Above: Chestergate is one of Macclesfield’s oldest streets.

It was here that witnesses reported seeing the youngest of the three accused purchasing ‘three complete suits of cloathes’.

Before moving on to buy ‘shoes &c’ from Mr. Wainwright on the same street.

The previous post covered the inquest into the brutal slaying of 30-year-old, father of three, William Wood on the back road between Disley and Whaley Bridge on Wednesday 16th July 1823. The verdict was ‘wilful murder, [by] some person or persons unknown’. 

This instalment of the story covers the hunt for the murderers. And starts with their flight from Whaley Bridge to Macclesfield. Edward Griffin was a post-boy at the Old Hall Inn in Buxton. During the trial he described where he first came upon the three suspects. He…

…was with a return chaise, at Sidebotham’s, at Whaley-bridge, about 100 or more yards from where the two roads meet; had come from Bullock-Smithy by the new road, it was about half-past eight in the evening.

I was in the house when a young man came to me, one of the three I afterwards saw going along the way, who asked me if I was going to Buxton, and whether I was empty. I said no, I had got one gentleman with me.

When I told him so, he turned round and gave me no answer. I followed him out of the house, he went along the road very quickly, and joined his two companions.

I followed slowly on, and saw them for the space of a mile further, going very quick, till they were within four miles and a half of Buxton. I was an hour and a half going from Whaley Bridge to Buxton.

The action then moves to Macclesfield. The Macclesfield Courier reports…

On Thursday morning, three young men, two rather shabbily dressed, and the third in a new fustian jacket and trowsers, came into this town and went to the Golden Lion public-house.

The youngest of the three then proceeded to Mr. Burgess’s in Chestergate and purchased three complete suits of cloathes, he also bought shoes &c. from Mr. Wainwright, in the same street, and then returned to his companions, who stated they were related to Mr. David Browne, and wished to change their cloathes before they saw him.

Having done so, they had some beef steaks, &c. and left the house, one of them leaving his old cloathes behind him.

The youngest of the three then went into Chestergate, and offered the remainder of the old things to two lads carrying in coals for Mr. Wainwright, who accepted of them: they then proceeded by the Telegraph coach to Manchester.

Shortly afterwards intelligence of the murder having reached Macclesfield, a suspicion arose that these three fellows had been concerned in the deed, and upon examining their old cloathes, they were found much stained with blood.

Mr. Frost, the constable, immediately proceeded to Manchester by the Mail.

We have seen the cloathes of these men, they are much smeared with dirt (evidently from a lime road,) to conceal the blood on them, which in many places is very visible in the inside, and we have not the smallest doubt that the owners of them are the perpetrators of the bloody deed.

A later edition of the Macclesfield Courier continues the story…

In addition to the above we have to state, that on Thursday afternoon, about six o’clock, the three fellows against whom there is so strong a presumption of their having perpetrated the horrid deed, proceeded to the Greyhounds public-house, in Oak Street in this town [Manchester], and called for some liquor.

The landlord observing that the same persons had been at his house the day before, and presenting a very different appearance, being cloathed from head to foot with altogether new cloathes, and having plenty of money in their pockets, a suspicion was awakened in his mind that the men had committed some robbery, and he immediately dispatched his son to the Police-office, from whence, after communicating the intelligence, two Officers accompanied him to the house.

But unfortunately before they got there two of them had left; the third was, however, luckily taken into custody, who, having first given information of some consequence upon the subject, was conveyed to the New Bailey Prison. Intelligent search was made in all directions during the night in quest of the other two, but without success.

On Friday morning, they were seen drinking with some women at the Coach and Horses public-house, in St. George’s Road, and the landlord being struck with their appearance, sent to the Police-office, where Officers were immediately forwarded, but before they had reached the house they were suffered to leave, and were observed to proceed rather hastily over the fields which led into Oldham. And, since which time we are sorry to learn no trace whatever has been discovered of them.

We cannot help thinking that if Mr. Frost, the constable from Macclesfield, had immediately on his arrival here communicated with Mr. Lavender, at our Police-office, where he might have expected much important assistance, the result would have been far more satisfactory; instead of which he arrived by the Mail, and without giving any information whatever, stopped about an hour in town, and then returned home.

To recap; after buying new clothes in Macclesfield on Thursday to replace those covered in blood, the three accused took the coach to Manchester. When news of the murder reached Macclesfield, they were soon identified as possible suspects. And Constable Frost was sent to arrest them.

When the three turned up in the Greyhound pub in Manchester later that day, the waiter recognised them as having been there two days earlier (the day before the murder). And was immediately suspicious as they were now wearing expensive new clothes.

He sent his son to the police station, who returned with two constables. But by the time they arrived, Dale and Platt had left, abandoning Taylor who was arrested and taken to New Bailey prison.

On the following morning (Friday), Dale and Platt were seen drinking in another Manchester pub, The Coach and Horses, and again a suspicious landlord alerted the police. They again managed to escape before the police arrived, and were last seen fleeing across fields in the direction of Oldham.

It looks as though Macclesfield PC Frost took much of the blame for this Keystone Cops debacle, and was heavily criticised for not alerting his Manchester colleagues sooner.

Topic tags (click for similar posts): Crime & punishment | William Woods murder