The Mirfield Murders 1847

This is not a cold case, but it is a rather gruesome episode in the history of the small West Yorkshire town of  Mirfield; there is quite a lot of information of this case to be found on line, and in local history publications – this is my contribution to the tale,  as always My intention is to relate events as accurately as possible by relaying information obtained from contemporary sources, and of course visiting the places today. As is often the case  there is very little left to look at, due to demolition of the old buildings and the development of housing estates on the farmland, but we can guesstimate where they were by referring to old street maps – again another favourite tool of mine.— Lets do it.

It was Wednesday the 12th of May  1847, James Wraith. who lived at Water Royd  House, sometimes referred to as Water Royd  Hall by the local people, Mirfield, with his wife Ann, and their servant girl Caroline Ellis [ spelled Carraline in the 1841 census],     James  went down the private lane from his house to Water Royd Lane, at about 11:30 . James Wraith was not a young man, – he was about  77 years old, and he was going to his nephew’s house, across the road ,at Cripplegate, to ask for help from his nephew’s son Joshua ( Green) to move some stone on his land in the afternoon.  Despite sometimes carrying  the name  Water Royd  Hall , the house   wasn’t a mansion as such, just a house that was that bit larger than a lot of the houses in the area, it also had a bit of land – 7 acres in this case. Water Royd House was demolished in the latter part of the 20th century, and housing built on the surrounding fields. I can find very few pictures of Water Royd House  – This is what I could find to  borrow

Drawing of Water Royd Hall
Drawing of Water Royd House

Water Royd House had  no neighbouring properties and stood up a private lane off of Water Royd lane, surrounded by fields and footpaths . The above drawing is possibly a ” romantic type view” using artistic licence. . There is also this poor photograph I borrowed.

Water Royd hall
Water Royd house

I must apologize  that I could not make them any bigger – it is beyond my very limited  I.T. skills .    James Wraith led a very simple life, he was the former steward of the nearby Blake Hall , demolished in 1954,  spent his later life looking after his bit of land, and collecting an income from a few properties he owned. He had no children of his own, but his nephew lived close by – about 200 yards away. his wife Ann had two sons from her previous marriage, (they had presumably both been widowed, because Ann was James’s second wife ). Ann Wraith also owned , and gained some income from some properties of her own, but found herself having to top up one of her son’s income on a regular basis;  James Wraith was not very pleased about this, but they had agreed to disagree about the matter, with James Wraith probably grumbling to himself about his wife’s inability to refuse her son’s requests. . Caroline Ellis , the 20 year old servant girl, was a local girl, and had been at Water Royd House for less than a year, servant girls would usually leave after marrying, and Caroline was to get  married in a few weeks time , so may well have been working out her notice. ( Caroline working out her notice is speculation on my part , but it would  normal practice for a servant girl to give up her position after marrying.)

Blake Hall
Blake Hall

This is Blake Hall where James Wraith was once the steward, and where  Anne Bronte became the governess for the Ingham Children  in 1839 . I do not know if James  ever met Miss Bronte , but James retired from his stewardship at Blake Hall when the Ingham Family were living at Blake Hall, unfortunately  I do not know if he retired before Ann Bronte arrived in 1839.   Having secured the promise of help from his great nephew, Joshua Green, James Wraith made his way home,  . looking at a part of a street map from the turn of the twentieth century we can see Water Royd  House/Hall ( shown as Water Royd house), we can see the lane to the road, and we can see Cripplegate where James’s nephew lived. ( click on the map /pictures to enlarge)

Water Royd Lane area Mirfield
Water Royd Lane area
Mirfield

Walking up Water Royd lane today, there is virtually no evidence  left of what is shown on the map of 1905, so lets see where these things were , and use our imaginations. On the bend of the road where the track entered Water Royd Lane are gardens belonging to modern houses, but looking at the wall , the stonework is different.

Water Royd lane
Water Royd lane

I have put some arrows there to show you what I mean. This is certainly the right area – to within a few yards of where the track to Water Royd House met the lane. I would like to think that this was it.    Just across the road, was the area known as Cripplegate, ( home of  James Wraith’s nephew )

Path to former Cripplegate?
Path to former Cripplegate?
Different view
Different view

Arriving back home James and Ann went into one of the front rooms, facing  the fields for their midday meal ( called ” dinner” in this part of the world). It was normal practice for Mr and Mrs Wraith to have their dinner in one of the front rooms, and for Caroline Ellis to have her dinner in the kitchen a bit later, after clearing the table in the front room.    It was around about half past one when Joshua made his way up to his great uncle’s, he said later that he usually went up at about 1 o’clock to help his uncle , but a sudden shower of rain had delayed him leaving home at his usual time.  Joshua went up the track/ cart road which led to the back yard of the house, he tried the kitchen door, but found it locked, so knocked on the door,  and waited a minute or so, when nobody came to the door , he put his ear to the door. He could hear no movement, but could hear the steady tick tock of the clock. Joshua looked in the kitchen window , and saw that the internal wooden shutters were only open a few inches, He could make out that there was something white on the floor, but couldn’t make out what it was. finding it very strange that the door was locked, and nobody seemed to be in, 12 year old Joshua opened a gate and went to the front of the house,on passing the window of the room  where Mr and Mrs Wraith usually ate , he saw the curtains closed. he also saw that the shutters to the other front room were also closed , but this was not unusual, as this room was not often used. Approaching the front door Joshua saw blood seeping out under the door , onto the doorstep !   In Joshua’s own words “ I then  went to the front door, and saw blood running out, bubbling up – lumps like.”   Joshua was of course  horrified and ran straight back down the lane to tell his Mother  what he had seen . Joshua’s mother sent his older brother ( Thomas)  back to Mr Wraith’s  , and dashed across the road to John Mc Kinnell’s who kept a public house called ” The King’s Head” at the end of the lane – see 1905 map. John Mc Kinnell accompanied  Thomas to the house.

Location of Kings Head
Location of Kings Head

looking today at where the Kings Head was.

Approximate location of kings head
Approximate location of kings head

So the kings Head is long gone, but it was over there somewhere.   When Thomas green, and John Mckinnell reached Water Royd House , McKinnell  managed to open the kitchen window, then the shutters, and climbed in. closely  followed by young Thomas Green. They immediately found Caroline Ellis, lying on the floor, on her back with her head towards the door, and her feet towards the fire fender, she was of course dead, but still warm, her throat cut and her skull broken, a pool of blood around her head. From the kitchen, Mckinnell went into the passage, which ran between the two front rooms. In the passage he found Ann Wraith , James’s wife, her head against the front door, a pool of blood about her head ( and obviously seeping under the door and onto the doorstep), her throat cut and her skull broken. McKinnell entered the front room and found James Wraith , also lying dead in a similar manner.  John Mckinnell  immediately sent word to fetch the local constable and the surgeon from Mirfield, no one else was allowed to enter the house until they arrived.

Henry James Watkinson  was the ( primary) surgeon to arrive , he also had to climb in through the kitchen window,-  the door being locked and the key could not be found.  The inquest was initially being held in the Kings Head, but due to the number of witnesses ( and spectators) had to be move to the Sunday School of the Weslyan Chapel, about one hundred yards down the road. The Sunday School is still standing , though the chapel has been demolished, the Sunday School is now used for worship instead of the chapel.

Sunday School
Sunday School

This is the Sunday School  where the inquest was held, which stood next to the chapel which has since been demolished. I will now repeat some extracts of the statement made by the surgeon at the inquest. Please skip the next paragraph  or two if you do not wish to know the gory details; – you can trust me on this one – they were not going to get up and walk away – they were dead !

This,  in part is what the surgeon told the court       –  ” At about ten past two I went to the house of James Wraith. I made a minute examination of the bodies, with Mr Bradbury, another surgeon.   The servant girl  Catherine Ellis had had her throat cut about three inches in length, from the left to the right side. The arteries were not divided, but the trachea [windpipe] was. The cut was quite through the trachea to the vertibrae [ the vertibra are the small bones in the spine]. There was a serious cut on her upper lip,  ,the upper lip being cut through and her jaw fractured, it is likely the cut was made with the same instrument as the fracture. there was an incision skin deep on the chin. Three of the incisor teeth were driven out. I have no doubt that these injuries to the servant’s mouth were produced by a blow, I saw that two of the teeth were on the floor, and one of them in the mouth.  On the left temporal bone of the head was a large wound, extending to the bone, which was fractured below the wound. On the parieatal bone there was a large wound, and the bone was driven in and broken to atoms (?)   The brain here protruded.”

Human Skull
Human Skull

The scene  must have been horrific ! , These were only some of the head wounds on the girl, the surgeon also described other injuries he found – ” The left arm was fractured a little above the elbow joint. This was effected by a blow, for there is much dicolouration, and extravasation (?)  of blood over these parts, three of the fingers of the same arm were broken to pieces, they are much lacerated , as if by a severe blow.   The body was quite warm when I found it, and life would have been extinct for about half to three quarters of an hour”        This really was a brutal end to a young woman’s life.        Next the surgeon examined Mrs Wraith, and in his own words – ” Found the throat cut on the left side; the wound being about four inches in length; the arteries were divided, and all the soft parts down to the vertebrae. There was a large wound on the right side of the frontal bone, about three inches in length, and the bone was fractured below. The eye was  entirely destroyed, being completely driven out. The molar bone was also fractured, and the orbit entirely destroyed. The upper jaw of the left side was fractured, but there was no external wound. On the head the paretal bones, both right and left were fractured very severely, but no wound over them. On the back part of the head there was a wound over the occipital , with comminuted fracture underneath ”

 

noun
1.

a fracture of a bone in which the separated parts are splintered or fragmented.
As well as the head wounds, Henry Watkinson also stated – ” The right fore-arm was severely broken, and a contused wound over it caused by a blow from a blunt instrument. both bones on this arm were broken. On the left hand two of the smaller fingers were broken, and severely contused and lacerated. There was no ring on the finger, but the finger was fractured.      The body was quite warm when I saw it. life being extinct at about the same time as the other”         Lets not forget Mrs wraith was a quite frail old lady, but was still given a terrible beating, before having her throat cut.    Mrs Wraith lay in the hall, behind the front door, and Mr Wraith was in the room to the right, where they had been eating. I will again use some extracts of what the surgeon said at the inquest.     ” On examining the body of James Wraith, I found the throat dreadfully cut, extending from ear to ear, and going through all the soft parts of the vertebrae”         ” The lower jaw was dreadfully fractured, with a corresponding bruise on the face. On the same side of the face was another comminuted   fracture – three of the incisor teeth were displaced. On the left side of the frontal bone there was a large wound. and a comminuted fracture underneath ”   The surgeon also found further head wounds, and evidence of blows to the upper arms, and  a dislocated shoulder.
The bodies having being found at Water Royd House , local people were very quick to say who they had seen in the area – two men had been seen, they were both known in the area as they were hawkers  – going from house to house on a regular basis, selling goods from a basket. Today they would be known as ” door to door salesmen”. Both men worked the area (separately) selling different goods, one selling  hardware articles, and the other one selling earthenware, and glassware ( drinking glasses etc). What was seen to be significant at the time was that both men were Irish immigrants, and the Irish were seen by the English residents as ” The criminal class”, so for any crime, the Irish were the first suspects ! [ see a previous post “BILLS O’ JACKS” from 1831 where Tom Bradbury suspects the Irish of having previously stolen from him].   These two men were Michael McCabe of Hightown, Liversedge (about 2 miles away) and Patrick Reid of Daw Green ( about 2 or 3 miles away on the Mirfield  side of Dewsbury). Michael McCabe lived in a rented property with his wife, while Patrick Reid lived in  his father’s house (also with his wife)  – it would seem that Reid’s father would rent out rooms to other Irish immigrants and may be called a “Slum lord” today.   We do not know where he lived , but it is very likely that it was demolished a long time ago. I have found some old pictures of the area
West Town  - (Daw Green)
West Town – (Daw Green ?)

We do not know where McCabe lived either, but I have found a picture of The Shears Inn in Hightown. Perhaps he called in there occasionally.

Shears Inn
Shears Inn

Michael McCabe  was  apprehended later that day, as he was still in the area, and was taken to  The Shoulder Of Mutton to be held  ; ironically McCabe  had done some business with the pub that week , and had done a deal to supply them with some glasses. There is still a Shoulder of Mutton today, but the building was almost certainly rebuilt, probably in the same spot, between the wars.

Shoulder of Mutton
Shoulder of Mutton

Patrick Reid was arrested in his father’s lodging house on Friday the 14th May, at about three o clock in the morning. He was found in bed with his wife, in a room- there was also two men said to be brothers in bed(s)(?) in the same room !. Daw Green was described as “Being a place where a person trying to escape from custody could soon baffle the officers of justice. ” – Which gives the impression that it was a warren of passageways and alleys.    The following Sunday was a “Feast Day” ,  and news having got around about the murder , thousands of people turned up in Mirfield, not just local people, but people from surrounding counties came to view the gory scene. The police , in their wisdom, and to prevent possible trouble, allowed people into Water Royd house, in groups of about ten or so, to view the blood spattered walls and the (now dried) pools of blood, and brain tissue on the floors. People were taking pieces of hedging , flowers , tree branches and  such,  from the gardens as souvenirs .  You see people had to make their own entertainment in those days ! ( sorry).    When investigating the scene, and the victims, Caroline was undressed, and it was found that she was wearing only one garter – she should of course have had one on each leg; when Michael McCabe was apprehended , a thorough search was made of his house , and a portion of what appeared to be a garter was found . The immediate conclusion at the time was that this was a portion of the missing garter.  Michael McCabe  testified at the inquest, after being told by the coroner that he was under suspicion of being concerned with a very serious crime . He told the jury that he had called at Mr Wraith’s, like he frequently did, to see if they wanted any pots , as they had previously bought from him. He said that he called at the back door and knocked at the door, at first he heard nothing, so knocked again, and then heard steps coming down the stairs, knocking a third time he said a man opened the door about three or four inches. McCabe then rattled his basket of pots and asked if they wanted anything in his line. The man at the door replied ” No sir” then shut the door.  McCabe  then said he heard a groan from the kitchen and saw blood on the floor. When he was asked to elaborate on this, he said that he thought the old lady might be ill, and the man was there to tend to her, and the blood may be due to them killing fowls for the Dewsbury feast.  Parts of this statement we later find were fabricated by McCabe.  McCabe then walked down the track from the house and called at The Kings Head to see if they wanted any of his wares – business as usual it seems.  Patrick Reid  for his part, admitted to being in the area , and said that he called at Mr Wraith’s and knocked on the door , but when no one answered , he walked away. Other witnesses were called who all saw both men in the area,some stated heading towards the house, one said the men were together, most said that they saw both men within minutes of each other heading towards the house . It certainly was not looking good for them, and the inquest found Wilful Murder against both men. Both men were held in custody  to appear before the Dewsbury magistrates court , while investigations continued.       Friday 14th may 1847 Mr and Mrs Wraith, along with their servant girl, Caroline Ellis were laid out in the front parlour of Water Royd House, hundreds of people came to “pay their respect” or more likely to have a good gawp, the funerals were the following day. Mr and Mrs Wraith were buried at Saint Mary’s churchyard Mirfield, watched by hundreds of people, then Caroline was buried at the Weslyan chapel, Water Royd Lane, again watched by hundreds of people. The chapel was demolished in 1993, but Caroline’s  memorial still stands, sadly now showing it’s age.

Chapel demolished 1993
Chapel demolished 1993
Site of former chapel
Site of former chapel
Caroline's Monument
Caroline’s Monument

The stone reads – in memory of Caroline Ellis aged 21 years , daughter of George and Jemima Ellis of this parish who with James Wraith Gent and Ann his wife, her Master and Mistress ,comprising a whole family, were most barbarously murdered at midday on the 12th of May, AD 1847  at Water Royd House  situated 127 yards NE  from this place.

Mrs Ellis, Caroline’s mother told the newspaper reporter that Caroline was actually due to have been married the following day in the chapel where she was laid to rest – sadly very poignant. I  will show a modern day Google Earth picture showing the approximate locations of the kings Head, Cripplegate, Water Royd  house

WATER ROYD LANE  MIRFIELD
WATER ROYD LANE
MIRFIELD

This is my best guesstimate – probably not dead accurate, but close.     Despite thousands of people trampling through, and all around  Water Royd House, investigations were still needed at the house.  There was a drop well in the backyard  ( a drop well is a traditional type well where a bucket is lowered down a shaft to bring up water).  When the local constable, John Howarth arrived on the day of the murder, he suggested that the well should be searched,  but his suggestion was ignored at the time, and it was a week later, after thousands of people had visited, that the well was pumped out, and a young man, Jonathon Ashton, a miner, was sent down a ladder into the well, the well being about twelve feet deep.  A key which fitted the kitchen door lock was found, and a bent soldering iron, along with the handle belonging to the soldering iron.

victorian soldering iron
Victorian soldering iron

This is an example of what the soldering iron may have looked like. This was obviously the weapon that was used to beat Caroline’s head in, it was also used on Mrs Wraith, but a poker was used to beat Mr Wraith .   The hearing in the Dewsbury Magistrates court was very well attended by spectators, including a number of ” well dressed ladies” , some spectators had to be turned away, due to the incapacity of the courtroom to hold all the potential audience. This hearing of course is a formality to decide where the prisoners should be tried , and of course, serious crimes had to be heard at the Assizes.

assize
 
noun

historical
plural noun: assizes
  1. a court which formerly sat at intervals in each county of England and Wales to administer the civil and criminal law. In 1972 the civil jurisdiction of assizes was transferred to the High Court, and the criminal jurisdiction to the Crown Court.

Without repeating every small part of evidence given ,  I shall try to give some relevant pieces. Both Michael McCabe, and Patrick Reid had been witnessed by many people very close to Water Royd House, McCabe seen on the cart road to the house, and Reid seen on a path through a field to the house. Both men had been seen, after visiting the house, leaving in different directions, though not at the same time. Both men’s clothes had been passed onto a chemist to check for blood.  The chemist found a spot of what he thought was blood, on McCabes clothes, and quite a lot more blood on Reid’s clothes, – this was 1847 remember, no forensic science in those days. A vital piece of possible evidence had also been destroyed,- on the day of the murder, before the news had got around, a woman in nearby Ravenswharfe ( now Ravensthorpe?) found a heavily bloodstained shirt in a privy, on showing it to her neighbour, they decided that the shirt was beyond use, due to all the blood on it, so they burnt it ! Ravenswharfe is on the road from  Mirfield  to Daw Green – the home of Patrick Reid. Also in court Wraith Green, another great nephew of James Wraith gave this evidence. – “Patrick Reid was in the habit of going frequently to  Mr Wraith’s house. I recollect just before Christmas last, when I saw Reid getting some beer  in the house. Caroline Ellis was in the kitchen with him. He remained nearly an hour. He went away up the field, then five minutes afterwards he came back. He said he had lost a tea caddy , and (she) had taken it out of his basket. She said she had not, and He said She had. There was a lot of noise in the kitchen,  and I fetched my uncle. Reid told him that she had taken the  tea caddy . I said that she had not as I had been there all the time, and my uncle ordered him away. as he was going away He said ”  I’ll be revenged on you sometime or other”,  and my uncle told me to fetch Mr Howarth the constable. I had not got very far when my uncle called me back because Reid had gone. I never saw him there again. ”  It would seem that James Wraith quite liked the local hawkers calling, he would often invite them in, offer them refreshments, and catch up on a bit of local news and gossip, who better to ask than someone who was walking round talking and listening to the local residents.  Also another giving evidence was Rosanna Hallas who had bumped into Reid in the Easter period about 400 yards from Water Royd House, he pointed up to James Wraith’s house and asked what was the name of that girl at the house he said “ That d(amne)d bitch has taken a tea caddy out of my basket, but I’ll serve her out for it.”  Mrs Hallas informed the court that she told him that he should leave the girl alone. Another witness was a neighbour of Patrick Reid’s father , Mr Thomas kilty.  Mr Kilty identified the soldering iron as one that he had borrowed from Reid’s father, which had been kept  at kilty’s house for some time.  Patrick Reid came to reclaim it the morning of the murder. Mrs Kilty  asked him if he ” wanted it back for the row ” ( A rumour was circulating that the people in Dewsbury were going to march up to Daw Green after the Dewsbury  feast, and eject all the Irish immigrants, who had moved there in the last five years)  Reid told mrs kilty that his father wanted the soldering iron . Mrs Kilty  said “ Any person who gets a blow or two off that will never know what happens to them. ” Reid picked the iron up and waved it in front of her face and said “ No they won’t. ” It was decided by the Magistates court that because of the number of people killed, and  weapons found ( Poker, soldering iron, razor,and possibly a knife  being used to cut the throats, before the razor)  that more than one person was involved.

Wraith Family Grave
Wraith Family Grave
 This is where Mr and Mrs Wraith were laid to rest in Mirfield Parish Church ground, we will have a closer look at the stone a little later on, but we should now go to the York assizes to see this case through. The York assizes were held in the building that is now York Crown Court , next door to the prison which is now the Castle Museum. You can still visit some of the prison cell if you visit the museum, including the alleged ” condemned cell” where many people spent their last hours on this earth.

York Crown Court
York Crown Court
York Assizes
York Assizes

The evidence seemed to be pointing against Patrick Reid, and whilst both men were being held in York castle gaol, Michael McCabe told his defence attorney, that the man who opened the door to him at Water Royd house was Patrick Reid – or perhaps more likely,  his attorney ” suggested” that  it might have been Patrick Reid.  Michael McCabe , then became a witness in the case, but of course was still held in gaol. The first assizes were for the murder of the old man James Wraith only, and after hearing the witnesses, the jury were undecided, and surprisingly found Patrick Reid not guilty. The prosecution informed the judge that they needed to collect more evidence, so the case was adjourned till the next assizes, both McCabe  and Reid were kept in York castle prison, but Reid having initially been found not guilty, was kept in a different (and probably better) part of the prison.

At the winter assizes, both men appeared in court, before a different judge, and jury, this was for the murder of Caroline Ellis. Witnesses gave statements , some witness statements, conflicting with others , but all the statements placed both men at Water Royd House, at about the right time, and indeed both men admitted to calling at the house; Reid saying that nobody answered when he knocked, so he walked away, and McCabe gave several variations of what he saw at the house.  A twelve year old girl Mary Hallas, who, being caught in the thunderstorm, took shelter behind a nearby field wall claimed to have seen all the comings and goings at the house. She claimed to have seen both men, who she knew, standing together in the front garden. She also said she saw Joseph Green come to the house and try the door then – she says “I saw Joseph Green  whistle in the lock-hole , shout  hello, and poise the door” [ poise is a dialect word for kick]. She also says she then saw John McKinnell and Thomas Green then approach, and get in through the window,   after Joseph green had run off down the cart road to raise the alarm. The judge then pointed out to the court that Mary Hallas, was more than 300 yards away from the house when she claims to have witnessed this. Further evidence was given by other witnesses, that McCabe had supposedly  been seen in conversation with Reid . McCabe’s  defence counsel tried to incriminate Reid with the crime, and Reid’s counsel ( Mr Seymour) , tried to shift the blame to McCabe.   The Judge took three hours to sum up the case for the jury to go and make their decision.      The result of the case was that  BOTH men were found guilty, and the judge donned the black cap to announce the death sentence.

Judge with black cap
Judge with black cap

When asked by the judge if they had anything  to say, McCabe  said “ Only one thing I can say;  I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge.”  Patrick Reid said nothing.  At this point Michael Mccabe broke down in the dock and became somewhat insensible, he had to found a chair to sit on till he revived  sufficiently for the court to continue.  At the end of the trial , Reid’s counsel , passed a sheet of paper over to McCabe’s  counsel , on the paper was a confession made by Reid  to his legal team two weeks BEFORE the trial started. Reid had confessed to the murders of all three people and exonerated McCabe completely.  I will copy his (later) final confession, made in the condemned  cell,   that was printed in The Leeds Mercury . The first part was obviously put together by the legal team

” I Patrick Reid,now lying under the sentence of death for the wilful murder of Catherine Ellis, at Mirfield, near Dewsbury in the county of  York , on the 12th day of May last, hereby acknowledge the justice of the sentence which has been passed upon me; and I do hereby solemnly and sincerely, and as I expect shortly to appear before God , declare that I alone am guilty of the murder of  Caroline Ellis,  James Wraith, and Ann Wraith, and that Michael McCabe now also lying under the sentence of death, for the murder of the said Caroline Ellis, had nothing whatever to do with her murder , or the murder of James Wraith and Ann Wraith , any or either of them.

About a month previous to the murder the thought suggested itself to my mind that I would rob his house, having frequently conversed with the servant girl about the money he was possessed  of.       I got up about about nine o’clock in the morning on the 12th of May, and thinking it was Dewsbury fair, I would not go a hawking that day. I afterwards changed my mind, and went out about 10 o’clock to Kilty’s house, which is distant to my father’s house about forty yards . I saw Mrs Kilty , and then iIgot the soldering iron from her. I never saw [Mr] Kilty that morning. I then went home and got my basket ready to go a hawking, and put the soldering iron under the papers in the bottom of the basket. I had then resolved to rob and murder the family of Mr Wraith. I then went over to Mirfield, and called at several places on my way. I called at Lockwood’s house about half past twelve, and proceeded from there down the footpath to Mr Wraith’s house. I went into the kitchen and sat on the table talking to the servant girl ( Caroline Ellis) who was cleaning the fender. After I had been in the house five or ten minutes, I took out the soldering iron and hit her on the head. She shrieked  out and staggered to the door, which she tried to open. I prevented her and struck her again , and she then fell. I then went into the passage  and met Mr Wraith coming out of the cellar with some beer in a silver tankard, and stuck him a blow with the soldering iron. The iron flew out of the handle. Mr Wraith staggered into the parlour. I met Mrs Wraith coming into the passage to see what was the noise , and I struck her with the iron part of the soldering iron. I then went into the kitchen and got the poker, and struck them each two or three blows. I then rifled the pockets of Mr Wraith, and took his watch, and took the ring off  Mrs Wraith’s finger. I then heard a knock on the door, which I thought was Catherine Ellis getting up, and went to the kitchen but she was quite still, and I returned to the parlour. I then went to the kitchen door and opened it ajar, when I saw a person who I did not then Know, but who is the prisoner McCabe. McCabe inquired if I wanted anything in his way? I answered “no sir”. I thought the man would not know me; if he had I would have murdered him too . I then shut and bolted the door and ransacked the drawers, and found in one of them a razor case, out of which I took one and cut the throats of all three parties. I then washed my hands and wiped them on a towel. I then quitted the house, locked the kitchen door, and threw the soldering iron and key in the well, near the back door, and then went home by the footpath.

The amount of money I found in MrWraith’s house was between £8 and£9 , which was all I  got besides the watch and the wedding ring. When I got home I put the watch between the rafters and slates, but I do not know where it is now. I never was in the garden as sworn to by the little girl, nor in the oat field, nor did I stand at the laith end as sworn to by Benjamin Morton, but went the direct road home shortly after McCabe had been at the house.”

Patrick Reid also refuted some other sightings of him given by some other witnesses, and during a recess of the court case had told McCabe that McCabe’s  mistake was that he made things up about what he saw and heard when he called at the house , instead of just telling the truth. ( McCabe knew that he was in the frame and elaborated things to try and deflect suspicion, but just dug himself into a hole – Oh what a tangled web we weave   etc) Hearing about Reid’s confession, Michael McCabe was in a much more settled mind, his counsel applied for the death sentence to be lifted, which it was,  but because the judge thought McCabe  was probably still involved ( What ???) so  he was to be transported for life instead of execution.( that’s justice? ).    Twenty year old Patrick Reid was to face the ultimate punishment.  I can now show you the Wraith gravestone

Wraith family gravestone
Wraith family gravestone

Says in a few dozen words what I say in a few thousand 🙂

Wraith Gravestone
Wraith Gravestone

January 18th 1848 was the day Patrick Reid met his maker, days before the execution, people began to make their way to York, to get a good view of the spectacle . Executions were at that time held in the open for all to see. Trains had extra carriages added, people walked or rode in coaches or on horseback, it was a real crowd puller with an attendance of about thirty or forty thousand people. The Hangman was Nathanial Howard, himself a former prisoner who took the job on in 1840 when the ” official” hangman William Calcraft was double booked, and again I will copy a small part of the report from the Leeds Mercury   – (Reid) Did however just before the final bolt was removed, make the following statement to the officers around him “well Gentlemen I wish to say that I alone am the guilty person; that McCabe is entirely innocent; that no human being in the world had anything to do with it but myself.”
Howard the county hangman, then advanced, and having drawn the cap over the culprit’s face, firmly tied his legs, and then, with much seeming care, adjusted the rope around his neck. But a moment more elapsed, and the profound silence,with which the spectators had viewed these preliminaries, was broken by the drawing of the fatal bolt, which excited some involuntary manifestations of horror as the body dropped – dropped we regret to say, not with the effect of instantaneous deprivation of life, but to strangle  rather than hang the unfortunate man, owing to the looseness of the rope, which considerably bent the neck. Nevertheless not more than two minutes elapsed before the evidently  severe expiring convulsions were over, and this world was closed upon the murderer for ever.

The moment the drop fell, that portion of the spectators possessing some degree of the acuter sensibilities of human nature left the scene of the execution; but others with insatiable curiosity continued to gaze upon the repulsive spectacle until the body was removed, and feasted upon its horrors as if enjoying a rich banquet.

Now that isn’t that great journalism ?  They also add near the end “ It may be truly said of this occasion, that the soul depressing exhibition of a criminal on the scaffold, drew more persons from their rest on the coldest morning of the winterthan the most transcendent exhibition of virtue could probably have accomplished  with all the charms and temptations of  one of summer’s most attractive days. We fear this testifies little for  delicacy of  feeling or purity of taste. As an instance of the moral effect of this execution, we may mention, that scarcely had a moment elapsed after the drop fell, before one or two boys who witnessed it were in the hands of the police for pocket-picking.

A couple of things that I may not have mentioned are that, Caroline’s  missing garter was never found, the piece of garter found at McCabes house was found by a local manufacturer to not match the remaining garter. When the soldering iron handle is mentioned I suspect the soldering iron is the pointed  copper or brass piece on the end, and the handle in this case refers also to the stem.

soldering iron
soldering iron

I did read somewhere that Michael mcCabe actually returned to England, and lived until   c1880 in The Huddersfield area, but I cannot find any record of this, so please do not accept this as fact.   I am sure that despite all my best efforts, there will be some mistakes in this account, but I feel it is pretty close to the truth. I reserve the right to correct any obvious errors I may have made if they come to my notice. Thank you for looking in – I welcome your comments or CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

Wessyman 137

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 comments on “The Mirfield Murders 1847

    • I have got to say that I found this a difficult post to do , due to the vast amount of information there is. I found myself editing, then re- editing, then rewriting certain parts, but all in all I think it is something like. 🙂

  1. Having lived in the area for 42 years, I found this account fascinating. The ,maps and photographs helped to put the locations into perspective. I had heard talk of the’Murder House’ so presume that this is it!

  2. M’Cabe’s wife returned to Huddersfield and lived in Castlegate with her two sons. M’Cabe was eventually released from prison (he was never transported) after a campaign that involved Digby Seymour. Michael M’Cabe’s latter days are shrouded in obscurity — he fell foul of the law for minor offences on a couple of occasions — but his sons were members of the Irish Small Gang who terrorised Huddersfield, attacking members of the public and the police in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

  3. The Yorkshire Gazette (28/Feb/1863) has a letter from the Rev. Robert D. Jackson seeking donations for Michael McCabe, who (it states) was released on 24 December 1862 into the care of the Prisoners’ Aid Society in London:

    “His health during his term of transportation was such that he could not perform any hard work. He has a wife and two sons ; one a cripple, aged 17, and another aged 16, who is now out of employ through scarcity of work in the mill. I shall be most happy to receive any donations on behalf of this much injured and innocent man, to enable him to make a fresh start in life.”

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