The ancient Lincolnshire town of Market Deeping sits on the north bank of the River Welland, and its many 17th century buildings would have appeared, in 1922, pretty much as they do today. The census tells us that its population had steadily declined from a peak of nearly 1300 in 1871, to 888 in 1921. A small part of this decline was due to the sacrifice paid by the men of the town – in common with almost every other community across the land – during The Great War. 25 men of the town went to war and never returned, and a plaque in their honour was dedicated in St Guthlac’s church in December 1920.
One of the most elegant buildings in the town is The White Horse on Church Street. In 1922 the hotel was run by Edith Caroline D’Arcy, helped by her daughters. She was a widow, her husband William George having died in 1915 at the age of 53. There was great anticipation in the household that September, as there was to be a double wedding. Edith’s youngest daughter, Ivy Dora, was to marry local hairdresser George Prentice on Wednesday 20th, while Edith herself was to end her widowhood by marrying William Kitchener – a signalman from Tallington – on Monday 25th.
The Darcy family had moved around over the years. The 1891 census has George and Edith (and daughter Winifred) living in Penge, with George registered as a jobbing gardener. 1901 has them living in Halfleet, Market Deeping, and they are still there – but with Lucy, Gertrude and Ivy – in 1911. It appears they are living at The Oddfellows’ Arms, a Market Deeping pub long since gone.
The D’Arcys seemed to be hardworking and a close family. Perhaps the same could not be said of Frank Fowler’s background. He was born in 1886, in Langtoft, just a couple of miles north of Market Deeping. The 1891 census has him living with his parents Francis and Alice.
By 1901, however, he is still living in Langtoft, but with his grandparents Henry and Alice Rosling. His parents, along with daughter Henrietta and a younger son, Robert, had moved to Pickworth, 8 miles east of Grantham. One can only speculate why they left Frank – still only fourteen – behind. It is possible that there was no sinister reason behind this, as by then he may have been working, but it is not mentioned on the census return. In 1911 he is still living with his grandfather – now a widower – and certainly working on a farm. It seems he was either conscripted or joined up to fight in The Great War (pictured left), survived, and returned to Lincolnshire. In 1922 he was managing a farm owned by his aunt, a Mrs Ormer, and was a regular customer at The White Horse. It also seems he had developed an interest in the landlady’s daughter – Ivy Dora D’Arcy.
With all the characters in place, we must now move on to the events of the third week of September 1922. On the Wednesday, Ivy and George were married. They had not yet set up house together, but were staying in one of the guest rooms of The White Horse, helping prepare for Edith’s own wedding, scheduled for Monday 25th September. On the evening of Saturday 23rd, Edith and two of her daughters – Gertrude and Ivy (below) were in a candle-lit back parlour of the hotel, looking at some of Edith’s wedding presents. Suddenly, the door was violently kicked open, and a deafening blast of a shotgun doused the candle and plunged the room into darkness.
IN PART TWO
A grisly discovery
A wedding and a funeral
Trial and retribution