“It is the sentence of this court that you shall be taken to a place of public execution and there you shall be hanged”
It was with these words that Ann Heytrey, an attractive twenty-one year old servant girl was sent to the Warwick gallows in April 1820 for the murder of her employer, Mrs Sarah Dormer, at Dial House Farm, Ashow. A year later her brother Thomas was hanged on the same gallows for murdering and robbing a local doctor at Alveston.
Sunday August 29 1819 was Ashow Wake day and the Dormers entertained four friends to lunch. At six o’clock, Mr Dormer, his six children and the visitors went for a walk, leaving Ann Heytrey and Mrs Dormer alone in the house. Some fifty minutes later some of the walkers returned and on entering the house were struck by the strange appearance of Ann Heytrey who stood agitated and perspiring at the back door. One of the Dormer girls noticed some blood on the kitchen floor. Two others then went upstairs to change and one of them looked into her mother’s room. She uttered a piercing scream. Mrs Dormer lay on the floor, her throat cut from ear to ear, her face and hands slashed and bruised. A kitchen knife lay next to her arm and under her shoulders was a piece of bloodstained cloth.
Ann Heytrey was arrested and traces of blood were found on her hands and nails. She made a full confession to constable Bellarby, the Kenilworth policeman. At her trial she was charged with ‘petty treason’ (murder) ‘being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil’. Throughout she remained calm and composed and sat in the dock wearing a shawl and with a bottle of smelling salts in her hand. Her only explanation was that she had killed her mistress with no other motive than the thought which entered her head and told her she must do it!
The tragic events at Dial House Farm that evening contrasted sharply with the carnival atmosphere in the village. In the grounds of what is now ‘Fairhaven’, the Wake was celebrated with much music and merry-making.