William Langman found dead, dumped in an alleyway in Exeter

In 1829 the Exeter Horse Races were to take place at Haldon (as they still do) on Tuesday and Wednesday 28th /29th July.

55 year old William Langman, who farmed 90 acres at Coxmoor between Bow and Spreyton, was looking forward to going. (William was the illegitimate son of Ann Langman who had lived with wealthy John Moon, from whom he had inherited Coxmoor in 1802.) He left his home at about 10 a.m. the day before, taking with him a five pound note, two sovereigns and six shillings in silver, two half-crowns and a shilling which he put in his purse – the foot of a purple cotton stocking. He had planned to stay the night in Exeter.

After he arrived in Exeter he called at the Black Dog Tavern, on North St, for a drink. He met some relatives and went with one of them, Skinner, up past St Sidwell’s church where they parted company at about 9.30 p.m. (Mary Skinner (1792 – 1867) from North Tawton, had been his apprentice in 1804, and had had a child by him.) She was under the impression he was going on out of town, as he said he was planning to sleep at Mrs Discombe, his sister’s house on the old Stoke Canon road.


Early on Tuesday morning, the body of an elderly man was discovered in Northam’s passage, off St Mary Arches Street.

It seemed he had been placed there; there were no signs of violence. All his pockets had been turned inside out.

PC Smallridge made some enquiries and took into custody two females of loose character, Grace Bryant, recently from Stonehouse, Plymouth, and Elizabeth Cousins (b 1811), a native of Bow. They lived in Exeter in a house of ill fame kept by a woman of the name of Baker, otherwise Bissett, otherwise Cornish, and a man called Baker who passes for her husband.

It was then learnt that the body was that of William Langman.

 

Coxmoor. The green arrow points to the line of the Roman road that ran from West to East connecting North Tawton and Exeter

The inquest took place at 5 pm before Samuel Walkey Esq., Coroner, in the London Alehouse at the bottom of St Mary Arches St.

 

Grace Bryant, 29, was first to give evidence whilst feeding her baby. She said that at about 10.30 pm the deceased, whom she did not know, tapped her on the shoulder as she was standing at the top of Fore St, and asked if she would like a drink. She accepted and asked Elizabeth Cousins to come with them. They went to the Smith’s Arms, in St Mary Arches St., where Langman recognised Cousins as being the daughter of one of his neighbours back in Bow. They shared half a pint of “rum and shrub” and he also bought 6d worth of bread and mutton, which he paid for with loose change. He ordered a second half of rum and shrub, and paid with a sovereign. He put the change in his purse which he put back in his pocket. They left at about 11 pm.


She then started to tell an obviously concocted story, but under questioning said that she would tell the truth, claiming that John Baker (her landlord) and his wife had made her lie.

Agitated and weeping she said that Langman then accompanied them to her lodgings in Baker’s house, opposite where the inquest was taking place. Baker and his wife were there when they arrived. Cousins then left. Langman gave Mrs Baker some money for more liquor. She came back with more rum and shrub, by which time he was asleep, apparently drunk, in the chair.

 

Baker wanted Langman out of the house. The Bakers said they would take his money otherwise someone else would rob him by morning.

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Looking up St Mary Arches Street c 1830. From The History of the Cholera in Exeter in 1832 by Thomas Shapter MD.

They took his purse, which contained a small amount of change, and found his five pound note. Bryant was sent to change the note, and met Cousins and a man on the way. The three of them went to Mrs Godfrey’s liquor shop in Friernhay St and bought another half a pint –which they didn’t want - they just wanted change for the note. The shop woman gave her 4 sovereigns and some silver as change. Bryant gave the money to Mrs Baker who put it in a tea cup. John Baker then dragged Langman down the stairs; he took his shoulders and Bryant his feet. Bryant went back up, leaving him with Baker at the bottom of the stairs. Baker then dumped Langman in the passageway, and returned to the house. Cousins came back and immediately went back out to go through Langman’s pockets. She returned saying she had found no more money, and that she thought he was dying. Then they burnt his purse and walking stick.

 

At this point the coroner ordered Mr Baker’s arrest.