Greave Murder

The remote farm of Greave was the scene of a murder in 1827 that made headlines in newspapers all across the country. A policeman was even sent from London to  solve the gruesome crime. The most comprehensive account of the ‘horrid murder’ was in the Manchester Mercury, June 5, 1827. The details give both a detailed description of the character of the victim and conjures up the remoteness of Greave, the farm where the murder took place.  The farming community of Greave which comprised 2, possibly 3 farmsteads has been in the possession  my Shackleton ancestors since 1790 that I can trace directly, but there were  Shackletons living there four centuries ago.  A  1604 survey of the Savile estate lists 26 farmsteads in Wadsworth, 14 of which were owned by Shackletons and the document specifically mentions 2 at Good Greave. A detailed website belonging to John Shackleton documents the story of the Shackletons of Widdop, putting them into their historic context. John has been helpful in my quest to discover more about my Shackleton ancestry. How does this tie in with my family tree? Well, Gibson Butterworth married Isabella (nee Wolfenden) following the death of her first husband Thomas Shackleton(1842-1890), one of the Shackleton dynasty. Isabella had been living with her parents John and Hannah Wolfenden in one of the Greave farms and so, after her marriage, at the age of 16, she moved in with ‘the man next door’ – to another of the Greave farms.

HORRID MURDER, WADSWORTH, NEAR COLNE. In one of the wildest and most sequestered spots in Yorkshire, distance about 13 miles from Halifax and 7 from Colne, and within 2  or 3 miles  of the Lancashire border in a district celebrated for majestic scenery. In this nook of  the country, a place called Good Greave in the township of Wadsworth, is situated; the former is the scene of this horrid crime; it consists of only four houses, two them separated from the rest  by a distance of about a quarter of a mile and the nearest them within a mile of  the Halifax and Colne road. Stretching towards Colne, Haworth, or to Blackstone-edge in different directions, the  township of Wadsworth consists of  heaths and the deep ravines running between them. Nearly the foot of steep aclivity, and within short distance of one of the gullies which carry off the waters from the mountains lived James Shackleton, an old man in the 7lst year of his age. In the dwelling where his existence was at last prematurely terminated, he first drew breath; that and the surrounding acres, were his paternal estate, and by  careful habits and moderate desires, he had rendered himself a man of considerable substance. Satisfied with much less of the good things of this life than he had the ability to purchase, in what he did enjoy a brother and sister, also advanced in years, but younger than himself, participated; the three having chose a  life of celibacy, they were restricted so far as regards family and social intercourse, to themselves, except, indeed, their nephew, residing just at hand, who had a wife and  three children.

On the night of Wednesday the 23rd ult. about half past nine o’clock in the evening, the unfortunate victim, James Shackleton and and a man named Richard Smith, an aged house-carpenter dwelling in the house until had completed a few jobs, were sitting over a cheerful fire of peat, waiting the return of Thomas Shackleton, the old man’s brother, who had gone a short distance from home, on some business, relative  to the formation of a new road. The sister Mary Shackleton  had gone to  bed, when six men entered the house, armed with bludgeons, and one of them, going up  to James Shackleton, said “he wanted to  purchase a cow.” This excited some astonishment in the old man, who replied that “that was a very odd time to come on such a business.”  A demand instantly followed for his money, with which the old man hesitating to comply, the carpenter, Smith, said, “James, if you have any money, pray give it them.” Two cur-dogs in the house barked most furiously at the villains who struck them with their bludgeons. James requested them to desist doing so, and he would quiet the dog. They, however, still continuing hark, one of the men, with a knife or some other sharp instrument, made a desperate blow at  the larger intending cut his throat, but he only made a deep incision in the  neck the animal. The men insisting immediate compliance, James rose from his seat, and proceeded to  a chest of drawers, from whence he  took out two purse*. These, the villains said, only contained copper, to which he answered that there was both gold and silver in them. They then told him that had £lO, in the house, which he had received for a cow that he had sold. This he denied, as, if the cow was sold, he had not yet received payment. The villains then struck the old man and the carpenter with bludgeons, but particularly the former, and demanded all he had, while some of the party took down two hams, and gun and pistol, which were hung up in the house. The carpenter, being alarmed for his own and his employer’s safety, got up and proceeded towards the door, to call the nephew, but was interrupted by two men at the doorway, armed with pistols, who declared that, if he stirred a step, they would blow his brains out. He then returned to the house, and the men were preparing to retreat, after the old man had surrendered his all. Fearing, from their ill treatment, that they would take his life, the old man had risen up, and gone towards the window, which had no open casement, and was calling for his nephew. From this circumstance, and the yelling of the wounded dog, it is probable a sudden fear seized the murderers. On their rather hastily retiring a voice was heard to exclaim “d–n  him, shoot him,” and one of them, armed with a  gun, seemed return to complete their crime, for on arriving at the end the passage, from whence he had a view of the man at the window, he levelled his piece, and shot him under the left shoulder blade, the shot penetrating through the body and coming out at the breast. He instantly  fell, covered with gore, and having been laid abed on the floor of the house, the purple flood continued to flow until life was extinct. This closed the unfortunate man’s life, within half hour after the occurrence. Medical aid was sought soon as any one dared to stir out, but found, it was in vain. The nephew, John Shackleton, first became alarmed hearing one of the dogs make an unusual noise (probablv when the wound was inflicted upon him) and laying down the pipe which he was smoking, he proceeded towards the house to inquire the cause. On approaching it, he saw a man standing in the passage, and supposing it to be his uncle Thomas who might have just returned home, shouted ‘ hallo’. To this no answer was returned. He then retraced his steps, and entered his own house; but not  satisfied with what he had seen, he returned immediately, after locking the door of his house, for his own family’s security. Having again sallied forth, the man in the passage ran at him, as he approached, and exclaimed “I’ll kill the devil,” inflicting, at the same time, a severe blow on one  of his shoulders. It was then that the nephew became sensible of the danger. When precipitately retreating,  he heard the cry of “d–n him, shoot him,” and instantly saw the flash of gun in the house. He ran to loose a bull dog which was tied up on his own premises, and while so engaged, the villains appear have left the house, for, on his again coming forth he heard nothing but a kind of murmuring noise, as if from the voices men, ascending the declivity, nearly at the foot of which the house was situated. The men were only about ten or fifteen minutes in the house, and on leaving it. went in a direction towards Haworth, over the moors, but this, no doubt, was a feint to elude detection.

Four days later in the Sheffield Examiner we read ‘The body of the unfortunate James Shackleton has been opened by a surgeon, who states that the wound was not inflicted by small shot, as was reported, since, in the course of his inquiry, he found two slugs, which had apparently been cut off from the handle of a spoon.” Someone was taken into custody but discharged and according to the obituary of James’s brother, Thomas, the murderers were never discovered.

Sixty years later the murder was still a hot topic in the local press and it was still on the lips of people in the community. The writer, one Tattersall Wilkinson,  obtained his information from “old Sally Walton” who eked out a living in a two storey cottage close to the road at the bottom of Widdop pass. “Witch and boggart tales she thoroughly believed—and many a happy hour has your humble servant passed by the turf fire side listening to the tales of yore told by the venerable dame.” According to Sally the area around Crimsworth Dean and Pecket Well was “infested with a gang of desperadoes – poachers and house breakers. Sally tells us more about the carpenter – Richard Smith known as “Old Dick o’ Whittams” who lived at “Th’ ing Hey” near Roggerham Gate. I find these names so priceless and so evocative of their time. Adding further fuel to the drama, the robbers who had ‘blackened faces,’ finding no ammunition for Shackleton’s  gun “in a most deliberate manner took a leaden spoon from off the table and cut it into slugs.” The oft-repeated story has caused a thrill of horror to pass through the mind of the listeners at many a winter’s fire-side, and although seventy years have passed away since the occurrence took place, many old people still live in the neighbourhood who remember the affair who give mysterious hints as to who were the actors in this fearful drama.

So how does this story relate to my ancestors? The murder victim was the great great uncle of Thomas Shackleton, the first husband of Isabella Wolfenden, who married Gibson Butterworth after Thomas died.