The Strange Death Of Charles Robinson

Stoke Poges Church is famous as the probable inspiration for Thomas Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' and Gray was buried in the churchyard there. However, the church also has a connection to a long-term Epsom resident.

Stoke Poges Church.
Stoke Poges Church.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Robinson was born in about 1825 in Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire. His family was not wealthy, but apparently comfortable. In 1851, at St George, Hanover Square, London, he married Sarah Ann Lewis from Cheltenham and by 1861 he was a master grocer in Epsom High Street. Later he became an insurance agent for the Railway Passengers Assurance Society and the couple moved to Fern Villas in Worple Road, where they remained for more than 20 years. There were no children, but a niece, Alice Kate Robinson (daughter of Charles's brother, James), was with them in both the 1861 and 1871 censuses. Alice Kate died in 1873, aged 15, and was buried in Epsom Cemetery.

Charles owned one or more houses in Farnham Royal (probably inherited) and twice a year he would go there to collect the rents. He made one such trip in October 1892.

On the morning of Friday 28 October 1892 Charles's body was found in the porch of Stoke Poges Church. He had been dead for 12-14 hours. Nearby were his tall silk hat and pocket handkerchief and, on the porch seat, an umbrella, spirit flask and a tumbler containing crystals. The tumbler appeared to have contained whisky and a poison, such as prussic acid (it seems that the Coroner found the case so straightforward that neither an analysis of the residue nor a post mortem of the body was undertaken). About Charles's person were a gold watch, £9, various papers and an extraordinary pencilled letter. The letter said: 'I can stand it no longer. I am not made of iron, neither an automaton. Whoever finds this lump of clay will be good enough to get Ambrose Clark, of Stoke, and tell him to send his boy Jim to old Balls, of Stoke Common, and get four sheets of elephant brown paper and a ball of hard cord, and put the clay in, and take it to Farnham Churchyard, and deposit it with my sister Nancy, and if I have done wrong may God Almighty forgive me.' His instructions were ignored and he was buried in Epsom Cemetery on 3 November 1892.

Witnesses testified that they knew of no reason whatsoever for Charles's suicide and the situation was made stranger by the fact that he had not seen Ambrose Clark for more than 40 years. The general opinion was that he had become 'unhinged'. The Coroner recorded a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane.

Charles's widow, Sarah Ann, moved to Melrose Cottage, Parade Gardens, Epsom and died on 5 December 1895. She was also buried in Epsom Cemetery.

Linda Jackson October 2012




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