Marple Bridge Murder - 1
I saw someone hanged today. It was awful. He struggled and squirmed, and then when he finally stopped moving, his tongue hung out and his mouth and neck were blue. I didn’t want to go, but as it was partly my fault that he met that end, I felt I had to. He was guilty, no doubt about that, but it did seem a very harsh way to deal with him. He fell in with a bad crowd, and didn’t have the courage to say no to their pranks, which turned into murder before they knew what they were doing.
Maybe I should start this story from the beginning, which was a long time ago, back in January, 1831 but the beginnings of the troubles started even earlier than that. To say that the rich bring their troubles upon themselves is perhaps putting it a bit strong, but that’s how it seems to the poor. Mr. Thomas Ashton was the man who got murdered, and he was rich. His father owned two large mills in Woodley and Werneth. I guess for those who might read this and not know where that is, I should say it is on the corner of Cheshire, but quite near the bigger towns of Hyde and Ashton under Lyne, and Manchester in Lancashire isn’t that far away. The two Ashton brothers took charge, one of each mill, and it was Thomas had charge of the Woodley mill and his brother James dealt with the Werneth one called Apethorn. So as things go, it should have been James who got murdered, but he went on that fateful evening to visit a friend, and asked his brother Thomas to just look in at his mill at 7 that evening to make sure things were going okay.
Things were not going okay at any of the mills in the area. The workers were uprising and 52 of the local mills were closed completely. I suppose looking back on it, it was the start of the Chartists movement, and they were to blame for stirring things up, as much as the boys who did the deed.
I knew the boys – or I suppose I should say young men, as you don’t hang boys any more. They lived in Marple, like I do, and although I was a bit younger, I knew who they were. There were two brothers, William and Joseph Mosely, and the other man was James Garside. He was older and I didn't really know him, although I had seen him about town. The Mosely boys were trouble makers and didn’t stay long employed, but that wasn’t to say their wasn’t something attractive about them. They were always trying out something new when we were at school – some prank or other, and although the rest of us tried not to get involved, and were pleased if they were caught at their games, we couldn’t help but have a sort of sneaking admiration of them, for having the nerve to try things out and make life a bit more interesting.
I suppose I could tell a bit about what life was like in those days – for these men as well as for the rest of us who live from hand to mouth – and we had even less than usual after having been unemployed for months. "Your own fault," I hear you saying, but the pressure from the organisers of the strikes was so huge, that anyone who went to work when a strike was on, might as well give up having any sort of life from then on. So we were hungry, we were cold, we were frightened, and we were angry. Some more than others, but generally that's how we all felt. So there were some who wanted to get their own back on the wealthy who they felt were the cause of all our troubles. These boys had been drinking and got up some dutch courage from that, and set off to do something to make their world a better place – but they hadn't really decided what or how or even really why. It turns out that someone higher up in the organisation offered them money to kill Mr. Ashton – and ten pounds sounded like a lot of money to them. I think maybe as they hung on the gibbet, they might have thought differently about the value of a human life.
I expect the best way to tell this story is to tell it from the boys' own words as they spoke out at their trial, last year. (Pictured above) The first to speak was William, because it was his fault that they got arrested at all. For three years they had managed to escape justice, but then when he was in jail for some other infraction, he got chatting to a lawyer, and he found out that he could get a better deal for this crime, if he told the story about the previous crime. So he turned into a grass – and gave states' evidence against his brother and James Garside. He had thought he would get off scot free, but that didn't turn out to be the case in the end.
I had to go to the trial, as I had to give evidence. It was at Chester Crown Court assizes, and after the judge and Mr. Hill, the proscecution lawyer had his initial say, William was asked:
Mr. Hill: I wish you to recall the day in question. You say that you were somewhat apart from the others at the time. After they walked ahead of you, will you describe in your own words what happened next.
William Mosley: I could see him, Mr. Ashton, coming along. I was on higher ground and could see the two of them. Mr. Ashton (I didn’t know it was him at the time.) was coming down the path, and they were like set on the ditch back, with their heads down, one a little below the other. They were a few yards from the foot-path. A very short space afterwards this man down the foot-path towards the clap-gate. He came through the clap-gate and James Garside met him before he got through it and pointed the piece at him, and he gave way, and Garside fired the piece. He might have gone twenty yards from the clap-gate when the shot was fired. The man who was shot fell across the road opposite to where I was.
We all immediately ran away and I made the best of my way over the fields to the second canal bridge, where we was to met. I did not stop after the shot was fired to see them start. I went to the second bridge and we was to meet at the first bridge, and I retreated back to the first bridge and they were there standing on the bridge. Garside had the piece in his hand and I asked him whether he had shot him. He said, “Yes, dead enough: he never stirred after.”
We stood on the bridge talking a little while and there was a man coming under, along the town path and we stopped below the battlement and we retreated off when the man went. I went with them as far as Hatherlow, on the road to Romiley and it was agreed I was to meet them next day, a little after dinner time, at the Bull’s Head, Marple. I asked them which of them they had shot. They said it didn’t matter which it was; it was one of them.
Mr. Hill: And did you see the others again the next day?
William Mosley: No, I didn’t go the next day to the Bull’s Head. I saw them again the day following that, the Wednesday, about dinner time, on the road leading to Marple Bridge. The foot-path that comes off the canal side at the seventh lock. I was to meet them there, as I didn’t go to the Bull’s Head according to orders. I went to receive part of the money they had from those men. When I saw them on the Wednesday the man who ordered the killing, Schofield, was with them. He pulled out three sovereigns and said he had settled with them two, and he would settle with me. I received two of them. He wanted me to take the other, and I would not: I said I would be content with what I had. He pulled out a book for us all to sign that we had the money. The other two said they had signed and I made a cross. We, all of us, went down upon our knees them, and made a confession to God, declaring to God that we would never tell, and prayed to God to strike us dead if we told. We did it one after another. We, everyone, held a knife in turn over the others while we said so. Schofield stood the same as the others. Het paid the money and he proposed it.
Mr. Dunn: You are giving evidence here against your own brother. When did you decide to tell on him in order to save your own skin?
(I should put in here, that Mr. Dunn was the Mosely brothers' lawyer.)
William Mosley: . I first told this when I was in custody here in Chester, May of this year - not when I was first in custody at Stockport. I kept this secret from January, 1831 until May, 1834. I did not know what to do. I told it to save myself from being hanged. This is not the first gaol I have been in. I was in Knutsford goal a month for stealing a spade of my master’s. I was never in gaol anywhere else. I was never in Knutsford except upon that charge. I never heard of the grand jury cutting a bill against me.
Mr. Dunn: And why did you agree to take part in this murder in the first place - for you knew it was to be a murder, did you not?
William Mosley: I was out of work in January, 1831. A few days before the murder, I saw my brother and James Garside at the Stag’s Head. I went there, to the Stag's Head to see if Mr. Taylor, who kept it, would give me a job.
Mr. Dunn: And can we find out from Mr. Taylor whether this is true? Is he in court?
William Mosley: He is dead. His wife is living. I don’t know who the waiter is there. There was a person called when we went before the magistrates to prove that I was at the Stag’s Head with them, but I don’t know whether he proved it or not.
Mr. Dunn: So what did your brother and his friend propose to do?
William Mosley: They said they could get me a better job. Garside said I had better stop a few days, they could find a better job for me than any I could find. They did not mention then what the better job was. I asked and they said it was a bit of a job they had in hand. So I did not look for any work between the Wednesday and the Sunday. They said they would tell what the job was on Sunday. I agreed to meet them on the Sunday on Marple Bridge towards 12 o’clock. I found them both there; we remained on the bridge about half an hour.
We didn’t go into any house there. They told me they were going to meet two men upon Compstall Brow, and I must be with them. We went, and as we were standing on the bridge we saw Robert Middleton, a glazier and Jones, a shoemaker, who stood on the bridge part of the time we did. We called at the public house at Compstall Bridge and we met the two men on the top of Compstall Brow. I knew them by sight; but not more. One was called Schofield; I thought he was a joiner. My brother told me to stand a little aside, and I did so. The two men talked with Garside and my brother, but I could not hear perfectly what was said. I heard something about “the union.” They remained talking and when they went I joined my brother and Garside and they both said they had agreed to shoot one of the Ashtons. That was the first I ever heard of it. I didn’t know either Mr. Ashton, had never seen them before and owed them no ill will. They told me they were to have £10. They said I must meet them upon Werneth Lowe on the third January about four or five o’clock at night. I told them I would have nothing to do with aught of that sort; but by persuasion, I gave consent. I agreed to help them.
Mr. Dunn: What? For a third part of £10? For £3 6s and 8d you agreed to shoot a man you never saw before?
William Mosley: I agreed to go with them. I would not shoot any man for £10. I did assist for less than £3. I think I would not take naught to shoot a man now. I would not take £1000 to shoot a man now.
Mr. Dunn: What would you take to swear falsely against a man to hang him - your brother for instance?
William Mosley: Nothing.
Mr. Dunn: Then would you do it for good will then, would you?
William Mosley: No.
Mr. Dunn: Then you would not take a false oath to save yourself from being hanged?
William Mosley: No, I would not. I think it a great sin to take a false oath, and I would not do it for a third part of £10.
Mr. Dunn: Which would you sooner do - shoot a man or take a false oath:
William Mosley: I don’t know. I’d sooner be hanged than take a false oath.
Mr. Dunn. If you were going to be hanged, and you might be pardoned if you would shoot any man in the street, would you shoot any one?
William Mosley: I don’t know. I refused to have anything to do with this about two o’clock on that day but they persuaded me to go with them. They both said I must go with them, and I must have a share. I would not have done it for nothing. I didn’t consent all at once. I took time to consider it. I thought it was an easy way of getting money.