The Todmorden Vicarage murder

In 1867, Miles Weatherill, a 22-year-old textile-worker from Todmorden, fell in love with Sarah Bell who was working as cook for Rev Anthony Plow, the vicar of Christ Church, Todmorden at Todmorden Vicarage.

Because Sarah was only 16 years old, the vicar was fearful of any possible scandal from a long courtship and refused permission for Weatherill to call on Sarah, and even employed a private watchman to keep the boy away.

Angered by the continuing clandestine meetings between the two, Rev Plow dismissed the girl on 1st November 1867, and Sarah returned to her mother at Newby Whiske, near Thirsk. Weatherill followed her to persuade her to come back to Todmorden. She refused, and in a rage, Weatherill returned to Todmorden.

On 2nd March 1868, after going for a drink at the Black Swan in Todmorden, and armed with an axe and four pistols, Weatherill went to the vicarage around 9:30 pm.

Rev Plow heard a noise in the kitchen and tried to get into the yard but the door had been tied to prevent its being opened. He then went out by the front door where he found Weatherill. Weatherill drew a pistol from his belt and aimed at Rev Plow, but the cap misfired, so he struck him on the head with an axe and dragged the body into the lobby. Three women servants - Elizabeth Spink, Mary Hodgson, and Jane Smith - came to the assistance of their master, and pulled Weatherill's hair, allowing Rev Plow to escape by the front door. One of the servants ran out of the house to fetch help.

Weatherill then turned on the child's nurserymaid, Jane Smith, whom he accused of telling tales about him and Sarah Bell. He attacked her with an axe, almost severing her hand. She ran off and Weatherill pursued her and forcing his hand and a pistol round the dining-room door as she tried to close it, shot her dead.

Weatherill ran upstairs and into a bedroom where he confronted Mrs Harriet Plow, the vicar's wife. He closed the door, struck a match and tried to pull off the bedclothes with which Mrs Plow had covered her head. He went to the foot of the bed and lifting up the sheets, shot at her beneath the sheets. She jumped out of bed and made for the door and Weatherill began to batter her with a poker. She lay quite still, and Weatherill left her for dead.

By this time, help had arrived in the form of 2 men and George Stansfield, the parish clerk, who seized Weatherill and took him downstairs.

Outside, Rev Plow reached the home of Mr Greenwood, the church organist, where Mr D. N. Cockcroft, the family surgeon, dressed his wounds: one large scalp wound on the top of his head; another at the back of the head; a deeply-cut vertical wound at the temple; the left ear had been badly torn from top to bottom. He died on 12th March 1868, and his 5-week-old daughter, Hilda Katherine, died on the same day. There are no details of the cause of the child's death, although newspaper reports conjectured that it was due to

unavoidable removal from its mother at the time of the attack on her

Weatherill appeared before Todmorden magistrates on Wednesday, 3rd March 1868, and this was adjourned until Friday, 5th March. On 4th March, he appeared before the Coroner's court which was held at the Queen Hotel, Todmorden.

On 13th March 1868, Weatherill was tried at Manchester Assizes for the wilful murder of Jane Smith, and the jury immediately returned a verdict of Guilty. The judge, Mr Justice Lush, passed the death sentence.

On 16th March 1868, a Coroner's inquest into the cause of death of Rev Plow was held at the Black Swan in Todmorden. The jury returned a verdict of

Wilful murder

Weatherill was hanged outside the New Bailey prison, Manchester, on Saturday, 4th April 1868.

Mrs Plow died a year later.

In 1868, Rev R. Stainton held a series of Sunday afternoon services in the Theatre, Sheffield. On 22nd March 1868, the Theatre was crowded to hear him speak on the Todmorden Tragedy. During the service a man in the gallery fainted, panic followed, and considerable damage was done to the theatre. No-one was seriously injured

See Charles Biles

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:13 / 15th May 2021 / 7217

Page Ref: MMV11

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