Gruesome tales of dead bodies and murder most horrid in Derbyshire pubs

“The Coroner frequents more public houses than any man alive.” Thus wrote Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House, published in 1853. There was some justification in this observation for, during the 18th and 19th centuries, coroners’ inquests were frequently held in local pubs, writes guest Beerhunter Michael Smith. The reason for this was that the pub often provided the only place which had sufficient space to accommodate the coroner, his jury and witnesses as well as a table on which to view the body!

Until 1926, it was a legal requirement for the coroner and jurors to view the body and this could sometimes be a rather gruesome experience, particularly in the case of the growing number of railway and industrial accidents. In parts of Derbyshire, many of the inquests were concerned with colliery accidents which were sadly a frequent and regular occurrence. In June 1869, an inquest was held at the Bulls Head, Hartshorne into the death of Thomas Thacker, a miner at the nearby Granville Colliery.

Guest columnist Michael Smith with his latest book on Derbyshire Pubs.

He died from a fractured skull after a lump of coal had fallen on him.

A local surgeon testified that he had removed about half an ounce of coal from the man’s brain. Not surprisingly, a verdict of accidental death was recorded. Reports of similar inquests appear regularly in the pages of local newspapers.

An inquest held at the Dog and Doublet, Pye Bridge, Somercotes, in April 1870 enquired into the death of Daniel Severn, who worked as a ganger at the Old Deep Pit near Alfreton. According to the evidence given, he was crushed to death between a loaded truck and some empty wagons that he was driving. Once again, a verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Read More

What our beerhunter has been talking about

Many pubs were located close to the banks of a river or canal and it is not surprising that cases of drowning were frequently considered by coroners holding their inquests at these venues.

The circumstances surrounding many of these deaths were far from clear and a verdict of “found drowned” was commonly given where there was no specific evidence of suicide or foul play. A much more unusual and mysterious death was considered at an inquest held at the Hurt Arms, Ambergate, in May 1903. The skeleton of a man with some shreds of clothing had been found in a nearby stretch of the River Derwent.

The police theory was that this was the body of a man who was alleged to have committed a robbery at a circus when staying at Matlock some two years earlier.

Gruesome tales of dead bodies and murder most horrid in Derbyshire pubsThe Carpenters Arms at Dale Abbey was the scene of a particularly tragic inquiry in 1892.

According to the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, “the body lay in a barrow when viewed by the jury and presented a gruesome and sickening spectacle”. Following the advice of the coroner the jury returned a narrative verdict that “someone unknown, a male person, had been found dead in the water of the River Derwent at Ambergate but how or by what means he came there the evidence did not show”. In the majority of inquests the verdict was one of accidental death or death by natural causes but this was not always the case.

In May 1896, at the Plough Inn, Brackenfield, Alfreton, the coroner, Mr Busby, swore in a jury to conduct an inquest into the violent death of Miss Elizabeth Boot.

Read More

She had been found at a local barn, lying on her back with a gash to her throat five inches long. The floor of the barn was covered in blood and a bloodstained billhook lay discarded nearby. A certain William Pugh, an unemployed collier, was suspected of causing the death and after considering the evidence, including the results of a rather gruesome post mortem examination, a verdict of wilful murder was returned.

Pugh was found guilty at a subsequent trial and sentenced to be hanged only a few weeks later. But this was not the end of the story. The scene of the crime attracted a good deal of ghoulish interest and many of these visitors were accommodated in local public houses!

Some deaths were tragic and perhaps poignant rather than brutal. In December 1892 the local press reported details of an inquest at the Carpenter’s Arms, Dale Abbey, Derby, into the, “mysterious death of a West Hallam schoolmistress”. It appears that Annie Mary Cliff, a single woman and for five years assistant mistress at West Hallam School died as a consequence of a botched abortion which may have been conducted in Nottingham.

The verdict was one of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown! Such a case was unusual and verdicts such as this are rarely recorded. All this was a long time ago but pubs today are increasingly being used for a wide variety of purposes, including shops, libraries, and even polling stations.

Read More

Our most-shared stories on social media

Modern drinkers, however, are less accustomed to dealing with death than their 19th century counterparts and I doubt that pubs will ever be used again for inquests!

* Michael Smith is the author of the recently published, Derbyshire Pubs: A Pint Sized History and Miscellany. His other books which include references to pubs and breweries include Industrial Derbyshire and A Derbyshire Miscellany. Enjoyed reading this article?

You can find more of beerhunter Colston Crawford’s columns here. To receive one WhatsApp message a day with the main headlines, as well as breaking news alerts, text NEWS to 07824607430. Then add the number to your phone contacts book as ‘DerbyshireLive’.

Your phone number won’t be shared with other members of the group.

To unsubscribe from the group all you have to do is text back STOP at any time and we will remove and delete your number.

You may also like...