A Country House, a Body and a Detective

18th century, one of Rode's many cloth mills invented the dye Royal Blue, using it to win a competition to make a robe for Queen Charlotte - a big honour at the time (and a jolly good marketing exercise).

But that's not what you came here to read about.

Rode's big event wasn't some dye-chemical genius, or a vibrant royal dress, or even a prosperous, early-industrial village.

No, Rode's big event concerned a 3-year-old boy, Francis Saville Kent, whose body was found in an outside privy, in the grounds of Road House (the spelling of the village varied alot, over the centuries). He had been brutally stabbed - almost decapitated. This was in June 1860.

There was immediate outrage, of course, but the local constabulary felt ill-equipped to handle such a scandalous crime. They called for help from Scotland Yard, who despatched Detective Inspector Jack Whicher, who had already had considerable success in the metropolis.

Whicher set out to investigate - and quickly focused on the child's half-sister, Constance (16). She was arrested - but a trial was abandoned, largely because of outrage at this working-class detective, making accusations towards a woman of breeding. Whicher returned to London, defeated.

The Kent family moved a way from Rode (to Wrexham). Constance was sent to a finishing school in France

It was five years later that Constance made her confession, to an Anglican priest, expressing her wish to surrender to justice. The priest assisted her in this desire, but declined to help the magistrates further, citing sacrmental confession.

Later, Parliament established that there was no such thing as 'privilege of the confessional', issuing a nominal (unenforced) contempt of court finding against the priest.

So, in 1865, Constance Kent was prosecuted and convicted of the murder of her half-brother. Jealousy about their father's affections was cited as motive.

Initially, Constance was sentenced to death by hanging but, due to her confession (and, possibly, her breeding), that sentence was commuted to life.

Even at the time, doubts were raised - about Constance's mental health, about her possibly confessing to protect another family member (her brother, probably), but Constance never withdrew her confession, even after those she might have been protecting had died.

Constance served 20 years in prison, then migrated to Australia, where she trained as a nurse. She died in 1944, at the age of 100.

A sad, sordid story, but a story which caught the public's imagination - a fact that wasn't lost on novelists. In particular, the conflict between upper-class toffs and a working-class detective was picked up by Wilkie Collins, in his novel The Moonstone. This mysterious chain extends through Agatha Christie to dozens of modern country-house murder novels and dramas (and a board game, of course).

These days, you can even go to a real country house and pretend to be a witness/detective to a dastardly murder, which will be solved satisfactorily by Sunday evening. I don't think COnstance would be amused.

Today, Road House has been renamed Langham House. Its owners are not keen on the associations. The villagers would rather tourists focused on the Grade 1 listed Church of St Lawrence, or on that invention of Royal Blue.

Farleigh HungerfordFarleigh Hungerford *Black Dog RoadBlack Dog Road
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