William Wood of Eyam (1791-1823)

Compiled by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright May 1999.

Many people will have heard of William Wood of Eyam, the Historian; however there was another William Wood, not so well known, but who, one might say, achieved notoriety of a different kind. This William Wood, some twelve years older, and apparently no relation, was also employed as a weaver, and had gone to Manchester to sell some of his cloth. However on his way back (on foot) he was attacked by three men, and murdered.

Clarrie Daniel's book “The Story of Eyam Plague, with a Guide to the Village” (1985) explains:-

“He had been paid £60 by bill of exchange and £10 in notes. Viciously attacked by three men whom he had previously treated at an inn, Wood was battered to death on a desolate stretch of moorland road between Disley and Whaley Bridge... He was about thirty years of age and left a widow and three children. An inscribed stone by the wayside still identifies the site of the crime”.[1]

He was murdered on 16th July, and his body was brought back to Eyam as his burial is recorded in the Eyam parish register on 20th July 1823, age 32, with the simple annotation “murdered”.

The IGI records a baptism of a William WOOD, son of James WOOD and Lydia (née DRABBLE) on 23 January 1791, at Eyam. It is presumed James and Lydia were this William's parents.

Another version of the story was told to me by Andrew McCann,[2] who says his something of a local legend in the Disley, Cheshire area. Andrew recalls:-

“Wood was making a journey from Eyam to Whaley Bridge when he was murdered for his few possessions. The murder weapon was a large stone which succeeded in smashing his skull into two. When his body was discovered, it was noted by those who found him that there was a large hole in the ground where the skull had landed. The body was buried, but the hole remained, stubbornly refusing to be filled in or to allow anything to grow in it.

In 1859, thirty-six years after the murder, a local resident filled the hole with stones on several occasions, but each time they were found to be missing when he later visited the site. He tried filling the hole in with soil, tufts of grass, anything that looked like it might serve the purpose, but to no avail. The hole was always found to be empty when he next visited it.

He reported strange happenings in the near vicinity of the hole. These included the sound of a large bird's flapping wings, even when there was no bird to be seen. Once he found a jacket draped over a wall near the hole, but it disappeared into thin air before he could touch it.

It is said that since that time many people have tried to cover the hole, but no-one has yet succeeded in doing so. Even Nature refuses to cast her green fingers over the troubled spot.”

Andrew continues:-

“Some years ago, I chanced upon a stone placed in memory of this unfortunate William Wood close to the spot where he had been murdered (but surely not on the exact spot where the skull had fallen!). I was visiting my brother who was living in Disley at the time and had gone for a jog in the hills above Disley when I came across ‘The Murder Stone’. I didn't linger for long, but made a mental note to revisit the site with a camera some day.

About twelve years later, I told (my wife) Wendy about the stone and we drove into the hills above Disley to find it. Needless to say, our search was without success. The ‘Murder Stone’ was nowhere to be found. Perhaps time had obliterated the memory of its exact location, or perhaps.... Well, I'll leave that to your imagination...”

Spooky, huh? As a followup, Andrew was later able to tell me that he'd found the stone again early in 2001, whilst driving along the same stretch of road (Buxton Old Road) from Whaley Bridge to Disley with his wife. They caught a glimpse of the stone by the roadside, with the name William Wood still clearly inscribed.

He offered to go back some time during the coming months with his camera and take a photograph. Fortunately it hadn't disappeared again into a time warp in the interim as he feared, and his photograph of William Wood's Murder Stone is available elsewhere on this site.

Buxton Old Road is a minor road running along the north eastern slopes of Black Hill. Wild and desolate, perhaps, in comparison with the A6 trunk road favoured by present day traffic, but it is surely the shortest distance between Whaley Bridge and Disley on foot! I'm told by others the stone is still clearly visible, on the eastern side of the road, just inside the Derbyshire boundary. The inscription reads:-

WILLIAM WOOD
Eyam Derbyshire
Here
MURDERED
July 16th
A.D. 1823
Prepare to meet Thy
God

Just for the record,[3] the body is said to have been found by two men, Edmund POTT and John MELLOR, who were of Kettleshulme. They were returning there from Stockport when they found it, and they bundled it onto their cart and took it to Whaley Bridge, where it was left at the Cock Inn for the Coroner to examine.

Two of the perpetrators of the crime were later apprehended. William had changed the bill of exchange he'd been given in Manchester for cash when he got to Stockport, and the cashier had kept a record of the numbers of the notes. One of the murderers, Charles TAYLOR, was arrested in Macclesfield on July 18th when he tried to pass one of the notes. He confessed to the crime and named the other two men as DALE and PLATT. Dale was arrested on August 8th, and after a trial at Chester Assizes was executed on 21 April 1824 at Chester City Gaol. TAYLOR tried to commit suicide, didn't succeed, but so badly injured himself that he died later. Platt was never caught.

Reference and Credits:
[1] Daniel, Clarence - The Story of Eyam Plague with a Guide to the Village, 1977, 1983 & 1985.
[2] Andrew McCann is the transcriber of the other William Wood's book History and Antiquities of Eyam.
[3] Merrill, John N. - Derbyshire Folklore. JNM Publications, Winster, 1988, ISBN 0 907496 331 8.

Information prepared by Rosemary Lockie in May 1999.

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