Mary Jane Peacock was born, some registers say, in Upwell in 1855, but the 1861 census says that she was born in Wimblington, and shows her living there with her parents.
Her father was John Peacock, who kept The Cock Inn on Eastwood End. In the autumn of 1877, she married Henry Farnham, who worked for The Great Eastern Railway. He became the Stationmaster at Takeley, (left) a station on the Bishops Stortford – Braintree line. The Stationmaster’s house was substantial, and survives to this day, (although the line it once served has long since disappeared. The 1891 census seems to show the Farnhams – still living at Takeley – as a happy and prosperous family which included Lucella (8), Marjorie (6), Sidney (3) and Henrietta (3 months).
Then, in 1893, the family welcomed another child – Dorothy – but within months tragedy struck. Henry Farnham died of “congestion of the lungs’ which sounds like pneumonia. The family were immensely well thought-of in the area. A newspaper reported:
“The family, were always held the very highest respect, and had the sympathy of all classes in the neighbourhood ou the death of the father, which led to their removal from the village. The late Mr. Farnham came to Takeley station-master from his native fen country about years ago, bringing with him his newly wedded bride. He had formerly held similar position on the G.E.R. at Wilburton. Mr. and Mrs. Farnham made many friends and were regarded as exemplary couple. He was a man that nobody could help liking— the most amiable and obliging man ever met with the railway service. He was held much esteem the Earl and Countess Warwick, who used the station frequently while residing at Easton, and H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, when making visits to Easton Lodge, always had cheery word to say to Farnham, and when, after the station master’s death, subscription was set on foot for the widow and family, his Royal Highness gave handsomely towards it, as also did the Earl and Countess of Warwick, Sir Walter Gilbey, and other residents of the neighbourhood.
Mr. and Mrs. Farnham were thrifty people, and despite the expense of bringing up young family they had put away for future use a nice little sum, which with £100 that the widow received from an insurance company upon the death of her husband, and about £80 which was subscribed for them locally, and various benefit club payments, amounted something like £400. The Great Eastern Railway Company allowed her £10 a year for life.”
No-one who attended Henry Farnham’s funeral could have possibly predicted an even greater tragedy which was to follow
In the autumn of 1895, Mary Jane Farnham moved back to Wimblington with her children, and settled in what was described as a comfortable four roomed cottage situated near the station, rented from a Mr Fisher. February 1896 was to witness an event which sent shockwaves, not just across Fenland, but throughout Britain
IN PART TWO – A HEARTBREAKING DISCOVERY