This experimental short story was shortlisted in 2018 for the CWA Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition
Welcome to Silverton Manor Museum, we hope you enjoy your visit!
Mind the uneven ground as you enter the yard, and please do not stray from the cobblestone path onto the grass or flower beds. Also, we would recommend taking a minute to admire the facade of the manor before entering. Though it is chiefly known for the sordid affair which transpired within in the year 1906, Silverton Manor is also of particular note to both professional architectural historians and amateurs.
Made from red brick and limestone, the two-story manor cuts a stark, yet elegant figure in the skyline of the neighborhood. From where you stand, you can see the fine, slightly baroque details that decorate the pilasters and arches above the windows. Forged iron balustrades and additional details such as the decorative gutter and parapet are wonderful examples of intricate decorative metalwork.
A stunning example of late 19th century manor design, Silverton Manor was designed by Sir Darcy Manning, an esteemed architect who is known for the now-demolished Garrison & Sons Department Store on Oxford Street. Though much smaller in scope than many of his other works, this unique, single-family home is exquisitely crafted and in tune with many Late-Victorian and Edwardian trends in architectural design.
The excellent state of preservation was made possible through generous donations. We would particularly like to thank the Somerset Fund for Historical Preservation, Mrs. Pemberton, Doctor Knight, and the National Lottery for their generous contributions.
We would like to remind you to stay on the path as you head towards the entrance through the beautiful flower garden. It is kept in its historical state by our dedicated team of volunteer gardeners from the Botanical faculty of the University of South London.
Portrait of Sir Barclay Somerset
Harrison Denton, Oil on Canvas, 1903
Painted by Harrison Denton, a popular portraitist from Manchester who trained in Paris, this work represents Sir Barclay a few months before his engagement to Virginia Derby. The particular chiaroscuro perfectly replicates the mid-day lighting conditions in Sir Barclay’s study, where this portrait was painted.
Sir Barclay was a successful pharmacist and entrepreneur who made his fortune as the director of a popular chain of apothecaries. He purchased this house from the Silverton family in 1902.
A popular man with means, Somerset kept this relatively modest home on the outskirts in the hopes of keeping away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The isolation of Silverton Manor also offered Sir Barclay ample opportunity to assuage what close sources to him say were his more distasteful impulses.
Portrait of Mrs. Virginia Somerset (née Derby)
Harrison Denton, Oil on Canvas, est. 1904
Virginia’s portrait, like that of her husband’s, was painted by Harrison Denton, who was known to be overly flattering when representing some subjects.
Hailing from the seaside town of Bournemouth and a lower-class family, Virginia was the youngest of five children. In her late teens, she impulsively moved to London to find work, hoping to escape from the monotony of her hometown. Luckily, she met Sir Barclay Somerset while interviewing at one of his stores, and they married after a year of courtship. She moved into Silverton Manor with her older brother Harrison Derby in early 1904, after which this portrait was commissioned.
Sir Barclay and Virginia’s relationship was considered by some too be quite scandalous at the time, but the couple gradually regained the favor of high-society through careful socializing. Though they came to be quite popular, their private life remained a mystery to most.
The tragic details of what happened behind the doors of Silverton Manor would only be revealed at a later time.
Selected Photographs from Mrs. Somerset’s personal collection
Due to her lower-class background, Virginia Somerset had very few mementos of her hometown and family. Still, she possessed a few rare snapshots of Bournemouth at the end of the 19th century, including a single group photo of her and her extended family, and another of her and two childhood friends: one Anne Fields who later became a renowned performer at the National Theatre, and Claire Simmons whom Virginia would later introduce into London’s high society.
Virginia Somerset’s dress.
Silk, cotton, embroidery.
This dress was one of many that Virginia wore at home, and the last one she ever wore. Virginia was known as a beauty in the social circles of London high-society. In truth, sources close to her reveal that Virginia was quite vain, and obsessed with luxury, spending much of her allowance on collecting clothes. Luckily, she had found a rich husband.
Mrs. Somerset wore this dress on the night of her murder, as the dried blood and slash marks can attest. Brutally stabbed and slashed multiple times with a large kitchen knife, Mrs. Somerset attempted to fight off her crazed killer, but failed. The coroner who examined Mrs. Somerset’s body recorded the savagery of the attack:
“[…] [the killer] was gripping the weapon tightly in [his] right hand and began by stabbing her in the back before slashing repeatedly across the abdomen after she swiveled. The [defensive wounds] on her forearms show how she attempted to defend herself…”
Doctor Leighton Farthing, Scotland Yard, 1906
Sir Barclay Somerset’s Violin
Maple and spruce wood. Catgut strings. Crafted by Sickle & Sons in 1897.
A standard sized violin in excellent condition. Sir Barclay was an avid musician and violinist, as discovered in correspondence between him and his mother (see Exhibit F6). According to the letters, he spent much of his free time practicing, and even gave small private recitals for his friends.
According to some sources, Sir Barclay used this violin to beat his wife.
Sir Barclay Somerset’s French playing cards
Brought back from a trip Sir Barclay and his wife took to Paris in 1905, this set of well-worn playing cards were used to play with occasional guests and friends at the Manor. Sir Barclay was an avid player of Cribbage and Brag (a precursor to Poker which also involves bluffing and gambling).
Doctor Pemberton’s French Playing Cards
Brought back from a trip Sir Barclay Somerset and his wife took to Paris in 1905, this set of well-worn playing cards were a gift to his cousin and only living family member: Doctor Alistair Pemberton, who was also a frequent visitor to the Manor.
A heavy-drinker and gambler according to sources, Doctor Pemberton is known to have lost much of his generous inheritance irresponsibly playing cards and at the races. He died in his sleep in early 1906, several months before the tragedy which happened Silverton Manor.
Virginia Somerset’s Chessboard
Polished oak wood and ivory pieces.
One of Virginia’s favorite pastimes was chess, and she would play with friends and family. This board was a gift from her childhood friend Claire, who had moved to London after being introduced to and marrying Sir Barclay’s cousin. She was one of Virginia’s regular opponents, as they were evenly matched.
Virginia Somerset’s Locket
Silver with inlaid photograph.
A simple silver locket which Virginia Somerset wore at all times. One half contains a photograph of her as a child, while the other shows one of her brother Harrison. Both seem to be cut from the same photograph, possibly taken some time around 1895.
This was Sir Barclay Somerset’s favorite teacup, and the one from which he drank tea laced with fatal dose of laudanum on the night of his death. No one was in the manor other than Virginia and her brother, who was locked in the basement after having an episode.
There is no doubt that Virginia poisoned her husband. This was most likely to inherit his fortune, as Sir Barclay had made her the beneficiary in his will earlier that year, following the sudden natural death of his cousin.
The fact that Sir Barclay was physically abusing his wife (see Exhibits A22, C2-C5, D7, E8-E19, J12, J13, J16) was also a likely factor in her decision to end his life.
You are now standing in the Basement of Silverton Manor. Please mind your head!
This area was converted from a storage space into a small room for Harrison Derby, Virginia’s older brother. Afflicted with a form of mental illness since childhood, Harrison moved into the manor with Virginia after her marriage. It is likely that Mrs. Somerset was attempting to advertise how caring and compassionate she was by making a show of caring for her ailing brother.
Still, the basement was converted into quite a comfortable room, benefitting from ample lighting, a comfortable full-size bed, study area, and even a small window which Harrison never opened due to his crippling agoraphobia. He was purportedly so terrified of the outdoors that he needed to be physically pulled outside the house by two men when needed.
As you explore the space, pay attention to the artifacts and small details as they will hopefully give some kind of insight into his madness, and help you form your own opinion of what might have happened that night.
Glass medicinal vials, marked with initials H.D.
It is unclear what illness Harrison Derby suffered from exactly, and some have surmised that it may have been some form of schizophrenia in combination with other social and personality disorders like his well-documented acute agoraphobia.
To keep his madness in check, Harrison made heavy use of small doses of morphine and laudanum. Despite this, he was still prone to violent outbursts which required Virginia to use her personal set of keys to lock him in the basement until he calmed down. His doctor had the following to say about Derby’s illness:
“He [could get extremely violent], and the drugs seemed to help. […] [Mister Derby] needed supervision […] his sister’s care was [important] to keep him [calm].”
Doctor Clive Branston, 1908
Harrison Derby’s Book Collection
Locked away in the basement, Harrison Derby kept busy by reading books which his sister brought to him from the outside. His large collection consists mostly of encyclopedias and atlases, as he seemed interested in the world beyond, despite his unwillingness to set a single foot outdoors, even in the manor’s own sheltered garden.
Among his collection, a copy of The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was found. No doubt Harrison identified with the tormented doctor in the novel, turning into his own version of a beastly killer when his medication ran out.
Harrison Derby’s pen
A beautifully crafted fountain pen with a gold-plated Spalding-style beak specifically designed by the world-renowned Collins Pen Company for comfortable left-handed writing.
Harrison Derby’s Bathrobe
Though he still claims his innocence to this day, it is likely Harrison Derby sat in this very bathrobe, contemplating the murder of his own sister.
You are now standing in the master bedroom!
This large, bright space with tall windows faces south, and overlooks the lush flower garden. On clear days, one can see the spires of Westminster in the distance, as well as the canopy of spruce trees of nearby Chance Square.
The room is in almost the same state as the night Sir Barclay was found dead in his bed. Here, you will find many curiosities from his life and that of his wife.
The dysfunctional relationship may not be apparent from the smiling photographs and orderliness. Do not be fooled.
Please enjoy the display.
Oak wood frame, metal spring mattress, silk sheets.
This large bed was custom-ordered and built for Sir Barclay by Rivington Carpenters in the East End, a few months after his marriage to Virginia Derby. The overly ornate details were likely requested by Virginia herself, as she was known to have little taste and an obscenely luxurious appetite.
Sir Barclay lay down in this very bed after drinking the tea which his wife had laced with a deadly dose of laudanum. He died in his sleep from asphyxiation caused by the poison.
A source close to Mrs. Somerset report that she had mentioned murdering her husband in private, though she was never taken seriously. There is no doubt she was behind the insidious killing of her husband, as the couple were alone that night, aside from Harrison Derby in the basement.
Steel, 30cm in length
Though now slightly oxidized, dried blood can still be observed along the blade and handle of this knife. This is the murder weapon which was used to brutally kill Mrs. Somerset right after the poisoning of her husband.
After using a large amount of her brother’s medicinal laudanum to poison her husband, Virginia was quite unprepared when Harrison, having been unable to take his nightly dose, went into a rage and attacked her with a knife he found in the kitchen. He then buried the knife in a flower patch in the garden before returning to the basement and locking himself up.
The next day, friends called the police who, after arriving, quickly determined the sequence of events which lead to Harrison Derby’s arrest and subsequent internment in Dallinghurst Asylum for the criminally insane. He continues to claim his innocence and that he was locked in the basement all night.
However, against overwhelming evidence, it is impossible that he is innocent.
Virginia Somerset’s set of keys
Found on Virginia’s body. Note the gruesome blood stains left from the brother’s horrifying, savage attack.
Welcome back to the foyer!
As we approach the end of this tour, we thank you for taking the time to visit this small piece of history, preserved to continue revealing the terrible truth of the events of one fateful night in 1906.
We hope the display helps reveal the terrible reality of mental illness, and how it must be treated appropriately. The misguided and arrogant way Virginia Somerset decided she would care for her brother ultimately lead to her own demise, precipitated by her own selfish, murderous goals.
Though the death of the Somersets was tragic, part of the fortune they left behind was used to preserve this building, thus conserving a moment in time for historical and educational purposes. For more information about schizophrenia, mental illness, drug and domestic abuse, please refer to the contact information in the pamphlets below.
Once again, we would like to thank the many different entities who came together to make the Silverton Manor museum a reality, in particular the historical restoration branch of the Royal Institute of Architects, the Pemberton Scholarship Foundation, the Botanical Faculty of South London University, the Derby Fund for Mental Health, the Somerset Fund for Historical Restoration, and the National Lottery.
Also, we would also like to extend our great thanks to the many contributors who put their heart and soul into unearthing the secrets of the Silverton Manor’s story, in particular Mrs. Claire Pemberton, whose insight into the lives of her family members, and generous contributions to both the museum itself and its content were invaluable in reconstructing what happened here. Without her insight and personal accounts, its likely the museum would not exist as it does today.
Thank you again for visiting Silverton Manor Museum.
Please come again!
Dear Mrs. Pemberton
I am writing to inform you of a matter of some concern with regards to the Silverton Manor museum. Indeed, we have been receiving a growing number of concerned messages from visitors that several of the display descriptions feel a little off, or in some cases, actually contradict other descriptions in the museum.
Of course we are all incredibly grateful for all the help you provided, both personally and financially, to make this museum a reality. Still, as you were behind the composition of many of the display descriptions, I was hoping it would be possible for you to review some of them to make sure they are correct.
I have attached a list of descriptions that have come up as faulty or odd, as there are quite a few. I would mention in particular the violin, the bathrobe, and the statements of the coroner and police officer (I would appreciate if you also sent me a copy of the transcripts, as I have yet to see them with my own eyes).
It pains me to have to bring back the memories of the tragedy which struck your friends and family, but I do believe it is in the interest of the museum to make sure the artifacts within are described as accurately as possible.
After all, it would be a terrible thing if visitors started to think that the story we are trying to tell is imprecise or, at worst, completely untrue.
Thank you for your understanding, your help will be greatly appreciated,
Museum Director – Silverton Manor
Alex Sadeghi, 2018