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Lady Grace Bennett - butchered by the butcher
Calverton Manor House, the subject of a recent television documentary, was once the home of 'mean and covetous' Lady Bennett

Grace Norwood, the daughter of Gilbert Morwood. of London, became the wife (nine years his junior) of Simon Bennett, who through family descent had acquired the manors of Beachampton and Calverton.

He died at the age of 60, being buried at Beachampton on August 26,1682, and thereafter Lady Bennett would live alone at the Calverton manor house.

However, she was widely disliked for her 'mean and covetous' ways, and being 'a terror to the village' she would have anyone found gathering firewood on her land severely beaten.

To ensure that her orders were being obeyed, she one day dressed in peasant's clothes and went about the fields to gather sticks, whereupon, in a commendable response, a keeper swiftly pounced. Feigning ignorance of his victim's identity, he then proceeded to administer a sound and thorough thrashing.

Lady Bennett would often neglect to pay her poor rates, and as a result was frequently hauled before the Justices at the Quarter Sessions.

She also proved rather reticent in paying her dues for highways maintenance, and, in further misdemeanours, in 1689 she was fined for having made a forced entry upon the lands and tenements of three of her Calverton neighbours.

Her skills in estate management also seemed amiss, and it was said that she kept all the arable land 'in her owne hands laid downe and untilled so that the parish is almost depopulated and the fields looke like a wildernesse little being moved and that which was generally so late and kept so long till it was spoyled.'

Many people believed that Lady Bennett kept a large fortune in the manor house, and this tempted a local butcher by the name of Barnes, or Bates (who had a shop in Stony Stratford, where the post office would later stand) to break in and relieve her of such worldly burdens.

However, she suddenly stumbled across him in the servants' quarters, and there she was brutally murdered for her interference. In fact the servants' hall remains little altered from that time, and has lately been used as a storeroom.

After the murder, the butcher escaped over the orchard wall into Gib Lane, but he could not evade an eventual justice and, in a room above the Cross Keys inn of Stony Stratford, he was convicted and sentenced to hang from the gibbet in Gib Lane.

With the execution complete, his body was left to swing in irons and rot.

On the outside of the orchard wall a stone may be seen - some three feet above the ground - on which are two crudely carved gibbets, flanked by the inscribed date '1693'.

It was said that this marks the position where the butcher escaped over the wall, but more probably it marks the site of the actual gibbet, since Lady Bennett was murdered on September 19, 1694, and the Beachampton registers record her burial on the 27th.

Whatever the explanation, there is little doubt regarding the fate of the butcher, for in an eye witness account Celia Fiennes, a lady famed for her 17th century travels throughout England on a donkey, would write '...and by the rich Mrs Bennett's House remarkable for her coveteousness which was the cause of her death, her treasures tempted a Butcher to cut her throate, who hangs in chains just against her house.'

Perhaps of little surprise, both the murderer and his uncharitable victim are still said to walk their ghostly ways, and for many years in the servants' hall could be seen a red stained stone that defied all attempts to clean it.

However, when the stone was eventually taken up a natural red vein was found to run right through it!