The mysterious tale of Sidmouth murderess

Sidmouth’s Connaught Gardens reveals a sinister past from amongst its flowerbeds

MIDSUMMER’S day is tomorrow (Saturday) and Sidmouth’s Connaught Gardens is awash with colour.

These gardens, situated at the slope towards Peak Hill, have been described as the town’s ‘jewel in the crown’ and certainly the gardening team at StreetScene are kept busy keeping it in order for the many hundreds of visitors that walk through.

Back in 1820 the scene would have been very different, because it was then that Emmanuel Baruh Lousada of Peak House had a pretty detached Cottage with thatched roof and trellis work, built on an exposed grassy knoll at the base of the cliff fields.

Connaught Gardens has a blue plaque from Sid Vale Association for this reason and is included in Julia Creeke’s book, Life and Times in Sidmouth, a guide to the blue plaques.

She writes: “The area was all in the ownership of Mr Lousada, who was a wealthy, retired Jew, and the first of his race to risk owning land in England.”

The house overlooked what is now the main lawn of Connaught Gardens and had a fine view of eastern cliffs.

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“In 1834, Constance Emily Kent was born in the house to parents whose relationship was already an unhappy one.”

Mrs Kent suffered bouts of insanity and was locked in her room at times. Rumour and gossip about her spread locally and the family moved away to save face.

Later, after the father re-married, the Kent name was to become synonymous with a Victorian murder mystery.

It was Constance who became the centre of attention, following the murder of her little brother after the family had moved from Sidmouth.

She eventually admitted murdering the child and the story was used as the basis for The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher by Kate Summerscale.

Her birthplace, now renamed Sea View, had undergone many changes, writes Julia Creeke.

“The thatch had been replaced with slates and the garden had been walled and shelter belts of trees planted so that it had grown to fine maturity, but the house’s sombre reputation persisted.

“Part of the garden was surrounded by high black palings atop the stone walls, which added to the sense of mystery.

“Mr Jemmett, who was one of the last owners of Sea View, was an elderly, eccentric and irascible man and the butt of much torment by the local youth.”