William Brown - Ostler

Abergavenny Arms
United Kingdom

William Brown was an ostler who suffered a mysterious death at the Abergavenny Arms in 1855. This was just a couple of months before John Souter Osborn and wife Caroline disappeared. Why William Brown was found dead on the floor rather than at the end of the rope, having supposedly hung himself is open to question.

The Abergavenny Arms is a public house in Rodmell sited immediately opposite the old wheelwrights and smithy of Baker and Jefferies. It has also been known as The Holly and The Bell. Stephen Baker I, as can be seen from the obituary below, was landlord for upward of 50 years. The public house continues to provide food and drink to this day. It was attractively refurbished in 2009/10 and the interior includes many original features including the well.

Suspicious Death of William Brown, Ostler

April 21 1855

An inquest was held on Tuesday last at the Abergavenny Arms by F C Gell Esq. on the body of William Brown Ostler. Stephen Baker the landlord deposed (gave evidence). The deceased had been in his service 6 or 7 months, he was generally sober and never neglected his work - he lodged in witness's house - he was a widower about 47 years of age. About quarter past seven yesterday morning witness was called by his mother who told him deceased was dead in the shed. He got up and went to the shed where one horse was kept and found a woman named Green there. Witness saw the deceased lying on his face on the floor with his legs doubled up under him. He appeared quite dead. His face was getting cold and his hands were cold. Witness then saw a cord hanging over a beam, there was no noose at the bottom of the cord which belonged to witness and had been used as a halter. It was a new cord. He thought he heard deceased go downstairs a little before 6 o'clock on Monday morning. Mr Warnett and Mr Jefferey came into the shed, they turned deceased on to his back and applied harts horn to his mouth and nose. After doing this witness observed a mark of pressure around his neck as if caused by something tight. He had been a soldier and Joseph Brown, a labourer, brother, living in Newhaven saw him on Good Friday not aware of any trouble he had.

William Brown's death was registered Lewes 2nd quarter 1855 ref. 2b 133. Aged 47 years he died on the 16 April 1855 at Rodmell, the cause of death was recorded as 'suicide whilst insane'.

Ostler preparing horses for whatever....


The link with smuggling can not be dismissed when considering the activities of the Bakers and the Osborns. Both families were related by marriage and ran ale houses and other businesses in locations that were linked to smuggling. Was the death of the Ostler somehow linked to the more ruthless darker side of the smuggling trade? After all, an ostler would be a key person in organising horses for a shipment. Did "genuine Crow Link" spirits grace the bar of the Abergavenny, after all it was not illegal to sell only to import without paying the taxes? In addition the publican retailer was also in many instances the financier of the free trade as well as acting as a recruitment and distribution point for a run. Perhaps someone got too inquisitive or even betrayed the free traders to the authorities, with dire results ....

One particular line of conjecture relates to Aergavenny Arms publican Stephen Baker I's aunt Mary Baker. She married a Mr. Stanton whose son became a Deal Pilot. Their son's maritime exploits are recorded in his book "Journal of a Deal Pilot". The family were known to be involved with gainful participation in wrecking (securing salvage from abandoned ships) along the Sussex and Kent coast as well as smuggling. Williams father, Mary's husband, was imprisoned for smuggling about 18 years after he married Mary Baker. For more details see William H Stanton on the Destiny Index by clicking website below.

Stephen Baker I Obituary - Mr Stephen Baker who was for fifty years (upward of) landlord of the Abergavenny Arms died at 26 Dorset Gardens Brighton on Saturday evening last age 78 years. He left Rodmell some 3 years ago to retire into private life style. Funeral will take place at Rodmell 8 August at 3.30.

Born 1822 Piddinghoe; Died Brighton 1900 age 78 years; left Rodmell 1897.

The Osborn connection: Mary Ann Souter Osborn married Edward Baker II brother of Stephen Baker I in 1845. Mary Ann was the sister of John Souter Osborn of Hodcomb.Click to discover John Osborn To explore the mystery of John's disappearance and possible links to smuggling and wrecking click his name.

For more details of the Baker family see The Bakers - Brickmakers of Piddinghoe by clicking on 'web site' below.

Website: Click Here



19th CENTURY second half, PAST, PEOPLE, PLACES, Smuggling


Coastal, Country town/village


England - Southern

(C)Copyright The Spas Research Fellowship. To contact the SRF, email: srf@thespas.co.uk or mail to: Tower House, Tower Road, Tadworth, Surrey. KT20 5QY. UK