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Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough

Thomas of Reading

Preamble

The story of the final murder by the landlord Jarman and his wife is told in the book The history of Thomas of Reading by Thomas Deloney (c 1543-1600). This is the sixth edition from 1632 published after his death.

 

The original story was attributed to an author named Kemp and published sometime before 1600. In this article I have left the dialogue unchanged and it is exactly as it appears in the book. I have interpreted and modernised the narrative text however for ease of reading. This version of the story concludes that there were nine murders by Jarman and his wife and that the events took place in the 12th century. It should be remembered that even this is not a historical record and should be viewed as fictionalised conjecture.

Thomas Cole, through his own business interests and also by appointment to the King, had to visit London on many occasions. He would travel alone and make an overnight stop at an inn in Colnbrook run by a landlord called Jarman and his wife whose name is not known and shall subsequently be referred to as the wife. Apart from being landlord, Jarman was also a skilled carpenter.

The Jarman and his wife, unbeknownst to Cole, had murdered many wealthy lone travellers who had stayed with them in the past in order to rob them of their riches. They referred to these rich men as ‘fat pigs’.

‘Wife,’ said Jarman ‘there is now a fat pig to be had if you want one.’

‘I pray you put him in the hog sty till tomorrow,’ was the response from his wife.

The traveller would be given the best room in the inn which was above the kitchen. The bed was set rather low but was very comfortable. The feet of the bed were secured to a trapdoor in the floor. Directly below in the kitchen was a large cauldron which Jarman and his wife would usually use for boiling alcohol.

By pulling two iron pins in the kitchen below from the end of the trap door, it would swing down violently and the sleeping occupant would fall into the cauldron which would be filled with boiling water. The victim would be scalded and drowned without being able to cry or speak one word.

Jarman and his wife would then remove the dead body from the cauldron, strip it, steal any money and jewellery and replace the hinged floor. The dead body would then be taken and thrown into the local river. His horse would be hidden in a barn and disguised by trimming the mane, tail, trimming the ears or even putting out an eye. The tack would be disposed of perhaps by dumping in the river.

The rest of the guests would have no particular reason to miss the man since many travellers such as him might stay only one night. Any that asked would be told that he had to leave early to get a good start on to the next stage of his journey.

The Ostrich Inn as it appears today. Could it really have been the venue for these horrific murders?

On Thomas Cole’s last fateful visit to the inn at Colebrooke, it seems he had some bad news about a friend who had fallen on hard times which had saddened him. This had followed a series of unfortunate events including the 1135 Great Fire of London that had burnt down Thomas Becket’s house. Cole’s heart was so heavy that he could eat no meat. The innkeeper Jarman and his wife appeared friendly and sympathetic.

‘Jesus Master Cole, what ails you to night?’ asked Jarman, ‘Never did we see you thus sad before, will it please you to have a quart of burnt sack?’

‘With a good will,’ replied Cole, ‘and would to God Tom Dove were here, he would surely make me merry, and we should lack no music, but I am sorry for the man with all my heart, that he is come so far behind hand. But alas, so much can every man say, but what good doth it him?’

‘No, no, it is not words can help a man in this case,’ continued Cole, ‘The man had need of other relief then so. Let me see: I have but one child in the world, and that is my daughter, and half that I have is hers, the other half my wife’s. What then? Shall I be good to no body but them? In conscience, my wealth is too much for a couple to possess, and what is our Religion without charity? And to whom is charity more to be shown, then to decayed house-holders?

‘Good my host, lend me a pen and ink, and some paper, for I will write a letter unto the poor man straight; and something I will give him: That alms which a man bestows with his own hands, he shall be sure to have delivered, and God knows how long I shall live.’

With that, Jarman’s wife dissemblingly answered, saying, ‘Doubt not, Master Cole, you are like enough by the course of nature to live many years.’

‘God knows, replied Cole, ‘I never found my heart so heavy before.’

Cole’s host brought him pen, ink, and paper was brought and he wrote:

 

In the name of God, Amen. I bequeath my soul to God, and my body to the ground, my goods equally between my wife Eleanor, and Isabel my daughter. Item I give to Thomas Dove of Exeter one hundred pounds, nay that is too little, I give to Thomas Dove two hundred pounds in money, to be paid unto him presently upon his demand thereof by my said wife and daughter.

 

When he had finished, Cole said to Jarman ‘Ha, how say you host, is not this well? I pray you read it.’ He then passed the document to the innkeeper.

‘Why Master Cole, what have you written here?’ said Jarman, ‘You said you would write a letter, but me thinks you have made a Will, what need have you to do this? Thanks be to God, you may live many fair years.’

‘Tis true,’ replied Cole, ‘If it please God, and I trust this writing cannot shorten my days, but let me see, have I made a Will? Now, I promise you, I did verily purpose to write a letter. Notwithstanding, I have written that that God put into my mind. But look once again my host, is it not written there, that Dove shall have two hundred pounds, to be paid when he comes to demand it?

‘Yes indeed,’ said Jarman.

‘Well then, all is well,’ said Cole, ‘and it shall go as it is for me. I will not bestow the new writing thereof anymore.’

Cole folded the letter and sealed it. He asked Jarman would see that the letter would be sent to Exeter, the innkeeper promised that he would, notwithstanding Cole was not satisfied: but after some pause, he would needs hire one to carry it. And so sitting down sadly in his chair again, upon a sudden he burst into tears. Jarman and his wife asked why he wept.

‘No cause of these fears I know,’ said Cole, ‘but it comes now into my mind when I set toward this my last journey to London, how my daughter took on, what a coyle she kept to have me stay, and I could not be rid of the little baggage a long time, she did so hang about me, when her mother by violence took her away, she cried out most mainly, O my father, my father, 1 shall never see him again.’

‘Alas, pretty soul,’ said Jarman’s wife, ‘this was but mere kindness in the girl, and it seems she is very fond of you. But alas, why should you grieve at this? You must consider that it was but childishness.

‘It is indeed,’ said Cole nodding.

Then they asked him if he would go to bed.

‘No,’ replied Cole, ‘Although I am heavy, I have no mind to go to bed at all.

Some musicians of the town came into the saloon, drew out their instruments and began to play for the depressed Cole.

‘This music comes very well,’ said Cole, ‘Me thinks these instruments sound like the ring of St. Mary Overies bells, but the bass drowns all the rest, and in my ear it goes like a bell that rings a forenoon knell, for God’s sake let them leave off, and bear them this simple reward.’

The Musicians being gone, Jarman encouraged Cole to retire to bed.

‘For it is well near eleven of the clock.’

Cole looked at the innkeeper and his wife closely and with a start asked: ‘What ail you to look so like pale death? Good Lord, what have you done, that your hands are thus bloody?’

‘What my hands?’ replied Jarman, ‘Why, you may see they are neither bloody nor foul: either your eyes do greatly dazzle, or else fancies of a troubled mind do delude you.

‘Alas, my host, you may see,’ said Cole, ‘How weak my wits are, I never had my head so idle before. Come, let me drink once more, and then I will to bed, and trouble you no longer.’

Cole went to his room and Jarman’s wife warmed a cloth and placed it on Cole’s head.

‘Good Lord,’ said Cole ‘I am not sick, I praise God, but such an alteration I find in myself as I never did before.’

A screech owl cried out in the night then a raven croaked for some time close by his window.

‘Jesus have mercy upon me,’ said Cole, ‘What an ill-favoured cry do yonder carrion birds make.’ And with that he laid down in his bed, from where he would never rise again.

Jarman and his wife noting Cole’s troubled mind, began to discuss what was best to be done.

‘By my consent,’ said Jarman, ‘The matter should pass, for I think it is not best to meddle on him.’

‘What man faint you now?’ replied his wife, ‘have you done so many and do you shrink at this?’ She showed him a great deal of gold which Cole had left with her.

‘Would it not grieve a bodies heart to lose this?’ she continued, ‘Hang the old churl, what should he do living any longer? He hath too much, and we have too little. Tut husband, let the thing be done, and then this is our own.’

Her wicked counsel was followed, and when they listened at his chamber door, they heard the man sound asleep. They agreed to go ahead with their murderous plan. Their servants being all in bed they went down to the kitchen. They pulled out the iron pins and the trap door opened and Cole fell into the boiling cauldron, killing him instantly. They continued with their grizzly plan, pulling his body from the cauldron they stripped him and took the body to dump it in the flowing river. They lifted the trap door back into place but Jarman went to deal with Cole’s horse, he found that the door was open and the horse had escaped with a part of the halter around its neck.

The horse had managed to get into a big field beyond the back of the inn. The horse had got into a part where there was a mare and they both escaped onto the highway. That day a resident of the town recognised the mare and managed to control it and return her to her owner.

In the meantime, the musicians who had entertained Cole the previous evening came to the inn to inquire about him. They had returned to entertain him again that morning in return for a gift from him. Also there was a guest who had agreed the previous evening to accompany Cole on his journey to Reading was about his whereabouts. Jarman told them all that Cole had left early in the morning.

Later the man that owned the mare was going around the town inquiring if anyone had lost a horse. No one had. He eventually came to the inn and spoke to the hostlers. Asked them if a horse was missing from their stables. They replied no.

‘Why then,’ said the man, ‘I perceive my mare is good for something, for if I send her to field single, she will come home double?’

Part of Colne Brook

The next day after, Cole’s wife began to worry that her husband had not come home, sent one of her men on horseback, to see if he could meet him.

‘And if you meet him not betwixt this and Colebrooke,’ she said to the horseman, ‘ask for him at the Crane, but if you find him not there, then ride to London ; for I doubt he is either sick or else some mischance hath fallen unto him.’

The horseman did this and asked at the inn for Cole and was told that he had left for home that day. The horseman, obviously having just covered the route that Cole taken, was not convinced so he made further enquiries around the town. After some time he was told of a horse without a rider had been found loose on the highway.

Eventually the horseman found Cole’s and took it to the inn to confront the landlord. Jarman was blank and that night he fled. The horseman sought the help of officers of the law who were presented with the evidence. Jarman’s wife who had remained at the inn was apprehended and questioned. She confessed the truth. Jarman was soon after arrested in Windsor Forest.

Jarman confessed that, being a carpenter, he had made that false falling floor, and how his wife devised the scheme, and how they had murdered by that means nine persons. The couple were hanged. Despite the wealth that they had stolen they had actually died very far in debt.

When the King heard of Cole’s murder, his grief was such that he commanded that the inn should be razed to the ground and that nothing should ever be built on the land where it stood.

Notes

  1. The ‘sign of the Crane’ where Cole stayed may refer to the pub now known as the Ostrich Inn. Cranes and ostriches are similar in profile in that they both have long necks, plump bodies and long legs so it’s quite possible that it might have been a simple brand change sometime in the past.

  2.  The most well-known Great Fire of London was in 1666, however there have been several fires of London and one occurred in 1135.

  3. Thomas Becket lived in the years 1118–1170.

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