CELIA HOLLOWAY 1800 - 1831

Brighton’s First “Trunk” murder

Celia Bashford was born in the village of Ardingly in West Sussex around 1800. At only just over 4 foot in height she was odd looking, her hands strangely “turned outwards like the paws of a mole.’” When she was in her mid twenties she met eighteen year old John Holloway and she fell in overwhelmingly and deeply in love.

John Holloway, only just a little over five foot tall himself, came from the other side of Sussex: born in 1806 in Lewes. Brought up by his grandparents in Litlington he was educated to read and write and became an active chapel goer to the Baptist chapel in Alfriston.

In 1818 the Holloway family moved to Brighton to seek work: rich, bustling, playboy Brighton the boom town created by the Prince Regent where streets of close packed newly built lodging houses and tenements rose only a stone’s throw from the wealthy houses of The Steine and the rich domes of the Pavilion.

The young John Holloway abandoned his sober life, and and still in his teens began a life of casual work, petty crime, heavy drinking, and the relentless pursuit of women.

In the 1820s Celia Bashford was in service in Brighton and and met Holloway at the Brighton Races. She fell deeply in love with him and although he did not love her and was in fact ashamed to be seen in public with her because of her diminutive stature and odd appearance, she managed to keep a hold on his affections. They continued their liaison for a couple of years and in 1825 Celia found that she was pregnant. Holloway refused to marry her.

Celia returned to Ardingly and applied to the Parish Overseers for relief for herself and her unborn child. She was a respectable woman and named John Holloway as the father of her child: promptly the Ardingly Poor Law Authorities had Holloway clapped into Lewes gaol until he agreed to marry her! It took five weeks of imprisonment to get him to change his mind and they were married in Ardingly.

However now that Holloway had married Celia the Ardingly authorities ordered the couple to leave the village. Resentful, feeling that he had been trapped, Holloway took Celia back to Brighton where they entered the Workhouse for a short while, only coming out after Holloway’s father found them lodging and gave them furniture so they could have a fresh start to their married life.

The child was still born. Later Holloway claimed that Celia had told him he had not been the father - whatever the truth Holloway began to feel even more angry and bitter, he was violent to Celia when he was drunk, he took up with other women and bringing his latest mistress into their lodgings. When serving in the Naval Blockade Service he met Ann Kennett in Rye: this time, it was he who fell in love.

She too became pregnant and Holloway was visited by the Rye Parish Overseers - and he married Ann Kennett bigamously, using another name. The couple returned to Brighton to seek work and help from his family. Celia, now nearly destitute, was waiting.

Holloway found work as a painter on the Chain Pier and Celia instantly applied to the Brighton Poor Law Authorities for relief. And in June 1831 the Overseers immediately slapped an order on Holloway that he should pay her 2 shillings a week maintenance. He could not pay.

Holloway could think of only one way out of his troubles. He visited Celia in her lodging at 4 Cavendish Place, offered a reconciliation, and suggested that he move back with her into new lodgings at 11 North Steine Row - also known as Donkey Row*. They would start a new life together. Celia - who still loved this violent, abusive, unreliable, adulterous man - agreed. Visiting her at Donkey Row, on the pretext of kissing her, Holloway slipped a rope around her neck, and pulled.

Yet at the last moment he was unable to go through with it. Faltering he called for Ann Kennett to help him - she was also concealed in the house - and together they finished the deed and Holloway hung the dead body of his wife on a hook in the cupboard under the stairs. To make sure she was dead, he said later.

The next day they burned Celia’s clothes and dismembered her small body, taking her head and limbs to their lodgings at 7 Margaret Street and dumping them in the outside privy. Putting her torso into a trunk they loaded it onto a wheelbarrow and late at night walked to Preston Village past the Hare and Hounds Public House and onto a footpath that led to Lovers Walk where it was placed in a shallow grave along with pieces of the trunk.

A week or so later the body, with its dead unborn child,was discovered when rain washed away the soil. Holloway and Ann Kennett were arrested, the privy at 7 Margaret Street was drained and Celia’s head and limbs found.

In August 1831 Holloway, in prison at Horsham Gaol, confessed to the murder and dismemberment of his wife - although he changed his mind about Ann Kennett’s involvement. He pleaded Not Guilty at Lewes Assizes in December 1831 bitterly blaming the pressure from Celia’s family, the cold application of the Law by the Ardingly Overseers - it was they who had tricked him into a marriage from which he could not escape, it was they who had “brought him to this pass !” He was found guilty and hanged on December 21st 1831, his body displayed at Brighton Town Hall before being used for dissection.

In March 1832 Ann Kennett was tried at Lewes Assizes as an Accessory after the fact. She was found Not Guilty.

The remains of Celia Holloway were interred in the churchyard of St. John’s Church Preston and a plaque can be seen on the churchyard wall. She was described as a quiet and harmless woman by friends who “had a high opinion of her chastity.” A previous employer had been concerned about the marriage and Celia’s family had always disliked Holloway knowing that he ill-treated her. She herself had once said that she thought she would die under his hands. She did.