The Murder and Ghost of William Noble Edden
30 January 2023 (Updated 6 October 2023)
The case of William Noble Edden of Thame is as strange as any in Oxfordshire history, and it is perhaps unsurprising that such a scandalous murder should give rise to at least a few ghosts and spectres!
William Noble Edden is murdered
William Noble Edden was murdered as he travelled home to Thame from Aylesbury market on the evening of 25th October 1828. Edden was a gardener and had been unsuccessfully attempting to sell a cartload of trees, potatoes and other produce. A man named King testified to having seen Edden alive but injured at about 8pm. Edden was lying on the side of the road next to his cart and the man heard him exclaim "Oh Lord! Oh God!".
However, the night was dark and it wasn't clear to King that Edden was badly injured (as opposed to being drunk after a boozy day at the market) so he didn't stop to see if he needed assistance. Edden was found dead on the road later that night.
Edden's wife has a vision
It was almost a year before anyone was brought to trial for the murder of William Noble Edden. Indeed, it took some persuading to convince many that Edden had been murdered at all and hadn't merely fallen off his horse in a drunken state and been run over by his cart.
However, one person was convinced that they knew who was responsible for Edden's murder. Mrs Edden claimed that even though she was miles away at their home in Thame at the time of her husband's death, she had a clairvoyant vision in which she heard her husband calling out to her and saw the face of his murderer, a local ne'er-do-well named Benjamin Tyler!
During the trial Mrs Edden stated that she was so convinced of the truth of her vision that she ran out into the street and announced to her neighbour that her husband had just been murdered.
If it seems strange that such a story should appear as evidence in a court of law, it's worth noting that just a year earlier the country had been shocked by what became known as the Red Barn Murders. Maria Marten of Polstead, Suffolk had been murdered by her lover William Corder who had then hidden her body in the aforementioned red barn. The body was only discovered after Marten's stepmother claimed to have dreamed of the murderer burying Maria's body in the barn, so the concept of murders being discovered as a result of people having visions would have been relatively fresh in the public imagination.
In the days following Edden's murder, while his body was resting at the Edden's home, Mrs Edden invited Benjamin Tyler to come and view the body. Tyler reluctantly agreed this, but refused Mrs. Edden's request that he touch the body. Tyler would have understood Mrs. Edden's request very well. There was a belief at the time that if a murderer touched his victim's corpse it would begin to bleed again, proving his guilt!
The murderers are uncovered
Thankfully for the prosecution, there was also more substantial evidence pointing towards Tyler that they could rely on. A Thame man named Solomon Sewell was arrested for poaching a year or so later and, faced with a sentence of transportation, attempted to bargain for a lighter sentence by offering to tell what he knew of William Edden's murder.
Sewell claimed he had met Tyler by chance on the night of the murder, and Tyler had invited him to accompany him to meet Edden as he returned from Aylesbury. Sewell claims he didn't know Tyler's intention and was surprised when Tyler tried to rob Edden. Sewell claimed to have run off home when the encounter turned violent, but not before he saw Tyler striking Edden with a hammer. He later said that Tyler had threatened to 'blow his brains out' if he said anything about the crime.
If Sewell thought that implicating Tyler would get him out of his trouble with the law, he was badly mistaken. Instead he found himself on trial as an accomplice to murder! Sewell later changed his statement a number of times, either claiming not to have met Tyler or saying that he had only met him briefly before going home.
The alibis that Sewell and Tyler gave for the night of the murder were contradicted by numerous witnesses, and other testified to Sewell and Tyler's suspicious behaviour and suspicious statements given in the days and weeks after the murder.
Popular gossip in Thame said that Sewell had written a letter to his parents, confessing his knowledge of the crime. However, the letter could not be produced, and this evidence was rather contradicted by the fact that both Sewell and his mother were illiterate!
Another motive for the murder?
If Sewell's account is to be believed, he and Tyler were intentionally heading out to meet Edden on the night of the crime. Could the pair have had a motive beyond simple robbery?
According to some sources, William Edden had encountered the pair some months previously in the act of stealing a sheep, and had later teased them with his knowledge of their crime by bleating at them when he happened to pass them by in the street!
Poaching was a common crime at the time, but it was still harshly punished by law. Perhaps the pair went out with the intention of threatening Edden to keep him quiet, if not silencing him for good?
About Benjamin Tyler and Solomon Sewell
Benjamin Tyler sounds like something of a character. When he was eventually arrested at Uxbridge and brought back to Thame, he arrived in town 'waving his hat and huzzaing'! At the pairs initial trial in August 1829, Tyler affected to not take it seriously, laughing a number of times and pretending not to know what he was being accused of.
In between the first and second parts of his trial, Tyler was apparently discharged and was allowed to return to Thame where he 'annoyed the witnesses who gave evidence in the case by dancing before their doors, and in other ways'!
Solomon Sewell seems the more pitiful of the two. At the time of the crime he was still living with his mother, who described him in court as a 'seven months child' (i.e. born prematurely). She said he had been subject to fits and 'was never right, could never learn his prayers, never count to twenty'.
Tyler and Sewell are executed
It took the magistrate a long time to pick apart all the contradictory statement and confusing testimonies, but they eventually decided that both Tyler and Sewell should hang for the crime.
The execution took place at 8:15am on Monday 15 March 1830 outside Aylesbury County Hall. Despite the early hour, the town was flooded with thousands of people from the surrounding villages who had come to witness the now-notorious criminals meet their fate.
Sewell was reportedly silent as he climbed the scaffold, but Tyler addressed the crowd, loudly protesting his innocence. This was to no avail, and an hour later their lifeless bodies were taken down and transported to two London hospitals for dissection, such was the fate of all executed criminals at the time.
The ghost of William Noble Edden
Edden's ghost is said to haunt the spot where he was murdered, though frustratingly sources differ on where this spot is located. According to Strange Thame, it is on the A418 near Gibraltar, but an article on buckinghamshirelive.com confidently states that Edden haunts Ford Road, which runs roughly parallel to the A418 but passes through Haddenham. Edden's ghost is said to appear to travellers as a warning of danger ahead.
The ghost of William Edden is also said to haunt the site of his grave in the churchyard of St. Mary's Church, Thame. Oddly, the ghost is described as having horns "like a ram's head", although this story could have been confused with another legend about the church's interior. Apparently the ram's head above the tomb of Sir John Clerke of Weston has a habit of going for a drink at the nearby river when the church clock strikes midnight!
Finally, a ghost is said to haunt the pond to the north of Court Close Road in Towersey. The murderers were said to have stopped at this spot to wash Edden's blood from their hands. Whether the white figure who appears here is the ghost of Edden or his murderers is not clear.
A similar case in Warwickshire?
J.A. Brook's Ghosts and Witches of the Cotswolds mentions an unusual story from Warwickshire that bears some similarity to the William Noble Edden murder case. An exact date is not given, but it the account was published in Ackermann's Repository in November 1820.
The case concerns a farmer who was murdered while returning from the market at Southam. The day after this, before the crime had even come to light, a man visited his widow claiming to have been visited by the ghost of the murdered man during the previous night. He claimed that the ghost showed him his stab wounds, revealed the identity of the murderer and even showed him the location where his body had been hastily buried.
The man the ghost allegedly named was arrested and tried at the Warwickshire assizes, but no evidence linking him to the crime could be found. The jury was inclined to convict, but the judge questioned whether there was anything in law that allowed the evidence of a ghost! The judge called on the ghost to appear in court to testify, but when no ghost appeared, the accused was released without charge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the man who claimed to have been visited by the ghost was later found to have both a motive and evidence connecting him to the murder! His attempt to point the finger of guilt at an innocent man with his supernatural story only revealed his own intimate knowledge of the crime, and he was tried at the next assizes and ultimately 'paid the penalty for his crime with his life'!
Ghostly evidence from 17th century Durham
An even earlier case of a ghost's word being used as evidence can be found in the court records of Durham from 1631. In this year a young girl named Anne Walker disappeared, and later a miller named James Graham went to the local magistrate claiming to have been repeated visited by the blood-drenched ghost of Anne who threatened to continue haunting him unless he helped bring her murders to justice!
Anne's ghost told him she had become pregnant by a man named Mark Sharp, and that Sharpe (along with an accomplice) had murdered her with five blows from a pickaxe and hidden her body in a coal pit on the moor. Incredibly, what Graham said proved true. Anne's body was recovered from the coal pit with injuries as described, and her murderers were tried and hanged.
- The Ghost of Noble Edden (strangethame.co.uk)
- Ghostly Tales (strangethame.co.uk)
- 'The murder of ‘Noble Edden’ and his ghost that haunts a Bucks road' (buckinghamshirelive.com)
- The Globe, 22 August 1829
- Evening Mail, 31 August 1829
- Bucks Gazette, 3 September 1829
- Berkshire Chronicle, Saturday 13 march 1830
- Westmorland Gazette, Saturday 20 March 1830
- 'Ghost and Witches of the Cotswolds' by J.A. Brooks (Jarrold Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0711702330)
- 'Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain' (Reader's Digest, 1973)