John Perkins was Ari’s 6x great-grandfather, born in about 1772 (according to his burial record). He was a farmer, living in Oddingley, Worcestershire, and married to Betty Pool.
Pasture and Church Cottages, Oddingley, photographed in 2006 by Robin Baker, Geograph.org.uk
A document titled “Worcester Cathedral Muniments B Class leases and charters” (held at Worcester Cathedral Library) contains the following details about the land leased by John Perkins (spelling as original):
While researching Betty last week, I discovered a possible link to the Oddingley Murders. The first victim, Reverend George Parker, was the new local clergyman, and a dispute had arisen with the farmers over the paying of tithes.
“The tithe dispute deepened as the years passed, and by September 1805 of the seven ratepayers in Oddingley parish only two of them – Old Mr Hardcourt and John Perkins – could still sustain a conversation with Parker” (Peter Moore, Damn His Blood, p. 28).
The book Damn His Blood by Peter Moore contains plenty of references to John and Betty, supported by evidence from newspaper reports, court reports and witness testimony. The book is well worth reading, even if you’re not related to the people in it! It was very exciting to find that one of Ari’s ancestors had played a role in these events and that it had been recorded in this way. (See also The Trial of Thomas Clewes, Farmer, Charged with the Murder of Richard Heming, at Oddingley, Worcestershire, in June, 1806, Etc, printed by Edwin Lees, 1830, and A full and accurate account of the inquest held upon the remains of R. H., lately discovered in a barn at Oddingley … including particulars of the murder … of … G. Parker … 1806, printed by T. Eaton, 1830 on Google Books.)
I haven’t found John’s baptism or parents yet, so the first we know of him is the marriage to Betty in 1803, which is mentioned in Moore’s book.
“John Perkins, an impetuous single-minded man in his twenties, had lived in the village for the past decade and had recently assumed control of Oddingley Lane Farm” (p. 39).
These men “were tenant farmers who paid annual rent to Lord Foley in exchange for their houses and the right to farm the attached land on leases of eight years. … Tenancies were rarely available and hard to win, with aspiring farmers needing to be diplomatic, forceful, well connected and hard-working to succeed” (p. 39).
On 22 June, two days before the first of the two murders, “John and Betty Perkins would have been among the congregation at Parker’s final service … where there had been disquieting whisperings in the pews” (p. 94).
The murder took place on 24 June 1806 (Midsummer Day). Peter Moore describes the village that day, with “… scores of parishioners at work in the meadows. Most were preparing for the clover harvest or hacking at thistles and weeds. … John Perkins, another farmer, was tending a bonfire outside Oddingley Lane Farm” (p. 8). The farm was “a quarter of a mile south of the village crossroads” (p. 93). “Perkins had decided not to travel to Bromsgrove for the annual fair” (p. 93). “One of his meadows had been blighted by an outbreak of a weed known as cammock or rest harrow. … From the middle of the afternoon onwards, he busied himself in the field, hacking at the plant” (p. 95).
Mary Delany. Ononis Fruticosa. Rest Harrow. 1778. Collage of coloured papers, with bodycolour and watercolour, on black ink background. British Museum.
“At around four thirty in the afternoon Perkins gathered the cammock into a heap, and at five o’clock he set his little bonfire alight. He did not hear anything unusual. There was just the dim rustle of a harvest scythe, the occasional sweep or creak of a wheelbarrow, and the gentle sound of birdsong. … Unlike James Tustin and the two butchers half a mile away at Pound Farm, he did not hear the blast of a shotgun or Reverend Parker’s piercing, desperate cry of murder” (p. 95).
“John Perkins learnt of the murder at about half past five … when ‘a little girl’ appeared in his field. She told Perkins that the Reverend had been shot and Mrs Parker would like to see him ‘directly’. Perkins threw down his tools and ran into the lane, leaving the bonfire burning behind him” (p. 99).
“At the rectory Perkins found Mary Parker in the garden. She was leaning against a set of milk pails in the yard. ‘For God’s sake!’ she cried when she saw Perkins. ‘Go to Mr Pyndar [a justice of the peace] directly, for I have no friend but you and him” (p. 99).
John did this.
“Betty Perkins had learnt the news of the murder at the same time as her husband and at about 5.30 p.m. had set off for the glebe fields to see Parker’s body” (p. 102). Betty lent James Tustin a horse to go after the murderer, but his mistress, Mrs Barnett, had prevented him from going. (Betty told Rev. Reginald Pyndar this on 29 June, when he was collecting evidence in the case.)
At seven o’clock that evening, Thomas Colwell, a carpenter, “called at the rectory and found John Perkins comforting Mary Parker. Colwell told them both that he thought Richard Heming was Reverend Parker’s murderer” (p. 113).
“In mid-May John Perkins had noticed Heming pacing back and forth in Barnett’s fields, where a faggot of thorns and a bolting of straw had been thrown down into the ditch adjoining the glebe meadows. Parker had also seen Heming nearby and had asked Perkins if he knew what the man was doing. The farmer had been unable to supply an answer” (p. 116).
Two people were ordered to ride to Worcester to get a handbill printed with the murderer’s description, and “John Perkins and Thomas Colwell were ordered to take the road south, accompanied by George Day, Parker’s servant” (p. 123). Acting as deputised constables, they rode to Bredon’s Norton, home of Heming’s parents, and searched the house but found nothing. Pyndar asked John to lie in wait on the road between Droitwich and Oddingley, so that he could seize Heming if he came that way. Pyndar had also sent John to Droitwich to fetch a man called Baker, who was a professional thief taker.
Parker’s funeral took place on Friday 27 June, and John was in attendance.
“John and Betty Perkins were among the Parkers’ closest friends in the parish. Parker had officiated at their wedding, on 16 October 1803, at which Mary Parker had taken the unusual step of signing the register instead of Pardoe, the parish clerk. As Mary was illiterate she could only manage a dog-legged cross in the gap her husband left for her signature, but it was a symbolic act and enough to demonstrate the depth of trust and friendship between the couples” (p. 94).
Before the murder
In January 1806, Captain Samuel Evans, a retired military officer who leased Church Farm, had said to John Perkins: “Mr Parker is a very bad man. Nobody in the parish agrees with him.” Perkins didn’t agree and the Captain swore “Damn him! There is no more harm in shooting him than a mad dog” (p. 54).
On 7 April 1806 (Easter Monday) the annual vestry meeting had taken place. After an argument, the meeting “descended into chaos. The farmers stalked out, abandoning an event intended to bring parishioners together. John Perkins was the only one who stayed to speak to Parker, perhaps the only farmer he could still count as a friend” (p. 43).
That evening, the farmers were dining and drinking in God Speed the Plough in Tibberton (Oddingley had no pub of its own).
Various accounts of the evening were given by witnesses, mentioning John Perkins. According to Moore, Perkins “had only opted to join the dinner a few hours earlier at the insistence of Parker himself, who, anticipating intemperate words or scenes, had urged him to attend to defend his name” (p. 57).
Staffordshire Advertiser, 13 March 1830, Findmypast.co.uk
London Morning Chronicle, 2 Feb 1830, Findmypast.co.uk
Worcester Herald, 6 Feb 1830, Findmypast.co.uk (William Barnett’s evidence)
The second murder
In January 1830 a second inquest was held, after the discovery of a body in a barn. The coroner, William Smith, invited John Perkins to this inquest. This is where John was able to give his account of what had happened in 1806.
According to Peter Moore, John Perkins was in debt by 1815 and had lost his farm. This advert had appeared in the Worcester Journal in 1811:
Worcester Journal, 15 December 1825, Findmypast.co.uk
John died in Feb 1837 and was buried at Oddingley on 12 Feb.
Ari, this is how you are related to John: