Papplewick Dam, Nottinghamshire; John Rawson Walker; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

The Murder of Bessie Sheppard 1817

Many people in Nottinghamshire will have travelled past the stone marking Elizabeth Sheppard’s death in 1817 and not even noticed it as it is now hidden in the undergrowth.  As a teenager I passed the stone every day on my way to school but never really knew anything about who she was or why there was a stone there, but I had heard about her ghost that was said to haunt the A60 where she died with reports of motorists stopping to offer a girl a lift, when she simply disappeared.

The story was well documented at the time and has continued to fascinate ever since. Stories normally only make it onto our blog if they contain at least one new fact, however, we have made an exception in this case as it’s such a tragic story that we think will be of interest and also quite simply because we can!

Newspapers of the day described the girl in this story as Elizabeth Shepherd, not Sheppard which seems strange that they should have got her name wrong in such an important trial. There was a baptism in 1799 for an Elizabeth Shepherd which I think was in all likelihood her, daughter of Richard and Molly. Her burial in the parish records at Papplewick also recorded her as Shepherd.

Church of St James, Papplewick (Geograph; Richard Vince)
Church of St James, Papplewick (Geograph; Richard Vince)

On Monday the 7th July 1817 Elizabeth left her home in the village of Papplewick, Nottinghamshire, to walk to the town of Mansfield some 7 miles away, to seek employment as a servant. She was successful in her mission and began the long walk home – but she never made it back. About 4 miles from home Elizabeth, known as Bessie, was attacked by a Charles Rotherham.

Charles Rotherham, aged about 33, was a former soldier from Sheffield, who having fought in the Napoleonic Wars had taken up the occupation of a scissor grinder, so was presumably earning a living by travelling around the country sharpening knives. There was no reason offered in the newspaper reports as to why he was in that area so we can only presume his trade had led him there.

According to the newspaper reports Rotherham, without a word and with no apparent motive, attacked Bessie with a hedge-stake. He beat her until she died. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser described Bessie as being ‘an interesting girl of 17’ and Rotherham as ‘a monstrous assassin’.

Having found no money upon her person, he stole her new shoes, ones she was wearing for her interview, and her umbrella and threw her body into a ditch. Apparently, shortly after having committed such an appalling crime he continued his journey toward Nottingham, stopping at The Hutt, an Inn, (opposite the entrance to Newstead Abbey, which was until 1816, owned by Lord Byron), for a drink, having passed Bessie’s mother who had set off in search of her daughter who was later than expected. According to the newspapers Bessie’s mother had seen a man with an umbrella on his arm.

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.
Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.

When her body was found the following day in a ditch, it was described as being in a dreadful state with her brain protruding from her skull, one eye knocked out of the socket. Rotherham was quickly pursued and arrested, by Constable Benjamin Barnes, at which time Rotherham allegedly said ‘I am guilty of the crime and must suffer the course of the law’. He was taken to the scene of the crime and showed the officer the stake he had used, but could offer no explanation as to why he had done it, but his clothes showed signs of blood stains. He had money, 6 shillings in fact, in his pocket, so possibly money was not the motive, but he had successfully sold both her shoes and her umbrella.

The Hutt
© Copyright roger geach and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At his trial he entered a plea of guilty, but for some reason the judge persuaded him to change his plea to not guilty. The case was heard, with ‘a considerable number of people called’ including Bessie’s mother; the newspapers reported him as being ‘resigned to his fate’. Right up to the time of his death Rotherham said he had no idea what made him commit such a heinous crime. He was visited by the Rev. Dr. Wood prior to the hanging and seemed to show remorse for what had happened.  His fate, however, was sealed and he was hanged on the 28th July 1817 in Nottingham. Some 20,000 people attended the execution, after which his body was given over to a surgeon for dissection and was then interred at St Mary’s churchyard, Nottingham.

Rotherham left a wife, but no children, plus a brother and two sisters. According to the newspapers he had served as a solider for 12 years in the Artillery Corps and had been present in battles in Egypt, Portugal, Spain and France. Apparently on the day of the murder he had drunk 7 pints of ale in Mansfield before walking to the spot where the crime was committed.

Elizabeth was buried on the 10th July 1817 at St James’ parish church, Papplewick. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser of 13th March 1819, a little under two years later, reported that the local community was so shocked by this murder that money was raised to purchase a stone so that her memory would live on.

On Tuesday night a neat monument was erected on Sherwood Forest, on the spot where this unfortunate female was murdered and on which was engraved the following inscription ‘this monument was erected in memory of Elizabeth Sheppard, of Papplewick, who was murdered on this spot by Charles Rotherham on the 7th July 1817 in  the 17th year of her age.

bessie sheppard

The Bessie Sheppard Stone

Was he guilty? My view is that despite the evidence he was not guilty, surely if he had just beaten someone to death he would not have simply carried on walking to an inn, with blood stained clothes surely he would have wanted to avoid being seen. Wouldn’t Bessie’s mother have recognized the umbrella? Some reports state that Bessie was travelling from Mansfield towards Nottingham and that Rotherham was travelling towards Mansfield when the incident happened i.e. in the opposite direction, if that were the case, did he change his mind and head back toward Nottingham, if not then he could not have passed Bessie’s mother. It also raises the question as to why people felt compelled to mark her death with the stone, not many murders are marked in such a way.

The story of Bessie’s murder lingers on and there are still reported sightings of her ghost and as I grew up I was always aware of the legend that if the stone were ever moved from that spot that she would appear – to answer your question, no, I never saw her ghost.

 Header image: Papplewick Dam, Nottinghamshire; John Rawson Walker; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
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Sally Smith: the ‘ghost’ of Brumby Wood Hall

Brumby Hall
Image courtesy of David Wright.
http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/592174

Brumby Wood Hall in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, now a nursing home but once a fine private mansion, is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a former housekeeper.

Sally Smith, born c.1759, was not just the housekeeper, but also the mistress of the owner, Thomas Pindar Esquire, a reserved and slightly eccentric gentleman some twenty-three years Sally’s senior who displayed ‘monkish habits’ fostered by a long residence in a college.  He had inherited Brumby Wood Hall from his younger brother, the Reverend Robert Pindar who had died in 1795, and Sally presided at the table and over the house, fully mistress of it. The legend says that Sally expected to inherit Brumby (sometimes called Bromby) Wood Hall when her lover died but was cruelly cut out of his will and, in the 1830s, either threw herself from one of the windows or hung herself from the four-poster bed.  Her restless spirit now walks the corridors and grounds of the hall, waiting to hear news of her inheritance.

Thomas Pinder actually died in the May of 1813 aged 77 years and was buried at Owston Ferry in the Isle of Axholme on the fifteenth of that month.  His will, written on the 15th October 1811, far from cutting Sally out, left her the use of his mansion for her life together with the household furniture, carriages and several nearby farms together with a small yearly annuity and Sally lived on at Brumby Wood Hall until her death almost twenty years to the day after that of Thomas Pindar’s.  Sally too was buried at Owston Ferry, on the 24th May 1833, noted in the burial register as being of Brumby Wood Hall.

Her life as mistress of the Hall was not plain sailing though, and it is the dispute ensuing after the reading of Thomas Pindar’s will which has led to the half-remembered tale and the stories of Sally haunting her former home.

In the May of 1822, a singular case was heard at the Lincoln Assizes, brought by Sir Montague Cholmeley against the Honourable John Lygon, younger brother to Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield Court near Malvern in Worcestershire.  Both men had, at times, been the beneficiary of Pindar’s will and Cholmeley contested the final one which had left the life interest in the Hall to Sally Smith.

Thomas Pindar had been a fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford and it was here that he had been introduced to Earl Beauchamp and his younger brother, John Lygon, whose family name had formerly been Pyndar (their father had changed his surname upon inheriting his maternal grandfather’s estate), and a relationship was assumed between them.  The two families regularly corresponded and visited from 1804 and in 1805 Thomas Pinder made a will leaving his fortune to John Lygon. In the same year, he had asked Earl Beauchamp for a substantial loan of £5000, and the Earl had complied with this request.

NPG D22348; John Reginald Pyndar, 3rd Earl Beauchamp by Richard James Lane
John Reginald Pyndar, 3rd Earl Beauchamp.
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

 On the 2nd April 1810, a second will was made; Pindar had wanted Mr Foulkes, an eminent London solicitor, to draw up the will but Foulkes was unwell and instead a Mr Hutton of York was employed.  This will gave the estate of Brumby Wood Hall to John Lygdon in tail male, with ultimate limitation of Lady Cholmeley, Pindar’s niece. Elizabeth Harrison, the daughter of John Harrison and Catherine Pindar of Norton Place, Lincoln, had married Sir Montague Cholmeley, 1st Baronet, on the 14th September 1801 (Catherine Pindar was the daughter of the Reverend Robert Pindar).

Brumby - Harrison pedigree

A month later Hutton was back at Brumby Wood Hall to draw up another will, this one however in favour of Sir Montague Cholmeley’s family and placing Cholmeley’s youngest son in the place formerly occupied by John Lygon.  Hutton added two codicils to this third will, one in August 1810 and one in December to the benefit of Sally Smith.

Sir Montague Cholmeley, who had never visited Pindar at his home, now told friends that he would be benefitted by Pindar’s death, describing Brumby Wood Hall as “a charming little hunting-box here intended for my second son!” But this came to the ears of Pindar and he decided that Lygon should be the beneficiary after all.

Mr Foulkes was now once again summoned and this time complied with the request.  He found Thomas Pindar frail in body, almost bedridden and with little control over his bowels (they were described as being very relaxed), virtually deaf and going blind, but, Foulke’s asserted, still in full control of his mind.  On the 15th October 1811, a fourth and final will was drawn up, this one leaving the Hall to Sally for her lifetime and after her death to John Lygon. Mr Hutton was asked to hand over the will made the year previously but refused to do so.

Brumby - Pindar pedigree

And so the stage was set for a protracted legal battle after Thomas Pindar died in 1813.  Cholmeley alleged that Pindar did not know his own mind when the 1811 will was made and accused Sally of being the person who had instigated it to her own benefit.  Lygon, in turn, accused Hutton of acting in the interests of Cholmeley rather than his client.

Cholmeley had wisely waited until the two men who, along with Foulkes, had witnessed the 1811 will had died before bringing this case to court and he drew on several former servants to Pindar who testified to the old man’s feebleness and mental incapacity. Mr Foulkes dismissed this, claiming that after Sally, whose voice Pindar was familiar with, loudly repeated his words to Pindar the old man was full well able to understand and to ask genuine and rational questions about the execution of the will. Of course, all this provided enough fuel for the local gossips to keep going for many years from the death of Pindar to the case being brought to court nine years later, with Sally made out to be a gold-digging termagant who had had the feeble and kindly old gentleman, and his household, under her control.  Enough to give rise to the legend about her ghost and a missing inheritance which still continues more than 180 years after her death.

The case lasted from nine o’clock on the morning of Wednesday 13th March to half-past five the next day, but at last the jury came to a verdict, finding in favour of John Lygon, who had already added the surname of Pindar (although he chose to spell it Pyndar) on to his own in anticipation of his inheritance.

John Lygon Pyndar, who also succeeded to the title and estate of Earl Beauchamp after the death of his brother in 1823, possibly then tried to recover the £5000 loan given to Thomas Pindar by his brother from the life interest and annuities granted to Sally for, in 1823, Pindar vs Smith was heard in the High Court of Chancery, after which the creditors of the late Thomas Pindar were asked to send in proof of their debts.  Pindar’s earlier wills had provided for repayment of this substantial debt; the last one in 1811 ignored it to Sally’s detriment.

After Sally’s death, a sale of all the household furniture, carriages and livestock at Brumby Wood Hall (detailed below) was made, pursuant to her own will, and John Lygon Pyndar took possession of Brumby Wood Hall and its surrounding estate. We have found no record of the manner of Sally’s death, but this in itself tends to suggest that her end, at the age of 74, was a peaceful one and not suicide.

BROMBY WOOD HALL

Near Burringham Ferry, Lincolnshire

GENTEEL HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, BARREL ORGAN, CARRIAGE, HORSES, BEASTS, SHEEP,

Farming Implements, &c.

TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION

(WITHOUT RESERVE,)

BY MR. DANIELS

At BROMBY WOOD HALL (by order of the Executor of the late Mrs Smith,) on TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY, July 9th and 10th instant, at Ten o’Clock in the Forenoon of each day.

THE Genteel HOUSEHOLD FUNITURE, comprising Mahogany Sideboards; Card, Pembroke, and Round Tables, Rosewood Chiffonier; two Sofas, sets of Mahogany Hair-seated Chairs; Barrel Organ, with fours stops, Piano-Forte; two Cellarets; several Pier and Swing Glasses; Bracket-Clock; Clock in Mahogany Case; Timepiece; Chimney Ornaments; Barometer; Bookcase, and several volumes of Books; Brussels and other Carpets; Hearth Rugs; Four Post and Camp Bedsteads; Mattresses; several Lots of excellent Blankets and Counterpanes; Mahogany and Walnut Chests of Drawers; Dressing Tables; Bed-side and Stair Carpets; Brass Rods; with a large assortment of Kitchen Furniture and Culinary Utensils; a few sides of BACON, 100 Bottles of good RASPBERRY and other English-made WINES; and several other Articles too numerous to insert.

The FARMING STOCK consists of three good Milch Cows; one Calf; two Pigs; twenty-six Ewes and thirty-one Lambs; eight fat Ewes; ten Hogs; one Waggon; two Carts and Gearing; one Stack of Hay; two pieces of Stacks of Hay; Garden Rollers; and sundry lots of Old Wood.

Also, a good TRAVELLING CARRIAGE, with Harness for two Horses, two useful Carriage HORSES; a Brown Hackney PONY; Saddle, Bridle, Side Saddle, &c. &c.

The Sale of the Farming Stock, Carriage, and Horses, will take place on TUESDAY, and the Furniture on WEDNESDAY.

Hull, June 21, 1833.

 

Sources:

Lincolnshire Pedigrees, edited by the Rev. Canon A.R. Maddison, M.A., F.S.A., 1904, volume 3

Lincolnshire Pedigrees, edited by the Rev. Canon A.R. Maddison, M.A., F.S.A., 1906, volume 4

Stamford Mercury, 10th May 1822

Stamford Mercury, 14th March 1823

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 17th May 1823

Hull Packet, 5th July 1833