Horbury tragedies

What follow are a number of stories detailing some tragic events that have occurred in Horbury over the years. There are no recent Horbury tragedies recorded here simply because of the need to respect the privacy of living relatives. That said, the old newspaper archives give us plenty of stories from the 19th Century, which we hope will be of interest to local people.

Constable Joseph Berry


Joseph Berry was baptised on 26th July 1795, at St Peter's Church, Horbury his father was Benjamin Berry, a shoemaker.

In the 1841 census we find Joseph, age 45, a shoemaker, living on New Road, Horbury with his wife Charlotte and children, Benjamin 15, Sarah 14, Ellen 12, Alfred 4 and David 1.

Sometime after this census, Joseph became a police constable in Horbury and was called to investigate the case of Mr. Edward Craven and his daughter Emma, allegedly concealing the death of an infant she had recently given birth to. This unfortunate incident eventually led to Joseph Berry's incarceration in a mental hospital in York and his death by suicide. An account, can be read below:

Joseph Berry had been the constable for less than a year and his death was mourned around Horbury. According to the "Leeds Intelligencier" of 17th September 1849, he had always been "a very honest, sober, industrious and peaceable man.”

Constable Berry's troubles began when he went to interview Thomas Nettleton about the concealed death and he refused to divulge any information to him. Rumour and speculation began to circulate around the town. Thomas Nettleton was arrested, but let go on the proviso he produced the baby's body the next day, which he did. Whilst at Wakefield arranging the inquest, news reached Constable Berry that Edward and Emma Craven had left and that he was to blame for not arresting them.

This understandably caused Constable Berry some distress. A post mortem was carried out on the baby by Dr Greenwood of Ossett. At its conclusion, word reached them that Edward Craven had been seen at his house. Constable Berry went at once and arrested him, leaving him in the custody of George Rayner, the deputy constable.

Unfortunately for Constable Berry, Edward Craven somehow managed to escape! This news was too much for him. Great mental anguish caused him to falsely conclude that he would be sent to prison and his family ruined. Setting off in the pouring rain, he searched Normanton, Wakefield and Oakenshaw Stations, trying to stop Edward Craven catching an early train.

Returning home and attending the inquest, it was clear that Constable Berry was in a very weak state, both mentally and physically. In the following days he became quite deranged and attempted to take his own life three times. His family stepped in and cared for him until he could be sent to the York Asylum. 

Joseph Berry was admitted to the lunatic asylum at York (Bootham Park) Hospital on the 21st August 1849 and tragically succeeded in taking his own life 5 days later, aged 54. He was buried at St Peter's, Horbury on the 29th August 1849. I have not found his headstone.

The census of 1851 shows a widowed Charlotte Berry living on Cluntergate, Horbury with her children and two boarders: Philip Milner aged 16 years and William Yealand aged 19 years, both cordwainer's (shoemaker's) apprentices. Eldest son Benjamin is a cordwainer employing three men. By 1861, Charlotte was living in Leicester with her son David and his wife. She died in Leicester in 1876, aged 76.

This was posted to Horbury & Sitlington History Group by Mark Howarth on the 19th March 2018:

"16th Aug1849

EXTRAORDINARY OCCURRENCE AT HORBURY. The quiet village of Horbury, near Wakefield, bas been thrown into a state of great excitement by a painful occurrence that has come to light within the past week. An independent gentleman of the name of Craven lived in the village in respectable style. He was a bachelor, and a young lady lived with him as housekeeper, who was known as Miss Craven, and was reported to be his natural daughter.

In the middle of last week a report prevailed that this young person had given birth to a child, which bad been made away with; and that the body had been found buried in the plantation belonging to the house. The report was of course not long in coming to the ears of the constables, who instituted proper inquiries, traced the report to a man who bad seen the body of the child, and then informed the Coroner, who thereupon directed that an inquest should be held forthwith.

Accordingly on Saturday last, the body of the child having been produced, an inquest was held over it at the Fleece Inn, when the following extraordinary facts were elicited in evidence:Thomas Nettleton said 'l live at Horbury, and am a butcher. I was told by Ellen Sykes [Mr. Craven's servant] that she saw Mr. Craven burying something in the plantation, and in consequence I went to the place. I took some earth up with my hands, and found a bundle wrapped in brown paper. I took it up and opened it, and found a new born child. I made another hole and buried it again. I showed it to Ellen Sykes before I buried it. It was a boy. This was on Tuesday morning. I was called upon by Mr. Roger Hirst, Mr. Joseph Berry and Mr. John Gee, on Friday morning. They are constables for Horbury and asked me to meet them at the Fleece Inn, in
Horbury, and to bring the bundle I had found.I went and dug up the bundle and brought it to the Fleece. I laid it on the table in the room in the presence of the constables and other persons. I left it with them. Ellen Sykes told me not to say anything, so I did not mention the finding of the child to the constable nor to any one. Ellen Sykes told me she saw Mr. Craven digging something; she told me she suspected something was up. I never denied I knew anything about the child, or had it in my possession. I groom and work occasionally for Mr. Craven.'

Ellen Sykes, upon her oath, said: 'l an a single woman. I was servant to Mr. Edward Craven, but was discharged last Thursday by Miss Craven. Mr. Craven is a bachelor. Miss Craven is about 24 years old, and lives in his house as his daughter. I had been there three years the 1st of last June. Last Sunday, Nettleton asked me how Miss Craven was. I told him she was rather poorly, but nothing more. He was in Mr. Craven's yard. He asked me again on the following day. I said she was a little better ; and again on Tuesday, when I told him she was much better, recovering very nicely, and getting down stairs. Miss Craven took to her bed last Saturday; she staid in bed all day.

Nettleton said he had had many people at him - scores - saying they knew what was the matter with Miss Craven, and said he supposed I knew what was the matter with her. He said he knew all about it. This was Tuesday night and nothing passed more that night. About 7 o'clock on Wednesday morning I was milking, and Nettleton came to me in the cow house. He pulled out of his pocket a parcel of brown paper tied with band, he opened the paper, and there was something sewed up in white calico. He ripped the calico open and there was a male child in it. Be said, there was no mistake, it was a fine boy. I asked him what he was going to do with it, and he said he was going to bury it right again. I left him with it in the cow house and came away. Nothing more passed that morning. I saw him go out of the gate; he came again in the evening and I asked him what he had done with the child. He said he had buried it safe and right again, but he would not tell me where he had put it. I told him I felt very sorry that I knew anything about the case, I was so troubled in my mind - l mean by about the case, his showing me the child. I never told Nettleton I saw Mr. Craven digging or burying in the plantation, but I did tell him I saw Mr. Craven graving in the garden. By graving, I mean working in the garden since he is in the habit of doing so.

He (Nettleton) said he suspected something was up, and said he supposed I suspected. I laughed and put it off, and a little girl came in and we said no more at that time. This conversation took place on Tuesday evening. I never told Nettleton not to mention the finding of the child to anyone. It was last Monday morning, betwixt nine and ten, when I saw Mr. Craven working in the garden. Nettleton told me I was not to name it to any one that he had found the child.

At the time Miss Craven was confined to her bed I had reason to suppose she was delivered of a child. My reason for supposing so was the difference in her appearance before she was confined to her bed and after she came downstairs. She came down stairs about four o'clock last Monday afternoon. I saw the bed linen was changed and taken away. There were finer sheets on the bed than were put on before. I did not attend to her on Saturday and Sunday Mr. Craven himself attended to her those two days, but I went into her bedroom occasionally. No medical man was sent for to Miss Craven.

Mr. Craven, on Saturday, shut the inner door leading from the kitchen to the room after him, as he often does. It was betwixt twelve and one o'clock and I also heard him shut the top stairs door. I heard Miss Craven crying out as if in much pain all Saturday morning, and was very poorly. I usually made the beds and emptied the slops. I did not make the beds on Saturday and Sunday, but I did on Monday. I did not empty the slops on Saturday, but I did on Sunday. I went up stairs after dinner on Saturday to empty the slops, but I did not empty them. I did not see the chamber pot at the time I went up, but I saw it afterwards in the course of the day. The pot was empty and clean in the inside, but stained with blood on the outside.

On Wednesday night I think it was, I went into Miss Craven's bedroom; she was undressing. I saw her applying something to her breasts, but did not notice what it was. I shut the door and went away without going into her; it was bed-time, and I had my shoe's off. I had not spoken to Nettleton on Wednesday morning before he brought the child. I have looked at the piece of cloth the child is now wrapped in; it is a piece of linen cloth. The child was wrapped in calico that Nettleton produced to me on Wednesday morning.'

Joseph Berry sworn: 'I am one of the constables for Horbury. I was at the Fleece Inn yesterday morning with Hirst and the other persons, when Nettleton brought the bundle. It was in brown paper and he laid it on the table and left it so I took it into my charge. The bundle was opened in the room and when we opened the brown paper a cloth appeared. The cloth was then opened; a child, apparently new born, was wrapped in the cloth. I took the child and coverings home; the child now produced is the same as that left by Nettleton. It has been in my custody ever since. I gave the child to Mr. Greenwood to make a post mortem examination. I was present whilst he made it. After he had finished the examination, he gave it back to me. The cloth in which the child is now wrapped, is not the same as that in which it was wrapped when Nettleton brought it to the Fleece. It was changed, because the other cloth was bloody and dirty; this cloth was calico.'

Mr. George Greenwood was sworn: 'A surgeon, residing at Ossett; was sent for yesterday evening to make a post mortem examination of the child produced at this inquest. I made a careful examination last night and first examined the child externally. It is a male child, and I think the birth somewhat premature. There was a considerable flattening of the nose on the right side. The umbilical cord was clean cut, and left about three inches long untied. There were no marks of violence externally. I opened the head and found considerable disease in it; effusion of water to a great extent. I then opened the chest and found all the viscera healthy. The lungs were fleshy to the touch, not crepitous and on being put into water immediately gravitated to the bottom of the vessel. The abdominal viscera all healthy. l am of opinion the child was still born. I should think the child was within five or six weeks of the full period of utero-gestation. The flattening of the nose might be from a face presentation, and not by violence.'

The medical testimony concluded the evidence, and the coroner then went over the evidence very minutely, and directed the jury as to the law of the case. The jury returned the verdict of stillborn.

J. Stringer, Esq. solicitor, Horbury , was present on behalf of the authorities, and three other solicitors were also present to watch the inquiry. On Monday Mr. Stringer applied to the magistrates for warrants of apprehension against the parties concerned in the above offence, but the magistrates required some evidence to be produced before taking this step, and issued summonses to the witnesses already named to appear before them. This no doubt has been done, and the warrants have doubtless been granted, although we have no information to that effect. Mr. and Miss Craven have left Horbury, no-one knowing whither they are gone." 

Edward and Emma Craven

The 1841 census shows Edward Craven, age 45, living at Northgate, Horbury. He is living on independent means.

On 11th December 1849, at a special Winter Assizes, Edward Craven and Emma Craven were found Not Guilty of "Concealing the birth of an infant." The report said that the lady living with Mr. Craven as his daughter was about 24 years old and that the pair left Horbury immediately afterwards.

I am unable to find Edward Craven in the 1851 census, but an Emma Craven, age 25, born at Harewood, is visiting a William Craven, 71, a corn miller and farmer of 52 acres at Idle, Bradford. Could this be her? However, the census of 1861 shows that they returned to Horbury. Edward Craven, born in Shipley in 1793, unmarried, age 67, a landed proprietor, is living at Lidget House, with his daughter Emma Craven, age 34, born at Harewood. This would seem to fit with information in the newspaper article.

Edward died later the same year and was buried at St Peter's Church on the 21st August. Emma Lister Craven, spinster was his sole executrix. But what happened to Emma? I can't find a baptism for an Emma Lister Craven but I can find Emma Lister, baptised 5th March 1826, at All Saints Church, Harewood, daughter of single woman Sarah Lister. Was Edward the father?

The year after Edward Craven died, Emma married gentleman farmer and widower, David Briggs from Goole. They married on the 7th May 1862 at St Peter's Church, Horbury. Edward Craven, gentleman was recorded as her father. The 1871 census shows David and Emma Briggs living at Grove House, Goole. David is aged 70 years and farms 59 acres. Emma is now 46. After this the trail seems to go cold. I can't find either David or Emma in the next census, nor can I find a death for either of them.

Thanks to Jenny Smith and Mark Howarth.


1. Ancestry.co.uk for census information
2. "Leeds Intelligencier", 17th Sept 1849


Helen Bickerdike  July 2018 



A Horbury Hanging - Two attempts to line out, and one success


From the "Leeds Times", 2nd March 1895

"On Sunday night a shocking suicide took place at Horbury. About six o'clock a platelayer named William Laister, living in New Street, retired to bed apparently in good spirits, and shortly before ten he was found hanging from the staircase quite dead. He had fastened one end of the rope, which was around his neck, to the hand-rail, and swung himself down the stairs, and his feet were almost touching the bottom stair.

One of the members of the deceased's family made the discovery. Deceased had attempted to destroy himself on the 28th July last and had to be taken to Clayton Hospital, Wakefield. Here he was found to be insane and consequently sent to the West Riding Asylum at Wakefield. After remaining there for some time he was discharged."

William Laister was 66 years of age when he died in January 1895. He was born on the 13th March 1827 in Horbury, the son of woolcomber Thomas Laister and his wife Susan (nee Dews).

Laister married Emma Downend (1834 - 1912) on the 24th February 1852 at All Saints Church, Wakefield. William signed the register, but Emma couldn't read or write and she left her mark. The Laisters were living in Back Lane, Horbury in 1861 with four children. William was working as a railway platelayer. By 1871, the Laister family has grown and there are seven children, all now living in New Row, Horbury. The three eldest boys: Joseph (16), John (14) and Enoch (12) are all working underground in a coal mine; young Enoch Laister as a hurrier. Jane Laister, aged just 9 years is already working in a mill as a piecer.

William and Emma Laister had eleven children in all, the last one Emma Laister being born in 1877. By 1891, the Laisters had moved to New Street, Horbury and there were three children still living at home: Mary (39), Susy (17) and William (15).


1. Ancestry.co.uk for census information
2. "Leeds Times", 2nd March 1895


Stephen Wilson  July 2018