MURDER STONE MARKS VICTIM’S GRAVE
AMONG the graves around St Catwg’s Church, near Neath, is one known to anyone who grew up in the village as “the murder stone”. The stone, plain but imposing, does not just mark a grave – it expresses the outrage of a community, and was designed to prick the conscience of a killer.
St Catwg’s is a handsome building dating back to the Normans, with a distinctive wagon ceiling and a fine stained glass window.
In its large cemetery are graves from an area much larger than the village itself, for the parish once stretched from Skewen to Glynneath. The cemetery has some very ornate gravestones marking the last resting place of those from wealthy families, and some very simple ones.
And it has a murder stone, one of only a handful of such memorials in Wales.
Growing up in the village I would pass the stone almost every day, and it always fascinated me – how could it not? The inscription, chiselled in big, bold, capital letters, is not easily forgotten.
Though the decades have weathered the stone, the message itself could not be any clearer.
The stone marks the grave of a 26-year-old woman called Margaret Williams, a native of Carmarthenshire who was working for a farming family in Cadoxton.
Her battered and bruised body was found on the marshy land between the village and the River Neath in July 1822. She was pregnant. Her murderer was never found. The words on the stone read:
This much is known, but much else about the circumstances of her life and death are the subject of speculation, folklore and the poetic telling and retelling of the story over the decades.
Newspaper accounts at the time reported that she was working as a servant for a local tenant farmer when she fell pregnant – Miss Williams claimed the father was the farmer’s son.
It is known she left her employment some 10 weeks before she was murdered – whether through choice or because she was fired we will never know – and went to live in Neath.
She was found on the morning of Sunday, July 14, lying on her side in the marshy land south of the village, her head submerged under water.
Beside her was a basket containing her hat and a sheep’s head she had apparently bought at Neath market the previous day.
An examination found bruises and discolouration on her neck and throat. It was determined that she had been strangled.
An inquest into her death was held on the following Tuesday and Wednesday.
As The Cambrian paper reported at the time: “The inquest was attended by several magistrates and other gentlemen, whose interest had been strongly excited by a well-founded suspicion that the deceased did not die from any natural or accidental cause.”
The finger of blame pointed at the son of the farmer she had been employed by or, as the paper put it, “he was generally suspected of having committed the diabolical act”.
The suspect was held while the coroner and jury considered the case, and on Wednesday – after a “deliberate and able investigation” – the verdict was reached.
As the paper reports: “Though the strongest suspicions existed against the prisoner, no evidence was adduced to establish his guilt, the verdict of the jury was, therefore, of wilful murder against person or persons unknown.”
With no physical evidence to tie him to the murder scene, no eye witnesses, and no confession, the suspect was released.
The paper adds: “The magistrates have declared their resolution to seek out fresh evidence with unremitting scrutiny: and it is devoutly to be wished, that the inhuman monster who perpetrated this foul and horrid deed, may yet be brought to justice.”
But no arrests followed, and nobody was brought to justice.
The murder stone itself wasn’t erected until the year after the death, the words being composed by Elijah Waring, a Neath Quaker and wellknown orator – and those words clearly express the outrage of the community, and the belief that the murderer may have evaded earthly justice.
The carving on the stone concludes with: “God hath set his mark upon him either for time or eternity, and the cry of blood will assuredly pursue him to certain and terrible but righteous judgement.” An extraordinary epitaph. Over the years many tales around the murder have developed.
One version has a death-bed con- fession by a man who originally claimed to have seen the victim and the farmer’s son arguing on the marsh that fateful evening.
In another, the wronged woman fell pregnant to the son of a local squire. The stone itself is set at a curious angle to the main path through the churchyard, and some say it was put in that position to face the house of the accused as a daily reminder of his wrongdoing.
A popular detail in many of the versions is of the presumed killer fleeing the village following the inquest. One colourful telling recounts the sound of his horse’s hooves echoing through the village as he makes a dead-of-night dash to Swansea port to catch a sailing ship to America.
What became of him and his new life in the New World is not recounted.
The mystery remains unsolved.
The murder stone at St Catwg’s Church graveyard in Cadoxton near Neath