Culture England Legends & Myths Staffordshire United Kingdom (UK)

Who killed Sarah Smith?

At that time, Reverend Edward Sneyd was the vicar at St Margaret’s, of the powerful and wealthy Sneyd family, the lords of the manor. It seems unlikely that a murder accusation would be allowed to be written onto a gravestone in his churchyard without his knowledge and approval.

Did the Rev Sneyd believe the story that was perhaps passed on to him by Sarah’s family? Did he know the identity of Sarah’s killer? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Rev Sneyd was called out to visit Sarah as she lay on her death bed. It could even be that he heard her utter the accusation herself. It would be difficult to disbelieve the testimony of a dying girl.

Was it Rev Sneyd who convinced Sarah’s family to simply put the killer’s initials on the headstone, rather than identifying the killer outright?

There is no evidence that anyone was brought to justice for the murder – if there was a murder – but Sarah and her family would have exacted a small revenge on the killer, just from the wagging tongues that must have been set in motion.

Whoever C–––S B–––W was, he (or she) would have surely heard the rumours, perhaps people would stop talking when he walked into the local inn, or people would whisper behind his back.

Scant consolation perhaps for Sarah’s parents, Samuel and Martha, but village life would have at least been very uncomfortable for the poisoner.

But more than 250 years after Sarah’s death, the mystery may have in fact been solved by historian Jeremy Crick, who lives close to St Margaret’s Church in Wolstanton.

Mr Crick spent three years researching the grave, trawling through parish records and spending hours in the library, after coming across it during a stroll through the churchyard.

The true identify the killer, as a wealthy farmer, who lived at Red Street, not far from Sarah’s home at Bradwall estate. A man named Charles Barlow.

But then, there is the accusation itself: “It was C–––S B–––W that brought me to my end.” First of all, the fact it is written on the headstone in the first person strongly suggests that the accusation was made by the dying girl herself.

Did she name her murderer to her family as she lay on her death bed?

Clearly, Sarah knew the person she claimed had killed her. In those days of limited travel, it must, surely have been someone who lived nearby.


In 1763, Wolstanton was a relatively small village. It seems likely that everyone in the community knew everyone else. At that time, few of the peasants who lived in the rural community would have been able to read, so that may have afforded the mystery poisoner with some semblance of anonymity.

But surely anyone who could read would have been instantly able identify who C–––S B–––W was. word of mouth would have ensured the accusation sped around the village.

It was in fact Charles Barlow.

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