Glossop Heritage Trust
The Simmondley Pit Affair, 1923.
This article was written by the late Dennis Winterbottom, in 1986, from research which he had undertaken on behalf of Glossop Heritage Trust. Dennis prefaced the article: For the text there is one main source: a private memoir of John Ellis Chadwick entitled "Just A Case Of Murder", written in 1934. The author is indebted to Miss M. Sidebottom for having been allowed to read the memoir many years, ago.' Other material is drawn from the reminiscences of older Glossopians.
There are several good reasons why we should re-examine the Simmondley Pit Affair. In the first place it was a sensational episode which occurred in Glossop, and this is enough to make it a genuine piece of local history. In the second place the record of these events needs to be set straight; many inaccuracies and misleading conceptions of the affair which have been handed down to us by word of mouth need to be amended. And thirdly a study of these events reveals something of the nature of Glossop during the early 1920s. The study is pervaded by a sense of human degradation not confined to the central criminal, Albert Edward Burrows. The people of Glossop demonstrated some of their worst characteristics, and so did people from a much wider area. At the same time the town of Glossop displayed one of its better characteristics: its self-reliance. Glossop had a problem which aroused national (and some international) attention, and Glossop dealt with that problem itself.
The sense of degradation seeps through in several ways. When Burrows was apprehended it was not, in the first instance, by the police but by a section of the mob. To put it more kindly he was apprehended by a group from among the general public, but how was such a group available on an ordinary Tuesday morning, the 13th of March 1923? The answer is that many had scorned everyday work in order to be spectators of the grisly activities proceeding at Simmondley Pit, whilst ostensibly searching for a missing boy. And when Burrows was handed over to the police after a chase across the shoulder of Whiteley Nab he was conveyed to the Police Station in the Corporation Sanitary Vehicle, or Night-Soil Wagon, which made slow and smelly progress by way of Gnat Hole, Moorfield, Derbyshire level and Sheffield Road into Glossop. Its progress .was accompanied by an ever-swelling mob which jeered and yelled at the prisoner, and he responded with appropriate defiant obscenities. Such a scene as this is as much the horror
of the Simmondley Pit Affair as the gruesome details of the actual crimes.
Whilst Burrows was lodged in Strangeways Prison, Manchester, he was brought several times to Glossop Magistrates' Court to be further remanded. It was not by accident that crowds gathered in the vicinity of the Railway Station and Town Hall on these occasions; it was to satisfy a morbid desire to see Burrows and to jeer and taunt him. And they saw not a cowardly, cringing, repentant creature, but a man who gave as good as he got, who rattled his handcuffs at the mob, to draw shrieks of horror from the women and snarls of rage from the men. The obscenity of Simmondley Pit was demonstrated as much in the centre of Glossop as it was at the bottom of the airshaft.
It was not only the Glossopian who demonstrated his delight in horror. Throughout the episode charabancs packed with outside ghouls made their way between Charlesworth and Simmondley, their passengers craning their necks to get a glimpse of the pit. The pit was investigated in two distinct stages: for a single day, the 13th of March 1923, when it yielded the body of Thomas Wood which was then thought to be its only significant content; and for a continuous period of thirty-one days, from the 7th of May to the 7th of June 1923. Between these two stages a mere eight weeks had elapsed, but how the scene at the pit had changed! In March the protective wall around the pit had stood at a regular height of 6 feet 6 inches, bound with coping-stones and entirely sound apart from a single hole on one side, 3 feet from the ground, with loose masonry around it. By May this wall in places was down to less than half its original height, and one side had a vertical section missing completely. Most of the missing masonry had been flung down the shaft, as the working party of May found to its cost. The surrounding fields, which had been green pasture in March, were by May a black morass, trampled by the feet of many sightseers. And yet during this time the full horror of the pit had not been suspected. Up to the evening before the second investigation began the police had not disclosed that a further search of the pit would be undertaken.
Thus a great second wave of horrific delight pulsated through the town when it was learned that the pit was to be investigated again. And not only through the town. Newspaper reporters converged on Glossop to spend patient hours in the rain and sleet of the particularly bleak and wet month of May 1923. High Lane - the road between Charlesworth and Simmondley - was busier than at any time before; and ever present were the thrill-seeking Glossopians and others, many neglecting their regular work in order to be there.
Only a small minority would have been out of work. The economic depression of the years 1921-38 had not yet begun to bite deeply in Glossop and 1923 was not a particularly bad year for unemployment. Most of the spectators were there because real-life horror had taken them by the nose. Synthetic substitutes were few. Whilst the local theatres might occasionally present barn-storming plays with horror ingredients, and the Empire Cinema show an infrequent horror photo-play, it was the actual heroes of crime who featured in the minds of those who knew of no more-respectable heroes to dote on; criminals like Charles Peace, who had been hanged as long ago as 1879. Burrows himself, whilst he was an object of hate during the last few months of his life, became a local folk-hero after his execution. Outsiders were, of course, no better. The trial of Burrows at Derby Assizes in July 1923 was attended by reporters from many countries, and crowds thronged to get a glimpse of its central figure. And when his application for leave to appeal was rejected at the Law Courts later the same month, even Londoners jostled to see this notorious man. Perhaps we should not judge Glossopians too harshly for wallowing in sensational crime.
The commendable part of this episode was the way in which Glossop, as a town, addressed itself to its own problem. However complex the investigation, however arduous the searching of Simmondley Pit, it was Glossopian enterprise which carried the cleansing process through to its conclusion. A colliery deputy from Lancashire made a report on the airshaft, and a Professor of Anatomy from the University of Manchester applied his skills to the older human remains brought from the airshaft, but in all else Glossop went its own way and dealt with each separate problem from its own resources. Tom and Edward (Ned) Greenwood, quarry-owners, could not be told anything about holes in the ground, particularly Glossopian holes. And they could bring their own equipment - tripod, winch, pulsometer and stout ropes. Ben Goddard, of the Glossop Gas Company, could connect steam piping from an old fire-engine, loaned by the Glossop Fire Brigade, to the pulsometer (a steam-operated pumping device), and provide the labour for its maintenance throughout the operation in the person of Arthur Higginbottom. A local monumental mason could lend the block and pulley which he used for putting heavy gravestones into position. Dr. Milligan, the Medical Officer of Health, could not be bettered in collating and presenting medical evidence. In almost all respects Glossopian technology was equal to the task of dealing with a Glossopian problem in a Glossopian manner, though viciously hampered by Glossopian weather and by the vandalism committed by Glossopian ghouls (and others) at Simmondley Pit.
Nor was Glossopian police work rustic or rudimentary in the hands of Inspector John Ellis Chadwick. His Chief Constable allowed him to carry on his investigations according to his own intuition, his understanding of criminals and offenders and his particular knowledge of Burrows. The degree of autonomy that he enjoyed in such a sensational case may surprise us in these days of regional crime-squads. If enquiries needed to be made at Northwich, Nantwich, Crewe, Liverpool or Manchester, Chadwick simply boarded a train and went to these places. Although every last detail of these murders did not emerge, Chadwick took his investigations to the limit of what was possible. That which he did not discover could not be discovered, for Burrows took some secrets with him to the grave. And then there was the tireless endeavour of Constable Sam Roe, working day after day a hundred feet below the ground in the most abominable conditions, seemingly unsuccessfully for most of the time; and when the search began to yield positive results handling for day after day the grisly remains which had once been human beings and placing them carefully in a box for transportation to the surface.
At six o'clock on a bleak, rainy Sunday morning in January 1920 Albert Burrows walked down Hollincross Lane holding a three-year-old girl by the hand. An hour later he walked up Hollincross Lane alone. Later that day a woman remarked to Burrows that he and the girl had been up and about early, to which he replied calmly: “Yes, I was just taking the child to her mother”. The child's mother (and brother) had been thrown down Simmondley Pit the night before. Such was the cool and callous nature of the man.
Albert Edward Burrows was born in Cheadle Hulme in 1871. Thus he was a man of 52 years when he achieved his notoriety, although he insisted throughout this episode that he was ten years older. He was a general labourer who had worked mainly on farms and on the railways, but he had seldom remained in the same job for long. Fourteen times during his adult life he had been charged with serious offences, and he had spent several terms in prison. His offences had included horse-stealing, larceny, false pretences, assault, cruelty to a cat and bigamy. The bigamy was in respect of a woman called Hannah Calladine. He had also been convicted of various sexual offences committed against both girls and boys. He had lived and worked in many districts in the Stockport and Manchester areas, and by 1914 he was living in Back Kershaw Street, Glossop, with his wife Clementine and his daughter Ellen. On at least one occasion Ellen Burrows had been placed in care because of her father's incestuous tendencies.
Burrows was a familiar sight in Glossop, a fairly-large, raw-boned man given to walking the fields and inner moorland with a stick in his hand, big dirty boots on his feet, a cap on his head and trousers without the vestige of a crease. But he looked respectable, with his face washed and (apart from a wide moustache) shaven, his complexion fresh, and his eyes bright and clear. He was fascinated by nature; wild flowers and rabbits were topics on which he would converse with anyone, even though he was generally solitary and brooding, with few friends. He seemed happier with children than with adults. Often he would have children with him in the fields, and be seen walking about the streets with a child by the hand.
In 1916 Burrows went to work in a munitions factory at Northwich, and there in 1917 he met a woman called Hannah Calladine. Hannah was 27 years old, and an unmarried mother with a baby girl called Elsie Large. She worked in the same factory as Burrows, and her family lived 17 miles away, at Wrenbury, near Nantwich. Burrows and Hannah struck up an association, he purporting to be a widower whose daughter was being looked after by a housekeeper at Glossop. He was living in hut-accommodation at the factory, after being dismissed from the house of a family in Northwich for (being suspected of) drowning the family's pet dog. On 27 May 1918 Burrows and Hannah were bigamously married, and in October their son Albert Edward Burrows junior was born. Burrows, at this time, was contributing to two households, sending money to Hannah who was staying with her parents, and also sending money to his wife in Glossop.
Albert Burrows and Hannah Calladine
For some reason Hannah became suspicious that her position was not what it seemed, and wrote several letters to Glossop inquiring about the man she had married. Inevitably the real Mrs. Burrows became aware of the situation and Burrows was charged with bigamy. For this offence he was sent to Walton Prison, Liverpool, for six months, February to July 1919. The sentence was light because Burrows had not deserted either woman. On his release he returned to his wife at Glossop, but now the War was over, munitions work was finished, and he could not get a job. He had no money to send to Hannah, and she took out an affiliation order against him for seven shillings a week, which he could not pay. When his arrears built up to a certain level Hannah obtained a committal order against him, and he served a 21-day sentence (7th to 28th November 1919) in Shrewsbury Prison. After his release he went to see Hannah at her home before returning to Glossop, and during the next three weeks he wrote several letters to her.
On 17 December 1919 Hannah told her parents and sister that she was going to join Burrows in Glossop. She left the house with her children and some of her belongings and spent that night and the next one at Crewe, staying with a woman with whom she had once worked. On 19 December she came to Glossop and arrived at the Burrows house in the late evening. She and her children were wet and cold after walking from the Railway Station in pouring rain. Albert Edward, 14 months old, was in a push chair. Mrs. Burrows was incensed, and threatened that if Hannah stayed she would go. But she relented sufficiently to allow Hannah and her children to stay for that one night, insisting that they went in the morning.
When it was obvious next day that Hannah was not preparing to leave Mrs. Burrows walked out of the house and went to stay with a friend. During the next three weeks Hannah lived with Burrows as a wife might, looking after the household and children, whilst Mrs. Burrows was taking out a summons against her husband for maintenance. The summons was served on Burrows to appear at Glossop Magistrates' Court on 12 January 1920. He was now in a corner from which it was impossible to escape without going back to prison. He had no money. He had no job. He had Hannah and the children at his house. If he turned them away, Hannah could enforce an affiliation order for ten shillings a-week, and if he failed to pay he would go to prison. If Hannah stayed, Mrs. Burrows would enforce the maintenance order, and if Burrows failed to pay this he would go to prison.
But Burrows was able to solve his problem. He appeared at court on 12 January 1920 to answer his wife's summons for maintenance, and told the justices that Hannah and the children had gone, and that there was nothing to prevent Mrs. Burrows returning to him. Mrs. Burrows at first refused to return, and a maintenance order for Burrows to pay her one pound a week was made out. But four days later she relented and returned to Burrows, and their home life (on the surface) resumed its ordinary course.
Where had Hannah and the children gone? Burrows told his wife (and anyone else who enquired) that she had gone to work in Seymour Mead's bacon shop in Stretford Road, Manchester, and that the children were looked after by a baby-minder. Soon there was nothing in the house which related to Hannah Calladine. All papers and letters had been destroyed; all clothing left behind had been disposed of. A baby's push-chair had been sold, and a wedding ring pawned, by Burrows.
In March 1920 Hannah's aged parents, wondering what had become of their daughter and grandchildren, came to Glossop and found Burrows at home alone. He told them that Hannah and the children had gone to New Brighton for a holiday with his sister, and that he had given them three pounds to go with. He accompanied the old pair back to the Railway Station and saw them off on the train. From time to time the Calladines afterwards received letters from Burrows. One in October 1920 asked them to send blackberries for the children because there were none in Glossop. He said that Nance (Hannah's nickname) herself would not write to them, that neither he nor the children could make her do so. “Albert is two years old this month”, he said.
Another letter from Burrows to the Calladines in November 1921 contained a photograph of a baby boy, ostensibly a further grandson named Ernest. In reality the photograph was of a child belonging to a neighbour. “It will soon be two years since Nance came here 17th December”, he said. In January 1923 he asked the Calladines to send him the birth certificates of Elsie and Albert, as he had them in a burial club and they were both at present in Chinley Hospital with diphtheria and they might die. If they did die the burial club would want to see their birth certificates.
At one stage during the three years since Hannah had left her parents (July 1920) Burrows told the Calladines that she had left him to live with a Chinese man in Liverpool. This was followed within a few days by a telegram from Liverpool, purporting to come from Hannah herself, telling her parents that she was living with a Chinese man and had given the children away. But she was well and happy. At the time the telegram was sent, Burrows was visiting a friend in Liverpool, a man he had met in Walton Prison.
And so it went on. The Glossop scene was quiet, with Burrows living with his wife apparently in peaceful domesticity. But the Calladines of Aston (apparently they had moved from Wrenbury) were subjected intermittently to fabricated glimpses of a daughter they believed still to be alive, though they had not seen her for more than three years.
But the quietude of the Glossop scene was disturbed dramatically in March 1923, when the sensational episode began in which Burrows was right at the centre.
|The top of the airshaft in its undamaged and damaged states.
The name “Simmondley Pit” is confusing; this notorious hole was really the air-shaft to Dinting Pit. From at least the middle of the 17th century a poor quality coal had been mined at Ludworth, Chisworth, Charlesworth and Simmondley. The mines were exclusively drift mines - roughly horizontal shafts driven into the hillsides which required ventilation from above, by means of vertical airshafts. The irregularity of the land on the surface was such that these airshafts in the main were over a hundred feet deep, and lined with brick or stone for a few feet from the top only. Thereafter they were simply cylindrical holes to the coal workings below. In the Simmondley region there were two small coal pits: the Simmondley Pit to the south of High Lane, with one airshaft 135 feet deep; and the Dinting Pit to the north of High Lane, with one airshaft 106 feet deep in the fields between Cloud Farm and Hargate Hill. It was this latter airshaft - the airshaft to Dinting Pit - which became notorious for its contents, but this episode has irretrievably fixed its name as “Simmondley Pit”, and so named, for our purposes, it must remain.
The local coal mines ceased to operate gradually after the coming of the railway into Glossop in the 1840s, when cheaper and better-quality coal became available. The particular mine (the Dinting Pit) with which we are concerned closed in 1864, and it and its airshaft, walled round in the field, were virtually forgotten. Except when rubbish of all kinds and dead farm animals had to be disposed of; the airshaft had been used for such purposes for over half a century. The workings below had largely fallen in forming a sealed pit with an extensive bottom containing an accumulation of rubbish and varying amounts of water according to the season.
This airshaft was inspected for the first time (in this episode) on 10 March 1923. The shaft was 8 feet in diameter, overgrown with blackberry bushes, and surrounded by a protective wall 10 feet square to a height of 6 feet 6 inches. The wall was sound except for a breach on one of the sides sufficient for a man to get his head and shoulders through, about 3 feet from the ground. The rim of the shaft was littered with tin cans, bottles and household ashes. Running water could be heard clearly 106 feet below. There were signs of recent disturbance - bruised and broken blackberry bushes and loose and chipped stones in the region of the breach. The shaft was inspected on this particular day because a four-year-old boy was missing. The last previous descent into the shaft had been made in 1917 by a mineralogist from Sheffield University.
Thomas Wood, four years old, whose family lived in the same street as Burrows, had been missing for over a week at the time the shaft was inspected. The circumstances under which he had disappeared seemed to implicate Burrows. Little Thomas was a frequent companion of Burrows on short walks through the fields or along the streets, as were other children of similar age. There was no reason to think Burrows dangerous or unreliable in this respect; the children which he had taken for walks had always returned home safely.
On Sunday 4 March 1923 Thomas Wood left home at 1.0 o' clock in the morning and disappeared. As evening approached the police were notified, and enquiries were made among friends and neighbours of the Wood family, including Burrows. Statements were taken, and it appeared that Burrows was the last person to have seen the boy, at 1-30 p.m., playing with some bigger boys near Slatelands Road. A more-detailed statement was taken from Burrows, who stated that when he had last seen Thomas, the boy had had a whip in his hand, about 18 inches long, with a brass ferrule. The area of Slatelands Road and Bridgefield was searched, and Burrows gave the police the most energetic aid and demonstrated the utmost concern at the boy's disappearance. But he was already under some suspicion, both by the police and the general public.
On Tuesday 6 March the river at Bridgefield was dragged, in front of many spectators. A whip such as Burrows had described was seen in the river, but the fact was reported quietly and the whip left undisturbed until the attention of all spectators had been diverted deliberately to a point further up the river. Only then was the whip retrieved and an inspection of its surroundings made. The lash of the whip had been tied to a small stone, and on the adjacent bank were the prints of a rubber boot. Enquiries revealed that Burrows had borrowed a pair of waders from a neighbour the previous day. The whip was quietly retrieved and its finding not disclosed.
On the following day Wednesday 7 March Burrows was asked for a detailed account of his movements on the previous Sunday, and this he gave willingly because (he said) people
were saying that he knew more about this affair than he was admitting. His story was one that could be verified at several points. That morning he had walked up to Hargate Hill to see a farmer about a job. Not finding the man he was looking for, he had walked back, arriving at Bridgefield at 1-15 p.m. During that morning he had spoken to a farm labourer at Hargate Hill, and to a policeman and a woman pedestrian in Simmondley Lane. At 1-30 p.m. in Slatelands Road he had seen Thomas Wood playing with some bigger boys, and had offered to take the boy home, but Thomas had refused. Further on, he had met Thomas Shortland, an acquaintance of his, and remarked to Shortland that little Tommy should not have been playing with those big boys. Shortland, whose eyesight was poor, had replied that it was no business of either of them with whom little Tommy played. But subsequently Shortland was emphatic that he, too, had seen Thomas Wood playing with bigger boys at that time, and could not be broken from this conviction.
On Friday 9 March a witness came forward who said that whilst exercising a horse he had seen Burrows with a little boy at Bridgefield at 11-30 a.m. on the previous Sunday. It had already been satisfactorily established that Burrows had arrived at Hargate Hill at 12-30. So on Saturday 10 March an experiment was undertaken to try to determine which way Burrows might have gone from Bridgefield with a small boy so that he might arrive at Hargate Hill an hour later, though then without the boy, and keeping away from well-frequented roads. The experiment suggested Hobroyd Fields, the shoulder of The Nab, a descent to cross the road near Cloud Farm, and the field footpath from the road to Hargate Hill as a likely route; without encumbrance, 40 minutes, would be an average, unhurried time for the journey. It was during this reconstructed walk that the airshaft, which was about 50 yards from the road, and the same from the public footpath, was inspected.
Burrows was interviewed at Glossop Police Station on Monday 12 March. The whip which had been taken quietly from the river at Bridgefield was prominently displayed, but not referred to, inviting a reaction from Burrows. Burrows reacted, and asked where little Tommy's whip had been found. He was told that it had been found where Burrows intended that it should be found. And he was told further that he must now say where he had taken Thomas Wood after leaving Bridgefield with him at 11-30 a.m. the previous Sunday.
Burrows became agitated and said that he had lost the boy on the moors. He amended his previous statement, and took Inspector Chadwick to the place where he said the boy had disappeared whilst he (Burrows) had gone to look for rabbits. The place was near to the other airshaft, on the south side of High Lane, which was inadequately fenced with a few wooden stakes and broken, rusted barbed wire, and its mouth obscured by bushes and scrub. At this airshaft there were no recently-made marks.
Nevertheless, during the same afternoon this airshaft was investigated with a grappling iron. A three-pronged iron was lowered 135 feet to the bottom and it engaged on something heavy. But when that object was part way up the shaft the rope broke and investigations were abandoned for the day. They would be resumed the following morning,
Burrows had been in attendance throughout, and he was particularly insistent that he and the boy had not crossed the road. He was relieved that he was not to be arrested, but invited to join in the resumed investigation of the airshaft in the morning.
By now the boy had been missing for over a week, and public rumour and suspicion of Burrows had reached a high pitch. It was common knowledge that the 'top' airshaft would be searched on the following day, and it was at this point that the morbid fascination among a section of the Glossop community arose. People, mainly men, converged on the village of Simmondley the next morning.
But, during the previous evening, a change of plan had been decided upon, for two reasons. Firstly, there was Burrows' insistence that he had not crossed the road, even though the question as to whether he had or not had not been raised. It was thought that such a statement could mean that Burrows did not want the other airshaft, the 'lower' one near Cloud Farm, to be investigated. If the boy were to be found in one or other of the two airshafts, the chances were assessed as about even as to which one it would be. The airshafts were a mere 162 yards, apart, so that the time factor for Burrows' arrival at Hargate Hill on the Sunday when the boy disappeared was no real indication. The deciding factor was the equipment: if the chances were even it were better to search the lower airshaft first; it would be easier to manhandle the heavy equipment 50 yards downhill from the road than to transport it twice the distance uphill. The change of plan set the onlookers milling about, not knowing where to go until, at 10-40 a.m., it became clear that the police were preparing to investigate the lower airshaft rather than the one in which they had seemed interested the day before.
To Burrows the change of plan caused utter consternation. Walking up Simmondley New Road he asked a man if the police had begun and where they were working, and was told that they were working at the airshaft near Cloud Farm. He could not believe it: “No - you mean the one above, higher up the hill, on the other side of the road?” Having been assured that it was the lower airshaft that the police were engaged at Burrows panicked and scrambled up Hobroyd Fields towards the moors, and took a roundabout route to a vantage point from which he could watch the operations. He was seen and the police were informed that he was watching from the hill.
At 2 o'clock three men came down the hill behind Burrows and saw him running about in a crouching attitude with his head down. When he saw them he threw himself full-length into a swamp and told one of them: “I thought you were the gamekeeper. I have been after rabbits”. They left him and he began to run in the same crouching attitude over the shoulder of the hill towards Chunal. A few minutes later the three men were met by a group running in the same direction as Burrows had taken. The body, of Thomas Wood had been found and the chase for Burrows was on.
As for the discovery, Inspector Chadwick described it thus:
... planks were placed in position across the top of the walls surrounding the circular mouth of the shaft ... From these planks two men, a policeman and a person assisting ... lowered a rope to the end of which was attached, a grappling iron. In a short time it connected and as a heavy object was being carefully drawn up there was suddenly a loud splash. Something had fallen from the grappling hook, but as the rope was still weighted it was drawn to the top, when It was found that a large basket, in fairly good condition, had been unearthed. It contained only stones, tins and refuse. The grappling iron was again lowered, and after a time it again connected. Again it was carefully drawn upwards, and as it neared the top it was seen that the hook was attached to the trousers of a small boy ... After a little delay, the lifeless body of the boy was brought to view, and detached from the hook. He was immediately identified ... as Thomas Wood.
The pursuers chased Burrows across the moors, occasionally catching a glimpse of him and eventually spreading out to form a fan through which he could not reverse his direction of flight. After a mile and a quarter one of the pursuers who was following a watercourse (Herod Clough) leading to Long Clough (known locally as 'Duns Cloose') came upon Burrows hiding in a holly bush. He sprang upon Burrows and held him until some others arrived. Then they dragged him to his feet and tied his hands. He shouted for mercy, and was told he had shown none to Tommy Wood. He was taken across the stream and handed over to Sergeant Wilson of the Glossop Constabulary, who rid him of his bonds and applied the regulation handcuffs. The Borough Sanitary Vehicle was conveniently near, and in this Burrows was conveyed to Glossop Police Station. Before he was put into the vehicle he regained his composure, and shouted at the assembly: “If my hands were free, there is not a man among you who could face them. I shall not be like Charlie Peace. I shall not tremble when I get on the scaffold”.
Inside the Police Station Burrows was a different man. He slumped on a flight of steps with his head in his hands, heaving and writhing. Inspector Chadwick tried to calm him by talking about anything but what was uppermost in both their minds. And eventually, unwittingly, the Inspector said the very thing which was to provide the link between the two separate parts of this strange case. An innocuous, casual question: “How is Hannah Calladine, what has become of her?”, had Burrows leaping to his feet, his eyes staring. And in his confusion he blurted out a disordered mixture of what he had told his wife and neighbours and what he had over three years conveyed to the Calladines, a mixture preposterous in its entirety, concluding with: “She (Hannah) was with me on the moors when little Thomas got lost. That is why I lost him”. Inspector Chadwick was now determined to find Hannah Calladine.
|Searchers at the top of the airshaft.
Chadwick's investigations revealed that no one had seen Hannah since she had walked down Hollincross Lane with Burrows and her baby (Albert Edward) at 6 o'clock on Sunday evening the 11th of January 1920, and that on that night Burrows had returned home alone between midnight and 1 o'clock. At 6 o'clock the following morning he had taken three-year-old Elsie for a walk along the same route, returning alone an hour later. This was the day he was to appear at court in answer to his wife's summons. Enquiries in Manchester, Liverpool and various parts of mid-Cheshire revealed the extent of Burrows' efforts to convince people that Hannah was still alive. These investigations were conducted over eight weeks, whilst Burrows was remanded in Strangeways Prison charged with the murder of Thomas Wood, whose death (as found by the inquest) had been due to drowning, after violent sexual assault and a hundred-foot fall. And during those eight weeks the airshaft at Simmondley had been so wantonly vandalized that in the subsequent search of that pit a fortnight had to be spent in clearing the recent accumulation of stones at the pit bottom.
Burrows' letters from prison reveal that he was confident that Hannah's body would never be found. His story was that for the past three years he had been meeting Hannah secretly on the moors at Simmondley. She was in the habit of coming to Broadbottom on the train, walking through Charlesworth and meeting him near the top airshaft. On the 4th of March 1923 he had met Hannah as usual, and whilst her two children had been playing with Thomas Wood, one of them had announced that Tommy had fallen down a hole - the top airshaft. Many local people believed that both airshafts belonged to the same workings; that it was possible for something deposited in the top airshaft to be transported by running water to the foot of the lower shaft. Burrows evidently thought this too, and concocted his story around it. But plans of one of the old mines were available, and a 90 year-old ex-miner who had worked in both pits confirmed that there was no connection between the two airshafts.
The search for the remains of Hannah and her children began at the lower airshaft on 7 May 1923. For a few days the weather was favourable, and many thousands of gallons of water were pumped from the shaft. Then Constable Roe, in waders and sou'wester, descended the shaft and began to send up the stones and other debris which had recently been thrown down. An old steam fire-engine was brought into use, and steam pipes connected between it and the pulsometer, and delivery pipes built up from the pulsometer to the surface for delivering the water. The weather changed; snow, sleet and rain fell continuously for over a week, and this equipment could do no more than hold its own against the constant seepage from the hillside. The ground round the airshaft was like a sponge, and the eight-inch spikes on the feet of the tripod began to lose their hold. Still the men continued to work, although the task looked hopeless. On the surface it was bitterly cold, and Sam Roe, when he came to the surface to make his reports, was glad to go back down again out of the wind and the rain.
Newspaper reporters and ghouls watched from the near-distance, braving the elements on the hillside. Public criticism as well as morbid fascination was directed at the operations: what it all must be costing; how little hope there was of finding anything; what third-rate clowns the men engaged in the work were. An air of pessimism prevailed, but the work went on. Time was pressing; the Assizes opened in July, and what a let-down it would be if Burrows could be charged with one murder only. Day after day only water and debris came out of the pit.
On the 16th of May, after several days of continuous snow and rain, a party of five men was working at the shaft at 11 o'clock at night, repairing the pulsometer so that the next day's operations would not be delayed. It was raining, and pitch-dark, and the only light available was from a storm lantern at the foot of the shaft. After deciding to call it a day, Tom Greenwood and Sam Roe were being hauled up the shaft to the surface. When they had been raised about 30 feet the tripod slipped and heeled over, and one of its legs came to rest on the platform of planks. The top of the tripod rested on one of the surrounding walls, the rope became fouled in the masonry, and stones from the wall were flung down the shaft on top of the two men 70 feet below. On the surface two men hung grimly on to the winch handles; a third man, on the platform, rammed his shoulders against the crumbling wall to keep the stones from hurtling down the shaft. There the three on the surface remained, unable to do other than what they were doing - the winch, could not be released; the wall had to be propped up.
70 feet below, Greenwood and Roe were standing in an iron-bound box, two feet square, with hardly enough room for their feet. One of the falling stones had knocked the lantern out of Sam Roe's hand, so now there was complete darkness, but miraculously both men below were unhurt. The men at the top were relieved to hear Sam Roe bellow “What the hell's going on up there?” But they could do nothing but shout for help. When it appeared that all five must maintain their undignified positions until morning, two cyclists who had heard their shouts appeared on the scene. When they were told of the situation these two young men let a spare length of rope down the shaft to the men below. First Tom Greenwood fastened the rope round his waist, and was hauled to the surface by the sheer brute strength of the cyclists. Then Sam Roe was brought up in the same manner. After performing their feat of almost superhuman muscular strength the two young men disappeared into the night, and were never traced or identified.
This near-disaster proved to be a turning point in the operations. The weather began to improve, the water in the shaft receded, and debris of an older kind began to be brought out. On 21 May a number of corroded corrugated-iron sheets were recovered, and this was regarded as a breakthrough. Two days later, on the 23rd, a box full of debris was carefully wound to the top covered by a piece of sacking. Among the contents was a large piece of what appeared to be chalk, heavily stained and dirty. But it was obviously human flesh, for there were two pieces of underclothing sticking to it. In the same box there was also part of the skull of a child. Later boxes contained the lower leg-bones of a child, and the small bones of the hands and wrists, with a quantity of clothing. There was still flesh on most of the larger bones.
Another spell of wet weather again flooded the pit bottom, and nothing further was found until the 31st May. On that day an adult female skull was recovered, the pelvis and upper parts of the legs of a young girl, and bones from the spinal column of a child and an infant. Also some clothing - a blouse sleeve, child's corsets (hand made) and some black bone buttons. On the 1st of June more human remains and clothing were found - a pair of child's clogs containing stockings and foot bones, a pair of women's boots containing the same, a small piece of red rubber, and some underclothing with blue forget-me-nots
worked on it.
For three more days the pattern was the same; further human remains and clothing .were recovered. A Professor of Anatomy from the University of Manchester was called in to fit the human remains together. By the 5th of June almost the whole bony structures of an adult female and a three-year-old girl had been collected, and a quantity of bones belonging to an infant of 12 to 18 months old. All the clothing was carefully washed. On the 7th of June it was decided that enough evidence had been amassed, and that activities at the airshaft should cease.
Hannah Calladine was easily identified from the adult skull. In life she had had a deformity of the mouth which prevented her from closing it completely at the right corner. The right eye-tooth in the upper jaw of the skull was badly aligned with the other teeth and this, according to the medical evidence, would account for that very deformity. The clothing, clogs and boots were identified as belonging to Hannah and her children by their makers. Hannah's sister Elizabeth Calladine had worked the blue forget-me-nots on the underclothing with her own hands. Young Albert had suffered from hernia; the red rubber was part of his truss. Altogether, there was no doubt whatsoever whose remains had been found in Simmondley Pit.
Burrows was tried for murder at Derbyshire Assizes on 4 July 1923. He had murdered four persons, but the prosecution decided to proceed against him for the murders of Hannah and her baby Albert Edward only. Among the counsel for the prosecution, third in order of precedence, was Mr. Norman Birkett, later a famous Lord Chief Justice. The trial was straightforward. The defence - that Hannah had committed suicide and murdered her baby by jumping voluntarily down the airshaft - seemed preposterous, for she had left her small daughter behind. The trial lasted barely two days and the jury took only 13 minutes to reach its verdict. Burrows was not called, nor were there any witnesses for the defence. He took the verdict of 'Guilty' calmly, though he insisted that he was innocent. He was removed to Pentonville Prison in London pending an application for leave to appeal, but this was summarily refused. Early in August he was removed to Bagthorpe Prison, Nottingham, and at 8 o'clock on the morning of 8 August 1923 he was hanged.
|The funeral of Hannah Calladine and her two children.
The remains of Hannah and her children were such that, after three and a half years of decomposition, no firm causes of death could be determined. The remains were laid with decorum in a single coffin and buried in the free ground at Glossop Cemetery, the spot marked until the 1930s with a small wooden cross inscribed “Hannah Calladine and her two children”. Thomas Wood was buried in Whitfield Churchyard.
|The funeral of Thomas Wood.
Now there is nothing to be seen at the place where Hannah was buried. But the place where she and her children and Thomas Wood were murdered - Simmondley Pit - remains. Now there is no wall round it, and the few stakes and wire which protect it today make it barely noticeable from the road, a mere distance of 50 yards. Horses graze peacefully where crowds once assembled. Cloud Farm has become a private residence and Hargate Hill a collecting point for large commercial vehicles. Only the silent-moors above remain unchanged, across which, sixty-three years ago, a mob chased a depraved, demented and frightened individual to the edge of the Oak Wood.
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