Cawood Castle was a palace of the Archbishop of York probably built upon an early Saxon fortification dating from the reign of King Athelstan (Æthelstan) 925AD – 939AD. During the English Civil War (1642–1651) Cawood was fought over several times and served as a prisoner of war camp. Following the war it was all but destroyed and all that remains now is the gatehouse and banqueting hall. Four decades after the castles abandonment, a murder took place within its grounds and the killer was apparently caught with the aid of his victims ghost.
The story of this murder has appeared in several publications, but the following account comes from one of the earliest, Arthur L Hayward’s ‘Lives of the most remarkable criminals: Who have been Condemned and Executed for Murder, the Highway, Housebreaking, Street Robberies, Coining or other offences’ (1735).
‘Murder was committed by William Barwick, upon the body of Mary Barwick his wife, at the same time big with child. What were the motives that induced the man to do this horrid fact does not appear by the examination of the evidence, or the confession of the party; only it appeared upon his trial that he had got her with child before he married her, that being then constrained to marry her, he grew weary of her, which was the reason he was so willing to be rid of her, though he ventured body and soul to accomplish his design.
The murder was committed on Palm Monday, being then the fourteenth of April, about two o’clock in the afternoon, at which time the said Barwick drilled his wife along until he came to a certain close, within sight of Cawood Castle, where he found the conveniency of a pond. He threw her by force into the water, and when she was drowned and drawn forth again by himself upon the bank of the pond, he had the cruelty to behold the motion of the infant, yet warm in her womb. This done, he concealed the body, as it may readily be supposed, among the bushes that usually encompass a pond, and the next night when it grew dusk, fetching a hay spade from a rick that stood in the close, he made a hole by the side of the pond, and there slightly buried the woman in her clothes.
Having thus despatched two at once, and thinking himself secure, because unseen, he went the same day to his brother-in-law, one Thomas Lofthouse of Rusforth, within three miles of York, who had married his drowned wife’s sister, and told him he had carried his wife to one Richard Harrison’s house in Selby, who was his uncle, and would take care of her.
But Heaven would not be so deluded, but raised up the ghost of the murdered woman to make the discovery. It was Easter Tuesday following, about two-o’clock in the afternoon, that the afore-mentioned Lofthouse, having occasion to water a quickset hedge not far from his house, as he was going for the second pailful, an apparition went before him in the shape of a woman, and soon after set down against a rising green grass plot, right over against the pond. He walked by her as he went to the pond, and as he returned with the pail from the pond, looking sideways to see whether she continued in the same place, he found she did, and that she seemed to dandle something in her lap that looked like a white bag, as he thought, which he did not observe before. So soon as he had emptied his pail, he went into his yard and stood still to turn whether he could see her again, but she was vanished. In this information he says that the woman seemed to be habited in a brown-coloured petticoat, waistcoat and a white hood, such a one as his wife’s sister usually wore, and that her countenance looked extremely pale and wan, with her teeth in sight, but no gums appearing, and that her physiognomy was like that of his wife’s sister, who was wife to William Barwick.
But notwithstanding the ghastliness of the apparition, it seems it made so little impression on Lofthouse’s mind that he thought no more of it, neither did he speak to anybody concerning it until the same night, as he was at family duty of prayers, when that apparition returned again to his thoughts, and discomposed his devotion; so that after he had made an end of his prayers, he told the whole story of what he had seen to his wife, who laying circumstances together, immediately inferred that her sister was either drowned or otherwise murdered, and desired her husband to look after her the next day, which was the Wednesday in Easter week.
Upon this, Lofthouse, recollecting what Barwick had told him of his carrying his wife to his uncle at Selby, repaired to Harrison before-mentioned, but found all that Barwick had said to be false, for Harrison had neither heard of Barwick nor his wife, neither did he know anything of them. Which notable circumstance, together with that other of the apparition, increased his suspicion to that degree that now concluding his wife’s sister was murdered, he went to the Lord Mayor of York. And having obtained his warrant, he got Barwick apprehended; who was no sooner brought before the Lord Mayor, but his own conscience then accusing him, he acknowledged the whole matter, as it has been already related, and as it appears by the examination and confession herewith printed.
On Wednesday, the 16th of September, 1690, the criminal, William Barwick, was brought to his trial before the Honourable Sir John Powel, Knight, one of the judges of the Northern Circuit, at the assizes held at York, where the prisoner pleaded not guilty to his indictment. But upon the evidence of Thomas Lofthouse and his wife, and a third person, that the woman was found buried in her clothes, close by the pond side, agreeable to the prisoner’s confession, and that she had several bruises on her head, occasioned by the blows the murderer had given her to keep her under water, and upon reading the prisoner’s confession before the Lord Mayor of York, attested by the clerk who wrote the confession, and who swore the prisoner’s owning and signing it for truth, he was found guilty and sentenced to death, and afterwards ordered to be hanged in chains.
All the defence that the prisoner made was only this, that he was threatened into the confession that he had made, and was in such a consternation that he did not know what he said or did; but then it was sworn to by two witnesses that there was no such thing as any threatening made use of, but that he made a free and voluntary confession, only with this addition at first, that he told the Lord Mayor he had sold his wife for five shillings, but not being able to name either the person or the place, where she might be produced, that was looked upon as too frivolous to outweigh circumstances that were too apparent.
The Examination of William Barwick, taken the 25th of April, 1690
Who sayeth and confesseth that he carried his wife over a certain wainbridge, called Bishop Dyke Bridge, between Cawood and Sherburn; and within a lane about one hundred yards from the said bridge, and on the left hand of the said bridge, he and his wife went over a stile, on the left hand of a certain gate, entering into a certain close, on the left hand of the said lane; and in a pond in the said close, adjoining to a quick-wood hedge, he did drown his wife and upon a bank of the said pond did bury her, and further, that he was within sight of Cawood Castle, on the left hand, and there was but one hedge betwixt the said close where he drowned his wife, and the Bishops Slates, belonging to the said castle.
Exam, capt. did etc.
anno super dict.
S. Dawson, Mayor