The Murder of the Rev Gilbert Yarde

The Rev. Gilbert Yarde was commemorated on a memorial in the Chancel which used to be found in the chancel but has since been removed. His burial is recorded in the church records but it gives no indication of the grisly way in which he met his end.

The Rev Yarde was the Rector of Teigngrace and the brother in law of Kingsteignton’s vicar, the Rev Christopher Beeke. He lived at Whiteway which his family had owned since the early seventeenth century.

In May 1783 he was murdered by a servant whom he had previously dismissed.  Apparently the servant, one John Greenslade, had asked for a reference which was duly given, but written in Latin.  Armed with his “fancy” reference

Whiteway, seat of the Yardes", watercolour by Reverend John Swete

(died 1821) dated 10 July 1795. Devon Record Office: DRO 564M/F8/119. The Rev Yarde was Swete's uncle.

Greenslade, a native of the neighbouring hamlet of Luton, went off confident of finding new employment. When he was repeatedly turned down by prospective employers whom he

approached for work he began to wonder whether the lack of success was in any way connected to the reference. He went and found someone to translate the text for him. To his horror he discovered that it translated as “Gone from me and fit for no man”. Now aware that his former master had blocked his search for new work, Greenslade decided to take his revenge .

Greenslade returned to Whiteway where he hid himself away in a makeshift shelter in a hedge. The Rev Yarde’s curiosity was aroused by a loud persistent crowing of what appeared to be a cockerel. Mr. Yarde had never heard a cockerel crow so persistently or quite in this manner and went to out to his poultry yard to investigate. Not finding the cause of the noise he decided to mount his horse and rode along the track connecting the house to Hestow Road to see if he could find the source of the crowing. He made his way along the track and the cockerel began its crowing again just as Mr. Yarde approached the spot where Greenslade was hiding. As the Rev Yarde dismounted his horse, to check the hedgerow, Greenslade sprang from his shelter and beat him about the head with a club, knocking him senseless and breaking his arm. The old gentleman is said to have begged Greenslade to stop, but it was to no avail as Greenslade proceeded to rob him of a gold watch plus twelve guineas.

At around five o’clock in the evening Mr. Yarde was found propped up against a hedge by two children working in the fields and taken back to the house where died of his injuries some five hours after the attack. The family realized his gold watch was missing and arranged for a handbill to be printed offering a reward of twenty guineas for its return.

Greenslade was eventually traced for the crime when visiting his mother’s house in Exeter.  He had intended to stay for just one night before leaving for Bristol but was persuaded by his mother to stay for another night.  Also staying with his mother was a boarder named Pool. Greenslade asked Pool if he could put a watch in his box for safekeeping as he did not want his mother to see it. Asking this favour proved to be his undoing. The next morning the first thing he did was to ask Pool for the watch which he promptly wrapped in a handkerchief and put in his coat pocket.  By now news of the murder had reached the city and the fact that the family had offered a reward for the return of a gold watch alerted Mr. Pool’s suspicions. He contacted the local constabulary and Greenslade was arrested before he had chance to leave the city. 

The watch bearing Mr. Yarde’s seal was found in Greenslade’s pocket and traces of blood were found on his coat, despite his best efforts to wash them off. The account of his trial was reported in Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post where it states that he was he was sentenced to death and taken to Little Haldon to be hanged on a gibbet and his body given up for dissection.

The murder of her husband was too much to bear for  the Rev Yarde's widow Elizabeth and she moved out  of Whiteway to live in Topsham with relatives. With a lack of direct male heirs, Whiteway passed to the descendants of The Rev Yarde’s brother Hugh Yarde of Chudleigh. It remained the property of that family, being leased out as a farm, until the early twentieth century when it was sold to the Lindridge Estate.