appetite as a symptom "not uncommonly connected with heavy drinking." Nowadays, when such things are better understood, lowered appetite and increased drinking are also taken as symptoms of depression. However, in those far-off pre-Prozac days, things were viewed differently.
The dramatic revelations in the Saturday 27th edition of the Bucks Standard seem to indicate quite clearly the pre-mediatated nature of the crime, and Farrow's awareness of the possible consequences.
Barring any new evidence, Farrow's motivation must always remain a matter for conjecture. Subsequent events only served to cloud the issue.
Reading the various reports of the murder and its aftermath leads to a number of questions which have never been resolved.
Mrs Farrow testified that her husband made a note in his gamebook when he took the cartridges. Police recovered the book from his pocket, but refused to reveal what it contained until the inquest took place, though rumour had it that it contained incoherent statements. Even at the inquest no clear explanation was given about the nature of the contents. Reports in the Northampton Herald seem to indicate it concerned lies being told about him, possibly by the under-gamekeeper, Martin. It would be useful to know what the gamebook actually said.
The Mystery of the Second Shot
There is no clear consensus in the reports as to when the second shot was fired, where it hit the Squire, or at whom it was actually aimed. Lily and William Green are reported to have said that Mrs Watts screamed "He's firing again", and that the second shot came as William turned to go for help. Others infer that Farrow fired both barrels in close succession. All seem to agree that Mrs Watts was kneeling beside her husband when the second shot came. If so, she must have been on the right hand side of him, and also it is scarcely credible that she escaped injury from the shotgun pellets.
Various reports have the squire hit in the neck, the shoulder, the side and the back by the second shot. Each one has implications for the position of the body, the wife and the timing of the second shot. Dr. Rutherford's testimony seems to have been that the squire was hit in the head and back.
If Farrow waited till help arrived before firing again, why did he do so? This risked certain detection or a possible innocent victim. Did he fire the second shot to make sure of the Squire's death, or was he actually aiming at the wife, and missed? The truth of this can never be known.
The Second Gun
The Wolverton Express report of the inquest has the police producing two shotguns, and this is confirmed in the Bucks Standard Saturday edition. Mrs Farrow was recalled and identified one as her husband's. The Police then stated that Farrow "undoubtedly" committed the murder with the other gun which had been borrowed from a neighbouring farmer. The farmer was not apparently called to give evidence and no further details of this circumstance are available. Farrow would seem to have had two guns in the spinney, and both must have been secreted there at least one day before.
The Possible New Job
Squire Watts' nephew Mr Bull testified at the inquest that his uncle was looking for a new position for Farrow and states as fact that his uncle was in communication with someone over this matter. This would seem to fit the general report of him in the obituaries and tributes as a kindly man inclined to mercy. However, his other nephew - Edward French - makes no mention of this at all in his book. If Squire Watts had been seeking alternative employment for William Farrow, did he tell him? And would this have saved his life? Or was there another reason for the murder?
As is the case with much of this story, the unexplained loose ends can only fuel further speculation. The circumstance involving Farrow's burial certainly added to the mystery.
Read about The Funerals