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The Bill o' Jacks Murders


On April 2nd 1832 a landlord and his gamekeeper son were violently murdered at a remote pub on the edge of the bleak moorland above Greenfield near Saddleworth. Reported at the time as “one of the most diabolical murders ever committed” (1), the murders were never solved and have become a fascinating, if dark, part of the local lore of Saddleworth.

Within the graveyard of Saddleworth Church is a huge flat sandstone grave-slab that commemorates the infamous murders of Thomas and William Bradbury at the (now demolished) Moorcock Inn. The lengthy inscription – that has been intriguing folk for over 150 years - reads as follows:

Here lie the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies
of William Bradbury and Thomas, his son, both of
Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an
Unusually horrid manner, on Monday night, April 2nd.
1832, William being 84 and Thomas 46 years old.

Throughout the land wherever news is read.
Intelligence of their sad end has spread.
Those now who talk of far-famed Greenfield hills.
Will think of Bill o’ Jack’s and Tom o’ Bills

Such interest did their tragic end excite.
That, ere they were removed from human sight.
Thousands on thousands came to see.
The bloody scene of catastrophe.

One house, one business, and one bed.
And one most shocking death they had.
One funeral came, one inquest past.
And now one grave they had a last.

The Moorcock Inn (also Bill o’ Jacks see footnote) stood just off the road leading from Greenfield to Holmfirth, that cuts through some of the bleakest moorland in the Pennines. William (Bill) was landlord of the pub where he lived with his son Tom, who was a gamekeeper reputed to be an unpopular man with a quick temper.

The murders occurred on the evening of Monday April 2nd 1832 and were discovered on the Tuesday morning in a scene of bloody carnage that sent shockwaves through the local community and beyond. According to witness accounts at the inquest, blood covered the floor, furniture, walls and stairs of the pub as if there had been a violent struggle, “The walls and flags streaming with gore” according to one colourful contemporary newspaper report.

Thomas was discovered lying in a pool of his own blood severely beaten and lacerated about the head, while William was discovered upstairs in bed, less severely beaten but still hideously injured about the face. Several weapons were found close by that could have been used in the frenzied attacks: a fire poker, sword stick, spade and a broken pistol that was covered in congealed blood and matted hair.

There were a number of theories about who could have committed the murders: Tom had died without uttering a word, but William lived long enough to blurt out what sounded like ‘pats’ or ‘platts’ when asked who had assailed them. At first ‘pats’ was taken (as a derogatory term) to refer to the Irish and it was speculated that some Irish men had robbed the pub and committed the murders during the break in. There were Irish navies in Greenfield at the time employed in building the turnpike road to Holmfirth, and descriptions of three Irish men seen near the pub on the evening of the murder were given at the inquest but they were never traced.

The term Pats could also have been interpreted as ‘Platts’, a common enough local name. Coincidentally a man called Reuben Platt drank at the pub, and was friendly with the Bradbury’s. He later gave evidence at the inquest about a group of Irish men he had seen with Tom near the pub on the evening of the murder, but also came under suspicion himself.

The other possible interpretation of the mumbled words of William Bradbury was Platters, which referred to groups of Gypsies who collected broom from the moors to weave into baskets. Thomas Bradbury may well have been in conflict with them over access rights to the moorland in his role as gamekeeper.

Also under suspicion was a local poacher who had boasted that Tom would never stand as witness against him in a Pontefract Magistrate’s Court, the very day after the murders. The case was actually dismissed because Tom could not testify. However, no solid evidence ever came to light to firmly tie any of these people to the murders.

An inquest to the murders was held at the King William the IV public house in Uppermill, where a verdict of “Wilful murder against some person, or persons at present unknown” was returned after the examination of several witnesses. A £100 reward was offered for any information regarding the case: it was never claimed although it was a huge sum for the time. Thousands of people attended the funeral of Tom and Bill as the case had by that time gained notoriety far beyond the Parish boundaries, the curious and morbid flocking from far and wide.

The murders were never solved and have remained the subject of conjecture and curiosity for nearly 200 years. It is interesting to think what may have been concluded with modern investigation and forensic techniques. An excellent paperback book - part fiction and part fact - entitled ‘The Murders at Bill O’ Jacks is available by Neil Richardson, 1985, which examines the story and gives a plausible explanation by way of a fictional story of the murders and characters involved.

1. Manchester Courier April 1832

NB: The Inn was demolished (to the best of my knowledge) to make way for a plantation above Yeoman Hay reservoir, although you can still get an idea of where it stood from old maps.

Bill O Jacks refers to a tradition of naming somebody - as a slang term - with reference to their father. Bill or William Bradbury in this case was son of Jack Bradbury and hence was known as Bill o’ Jacks, which was also a term used for the Moorcock Inn. Thomas Bradbury would be Tom o’ Bills as referenced on the grave-slab in Saddleworth Church.

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Rob Topham
Daniel Parkinson
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Ian Topham
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Murders in Saddleworth

The story of Bill o'Jacks murder is probably not well known thees days.  As my mothers family are from Saddleworth and have been resident there for centuries I grew up hearing the local stories and of course the infamous murder. 

Of course, the scene of this murder is extremely close to the location where the victims of the the Moors Murderers, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were discovered. 

Edward Bamforth
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Murder at Bill o'Jack's

MURDERS AT BILL’S O’ JACK’S

Let’s turn back the hands of time to eighteen thirty-two
To the Moorcock Inn at Greenfield, renowned for it’s home brew.
Situated in the bleak and rolling Pennine hills,
Run by landlord Bill O’ Jack’s and his son Tom O’ Bill’s.

From Holmfirth the turnpike came and over Isle of Skye
And dropped down into Greenfield from the moors on high.
Dug out of bracken, peat and bog and all the moorland mire
Opening up the Pennine route right into Lancashire

Built by gangs of Irish navvies, rough and ready men,
Who were also known as “Pats” (from St.Patrick do ya ken).
Every night in Bill’s O’ Jack’s they’d revel loud and long
And down their ale and fill the night with strains of Irish song.

With the opening of the road more people did drop in
And enjoy a welcome drink at the Moorcock Inn.
They’d take in the awesome view of moorland and of vale
And they’d soak up the atmosphere as they did sup their ale.

The gypsies or Burnplatters as they were sometimes called
Made their camp at Wessenden, or so the story’s told,
And Tom O’ Bill’s he charged them rent, claiming ‘twas his land,
And if they should refuse to pay they’d feel his heavy hand

For Tom was tall and muscular, with shoulders like an ox
A fighting man when he was young and he’d learnt how to box.
He was feared by many a man and enemies he’d made
For Tom believed he was the king of all that he surveyed.

Monday April 2nd dawned like any other day,
But ended in mysterious and most horrific way.
Rueben Platt called at the pub, he was Tom’s closest friend,
Sometime twixt six and seven o’clock they set off to Roadend

They hadn’t travelled very far when three “Pats” they did see
Heading towards Bill’s O’ Jack’s, or so they seemed to be,
But Tom and Rueben watched them go till they were out of sight
And so set off to Whitehead’s store in quickly fading light.

What Tom found on his return, we only can surmise,
But one thing’s certain, on that night, they met their sad demise.
At half-past ten on Tuesday morn Bill’s granddaughter called by
And seeing Uncle Tom laid there young Mary then did cry.

She ran down to Whitehead’s store her story to relate
How grandpa Bill and Uncle Tom had sadly met their fate.
They called Sam Heginbottom then hastened to the scene,
The surgeon saw to both the men and their wounds did clean.

Tom O’Bill’s was forty-six, his father eighty-four
Bill was upstairs on his bed, a-lying in his gore.
He had a badly beaten face and cuts on leg and hand,
His mouth a blood-filled sticky mess, his face all white and bland.

Downstairs Tom lay unconscious, upon the flags of stone,
In a pool of his own blood, he lay there all alone.
His blood was splattered on the walls, the windows and the door.
With fifteen gashes on his head, from which the blood did pour.

What happened on that fatal night is difficult to say,
But plenty theories still abound until this very day.
Now, Bill as he lay dying was said to mutter “Pats”
Well that was what it sounded like, or maybe he said “Platts”

Because this single uttered word from Old Bill’s lips did part
The navvies and the gypsies were suspects from the start.
For Tom and Reuben saw three navvies on that very night
But Reuben said that he and Tom had seen them out of sight.

Suspicion fell on Reuben Platt, supposed to be their friend,
For hadn’t he accompanied Tom part way to Roadend.
Knowing that the coast was clear he’d catch Bill on his own
He could kill Bill and lay a trap for Tom when he came home.

Bill always called him Reuben, he never called him Platt,
So at the inquest he was cleared of murder – that was that.
Two Irishmen were questioned in Uppermill next day
As the description did not fit they sent them on their way.

Joe and his father Jamie, the Red Tom Bradburys
Became the major suspects, but they had no worries.
Though Tom had caught them poaching and they were summoned then
To Pontefract Assizes that Tuesday to attend.

So, early on that morning, they set out on their way
And, upon reaching Meltham, Jamie was heard to say
That Tom O’Bill’s won’t testify, just you wait and see,
With him not there as witness, we’ll both get off “Scott free”

The magistrates, who hadn’t heard, about this dreadful deed,
Could not charge Joe and Jamie and so the pair were freed.
Suspicion was awakened when news then filtered through
And they were gaoled in Huddersfield until their case was due.

There was no concrete evidence to convict the pair
And Jamies’s daughter, Matty, swore on oath that there
Would only have been time enough for them to get on back
To their home from the New Inn and not call at Bill’s O’ Jack’s.

The magistrates accepted this and duly closed the case
The official verdict being “there was no charge to face.”
And though they got off lightly, t’ was also seen by folk,
That they stopped drinking in the pubs in case the “ale should talk”

It’s well known that Tom was hated by many round about
And he’d had lots of run-ins with the Bradburys, no doubt.
Tom always had the upper-hand so, maybe then through spite,
They made their plans to pay him back upon that April night.

Whoever did this horrid deed, their blackened souls did save
And took their morbid secret with them to the grave.
So the mystery still lives on and no one has a clue
To what happened on that April night in eighteen thirty two.

Edward Bamforth, January 2006

 

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Daniel Parkinson
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Thanks Edward Great way of

Thanks Edward

Great way of putting the story across

Danny P.

Mauro
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That's absolutely brilliant,

That's absolutely brilliant, didn't know about this case.

avalon1
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Bill O Jacks

Thanks for the memory, I recall going to see a play at Oldham Rep many years ago about this murder. Love the site. Book reviews great idea.

puddled69
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Re: Murders in Saddleworth

People of Saddleworth still talk of Bill 0'Jacks even now. I recently went up there with a member of my team (spae.co.uk) and to Saddleworth Church graveyard.

It is a fantastic spot, very peaceful and you can still see the foundations of all the buildings that were present and the cellar is more or less intact. We shall hopefully going up later in the summer to carry out an investigation if we are permitted.

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Ian Topham
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Re: The Bill o' Jacks Murders

Investigation?  Is it meant to be haunted?  I hadn't heard anything to suggest a ghost.

puddled69
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Re: The Bill o' Jacks Murders

Well we thought with its history we would check it out.  We did a small invest took pics etc.  We caught a strange blue orb, heard knocking in the old cellar part which you can still walk in? .  So yes I think it needs further investigation.

And about a month ago myself, folks and daughter were coming back from Holmfirth, just before we passed the site, a great bright white orb (nearly as wide as the car) came from behind the wall and straight up the road and right through the car.  My mums face was  a picture! she is nearly 70 and she knew that this was not a cloud! very strange. She still talks about it.

PS. we did ask permission prior to walking on the land.

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Ian Topham
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Re: The Bill o' Jacks Murders

A large orb came through the car?  Some kind of earthlight maybe?

puddled69
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Re: The Bill o' Jacks Murders

I don't know what it was, its really hard to describe as it was so weird? Living in Saddleworth you get used to low cloud and rain, but this thing was different. It was so bright and so fast?



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