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Thomas Blackstone Churcher and the Murder of Hariett Monckton

One of the undiluted pleasures of inquisitive cemetery research is lighting upon a serendipitous burial find with a compelling historic backstory in an area of the cemetery, this time close to the Ladywell chapel, I thought I had already fully explored!

Foblc Vice-Chair Mike Guilfoyle aside the Churcher family headstone in Ladywell cemetery.

Such was the moment when I recently located the faded headstone of Thomas Blackstone Churcher who died in 1876 in Sydenham. Indeed I been researching a connection to the cemetery linked to the Reverend George Verrall (d.1880) of Bromley Congregational Church, who had attended the interment of the Lewisham churchman the Reverend Thomas Timpson in 1860 buried close by, when following an online hunch I stumbled upon a remarkable crime novel based on an actual murder case from 1843 committed in nearby Bromley in which the names and ' incriminatory' characters of Thomas Churcher and George Verrall feature prominently.

A clipping on the case from Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper dated 10 th May 1846.

The Swan and Mitre Pub (which will be quite familiar to visitors travelling from Lewisham into Bromley Town Centre ) was the site of the second Inquest to be held on Harriet Monckton.The widely acclaimed and atmospheric 2018 Victorian crime novel is by the author Elizabeth Haynes (who kindly responded by email to the news of my headstone discovery) and drawn from her own research on the case available to view at the National Archives (Kew) is called ' The Murder of Harriet Monckton'. Having now read the novel with a degree of added piquancy, given the local cemetery links, I would heartily recommend it to readers.

One reviewer of the novel captures the storyline well -

On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, is found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community is appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the surgeon reports that Harriet was around six months pregnant.

Drawing on the coroner's reports and witness testimonies, Elizabeth Haynes builds a compelling picture of Harriet's final hours through the eyes of those closest to her and the last people to see her alive. Her fellow teacher and companion, her would-be fiance, her seducer, her former lover-all are suspects; each has a reason to want her dead. Brimming with lust, mistrust and guilt, The Murder of Harriet Monckton is a masterclass of suspense from one of our greatest crime writers.


The National Archives, Kew

Reference: MEPO 3/48

Murder of Harriet Monckton at Bromley Thomas Churcher suspect November 1843.

Without wanting to offer too many spoilers for those readers keen to pick up a copy of the book -maybe some tentative outline family details will suffice for now?

Born in Bromley in 1818, Thomas Blackstone Churcher, (called Tom Churcher in the novel) at various times according to England Census records, worked as a shoe maker and collector of debts, married Mary Ann Milstead in 1844 and they had six children . They moved to Sydenham where Thomas died in 1876 (Mary Ann who is also buried here died in 1902). One of their sons, Theophilus' Toff' Joseph Churcher, had spent time at the House of Correction County Prison, HMP Wandsworth ( see below), before his death in 1878 (he is also buried here).

The Rev. George Verrall's sister, Ruth married James Churcher (Thomas's brother)

So I now leave it to readers interested enough to follow up on the story, to immerse themselves in the tragically short life and death of Harriet Monckton, told wonderfully well in the crime novel and introduced here by the author :

Elizabeth Haynes discussing The Murder of Harriet Monckton