AS part of our weekly Crime Files series, we are taking a look back at our archives to bring you stories from Herefordshire's history.

The following story dates from 1926.

TWO rich spinster sisters parted company with their drunkard butler sooner than expected when they sacked him on an autumn day in 1926.

Just after breakfast the next morning, he blasted them to death with a sporting gun.

The sensational double murder rocked the village of Burghill, and sent the Woodhouse sisters to their graves in the shadow of the village church, while the killings earned butler Charles Houghton an appointment with the famed public executioner, Albert Pierrepoint.

Hereford Times: Herefordshire's Burghill Court, the scene of the crimeHerefordshire's Burghill Court, the scene of the crime

The scene of the crime was Burghill Court, which had been bought by Liverpool wine merchant John Gordon Woodhouse in the 1870s.

He and his family were soon playing a leading role in the village, particularly with raising funds for the restoration of the parish church.

His two daughters stayed at the house after their parents' death, where they were waited on by Houghton, their butler, for more than 20 years.

But his drinking was to bring his long service to an end, with the sisters eventually giving him notice on September 6, 1926.

The next morning, the peace of the village was shattered by the sound of two gunshots.

Elinor Drinkwater Woodhouse, who was 65, was found shot through the head, while her sister, 57-year-old May Gordon Woodhouse, had been shot through the heart. The younger Woodhouse sister was alive when she was found, but died just minutes later, it was reported.

The pair were found by their cousin, Ernest Jackson, who had been staying with them at the time.

It was reported that he locked his wife in the smoking room and dashed downstairs after hearing shots ring out, finding Elinor Woodhouse lying in a passage near the kitchen entrance and May Woodhouse on the floor near the back door.

Both were bleeding profusely and appeared to have been shot at very close range with a double-barrelled shotgun that was usually kept in the pantry.


The police and doctor were summoned, and 45-year-old Houghton was found in his room with a bleeding wound to his throat, which he had apparently inflicted himself.

At trial, Houghton's defence argued he had not known what he was doing when he committed the crime, and that if he did know what he was doing, he did not know it was wrong.

Hereford Times: Butler Charles Houghton was put on trial for the murders of Burghill sisters, Elinor and May WoodhouseButler Charles Houghton was put on trial for the murders of Burghill sisters, Elinor and May Woodhouse

But, the trial heard, the butler, who entered a not guilty plea, had not shown any evidence of insanity, mental disease, or epilepsy while behind bars at HM Prison, Gloucester.

The judge told the jury that there was no doubt Houghton had fired the shots, but that their job was to decide whether it was proven he was responsible for his actions.

The jury took just half an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Houghton was sentenced to death.

He was hanged at 8am on December 3 at Gloucester Gaol, dressed in the same blue suit he wore at his trial.