This is one of the special posts I'm doing this year to celebrate my village, which is 200 years old this year. I've written posts before on Ardoch House, an old country house near the village, in which I found there had been a murder in the house in 1851. This week I went to Edinburgh to find out exactly what happened 160 years ago.
At 7.30pm on the evening of Friday 28th February 1851, three servants sat down to supper in the kitchen at Ardoch House. By the following Sunday, one would be dead, one would be under arrest for murder in Dunblane Gaol having confessed to the fatal blow, and the murder weapon, a blood-covered poker, would have been taken by police in evidence.
But two and a half months later, the accused would walk free from court after an entire jury refused to find her guilty. So what happened in Ardoch House that night ? As far as I know this story has never been published anywhere since it happened, so I had to track down the documents from 160 years ago to find out what happened.
At the National Records for Scotland
I had come to read the original statements made by the witnesses, and the paperwork from the trial. Even after 160 years you can just walk in and ask for them, and someone will find where they are in the building and bring them to you. I had to bring my passport and two photos of me to get a readers card first. Dad and I had to put out belongings and jackets in a locker, then go up to the research room on the first floor. After we were given the readers ticket, we were given desks to sit at, then we ordered the papers. The room were were in was about the size of a tennis court with wood paneling and a very high ceiling, with a narrow balcony round the edges, and it dated from 1820. Quite a few people were working away in there but it was very quiet.
The documents arrived in a plastic cover, but they were all bound together with string that looked like it dated form the day they were written. The first bundle of papers was the precognitions, which are the statements taken at the time of the death by the local sheriff investigating it. The handwriting was neat but very difficult to read at the same time.
So what is Ardoch House ?
So who was involved ?
So what happened that night ?
So why was Isabella Skinner found not guilty ?
"I have accordingly precognosed certain witnesses as to the habits and disposition of James Monteath the deceased, from which it sufficiently appears that he was a person of weak or imbecile mind, easily [couldn't read this word], and when irritated, inclined to use violence"
Or did she ?
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