Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Hilda Murrell: A rose of England
Hilda Murrell
Hilda Murrell was a very English lady

The death of Hilda Murrell in 1984 made headlines all over the world and was a murder mystery which would not be solved for more than two decades.

She was a distinguished rose grower, environmentalist and anti-nuclear campaigner who kept her private life very private.

She spent most of her life in Shrewsbury and joined the family business in the town.

It was not until 2005 that a man was convicted of her murder.

Head girl

Hilda Murrell was born on 3 February 1906 in Shrewsbury in Shropshire where she lived all her life.

She was a gifted student who became head girl at Shrewsbury Girls' High School. She won a scholarship to Newnham College in Cambridge where she studied from 1924-27 graduating with an MA in English and French literature and modern and medieval languages.

Miss Murrell was the elder of two daughters of Owen Murrell and came from a family of nurserymen, seedsmen and florists going back to 1837.

Her grandfather, Edwin Murrell, founded Portland Nurseries and ran the business until he died in 1908.

Family business

Miss Murrell joined her father and uncle, Edwin Foley Murrell, in the family business in 1928, taking over as director in 1937.

The Hilda Murrell rose
The Hilda Murrell rose was bred by David Austin

She became an internationally respected rose grower and regularly won top awards at Chelsea, Shrewsbury and Southport flower shows. In fact, just a few months before her death she agreed to have a rose produced by fellow grower, David Austin named after her.

She sold roses to the Queen Mother and the Churchills and helped Vita Sackville West design her White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.

She retired in 1970 after selling the nursery business to the TV gardener, Percy Thrower.

Wartime effort

During the Second World War she used her organisational skills in voluntary work helping Jewish refugee children who came to the county.

Hilda Murrell's house in Shrewsbury
Hilda Murrell lived on Sutton Road in Shrewsbury

She found foster homes and schools for the youngsters, making lifelong friends of some of them.

She raised money to help in the resettlement effort enlisting the talents of world famous performers to play at recitals in Shrewsbury.

Among those who appeared were the pianist, Dame Myra Hess and the violinist Jelly d'Aranyi.

Environmental concerns

After her retirement she devoted herself to environmental concerns and continuing her work with the Shropshire Conservation Trust of which she was a founder member. The trust later became the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Hilda Murrell at Aston Munslow
Hilda Murrell devoted herself to environmental concerns

She was also a member of Shropshire Botanical Society and a founder member of the Soil Association which promotes organic horticulture.

In the 1970s she was involved with the Shropshire Branch of what is now known as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Miss Murrell loved the Welsh Marches and built herself a chalet on the Welsh side of Llanymynech near Oswestry. It was there that her ashes were scattered after her funeral.

Expert botanist

Hilda Murrell's Nature Diaries
Her friend Charles Sinker edited her nature diaries

Her friend, Charles Sinker, shared her passion for all things botanical and after Miss Murrell's death he edited the nature diaries she kept between 1961 and 1983. They were published in 1987 illustrated with her photographs and beautiful botanical drawings.

She was an expert on megalithic monuments and the history of the British landscape.

Her other interests included antiques, spinning and weaving, bird watching, cooking, dressmaking and reading.

In later life she became more and more concerned about the environment and in particular the dangers of nuclear energy and weapons.

Nuclear fears

In 1978 she wrote a paper What Price Nuclear Power? in which she challenged the economic aspects of the civil nuclear industry and after the Three Mile Island accident in America in 1979 she became concerned about safety.

Miss Murrell then turned her attention to the British government's policy on radioactive waste.

She wrote An Ordinary Citizen's view of Radio Active Waste Management which she was going to present at an inquiry into the Sizewell B nuclear reactor in Suffolk.

Before she could do so she was murdered and for nearly 20 years her death remained a mystery until a builder's labourer called Andrew George was arrested and convicted of kidnapping and killing her. He is serving a life sentence.

Lasting legacy

Hilda Murrell's work goes on. Her nephew Rob Green is a former Naval Commander who came to support her radical views on the environment and nuclear energy and weapons.

He became close to his aunt after his mother, Hilda Murrell's younger sister, Betty, died when he was 19. She became his mentor and they discussed her work as an opponent of nuclear energy.

He is writing a book about his pursuit of the truth about his aunt's death: "Having sat through the trial of Andrew George, I am satisfied that his conviction was unsafe. There is evidence that he was in her house; however, he could not drive and did not match the description of the driver of Hilda's car.

"Since the trial I have found evidence that would have acquitted him, and that others were involved. Meanwhile, continuing interference with my mail and phone, even in New Zealand, suggests that the British state security authorities fear what my book might reveal about the case."

Not satisfied

The MP, Tam Dalyell, was also unhappy with the verdict. He remains convinced that Miss Murrell's killing was connected to political motives.

West Mercia Police always believed that her death was the result of a bungled burglary and the conspiracy theories were a red herring.

What happened will always be the subject of speculation and conjecture but the fact remains that a 78 year old woman was stabbed and beaten and callously left to die.

In an obituary in the Times newspaper, Charles Sinker said: "Her close friends remember her as a fierce but fundamentally gentle warrior, a Bunyan-like soul of a lonely and constant quest for the real path of the spirit. She died in tragic circumstances, alone in the empty countryside.

"It is an almost intolerable irony that a life so dedicated to peaceful pursuits and to the pursuit of peace, should be terminated by an act of mindless violence."

Hilda Murrell: An enduring enigma
10 Nov 09 |  History


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