The good, the bad and the ghostly

Peter Hanlon
Peter Hanlon

ALL WHO live or pass through Saddleworth appreciate the natural beauty and wild grandeur of the countryside. 

Yet there is a hint of the hard underside in the dark millstone cottages or tooth edge crags.  People caught on the moors when a fog has fallen or facing a sudden blasting snowstorm appreciate the cruel vagaries of nature.

Some have commented the wild scenery attracts those bitter at heart and soul, forever doomed to tramp the bleak hillsides. Others remind us of victims of long lost events when there was no care but the warmth of a summer meadow.

As with anywhere, a whole book could be written about ill deeds within our borders.  However, just a brief look at our dark side will do.

A Roman legion is said to be seen by walkers on Bleak Moor. Rumour goes they were ambushed by British tribes and their bodies are still preserved in the mummifying peat, waiting to be discovered.

And there is evidence that in around 616 a pagan Saxon King called Aelhelfrith marched through the Saddleworth area to battle the Christians who had been forced to the East.

The Britons named him ‘The Twister’ because of his cruelty and passion for his gods of war.  A feared Northumbrian king, he married the daughter of the king ofDeria, which is present day Yorkshire.

The Romans wrote how the Saxons often killed ten percent of their captives for their ‘old’ demonic gods of war and blood lust.  What occurred on the bleak high places or at the ‘pots and pans’ sacrificial stone can only be guessed at.

We know Aelhelfrith killed the monks of the Christians and many others when he won the battle of Chester, returning through Saddleworth to enjoy his victories and his captives.

If we come to the present day there are many who are aware of the unsolved Bills ‘O’ Jacks murders of 1832. The deaths of a father and son in the Moorcock, which was near Dovestones, are famed for drawing the curious from far and wide.

However, I came across an account in a book by James Davenport, who states a sheep farmer in Melbourne, in Australia, received information from the murderer.

He was a hawker by trade passing through the area. He did not want to kill the old man but did so when he came down the stairs and did the same to his son when he arrived home.

He escaped to rob a drover in the midlands before committing another murder – he was hung after confessing to his friend to the Saddleworth killings.

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