Thanks to a 2007 film, the name “Sweeney Todd” has once again become fresh in people’s minds. The story of the murdering barber has been around for a few centuries, but is there any truth to the fictional story? Many over the years have attempted to bridge the gap between fact and fiction. One alleged candidate may have been a 17th Century landlord at one of England's oldest Coaching inns known as the Ostrich Inn.
In 1106 Milo Crispin founded an inn named The Hospice (now believed to be the Ostrich Inn). Dick Turpin used the Inn as a hideout, escaping the Bow Street Runners by jumping out of a window. King John is rumored to have stopped at the Inn on the way to Runnymede to sign the Magna Charta. A former landlord named John Jarman and his wife installed a large trap door under the bed in the best bedroom located immediately above the inn's kitchen. The bed was fixed to the trap door and the mattress securely attached to the bedstead. When two retaining iron pins were removed from below, the sleeping guest dropped into a boiling cauldron. It is believed more than 60 of his richer guests were murdered in this fashion. Their bodies were then disposed of in the Colne River. However, it was the murder of a wealthy clothier named Thomas Cole which proved to be the Jarmans’ undoing. They failed to get rid of Cole's horse. It was found wandering the streets nearby. This led to a frantic search for its owner. Since he was last seen entering the Ostrich Inn, the Jarman’s confessed to the murders. His body was found some time later in a nearby brook. Matter of fact, some say its how Colnbrook got its name (Cole-in-the-brook).
There are similarities in the stories of Sweeney Todd and the Jarmans. Does this mean the identity of the Demon Barber on Fleet Street has been found? Maybe, maybe not. Some believe the story of the Jarmans are a work of fiction as well, supposedly written by the very man who helped unravel their greedy enterprise known as Thomas of Reading. However, there are rumors that visitors were allowed to see the remains of a door that gave access to the room directly from the top of a coach as late as 1925. If these murders did take place at the Ostrich Inn, it may explain the establishment’s haunted status today.
Many members of staff over the years have had experiences with the ghosts in the upstairs restaurant where the original murders supposedly took place. Strange noises, ghostly figures and objects moving by themselves are common experiences at the inn. Thomas Cole is believed to haunt the upper story of the Ostrich Inn. A women in Victorian dress has been seen along with other shadow figures in the upstairs corridors. Staff have opened locked rooms to find lights and electrical equipment switched on. There have been reports of feelings of despair and cold spots in the downstairs ladies restroom believed to be where the pantry was located and where Jarman allegedly stored the bodies of his victims.