William Wright had only lived in the village a few months. No one knew much about him or Ann Collins, the woman who sometimes lived with him.
Wright had served in the navy but after his discharge had adopted a nomadic lifestyle, travelling the country, staying in one place only as long as the work lasted. He told how he met fellow traveller Ann Collins some three years previously. By the summer of 1854 the couple and Ann's young daughter were staying in a lodging house in Wootton Bassett.
Wright obtained a job as a blacksmith in nearby Hook where he rented a cottage in the village. However Ann was reluctant to join him and when she did she stayed but a short while. She told him she was going to Lancashire to visit her family but Wright soon discovered she had returned to the lodging house and fellow boarder known as Billy Cock with whom she was having an affair.
Neighbour Eliza Philmore told the court how she had heard the couple arguing at 7.30 am on that fateful Saturday morning of the 18th November.
In his evidence Wright told how Ann had reached for a razor screaming she would cut his throat. He then lashed out, holding in his hand a knife with which he had been eating his breakfast.
"The woman's death must have been instantaneous, the head being nearly severed from the body, the bone of the neck being completely severed and both carotid arteries and jugular veins cut through," The Advertiser reported.
When he realised what he had done Wright slashed at his own neck twice, but the wounds were only superficial.
Ann was buried four days later in the churchyard at St. Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze. Her grave is unmarked but her fate was recorded in the burial register by the Rector Giles Daubeney - 'murdered by William Wright with whom she lived.'
Wright was executed in front of Fisherton Anger gaol on Tuesday March 27th 1855. The Advertiser reported that the hanging, the first at the gaol since 1849, drew but a small crowd as "the execution took place about a quarter of an hour before the usual time."
Wright's own gruesome end was reported in graphic detail -"The fall from the drop caused the wound which the unfortunate criminal inflicted upon himself at the time of the murder, to break out afresh, and this tended considerably to increase the horror of the spectacle."
He was buried within the gaol grounds.
The cemetery at Hook
The Old School House at Hook
The churchyard at St Mary's. Lydiard Tregoze.
Read the full story of the trial and execution of William Wright in the Swindon Advertiser dated Monday December 11th 1854 and Monday April 9th 1855.
Swindon Central Library holds copies of the Swindon Advertiser in newspaper copies and on microfilm from 1854 to date and the North Wilts Herald from 1861 to 1941. Phone 463238 for more information.