Grisly Goings on in Brackenfield

A Medieval Murder

“Nicholas, son of Robert de Brackentheyt, struck Richard le Kyng in the vill of Brackentheyt with a certain heavy axe used by woodcutters, so that he died straight away. The person who first found the body is dead. Nicholas, a man of evil report, at once fled. Wherefore he is without, and an outlaw. His chattels are worth 3s, for which the Sheriff will answer”.

From the Assize rolls for Derbyshire 1269 – Translated in the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 1896. Vol XVIII

During the Victorian era, the area around rural Brackenfield was witness to several cases of grisly murder.

Murder at Coldharbour Farm

Coldharbour Lane leads from Brackenfield, via Mathers grave, to Ashover Hay – Today it is a quiet leafy lane, giving no hint of the horrific events that took place there on August 22nd 1832.

On that summer’s day, Suzanna Sellars, aged 30, was working her ‘stocking frame’ at Coldharbour Farm – The making of hosiery on frames was a common way for farmers’ wives to supplement the family income. As Suzanna worked, a stranger arrived at the farmhouse asking for a drink. The caller was Samuel Chadwick of Crich, described in contemporary reports as ‘a man of weak intellect’. Fetching a drink for Samuel proved to be the last thing Suzanna ever did, for as she turned her back on him, he suddenly, and for no apparent reason, ‘attacked her with a chopper and split her head open’.

Source: E.C.Lugard: Saints and Sinners, the Inns and Outs of Ashover.

Friday 13th – A Murderous Mistake

It was Friday 13th of November 1857 when James Simpson, a 36-year-old Wesleyan Reform preacher, left his 25-acre farm at Appletree Knoll near Ashover to walk to Alfreton.

After selling some butter at the market and buying provisions, he set off to walk home, accompanied by Joseph Boar, a servant at nearby Overton Hall. It was 3.00pm, and no doubt the two men hoped to be back in Ashover before dark. Their route took them through Shirland and Higham to Ogston Hall in Brackenfield, where they parted company. Preacher Simpson no doubt walked through Brackenfield and on towards Ashover Hill, when at 5.00pm, less than a mile from home, his journey ended suddenly and dramatically.

At the meeting of three roads near Fabrick Wood at Ashover Hill top, a gunshot rang out and Simpson fell dead! A local man, Joseph Fletcher, who owned nearby Alton Colliery, found Simpson bleeding in the road. Fletcher often passed that way on a Friday afternoon with the weekly wages for his workmen, drawn from a bank in Alfreton. Ashover surgeon Peter Skidmore was sent for, arriving at the scene at 5.30pm, and the wounded man was taken to his own house where he died three hours later.

Simpson had been robbed of a ‘crimson-lined purse containing 12 shillings in silver and a verge watch, but there seemed to be no other motive for the shooting. One Sergeant Gammon, of the recently formed Derbyshire Constabulary, which was based in Ashover, investigated the crime, but despite a £100 reward offered for information, and the apprehension of a suspect called Richard Hodgkinson, a ‘besom-maker’ from Starkholmes, the crime was never solved – There was simply insufficient evidence to make a conviction.

One theory is that the victim, Simpson, died because of a case of mistaken identity. Possibly the murderer’s intended target was the collier owner Joseph Fletcher, who regularly passed that spot with his Friday afternoon cargo of cash.

A lucky day for Fletcher… a very unlucky one for Simpson, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Source: Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths In and Around Chesterfield.

Murder at Lindway lane Farm

Lindway Lane runs off the A615 Matlock to Alfreton road, and at the end of it lay Lindwaylane Farm, scene of a violent and fatal attack which took place on the 9th May 1896.

The farm was typical of the area; a 30-acre holding farmed by the Boot family – In the 1891 census records for Brackenfield, they are listed as Harry and Emma, a married couple in their fifties, with children Sarah, John, Dennis and Elizabeth, or Lizzie, who was 13 at the time. By the fatal spring of 1896 she was just 19, and acting as housekeeper for her parents. William Pugh, a 21-year-old unemployed collier from Shirland pit, called at the farm intending (so newspaper reports later alleged) to steal money, but Pugh had another reason to visit the farm – He nursed a grudge against Lizzie Boot, due to some disparaging remarks she had made when he attempted to court a local girl called Sarah Saunders.

The 1891 census lists a Saunders family as the Boot’s neighbours in Lindway Lane, so doubtless Lizzie and Sarah knew each other. Pugh had boasted to Sarah that he had ‘£8.00 in money’ and intended to ‘stand her treat at Alfreton’. Lizzie, knowing that Pugh had not worked for some time and was in fact penniless, evidently foiled his plans with Sarah.

The ne’er-do-well planned his revenge, and choosing a time when most of its occupants were out, Pugh knocked at the farmhouse door. Under some pretext, he lured Lizzie into the barn and ‘allegedly’ told her he intended to kill her for what she had said about him. He lashed out with a billhook, and the first blow struck her across the hand, perhaps as she tried to defend herself; the second slashed her throat. Leaving his victim dying on the barn floor, Pugh headed for the farmhouse, presumably intending to take what money he could, however Elizabeth’s niece had already witnessed him going into the barn with Lizzie, and had raised the alarm – His escape was foiled when a third person arrived.

William Pugh always denied the murder, but later confessed to ‘helping a friend’ move the body; hence the blood on his clothing! A jury of his peers failed to believe his story, and he was hung in Derby on the 5th of August 1896, aged just 21, with 2000 onlookers. Lizzie Boot is said to be buried at Holy Trinity Church in Brackenfield, under a headstone bought by parishioners as a memorial to the young victim of the Lindwaylane Farm murder.

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