Outhill Farm is a lonely enough place even today, despite being beside the busy A1489 road from Henley-in-Arden to Redditch, but in the spring of 1862, it would have seemed even more remote. The tenant farmer was a Mr Davis Edge. Among his employees were two young people, both in their early 20s. Ploughman George Gardner – a native of Broadway in Worcestershire – was a burly and, apparently, a rather uncouth fellow, while Sarah Kirby, a domestic servant, was described as a very comely young woman, and much respected in the neighbourhood for her modesty and gracious manner. Across the Atlantic, our cousins were in the second year of a brutal and divisive civil war, but in England, at least in the face of it, all was peace and calm. It is 23rd April, a day doubly celebrated these days as being our national saint’s day and also the birthday of our greatest dramatist, born just a dozen or so miles from the scene of this tragedy.
It is clear that Gardner ‘had designs’ on Sarah Kirby, but the attraction was never mutual. A later newspaper report used the circumlocutory language of the day to describe something which we would be more frank about these days.
The press saw George Gardner, rightly of wrongly, as the Beast to Sarah Kirby’s Beauty:
“Gardner was a remarkably stout-built, firmly knit man, about five feet four inches in height, with a heavy and unintellectual head, set upon a short, thick neck, which only rose a few inches above his muscular and expansive chest. He was of dark complexion, with dark hair and whiskers, and a countenance anything but prepossessing. In this case the man’s appearance was true index to his character. Devoid of education, he allowed his brutish passions to govern him instead of endeavouring to keep them in check.”
Gardner had, at least in his own mind, another grudge against Sarah Kirby. The farm men used to come back to the house at lunchtime, and be served a meal, accompanied by beer. Gardner was convinced that Sarah, who acted as waitress, ‘served him short’ and would not fill up his tankard when he asked. The question of sanity, in these old murder cases – as in those of more recent times – is always problematic. There is an argument that men like Gardner would have to be insane to think they could get away with the crimes they were about to commit. Insanity is not the same as stupidity, however, and perhaps Garner’s limited knowledge of the world was the cause of his apparent optimism that he could commit murder and get away with it. What happened in that Outhill farmhouse on 23rd April 1862 was graphically described in a newspaper report:
IN PART TWO
A rendezvous with “The Dudley Throttler”