|Taken from the 1773 Andrews & Drury map of North Wiltshire|
A middle aged woman fends off a violent intruder and one local man had a very close call when a night time burglary didn’t go according to plan in October 1850.
Miss Keziah Prior was well known in Lydiard Millicent where she kept a small grocer’s shop. In 1851 the population of the North Wiltshire village was just 491. Thomas Sadler farmed at Shaw where the parish boundary met that of Lydiard Tregoze. John Bewley was at Parkside Farm, the former dower house of the St John family at Lydiard Park while John Hinder was at Parsonage Farm and the wealthy Mary Tuckey at Lower Shaw.
Miss Sarah Hawkins was the schoolmistress and Thomas Howard the blacksmith. There were just four shops in the village. John Cowley and John Newith are both described as shopkeepers in trade directories of the time, while William Mouldon was a baker and shopkeeper and Keziah Prior ran a small grocer’s shop.
Keziah had retired to bed at about eight o’clock on the fateful Tuesday October 8, having first made sure her windows were fastened and the doors locked.
During the night she was awakened by the sound of breaking glass, which she at first attributed to her cat. Catching a glimpse of a light from the room opposite her bedroom, Keziah jumped out of bed and straight into the grasp of the intruder.
She later identified the man who she said she had known for some time and who called in at her shop, remembering the red cap he wore.
Mr Superintendent Haynes of the Wiltshire Constabulary apprehended Charles Clark also known as Embury who lived about a mile from Miss Prior’s shop. The prisoner was brought before the magistrates in Swindon where Keziah’s compelling account of the burglary was recounted in the local press.
“As I was going towards the door a man rushed upon me,” she said. “He took hold of me, and we fell to the floor together. I was undermost. As we were falling, he said “**** your eyes, deliver your money!”
Miss Prior went on to say how she went to the open window through which Embury had made his entrance and yelled ‘Murder.’ As Embury called to his accomplice, Miss Prior told how she turned from the window and met him face to face.
“We closed together and struggled. I can’t say whether he struck me there, but he struck me in the bedroom; I bear the marks on my face. My toes were trod to pieces with his nailed shoes or boots,” she said. “He got to the window and he put his right leg up to get out. I put my hands round his body and helped him up. He drew his other leg up, and I pat my hand on his back and struck him as hard as I could, and said, ‘That’s where thee’s come in, and that’s where thee shall go out,‘ and out he went. He fell about 13 feet, and dropped on the road. I said ‘You rogue, I hope you will break your neck.’
A red cap and a heavy bludgeon were found at the scene of the crime. Traces of blood on the floor were evidence of the desperate struggle that had taken place in Keziah’s spare bedroom.
The description of the prisoner was that he was a ‘tall, powerful man, with long black hair, repulsive features, and of the most ruffianly appearance.’
Embury was committed for trial at the New Sarum Assizes, Salisbury where he duly appeared on March 28, 1851.
Embury’s neighbours acted as witnesses and claimed that at about one o’clock in the morning they heard the child of the prisoner crying, and then heard the prisoner and his wife talking about the child, which the prisoner’s wife was trying to wean. But despite this evidence the jury found Embury guilty and a sentence of death was pronounced.
It was only when another prisoner appearing at the same assizes for the theft of an ass, also from the Lydiard Millicent area, confessed he had broken into Miss Prior’s home. His description of the events of that night corroborated the findings of the police and Keziah’s evidence.