Contrary to our welcoming promise to introduce you to your neighbours, there’s one you definitely would not want to meet: Kate Webster. Mind you, there’s little chance you will meet her because she died in 1879. That was the year she was executed for murder. Don’t worry. You can sleep easy because, according to Google – as far as our investigative rigour extends – the murder happened in Richmond, a fact not established till 2010, when her victim’s skull was discovered in the garden of Sir David Attenborough, not digging for moles but building an extension.
Her link to Brackenbury Village is that our Kate once lodged in Cardross Street, known then as Rose Gardens. Our petal, Kate, was not the kind of neighbour you’d want to borrow sugar from. There was nothing sweet about her. She was a habitual thief and not a good one, hence her season ticket to Wandsworth Prison, earned from 36 convictions for larceny.
In an attempt to go straight, Kate reinvented herself as a maid and got a job downstairs working for a devout widow in Richmond who returned from church on the evening of Sunday, March 2nd, 1879, to find our petal as drunk as a future murderer. The women rowed and Kate pushed her boss down aforementioned stairs and strangled her for good measure. There followed lots of gory stuff involving saws and pans and bits and pieces which we won’t worry our younger readers with, but suffice to say that Kate had some trouble disposing of so many bits and pieces.
She walked back to our village, disposing as she went. Parched from her long walk, she reposed to her favourite local, perhaps The Andover Arms, and hid her bag under a table while she quenched her thirst and bragged to locals about having just come into a fortune.
When one of her neighbours noticed her throwing the bag of you-know-what off Hammersmith Bridge, her game ended at the end of a rope back in her home-from-home in Wandsworth on July 29th. She’d just turned 30.
The moral of this tale is if a young woman asks you for a drink at a local pub, think twice. Though we’d probably say yes. Especially if she threw in a bag of pork scratchings. Of course, you’d only see that particular young woman if you believe in ghosts. Speaking of which, because every local rag is obliged by convention to introduce “the local ghost”, we were wondering who was ours.
When we asked around, some of you said you’d heard about a local ghost. Some said it was a man, some a woman. That got us thinking about more than pork scratchings. Standing at the bar in The Andover Arms, contemplating whether to have a second bag, we found ourselves staring into that empty back room where punters don’t usually go unless they’re trying to escape the carol singers. Above the fireplace hangs a portrait of the man you see above. We asked publican Tom who he was. He didn’t know but we wondered whether it was a former landlord. Then we wondered whether he was wearing lipstick – the sitter not Tom. In fact, he looked rather effeminate. (Definitely not Tom. Ed.)
When the second pint started to take hold – or was it the fourth? – we noticed that the effeminate man in the painting (above) was wearing a cravat. We wondered whether he wore this to conceal a rope burn. Had he too been hung? Was he in fact a woman? After another pint, we concluded that in the black-and-white mugshot (above, left), Kate Webster looks undeniably masculine. Was she in fact a man? Then the pennies dropped. Was she the sitter in the painting? Are we looking at our local murderer disguised as a man? Are we looking at our local ghost?