The Murder of Thomas Williams Baker
1620 – 10 November 1694
and the Ghost of his Horse and Cart
My Connection to Thomas Williams Baker
Thomas Williams BAKER (1620 – 1694) is my 11th great grandfather
IT was a damp, foggy night in November 1865 when a seven-year-girl and her parents heard the faint sounds of something approaching them as they walked along Murderers’ Lane at Melbury Bubb.
“We heard the breathing of a horse, and then we saw it coming round the bend, pulling a cart,” the girl recalled more than 80 years later. “The lantern lights were dim at first but presently we heard creaking wheels, the lights were brighter and the horse’s breathing heavier. It was all so real and natural.”
The little girl’s father ordered his wife and daughter to “stand aside in the ditch and let Thomas Baker’s horse and cart go past”, adding that he had seen them before. The father stood on one side of the lane, mother and daughter on the other.
Speaking in 1949, the daughter, by then aged 90, recalled: “As the horse and cart came past, I shut my eyes. I felt so frightened, but I felt it pass. When I looked again, ’twas gone. All around was the pitch-black night. But it’s all so plain to me now at 90 as when I was a little maid of seven.”
Since her story was published in the 1949-50 edition of The Dorset Year Book, the tale of Thomas Baker and his horse and cart has become one of Dorset’s better-known ghost stories.
A clue to the events behind it can be found in Melbury Bubb churchyard, where a broken gravestone records the death of farmer Thomas alias William Baker, who was “barbarously murdered on Bubdowne Hill November 10, 1694”.
Baker was driving his horse and cart home with two bags of golden guineas slung across his saddlebags, the proceeds of his sale of corn and cattle at Dorchester Market.
Two men became aware of his riches and lay in wait on Bubb Down Hill. As Baker approached, one of them lobbed a stone, which hit the farmer in the head. Baker fell to the ground but his startled horse kept going and made its own way back to the farm with the moneybags still draped over the saddlebags.
A search party later found the missing man dead on the ground where he fell. The robbers, of course, were long gone.
Seven years passed before any further information about the crime came to light – and it only did so then because of the astuteness of the landlord of the King’s Arms at Evershot.
One day in 1701 he overheard two of his customers quarrelling over money – and discussing the killing of Farmer Baker. He sent for assistance and the two inebriated customers were overpowered and held in the Evershot village lock-up overnight.
Next day, securely manacled, they were taken along the old highway known as Long Ash Lane (now part of the A37 Yeovil to Dorchester road) to the county jail.
At the next Dorchester Assizes, the pair were convicted and sentenced to be “taken to the tree by which they did commit wilful murder, there to be gibbeted in chains to suffer death. And we charge that none may succour them in their need and distress. And may the Lord have mercy on your souls.”
The task of making the cage fell to the Evershot village blacksmith. It was made of iron bars and included rests for the men’s necks and buttocks.
The cage was fixed to a tree at the scene of the crime with the men secured by chains and guarded by watchmen to await their fate.
They were still alive when an old countrywoman named Martha Spigot, passing the gibbet on her way back from Yeovil and presumably not knowing the order for them not to receive any succour, heard the killers’ desperate pleas for water and took pity.
She had no water to offer but instead fished a couple of tallow candles from her basket and pushed one into each man’s mouth.
Poor Martha also now found herself in trouble and, according to local tradition, was sentenced to seven years in the county jail.
The two murderers soon succumbed to the inevitable but more than 300 years later there are still reminders of their deed. The scene of their crime is still known as Gibbet Pit while the route followed by Farmer Baker’s horse and cart after his death is called Murderers’ Lane.
Meanwhile, the King’s Arms where the killers were arrested has become the Acorn Inn and was used by Thomas Hardy as the Sow and Acorn in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
The above story is adapted from a chapter in Roger Guttridge’s book Paranormal Dorset (Amberley, 2009).
Source: http://www.blackmorevale.co.uk/Farmer-Baker-s-Hor se-Cart/story-16002470-detail/story.html