Berkshire Walk: It’s a Murder Most Local
5 miles/2 hours – OS Explorer 158 Newbury & Hungerford
In December 1876, two policemen on night patrol outside Hungerford surprised a gang of poachers at Folly Cross. During the ensuing scuffle, Inspector Joseph Drewett was fatally shot and Constable Thomas Shorter was bludgeoned to death. Four members of a local family were soon arrested and two brothers were subsequently convicted and hanged for murder.
It’s a sorry tale of the harshness of life at the time, with most of the dramatis personae emerging as victims – even the poachers were merely trying to eke out survival against a backdrop of grinding rural poverty. Public sympathy, however, lay firmly with the dead officers and their families. A large subscription was taken up for the benefit of the widows and, years later in the 1920s, two memorial crosses were erected at the scene of the crime.
By 2004, one cross had disappeared and the other had been damaged, so modern replacements were commissioned and can still be seen today. In the 19th century, Folly Cross was an isolated crossroads on the lonely turnpike north of Hungerford, but it’s now a junction on the busy A338, so great care needs to be taken in its vicinity.
Folly Cross is only half a mile or so north of Hungerford so it’s possible to walk up the pavement from the Shell petrol station on the A4, but it’s hardly a pleasant stroll. Better to start at Hungerford Newtown and head west on New Hayward Bottom for about 500 yards before taking the footpath south towards Little Hidden Farm. Follow the path as it wiggles through the Farm, still bearing west through New Hayward Farm to Old Hayward Lane. From here, head south to Leverton and the magnificent Walled Garden on the Chilton Estate. There shouldn’t be much traffic here, apart from an occasional horsebox or tractor, but this is a public highway so keep your eyes and ears peeled.
Take Leverton Lane east (the fingerpost oddly points to “Upper Denfold”, rather than “Denford”), cross over the Eddington road at the next junction, and proceed down Gipsy Lane, where itinerant agricultural workers would park up their caravans for the season. This stretch is a useful cut-through from Chilton Foliat to the M4 so there’s likely to be traffic but for the most part it’s a quiet country road. Cross over the A338 with care and walk a few yards south down the pavement to Constable Shorter’s replacement memorial at the spot where his body was found (the original cross is displayed in Thames Valley Police Museum in Reading). Back to the crossroads, and turn east into Denford Lane – Inspector Drewett’s cross stands where he died, just along on the north side.
About half a mile further down Denford Lane, you’ll find the footpath north to Great Hidden Farm. It’s an easy walk back to Hungerford Newtown (with clear views of the M4 in the distance!) and a well earned pint or lunch at the Tally Ho!