The death of Harriet Crompton, an Infamous Outrage at Wanborough

If you have ever wondered why the "New" Calley Arms at the junction of Ham Road and Church Road is "New", it was built as a replacement for the original Calley Arms, now 2 Ham Road, which is the 1.5 story building opposite, next door to the surgery. The "Old" Calley arms had been a feature of village life for many years without incident until in 1891 it became the site of a sensational murder investigation, widely reported by the leading local newspaper at the time, the Evening North Wiltshire Herald.

On the night of the 20th October 1891 the landlord of the Calley Arms, Mr Charles Vockings, was disturbed by a commotion outside and went to investigate. He found a woman crawling in the road on her hands and knees. She told him she had been attacked by "a beast of a fellow" and had broken her leg whilst running away. Mr Vockings recognised the woman as she had previously been drinking in the tap room of the pub, having arrived by carrier earlier in the evening.

Harriet Crompton, aged 51, was a servant and was about to take up employment with Mr Ford-Deacon at his farm near the Church. Her husband had already travelled from Wroughton by cart with all their furniture and she was following behind with a local carrier Mr Robinson of Liddington. After standing the carrier a pint, she had asked for directions to Mr Ford-Deacons farm and William Calvey aged 21 from Liddington had offered to show her. The two left together and on the way, he had allegedly dragged her into a field off Church Road and tried to have his wicked way with her. Harriet was carried back into the pub on a chair and the next morning was taken to the Victoria Hospital in Swindon where it was confirmed she had broken her ankle. Unfortunately, complications set in and she subsequently died there on November 19th, nearly a month after the attack.

William Calvey was arrested by William Tydeman, police sergeant at Wanborough, and in his statement claimed "I did not hurt the woman. She was drunk, and I had a smart drop too". He was initially charged with inflicting serious bodily harm, but following Harriet's death this was changed to a charge of murder and he was committed for trial at the Wiltshire Assizes.

At his trial, on March 2nd 1892 in Devizes, Calvey pleaded not guilty. His defence counsel, Mr Bouverie, argued that Harriet's character and conduct was questionable as;

  • Calvey claimed Harriet had been drunk when she arrived in the village. This was because the cart she had ridden in had stopped at The Black Horse in Wroughton, The Crown Inn in Swindon and the Sun Inn at Liddington prior to arriving at the Calley Arms in Wanborough, and Harriet had taken some drink in all of them.
  • During her stay in the hospital Catherine Ackerley, matron at the Victoria Hospital, stated that the deceased had repeatedly taken off her splints and tried to walk on numerous occasions. This had adversely affected her recovery.

The defence suggested otherwise as;

  • Mr Robinson, the carrier, said she had merely had a nip of brandy at the Crown "to keep off the cold".
  • Harriet's husband, George Compton, also testified to her sobriety having "Never seen her take a drink in all their married life".

After some lengthy legal discussions with the prosecution the judge directed that the charge should be reduced to manslaughter and instructed the jury to retire. They took only a few minutes to find Calvey guilty and he was sentenced to 8 years penal servitude. The intervention of the judge undoubtedly saved his life as had he been found guilty of murder he would have faced hanging.

Sadly, we don't know what subsequently happened to William Calvey but the story does make interesting reading and raises questions about the situation poor Harriet found herself in. It's very hard for us now to think that you can die in hospital of a broken ankle, and it appears that it was also unusual in the days before effective antibiotics!

  • Why would she try to leave the hospital?
  • What level of responsibility did hospital standards and her treatment in the hospital contribute to her untimely death?


  • whether Harriet and her husband could afford for her to have a prolonged stay in hospital
  • was Harriet so determined to get home to her husband that she did try to walk too early and cause herself serious complication.
  • could the matron have told a fictitious story to the court in order to protect the Victoria Hospital or herself from accusations of negligence or poor standards of care.

We will never know the answer to these questions however, we do know that William Calvey was found to be at blame, and his actions did put poor Harriet in the hospital in the first place.

Information for this article has been sourced from the North Wilts Herald.