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.