Murder at Poundstock Church
Chatting to a local the other day, I hadn’t realised quite how bloody a history Poundstock had in the fourteenth century, when it was reckoned to be pretty much outside the rule of law. That might apply to much of old Cornwall!
Of course, this was the time of the Hundred Years War with France, so law enforcers were intermittently engaged in fighting the French, rather than maintaining law and order at home. So, places like Widemouth were prey to pirates, and inland villainy was also the name of the game. Meanwhile, the Black Death was also killing people off, so one can imagine a population in turmoil.
It rather makes sense that those engaged in criminal activity on the home front were also likely to be significantly unscrupulous when fighting wars, so many men were excused for their bloody villainies at home, because they were, conversely, fighting heroes on the battlefield.
Anyway, to cut a long story, etc., the chief tale local people remember was the slaying of William Penfound, a clerk, in Poundstock. Not only was the poor man slain, but he was killed in church, before the altar no less, with a combination of swords and cudgels, a very brutal and ugly sight. The event happened during mass on December 27th, 1357, the Feast of St John the Evangelist.
Penfound and some of his kinsmen were mercilessly killed, while church vestments and sacred vessels were also desecrated. Something of an irreligious free for all, and none too pleasant.
On this occasion, the King, Edward III, commanded an investigation into events. Arrests followed and a trial undertaken at Lotswithiel Assizes on Monday, 26th March, 1358, three months after the offence was committed, which was remarkably speedy.
The accused was John Beville. Indeed, many of the family of Bevilles were implicated, including his mother, Isabella de Bosnegor, for either joining in the brutality or harbouring criminals as they fled. All pleaded not guilty and were acquitted on the capital charge, so escaped hanging. However, financially, they paid the price, with lands and properties forfeited and heavy fines, up to £100 for the ringleaders. It was quite a sum then, and they did request instalment payments, which was a tad cheeky.
John Beville was later pardoned and continued to combine his Crown offices with his villainous career, including kidnapping wealthy merchants, ransoming them and plundering their goods. A lovely chap, by the sound of it. Funny what double lives people led, as pillars of the community and ruffians.
As for poor old William Penfound, his ghost is said to haunt Poundstock Church, and who can blame him after such a grizzly end?
Anyone seen him?