LOOKING BACK: Mystery of the Long Sutton doctor’s death

Dr Bailey's grave - Long Sutton
Dr Bailey's grave - Long Sutton
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Set in the floor of St Mary’s Church in Long Sutton near the altar rail which carries a memorial to the subject of last month’s column, John Swain, and now partially obscured by a wooden screen and electric heater, is a stone that reads ‘Alas poor BAILEY and Rebekah his wife’.

The John Bailey in question was a popular local doctor, murdered on the night of 21st/22nd April 1795 on the road between Long Sutton and Tydd Gote.

He was found at dawn, having been attacked just after midnight.

He had been out on a call to Tydd St Mary and his horse had returned without him, prompting a search.

He was still alive when found, but with severe head injuries. He couldn’t speak, but tried to write something in the silt with his finger, dying before he could finish the word.

He had been killed by a plank hook, which had entered his left eye, parted his nose and exited through his lower jaw.

There was no police force in those days and communities rallied round to raise rewards to find and prosecute offenders. This was a crime that shocked the district.

Local gentlemen quickly raised a hundred guineas as a reward. That was about 15 weeks wages for an agricultural worker in 1795, so a useful sum.

The minutes of a meeting held in Long Sutton a week later read ‘Now therefore we whose name hereunder written, having paid into the hands of Mr Redmore Allenby and Robert Shearcroft the several sums of money set opposite to our respective names, do consent and agree that the said several sums shall be applied….towards defraying expenses that may be incurred in the pursuit, apprehension and conviction of the said murderers and in the event of any surplus shall be applied in such manner as a majority of subscribers of one guinea and upwards shall think proper’. There were 15 subscribers names appended to the minutes

John Bailey was well respected locally. The Sutton and Spalding troop of the Yeomanry escorted his body to his grave with more than 1,000 mourning onlookers.

With no local suspects, suspicions fell on two out-of-towners, both navvies, who left the Woolpack Inn in Long Sutton on the night of the murder.

Despite detailed descriptions circulating with notice of the reward, the suspects were never found, though Dr Bailey’s watch, stolen from his body on the night of the murder, was pawned by two men at Great Addington (near Kettering).

On May 25, they were spotted at Kimbolton (near Huntingdon). Despite thorough searches they were never found and the trail went cold.

But were they the real culprits? Steven Wade’s book ‘Hanged at Lincoln’ reports that a Thomas Newman (25), convicted of highway robbery elsewhere, confessed to the murder of Dr Bailey at the gallows on April 6, 1798.