In 1819 a highway robbery took place in our village on the road between Cricklade and Purton. Robert Watkins was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged at the scene of the crime. The Times Newspaper, amongst others, extensively reported these events and it is written that upwards of 10,000 folk from neighbouring towns and villages attended. Many traders saw this gathering as a business opportunity and a Fayre took place in Purton Stoke.
The Purton Stoke Historic Fayre on 29th September this year was organised to recreate the events of 1819. t.
There was entertainment, activities, music & merriment for our visitors to enjoy and on an open stage we re-enacted the Robert Watkins Story.
The Purton Stoke Historic Fayre was organised by a committee of volunteers on a ‘not-for-profit’ basis, with all proceeds from this event being distributed to local charities.
PRESS RELEASE date: 25th February 2007 The Bell tolls for a murderer this summer at Purton Stoke
The trial of a local man accused of murder almost two hundred years ago will be re-enacted this Summer behind The Bell pub at Purton Stoke near Swindon.
In 1819 a coal merchant called Stephen Rodway was murdered in cold blood by local ruffian and part-time boxer Robert Watkins, who lived at Wootton Bassett. The murder victim’s autopsy was carried out in the pub by the local surgeon and Watkins was subsequently arrested and sent for trial at Salisbury Assizes. There, the judge found him guilty and ordered him to be sent back for hanging at the scene of the crime – Purton Stoke, to show to the local community that justice had been done – and as a warning to others.
Unusually for the time, considering more than 200 hangings took place every year in England at the time, The Times Newspaper covered the murder and subsequent hanging in great detail and, according to the Times reporter, between 10,000 – 15,000 people turned out to see the event – turning the day into more of a fair than a hanging as traders took advantage of the opportunity to sell their wares to the enormous mass of people.
On September 29th, 188 years, almost to the day, Purton Amateur Dramatic Society will be reenacting the event, in the field behind The Bell, aiming to create not just a reproduction of the hanging –but also the atmosphere of the day through a fair.
Denise Simpkins, local villager and one of the organisers of the day, said: “We are inviting local and traditional traders to come and take part, along with villagers and people from the surrounding area.”
Arkell’s Brewery, which owns The Bell and the field behind, where the event is taking place, is supporting the event. James Arkell, brewery managing director, said: “Denise and other local villagers have spent a huge amount of time and energy researching the historical detail of the event – looking into archives and genealogy. I understand that they are also seeking descendants of both the victim and the murderer – although I think that perhaps if my name was Watkins I might just keep out of the way that weekend!”
The fair will raise money for The Prospect Hospice and other local charities.
Denise said: “The topic has been discussed often amongst local villagers and this year we all seemed to have the time and enthusiasm to commemorate the event. It also seemed like a good opportunity to raise money for charity – allowing some good to finally come out of an unfortunate historical event. The landlord, Peter Gill, and Arkell’s Brewery have been very supportive so everything’s in place to authentically recreate this small piece of history in a little Wiltshire hamlet.”
She added: “We are in contact with living descendants of Stephen Rodway and the brother of the murderer, Robert Watkins who have both shown an interest in attending the Fayre. They come from Gloucester, Bristol, London and New York – but it would be wonderful if more came forward – especially descendants of Robert Watkin’s daughters – who were left orphaned after his wife died in childbirth with her third child and he was hanged.”
Landlord, Peter Gill, is delighted to host the event. He said: “The village has been talking about this ever since I took over behind the bar over a year ago. It should be a great day out for everyone – and I promise, no autopsy in the bar. I don’t think Health and Safety would approve in the 21 century.”
The re-enactment of the trial and Hanging of Robert Watkins will take place on September 29th 2007 behing the Bell at Purton Stoke near Swindon at 1pm.
Denise Simpkins: 07801 529172
The Bell, Purton Stoke. Landlord Peter Gill. 01793 770434
PR contact: Nicky Godding, Nicky Godding Communications, Glebe Farm House, The Street, Daglingworth, Cirencester, Glos GL7 7AE. Tel/Fax: +44 (0) 1285 653006. email: email@example.com. Mobile: +44 (0) 7966 510401
Western Daily Press article
The Bell tolls for a murderer this summer at Purton Stoke