Murder at St. Agatha's: Death comes to Brightwell
6 January 2023
The 12th century church of St. Agatha at Brightwell was the scene of a grizzly murder in 1507, when the parish priest was stabbed to death.
Murdered at the altar
According to Roger Long's Curious Oxfordshire, the curate John Scoeffyld (sometimes spelled Skatefield) was attacked in front of the altar and the perpetrator fled into the Chilterns to escape punishment.
However, he was presumably captured and returned to the area at a later date as Fred Heyworth's History of Brightwell (available to read online at brightwellcumsotwell.co.uk) states that the murderer, Robert Forde of East Hendred, confessed to his crimes before the Mayor of Wallingford.
In his confession, Forde stated he had "on the fourteenth day of May last, by force of arms, namely with sword and a dagger, made an assault one John Skatefield, Clerk, at Brightwell, and with one dagger struck him on the head, even to the brain, through which he died." The motive for the crime does not appear to have been recorded.
A brass plaque in memory of John Scoeffyld can be found in the south aisle of the church, though it makes no mention of his murder!
Other scandalous priests of Brightwell
If the murder of John Scoeffyld didn't scandalise the village of Brightwell enough, the antics of one of his predecessors surely did.
The Rev. Anthony Alsop B.D. took over the role of curate in 1715, and shortly after caused a stir in the village by marrying the widow of the previous curate who has passed away less than a year before!
Any hopes that marriage might help settle Rev. Alsop in his new role were to be disappointed. In fact he vanished completely for a number of years, only reappearing in the village once a year to sign the Churchwarden's book at the annual vestry meeting.
It was later revealed that he may have been trying to dodge legal proceedings brought against him by his mistress, a Mrs. Astrey of Oxford, who he had allegedly agreed to marry but later abandoned. When he was finally compelled to stand trial, he lost and was forced to pay the eye-watering sum of £2000 in damages!
Rev. Alsop eventually died in rather suspicious circumstances at the College of Winchester, where he held a prebendary position. The account given in the Reading Post of June 1726 states that he went out for a walk at 11pm, and his body was discovered the next morning floating in a small brook near to the college. The coroners report concluded that the banks of the brook gave way and he fell in by accident. Given the rather tumultuous events of his life, it does make you wonder if there might have been another explanation!
- History of Brightwell by Fred Heyworth
- 'Curious Oxfordshire' by Roger Long (Sutton Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 0780750949576)