A Ghoulish Tale of Murder in Penshurst

Edited from a piece of work researched  by Mark Mullins, Old Sevenoaks Borough  Murders.

In the churchyard at Penshurst, when entered from Leicester Square, is a barely legible grave under a yew tree on the right. This is the grave of Richard Sax who was brutally murdered on 1st February 1813.Grave of Richard Sax, Penshurst

Henry Langridge, a labourer on an estate at Fordcombe, lived with his wife and nine-year- old son in a cottage at Penshurst owned by 53-year-old farmer Richard Sax. Mr Sax  had formerly employed Langridge.

Between 5pm and 6pm that evening Langridge left his work on the estate of Baden Powell and set off for home with his son. On the way they stopped in a field about ¼ mile from their cottage. and cut some sticks for firewood. They then wrapped the sticks in a bundle and left them on a footpath whilst they rested. Richard Sax came along the path around 7pm and stumbled over the sticks. Seeing Langridge sitting close by, he accused him of laying the sticks across the path to throw people down, and an argument ensued which rapidly turned into a fight . Mr Sax attempted to knock Langridge down, but failed. Langridge then turned to his son and told him to go home, saying “ I will kill him (Sax) tonight or he will have me transported tomorrow”. So the boy left, but as he crossed an adjoining field he distinctly heard the cry “Murder” repeated several times.

A short time afterwards Langridge caught up with his son and told him not to tell anyone what had happened.

When they got to their cottage, Langridge cut up a blood-stained sharpened thick wooden stake he was carrying and threw the four portions into the fire, being careful to put the bloodied parts facing inwards so his wife should not see them.

The following morning he went to work as usual with his son but when they had gone a little way, Langridge sent him to the field where the fight had occurred to see if Mr Sax had been taken away . To his horror, the boy found Mr Sax lying in a pool of blood but still alive. He told his father and Langridge immediately took another route to work.

At 9pm Mr Sax was discovered by a farm labourer who found help and took the battered man back  to where he lived at Tubs Hole. Word soon spread that he had suffered an appalling battering. When Langridge returned home that evening his wife told him what had happened and said she hoped that he had had no hand in it. Langridge responded by asking if she wanted “such a dose” herself. He then had his supper, went to the door, turned to his wife and said “Mary, I shall never more see you alive”, before walking off.Richard Sax's tombstone, Penshurst

Mr Sax died the following Sunday. During that time he was unable to speak because of his horrific injuries – which were revealed at the inquest the next day. Langridge had beaten him with a sharpened stake so brutally that he had fractured his skull, broken one of his arms, smashed his teeth in and forced one of his eyes from its socket. He had then thrust the pointed end of the stake between his chin and windpipe and through his tongue. The ferocity of the attack suggests there had probably been some prior friction between the two men, which could account for his wife asking if he had been involved.

The inquest, at which his son had been the principal witness, concluded a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Henry Langridge. Mr Sax was buried the next day in Penshurst Churchyard. A description of Langridge was issued, describing him as about 30 years old, 5’7” tall, dark complexion and dark hair, thick eyebrows and a full bold eye. He was described as strong- looking. A reward of £50 was offered for his capture but, although some sightings were claimed, he was never found.

For those ghoulish folk interested in retracing the events of that evening:

  • Baden Powell, a relative of the founder of the scouting movement,  lived at Stone Cottage, Fordcombe Lane, Fordcombe.
  • Mr Sax, farmer, lived at Tubs Hole, Penshurst.
  • Henry Langridge lived in a cottage owned by Mr Sax. The tithe map and tithe awards of 1838 show that the owner of Tubs Hole also owned a cottage called Godfreys Cottage in Coldharbour Road. This cottage still stands, although now radically altered. Perhaps this was the location of the property in which Langridge lived.
  • The attack happened in Great Sandfield field. In 1813 Sandfield Road was just a footpath.
  • The boy was in Broomy field when he heard the cry of ‘murder’.

Richard Sax murder map

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland