Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Charles Bathurst of Skutterskelfe kills his butler: 1730

Local stories tell of the ghost known as the White Lady of Skutterskelfe. 

I was told that she’s more likely to be a trick of the light, from the mist that gathers where the road crosses the beck – though I have heard that somebody claims to have seen her recently.

This story suggests we might expect the ghost of Skutterskelfe to be a butler instead.

The manor of Skutterskelfe was sold by the Layton family to the Bathursts of Clints and Arkengarthdale in the middle of the 17th century. 

The founder of the family fortune was Dr John Bathurst, who was Oliver Cromwell’s physician and MP for Richmond in Yorkshire from 1656-8.

In 1727 his great-grandson Charles Bathurst, who was then aged about 24, decided to run for Parliament hoping to regain the seat his great-grandfather had held. 

He stood jointly with Sir Marmaduke Wyvill, who had been unsuccessful in an earlier attempt with Charles’ father in 1713.  With their friend the Mayor as returning officer (and with the assistance of a large number of unqualified people whom he allowed to vote for them) Bathurst and Wyvill were duly elected – but on their opponents’ petition the result was overturned. [1]

Charles did not attempt to stand for Parliament again – because, according to local tradition, he had become insane. 

He was certainly a man of hasty temper, as can be seen from the story that he threw a waiter down the stairs of the King’s Head at Richmond.  The poor man’s leg was broken and when the innkeeper plucked up the courage to remonstrate with Mr Bathurst – who owned the inn – he was told simply to “put it in the bill.”

In 1730 he killed his butler.

The story is to be found in the Archaeologia Aeliana, or Miscellaneous Tracts relating to Antiquity, Vol 5 (1861) from Marske, by the Rev James Raine.  It was published by the Society of Antiquities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the oldest provincial antiquarian society in the country, founded in 1813, and celebrating their bicentenary this year.  Their early publications are digitised and available online.

Here is the account of the murder, from a footnote to Mr Raine’s work:
The following narrative of a more fatal encounter is from his own statement and that of his servants, preserved among the Chaytor Archives. 
On Dec 1, 1730, Charles Bathurst, Esq., on returning from Stokesley to Skutterskelf, between 9 and 10 at night, found that his butler, David Bransby, who had served his father and himself many years, had that day been quarrelling with the stable boys and other servants.  
Speaking to Bransby, Mr B asked what was the reason, and calling the others, desired they would agree, gave Bransby and them each a broad piece of gold, and told Bransby that he loved him as well as any of the rest, and made each drink a horn of ale.  
Mr Bathurst drank two or three horns with his cousin, Mr John Motley, whom he had for many years supported, and was about to drink another, when Motley refused to drink, alleging the ale to be of a different kind from what they had drunk before.  
Bathurst insisted it was the same as he had drunk of himself, and, on some words, Motley said he was acting like a coward.  Bathurst then took him to a room where swords hung, and bade Motley take one and see which was the greatest coward, and drew another himself.  Motley would not, and on Bathurst saying,
"You are the greatest coward, and not I"
went out and Bransby with him, when Bathurst remarked, 
"It is a fine night, let them be locked out." 
He does not appear to have wished them to be kept out long, for on retiring to his bedchamber he took his sword to lay by his bedside to prevent any sudden attempt upon him by Motley, but requested his servant Crowder to take it down as soon as he was in bed and hang it up.  
In undressing he wanted some ribbon for sleeve strings to bind his shirtbands, and sent Crowder for it.  He heard a very great disturbance, and Crowder on his return told him that he had the ribbon from Bransby who was now come, and that he bade him tell his master so.  Bathurst replied 
"Perhaps my cousin Motley is likewise come in and will drink his horn of beer,  Very likely.  I shall take my sword down myself, and hang it up."  
He went down with his clothes loose, and in his slippers, having pulled off his shoes and stockings.  Crowder followed him down and saw Bransby lying dead on the floor. 
It seems that on arriving in the passage twixt the hall and the kitchen, Bathurst had heard Bransby swearing in the kitchen that neither his master nor anybody else should come into it, and if they did he would stab them and be their death with the poker.  
He must have come out into the dark passage, and there Bathurst did not see his antagonist but only his red-hot poker, with which in both hands he assaulted his master and burned his coat breast.  The latter, apprehending a second thrust, and to prevent further mischief, made a push with his sword and happened to give Bransby a wound in his right side, who instantly died, but even in his staggering endeavoured to strike with the poker. 
The surgeons said that Bransby must at the time of his death have had his arm extended and his body bent forward, and on the next day, Dec 2, the coroner's inquest found that the wound was given in self-defence, and that Bransby was almost tipsy at the time.  
Counsel however advised Bathurst that as he was not bailable, he had better keep out of the way till near the assizes, as no flight had been found at the inquest, and that he had better make conveyances of his estate, as a verdict either of manslaughter or se defendendo would be accompanied with forfeiture at law, and require pardon. 

I notice from the National Archives website [2] that they hold the
Petition of Charles Bathurst of Scutterskelf, co. York for pardon for accidentally killing his butler who had assaulted him with a red hot poker.  
It is dated 23 February 1731.  The short description of the document goes on:
Examinations annexed.  Referred to the Attorney General for opinion. The Attorney General's report annexed, dated March 4, stating he is of opinion that it is not advisable for his Majesty to grant a pardon to the petitioner before he has taken his trial.”
Evidently counsel’s advice regarding possible forfeiture had worried Charles considerably and he had tried to take evasive action. 

However, he did not lose his estates and after his death in 1743 and that of his wife in 1747 they passed to his three sisters, as he had no children of his own.  The estate was much encumbered with debts and liabilities and Skutterskelfe was eventually sold in 1754 to the Hon George Carey, whose wife Isabella Ingram had inherited the estate at Rudby from her father.

[1] see The History of Parliament Online

[2] The National Archives catalogue reference is  here

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