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Article by Ruth Tucker, Northamptonshire Family History Society “Footprints” August 2010 p47-48
Ellen Clipstone (1859-1878)
Inquest 21st September 1878
The intriguing family story was that William Morby, my gt gt grandfather, was going to marry Ellen Clipstone, but after she was shot dead he married her sister instead. What family historian could resist the opportunity to look into this tale?

William and Lucy Clipstone lived in Woodford near Thrapston; William was an agricultural labourer. Ellen was the fourth of their seven children, born around 1860 and baptised in Woodford on 13th February 1861; she was at home with her parents for both the 1861 and 1871 censuses. By 1878 she was working as a domestic servant for Mr. Thomas Nichols, at the Grange Farm, Raunds.

Ellen's death certificate confirmed the cause of death: 'accidentally shot in the back'. More details of this lamentable occurrence appeared in the Northampton Mercury on Saturday 28th September 1878:

'Great excitement prevailed in this village on Friday evening, the 20th inst, in consequence of a report that a domestic servant in the employ of Mr. Thomas Nichols, at the Grange Farm, had been shot. Groups of people stood in the streets discussing the probable correctness of the report, but did not remain long in suspense, as messengers who had been dispatched from the Lodge for a doctor, and the police, soon arrived in the village and confirmed the sad intelligence that a domestic, Ellen Clipstone, aged 19, had been shot as she was crossing a sheltered yard between the front kitchen and the laundry. PC. Pearce at once went to the spot, followed by Mr McKenzie, surgeon, Mr Crew's assistant, who resides at Raunds. On their arrival at the Lodge the poor girl was found weltering in her blood, lying just inside the laundry door, and quite dead, while at the back kitchen door opposite stood a boy, named Charles Barker, aged 15, who had shot her, and who appeared from the time the gun went off to be terror-stricken and rivetted to the spot.'

It would appear that Ellen had enjoyed some 'larking' with Charles Barker and Isaac Clark in the back kitchen as they were waiting for their wages. After Ellen had gone into the front kitchen they had spotted the gun and had been looking at it, not realising that it was loaded. Then as Ellen had crossed the covered way towards the laundry the gun had accidentally gone off. The inquest was held at the Cock Inn the next afternoon.

Several witnesses were called, including Mr John Crew, surgeon, of Higham Ferrers. He confirmed that the sole cause of death was the gunshot wound which was about an inch in circumference, and that death was almost instantaneous. The Coroner and Jury went on to ascertain that Charles Barker had no reason why he would have wanted to kill her. Isaac Clark testified that Ellen and Charles had 'never quarrelled nor had any words'.

On examination by the jury, Charles Barker stated: 'I did not see deceased fall when the gun went off. I could not see her for the smoke. I heard her fall, and say, 'Oh dear.' I then saw Mr. Nichols come up; he was the first person who came to me.'

After hearing from other witnesses, including Thomas Nicholls, the Coroner declared that all the evidence had been heard. The verdict was returned: The deceased was casually and by misfortune accidentally shot, causing a mortal wound, of which she died.' Mr Nichols was advised not to let his nephew leave a loaded gun lying around and Charles Barker was admonished by the Coroner. He promised never to touch a gun again, a promise that I suspect he kept! Ellen's body was taken from Raunds to Woodford on the Saturday evening to her parents' house.

So the family story was true: William Morby, who worked for the railways, went on to marry Emma Clipstone, Ellen's older sister, in Woodford on 14th July 1884. William was Station Master at Grafham Station for some thirty years between 1887 and 1917. William and Emma had five children, one of whom was my great grandmother.

NRO Ref: ZB1478 371
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