Dr Thomas Jenner Sells investigates a murder

Among the eminent families in 19th century Guildford the Sells family had a significant impact. 

Thomas Jenner Sells was born on February 25th 1811 in Clarendon, Jamaica, the son of William Sells, Practitioner of Medicine, and his wife, Euphemia.   William Sells was a surgeon in Jamaica for several years. In November 1826 he and his family left Jamaica and by 1841 he was living in Kingston-upon-Thames where he died in September.

Thomas Jenner Sells decided to follow his father into medicine and after completing his medical training, he settled in Guildford, Surrey in about 1840.  On July 19th 1842 Thomas married Charlotte, the daughter of Rev. John Stedman and they settled at 109 High Street.  In 1846 and again in 1851, Thomas was elected Mayor of Guildford.  In addition to his everyday medical duties, Thomas took over the private lunatic asylum at Leapale House. 

In 1852 Thomas Jenner Sells participated in the investigation into the horrific murder of a 3 year old child in Albury.  John Keene and his wife Jane were accused of drowning her illegitimate child, Charlie Broomer, in a well in February 1851.   Mrs Keene’s mother, Ann Broomer, had reported her fears to Police Superintendent Josiah Hawkins Radley stationed at Guildford and he took a well-digger to Warren Well near Albury Heath.  On finding remains, they summoned Dr Sells.  Thomas Sells testified that the body had been in the well for at least a year and he produced the skull, which he had put back together, to show to the Court.

Other testimonies included that of Mr Ames, Master of Guildford Union Workhouse, who reported that Jane Keene had been admitted to the Workhouse after dark on January 10th 1851 accompanied by two children, 3 year old Charlie Broomer and a baby born a few weeks before to Jane and her husband John.  She had left the Workhouse with her children on February 6th.  On 16th February she returned to the Workhouse with her husband John and her youngest child, saying that Charlie was with her mother in Albury.  In spite of the fact that all the evidence was hearsay, at the end of the trial Jane Keene was acquitted but her husband was condemned to death for murder.

One of the other cases involving Thomas occurred in 1864 when there was a quarrel between two boys from a gypsy encampment on Whitmoor Common.  One boy, John Stacey, was stabbed.  Dr Sells dressed his wound and then sent the boy to the Workhouse although his assailant had escaped towards Woking. 

 In 1862 Thomas Jenner Sells purchased a large plot of land at the south-eastern end of Guildford with the intention of building many houses.  Thomas Sells worked with Henry Peak, the town's first Borough surveyor, and the design for one of the first housing estates in the town took shape. Thomas Sells named the area after his wife, Charlotte, and many of the roads were named after famous physicians.  Charlotteville, one of the earliest planned suburbs in Britain, was planned to have a social mix, with large villas to purchase and small terraced cottages to rent.  The gradual building of this, “urban village,” continued after the death of T. J. Sells, but in 1867 at an anniversary dinner for the local Forresters’ Lodge, Thomas commented that, “He hoped he had shown his fellow townsmen the best way to spend their money.  Every mechanic should live in his own home.”

You can read more about Charlotteville at www.users.waitrose.com/~iannicholls/Local-History.html


Diaries of Henry Peak edited by Roger Nicholas
Census and Parish records from www.Ancestry.co.uk
British Newspapers Archive 
Times Digital Archive

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