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An old postcard of Wantage Market Place

An old postcard of Wantage Market Place

The Decapitation of Ann Pullen

27 October 2021

The gruesome murder of Ann Pullen, the landlady of the White Hart, shocked the town of Wantage in late August 1833, on the weekend of their annual fair.

She was found at 7am on Saturday 31st August on the floor of their parlour kitchen by her twelve-year-old son.

Her head had been completely severed from her body with a single blow.

Suspicions fall on George King

The culprit was nineteen-year-old farm labourer George King, who had lodged at the White Hart in the past.

King had been seen acting strangely in the nearby Blue Boar Inn the previous evening, making awkward conversation with regulars in an apparent attempt to create an alibi. He had seemed jumpy and nervous and was apparently reluctant to return to his usual lodgings at the White Hart.

He ended up spending the night in a stable, where his stable-mate Charles Marriot claimed he kept him awake by fidgeting, mumbling and even at one point talking about hanging himself.

The murderer is arrested

Later that day, police apprehended George King at the farm where he was working near the village of Hanney.

He denied any knowledge of the crime but was in possession of a razor-sharp bean-hook, a coat with bloodstains on it, and a woman's purse. A distinctive 17th-century 'lucky sixpence' inside the purse identified it conclusively as belonging to Ann Pullen.

George King's confession

While being transported to Reading Gaol to await trial, George King confessed his crime to the men who were transporting him.

He said he had gone to the White Hart to ask for lodgings, but Ann Pullen had refused him on the grounds that he had not settled his bill from a previous visit. The argument became heated and King struck Pullen on the neck with the bean-hook he was carrying, severing her head.

He claimed he only intended to hit her on the head with the back of the hook, and striking her neck with the blade had been an accident.

A trial at the Reading Assizes

At his trial in February the following year, George King surprisingly pled 'not guilty' despite his earlier confession. However, the jury was not convinced by the argument that King had severed Ann Pullen's head by accident.

George King was convicted of murder and hanged in front of a jeering crowd on 3rd March 1834.

A murder scene on display

One of the aspects of the case that shocked contemporary commentators was the actions of Ann Pullen's family in the immediate aftermath of her murder.

The day following her murder, Ann Pullen's own mother was discovered to be charging curious locals the price of a pint of beer to enter the crime scene one by one and view her daughter's decapitated body.

With it being the weekend of the annual fair, the town was full of visitors, and apparently, people were queuing up late into the evening to view the gruesome spectacle, much to the annoyance of the police who were attempting to investigate the crime!

When Ann Pullen's body was put in a coffin to be transported out of the house on the following Monday, the family ensured it was an open coffin, with clothing pulled back from Ann's neck so that they could continue to charge onlookers to view the body!

Notes on location

I've not been able to learn the exact location of the White Hart Inn, which according to pubwiki.co.uk, closed its doors over a hundred years ago. That website gives the location as Grove Street, which did indeed contain a number of pubs around the time of the crime.

However, BerkshireHistory.com mentions that the building was later the post office, which would place the inn at the eastern end of the Market Square. To confuse the matter further, David Kidd-Hewitt states that the White Hart Inn was 'almost opposite' the Blue Boar in Newbury Street!

I've placed the map pin for this story in Grove Street, but if anyone is able to provide more information on the location of the White Hart Inn, please get in touch!