THE ASHCROFTS AND WILIAM HOLDEN
Tried at the Lancaster Assizes for the Murder of Margaret Marsden and Hannah Partington, 5th September, 1817
AT the Lancaster Assizes, Friday, September 5, 1817, JAMES ASHCROFT the elder, aged fifty-three, DAVID ASHCROFT, (his brother), aged forty-eight, JAMES ASHCROFT the younger, aged thirty-two, WILLIAM HOLDEN, aged forty-seven, and JOHN ROBINSON, aged fifty-three, charged with the murder of Margaret Marsden and Hannah Partington, in the dwelling-house of Thomas Littlewood, at Pendleton, near Manchester, on the 26th day of April previous, pleaded Not Guilty.
The dreadful atrocity of the murder, unparalleled even by the murder of Marr and his family, the hour of the day, (two o'clock in the afternoon) and the public place in which the horrid deed was perpetrated, together with the number of the accused, and the nicety of the evidence, had excited the very highest curiosity. At seven o'clock, the Court was excessively crowded. Within the bar the counsel could with difficulty find room to sit or stand. Without the bar all was one entire mass, that stood and moved as if inseparable. At eight o'clock precisely the trial commenced. There were several challenges. After a jury was sworn, the elder Ashcroft flung his hand upwards with a theatrical air, and exclaimed -- Not Guilty; his brother followed his example, and his son, and Holden. Robinson scarcely raised his hand to young Ashcroft's shoulder.
Mr Cross, in a speech of great force and pathos, opened the case. It was his painful duty to detail, and their not less painful duty to investigate, the circumstances of a murder, the most atrocious which the experience of any of them had observed. That the deed was perpetrated was not matter of question: their only task was to select the perpetrators. Before he should detail the evidence, he must say, that there was nothing to bring guilt home to Robinson. If therefore incidental proof did not come out in course of trial, they must acquit him.
"The evidence against the elder Ashcroft made it necessary to tell them, that the law pronounced the man who in any way aided or assisted the murderer as equally guilty with him who actually inflicted the fatal wound. Lord Dacre was found guilty, and hanged, for the murder of the gamekeeper, while he himself was in another past of the park hunting the deer. He now described the ground, and the evidence. Thomas Littlewood has a house in Pendleton, on the side nearest Manchester, and on the west side of the road as you go into Manchester from Lancaster. It fronts to the south. Its east gable is towards the turnpike-road, and has two windows in it. It is some distance from the road. As you go to it from the road you first pass a piece of waste ground, you enter then an iron gate, you go along a gravel path, pass along the front of the house, and by the kitchen window, which is in the south west corner of the front; you then enter into a yard at the west end of the house. In one corner of the yard there is a pump, and in the diagonally opposite corner is a lobby into the north west corner of the house. A yard within the entrance of this lobby is the door into the house. In the kitchen there is but one window to the south, and the shutters leave the whole of the lower panes uncovered, the dresser is under the window, the fire is on the east side.
"Immediately behind the house is a burying-ground, and in the burying-ground a chapel. On the other side of the burying-ground runs a path from the road, parallel with the gravel-path in front of the house. Considerably in front of the house is Mr Watkins's, the Quaker's, house, from whose windows one can have a full view of the front of Mr Littlewood's. Going now eastward from the house, and passing alongside the gravel-walk, out at the iron-gate, through the waste piece of ground into the road, you have Pendleton on your left, and Manchester on your right; before you is a field through which a cart-road passes, and of importance in this trial as the Three-nooked Field; it is considerably off the road, and rather rises as you go to it from the road: the path rises also as you go to Littlewood's house, so that the Three-nooked Field commands a full view of Littlewood's house and premises, about a quarter of a mile distant. Going along to Manchester, you come to the two- mile-stone, almost as you pass opposite to Littlewood's, A few yards further on, you pass the Black Horse public-house on your right, and at the one-mile stone, the Horse and Shoe also on the right.
"Now, Gentlemen, you will find the four prisoners, on the evening of Friday the 25th of April, met together in a public-house in Manchester, not drinking and making merry, but engaged in cool, deliberate, serious, important consultation. You will find them on the next day, the fatal day, walking backwards and forwards near Mr Littewood's house, sometimes together, sometimes separate, now here, now there, at one time on the public road, at another time in the private path. Holden is seen in the kitchen between one and two o'clock. The young woman that saw him will swear to him. At two o'clock another young woman saw the kitchen window shut, when the murder must have been committed. About three, young James Ashcroft, David Ashcroft, and Holden, are seen coming out at the iron-gate with bundles in their hands. They will be sworn to. They are again seen in the Black Horse, and at the Horse-shoe. In the evening young Ashcroft is seen on a play- ground, flushed probably with intoxication, displaying a bundle of notes and handfuls of gold. But here I must state the deeds perpetrated within the house. The family consisted of Mr and Mrs Littlewood, Mrs Marsden, an ancient lady long in the family, and, what is of importance, long before well known to the Ashcrofts, and a beautiful young girl, the unfortunate Hannah Partington. Mr Littlewood had a grocer's shop in Manchester, to which he and his wife regularly went every Saturday morning, when there is always a market in Manchester. They did so on Saturday, the 26th, and left Mrs Marsden and Hannah Partington in the house. Mr Littlewood had a very considerable sum of money in the house, which he kept in a drawer that he never locked. In this sum were nineteen guineas in gold. All the money was taken away. The display of property, therefore, made by young Ashcroft is pregnant with suspicion, especially when you will find it proved that he could not pay two shillings the day before. But old Ashcroft is still untouched. He is seen deliberating and walking with the rest, but he is not connected with Littlewood's house. This man, then, confined in the same cell with one charged with felony, but proved fully innocent, holds frequent conversations on the subject with his fellow prisoner, and with that impatience to unload a guilty conscience which criminals feel, and which prompts them to make disclosures, however foul the deed, or fatal the secret to their associates, he relates to him that he kept watch in the Three-nooked-field, while the others executed the atrocious act of murder. This disclosure will now be verified to you upon oath, when the real character of the witness will be fully made known to you.
"These circumstances will derive confirmation from the contradictory confessions of the prisoners, and the anxiety of Holden to conceal the shirt he had on. It must be admitted that the property has not been traced, There were no marks on the notes or the gold. Only a seven-shilling piece was taken away, and a seven- shilling piece was found on one of the prisoners. Neither is any mark of blood found upon their clothes. The evidence consists of the circumstances I have detailed. If they satisfy your minds that the prisoners are guilty, you will of course find your verdict accordingly, however painful the task: if you can reasonably doubt the force of all the evidence that will be laid before you, God forbid I should urge you to convict the prisoners."
Shortly after Mr Cross had begun, he was interrupted while all the witnesses on both sides were removed out of Court: they had previously been all placed in the gallery to the right of the Court: they were now brought to the witnesses' box, one by one, as called, and severally deposed to the following effect.
William Mortimer. -- I remember being in Hilton-street, in the Crown and Anchor public-house, from nine to about half past nine of the evening of Friday, the 25th of April. I sat in the room next to the bar. I saw David Ashcroft coming in, and afterwards the other two Ashcrofts and Holden. They sat in the same room with me. David Ashcroft and I had repeated conversations. I left them there. The two Ashcrofts, sen. and younger, and Holden, sat together. David sat with me.
Martha Blake. -- I keep the Crown and Anchor. I remember Mr Mortimer being there on the 25th, in the bar. I was there also. No one was with him for some time. The first that came in was David Ashcroft. I don't know the persons or names of the three that came in together, and whom I introduced into the bar, I saw them come in at the lobby-door; they said nothing, but appeared to be strangers in the house. Mortimer was there for about half an hour after I introduced them. David Ashcroft moved into the chair that Mortimer got out of. The other persons sat on a form at the table. They sat two and two together on opposite sides of the table, facing each other, with their hands on the table, the right hand clasped in the left. They were conversing in a kind of whisper. I was four or six yards from them. I could not hear what they said. The table is a yard across. They continued till about eleven o'clock, an hour after Mortimer went away. They were talking so the whole of the time. They had, I rather think, two gills a-piece of ale; three gills was the outside of it. I saw no laughing or joking to the best of my recollection. I sat and looked at them, wondering what they had so much to whisper about.
John Williams. -- I was working in a field on Saturday, the 26th. I saw Davie, and James (young James), and Holden, about eleven in the morning. I saw them in Sidley, about a quarter of a mile across the fields from Mr Littlewood's, on the right of the road from Pendleton to Manchester. I saw them on the road, a carriage-road, not turnpike. I was close to the road cleaning a gutter. There is a footway from that place through the Three nooked-field to Mr Littlewood's. They stopt with me a little while. They talked to me, James most. I now recollect what did not occur to me then, that I had seen him before. He had on a blue coat, a pair of boots with a fresh top. David spoke, and Holden, but he spoke very little. He was dressed in the same coat as now (a blue coat). I am quite sure it is they. They conversed with me about a quarter of an hour. Looking round to a house in view, they asked who lived there? They turned round as they were going off, and James asked where they could buy an acre of land. They said then they heard that Dr. Olier had a house to let. They went off by the path towards Littlewood's.
Richard Lewis. -- I live with a tailor in Pendleton. I remember seeing James Ashcroft the younger going past our house on the 26th of April. I spoke to him. Littlewood's is between our house and Manchester, two hundred yards from my house. He owed me three shillings, and I went out and asked them. He gave me one shilling. He said he was going to Samuel Chantler's to meet a man who owed him a good bit of money, and if he got it he would pay me the rest.
Thomas Chantler. -- My father keeps the Horseshoe, farther from Manchester than Littlewood's by three hundred yards. I saw the prisoners at my father's on the 26th, about one o'clock. James Ashcroft, the younger, came first, and James Ashcroft, the elder, a few minutes afterwards; a third person came into the room to them. I can't say it was one of the prisoners. I did not see them go out.
Samuel Burtles. -- I remember being near the Three-nooked field the day this happened, by three as nearly as I can guess. I saw two sit down in the field on a bank. A public path was close by them, a yard from them. It was young James, and another that I did not know, I had seen James many a time before. I met old James after I had passed them; he was coming towards them. I watched him into the field. He had a little bit of a bundle under his coat. I have looked many a time since, and they might have seen Littlewood's quite clearly. It is opposite the two windows in the gable on the other side of the road. I cannot say if they could see the path in front of the house.
James Crompton -- I live in Manchester. I and my wife were in Pendleton on the 26th, selling bears (to wipe the feet.) I saw young James, and another whom I don't see, at the corner of Leaf-square. He was coning from towards Pendleton, about one hundred yards nearer Manchester than Littlewood's. It was rather after one. I then went on to Mr Littlewood's to sell them a bear: I saw the old lady, neither Mr nor Mrs Littlewood. I went then to the next house, a Quaker's, on the same side, a little into the field. There is a view from that house of Littlewood's. It is about thirty yards. I saw young James pass by me up to Pendleton. It was on the same side that Littlewood's is on. I saw another man on the other side the road. It was not one of the prisoners. I went then to the other side the road to several houses. I then saw young James again. He was going towards Leaf-square, on the same side with Littlewood's. He passed by it as I was on the other side the road. He had boots on. I came over again to the Hare and Hounds, on the same side as Littlewood's, and farther from Manchester. I saw young James there and this other man. He was coming up towards Littlewood's house again. I did not, on that day see any of the other prisoners.
James Burdekin. -- I am a servant of Stephen Tatterson, a butcher, at Pendleton. The shop is opposite to Littlewood's, fifty or sixty yards off, on the same side of the road. The shop fronts the road. Standing a little out of the shop on the bridle road, I can see Littlewood's. It is a horse road (parallel to the turnpike.) I saw old James Ashcroft at our shop betwixt one and two.
Susan Stubbs. -- I remember the day. I saw two of the prisoners, the young and old, David and James. I knew David by sight, not by name. It was in the afternoon between two and three. I saw them at the chapel walk. There is a pump in the yard. They were nearer the road. There is a chapel and burying ground. Littlewood's is on the one side, and the walk on the opposite side of the burying-ground. A third side of the burying-ground fronts to the road. They were going towards the highway, and I was going on the path in an opposite direction.
William Stretch. -- I was in Pendleton on the 26th. I saw David Ashcroft and young James. It was near the Woolpack. They were in conversation. It stands beyond Littlewood's, a quarter of a mile farther from Manchester. It was about twelve. I have known David forty years. I know James perfectly. I am sure it was he. I saw them again at two going towards Manchester and Mr Lirtlewood's. I have seen Mrs Marsden many a time when she kept a public- house. After she declined business, old James and David lived near her in Pendleton. Their parents lived in Pendleton. I went to school with James. They lived a few roods from Mrs Marsden. They lived so for a year or two.
Hannah Tatterson. -- I am a servant of Mr Watkins (the Quaker). I saw Hannah Partington at half-past twelve, on the 26th. The shutters of the kitchen-window were open. It is the window towards Manchester. I observed it again; the shutters were put to, but not fastened; they are on the inside. I could see them aslant. When shut, they are close up to the window. When I saw them partly closed, it might be a quarter to two. About two they were quite close up to the window. I saw her at the back kitchen-door. Mr Watkins's house is across a field and a garden, opposite to Mr Littlewood's. I was carrying the furniture into our parlour. I did not see them open.
Mary Hallows. -- I lived on the opposite side of the turnpike road to Mr Littlewood's. I went that day to Littlewood's pump. I came across the road, in at the iron gate, along by the front of the house, and into the yard to the pump. It was between one and two. I saw in at the window as I passed by the front of the house. I saw two in the kitchen, Mrs Marsden with her back towards the window, sitting between the window and the fire; the other person, a man, sitting with his face towards the window. I had a clear view of him. In the yard I saw the young woman Hannah Partington. She had come for a shovel full of coals. I had some conversation with her. I went back with my pitcher the same way. I did not look into the kitchen then. I have seen the man again. He had on a yellow silk handkerchief, a dark coat, I think blue, and a dark waistcoat. I saw him again on Monday following. I had told the magistrate of what I had seen. I went on the Monday into Littlewood's parlour for the purpose of looking if I could know the man. There were more than ten men in the room. I looked, and immediately knew him. It was William Holden. Before I spoke, he said, "You are wrong, young woman." I said, "I believe that to be the man I saw in the kitchen." I have no doubt at all that he is the man. I looked particularly at him as I passed the window. I could hardly get past. He looked as earnestly at me. On Monday he had on the same handkerchief, I think the same coat, and a lighter waistcoat. He spoke before I spoke, but not before I had fixed my eye upon him. He was placed in the same situation in the kitchen, and I looked at him in the same way, through the window, on the Monday. I can't tell what there is particular in his face, but I am fully persuaded that it is the man by his features, and his hair being straight over his forehead, and his round shoulders.
Harriet Towel. -- I am servant to Mr Hewitt, who lives in Pendleton. I recollect going to Littlewood's about half-past four to see the young woman, Hannah Partington. The shutters of the kitchen window were near to. I saw. the old woman sitting on a chair at the end of the dresser. Her head was down towards her knees. I observed the dresser sprinkled over with blood. I went off immediately, and returned again at seven. I looked through the window, and saw Mrs Marsden in the same position. I gave the alarm. Not at the first time. I saw through the lower panes, (the shutters did not cover the lower panes).
Mr Thomas Littlewood. -- My house is in Pendleton. I have a grocer's shop in Salford. My family consisted of myself, my wife, Mrs Marsden, in her 75th year, who lived with me ten years, Hannah Partington, in her 20th year, who lived with me two years. It was my custom to go, together with my wife, to the shop every market day. We went on the 26th about nine in the morning, and returned in the evening at eight. I had left about £160; £140 in notes, and nineteen guineas in gold, half-a-guinea, and a seven- shilling piece. We left the money in a drawer where we slept. The drawer was not locked. I saw the money at seven in the morning. There was plate in the kitchen. I heard of the alarm as I came to the iron-gate: I went on in front of the house: the shutters were to, but not fastened; there is a loose board to fasten them which the men did not understand. I tried the door, it was locked; the yard door was locked, and the key in it. I go in at a lobby at the end of the house: I found the key of the door under the bear next morning. We took a ladder and went in by an upper window. Some went in before me: I went straight into the kitchen; Mrs Marsden was sitting in the chair she always occupied; Hannah Partington was lying under the dresser with her knees bent towards her head; they were quite dead and cold; the kitchen was covered with blood; the poker was bent and very bloody; the cleaver, which was always hung in the kitchen, I found in their bed-room, with a little blood on it; the money was all gone; the notes were one-pound and two- pound bank of England notes; out of the same drawer were taken shirts and silk handkerchiefs; from other drawers in the same chest were taken shawls and things belonging to my wife: all could be put into two or three small bundles: a person standing in the Three- nooked field can see the house and front way as clear as if they were on the premises.
Cross-examined. -- I never saw the Ashcrofts in my life. I did not examine the wounds. I could not stand that. There was scattered blood. I did not see any account of examinations in the Manchester papers. Partington was a very handsome girl; she had no sweetheart. I am sure she had none.
Mr Olier. -- I am a surgeon in Manchester, and have a house near Littlewood's. I examined the bodies on the Sunday morning. I found Mrs Marsden's forehead fractured, and driven into the brain. It was very likely to have been done by this poker. She died of it. It would cause immediate death. The young woman's skull was driven into her brain. There were incised wounds on her neck and several parts of her head. It would have caused instantaneous death. This cleaver is very like to have done it. Her ear was cut through.
Ely Dyson. -- I weave for Messrs. Johnsons in Manchester. I was going with my work to them on the 26th, and passing near Littlewood's, I saw three men in the centre of the yard gate. They looked as if they were conversing together. They came down by the grand walk in front of the house to the iron gate. As I was passing on the road, one of them came out at the iron gate. I looked earnestly at him, because he looked very earnestly at me. That is the person, the third from me (young James). He was dressed in blue. He had a pair of boots on, and a white handkerchief on his neck. The tops of the boots were of a yellowish colour. He had a bundle in a light-coloured handkerchief. It was not large. It was hanging on his right hand. I see'd that another was coming up to the gate, with a bundle in a dark handkerchief in his left hand, a little larger than the other. He was close to the gate. He had on a green coat. The fourth man from me (David) is the man. The third was nearer Littlewood's. I did not see whether he had a bundle. I have not the perfect knowledge of him; but to the best of my knowledge, the second man (Holden) is him. As I passed Salford it had struck four a few minutes. I did not stand at all on the way. The third man had a blue coat and waistcoat, I believe.
Questioned by the Judge. -- I saw only the four prisoners, and I singled out the three.
Mr Joseph Green. -- I am the borough-reeve of Manchester. I was present by accident when the former witness was shown the prisoners. The four prisoners were ordered to walk round the yard, and pointed out to the witness. He singled them out in the order in which he had first seen them. He looked from a window at them, and afterwards from the gate. I won't say that other persons walked round with them.
Mary Longworth. -- I am going twelve. I remember the day. I saw David Ashcroft outside the iron gate. He had on a green coat. He was about two yards from the gate. He had a green bundle under his arm. He had his back to the house, and face to the road. I rather think it was the arm towards Pendleton (the left.) I was on the road. I can't tell the clock. It was after dinner. We dine at twelve. I think it was three hours or not quite so long after dinner. I had seen him about three times before. I saw him on Monday again. I am sure that I knew him, and that he is the man. I did not know the thing was done till Sunday morning, and I then mentioned him to my mother. I did not know him by name, but by nature. I thought it was Richard Ashcroft.
Questioned by the Court. -- I saw no other person. There are a number of people on the road at that time of the day. I saw nobody as I took notice of. He had a green coat on.
John Dunkerley. -- I saw Samuel Burtles the day this happened, in the Three-nooked Field. After I had seen him, young James came by me first. I saw old James meet young James in the field after that: it was about a quarter or half an hour after I had seen Burtles. I had seen them at the same time that I saw Buries. I went on, and did not observe what they were doing. Afterwards, about half-past four, I passed by the Black Horse. I saw young James come out first, and afterwards old James. Young James went down the right side, old James crossed the road and walked along the other side of the road. They walked a few hundred yards. Old James re-crossed, and joined his son. I came up to them then. I looked at them. They then fixed their eyes on me. They must have seen me in the field. David was with them the first time. I was born in Pendleton, and have known the three Ashcrofts ever since a boy. They lived in Pendleton, and near Mrs Marsden's, next door neighbours. It was twenty years ago. They lived some years thus close together.
Elizabeth Williams. -- I am a servant at the Black Horse, on the right hand side going to Manchester. On the 26th I saw David Ashcroft at our house. There were three of them altogether. I don't know the others. It was about half-past four. The two men left first, and left David behind.
Richard Disley. -- I recollect the 26th. I was in Hanover-street, in Manchester. There is a playground near, a piece of waste ground. I saw James Ashcroft, jun., and Holden there that evening; I can't justly say they came together. It was about five or six. I saw James betting four or five shillings at a time. They were betting on the tossing up of halfpence. It was with one Davies. He said to Davies he would bet him a guinea or half a guinea. "I hear Davies has some gold," he said: and having offered the bet, he pulled out some gold, five or six guineas, in his right hand. He had some notes in his left hand. He had lost one note. It was a bank of England. I don't know how many notes he had in his hand.
Re-examined. -- I don't know how he could get guineas; He is a weaver, a very poor trade last year.
Joseph Ramsbottom. -- I was on the waste ground. I saw young James and Holden betwixt five and six. James began to game with Davies and other people. He began with five shillings, then went to ten, and said to Davies, "I hear thou hast guineas, I'll lay thee a guinea I had them;" then he pulled out of his right hand pocket some guineas, then with his left hand pulled out a large roll of notes, as large as my fist, and said, "Thou hast no occasion to be afraid, here's plenty of guineas and notes," and with that they began to play half guineas. Holden came at seven. He did not come with James. I played some, but I gave it up when they came.
Joseph Nadin. -- On the 27th I apprehended all of them, David and young James first in St. George's-road. I took them to James's house. I searched the house, and found nothing particular. On James's person I found a Bank of England pound note, five shillings, and a seven-shilling piece. On David I found seven guineas and a half in gold, and five one pound notes. I asked David if he had been the day before at Pendleton. He said he had; he had had some drink the night before [Friday], and he took a walk. James, too, said he had been at Pendleton. As I was taking them to the New Bailey, David asked if I was going to search his house. I said I was. He said there was a one pound note in his waistcoat pocket, and desired me to take care of it. I found it there. In the evening I apprehended old James in his own house in Silk-street. I asked him if he had been at Pendleton the day before, and he said he had. I asked what he had been doing there. He said nothing, he had nothing to do, and he had taken a walk. I took him in a coach to the Swan. I then took Holden in the street; he said he lodged at the White Hart. I took him there and searched him, and found two notes [Bank of England], one guinea, and nineteen shillings and sixpence in silver. He said he had not been at Pendleton: he said he had no clothes besides: he refused to tell where he changed his shirt, saying, it was no business of mine. I took him to the police and there he repeated the same things. He refused to tell where he changed his shirt; he said at last his dirty shirt was at the White Hart. We got a bundle from the landlady of the White Hart, containing foul linen, and stockings and leggings, There was nothing particular. At Dunstan's office he said he had changed his shirt at Abraham Hase's. We found nothing there; he had taken the dirty shirt away. On Monday, David and Holden were brought to Littlewood's. Holden turned away his head from the bodies till I held him to it. David looked at them. I took them then to the parlour. They were there with several others, and their irons off, when Mary Hallows came and saw them, and pointed out Holden. I asked if he still persisted in saying he had not been at Pendleton on Saturday. He said, "I do." David said, "Nay, thou knowest thou shaved opposite the pole." He answered, "Yes, but I did not like to bring myself into a scrape."
Re-examined. -- David lived at Hulme. He had formerly kept the Jolly Butcher, in Manchester. There was a handkerchief found in a bed in David's room with blood on it. It was betwixt the blankets. Holden, I have heard, has been often in Manchester. He lived near Blackburn. I don't know what has become of David's daughter. She was before the coroner. He is a widower I believe. David's daughter is grown a woman.
William Collins. -- I have been in the service of Mr Harrison, the Magistrate, for seven years, till his death. I went then to live near Bolton. From the top of Park I was removing to Manchester, in April, on a Friday (25th). I removed my things in a cart belonging to John Astley. When I got to Manchester, Richard Young claimed the cart. He had bought it from Astley, but it had not been delivered. He took me up, and got me taken to the New Bailey on Saturday forenoon. I was put into the lock-ups. I was afterwards discharged on the 3rd of May, on Astley's explanation. I was confined in the lock-up. On Sunday night I saw old James. He was in the same cell with me the first night. There were other prisoners with us sometimes. At other times we were alone. He was taken out to be examined two or three times a day. I told him my case over, and he tell'd me his. One day as he came back I said, "How are you going on now?" He said, he was in very poor heart, for they brought fresh witnesses against him every time. I told him if he was not guilty he had no occasion to be afraid of any witnesses. I said, if you are guilty you are sure to be hanged as you are a man. He said, "It would go better with him, but he understood they could not find Holden's shirt." We were together an hour or two either Tuesday or Wednesday night. He said that night, it was very doubtful but what they would all be hanged. This was a different time the same day. He said that there was him and his son, and his brother David, and Holden, had made it up for to murder and to rob Mr Littlewood's house. He said, "that him and his son and Holden went, but when they got nearly to Mr Littlewood's house they saw some person, and they were afraid to go in; that he went to a butcher's shop for a little pith to rub his corns: then they went past the Hare and Hounds, then turned back again: they went down to see a raven kept by a gentleman, and then came back again: after they had passed Littlewood's a third time, Holden went into a barber's shop to shave himself: they went to buy some cheese and bread, and then to a public-house, where they had some beer: "I then," said old James, "Went down a lane into a field, near Mr Weston's manufactory, and sat under a hedge in that field: I saw my son James and Holden go into Littlewood's: I was a-back of that hedge for a signal for them at the window: if I saw anybody go towards Mr Littlewood's house, I was to lay my hat on a thorn that I sat under, as a signal: I never saw anybody, and never lay my hat on the hedge: after seeing them come out, I went towards them." Just as he said that, they put other prisoners in with us, and we never had any conversation after that. We were never alone after that.
James Bendekin (again). -- James Ashcroft came into my master's shop between one and two, for a bit of pith to rub his corns. I cut him a bit out of a neck of mutton.
William Evans, the turnkey of the New Bailey. -- I recollect Collins being brought to the lock-ups, on the 26th April. James Ashcroft was brought on the 27th, and put into the lock-ups with Collins. I am not certain whether Ashcroft went down into the interior on Tuesday or Wednesday. I speak from my own memory. The dates of Collins being committed and discharged are written. I cannot say whether or not they were alone together.
Alive Robinson -- I saw Holden and David the day this happened, about one. Holden was shaved then by me. He had a blue coat, a blue waistcoat, and a pale yellow silk handkerchief about his neck. I had seen him before. He was three or four times before in my house on the same errand, a week or two before. He had not been that week before. I observed David go along the road at my door. I took notice of him because I had not seen him for a year or two before. He looked into the shop, and I looked at him through the window. I knew him very well.
Mary Longworth (called again, and Richard Ashcroft exhibited to her.) -- I never saw that man. That is not the Ashcroft that I saw at Pendleton. That is not the man that we call Richard.
Here the case for the prosecution closed, and the prisoners severally addressed the Court in the following manner:
James Ashcroft the elder. -- It was as impossible for me to do it as to pull the sun from the firmament. I never saw the women in my life to my knowledge.
David Ashcroft. -- I am as innocent as the child unborn, and never heard of it till I was taken up.
James Ashcroft the younger said he had never seen the women till he saw them dead. He could not tell whether Mrs Marsden was man or woman. "I kissed the innocent lips of Hannah Partington, and said, I would meet her in heaven with a dear conscience; and so I will, my lord, blessed be God."
William Holden said, he was innocent as the child unborn.
James Ashcroft the younger now wished to speak again, and repeated much the same things as formerly.
The following witnesses for the defence were then called:
Adam Halwell. -- I am a weaver, but have been a carter. I took up Collins. I was employed by Mr Richard Young. He came out the last day of the sessions. I saw him after he came out, and had some talk with him. I asked him -- my reason was, that I had seen Holden the night of the murder -- if he had seen or heard anything of the men taken up; he told me he had, he had been in the lock- ups with one of them. I asked him what he thought of it. He told me they were as innocent as the child unborn, so far as he could learn. I can bring others to prove it.
Mr William Atkinson Woodward, clerk to his brother, the attorney for the prisoners Ashcroft. -- I went out and asked the former witness what he had heard Collins say? I did not tell him what Collins had sworn.
Robert Deaken. -- I live in Manchester. I have seen all the Ashcrofts before. I only know them by sight. I keep a caravan. I saw young James at the White Hart, in Tassel-street, on the Thursday before the murder. I saw him pull his pocket-book out. He had a bundle of notes in it. I saw him after that pull eight or nine guineas out of his pocket. He took out his money to bet with.
Margaret Mellor. -- I am wife of Joseph, a dyer at Pendleton. On Saturday afternoon my husband was to be at a funeral, at three o'clock. I went to Edward Law's to ask the hour for that purpose. He told me the clock was a quarter fast. I saw it, and it was a quarter past three. I saw the three Ashcrofts as I was returning, on the foot-path going towards Manchester.
Hannah Hayes. -- My husband, Abraham Hayes, lived in April last in Darlington-buildings, in Manchester. I had seen Holden two months before that. I saw him on Sunday, the 27th, about ten in the forenoon, at my house. He had brought me a shirt to wash the Tuesday before. On Sunday he came for it, and put it on. I saw the shirt which he took off. I saw no marks of blood. He took it away on the same day, at another time.
Cross-examined. -- I took it up and dropped it into the tub after he was away. It was in my house till four. He packed it up in a bundle with a pair of stockings. My husband was in the New Bailey two years.
Margaret Worthington. -- I live in Oak-street, I had known Holden. I saw him in the afternoon of that Saturday about half-past three in Tib-street, in Manchester. It was ringing half-past three. I had been at the grocer's for a pound of soap, and met him. He asked me to go to take a cup of ale, but I refused. He was walking slowly as a man needs to do. I had seen him five or six weeks before.
Cross-examined. -- Roger Worthington is my husband; he has stood once in the pillory; he is not here; he is imprisoned for two years for swindling.
The wife of one of the other prisoners was proposed as a witness for Holden, but his Lordship remarked, that she was inadmissible; they were all on the same bottom.
Mr Nadin. -- From the Black Horse to the Unicorn is about a quarter of a mile.
The Chief Baron summed up the evidence in a very luminous address of more than an hour and a half. Towards the conclusion of it, David Ashcroft begged to be allowed to say something further, The Chief Baron said it was quite irregular, but he would certainly indulge him. He then threw out many incoherent charges against the evidence for the prosecution, and begged to have Mr Wright, a magistrate, and Mr Witherton, a constable, examined to contradict Mary Hallows.
The Judge said he would allow it, but insisted that Mr Williams, the counsel for the Ashcrofts, and Mr Starkie, the counsel for Holden, should be sent for.
After a considerable interval Mr Williams appeared without wig or gown, and after he had conversed for a considerable time with his Lordship and with the prisoners, David Ashcroft said he would leave the case as it was to God Almighty, who he hoped would direct his Lordship and the Jury to do justice.
James Ashcroft, the elder, then ejaculated -- O! may God, by his Holy Spirit, inspire the Jury to perceive the truth, and to give a true verdict, for we are all innocent of this murder.
The Chief Baron. -- I'll listen to anything for which you can offer evidence; but you must not be allowed to make speeches of that kind. His Lordship then concluded by a very impartial and solemn peroration.
The Jury in two minutes returned their verdict. James Ashcroft, the elder, David Ashcroft, James Ashcroft, the younger, and William Holden -- Guilty. John Robinson -- Not Guilty.
James Ashcroft the elder. -- This is murdering us in cold blood. God will reveal this injustice. I pray earnestly that he would, now send two angels to declare upon that table who committed this murder. We are innocent, and I will declare so to the last.
David Ashcroft invoked God, and protested his innocence in the same manner.
James Ashcroft, the younger. -- If I must suffer death for a crime I never committed, I implore your honour to look in mercy on my poor wife and children. (Here a tremendous shriek burst from a female in the crowd, who, it was found, was his unfortunate wife.)
William Holden. -- Silence, silence! (flinging one arm towards heaven and the other towards his earthly judge) -- There is a God yonder who knows that we are innocent, and who will make amends for this.
The Chief Baron here directed the business of the Court to be proceeded with, and the prisoners again repeated their protestations of innocence, and declared all the evidence against them to be perjuries and lies.
The awful sentence of death was then pronounced. They were ordered for execution on the Monday following. The Judge declared, that no sensible person who had heard the evidence, could have a doubt of their guilt; that he owed it to justice to say, that he considered the verdict the only one an intelligent Jury could have returned.
The moment sentence was pronounced, James Ashcroft, the elder, waved his right hand, with a white bundle in it, over his head, and exclaimed aloud, "Glory to God!"
David Ashcroft said he hoped God would not allow the injustice done to them to be always unknown.
James Ashcroft, the younger, said he would meet a higher judge with a conscience clear of this guilt.
William Holden vociferated in a wild tone, "There is Mr Nadin, and there is Mr Fox (attorney for the prosecution), and before they leave the earth God will punish them."
Thus were these terrific culprits hurried away from the bar, while every person in Court was penetrated with a chilling horror at such a dreadful scene.
The trial lasted from eight in the morning till eight at night.
After their condemnation these wretched men still persisted in asserting their innocence, and every appeal to them to acknowledge their guilt, even with reference to the awful moment so fast approaching, the pangs of which might be mitigated by relieving their minds from the load of crime under which they laboured, were fruitless and ineffectual; they seemed influenced by the most determined feelings of unrelenting obdurity, which they reconciled to themselves by fanaticism and superstition.
On the 8th of September, pursuant to sentence, they were led to the fatal scaffold. Precisely at a quarter past twelve, the door, leading from the castle to the scaffold, opened, and WILLIAM HOLDEN, a strong-built, middle-sized, and grey-headed man, was led forth, with his hands pinioned both at the wrists and elbows before the cap was placed on his head, he turned round to the immense multitude of spectators, and, with a firm and loud voice, said, "I am innocent of the crime for which I am to suffer as the child unborn. May God take away all my sins as I am innocent of this murder." The cap was then drawn over his face, and the rope tied about his neck.
DAVID ASHCROFT was stationed next him. He spoke to this effect, with frequent repetitions of the same observations -- "I am glad to see so many persons now looking on, as I testify to them that we are all ignorant of this crime. I do protest to you all, before God, that we are all innocent. Every one that now sees me is as guilty as I am. I would not say so if we had any connexion in any way with the concern; but I declare before God that we are perfectly innocent, for which I bless God. My prayer to God is, that all our persecutors may be forgiven. May God bless the town of Manchester. I know that many thirsted for our blood, but they have sorer hearts than we have. We forgive them, and may God give his Holy Spirit to the town of Manchester. I pray earnestly that we may be the last innocent persons to suffer from this castle. May God find out the true murderers, and may you see them suffer in this place, and hear the confession of their guilt. I am now, I trust, going to glory, and I would not, for the whole world, die with a lie in my mouth. We are all innocent."
Here Holden exclaimed "I can answer only for myself. I am innocent."
JAMES ASHCROFT, the younger, who had in the mean time been brought out, and on whom the cap and rope had been put, cried out, "We are all innocent."
David Ashcroft continued, "And now may the grace of God be with you all, now and for ever, Amen." The cap was now put on his face, and the rope was tied round his neck. He was a good- looking man.
JAMES ASHCROFT, the elder, a tall, thin, grey-headed man, came out last; when in front of his son, he kissed him with much earnestness, then took his station by his side, but said not a word.
They were all pinioned at the wrists and elbows. They joined the clergyman afterwards in repeating the Lord's prayer quite loud. David Ashcroft continued praying, -- "Lord take away my sins, and save my soul for the merits of Jesus Christ." Holden repeated the same expression. All four then began to sing, David Ashcroft repeating line after line as they sung:
I'll praise my Maker with my breath; And, when my voice is lost in death, My days of praise shall ne'er be past, While life and thought and --
The drop fell, their voices instantly ceased, and they swung round in the same direction. David Ashcroft's mouth being uncovered, his tongue was seen swollen and thrust half out on the upper side of his mouth. Old Ashcroft never moved a limb. The young man quivered in the convulsions of death about a minute after they had been thrown off. There was scarcely a tearless eye among the crowd, while many of the women wept aloud.
These men had for several years subsisted by plunder and gaming, and although brought up to the trade of weavers, never sought their livelihood by following their business. James Ashcroft, the elder, had formerly been in the Methodist connexion, but was expelled several years before, by the members of that persuasion for immoral conduct. He was quite a fanatic, and was fully persuaded that his faith was such that he could work miracles, and that having once attained the perfection of grace, he never could again fall. He once, to illustrate this doctrine of faith, thrust his hand and arm into the fire to show that it would not burn, but the experiment did not succeed, and he was dreadfully scorched.