Murder in West Handley, Derbyshire, 1873


The Last Day

The next morning, Thursday 24th April, Eliza went to wash for her friend Martha Hardwick at her previous home. According to one newspaper report, Martha's husband, John, was ill in bed and it was desirable that he should not be disturbed, so Eliza did the work in the unoccupied house that she and Ben had vacated. She may also have been cleaning out the house. The fact that the Hardwick's had access to this empty house after the Hudson's left it indicates that they may have owned the houses. John Hardwick was fifty-four that year, his wife forty-nine. They still had four or five children living at home. It may be that John never recovered from his illness, as by the 1881 census Martha was a widow.

While Eliza was at work in her old house, Ben appeared again in the area. Jane Evans, who was in the garden, saw him passing at about half past one. As usual, Ben asked for John Morton who was not in.

Emily Cobb said that Ben came to her house between one or two o'clock. He asked her if she had seen Eliza and then asked for the bills. Emily told him "Yes" (she had asked Eliza) and "She would not give them to me" and Ben said she might pay them herself then. (At the trial Eliza's father said that Ben had never had to pay any debt that Eliza had contracted) Emily then said that Ben went on to a neighbour's house and stayed there for two to three hours.

The next witness to have contact with Ben was Sarah Brooks. Sarah and her husband Charles, an ironstone miner, must have moved to Lightwood after the 1871 census, as they were not listed then, but eight years after the murder, the 1881 census showed that they had moved to live at Eckington Marsh. At the time of the murder Sarah would be about twenty-two, her husband twenty-eight. Her first child had the surname Pearson and would have been about three years old at the time. Her second child was not born until the following year, so she and Charles had probably not been married long. Interestingly, in 1881, they are shown as having a lodger, George Rollit, who may have been the same man who had lent the poaching snare to Ben and may already have been lodging with them.

Sarah Brooks said Ben came to her house at about half past three in order to watch what Eliza was doing from her window. "Hudson was watching all afternoon through the window of my house. I told him I would rather he did not watch from there and he said he would be b---- if he would not, if it was only to aggravate Eliza."

Eliza explained Ben's behaviour to one of the neighbours, saying "He is trying to aggravate me, but I won't speak to him, whatever I do" and she kept her word. According to the reporter, "That his intention was really to excite her anger would seem to be borne out by the circumstance that he spent the afternoon at the house of a friend of whose wife Eliza had expressed considerable jealousy."

Sarah went on to say that Ben did come in to her house, despite her objections and stayed till after six o'clock. In her words: "During this time, he saw his wife go past (at about 4 p.m.) to John Barber's house next door to me. We both saw her go in and she remained there not more than ten minutes. Hudson looked very much confused and I was just going to get my tea and give him some, but he had nothing to eat."

"Just before he went away, he saw Mrs. Hudson (Eliza) go up again to Barber's and said so. I saw her go down again about ten minutes after Hudson had gone. Hudson said, "There goes the b----- again."

My husband was present." (Presumably Charles Brooks had come in from work by this time for the evening meal. This gave Sarah the confidence to change her attitude). "I told Hudson I should not have such language in my house. My husband told him to go and get some work and he said, 'I shan't do any more work in the country." He said that he was going. He did not make any threats. He then left. He went into Mrs. Cobb's house from us."

Emily Cobb was out but someone else must have let Ben in. Emily said that he came at around half past six or a quarter to seven and stayed a few minutes. Soon after Emily returned to the house he left and said he was going up to the George Inn.

Eliza had finished work at about six o'clock and probably called in at the Barber's for the second time. It may be that the reason for her two visits was to fetch and return some washing for them after finishing Mrs. Hardwick's. However, she may have taken some amusement in the knowledge that the visits would anger Ben, just as he knew that his presence in Sarah Brooks' house would irritate her. Such patterns of behaviour most likely had been a part of their marriage and would be hard to resist even though she was determined not to have any further contact with him.

Sarah Brooks saw her leave Barber's at about quarter to seven and then Eliza went on to Mrs. Hardwick's house that was opposite to Emily Cobb's. It is quite likely that Ben saw Eliza while he was at Emily's house and, guessing that she would be leaving soon moved off to get ahead of her.

Eliza would call in to see Mrs. Hardwick in order to deliver the washing and the key to the house and to receive her payment. Mrs. Hardwick said Eliza left her house around seven o'clock: "She did not tell me she had been at Barber's and I don't know if she had. I had seen Ben Hudson go into Mrs. Brooks' house in the yard soon after dinner time. He left there about two to three hours afterwards but I did not notice where he went."

On leaving Hardwick's, Eliza called in again at the home of her friend, Emily Cobb, arriving after Ben had left. She probably stayed about twenty minutes, no doubt discussing Ben's behaviour with her friend. Emily said that after that she did not see Eliza again.

During this time, Ben was talking to some friends near Mrs. Gleadall's shop. Jane Evans saw Eliza at about half past seven that night, making her way home from Lightwood to Handley. Jane may have been coming home after visiting her relatives at Middle Handley. She said: "When I saw Mrs. Hudson on Thursday night, I bid her 'Goodnight' and tears came into her eyes."

According to the 'Derbyshire Times' reporter: "Whatever faults the murdered woman may have had, and she had some, it could not be said that she was idle, for the residents all bear testimony to her hard working disposition." Notwithstanding that she was under the eye of her husband most of the time while washing for Mrs. Hardwick on the day of the murder, she worked with a will and seemed to look forward with some degree of cheerfulness to an intended visit to Sheffield on the following day.

Before she started on her journey home, one of the neighbours (probably Mrs. Hardwick) gave her an old dress, also an earthenware jar and a coal hammer which had been left in the house she formally occupied and which must have been overlooked by her husband when he sold the household goods.

When Eliza left Lightwood, it was thought that she had in her pocket, eight shillings and ten pence halfpenny but it was said that half a crown of this and a newly coined penny that she had expressed the intention of giving to her 'little Polly' were missing when the body was found.

The next witness was Herbert Pendleton, a carpenter, who lived on Lightwood Lane between Lightwood and Middle Handley. He was a young man of twenty-six, with a wife two years younger. Herbert Pendleton said that he saw Ben at Lightwood at seven o'clock and talked with him, William Chapman and George Rollit (the owner of the poacher's snare) near Mrs. Gleadall's shop. This was a little further along the road towards Middle Handley, after the George Inn.

According to Herbert Pendleton, Ben Hudson said, "I must go to Hundow to seek a job." He started to go along a field by a footpath that branches to West Handley and Middle Handley and Pendleton went with him as far as the first field. Ben went along in the direction of West Handley that was about a mile away and Pendleton came back to Lightwood. Pendleton said he saw Eliza a few minutes before he spoke to Hudson and said that Hudson could see her too.

As Ben did not overtake Eliza on the road, he appears to have taken the footpath that ran across from Lightwood to the top of West Handley but also had a branch leading down to Middle Handley. The route via West Handley, though as long, would give him the opportunity to overtake her as she took the busier road to Middle Handley.

The next person to meet Eliza on her way home was her young friend, Elizabeth Coe, John Barber's daughter. As she now lived at Middle Handley, she may have been coming along to Lightwood to visit her father and brother. The short sentences in her account seem to be brief answers to the questions put to her.

In her evidence at the inquest Elizabeth said, "I was on the road last night between seven and eight. I was going from Middle Handley to Marsh Lane and she (Eliza) was going in the opposite direction. She was alone. She had a small parcel under her shawl. It was not dark at the time. I spoke to her and I walked a little way back with her. She said she was going on very badly and was afraid and did not know what to do. She asked me to go a little way back with her and I went a hundred yards and refused going more. She said she was going to West Handley to her father's house and went in that direction. I did not see any more of her. No one joined her after I left her. She was in very low spirits. She was separated from her husband whom she had left about ten days. She dare not live with him any longer. Before I married I lived next door to the deceased and her husband. I was married on 3rd March last. I once went with her to Eckington to fetch a warrant against Hudson. It is better than a year since."

Eliza was probably half way along Lightwood Lane on the way to Middle Handley when she met Elizabeth and Elizabeth would walk with her to the houses at the edge of Middle Handley. Eliza would then pass the school on her right and the Devonshire Arms on her left. At this point she would turn right, along the road to West Handley. After passing the forge on her left, she would leave the road, turning left along the footpath to West Handley. This was an easier and more direct route than the road, as the footpath skirts around the side of the hill and comes out at Manor Farm, just opposite to her father's house.

George Gosling was the next person to see Ben - at about the same time as Eliza was talking to Elizabeth Coe. George Gosling described himself as a shoemaker, though on the census he said he did colliers work. This may have been at Hundow, where Ben had said he was going to look for work. Hundow, or Hundall, is positioned between West Handley and Apperknowle. George and his family lodged at Handley Hall with James Ridgeway, the Quarry manager.

Gosling said he was coming on the footpath towards Middle Handley from West Handley soon after seven o'clock. It was not dark."When I got across two fields from Mr. Milman's (Manor Farm) and about half way, I met Ben Hudson at a sharp turn in the path. He appeared to be going in the direction of West Handley." (When recalled, Gosling said he met Ben about three yards from where the body was later found.) I said "Hello Benjamin, where are you going this way lad?" He said, "I am going to see some of your gaffers for a job." He had nothing in his hands. I said, "It's no use going this way, as they are as full up as they can be from all I hear." I went forward and he followed me a yard or two, back as far as the style at Middle Handley and said "I think I shall go to Eckington tomorrow."

At the final trial, Gosling repeated that Ben appeared to be going in the direction of West Handley where he lived. He probably learned later that Ben was living at his uncle's house at the time.

Ben was obviously loitering at the half way stage of the footpath with the intention of waylaying Eliza on her way home. The spot had the double advantage of isolation, being midway in the fields between the two groups of houses and having the hedge at Bowman Lane to give him cover so that he could hide at her approach. Had Eliza chosen to follow the road up to West Handley he could have moved to the top of Bowman Lane to accost her there. Gosling would naturally assume that Ben was going in the opposite direction to himself when they met. It is possible that when he accompanied Gosling to the style at Middle Handley Ben could see Eliza in the distance, at which he made the excuse so that he could return to the spot where he waylaid her.