Warwick Words – The Murder Trial

On 6th October, one of the final events of the main week of the Warwick Words History Festival was Unlocking Warwick’s re-enactment of a famous murder trial heard in Warwick just over 200 years ago. 

The courtroom drama was a collaboration with Warwick School and King’s High School who provided sixth-form drama students to play the parts of the younger characters, including the accused, Abraham Thornton, a farm worker and bricklayer.

A pretty 20-year-old called Mary Ashford had met Thornton at a late-night Whitsun dance. He walked her home in the early hours and later admitted that he’d been with her at 4 o’clock in the morning and that he’d had intercourse with her.  At 6 o’clock, her body was found in a flooded sand pit. She had been brutally assaulted and murdered.  The jury in Warwick acquitted Thornton, but the victim’s brother cited an ancient law of England – Dissatisfied Next-of-Kin – and demanded a retrial before the Lord Chief Justice in London. There Thornton responded with another old and disused law that had not been repealed – Trial by Battle!

The audience for the re-enactment in the Court House ballroom joined in enthusiastically with ‘oohs and aahs’ as the evidence unfolded, (word for word from the court records), and some became members of the jury. The reactions afterwards were extremely complimentary. Typical was this, posted on our Instagram site:

“I thought the event was brilliant. I’ve told so many people who might be interested in coming to courtroom re-enactments in the future – if you do them. Well done to everyone involved. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening evening”.