The Murder of David May at Warneage Manor

Warneage Wood is now the location of two orchards planted by local residents. However, it has been the location for orchards for centuries and the fruit produced was used for cider making. Warneage Wood is also the location of the former Warneage Manor where, in its last days, it was to play a part in the notorious death of David May. Warneage manor was the former home of William Stanley, generous benefactor and creator of the Dobbin Day ceremony. After his death the manor fell into disuse and disrepair, the last owner being a man called John Wells, who no longer lived there but used the building to store his cider. This and the locals love of the drink were to lead to the death of one resident, an exchange of money for another and a ghost story for everyone else.


Cider, at the time, was a popular drink in the parish and David May was known to partake on a regular basis. So much so that he regularly arrived to work as a carpenter for Mr Johnson a little worse for the previous evening's entertainment. At the same time John Wells noticed his cider store was depleting more rapidly than it should have been. This also coincided with local rumour of ghostly activities in the dead of night at the old manor.

Mr Johnson, concerned about his employee's behaviour and where the money to pay for the indulgence could be coming from, held a meeting with John Wells. The two men decided to wait out the evening hidden near to the manor to see what transpired. Unfortunately, John Wells took along his riffle. A commotion was heard and a figure spotted fleeing from the building. Shots were fired and David May died instantly. The body was found arranged so that it appeared that David May had committed suicide; however, a trial was subsequently held into his murder, John Wells was the accused.

Rumour at the time suggested that John Wells parted with considerable sums of money during the trial. After a lengthy deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide. This being based upon evidence that suggested the victim was breaking into the manor at the time he died rather than escaping from it. John Wells was deemed to be defending himself against attack. Local residents considered that John Wells had "gotten away with it"!

The local rumour of ghostly activities at the manor, however did not die with the man caught drinking copious quantities of liquor from John Wells cider store. After he was found David May was taken to the Churchyard and buried immediately. But his clothing was removed and left behind. The locals told stories of seeing a ghostly figure haunting the manor and all were too scared to approach the tumbled down building. These stories continued until one brave sole returned to the scene and removed the clothing to be burnt or buried. From that time on the ghost was laid to rest. The house became a ruin and was eventually taken down.

Details of this tale were taken from "Wanborough Roman and otherwise" by William Morris 1880