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Readers Views

Geoff Hirst May 2013



1. You need a pretty strong motive to commit a premeditated murder. Even more so in 1830 than today. Many people took the "Drop of York" on the flimsiest of evidence. At no stage does the book put forward any credible proven motive.


2. Thomas Ramsden is the ONLY person with a cast iron alibi.


3. So we INVENT a conspiracy theory. Does anyone seriously think that you could have such a plot in Clifton of all places? The whole of the village would have known about it within 24 hours of it being hatched and whatever Thomas was he was no fool. Even in 1930 you could not hiccup in Westgate without the whole village talking about it within 24 hours. The murder could only have been committed by someone who was the only person who knew about it and was certain of not being found out.


4. Having decided that Thomas must be involved we need to blacken his name to make it a possibility. So, without a scrap of evidence that would stand up in court we make him a womaniser preying on innocent (????) girls and the father of their unborn babies. A quick study of the Hartshead Parish Records will show that many marriages were followed by remarkably short gestation periods to the birth of the first child. Everyone in Cliifton was "at it" and I doubt whether any of us can be absolutely certain that we know who were our biological ancestors. Surely this debunks the theory that fear of being named as the father of Liz's child and having to pay maintenance is sufficient cause for risking hanging. If it was most of the girls in Clifton would have been murdered.


5. What else can we accuse him of?  Let's make him a receiver of stolen property in the shape of hides from deer which there is absolutely no proof existed in 1830, stolen by a gang of Clifton poachers of whose existence there is absolutely no evidence. Having tanned the hides he passes them off at a handsome profit to some highly skilled craftsman who just happens not to be able to tell the difference between deerskin and cow hides and he has to dispose of the end product (heaven knows what it was) to some equally clueless customer. All this happens without the rest of Clifton knowing, including the Baronet and his staff. Come off it. In any case the coat of a deer is a deerskin, entirely different to a cowhide, and requires an entirely different process to cure it. A Tanner of cowhide would certainly not be equipped to cure a deerskin, the value of which would be negligible in any case because there are so few uses for it.


6. This brings me to the £200 reward and the possibility that everyone in Clifton knew whodunit. I have no doubt that everyone in Clifton might have thought they knew, probably from gossip, and I bet that there were as many different theories as there are fleas on a dog's back. £200 in 1830 was a fortune, equal to anything from £20,000 to £500,000 in today's money, according to which indicator you use. Anyone who tries to tell me that if everyone in Clifton knew whodunit and no-one claimed the reward is living in cloud cuckoo land. They would all have shopped their own mother for that sort of money.


7. I have not looked it up again in the book but I am sure that it is claimed that the attack must have been made from the front and because all Liz's injuries were on her left hand side the attacker must have been left handed. If you are facing someone your left side is opposite the right side of the person you are facing. If the assailant had been left handed surely Liz would have defended herself with her right hand and all the wounds would have been on that side. Get someone to stand opposite you and see what happens if he tries to grab the lobe of your left ear with his left hand. I bet you will turn your head to the left and he won't be able to touch your ear. One cannot have it both ways. If the attack was from the front the assailant must have been right handed. The "family story" of a left handed butcher is quite ridiculous. How many butchers were there in a little village like Clifton in 1830. I doubt there was more than a couple and everyone would have known if one was left handed.


8. The assailant must have had bloodstains on himself and his clothes. You cannot cut someone's throat to the point of death without severing a carotid artery with an inevitable spurt of blood. There were no showers in 1830 and if there was a bath it was a tin one which had to be filled from somewhere. Apart from Wells there was not even a water supply.This was one of the reasons for the communal copper on Copperas Hill. How did he get rid of the stains on his body? His clothes are another matter. Most of the ordinary people had a set of working clothes and a "Sunday best". They could not afford to lose either of them. To get rid of bloodstains they would either have to be burnt or washed. All clothing was woollen, not even worsted, and washing to the extent of getting rid of bloodstains would involve boiling. There is no doubt as to what would happen to the cloth, it would shrink to the point of being unwearable. Does anyone really think that no one would have noticed the sudden disappearance of something as valuable in those days as a suit of clothes. It just is not possible.


My Great Grandmother had a much more plausible theory as to who committed the murder. I am probably the last person alive who recalls it. It will die with me on the principle that one should not speak ill of the dead - they cannot answer back.