Saturday, 2 September 2017

Murder At Furness Vale

A suspicious death with a hint of  murder at Furness Vale in 1879.
The circumstances of the untimely death of James Sparham,Gnat Hole, Bugsworth employed by Matthew Hall licensee of the Navigation Inn at Bugsworth was never satisfactorily explained. Sparham had worked for a number of years as the captain of Hall's narrowboat plying gritstone from Crist Quarry, Bugworth and limestone from Dove Holes over the Pennines to Huddersfield. The saga was reported in the High Peak News of the 8th August and 16th August 1879.

Keith Holford August 2017

Report in the High Peak News, August 19th 1879
A canal boat laden with stone, left Bugsworth Basin on Wednesday afternoon for Huddersfield, there were three men engaged for the trip, viz. James Sparham the captain, James Bennett, and a young man whose name we have not been able to ascertain. Sparham is a middle-aged man who has been in the employ of Matthew Hall, licensee of the Navigation Inn, Bugsworth for some 30 years.

The boat arrived at Furness Vale on Wednesday afternoon, when the three men appear to have gone to a publichouse where they remained until late in the evening. The first to leave were Sparham and the young man,  Bennett following on later, found the boat swinging in the middle of the canal, so he was unable to get aboard. He made his way to another boat where he slept all night.

On getting up early next morning, Bennett went, about half past seven, to his own boat and going into the cabin, he found old man Sparham dead. The young man who left with Sparham the previous night was seen on the Thursday morning, at about half past five making his way from Sparham's narrowboat. The night before it appears that this young man bought 6d worth of laudanum (a derivative of opium). This circumstance, coupled with his disappearance has caused suspicion against the young man.

The canal bridge in Furness Vale before it was rebuilt in 1925. The adjacent building was
the Traveller's Call beerhouse (often known as the Jolly Sailor) which closed in 1908

Report of the Inquest, High Peak News, August 16th 1879.
On Friday evening last an inquest was held before Mr. Lake, deputy -coroner, at the house of Samuel Hall, Station Hotel, Furness Vale, on the body of James Sparham, who came to his death in  mysterious  circumstances, as mentioned last week.

The first witness called was Ann Sparham of Stalybridge, who said: “ I am a single woman, I work as a weaver at Mr. John Leach's. The deceased is my father,his name is Sparham. He is a widower of 56 years of age, he has worked most of his life as a boatman. He lived at Gnat Hole, Bugsworth when he was at home. He worked for Matthew Hall, who keeps the Navigation Inn, Bugsworth. I last saw my father alive about eight or nine weeks ago. I saw him at Stalybridge. He was in his usual state of health, he was not a healthy man; he suffered from a very bad cough, indeed he was ill plagued with asthma. The only thing he used to a take for it was “cough mixture” not laudanum when I was with him. He was in the habit of getting cough mixture from a  druggist's shop in Bugsworth. I have seen him fetch it.. He used to take half a spoonful in a glass of water. He had liked to be chocked (choked ?) with it a time or two.  known as “Old Hod”his real name is John Clayton who worked with him at one time. The last time I saw my father was here dead at the Station Inn, Furness Vale.

Matthew Hall, Bugsworth said I am a carrier of lime and coal, the deceased worked for me as a  boatman. I last saw him alive on Wednesday at Bugsworth. He left Bugsworth between twelve and one o'clock in charge of a boat, which was full of lime. He was the captain and he had  two other men with him, who I knew by sight but not by name. I employed them to go to Huddersfield with a load of lime. I have known the deceased for some 20 years. He was in the usual health when he left last Wednesday; he suffered from asthma very badly at times. He was not a man who drank regularly; he used to take rum sometimes for his ailment. He was a steady man as a rule; I have seen him drunk but not for 2 months at least. I saw the deceased again on Thursday. He was dead.

The foreman. Before he set away from Bugsworth on Wednesday did he say anything about being indisposed. Witness. He did not. He had 4s 9d in his pocket when he left Bugsworth;it was to pay for stabling and wages. The Coroner : What money was found on him?  P.C. Bainbridge.* 11 pence and a half.

James Bennett,of Fairfield, Manchester, said: I am a boatman, and a I live in the boat. I started for Matthew Hall on Monday.. I have no settled address. I left Bugsworth on Wednesday last between  12 and 1 o'clock with the deceased and a young man I cannot tell you, he was a stranger to me. I do not know him. The first stopping place was Furness Vale and we got to Furness Vale about two o'clock.

The Coroner: You stopped then.  Bennett: The deceased did not complain about anything. We all three got out of the boat and went to the  Traveller's Call,* where we each had a glass of beer.  The three of us stopped drinking all afternoon at the public-house until half past seven o'clock.  At that time I took the deceased to the boat and on board, because I did not think that he could get there safely by himself. He was drunk so I took him into the cabin and left him with the other man and him in the cabin. The  deceased was leaning with his hands on the table, when I left him. I went to the beer-house again, and when came back again to the boat about 10 0'clock at night, I could not get on  board due to the boat swinging in the middle of the canal. I was drunk, but I could manage to walk. The boat was quite loose,not fastened at all. The wind was carrying the boat towards Bugsworth again. Somebody must have loosed the  boat. I slept on another boat which was close by. I went on board my own boat about nine  o'clock on Thursday morning. I went into the cabin and I found the deceased on the cabin floor, kneeling in the place where I had left him. His head was resting on the place where he was sitting when I had left him the previous evening. He was dead (cold) and alone. I did not notice any medicine bottles about. The man did not seem to have a cold, but he had “bad bouts”ever now and then. He did not ask me to fetch anything. I don't know why the other man went away. I have known Sparham for 2 years, but not to work with him. He used to have a bad cough which sometimes troubled him. He had nothing to drink, only beer, perhaps half a dozen glasses or more. I put him in the cabin about half past seven.
Foreman: What age is the  young man ?
Witness: I am not sure. I cannot tell . He looked about 18.
The Coroner: Were they on good terms /
Witness: Yes.
The Coroner: Who paid for the drinks ?
Witness: The young man and myself.
The Coroner  : Did the deceased pay ?
Witness : One  glass for me another for the youth.
The Coroner: Had he any money, did he show any ?
Witness: No he did not. He did not spend any money before we got there. He did not give me any money on account. I had money which I got in Manchester. I was not that drunk that I did not know what I was doing.
The Coroner: Do you mean to say that you paid for all the drink ?
Witness: Yes, the deceased only paid once. I never saw any money that the deceased had.
The Coroner:Then he was having his share at small cost. Did he ask for it ?
Witness: No, he kept having another glass when we paid for one. I only saw him pay three
halfpence the whole time.

The Foreman: Were you the first that found him dead ?
Witness: Yes. Directly I saw him I shouted to a man ( R. Ratcliffe ) in another boat which was passing. He promised to send a policeman and P. C. Bainbridge  came soon afterwards. I never heard any threats in he public-house. There was no quarrelling amongst us.

After some evidence given by P.C. Bainbridge, which the Coroner instructed the reporters not to publish, the jurors conferred together and on the recommendation of the latter the inquest was adjourned for the purpose of having post-mortem, and for the appearance of the young man who was left on board with the deceased and who has not been seen since half-past five o'clock on last Thursday morning by a man coming away from the canal where the boat was placed. It was decided that Dr. Allen should make the post-mortem examination and P. C. Bainbridge was instructed to bring forward what witnesses were necessary to elucidate the matter.

The Adjourned Inquest.
The adjourned inquest was held at the Station Hotel, Furness Vale, on Thursday evening. A chemist named Cheetham, residing in Furness Vale, gave evidence that on August 6th , between 4 and 5 o'clock, he sold half-an-ounce of laudanum to a young man who was connected with a boat. The  young man's name is Wood, and he belongs to Staffordshire. That quantity would not kill a  strong healthy man.

Dr. Allan said he made a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased. There were no marks of violence on the body, nor nothing to indicate that the man had come to his death except by natural causes, or by excessive drinking. The pupils of his eyes were neither  dilated or contracted. He placed the stomach and its contents  in a sealed jar and sent them  to Dr. Raynor at Stockport. Dr. Raynor said there was no laudanum, or traces of laudanum or other poison in the stomach to cause death.

The  jury on  hearing this evidence, came to the conclusion that there was no necessity after hearing the evidence tom pursue the inquiry further and at once  brought in a verdict” that the death was caused by natural causes.”

The Coroner : said that in case the young man, who has disappeared was apprehended by the police, they could bring the man before the magistrates and get a dismissal.

Traveller Call. A publichouse along the Peak Forest Canal


**  There appears to be no explanation or further questioning as to where or how the 4s 9d  was according depleted to 11 and halfpence according to the evidence given of P. C. Bainbridge.

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