A chapbook printed in 1703 and entitled A Gloucestershire Tragedy gives a lurid account of a scandal and crime which had supposedly just occurred at Alvington; its title page sums up the affair:

Being a True, but very Dreadful Relation of one Mary Williams of Alvington near Glocester; who, leading a wicked and lewd Life, was got with child by a Farmer’s Son, who often had use of her Body. With the manner how her Mother’s Ghost appear’d to them while they were in the very Act; and he thereupon forsaking her, she was afterwards brought to Bed of Two Sons; but he refusing to Marry her, she Drowned one of them in a Pond, and in a most Wretched and Barbarous manner Cut the other in Pieces, Bak’d it in a Pye, and sent it to him fill’d with Blood, on the Day he was Married to another. With an account of her Apprehension, Tryal, Conviction; and Confession at the Place of Execution.

The hack writers who produced cheap pamphlets for the popular market always declared that their astounding or horrifying contents were absolutely true, but it would be rash to believe them unless they are supported by court records or other factual documents. It is not clear whether there really was a Mary Williams of Alvington who committed infanticide in 1703; it is plausible that she might have drowned one of the twins in a pond, but baking the other in a pie and feeding it to the father as revenge is a motif from myth or melodrama, found, for example, in the ancient Greek story of Atreus and Thyestes, and in Shakespeare’s early tragedy Titus Andronicus.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008

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