Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Hallgarth Tragedy (NZ320433)

In 1830, a little to the north-east of Durham City, took place one of the county’s most infamous murders. Two servants, left alone at Hallgarth Corn Mill, found themselves, apparently, the victims of an attack by a gang of local rogues. But all was not as it at first seemed.

Eighteen hundred three times ten,
August the eighth that day –
Let not that Sunday and that year
From memory pass away.

At Hallgarth Mill near Pittington,
Was done a murder foul,
The female weak – the murd’rer strong –
No pity for her soul.

Her skull was broke, her throat was cut,
Her struggle was soon o’er,
And down she fell, and fetched a sigh,
And welter’d in her gore.

Her fellow servant, Thomas Clarke,
To Sherburn slowly sped,
And told a tale that strangers six 
Had done the dreadful deed.

Now, woe betide thee, Thomas Clarke!
For this thy coward lie;
A youth like thee for girl like her
Would fight till he did die.

“They’ve killed the lass,” it was his tale,
“And nearly have killed me”;
But when upon him folks did look,
No bruises could they see.

And therein lies the clue to the true murderer’s identity: No bruises could they see. Another 28 stanzas later and poor young Clarke was dead by way of the hangman’s noose, his corpse on its way to Durham Infirmary for dissection. The evidence suggested that he himself had committed the dastardly deed rather than the ‘phantom’ gang of Irishmen to whom he had so earnestly pointed the finger of blame.

He pleaded his innocence until his dying breath, the case arousing astonishing levels of public interest along the way. Little wonder, then, that some unnamed local poet should cash in on the tragedy with his lengthy ballad.

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