Sweeney Todd Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Is This Play Based on True Events?

sweeney-todd history

Ostrich Inn is located in Colnbrook, Berkshire, England. It boasted a proprietor who was reputed to have killed as many as sixty people. A very old building, the Ostrich Inn’s history dates back to the year 1165. The inn is thought by some to be the 4th oldest building in England. Although no exact date is recorded, sometime during the 1600’s a gentleman known as Jarman of the Ostrich Inn, along with his wife, was the proprietor of the inn. For the duration of his years at the inn Jarman had a penchant for setting traps for affluent guests and killing them.
Jarman had an elaborate killing mechanism set up in the inn’s finest bedroom. A special bed was rigged over a trap door in the floor. In the middle of the night, upon the removal of certain pins, the bed would dump its occupants down through the trap door and into a boiling vat set up in the kitchen. Jarman would proceed to steal all of the victims’ possessions, selling what he could for profit. The bodies were then discarded by depositing the carcasses into the nearby river.

One night while under the influence, an intended victim went to his room to sleep it off. Sometime later the guest allegedly used the chamber pot. Thinking that his intoxicated victim was asleep, Jarman activated the mechanism. But the drunkard had not yet returned to his bed. He raised a huge disturbance, awaking the other sleeping guests at the inn.

Once Jarman’s secret killing weaponry became known, he confessed to his murderous schemes, admitting to a total of sixty victims. As a result of the trial both Jarman of the Ostrich Inn and his wife were found guilty of robbery and murder. Consequently, they were both hanged. The crime Investigators believed that the number of sixty murdered victims was an exaggeration. They decided a number closer to fifteen was more accurate.

In his book Thomas of Reading, author Thomas Deloney mentioned the Ostrich Inn by name, thus making it the first pub to be listed in a published novel. Deloney’s book went into print in the late 16th century.

It is thought possible that the tale of this gruesome killer couple may be the inspiration for the story of Sweeney Todd, probably penned by author, James Malcolm Rymer. The inn is now considered to be haunted and as such has been the subject of numerous visits by paranormal professionals and English history researchers.

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