Lewes murder

Grand Evils in which Multitudes of Young Men are Immersed - Issue 7 . Winter 1999

This November saw the anniversary of a strange murder in late seventeenth century Lewes. Living in the county town in 1679 were two good friends: Robert Brinkhurst, 29, a cutler - tall, sulky and plump - and William Moore, 22, a good-looking, ruddy-cheeked draper's apprentice with impressively bad breath.

According to a rare and sniffy pamphlet* of 1860, Robert and William 'seemed to be as the Philosopher said of true friends, but one soul inhabiting two bodies; nor did they seem to enjoy themselves, but in the enjoyment of each other. They were rarely long absent from each other, as when the reason for rest called each to their home, and he that was first up in the morning, constantly left open the casement of his chamber for a token to the other that he was stirring'.

Grand evils

'This friendship,' the panphlet continues, 'was not so good as great, for though it may be hoped they were not confederate, in many of those grand evils in which multitudes of young men are immersed; yet it may be feared there was too much time misspent.' The boys drank and ate 'to some measure of excess,' it is said, and stole flowers from neighbours' gardens to stock Robert's small plot when they might have spent their time studying the Scriptures.

Deadly mischief

In the summer of 1678 a young man called John Newton came down from London to stay with friends in Lewes and fell into an intimacy with William, temporarily estranging him from his friend's affections.

Robert though reunited in friendship secretly nursed a grudge and after long study had a letter sent from London purporting to come from Newton and containing a quantity of yellow arsenic to cure William's bad breath. On the eighteenth of November 1679, William unwittingly took the poison and died, vomiting, several days later, with Robert at his bedside.

For a while the murder lay undiscovered but Robert 'had no quiet in his mind; he enjoyed not himself in the daytime, nor cared to lye alone in the night. Nor could one mention Mr Moore to him, but he was ready to break forth into tears'.

Deliver me from blood O God!

Two weeks later the plot was accidentally uncovered. Robert was arrested and taken before a Justice of the Peace at the Turk's Head Taver. Shown a sample of yellow arsenic, he took it in his hand and swallowed it. Several days later he was taken to a room at the White Horse Inn where, as the 51st psalm was read to him, he too died.

Robert's relations petitioned to bury the corpse at St Michael's in Lewes, but as a murderer and suicide this was denied. The body, wrapped in a shroud revealing the face and feet, was thrown into a dung cart and paraded through the town. At the crossroads outside Lewes where the prison stands now, Robert Brinkhurst was buried in a shallow grave lying north to south.A stake was driven through his bowels and left protruding above the earth 'for warning to others'. Local children are said to have played games of maypole around the stake for some years afterwards.

* A Warning to Young Men or A Man of Bloods is held in a single copy, formerly in the library of the Rt Honourable Thomas Grenville, at the British Library. Brighton Ourstory Project hopes at some point to issue a reprint.

Thanks to Chris Farrah-Mills for drawing our attention to John Eccles' account of this case in the Sussex Express.


All text and images copyright Brighton Ourstory, a registered charity, number 1106242. | sitebysimon