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All Posts, P&S History, True Crime

Author Guest Post: M J Trow

Meon Hill

On 14 February 1945, 74-year-old farm labourer Charles Walton was found murdered under a hedgerow near Meon Hill, Warwickshire. If you know this story, you’ll probably believe:

  • Old Charlie was a witch
  • He kept natterjack toads that were his familiars
  • A cross was carved into his throat
  • He died at midnight on a day special to witches
  • At a séance held at the murder scene in 1962, his spirit contacted the medium, saying ‘I forgive, I forgive’.
  • The ancient witch circle of the Rollright Stones is near to the murder scene.
  • When Charlie was a boy, a spectral black dog appeared to him.
  • There is no sign of his grave.

Only one of the seven points above is true. Let’s have a look at them:

  • Charles Walton was not a witch. There is no evidence of any kind of magic ritual in rural England. What there was was sex parties organized in cities like London.
  • The toad story comes from the fact that some were found in Walton’s outhouse years after his death. There is no link with Walton himself and the use of toads in rituals only comes from Shakespeare, who wrote his Macbeth specifically for his king (James I) who Shakespeare knew was obsessed with the subject.
  • There was no cross carved in the throat. The post mortem, carried out by Professor James Webster of Birmingham University, referred to several cuts in a random, haphazard pattern.
  • He did not die at midnight, but around lunchtime (in broad daylight); according to Webster, between 1 and 2pm. The 14th February is St Valentine’s Day and is associated with romantic love. The calendar was changed in the eighteenth century, so in the Middle Ages, the 14th would have been the 2nd – Imbolc, an ancient Celtic festival. This celebrated spring and regrowth, not human sacrifice.
  • The séance apparently happened, sponsored by the British Metaphysical Society, but the team of ‘sitters’ could not find the murder spot. I cannot comment on the medium’s performance, but why should we assume the ‘entity’ she reached was Charles Walton? And what did he mean?
  • The Rollright Stones are several miles from Meon Hill (itself a pre-Roman hill fort) and there is no evidence that any kind of witchcraft was carried out there.
  • The black dog (known as Old shuck) appears all over the country. The appearance of such an animal, associated with death, is only to be found in Chief Inspector Bob Fabian’s book on the subject, which is mentioned nowhere in contemporary police reports.
  • Okay – you’ve guessed it. The only one of the above facts that is true is that Walton’s grave is indeed missing. it was removed from the churchyard in Lower Quinton either at the request of the family or by the Church itself, tired of ghouls who came to peer at it.

I would have loved the nonsense by Donald McCormick in Murder by Witchcraft to be true, but sadly, it isn’t. If you want to scare yourself this Hallowe’en, read the short stories of M.R. James, maybe a little bit of Edgar Allan Poe or if you must, the odd Denis Wheatley.

If, on the other hand, you want to know what really happened to old Charlie Walton at Meon Hill, read The Meon Hill Murder by M.J. Trow at Pen and Sword.