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Little Mysteries from Thornborough  -  Solved 2021?


Tony Dixon of Bideford, who is researching the life of his great-great-great grandfather William Ayres, has just (July 2014) sent me a fascinating story. 


The Northampton Mercury of 18th June 1842 reported an inquest on the body of a gypsy called Caroline Smith at Thornborough on the 15th, three days before.  Here is a rough precis:


On 13th inst., Caroline Smith was seen on "Welsh Lane" (see below) being supported by William Ayres, a gypsy.  She looked very ill, couldn’t speak and had two black eyes (which Ayres said were the result of a fall).


She died within the hour.


Her body was taken to the “Leather Bottle” inn and Ayres was detained.


C.S.’s daughter (age 11) said that Ayres & Smith were unmarried, but lived together as man & wife.  They had been to Tring and travelled from there to Great Horwood Lane, where C.S. became ill and fell down.  They had been on their way to “Thornborough Brickhills”.


A witness Matthew Horwood, at work on Welsh Lane, saw C.S. being dragged by Ayres, but not ill-treated.


Verdict: a fit of apoplexy, with an added reprimand to Ayres for his “inhuman neglect” – in other words, she should have had medical care.


I am intrigued by Tony Dixon’s story but my interest in the area obviously has a different focus: roads & place-names.  I had come to a dead end (2014) when Michael Mooney, a local historian from Hoggeston, emailed in 2021 and cleared up a lot of confusion.  Ed Grimsdale & I had not heard of the expression Welsh Road/Lane being used east of Buckingham, but Michael referred me to the following:

  • Bucks Herald 1902: Winslow RDC was trying to persuade Bucks CC to adopt what is described as "The Welsh Road...the Buckingham & Bletchley Road..."  In 1903 a reply from the CC uses the same expression.  Previously, I had only heard of the A421 referred to as "London Way".  
  • .Witness at an inquest John Frankton states: "I am a gardener living in the Welsh Road, Thornborough, near The Lone Tree..."  The LT was an inn on the A421.    
  • (I like this one.)  Report on the Whaddon Chase Hunt, 11/11/1905 in the Bucks Advertiser: "... over Shelspit Farm and across the Welsh Road between Pilch Lane & Singleborough..."  Case closed.  Could only be A421.  

Michael gives more references, but those three, from different sources, are enough to convince me.  He then suggests that the "Thornborough Brickhills" was a misprint for "Brick Kilns". 
 There were “Brickyard Cottages” between Thornborough and Padbury which Betty Bunce, a village historian, can remember.  But they were not on a hill...

Michael to the rescue again: old OS maps, he says, show kilns and a "brickfield" in the area of Coombs Farm, south of the A421 at SP734319, certainly not on a hill!  And gypsies, he says, might well have gravitated towards the spot to warm themselves. 

Thank you for all that, Michael.  Now to email Tony Dixon...

* * * * * * *

At least I can confirm that the ‘Leather Bottle’  was behind the house on the left in #1 at the bottom of Bridge St.  The owner has found numerous clay pipes in the back garden (#2).

The House on the right in #1 is The Maltings Barn, where the beer for the village - and of course for the drovers who stopped at The Leather Bottle - was brewed.  There is a large barn behind the house for drying the hops.


A grass layby (#3) on a bend near the old pub could have been used as a stance.  The lane on the left of it (#4) peters out after 150 yards, but could once have been a cross-country route up to the A421 Welsh Road.  And there was certainly a 'Cat [=cattle] Lane' at the bottom of Bridge St.  And the owner of Cat Lane House seems to be certain of the derivation (#5).  

Thanks to Tony Dixon & Michael Mooney for bringing this page alive.

Thornborough image 1
Site of Old Pub; Maltings on Right
Thornborough image 2
Site of Leather Bottle
Thornborough image 3
Nearby Stance?
Thornborough image 4
Cat Lane?
Thornborough image 5
Cat Lane House Sign