Murder on the Moors

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

This is a story of murder most foul! It brought ghoulish sightseers flocking to Saddleworth long before Brady and Hindley set foot on the moor. Still unsolved after nearly 200 years, these were the original moors murders.

Here lie the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies
of William Bradbury and Thomas, his son, both of
Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an
Unusually horrid manner, on Monday night, April 2nd.
1832, William being 84 and Thomas 46 years old.

Throughout the land wherever news is read.
Intelligence of their sad end has spread.
Those now who talk of far-famed Greenfield hills.
Will think of Bill o’ Jack’s and Tom o’ Bills

Such interest did their tragic end excite.
That, ere they were removed from human sight.
Thousands on thousands came to see.
The bloody scene of catastrophe.

One house, one business, and one bed.
And one most shocking death they had.
One funeral came, one inquest past.
And now one grave they had a last.

Saddleworth is a beautiful place, of that there is little doubt. A place dripping in natural beauty, history and folklore, stories occupy almost every nook and corner of this wild corner of Britain. Sadly, the story that most people will associate with Saddleworth is that of the Moors Murders of the 1960’s. A desperately sad story of five murders that penetrated the national psyche and still hangs like a pall over the area today.

These were not the first murders to happen on the moor or to gain national notoriety. For that, we need to step back to 1832 and visit the Moor Cock Inn, that used to cling to the steep hillside on Greenfield Road. Like many buildings around Saddleworth, it was a solid, squat stone building, built to withstand the wild weather that these parts often receive.

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: WIlliam Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: William Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

The resident landlord in 1832 was 84 year old William Bradbury, or Bill O’ Jack as he was known, in the local manner of naming men after their fathers. In this case, the pub was known as Bill O’ Jack’s too. He lived at the pub with is son Thomas, a 46 year old gamekeeper. Thomas had a quick temper and was not a popular man, due to numerous run-ins on the moor with locals taking peat, cutting heather or poaching the local livestock.

On the evening of Monday 2 April 1832, Thomas Bradbury and Ruben Platt, a regular and friend of the Bradburys, watched a group of Irish men walking near the pub. They stood and watched until they had passed. It was not uncommon to find gangs of navvies in the area at this time, working on the turnpike road to Holmfirth.

By the next morning, both William and Thomas were discovered at the Moor Cock Inn, laying in pools of their own blood. Thomas had been severely beaten around the head and didn’t regain consciousness. A popular newspaper report at the time described the scene as, ‘the walls and flags streaming with gore.’

William was discovered upstairs in his bed, with the tools of the assault all around him, a poker, a spade, a broken pistol and a sword stick. All matted with blood and hair. The Manchester Courier called it the ‘one of the most diabolical murders ever committed.’

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

William regained consciousness for a short time, when asked who had attacked him, he blurted out the word, “pats” or “platts” before he died. This only seemed to serve to widen the mystery, as this single utterance could be taken in several different ways. Pats being a derogatory term for the Irish, Platt being a common local surname or Platters being a term for gypsies, who gathered broom from the moors to weave into baskets.

Another trail of investigation lead to a local poacher, against who Tom was due to give evidence the next day at Pontefract Magistrate’s Court. The poacher had boasted that Tom would never stand as witness against him and indeed, the case was dismissed when Bradbury was unable to testify.

The public inquest was held at the King William IV pub in Uppermill, although no evidence was discovered to tie any of the suspects to the murder. The verdict of “Wilful murder against some person, or persons at present unknown” was returned after the examination of several witnesses. A reward of £100 was offered for any information regarding the case. It was never claimed although it was a huge sum for the time.

The murders gained notoriety far and wide, beyond Saddleworth. The spread of national newspapers were a relatively new phenomena and then as now, they played the story for all it was worth. Coach parties set out for the moor, to visit the scene of the murders and commemorative plates were even produced on significant anniversaries.

Nearly 200 years on, the Moor Cock Inn is long gone (although the foundations can still be found at Bill O’Jack’s plantation) and all that remains is a weathering gravestone in the corner of a churchyard. It is a mystery that will now most probably never be solved, but the story still has the power to fascinate and has been absorbed into the rich tapestry of Saddleworth lore.


St Chads Churchyard, Saddleworth.