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Murder and Public Hanging in Purton Stoke in 1819

The Road to Watkins Corner


Watkins Corner now

Re-enactmentof the hanging 2007

More Photos of the Fayre

Public Hanging in Purton Stoke

One event near the village which bought Purton Stoke into national prominence for a time was the public hanging of Robert Watkins in l8l9. Mr. Stephen Rodway, a salt merchant of Cricklade, was returning home from Wootton Bassett on 7th May l819. At about 9.30 pm he was waylaid and shot, and then robbed. Robert Turner Watkins and his brother Edward were charged with the murder. At their trial in Salisbury assizes on 28th July, Edward was acquitted, the only part he took in the matter was to bury the pistol. Robert was found guilty .
Although married he had formed a liaison with his landlady’s daughter whilst working on the canal at Chichester. It was proved that he had sent her a £5 note which was marked and could be identified by Rodway’s son-in-law. Another two £1 notes had been paid to a draper, Mr. Edward Belcher. The conviction ordered that he be hanged in public as near as possible to the place of the murder. And so it was that on Friday 30th July he was taken from the goal at Fisherton to the Moor Stones near Purton Stoke - the present Watkins Corner - where a scaffold and gallows had been erected. He retained his composure throughout although repeatedly pressed to confess his guilt would only say he was near the spot when the murder took place. At his own request he read the 108th Psalm, “Oh God my heart is fixed....
A large crowd of men, women and children estimated between 5-15,000 had collected around the corner, in spite of the short notice, to witness the execution. Two hundred special constables had been sworn in for the occasion in case of trouble. However, almost at the moment he was hanged a violent thunderstorm broke and lasted for half an hour, after which the crowd dispersed quietly.

The Robert Watkins Story
A booklet (44 pages) was produced for the Historic Fair in Purton Stoke in 2007 and a few are still available at £4 post paid (UK).

It is the story of a young man, Robert Watkins, who was brought up in the "Rotten Borough" of Wootton Bassett, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Bribery, corruption, fighting and intimidation were considered to be acceptable during elections there. He was a champion bare-knuckle fighter. Away from the elections he spent all of his working life on canals. Like so many others at the time he was caught up in the "Canal Fever" that was sweeping the country. For the Gentlemen in society it was a way to invest and make money. Industry was crying out for raw materials and this was the new way to transport large quantities. For the workers it was an opportunity to escape from the worsening conditions in agriculture. During one period when he was working away from his family on the Chichester Canal Robert formed a relationship which was to prove his downfall. In an attempt to impress this lady and win her favours and her inheritance, he robbed and murdered. It all ended ...

The Village re-enacted the events in 2007 - see www.hangfairday.co.uk for the story and pictures