Sad mystery of a 
pond drowning

Two Ringmer girls were married to famous men. John Sadler, vicar from 1620 to 1640, had a daughter who married John Harvard, founder of the university in America.

And the daughter of Sir William Springett of Broyle Place, Gulielma Maria Posthuma (because she was born after his death in 1643), married William Penn, the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania.

Talking of Ringmer, its parish church, which dates mainly from the 14th century, has had a singularly unlucky time with its tower.

The first tower burned down in the mid 16th century and the second suffered the same fate in about 1800.

The present tower was built in 1884 by William Martin, who is also credited with having made the first cycle in England with wooden wheels.

One of the most devout churchgoers in the parish was Herbert Springett, whose determination to be punctual for church must have been a curious sight in 17th century Ringmer. When the roads were too muddy for his horses he yoked eight oxen to his carriage to be sure of getting to his destination on time.

A little before 6am on a June morning in 1838 John Gaston, gardener to the local curate, went to fetch some water from the pond below the Vicarage. There he found a basket and umbrella, trampled grass and a damaged willow. The basket was recognised as belonging to Hannah Smith, a 43-year-old Lewes woman who earned her living as an itinerant pedlar. The pond was dragged and out came Hannah’s still-warm body.

An investigation revealed that she had left the county town early the previous morning with goods worth 10 shillings in her basket. At 9am she arrived at a beer shop near Ringmer Green where she fell into conversation with one General Washer - not a military rank, but his Christian name - and remained there with him until 2 pm, drinking beer and dining on eels.

They moved on to The Green Man where they had more to drink and then to The Anchor where they remained drinking until11pm, now in the company of four other young men.

A coroner’s inquest at The Anchor reached the open verdict of ‘found drowned’.

Nothing further happened until the new Sussex County Constabulary came on the scene fully two years later, headed by Superintendent Francis Pagan. Arrests followed. Three men, Pockney, Briggs and Stedman, were accused of assaulting Hannah and stealing items from her.

They were not charged with murder because the evidence against them was inconclusive. Pockney told the assize court that he was with Briggs and Stedman in The Anchor when Hannah agreed to ‘have connexion’ with all three of them. The men went with her out into the fields...and later left after stealing from her.

It was their opinion that she had probably then stumbled into the pond in a drunken stupor. In the event, Pockney and Stedman were convicted of larceny and sentenced to two years and 18 months’ hard labour.

Poor Hannah lies buried in Ringmer churchyard. What really happened on that early summer’s night must remain a mystery.