Saturday, 2 September 2017

Murder At Furness Vale

A suspicious death with a hint of  murder at Furness Vale in 1879.
The circumstances of the untimely death of James Sparham,Gnat Hole, Bugsworth employed by Matthew Hall licensee of the Navigation Inn at Bugsworth was never satisfactorily explained. Sparham had worked for a number of years as the captain of Hall's narrowboat plying gritstone from Crist Quarry, Bugworth and limestone from Dove Holes over the Pennines to Huddersfield. The saga was reported in the High Peak News of the 8th August and 16th August 1879.

Keith Holford August 2017

Report in the High Peak News, August 19th 1879
A canal boat laden with stone, left Bugsworth Basin on Wednesday afternoon for Huddersfield, there were three men engaged for the trip, viz. James Sparham the captain, James Bennett, and a young man whose name we have not been able to ascertain. Sparham is a middle-aged man who has been in the employ of Matthew Hall, licensee of the Navigation Inn, Bugsworth for some 30 years.

The boat arrived at Furness Vale on Wednesday afternoon, when the three men appear to have gone to a publichouse where they remained until late in the evening. The first to leave were Sparham and the young man,  Bennett following on later, found the boat swinging in the middle of the canal, so he was unable to get aboard. He made his way to another boat where he slept all night.

On getting up early next morning, Bennett went, about half past seven, to his own boat and going into the cabin, he found old man Sparham dead. The young man who left with Sparham the previous night was seen on the Thursday morning, at about half past five making his way from Sparham's narrowboat. The night before it appears that this young man bought 6d worth of laudanum (a derivative of opium). This circumstance, coupled with his disappearance has caused suspicion against the young man.

The canal bridge in Furness Vale before it was rebuilt in 1925. The adjacent building was
the Traveller's Call beerhouse (often known as the Jolly Sailor) which closed in 1908

Report of the Inquest, High Peak News, August 16th 1879.
On Friday evening last an inquest was held before Mr. Lake, deputy -coroner, at the house of Samuel Hall, Station Hotel, Furness Vale, on the body of James Sparham, who came to his death in  mysterious  circumstances, as mentioned last week.

The first witness called was Ann Sparham of Stalybridge, who said: “ I am a single woman, I work as a weaver at Mr. John Leach's. The deceased is my father,his name is Sparham. He is a widower of 56 years of age, he has worked most of his life as a boatman. He lived at Gnat Hole, Bugsworth when he was at home. He worked for Matthew Hall, who keeps the Navigation Inn, Bugsworth. I last saw my father alive about eight or nine weeks ago. I saw him at Stalybridge. He was in his usual state of health, he was not a healthy man; he suffered from a very bad cough, indeed he was ill plagued with asthma. The only thing he used to a take for it was “cough mixture” not laudanum when I was with him. He was in the habit of getting cough mixture from a  druggist's shop in Bugsworth. I have seen him fetch it.. He used to take half a spoonful in a glass of water. He had liked to be chocked (choked ?) with it a time or two.  known as “Old Hod”his real name is John Clayton who worked with him at one time. The last time I saw my father was here dead at the Station Inn, Furness Vale.

Matthew Hall, Bugsworth said I am a carrier of lime and coal, the deceased worked for me as a  boatman. I last saw him alive on Wednesday at Bugsworth. He left Bugsworth between twelve and one o'clock in charge of a boat, which was full of lime. He was the captain and he had  two other men with him, who I knew by sight but not by name. I employed them to go to Huddersfield with a load of lime. I have known the deceased for some 20 years. He was in the usual health when he left last Wednesday; he suffered from asthma very badly at times. He was not a man who drank regularly; he used to take rum sometimes for his ailment. He was a steady man as a rule; I have seen him drunk but not for 2 months at least. I saw the deceased again on Thursday. He was dead.

The foreman. Before he set away from Bugsworth on Wednesday did he say anything about being indisposed. Witness. He did not. He had 4s 9d in his pocket when he left Bugsworth;it was to pay for stabling and wages. The Coroner : What money was found on him?  P.C. Bainbridge.* 11 pence and a half.

James Bennett,of Fairfield, Manchester, said: I am a boatman, and a I live in the boat. I started for Matthew Hall on Monday.. I have no settled address. I left Bugsworth on Wednesday last between  12 and 1 o'clock with the deceased and a young man I cannot tell you, he was a stranger to me. I do not know him. The first stopping place was Furness Vale and we got to Furness Vale about two o'clock.

The Coroner: You stopped then.  Bennett: The deceased did not complain about anything. We all three got out of the boat and went to the  Traveller's Call,* where we each had a glass of beer.  The three of us stopped drinking all afternoon at the public-house until half past seven o'clock.  At that time I took the deceased to the boat and on board, because I did not think that he could get there safely by himself. He was drunk so I took him into the cabin and left him with the other man and him in the cabin. The  deceased was leaning with his hands on the table, when I left him. I went to the beer-house again, and when came back again to the boat about 10 0'clock at night, I could not get on  board due to the boat swinging in the middle of the canal. I was drunk, but I could manage to walk. The boat was quite loose,not fastened at all. The wind was carrying the boat towards Bugsworth again. Somebody must have loosed the  boat. I slept on another boat which was close by. I went on board my own boat about nine  o'clock on Thursday morning. I went into the cabin and I found the deceased on the cabin floor, kneeling in the place where I had left him. His head was resting on the place where he was sitting when I had left him the previous evening. He was dead (cold) and alone. I did not notice any medicine bottles about. The man did not seem to have a cold, but he had “bad bouts”ever now and then. He did not ask me to fetch anything. I don't know why the other man went away. I have known Sparham for 2 years, but not to work with him. He used to have a bad cough which sometimes troubled him. He had nothing to drink, only beer, perhaps half a dozen glasses or more. I put him in the cabin about half past seven.
Foreman: What age is the  young man ?
Witness: I am not sure. I cannot tell . He looked about 18.
The Coroner: Were they on good terms /
Witness: Yes.
The Coroner: Who paid for the drinks ?
Witness: The young man and myself.
The Coroner  : Did the deceased pay ?
Witness : One  glass for me another for the youth.
The Coroner: Had he any money, did he show any ?
Witness: No he did not. He did not spend any money before we got there. He did not give me any money on account. I had money which I got in Manchester. I was not that drunk that I did not know what I was doing.
The Coroner: Do you mean to say that you paid for all the drink ?
Witness: Yes, the deceased only paid once. I never saw any money that the deceased had.
The Coroner:Then he was having his share at small cost. Did he ask for it ?
Witness: No, he kept having another glass when we paid for one. I only saw him pay three
halfpence the whole time.

The Foreman: Were you the first that found him dead ?
Witness: Yes. Directly I saw him I shouted to a man ( R. Ratcliffe ) in another boat which was passing. He promised to send a policeman and P. C. Bainbridge  came soon afterwards. I never heard any threats in he public-house. There was no quarrelling amongst us.

After some evidence given by P.C. Bainbridge, which the Coroner instructed the reporters not to publish, the jurors conferred together and on the recommendation of the latter the inquest was adjourned for the purpose of having post-mortem, and for the appearance of the young man who was left on board with the deceased and who has not been seen since half-past five o'clock on last Thursday morning by a man coming away from the canal where the boat was placed. It was decided that Dr. Allen should make the post-mortem examination and P. C. Bainbridge was instructed to bring forward what witnesses were necessary to elucidate the matter.

The Adjourned Inquest.
The adjourned inquest was held at the Station Hotel, Furness Vale, on Thursday evening. A chemist named Cheetham, residing in Furness Vale, gave evidence that on August 6th , between 4 and 5 o'clock, he sold half-an-ounce of laudanum to a young man who was connected with a boat. The  young man's name is Wood, and he belongs to Staffordshire. That quantity would not kill a  strong healthy man.

Dr. Allan said he made a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased. There were no marks of violence on the body, nor nothing to indicate that the man had come to his death except by natural causes, or by excessive drinking. The pupils of his eyes were neither  dilated or contracted. He placed the stomach and its contents  in a sealed jar and sent them  to Dr. Raynor at Stockport. Dr. Raynor said there was no laudanum, or traces of laudanum or other poison in the stomach to cause death.

The  jury on  hearing this evidence, came to the conclusion that there was no necessity after hearing the evidence tom pursue the inquiry further and at once  brought in a verdict” that the death was caused by natural causes.”

The Coroner : said that in case the young man, who has disappeared was apprehended by the police, they could bring the man before the magistrates and get a dismissal.

Traveller Call. A publichouse along the Peak Forest Canal

**  There appears to be no explanation or further questioning as to where or how the 4s 9d  was according depleted to 11 and halfpence according to the evidence given of P. C. Bainbridge.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

In 1960, Marjorie Hobson, a local teacher presented her Pictorial History of  our village, at Furness Vale School.  

Our latest publication is a faithful reproduction of Miss Hobson's timeline, albeit in a smaller format. The many coloured illustrations were painted by Miss Hobson herself.

Available in paperback from Furness Vale History Society or from the Community Shop at £3.00.

An e-book edition is available from Amazon, Kindle at £1.99:

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Chapel-en-le-Frith Target Wall

Liz McCormick has written to us about her research into the target wall at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  This updates and corrects our original article which remains at the foot of this page and provides considerably more information about this interesting feature.

"The wall that was demolished in 1991 and is referred to as the target wall was not 200yrs old. All records and press items show the wall to be part of a 30 yard safety rifle range which was constructed mainly in 1910 with final adjustments in 1913. The old Volunteer Rifle Range that was built by the Volunteer Forces (which formed in 1859/60 and went on to become the 2nd Volunteer Battalion Sherwood Foresters) was closed by 1899 on the orders of the War Office. This earlier range had its target area in the same vicinity as the 30 yard safety range was to be built

The Chapel Volunteers of 1804 were disbanded in 1809 and became part of the local militia. William Braylesford Bunting covers the volunteer movement in reasonable detail in his book "CHAPEL-EN-LE-FRITH ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE" on pages 347 and 348.

From 1899 Chapel-en-le-Frith was without a rifle range until a Drill Hall was built. The Drill Hall with War Office approved miniature rifle range opened on Market Street in 1907, again the Buxton Advertiser kept us updated on the fundraising progress and eventual opening of the Drill Hall.

The Buxton Advertiser in April 1910 confirmed that a new 30 yard safety rifle range was also to be constructed at Chapel-en-le-frith and the old stone butts from the first range would be demolished and used in the construction of the new range. The wall in the new range was not to carry targets but to stop stray  bullets and ricochet.

In 1991 an article appeared in the Buxton Advertiser where a few facts were mixed up and has been the source of some 'local legends' ever since.

The line of vision from the school steps to the original butts was not clear and therefore it would have been unsafe to take the shot. The 800yd marker of the old range was visible from the school steps and it could be possible that this marker was mistaken for a target by an onlooker but it is very unlikely that the designated range warden would sanction shooting other than from the rifleman's allocated marker and toward the target area. It would not count toward their drill and as ammunition was limited and the activity unsafe in terms of public safety I can only think there is little or no fact behind this tale.

The photographs on the website show the wall to consist of three sections initially but only two sections remained in the decades before it was demolished in 1991. I would be interested to know what happened to the third section which appears to have been removed by the 1950's?

There is a good amount of press coverage of the activities of the local Territorial Forces and the closure of rifle ranges and the amending of or building new ones during the 1900 to 1913 time period was regularly included.

The  town of Chapel-en-le-Frith has actually had three rifle ranges but from 1900 the volunteers had to travel to Edale, Bakewell and Combs for practise  on longer ranges in order to complete their musketry training

The  old-maps website has an extensive collection of maps and it is possible to see the progress of the Volunteer Rifle Range on the 1883 and 1899 maps. The OS maps of the 1920's show the 30 yard safety range as an oblong and has no reference to the old range".  

Liz is also researching the Chapel-en-le-Frith Drill hall and its ranges and would any help that readers might be able to provide. She may be contacted through this website and would also be happy to answer any queries on these subjects.

Our booklet "Chapel-en-le-Frith in 1940 caught the attention of one observant buyer, Pete Goddard.

A number of the photographs show a parade of volunteers taking place on the cricket ground in the summer of 1940. In the background, on three of these, can be seen albeit faintly, the target wall in the next field. It is just above the scorers hut.  Pete tells me that this was used by the old volunteer regiment who used to fire from the steps of the infant school 1000 yards away. The wall was over 200 years old and built by the Chapel Volunteers. They merged with the Sherwood Foresters in 1804 and the wall was used by soldiers who later served in the Boer War as well as two World Wars.
Despite attempts by the Parish Council to obtain a preservation order, the wall was demolished in 1991's by the landowner who deemed it unsafe.

The wall is barely visible in the original photograph. When we zoom in at high resolution it becomes a little clearer.

Thanks to Robin Sharp for allowing us to reproduce his photograph of the wall just before it was demolished. Robin can be seen in the picture, the young buy with a dog.

The booklet Chapel-en-le-Frith 1940: Photographs from the albums of Eric Young is available from the History Society price £2.00 plus postage.  An Kindle ebook version can be downloaded from Amazon price £2.00
A collection of photographs from the albums of Eric Young, formerly of Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire. The pictures depict the town suffering from a heavy fall of snow in January 1940. In the following summer, volunteers parade on the town's cricket ground.
This is a collection of over 40 historic photographs.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Living In The Furnace

We all know the story of how Bugsworth changed its name to something more respectable. A hundred years beforehand, a similar change took place in Furness Vale. We might otherwise have all been "Living in the Furnace"

Our community at the end of the 1700s was no more than a small hamlet called The Furnace. Within ten years, the canal, printworks and turnpike road had all opened and the village rapidly grew in size and population. 
We don't know when the name "Furness Vale" first came into use but it must have been around the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Maps published as late as 1831 still give the name of the village as "Furnace" or "The Furnace" and show the mill as "Furnace Print Works". Legal documents such as "Hansard" (the Parliamentary record) still quote the "Furnace" spelling in 1831.  "Furness Vale" was however, in use by 1821 for the name appears in a trade directory for that year.  There appears to be a gradual transition from one name to the other rather than an official change.

The first record of a furnace in the parish of Disley is in 1690.  A charcoal fired iron smelting furnace stood where the "beehive" kilns of Knowles Brickyard were later constructed. This must have been a reasonable sized operation for "Jodrell Pig" was sent to forges in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.  Small iron foundries were to be found in many parts of the country, wherever charcoal or coke, and iron ore were available. The mineral was probably mined locally among the coal seams of Furness Clough and charcoal produced in nearby woodland. Most of these small local furnaces had closed by the late 18th century, replaced by much larger and more profitable coke fired plants. The disused kiln was probably still in evidence in 1811 for John Farey, described its location in his book of that date.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A Stroll Through Furness Vale

Join Mabel Townend on   "A Stroll Through  Furness Vale

Mabel has lived in the village all of her life, and for many years, taught at the local school.
In her talk at Furness Vale History Society, she describes the shops, businesses and other features that she so well remembers from the past.

Everybody is welcome at Furness Vale Community Centre on 
5th September to hear Mabel’s reminiscences.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Derek Cope of Buxworth

Sadly we have heard that Derek Cope died last week aged 90 years.
His account of his family's various businesses in Buxworth may be found on this site.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Growing Up In Buxworth

Jackie and Terry Prior, family relatives living nearby escorted me to my first day at Buxworth School. I didn't realise it at the time but this was the first day of my independence. So my early education started in the Infants Class under the watchful eye of Miss. Littlewood. With a well built human frame, knitted woollen skirts and jackets together with pince-nez glasses, the spitting image for Miss Prism, She cosseted,  cajoled and corrected  her little charges in equal measure.
Buxworth School

There were no pre-school groups in the late thirties and early forties, just common or garden infants under the buxom but gentle-womanly Miss. Littlewood. I was a late starter to a full school life in Buxworth because I had been in and out of school and had spent a few weeks in Manchester Royal Infirmary with a suspected mastoid.  I can pin point the date from an entry in the Buxworth School Logbook. 16-12-1941. Dr Bamber made a medical inspection of all pupils. At 1-20 pm she examined Keith Holford and ordered him to be sent home at once -- likelihood of a developing mastoid trouble.” No mastoid, but the hospital justified their existence by removing my tonsils. My stay too, left me with a  lifelong anathema to the smell of boiling cabbage and fish poached in milk. Christmas Eve brought horror rather than happiness when a fancy dressed monkey monkeyed his or her way through the children's wards. Since that day I have never knowingly found time to utter a good word regarding monkeys. The bonus however was Christmas presents at both the hospital and later at home.

The full story by Keith Holford, may be read here:

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Chinley 150, The Birth of a Station, the Growth of a Village

Chinley Railway Station celebrated its 150th anniversary in February of this year.  John Benson's book "Chinley 150, The Birth of a Station, the Growth of a Village" has just been published to commemorate the event.
Copies are available from Chinley Post Office, Green Lane; from the Chapel-en-le-Frith bookshop, Reading Matters of 48 Market Street and from the Brierlow Bar bookshop. The price is £4 .50.
The book can be obtained by mail order from Reading Matters for £6.00 including post and packing. Telephone 01298 938166 or email

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Coming Soon

Here is the programme of History Society meetings for the coming months:

lease note that we do not meet during July or August

Tuesday 5th Sept.     A Stroll Through Furness Vale by Mabel Townend

Tuesday 3rd Oct       The Stockport - Disley -Whaley Bridge Railway with Chris Makepeace

Tuesday 7th Nov       Life And Times Of A Farrier - told by Doug Bradbury

Tuesday 5th Dec       A Unique Lifestyle from Peter Burgess

All meetings are held at Furness Vale Community Centre, Yeardsley Lane (next to Imperial Palace Restaurant) Non members are always welcome, admission is £2 including refreshments.  Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30 start.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Monday, 9 January 2017

A view of the Printworks.

This photograph has been digitally colourised from a black and white postcard titled "Bank View". This is the track leading from the Canal at Furness Vale down to the Printworks.