PRESTEIGNE churchyard is the resting place of Mary Morgan - the last woman to be executed in Wales.

Mary’s tale is a tragic one which was once regaled to each passing generation - such had been the circumstances of her death on April 11, 1805.

Mary was aged 17 when she was executed in the town for the murder of her base born child.

It was a case which affected all who heard it and the judge who sentenced Mary to death had died within a year.

The case also underlines the great injustices of the time.

Ledbury Reporter:

Presteigne gaol. Picture: Powys Local History.

For in those days it was a capital offence to steal goods of the value of five shillings and the death penalty for offences as a postal employee stealing a letter, a debtor making a fraudulent declaration of his assets, or anyone breaking down a turnpike gate.

Many had met their end on Gallows Lane, situated on the road to Knighton.

Yet only Mary is commemorated by a tombstone such had been the tragic circumstances which had led to her execution.

Mary, a servant at the home of local MP Walter Wilkins at Maesllwch Castle near Glasbury, had pleaded guilty to the heinous crime and went to the gallows with ‘unfeigned repentance and fervent hope of forgiveness.’

Ledbury Reporter:

Maesllwch Castle. Picture: Wiki Commons.

While guilty of murder it is important to note that Mary was not the only villain as Judge Justice Hardinge had remarked during the trial.

It was said the seducer was well known in the town and sat on the Grand Jury and that he had directed her to incite the crime and the judge said he should have been in Mary’s place though the law at the time had meant him above reproach.

However the identity of the father was never confirmed.

Mary was sentenced to death though there is yet another tragic part to her tale as the story goes.

An unknown man heard the sentence and rode to London, and by his exertions secured a reprieve.

Though he used relays of horses to return, the executioner's work had been finished two hours before he arrived.

Mary Morgan was dead.

Her case deeply affected the townspeople, none more so than Judge Hardinge who visited her grave whenever he visited Presteigne and penned a poem in her memory.

He wrote: 'Flow the tears that pity loves upon Mary's hapless fate It's a tear that God approves, He can strike, but cannot hate.'

Judge Hardinge died less than a year later, still haunted by the tragic fate of Mary Morgan.

Ledbury Reporter:

St Andrews Church in Presteigne. Picture: Wiki Commons.

For some years her grave was alone, in unconsecrated ground.

Later this was consecrated for burials, and around now lie the graves of many who must have remembered her death.

And Mary was not forgotten.

At the foot of her grave there is another stone, which is apparently of a rather later date.

It reads ‘In Memory of Mary Morgan Who suffered April 13th, 1805, Aged 17. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.’