Crimes of Lincoln’s past: Horrific village brawl led to fatal stabbing

The quiet village of Billinghay, south east of Lincoln, was rocked by a bloody brawl in the summer of 1866, which led to the death of a local man.

In the 1860s the village had around 2,000 residents and 500 dwellings. There were two pubs, the Cross Keys and the Golden Cross, and a substantial parish church.

Since it was an agricultural village, Billinghay had many trades associated with farming, among which stood three trading blacksmiths.

One of the blacksmiths, Joseph Benton, had the forge on the main street of the village and employed several men at his establishment.

Little did the workers know the the morning of August 16 that summer dawned with a terrible foreboding.

Two men were working for Joseph Benton, Eyre Petchell and Thomas Farnsworth, when a man with a distinctly violent and unpredictable reputation entered the shop.

Forty-four-year-old Joseph Bones was described by many accounts as an abrasive, angry and notably ugly man; and that morning he was obviously in a bad mood.

For reasons unknown, Bones entered the shop that day on a mission to stir up animosity.

With a few hostile threats being met with a direction to the door by Benton, Bones decided to pick up a piece of wood on his way out, swinging it at Thomas Farnsworth.

Farnsworth, a much younger and more agile man, managed to duck the blow and jumped on Bones’ back, forcing him to the floor and twisting his arm to retain him.

He then forced the older man to his feet and marched him out of the door into the street, where he released him with a shove.

It was reported that Bones swayed to his feet before deciding to enter another blacksmith’s opposite, likely trying similar provocative tactics, before coming back out into the street calling to Farnsworth to come back out and face him ‘like a man’.

When Farnsworth came back out of the shop, Bones took to throwing stones at him from a distance. This seemed to get the reaction he was looking for as Farnsworth then rushed out of the shop, grappling with him and once again throwing him to the ground.

The two men were eventually parted by Eyre Petchell who had come out of the shop and it was assumed that was the end of the matter until Bones put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a folding pocket knife.

They ran to hide as he began waving the knife around in front of growing crowds, but not wanting to seem cowardly, Petchell walked back into the street shouting ‘I’m not afraid of you Bones’.

Bones quickly approached him and slashed upwards with the blade. While shocked onlookers helped Petchell into a nearby home, covered in blood, Bones stood in the street waving his blood stained knife, reportedly shouting ‘I sharpened this only this morning, and it’s done a great job’.

Several nearby labourers grabbed him and handed him to the parish constable and he was eventually jailed indefinitely and judged to be of unsound mind and unfit to stand trial.

Eyre Petchell died of horrific wounds to his abdomen in the day following the incident.

The events of this story were researched and documented by Stephen Wade in Lincolnshire Murders.