story of a dysfunctional Todmorden family that
in murder most foul
story begins in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales area of Bainbridge,
takes us to the mill town of Todmorden and ends on the gallows at
the New Bailey Prison, Salford, with a public hanging.
Oswald's at Askrigg
Weatherill was born in Bainbridge, Yorkshire, in 1784, the
son of Miles Weatherill. He had brothers Miles born in 1787
and Richard born in 1789. He also had two sisters, Ann and
Peggy, born in 1777 and 1778 respectively. All were baptised
at St. Oswald's in Askrigg, as there is no Anglican church
in Bainbridge. The village is only served by a chapel and
a Friends Meeting House.
is a fair way to walk to church, so the family more than likely
attended the chapel in Bainbridge, which is possibly where James
picked up his Wesleyan leanings. He became a stonemason and what
prompted him to move to Todmorden is unknown, but whatever the reason
was, it was a decision that sparked off a chain of events that would
culminate in an act so horrific that it is still talked about today,
and at the time even reached the ears of Queen Victoria herself.
1811, James had married a local Walsden girl, Nelly Newell,
who was the sister of Thomas Newell of Strines in Walsden.
James and Nelly settled down to family life and the children
came along as they do, and were all duly baptised at Doghouse
Wesleyan Chapel in Todmorden, the first being born in 1811.
Weleyan Chapel - closed
1827 and converted to housing
was a steady sort of chap, a good and honest worker, who liked a
glass or two with his pals in the beer house after work, having
a joke and a gossip and no doubt washing away the dust from his
throat, the accumulation of the day's work. He knew when to stop,
and was never known to be the worse for drink. Richard,
their son, was born in the year 1818 and from the moment he arrived
a curse seemed to descend on the Weatherill family.
was a wayward lad and always into mischief of some sort or another.
Most lads are when they are young and full of high spirits, but
with Richard, it was as if he had been born full of devilment. He
must have been a sore trial to his upright chapel going parents.
got work on the building of the YORK STREET CHAPEL in 1827
and life revolved around attending chapel, having a bit of
a social life where they could, and trying to make enough
money to give their children a decent education, which James
and Nelly somehow managed to do. Richard, or Dick as he became
known, was sent to learn hand weaving at Priestwell. |
Street Wesleyan Chapel, now demolished
always in the thick of any fun that was going on and more
likely than not, he would be the ring-leader. His
mother got to hear of the goings on an threatened to give him a
good thrashing and send him to bed without any supper on many occasions.
Dick, being the apple of her eye, knew exactly how to get round
her, and on going upstairs he would say "Mother, let's pray!" She
would be completely taken in as always, and Dick would be let off
the thrashing, but would have to forego his supper. A small price
later became a stonemason like his father and was a good worker,
a trait inherited from his father. There the likeness ended, as
Dick liked his ale and was usually to be found in company of the
town's less respectable inhabitants.
the severe winters that sometimes come to this part of the north,
when the masons and their labourers were "frozen out", he was always
on the look out for ways to make an easy penny. One of his tricks
was to cut up a newspaper in the form of a ballad and he would stroll
down the street, singing and selling the sheets at a halfpenny each.
As it was winter, the streets were dark and the customers couldn't
see exactly what they were buying until they got home. Most of them
couldn't help but have a good laugh at his audacity and ingenuity.
of his more audacious antics took place just after the new clock
and bell had been installed at Christ Church about 1837, and it
could have had a more serious outcome than a thrashing and bed without
the historian records it thus:
bell ringer at the time was John Midgley, who was also the "dog
whipper" for the town. The bell weighed one ton and John had trouble
with this. He wasn't a very adept ringer and had overturned the
bell a couple of times, when the rope had drawn him up to a platform
in the steeple and then dropped him to the floor with a wollop.
few young lads heard about this and decided to have a go. They would
creep up into the belfry, but when the service began would join
the congregation, having had their fun.
Weatherill, was a wayward sort of boy, up to all sorts and always
on the look out for any mischief to be found. He, and a couple of
friends decided to stay in the belfry and they spied an archway,
way up in the tower, which led over the flat part of the church
foolishly decided to investigate and went forward, with only couple
of narrow planks of wood for support. Richard, being his usual adventurous
self, found himself over the communion space and at that moment,
he dislodged a plaster ornament which fell from the ceiling, heading
directly for the head of the vicar, Rev. Cowell, who was preaching
the sermon, oblivious to what was about to descend on his head.
congregation watched in open-mouthed horror as the ornament continued
on its downward path. Luckily, it smashed onto the sounding board
above the vicar's head and was fragmented into pieces, which flew
in every direction. It was miracle that no one was hurt and that
Richard himself didn't fall from his precarious perch.
and his associates hot- footed it, but a couple of wardens chased
them and identified who they were. Richard was identified as the
main culprit, no doubt shopped by his "friends" to save themselves
from any repercussions.
Reverend Cowell and the wardens were all for prosecuting the lad,
but with entreaties from his distraught parents, being respectable
and staunch Wesleyans, that he wouldn't do it again, and would be
kept away from the church tower, it was agreed not to take any further
is not recorded if his mother gave him the thrashing he had long
1838, at the time of the TODMORDEN RIOTS there were dragoon soldiers billeted at the inns where there was
enough stabling for their horses and one company of foot soldiers
were stationed at Salford. That particular winter was a harsh one
and the canal, which went by the soldier's quarters, had been frozen
over for 14 weeks. The ice was very thick and the work people had
to cross over it on their way to work every day, using it just like
a road. Soon, the ice-boat was able to get through and break up
the ice. Dick was watching, along with some soldiers and a few other
people. He couldn't resist showing off and proceeded to run back
and forth across the canal on the broken bits of ice, using them
like stepping-stones. He continued his antics, even though the ice
pieces were drifting away, no doubt encouraged and urged on by the
crowd, who may have been secretly hoping that he would fall in.
on, in about 1843, when Dick was married, he was working with his
father at Knowlwood Bottom for Mr. Robertshaw, putting new chimneys
on the houses, when his mother arrived with their dinners. It
started to rain and she noticed that James was working without his
coat, so she told Dick to tell him it was raining. Dick replied,
in a joking manner, that if he couldn't tell for himself then he
would get wet!!
was never known to refuse a dare and became a well known figure,
often to be seen on the rooftops of Todmorden, demanding money from
his family and threatening to throw himself off if they didn't comply.
It isn't known if he ever got any money from them, but he never
threw himself off.
Botolph's at Horsehouse in Coverdale
married Alice Horner, a farmer's daughter from Coverdale
in Yorkshire, in 1839, and they set up home in Union Street
in Todmorden. It
is possible that Alice's family knew the Weatherills, as
Coverdale is only 10 miles away from Bainbridge, and it
seems strange that a girl from so far away would be in Todmorden
unless she knew someone who lived there. She had been baptised
at St. Botolph's at Horsehouse in Coverdale in 1815.
children came along and their first son John was born in 1841 followed
by Miles in 1845 and then a daughter Sarah Ann in 1850. Married
life didn't change Richard's ways and he continued to carry on as
before. His behaviour became more and more eccentric and at one
point he locked baby Miles in a drawer and told his wife that a
tramp had taken him away. Alice must have been distraught at the
thought of her baby in a tramp's hands. Anything could happen to
him; he could be sold, killed, left to die or something worse. How
relieved she must have been when he was found and how she must have
wondered how she came to have married such a man as Richard.
lifestyle caught up with him before long and he developed phthisis,
which led to his death on the 13th September 1850 at York Street,
Todmorden. He was 32 years old. At his side when he died was his
married sister Sarah Lawson of Union Street. An early grave for
a man who had lived life as he wanted, without regard for others.
brothers and sisters did a little better for themselves.
William became a tailor and his sister Sarah became a dressmaker,
married John Lawson, a tea dealer from Bradford, and ran
a business in Union Street. In
1851, all the families are living near to each other in
York Steet, Union Street and Back Brook Street.
by kind permission of Roger Birch
James Weatherill was 75 when he died, accidentally killed in July
1859 when the joiner's shop on Union Street belonging to John Holden
collapsed, killing himself and Abraham Crossley (Old Tickler) who
were working there at the time. Even at 75 James was working, evidence
of his diligent and hard working nature. His
wife, Nelly, suffered such a shock when she the news of this accident
that she never recovered from it and died two months later. They
are buried together in the graveyard at Christ Church.
Memory of James and Nelly Weatherill
after living together in each others affections for 54 years,
departed this life as follows
James was killed July 5th 1859
Aged 75 years
Nelly died September 18th 1859
Aged 77 years
bodies shall slumber in Jesus awhile
Till the trumpet resounds thro the sky
Then bursting the fetters of death with a smile They shall
enter the mansions on high
tragedy was to come.
Richard died, leaving Alice a widow, she moved to Back Brook Street
and made her living as a charwoman. With children to feed and school,
she also took in lodgers to supplement her income. This
was not a particularly nice area of the town at that time and there
were lodging houses in every street, full with characters from all
walks of life, much as in any other mill town of that period.
grew up in these streets, with only a vague recollection of his
father, as he was only five when he died. He would have been spoiled
by his grandparents, much as his father had been before him and
he had been named after his great grandfather, so would have no
doubt have had a special place in his grandfather's affections.
His mother, being a charwoman and running a lodging house, would
have left Miles and his siblings plenty of time to get into all
sorts of mischief and no doubt they did. It wasn't the best start
in life for a child, but many others would be in the same predicament
and all would grow up very "street wise." Many thought that he was
going to grow up with his father's inclination for trouble and watched
with interest as the young Miles grew into manhood.
became a weaver and maybe the turning point in his life came with
the death of his grandparents when he was 14. It is an impressionable
age and no doubt left a feeling of great loss in his life. He now
had his mother and sister Sarah, to look after. Both were said to
be a little backward, so as not to be able to do the simplest of
started to discover that there was more to life than playing around
and Miles wanted to better himself. He taught himself to read and
write, which in the days when education was not compulsory, was
no mean feat. Once he got the taste for learning, he would haunt
the reading rooms, keeping himself up to date with news of the day
and he attended Sunday school and church regularly. He became a
Sunday School teacher and was very well thought of by the vicar.
He was a smart, well groomed and not bad looking man, who obviously
looked after himself. Then
in 1867, he fell in love.
object of his affections was Sarah Elizabeth Bell, a sixteen
year old cook at the vicarage. Her home was in York, about
60 miles away, and the vicar, Mr. Plow, had assured her family
that he would look after and take responsibility for her whilst
she was in his service.
wanting to do things in the proper manner, asked the vicar's
permission to court Sarah, but the vicar refused him his request.
also refused to let Sarah have her usual Sundays out, when they
could have met away from the vicarage, and the Reverend's eyes. Love
found a way, as it does, and Miles and Sarah continued to meet clandestinely.
Sarah, being only 16, and unable to keep their meetings a secret,
told Jane Smith, another maid at the vicarage. The outcome was that
Jane told Mrs. Plow, who in turn told Mr. Plow.
vicar immediately sent Sarah back to her home in York, saying
that she had disobeyed his orders and was not to be trusted.
This was on November 1st. 1867. Sarah was later to deny
this and say that she left of her own accord.
and Miles kept in touch by letters, which didn't satisfy
him at all, and he urged Sarah to come back to Todmorden
and get another job there, then they could show the Plows
that they couldn't be separated. However, Sarah
was happy where she was in the new post that she had acquired,
so Miles had to be content with that.
the end of February 1868, Miles paid a weekend visit to York to
see Sarah and to try and get to the bottom of her leaving Todmorden
in the first place. She
told him of the part that Jane Smith had played, with her telling
tales to the vicar about their secret meetings.
frame of mind Miles left York in we can only guess at, but in all
probability he would have been very angry, and the journey home
by train would only serve to give him time to brood more on the
awful injustices dealt to them by the Plow family and Jane Smith
left York and caught the 7-50 Todmorden train on Monday 2nd March,
and by the time he reached home he had formed his plan for the revenge
of his doomed love affair. Between his arrival at Todmorden and
10pm that evening, his friends said he was his usual self. He met
up with them and they had their usual evening out and Miles left
them at 10pm saying he was going home, but instead he went to the
Black Swan for a whisky, with his plan ready to be carried out.
He had 4 pistols and a hatchet, carried in a leather belt specially
cut so as to hold them. They were concealed by his overcoat. He
had earlier bought some caps and shot from Houldsworth's ironmongers.
vicarage and church in 1868
made his way to the vicarage and proceeded to tie the scullery
door and the back door together with strong twine, so that
nobody from inside could get out that way. Jane Smith heard
the noises and informed Mr. Plow, who went out of the front
door to see what was going on. He encountered Miles and a
scuffle ensued in which the Reverend Plow was shot at, but
as the pistol didn't fire Miles set about him with the hatchet.
Spink, a servant living at the vicarage at the time, grappled with
Miles and grabbed hold of his hair to pull him away from Mr. Plow.
She entreated him to "be quiet, do", to no avail. They
struggled between themselves until they reached the dining room,
which is where things got a little confused, but what likely took
place is that Jane Smith came to help and on seeing her, Miles was
confronted with the object of all his anger and hatred.
lunged at her in a fury of blows with the hatchet to the head, and
she was bleeding profusely as she managed to stagger back into the
dining room and shut the door. Miles had dropped the hatchet and
another servant, Mary Hodgson, had picked it up. Mr. Plow had also
managed to wrench the pistol from him, so no doubt they would feel
that they were safe.
wrong they were. At this point Miles produced a second pistol and
aimed a shot at the Reverend Plow who managed to wrench the pistol
from him. He staggered out of the house and arrived at the home
of William Greenwood, the church organist, in Well Lane. What a
shock he must have had when he opened the door to find the vicar
standing there, covered in blood, with no hat or shoes on.
at the vicarage, Elizabeth Spink was trying her best to make
Miles see reason, but he was too enraged. He picked up a pistol
that he had dropped, flung her to one side, threw open the
dining room door and shot Jane Smith. Jane screamed and Elizabeth
ran out of the vicarage to Dr. Cockroft, who lived about 250
yards away, for help.
was dead. Miles then ran up the stairs to find Mrs. Plow.
She was in bed with her month old daughter, Hilda Catherine.
The monthly nurse she had employed, Margaret Ball, was with
them. They had heard the noises and Margaret had gone part
way down the stairs to see what was happening.
seen the commotion and the fighting, Margaret ran back to Mrs. Plow
and the baby and they then heard the shot which had killed Jane
Smith. From the landing, Margaret Ball saw Miles cleaning and reloading
his pistol, and start up the stairs with a poker in one hand and
a pistol in the other.
tried to stop Miles getting into the bedroom, standing with her
back against the door, but she was no match for his strength, heightened
by his now insane rage. He pushed open the door and Margaret ran
out and down the stairs to open the front door to the people who
were now banging on it.
removed the baby in it's cradle from the bed and shot Mrs. Plow
twice through the bedclothes. She tried desperately to get away
from him and pleaded with him not to harm the baby. She got trapped
between the wall and the bed in her efforts to escape him and he
set upon her with the poker. He inflicted terrible injuries on her
before she had the presence of mind to feign death.
this time the house was full of police and helpers, summoned by
Mr. Plow and Elizabeth Spink. George Stansfield, the Parish Clerk,
was first on the scene and took hold of Miles by the arm and led
him downstairs where he gave him into the custody of the Constable,
Mr. Binks. Miles was a spent force, the anger and hate had gone
to be replaced by a sense of the inevitability of the outcome.
Cockroft, who was also on the scene, attended to Mrs. Plow and her
husband. Mrs. Plow was back in her bed and when he examined her
he found that she was bleeding from severe wounds on her forehead
and nose. She was in great pain and was breathing through the wound
in her nose, caused by the attack.
baby had to be taken from Mrs. Plow as she was in no fit state to
look after her and she was taken to the house of Mr. Molesworth,
the Deputy Coroner.
was kept overnight in the lock up at the bottom of Ferney Lee and
brought before the magistrates the following day, Tuesday March
the 3rd at 5pm. He was in the charge of Superintendent Pickering
of Rochdale, attended by Sergeant Riding of the local police force.
The examination was opened at 5-30pm. by the magistrates, Abraham
Ormerod, John Fielden and Joshua Fielden. It
was adjourned until Friday March 6th .
Smith was buried on Tuesday March 3rd at Christ Church. They brought
the body from the vicarage to the church, and walked in procession
as the choir sang a hymn.
First came the boys, then the men, then the surgeon, followed
by the corpse carried by four men. The mourners came next,
then the teachers and the elder scholars. The coffin was made
of elm and a cross was carved in relief over the length and
breadth of it. The inscription read "Jane Smith, she fell
asleep in Jesus, March 2nd. 1868
examination held on Friday 6th March at the Black Swan was attended
by Mr. Plow, Margaret Ball, Sarah Elizabeth Bell, George Houldsworth
(ironmonger) and Dr. Cockroft.
was brought to the courthouse in a cab and there was such
a large crowd gathered to see him, that the magistrates, the
officials of the court, and the reporters couldn't get in. Evidence
was given by all the witnesses called and Miles was committed
to trial at Manchester Assizes on the charge of murder.
Black Swan. Photo by kind permission of Roger Birch
Anthony John Plow
week later, on Friday the 13th March, Mr. Plow died from
the results of his injuries. He had seemed to be rallying
and had appeared to be much better when he gave evidence
at the court. It would seem that he suffered an inflammation
of the brain and became delirious. Many said that he should
never have been called to give evidence, but being the sort
of man that he was, he was adamant that he should. It would
have been a neglect of duty on his part, not to do so. On
the same day, baby Hilda Catherine also died, though whether
from any effects of the murders or from other causes is
However, it seems another innocent victim was added to the list
of deaths. An inquest had to be held on the death of Rev. Plow and
again it was held at the Black Swan, where a jury brought in the
verdict of murder by Miles Weatherill.
news of this murder reached far and wide and even the Queen got
to hear of it. She gave Lady Augusta Stanley leave to express Her
Majesty's sympathy to the widow of the late Reverend Plow.
funeral of the Rev. Plow was the grandest that Todmorden could give.
He had a lying in state on Saturday March 14th and the body was
covered in a silk cassock and covered in flowers from head to foot,
the flowers having been provided by the neighbouring gentry.
body was watched night and day by visiting clergy, (requested by
Mr. Plow before he died), and two lights were kept burning all the
while. The baby was at his side, covered in pure white flowers.
the Saturday evening, all the senior members of the choir, the scholars
of the Sunday School and Wadsworth Mill Mission paid there respects
to the body and on the Sunday, about one hundred of the congregation
were allowed to view it. He
was buried on Monday March 16th., a day which was bitterly cold,
with occasional showers of hail.
church opened it's doors at 9am and was filled almost immediately.
There were also 26 clergymen, 2 choirs, Sunday School pupils, the
general public and 6 chief mourners.
The coffins of Mr. Plow and his baby daughter were of elm
and Mr. Plow's was draped with a violet pall worked with a
cross of red and yellow. The baby's was covered with a white
pall with a red cross on it. After
the service over a thousand people viewed the grave. To show
respect, all the shops in Todmorden drew their blinds between
10 and 12 o'clock. They were buried in a grave near to Jane
was held in the prison at the NEW BAILEY IN SALFORD until his trial
at the Manchester Assizes on March 20th 1868.
Assizes 1868 photo with kind permission of Manchester
Library and Information Service: Manchester Archives and Local Studies.
Elizabeth Bell was the main interest on the part of the
crowd in the court. All were wanting to see this innocent
cause of the murders. They were to be disappointed as she
was dressed in black with a veil over her face and her face
looking downwards all the time. She never looked at Miles.
She seemed older than her 17 years, no doubt the events
had taken their toll on her.
of the witnesses was Elizabeth Spink, who along with Mary Hodgson
had fought bravely to try and protect their master and mistress
from the frantic blows that Miles was delivering. The
judge awarded Elizabeth £5 and Mary £2.10s.0d for their
summing up, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and the judge
sentenced Miles to death by hanging.
were various comments in the newspapers about Miles and the outcome
of the trial. One,
a phrenologist, said that he would be dangerous if thwarted and
another report stated that it was thought he must have been either
mad or drunk to have committed such crimes, bur no evidence of either
was found. Some
likened him to a Jekyll and Hyde character, quiet and thoughtful,
a regular attendant at church, school and reading room one minute
and transformed into a raging fiend the next.
letter to the press, written on Monday March 30th 1868 and published
in the Manchester Examiner and Times was later reprinted in the
Todmorden Advertiser on April 4th by an unnamed "Todmordian" who
had employed Miles for three years, and who clearly thought that
Miles had a taint of insanity and that the facts of this had not
been made known to his counsel. He
was sure that if they had been fully known, then the jury would
have been instructed to recommend mercy. He
says that he had written the letter in the hope that the matter
would be looked into and a petition sent to the Home Secretary in
the means of obtaining a commutation of the death sentence. He was
basing his insanity theory on the outrageous behaviour of Miles'
father Richard, and also said that Miles' mother was "weak in intellect."
It was also common knowledge that his sister was regarded as nearly
"idiotic." None of this appeared to have any effect on the verdict,
and it stood.
was kept in the NEW BAILEY PRISON until the day of his execution,
April 4th 1868. He was allowed visitors, but only certain ones were
allowed to see him. Joseph Firth snr., who had known Miles a long
time was not allowed in, but John Dawson, a local preacher and magistrate,
was, and he remarked that Miles had gloated, "I will open Jane's
secrets before all Todmorden." However,
he said nothing about the reason for his attack on her and the Plow
secret Miles knew about Jane was that she had an illegitimate child.
Her parents, George and Elizabeth, had five children one of whom
was Jane born 1843. George died in 1848 leaving Elizabeth, his wife
to raise the young family. She opened a dame school. Jane had an
illegitimate daughter, who she left in the care of her mother whilst
she went out to work. This
was the secret that Miles knew but never revealed.
wrote letters whilst in jail and two are worth the reading. The
first one to his mother and sister and the second to a friend.
dear mother and sister,
must be very painful to you to know I am in prison and what is worse,
condemned to die. Well, you must bear it as well as you can. You
will be allowed to see me once or twice more in my cell, then you
must bid me farewell for ever.. You will be very sorry when you
hear I have not repented of my sins, but I will try my best to meet
both you and Sarah in heaven. You must not think it hard of me because
I write to Sarah more than you. You know I look upon that good girl
as my wife, though she is not, but I think she would be if I was
only free. I think that you will have found it out before now that
she is a good girl. Ah! She is too good for me...I will draw to
a close, and hope we may all meet in heaven.
yours, dear mother and sister, affectionately.
thought I would write a few lines to you as you have been so kind.
I suppose you know I have been found guilty, and that I shall have
to be hung. It is an awful and shameful death to die, but I have
deserved it and there is no chance left. I was very sorry when I
heard that Mr. Plow and the babe were dead. Oh! I hope there will
be no more to die, it is so terrible to think of. I wish he had
given me the privilege of keeping company with Sarah. I would not
have cared for going into the house if he had only let her have
her Sunday outs, but he would not, and oh, what has it come to.
If he had given me the chance, what a different man I should have
been. I should have been a teacher in the Sunday School, a communicant
in the Church, and if I had once more taken of that Holy feast,
it would have been a heavenly feast to my soul, for I would not
have taken that Holy Communion in mockery as a cloak to make people
I was good. No, I should have taken an interest in doing what good
I could for the school and church, and in the long run he would
have found me a useful man. And what a comfort I should have been
to my poor mother and sister and how happy my Sarah would have been.
We did not want to get married just then, but I would have married
her before she left Todmorden had she been willing. No, I wanted
to get a better trade and make a little more money than I had. Then
I would have married her and been happy with her, but when she left
Todmorden, there was a turning point in me. Yes, I turned wild,
I cared little what I did. I spent all my money, I saw nothing but
poverty and despair and now I am condemned to die. Ah I was a changed
man when she left, ah, I am sorry to say, changed for the worse.
shall soon be parted from her for ever in this world but I will
try to meet her in heaven, but there is only poor signs yet of me,
for my heart is yet hardened, but I will try to die a true penitent.
See you live for another and better world for Christ has died to
save us all, and may we all meet in heaven.
You can do as you like with this letter, I will find no fault with
you if you publish it. I am not ashamed.
it seems that Miles admitted that he had turned a bit wild
when Sarah left Todmorden. Maybe the balance of his mind was
affected by this and the crime was indeed committed whilst
he was in a state of insanity. Whatever the reason, the fact
remained that he was to be hung on Saturday, April 4th. 1868
outside the New Bailey Prison.
New Bailey Prison
the day of the execution drew near, crowds started gathering, anxious
to get good places from which to view the grisly scene. Shop keepers
in New Bailey Street were letting out their windows for large sums
of money and on the Friday afternoon, people from the country districts
started to arrive. Many people from Todmorden had walked to Manchester
overnight to see the hanging, one being Willie Crowther, the Church
scaffold had been erected on the Thursday outside the New Bailey
and all that was left was for it to be draped in black. Barriers
were erected to stop the traffic and Stanley Street, where the entrance
to the prison was situated, was closed by a 12 foot high barricade.
A lot of people drifted off after 11 o'clock on Friday night, leaving
a few groups of rough and ready scoundrels assembled near to the
scaffold, about 200 in all, most of them straggling along the street
and sleeping in the doorways.
newspaper report paints a clear picture of the scene and gives an
insight into the crowd at a public hanging:
"A good staff of police was in attendance, and the arrangements were
such as to suppress any disturbance that might arise, but no interference
was necessary. To have attempted to stop the ribald and disgusting
behaviour, such as is customarily exhibited at public executions
would have led to consequences of a by no means pleasant character,
and the populace were allowed to indulge in the full flow of their
spirits, coarse and vulgar as they were. Some of the popular songs
of the day, mingled with jokes and attempted witticisms were the
prevailing source of amusement"
enterprising folk were selling hot drinks from stalls, but the crowd
became so dense that they had to leave for their own safety.
midnight, 200 police were in attendance and by 7 o'clock in the
morning the crowd had grown to 10,000. Between 7 and 8 o'clock this
had increased to 20,000, filling everywhere as far as the eye could
see and jamming into the shop windows, all jostling for a good view.
Popular songs were still being sung to relieve the waiting, a scripture
reader was lecturing near the railway bridge and in other parts
people were shouting "Rule Britannia" It
was a ribald crowd and the very lowest of society was there, their
behaviour becoming more and more disgusting and the only saving
grace was the general absence of women.
hearing all the commotion outside, couldn't sleep, but after about
one in the morning, when it had abated somewhat, he managed an hour
or so. He was awakened about 2, by the crowd, and slept no more.
The prison chaplain, Rev. W. Caine and Mr. Thomas Wright were with
him, and reported that Miles was in a better frame of mind than
he had ever been, but it was deemed proper not to administer the
Holy Sacrament. He
expressed his sadness at the plight of the Plow family and was sorry
for the ruin he had brought on them.
then spent the time in prayer and was praying when the executioner,
William Calcraft, arrived to proceed with the operation
of pinioning his arms. He won the admiration of the hangman
with his attitude and dignity and Calcraft remarked that
he had never met such nerve and resolution. Calcraft was
the Chief Public Executioner, a post he had held for many
kept up a conversation with the Rev. Caine and Mr. Wright during
this process and seemed most cheerful. This was at a quarter to
eight and at 8
o'clock precisely, when the prison bell tolled the hour, the procession
came into view of the scaffold.
Faherty, a man who had murdered a Droylsden girl, was being executed
along with Miles and he was the first to ascend the steps to the
gallows, looking upwards all the time. He was wearing a cross on
his breast and was attended by the Catholic Father Gadd.
climbed the steps without the least hesitation, and seemed almost
glad that the time had come. He prayed as he climbed, with a prayer
book in his hand. He then had to wait until Calcraft, the hangman,
had prepared Faherty for death by placing a white cap over his head
and adjusting the noose around his neck. Miles seemed undaunted
by this and watched intently as the hangman performed his awful
task. He was heard to say, as one of the guards took him by the
arm, "You need not hold me. I can stand by myself."
then called Miles to the drop, an act which was the signal for an
outburst of cries from the mob watching. He underwent the same preparations
as Faherty, praying all the while. Calcraft shook hands with both
men, then stepping from the platform, he withdrew the bolt. Miles
died immediately but Faherty struggled slightly. Miles last words
were "God have Mercy upon my soul."
bodies were left to hang for an hour and then cut down and taken
into the prison where they would be buried later that afternoon.
This was the last public hanging in Manchester. The New Bailey Prison
closed, Strangeways was opened, and executions took place behind
Plow didn't live long after the ordeal she had been through.
She died at Wantage in Berkshire on the 19th March 1869, just
12 months and two days after seeing her husband and baby daughter
Four sad deaths and a hanging, all victims of circumstance
and fate. Miles' father no doubt contributed by passing on
some of his wilder traits to his son, but only Miles would
know why he had perpetrated such evil deeds on innocent people,
and those he took to the grave.
mother would have had to endure the snide remarks, the sideways
glances and the shame that always accompanies these tragic affairs.
Her innocence would count for nothing once the town gossips got
to work, and she was another innocent victim of the affair. His
sister, Sarah Ann, would also suffer at the hands and tongues of
the same gossips.
Ann was married in 1877 to William Beagle, a carpenter from Lincolnshire,
and she, along with her mother, went to live in a small village
called Whaplode Drove in Lincolnshire, in between Spalding and Wisbech,
where William carried on the trade of carpenter and wheelwright.
Alice returned to Todmorden sometime before June in 1881, which
is when she passed away on the 18th. of that month at Baker Street,
Harley Bank, aged 65. She lived long enough to see two grandsons
born, Robert in 1879 and Wilford in 1880, which may have brought
a little comfort to her.
grandparents had passed away before these events took place, which
was a blessing, the shame would have been unbearable for two decent
upright people who had tried in vain to keep Miles' father in check,
but even his antics paled beside the enormity of what Miles had
done and it would have broken their hearts.
would be no "thrashing and upstairs with no supper" for Miles.
post script to this story is a strange coincidence. A descendent
of William Calcroft, the executioner, married a descendent of CANON EDWARD RUSSELL, who was vicar of Todmorden from 1883-1910.
the time, it was normal to issue broadsheets commenting on current
affairs and this is one that was being sold in the streets in 1868.
his Sweetheart, Sarah Bell.
prisoner, Weatherill, was executed at Manchester, on Saturday April
4th for the murder of Jane Smith, at Todmorden, a fellow servant
of Sarah Bell.
give attention, you pretty maidens,
tale of love I will here unfold,
you will say, when the same is mentioned,
as sad a story as ever yet was told:
Weatherill was a brisk young weaver,
at Todmorden did happy dwell,
fell in love with a pretty maiden,
parson's servant named Sarah Bell.
was at Todmorden where these true lovers,
the parson's house, tales of love did tell,
none on earth could be more constant,
Miles the weaver and young Sarah Bell.
in each heart was true love engrafted,
had sworn for ever to happy be,
power on earth could those lovers sever,
met in joy and felicity;
they parted, and broken hearted,
was those true lovers far,
constant lovers adorned each other,
love will penetrate through iron bars.
Weatherill was but three and twenty,
mind was noble, he good did mean,
Sarah Bell was fair and virtuous,
blooming, aged seventeen;
would have married, but tales were carried,
caused displeasure, as you shall hear,
was refused to meet his lover,
she left Todmorden, in Lancashire.
left her true-love quite broken hearted,
to her mother at York did go,
when such a distance from each other parted,
them sorrow, grief, pain, and woe;
a fit of sadness, overcome with madness,
made a deep and solemn vow,
separated from his own tru lover,
would be revenged on Parson Plow.
loaded pistols, in a fit of frenzy,
to the Vicarage did haste forethwith,
with a weapon wounded the master,
shot the maiden, named Jane Smith;
the lady's bedchamber, in rage and anger,
on destruction, with intent to kill,
did ill treat her, with a poker and beat her,
her crimson blood on the floor did spill.
God, in mercy guide evil passions,
seest all things from heaven above,
innocent lives has been sacrificed,
one serious injured all through true love,
they'd not been parted, made broken hearted,
in the grave would be living now,
Miles would not have died on the gallows,
slaying the maiden and Parson Plow.
men and maidens, you constant lovers,
true and honourable you make a vow,
just and upright, and oh, remember,
Vicarage and Parson Plow;
all good people, oh, pray consider,
true love is planted, there let it dwell,
recollect the Todmorden murder,
Miles the weaver, and Sarah Bell.
and the true love by death is parted,
health and bloom, he the world did leave,
his true love, quite broken hearted,
Miles the weaver, in paid do grieve;
the early age of three and twenty,
the shades below, with the worms do dwell,
the fatal drop, he cried, broken hearted,
we meet in heaven, my sweet Sarah Bell.
Disley, Printer, 57, High Street, St. Giles, London, W.C.)
give our grateful thanks to the Todmorden Antiquarian Society for
for the photographs of the main participants