Mysterious happenings in 17th century Gloucestershire

A very peculiar unsolved missing persons case took place between 1660 and 1662 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. On 16 August 1660, a 70 year old man, William Harrison disappeared! He was steward to the Lady of the Manor and left his home to walk two miles to Charingworth. His manservant John Perry was sent to look for him, neither returned by the next day. So his son Edward Harrison was then sent to look for the pair, and on his way, of course, he meets John Perry, who had not been able to find his master; so they head for Ebrington and heard that Harrison had been there the previous night (he was going to see a tenant).  During their return to Chipping Campden they heard that some of William Harrison’s items had been found on the road locally; including a hat slashed by a sharp implement, a bloodied shirt and neckband.

John Perry, under questioning, claimed he knew that Harrison had been murdered, but was innocent, and accused his own mother and brother: apparently killing him for his money and hiding the body, by dumping it in a millpond! The pond was dredged, but lo and behold, no body was found. John Perry’s testimony convinced the jury because why would he lie about it? He claimed that he suggested to his own brother to rob William Harrison. He claimed that his mother and brother had stolen 140 pounds from William’s house the previous year. John also lied about being attacked by robbers a few weeks before.

Interestingly the 2 defendants changed their pleas to guilty as the new Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660 granted a free pardon to first time offenders! The judge would not have prosecuted anyway as there was no body! Spring 1661- the court reconvened- they were no criminals because of their earlier guilty plea to the robbery, and as the body had not been found, now wanted to hear the charge of murder. For some reason John Perry decided to join his mother and brother in pleading not guilty to murdering Harrison and that his original testimony was false as he was insane. But, what can you do? All three Perry’s were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged and hang they did; all together on Broadway Hill, and Broadway Tower stands right on the site of their hanging. The story, getting more bizarre by the minute, reveals that the mother was also suspected of being a witch, so they hanged her first as she might have been spellcasting to prevent her sons from confessing: didn’t work as they didn’t confess after she struggled her last breath.

William Harrison returns! His story is he came back to England aboard a ship from Lisbon. He alleged that he was abducted, and then wounded, had his pockets stuffed with money, then was taken away on horseback to Deal in Kent, then transferred to a Turkish ship and sold into slavery. Then after nearly 2 years he escaped (his master had died) by stowing away on a Portuguese ship.

I think William wanted a new lease on life (pardon the pun) and was experiencing a late life crisis! Maybe he wanted to get away from it all and enjoy spending some of his cash on a countryside tour? Maybe he set out on a long pilgrimage to save his soul.


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