Friday, 21 December 2012

Chapter 15. A Skeleton is Discovered

In June 1841 labourers cutting an alteration to the stell, or small beck, that that marked the boundary between the parishes of Stokesley and Seamer, came across a skeleton lodged in the earth of the bank.

The farmer, John Nellist of Seamer, handed the bones and a flat white button that was found with them to the recently appointed police officer for Stokesley, Charles Gernon.  Policing had become a professional matter, and Gernon, who was paid a yearly salary of £105 [1], had been appointed in place of the unpaid parish constables of the past.

It was quickly assumed that the skull was that of William Huntley, because of a protruding tooth in the lower jaw.  The Stokesley surgeon Mr del Strother examined the bones, and identified them as those of a man who had probably died from violence as the skull was "broken in".  He thought they might have lain in the ground some nine or ten years. 

Two days after the bones were found, Police Officer Gernon went to Barnsley to interview Robert Goldsborough at his house.  Goldsborough had remarried, and was living under his mother's maiden name of Towers, but evidently Gernon had no difficulty finding him.

Gernon questioned him first about Huntley's watch and Goldsborough began to grow steadily more anxious – at which point Gernon produced a moment of high drama, as he later told the court:
I then put the skull on the table, and told him to look at it and see if it was not the remains of Wm Huntley.  When he looked round he said – 'I'm innocent,' and then burst into tears.  He seemed agitated, and said 'I’m innocent.'  He also said they might swear his life away if they pleased, but he never had any clothes, or a watch, or anything else belonging to Huntley.
Gernon did not, however, arrest Goldsborough.  The magistrates put out notices offering a reward of £100 to anyone (except the perpetrator) who might give evidence.  Search was also made for George Garbutt, who had gone poaching with Goldsborough and Huntley to Crathorne Woods on the last day that anyone remembered seeing William Huntley.  Warrants were issued for Garbutt, but no trace of him was to be found. 

It came to the ears of the magistrates that Thomas Grundy, a weaver of Hutton, had been heard talking of the matter – first while drunk, and later while sober.

Grundy was about thirty-seven years old, and married to Hannah Farnaby; they lived on South Side with their young children.  William Huntley had kept his loom at Hannah's uncle George Farnaby's yard, and Grundy and his brother-in-law had been seen drinking at Scotson's public house with Robert Goldsborough after Huntley's disappearance.

Now word spread that Grundy was telling a strange story.  He claimed that on the Wednesday after Huntley went missing:
Goldsborough came to him and asked him to help him with a bag to Stokesley, for he was going to America.  They went together by Mr Neville's, the high house on the road [2]
(that is, they left Rudby and went along Blue Barn Lane, then northwards along the bridle way to join the road from Middleton Grange, to go past Park House, then occupied by Mr Neville, the Crathorne bleacher)
and near the stone bridge they found a bag lying on the ground.  Grundy took it up, and feeling something like a man's head in it he asked Goldsbrough what it was. 
Goldsbrough was about five minutes before he spoke and then he said it was a bad job – Huntley was passing by him and he shot him by mistake. 
Grundy said he was frightened and wanted to go home, and Goldsbrough said if he ever mentioned it he would give him as much.  He (Grundy) then made off.  The bag was about 200 or 300 yards from the bridge, in a lonely rough place in the wood.  He was frightened and dared not mention it.  He knew Huntley when alive.  He had a projecting tooth in the lower jaw.
This story has many implausible features.  It places Goldsborough and the corpse together in the area of Foxton Bridge – where Bartholomew Goldsborough and James Bainbridge saw a pool of blood – but leaves unexplained why he should leave the body there, when he put it in the bag, how it remained unnoticed in the open for three days in the heat of August, and why he should wish to move it six miles along a much-frequented road to Stokesley. 

Police Officer Gernon returned to Barnsley and arrested Robert Goldsborough on Tuesday 10 August 1841.

They seem then to have had some difficulty with Grundy, and four days later he was arrested as an accessory after the fact and required to give evidence against Goldsborough.  He made his statement to the magistrates at Stokesley and because he had found no sureties for himself, he was taken to York Castle Gaol. 

At one o'clock in the afternoon on Wednesday 18 August 1841, Grundy was brought to the gaol.  He was searched and put in the receiving room.  The surgeon Mr Champney examined him, and then he was seen by Mr Hague, the visiting magistrate, at two o'clock.  He told Mr Hague that he would not claim the reward, but seemed unwilling to give any reason for this.  His wife was trying to get bail for him, he told the magistrate, and he expected to get out soon.

But when the turnkey went to take him his supper at about quarter past five, he found Grundy hung by his neck from the bar of the window.  He had managed to strangle himself using his braces and neckerchief and the window bars.  The turnkey and doctors tried to revive him, but it was too late.  An inquest was held the following day, and he was buried that night in the cemetery.

On Saturday the Yorkshire Gazette carried a rather garbled and breathless version of the story.

It recounted how, after the disappearance of Huntley, public opinion was divided between those who thought that he had been murdered, and those who believed that he had left for America to avoid paying his creditors.  The report claimed that the skeleton had been found in Crathorne Wood, and had borne the marks of gunshot wounds to the head.  The account continued with a full report of the inquest on Thomas Grundy.  

It was not until early March 1842 that Goldsborough came up for trial.

Many witnesses were assembled:  Mr Garbutt, the solicitor who had given Huntley his inheritance, and who also happened to be the clerk to the magistrates at Stokesley; Mr Nellist; Mr Gernon; Mr del Strother; men from Barnsley who gave evidence of Goldsborough's arrival in the village; and many from Hutton Rudby. 

Unfortunately for the prosecution, the skull no longer resembled the description of Huntley.

The distinctive protruding tooth, which many had claimed matched that of Huntley, was gone. 
All the teeth were in a pail,
said Mr Gernon,
and it was lost by people examining them.
The button found with the bones did not match the very full descriptions of Huntley's clothes given by the Hutton tailors.

Grundy's curious evidence, which linked the blood near Foxton Bridge with the skeleton at Tame Bridge, was admitted but was naturally affected by his suicide.

An alternative explanation for the finding of a skeleton in the river bank was suggested by the admission of the farmer, Mr Nellist, that it was an easy matter for a drunken man to wander off the high road to Stokesley and fall into the stell.

Goldsborough's barrister argued that his behaviour was consistent with him foolishly agreeing to help Huntley cheat his creditors.  It took the jury only thirty-five minutes to return with a verdict of not guilty. 

Whether Huntley had indeed left for America, or whether Goldsborough, the missing Garbutt and the unhappy Grundy had played a part in his disappearance, remains unknown to this day.

The very full report of the case carried by the Yorkshire Gazette [3] gave ample opportunity for fun at Hutton Rudby's expense.

A number of the witnesses were not of unblemished character and this was brought out by Goldsborough's counsel.  He attempted to impugn the character of James Maw, who denied the allegations; Maw may have been the man later well-known as a Chartist and temperance campaigner.

The family of Hannah Best was easy prey, already known to those who read the local newspaper reports of the Stokesley magistrates' proceedings.  Her son-in-law Thomas Richardson, now a tile-maker at Stockton, had been twice in prison for poaching and once for felony.  Her daughter Elizabeth Shaw had been in gaol on a charge of stealing geese, and had two children born before marriage.  On 27 July 1839, Hannah Best, her family and several neighbours had been brought to court by the Hutton Rudby pinder, Robert Honeyman, for freeing asses and mules that he had impounded [4].  The following year, Hannah's son-in-law, the collier William Bowman, had been fined for pasturing ponies, mules and asses on fields belonging to Lord Feversham in Bilsdale [5], and her daughter Jane Best was convicted to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour for stealing two flannel petticoats from the garden hedge of John Hammond of Enterpen [6].  This extended family lived in Enterpen, and seem to have been a raucous crowd, well-known locally.

These reports should be borne in mind when reading John Walker Ord's description of the village [7]; he was, after all, a Stokesley journalist.  His quotation of the celebrated couplet

Hutton Rudby and Enterpen
Far more rogues than honest men

was undoubtedly included to amuse his Stokesley public, and his work has kept the rhyme in the public mind ever since.

However, as has been pointed out, similar rhymes were to be found elsewhere in the North Riding: for example, "Ainderby Steeple, Ainderby Steeple, Far more rogues than honest people" [8].  The common pastime of inter-village abuse lies behind his account of Hutton Rudby, rather than historical fact. 

[1]  Stokesley Selection
[2]  in the words of his statement to the Stokesley magistrates as reported by the Yorkshire Gazette
[3]  12 March 1842
[4]  Stokesley Selection:  the pinder was the man responsible for impounding straying animals and keeping the pound
[5]  The Cleveland Repertory 1 Jun 1843
[6]  Stokesley News & Cleveland Reporter 1 May 1843
[7]  The History and Antiquities of Cleveland 1846
[8]  see Nicholas Rhea's article 30 May 2003 in the Darlington & Stockton Times   

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