Winnie-the-Pooh’s home and a rock star’s ‘murder’ mystery

Last week, I remarked on the Sussex connections of Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger. This week it’s the turn of Brian Jones, founder member of the Rolling Stones, to feature.

This summer saw the 45th anniversary of the death of the guitarist. He was found drowned in the swimming pool of Cotchford Farm, his Hartfield home, just a month after being sacked by the band for “drinking and drugging to excess”.

Even all these years later that accusation still strikes me as very odd. Surely in those days it was almost obligatory for rock stars to behave outrageously within lifestyles that were debauched and decadent.

Mystery has always surrounded the death of Brian Jones. In 1994 a book came out that claimed he was murdered. Author Terry Rawlings even went so far as to identify by name a local builder as the primary suspect and stated that more than one person was involved in the crime. No police charges resulted from the revelations. Nor has a deathbed confession – said to have been made by the builder in question – ever come to light.

Even so Terry Rawlings has persisted with his allegations and has just published a second edition of his book that is called “Brian Jones: Who Killed Christopher Robin?” It contains more circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing. One key new fact was uncovered in the course of a 2009 video interview with Tom Keylock, the band’s driver/minder.

In it he changed his original story that said he had left Cotchford Farm early on the fateful evening of July 2, 1969, to go and collect a guitar for Rolling Stone Keith Richards.

But in the videotape Keylock admits that he was indeed actually present at the property at the time Jones died. Unfortunately, a year later, Keylock himself passed away so will not be providing any further information.

The girlfriend of Brian Jones, Anna Wohler, was also present at the house on the night of the rock star’s death. In 1999, she produced her own book with the unambiguous title “The Murder of Brian Jones”.

She writes in detail of the events of that evening and, though she didn’t witness Jones actually drowning, she points the finger of blame firmly at the same builder who was in fact living on the farm at the time.

However, no police action resulted from her testimony either thus leaving us with a mystery that looks likely to endure forever.

Murder or misadventure, either way it was a tragedy made all the sadder by the innocent history of Cotchford Farm. It was here that author A A Milne created that lovable teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh, famous for inventing the game of Pooh Sticks with the assistance of his friend Piglet.

Milne bought the country home in 1925 and lived in it until his death in 1956. During the Second World War he commanded the Hartfield & Forest Row Home Guard. Though he had the rank of captain he insisted on being addressed by his men as “Mr Milne”.

Nearby Ashdown Forest provided the backdrop for the Pooh stories and the fictional Hundred Acre Wood is mirrored in the Five Hundred Acre Wood that actually exists.

At the time when Brian Jones lived there, the garden of Cotchford Farm was adorned with statues of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards went to Sussex to tell Jones face to face how he was out of the band; after the pair had left it is said that the sacked guitarist went into the garden and sobbed bitter tears as he stood before the statue of Christopher Robin.

It does seem somehow oddly prescient that Milne once wrote of Ashdown Forest: “In that enchanted place on the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing”.