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Little Mysteries from Thornborough


Tony Dixon of Bideford, who is researching the life of his great-great-great grandfather William Ayres, has just (July 2014) sent me a fascinating story. 


The Northampton Mercury of 18th June 1842 reported an inquest on the body of a gypsy called Caroline Smith at Thornborough on the 15th, three days before.  Here is a rough precis:


On 13th inst., Caroline Smith was seen on Welsh Lane being supported by William Ayres, a gypsy.  She looked very ill, couldn’t speak and had two black eyes (which Ayres said were the result of a fall).


She died within the hour.


Her body was taken to the “Leather Bottle” inn and Ayres was detained.


C.S.’s daughter (age 11) said that Ayres & Smith were unmarried, but lived together as man & wife.  They had been to Tring and travelled from there to Great Horwood Lane, where C.S. became ill and fell down.  They had been on their way to “Thornborough Brickhills”.


A witness Matthew Horwood, at work on Welsh Lane, saw C.S. being dragged by Ayres, but not ill-treated.


Verdict: a fit of apoplexy, with an added reprimand to Ayres for his “inhuman neglect” – in other words, she should have had medical care.


My interest in this story has a different focus from Tony Dixon’s: it’s a huge worm-can-opener because:

  • Ed Grimsdale & I have not heard the expression ‘Welsh Lane’ used east of Buckingham.  Which lane is being referred to?
  • Where is “Great Horwood Lane”?
  • Where is Thornborough Brickhills?

At least I can confirm that the ‘Leather Bottle’  was behind the house on the left in #1 at the bottom of Bridge St.  In the back garden (#2) in fact, where the owner has found numerous clay pipes.

The House on the right in #1 is The Maltings Barn, where the beer for the village - and of course for the drovers who stopped at The Leather Bottle - was brewed.  There is a large barn behind the house for drying the hops.


A grass layby (#3) on a bend near the old pub could have been used as a stance.  The lane on the left of it (#4) peters out after 150 yards, but could once have been a route up to (and across) the A421.  And there was certainly a 'Cat [=cattle] Lane' at the bottom of Bridge St.  

Was Bridge St once called 'Cat Lane' or was that the lane in #4?


And: was this green lane once known as “Welsh Lane”?

Is Great Horwood Lane another name for Pilch Lane?


What about Thornborough Brickhills?  There were “Brickyard Cottages” between Thornborough and Padbury at SP734319 which Betty Bunce, a village historian, can remember.  But they were not on a hill...


Any enlightenment would be welcome.  Especially to Tony Dixon.

Thornborough image 1
Site of Old Pub; Maltings on Right
Thornborough image 2
Site of Leather Bottle
Thornborough image 3
Nearby Stance?
Thornborough image 4
Cat Lane?