The Mystery of The Plough Inn
I watched the premiere of the eleventh season of Call The Midwife (2012- ) earlier this year. The plot centred around the disturbing discovery of a deceased infant found buried beneath the floorboards of a house undergoing demolition. This reminded me of a similar case in my hometown of Thatcham that occurred almost eighty years earlier than this episode is set.
The Plough Inn on Chapel Street is one of the first sights visible when entering Thatcham from the east via the A4. Yet, few realize that this quaint eighteenth-century property was once the site of a local tragedy.
The Newbury Weekly News and Reading Mercury reported on 15 and 17 November 1888 respectively that on 9 November, a Mister Bailey and his team of labourers uncovered the skeletal remains of an infant while conducting repairs to the roof of the property. A Doctor F.H. Lyon examined the baby but was unable to determine its sex.
The current landlord, Harry Barrett, had only inhabited the property recently, so was struck from the official line of inquiry. Besides, the remains were found wrapped in a woman's dress and a newspaper, dated 1868. However, his predecessor, Henry Filewood, had managed the pub since 1864. Henry's son, Frederick, was charged with theft in 1882 and attempted suicide that same year. He would have been in his late teens in 1868, presumably when this baby died. Was one of these two men the father? Was this baby stillborn or illegitimate? Was this a murder?
The police launched their investigations but to no avail. It's not even clear whether the child received a proper burial. The case appears destined to resonate as a mystery and a grim part of local folklore.
Thatcham historian Doctor Nick Young informs me that this was sadly not an isolated case. Other deceased infants were found discarded around Thatcham and Greenham during the early twentieth century.