It was an inoffensive remark that triggered violence from an elderly man on his niece.

Jane Bran was washing fish in a brook in Lymington when she was joined by William Bran who wanted to get some water. Though it was evident what she was doing, he demanded to know why. The niece, who regularly cleaned his house and did his washing, said she did not like being watched and he walked off. Minutes later, he returned and bashed her over the head with a hammer.

Bran told jurors she was shocked he could have been offended by her remark. "He did not seem angry. He came back again and then struck me with what he had in his hand. I suffered two blows, one on the forehead, the other on the back of my head."

Fleeing to a neighbour, she felt a third blow as she clambered over a hedge. "I was very much bleeding, and when my mother came to the house, I told her uncle had had pretty nearly killed me."

The neighbour, James Nicklin, corroborated her story. "I saw him take off his shoes and strike her. She fell down and came towards me covered in blood."


Dr Nicholas Adams, who treated her injuries, confirmed a heavy implement had been used to inflict the wounds. "I think they were caused by a hammer. It was done with a great deal of violence and she was under my care for two weeks."

Bran, 70, sat in the dock at Hampshire Assizes in 1918 with his head bowed for much of the proceedings as jurors weighed the evidence against him after he had denied a charge of wounding with intent to murder.

Daily Echo: Lymington in old FGO Stuart postcards

They heard he had been arrested while drinking at the Six Bells pub in Lymington, telling Pc Samuel Belbin he could not understand why he had attacked her. "I did it but the devil must have got great power over me, or I would not have done so."

Belbin admitted he had been shocked by the brutality. "I have known him 40 years and he has always borne a very good character."

The girl's father was equally puzzled. "He told me it was best known to himself. The devil had possession of him." Urging the court to extend mercy, he implored: "He has an irreproachable character for mildness of character and disposition up to that time."

Two other witnesses also testified he was particularly fond of his niece.

Jurors deliberated for several minutes before acquitting him of the substantive charge, but following a direction from the judge in his summing up, convicted him of assault. Mr Justice Coleridge deferred sentence overnight but the following morning, jailed him for six months.