They called him Gentleman Johnny. He had given up the penury of farm labouring to make his own way as an itinerant clock and watch repairer, walking from village to village near his home on the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border. He earned a good living at it too, enough to be considered prosperous.

And now here he was at 10 o’clock in the morning lying dead in a ditch at the roadside, with his head almost cut from his body.

The man who discovered the body at Piddington was a travelling draper from Berkhamsted named Thomas Plenderleith. He went for help and when the police arrived he ventured an opinion: “He looks like he’s been run down by a horse and cart, don’t you think?”

Inspector George Webb shook his head. To him it looked more like murder. He wanted to find out where and with whom Gentleman Johnny – real name John Edmonds, 35 – had spent the previous evening.

The locals were full of information. Johnny was at the Seven Stars at Ludgershall all evening. They remembered him showing the other customers a couple of watches he’d bought – one of them worth more than 20 times the price he’d probably paid for it. The landlord gave the inspector the names of four labourers who were drinking at the bar with Gentleman Johnny.

Inspector Webb called on the first, William Dumbleton, who shared a bedroom in a two-room cottage with his brother, two sisters and their mother. He began to lie outrageously when questioned, and when police searched his home they found Gentleman Johnny’s expensive watch hidden in the thatched roof of an outhouse. Then Dumbleton began to tell a different story.

He said he was with another man he named as James Sharpe. “He borrowed my knife. I stayed behind a hedge while he knocked Johnny down, and then I went up to them. When I got there he’d cut Johnny’s throat. After we had given him enough, we chucked him in the ditch and left him. I was very drunk that night.” Later, in another statement, he said he cut the victim’s throat himself.

Dumbleton was brought to trial at Northamptonshire Assizes on April 20th, 1880. James Sharpe wasn’t arrested for lack of any other evidence. Found guilty of murder, Dumbleton went quietly to his death on the gallows on Monday, May 10th, 1880, in what was the last execution at Aylesbury Prison.