Bugsworth Tales

Bugsworth Tales


The village of Bugsworth in Derbyshire lies at the end of the Peak Forest Canal. At one time this was a hive of industry. Limestone came down by horse drawn tramway from the quarries near Buxton, was fired in numerous kilns and the transported onwards by canal boat.
The name of the village was changed to Buxworth in 1930 after a long campaign. In 1999 there was a referendum to revert back to the original name but this failed.
The public house, the Navigation was once owned by Coronation Street star Pat Phoenix.

Buxworth is now a quiet residential village although a popular destination for boaters and walkers. It has an fascinating history and this page will feature some stories from the past.


 First of all though, here's a strange animal story.  December 1835 and Wheatcroft's boat arrived at Bugsworth one Friday, carrying a deer that was destined for Mr Butcher's new menagerie in the botanical gardens in Sheffield. The stag was placed in Mr Butcher's wagon under cover and set off towards Yorkshire.  On reaching Stoney Middleton, curiosity got the better of the waggoners who lifted the covers for a peep. Tired of such a tedious and uncomfortable journey, the deer siezed his opportunity, sprang out of the waggon and was out of signt in a second. It was not until Sunday that he was seen again in a nearby wood,  a group of men having been engaged for the search. He was cornered and enticed into a sheep pen where the men expected to be able to tether him but he was having nothing of this and with one bound leapt over the heads of five or six of his captors and knocked down the others.  He did not remain free for long , however and was eventually captured and sent onwards to Sheffield.

Also part of the cargo aboard Wheatcroft's boat, was a bear, also bound for Sheffield. It was intended that the bear be placed first in a hogshead and then loaded onto a waggon. Although a rather large barrel, a hogshead would still be rather cramped housing for a bear and the animal no doubt realised this. He resisted quite violently and in the struggle, his collar, to which was attached a chain, broke; he knocked down three of his persecutors and quickly escaped. Unfortunately for the bear, he ran into Hibberson's warehouse where the doors were closed on him. It was now after dark so lamps were brought and dogs sent in. The bear fought hard and now having no collar or chain became difficult to capture. He was eventually caught and sent onward to his destination but not before his captors had been severely scratched and bitten.


Boatmen were quite often on the wrong side of the law.  It was a poorly paid occupation and I suppose they had to supplement their income somehow. They were a hard people and often got involved in quarrels and fights.

In 1861 two boatmen Fowler and Johnson were accused of stealing from Mr Hodson who kept a grocery shop and beer house in Bugsworth. Fowler was acquitted but Johnson being of bad character was sentenced to six years in jail.

That same year five boatmen were charged with stealing bales of cotton.  The cargo had been loaded aboard the narrowboats Fame and Sophia and was en route for Bugsworth and Chapel. At Phillips Park a detective watching a lock saw the men carrying a bale into a stable where 192lb of stolen goods were found.

William Price, a boat captain was seen by the canal agent at Bugsworth with a bowl of sugar in his hand who noticed that a bag in the cargo was open.  This must have been a serious crime in 1875 for Price was jailed for a month of hard labour.

In 1876 A fight between boatmen resulted in Dr Allen being called to attend to  John Goddard's injuries. Apart from obvious injuries he complained of  great pain in his head, chest and knees. Two days later the knee joint was inflamed and Dr Allen amputated the leg at the hip. Goddard also seemed to be suffering from an affection of the brain. The Assailants Madden and Handley were brought to court and pleaded guilty. Madden was jailed for 6 months and Handley for one month.


Peter Green was landlord of the Crown and Mitre in Chinley and a member of the volunteers. He boarded the Manchester train at Chinley and in the same compartment was Mr Bald Schofield a tinplate worker from Chapel-en-le-Frith who had recently been discharged from the county asylum. When the train pulled into Bugsworth, Green appeared at the window shoutin "Murder". He was covered in blood as was the floor of the train. His face was badly cut and bruised and one ear and an eye "completely made up". The guard and several passengers joined Green until the train arrived at New Mills where the stationmaster attended to the injuries.  He stated that Schofield without provocation had attacked him with a stick. He preferred to go home by the next train rather than be treated in New Mills. 

In 1899, women living alone feared the "Bugsworth Nick Club". This consisted of a large number of men whose custom was to go around the village begging for money for beer.  They would call at the homes of lone women and if refused, would damage the premises. One victim was Mrs Sarah Rowley, a widow, who seeing the gang approaching, armed with spades, shovels and hammers, locked her door. William Martin smashed to door with a hammer and when the men were asked to go away, they refused.  Martin threatened his victim with a hammer which she grasped from him only to be seized by the throat and knocked down.  The Reverend Bowers was passing and took the hammer from Martin who threatened to give the vicar a good hiding.  Superintendent Gill, giving evidence in court said that Martin was an idle fellow and a terror to the neighbourhood.  Martin was jailed for 28 days with hard labour and a fine of 5 shillings.  His accomplice James Dale was fined 5 shillings.

They seem to have got off lightly compared with William Kirk an 18 year old who stole some clothing from Thomas Taylor of Bugsworth.  He was sentenced to 7 years transportation

Peter Downes pleaded guilty to stealing £1.17s6d from Richard Johnson of Bugsworth.  The jury didn't believe him and he was discharged.

 Not all the news from Bugsworth was about crime and I've only given you a selection of those stories.  This next report had a happy ending :


A man visited the Chapel Union workhouse in 1843 asking to be allowed to enter. He gave his name as Ford, residing in Bugsworth which was within  the same Union.  He was not seeking to become a burden on the parish but wanted to meet a young woman, an inmate. He was asked whether he knew the woman to which he replied that he had never seen her before in his life.

Mr Ford explained that he hoped to emigrate to Australia but having been married before, he could not travel as an emigrant with his family unless he re-married. He had heard that the young woman he was anxious to see would be likely to make him a good wife if he could persuade her to accompany him.
The clerk granted him admittance to the workhouse and it seems that his charms won the woman over and she was allowed to leave the workhouse.  A public rate payers meeting was called at which it was agreed to grant the young woman £10 when aboard ship.  The minister was called in and he kindly offered to forgo his fee.  That same day they were made man and wife and were very soon on their way to Australia.


The local Crist Quarry was famed for it's stone setts and these were frequently specified for paving the roads of Glasgow, London and Manchester.

Workmen at the quarry were faced with a mystery in 1837.  They were in the habit of standing a horn upright in the ground and filling it with oil for lubricating the axles of their waggons.  Each day they found the horn full to the brim with small stones and the oil almost gone. Puzzled, they decided to find the cause so next day they filled the horn with oil as usual and covered the ground around it with very soft clay.  When they returned they found that as usual the horn was filled with stones but all around, the clay was imprinted with the impressions of rats paws.


The most notorious of Bugsworth events took place in 1898

John Cotton was a boatman and would have lived on board his narrowboat, Annie.  Cotton was 66 years old and rather deaf, his wife Hannah, only 36. On Wednesday 26th October, they arrived at Bugswoth to load limestone.

At about 2 in the afternoon they went to the Rose & Crown. They seemed already to have had a drink.  They were served by the landlady and at about 4 they left together with another boatman and his wife. All four returned between 5 and 6 and left again at about 6.30. Cotton had seemed jealous of his wife talking to people in the pub. At about 7 the landlady's daughter came in saying there was a row on the boat and she had heard screams. Some people went to the boat and found Cotton standing over his wife, poker in hand and beating her with it. She moaned and he threatened her that if she didn't  stop crying, he would throw her overboard. Mrs Cotton lay on the floor of the boat cabin and Cotton said "Let me come in and I'll finish her off". The men prevented him from entering the cabin and the pub landlady and some other women put the victim on the side seat and washed her face and head.  Cotton went away and later turned up at the Rose & Crown asking for a glass of rum which was refused. The Landlady said to him "You have done it this time". Cotton replied "You hold your tongue or I will serve you as I have served her. She kept him talking until the police arrived.

Constable Whitley went to the boat and found Mrs Cotton in a state of collapse and with several wounds to her head. He had her removed to The Navigation Inn and called for Dr Allen who arrived at about 3 in the morning. The doctor found her comatose and dressed her wounds. On his return at about 11 am he found her in a worse condition and she died at about 5pm.

Cotton was arrested and brought before Chapel-en-le-Frith magistrates who remanded him for trial at Derby Assizes.

Cotton was tried at Derby on 30th November,  found guilty and sentenced to death by Mr Justice Matthew. He was hanged at Derby on 21st December.


In March 1844 a person of gentlemanly appearance stopped at a small inn at Calton near Ashbourne and was unable to continue on his journey through illness.  He had no money and was unable to give good account of himself.  The parish priest visited him and he confessed that he ran away from home for a trivial offence.  He gave the address of his mother in order that the clergyman might tell her of his plight and desire to return home.  His sickness increased and with death approaching, he told a lady who visited him that the previous story was untrue.  A blister that she tended on the chest revealed that this was in fact a young woman in disguise.  She would not disclose the reason for pretending to be a boy and would not disclose her name for fear of disgracing her family.  She was probably about 19 years of age with auburn hair, pale complexion, of medium height and familiar with the scriptures.
A few days later, after the death of the young person, the story unfolded.  Her name was Ellen Hatfield, daughter of a Bugsworth tailor.  Her father had died some years previously and her mother had married a boatman also residing in Bugsworth. Ellen had received an ordinary education at the village school. She displayed higher educational accomplishments that must have been obtained through living in service with several families. On the death of her father about five years previously she had gone to live with a lady in Scotland where she remained for some months.  On leaving this position she dressed as a man assuming different roles including that of the mate of a merchant ship, holding that post until her sex was discovered.  She figured as the son of a nobleman in various parts of the country and supported herself by obtaining the sympathy of those whom she approached.
Her mother seemed unaware of her way of life although receiving letters from time to time.
Ellen Hatfield was about twenty two years of age but in her male attire would have passed for a youth of about nineteen.


A report from 1908

Bugsworth, the little Derbyshire village near Chinley, which is entrenced behind a toll bar - said to be the only remaining toll bar in this part of the country - affords a striking example of how obscurity may be preserved in spite of much advertisement.  Bugsworth has been much advertised.  For years the Midland Railway Company's tickets between Manchester and London have been printed "via Bugsworth" and regular travellers on  the line are quite wearied by the speculations of strangers about this place with the strange name that nobody seems to have heard about. Bugsworth did enjoy a little individuality before it's neighbour Chinley was developed as an important junction station, but even in those days the expresses always dashed through it unheedingly, and travellers were always puzzled to know why "via Bugsworth".  When Chinley assumed a place of some prominence on the railway map travellers knowing of Bugsworth expected to see the word disappear from their tickets, but it is still there.

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