LAW (1866 to 1891)
love story that ended in murder and suicide
house in Dale Street
and Clara Law were sisters, close enough in age to be best
friends, especially as they had no other siblings. They
were born on Dale Street in the centre of Todmorden, Mary
in 1864 and Clara two years later. They were luckier than
many other children of the times as their father, William,
was an industrious man determined to make his own living
doing what he knew best - engineering.
His own father, Elijah Law,
had been a shoe maker on Back Brook Street in the town, but
both William and his only brother, Jeremiah, decided on engineering
for a profession. William did a full apprenticeship to become
a Master machine maker, and by 1881 he was employing 5 men
and 3 boys in his own firm, making machinery for the cotton
industry. He earned enough money to provide for his small
family, and ensured that his two girls were kept out of the
of the house where William's engineering works were
sisters, like all Victorian girls in their teens, were on the lookout
for husbands. Mary found the man of her dreams one day when she
met Tom Marshall. He was a clerk for a solicitor, destined to do
well in life. Meanwhile, 17-year old Clara took up company with
a young man from Victoria Terrace, Eastwood, which is a couple of
miles from Todmorden in the direction of Hebden Bridge. He was John
William Halstead, a well-educated young man who was training to
be a butcher. John William's father, John Halstead, was a stone
merchant and his two brothers, Frank and Edmund, also worked in
the stone trade.
of Victoria Terrace
Terrace comprises a row of what were known as "back to
earth" houses. From the front, they appear to be normal
two-storey houses, but as the ground slopes downwards away
from the houses at the back, the rear aspect has three storeys,
with the bottom rooms built into the earth.
the time the Halsteads lived there, the bottom floor would
have housed one family, whlist the upper floors would have
housed another family. This photo shows the front and side
of the terrace.
blue painted house is where Mary lived
Law married her man about 1885. Together they set up home
at 42, Garden Street in Todmorden, and before long, their
daughter Hilda Mary Marshall was born. Mary's happiness was
complete. Her sister Clara became engaged to be married to
John William. They continued with their courtship for a total
of five years, but by 1888 the relationship didn't seem to
be progressing and the couple broke off the engagement.
following year, Clara obtained a position working as the Manageress
of the confectionery department in the Todmorden Co-operative
store on Dale Street, very close to her home. This was a prestigious
position, and her family was very proud of her.
butchers department in 1896
coincidence, John William also obtained a position at the
Co-op., as Assistant Manager in the butchers department. The
butchers department happened to be next door to the confectioners,
and the two kept up an acquaintance, although the official
courtship was over.
William had another lady-friend by this time, Mary Hodson. They
were engaged to be married, but this didn't stop John William from
continuing to enjoy the company of his first love. Clara never transferred
her affections to another man, still holding a torch for John William.
She and John William met at work, and also kept company outside
the work place when circumstances allowed. Clara's mother knew about
this, and it seems the assignations, at least in the work place,
were observed by others.
assistant in the confectioners, Emily Helliwell, and butchers assistant,
Sam Midgley, knew the pair were "very friendly", as they were seen
together often in the kitchen that was positioned between their
two departments at the back. There was a boiler in this kitchen
that must have been a comfort on cold winter days. One particular
day, Emily and Sam saw the couple in the kitchen, talking about
something. They decided not to disturb them, but as a joke, kept
peeping in and teasing the couple. It was evident to Emily that
John William was upset at the intrusion and he asked her if she
had seen anything, then curbed his anger by saying that it didn't
matter if she had. Emily carried on with the teasing after John
William left, and accused Clara of kissing him. She admitted she
evening, in April 1891, Clara returned to her home on Dale Street
in tears. Her concerned mother listened to her story and was shocked
to discover that Clara was pregnant by John William. This was a
disaster for any girl in those times, and more so in Clara's case
because John William was reluctant to marry her and was continuing
to keep company with Mary Hodson. Clara continued to meet John William,
who tried to convince her that an abortion would be the best way
out. He obtained certain preparations that would cause such an abortion
and gave them to Clara. She was distraught and showed them to her
mother. This happened on two occasions. The first time, her mother
confiscated and destroyed them and on the second occasion Clara
returned the preparations to John William.
July 1891, Clara's mother was becoming anxious for her daughter,
whose pregnancy would soon be noticed. It would be necessary for
her to tell her employers as soon as possible, and that would mean
losing her job. Something had to be sorted before it became too
late. It appears that Thursday 6th August was the day she would
be required to hand in her notice.
and John William agreed to meet at Sandholme on the evening of Saturday,
1st August 1891, to discuss the predicament. Clara told her mother
she was going to ask him if he intended to marry her. When she returned
home, she was crying and told her mother that John William had been
very nice to her and had promised to sort something out before the
following Thursday. John William had further told her to see a doctor
and that he would pay the expenses, that he would pay for the costs
of the birth providing she went away, and that if it came to it,
he would marry her.
Monday, 3rd August 1891, both Clara and John William went to work
at the Co-op. That morning, John William appeared in the kitchen
and was joined by Clara. The meeting didn't last very long, and
no one overheard the conversation.
round the corner from the Law family, at 9 Water Street, were
the Bowdens. Anthony Bowden and his wife, Hannah Sutcliffe,
were typical of the Victorian middle-class society in Todmorden.
They had seven children, although their fifth child, Samuel,
died at the age of 8. They lived in the house shown in the
middle of the photograph.
born in 1831, had his own business as a house painter and
decorator. He was also
an amateur artist and photographer, and the family members
were keen musicians. The girls - four of them, Alice, Mary,
Grace and Hannah, were brought up to be genteel young ladies
and in 1891 the eldest three were earning a living as milliners
and dress makers, in keeping with their status in life.
8th August 1891 was Grace Bowden's 21st birthday, which was to be
celebrated in the café above the confectionery department
at the Co-op on Monday evening, 3rd August 1891. All the family
was invited - the parents, sisters, and brothers, Robert and Anthony
John. Robert was the only sibling to be married at this time, and
his wife Harriet would also no doubt be invited, along with many
friends, including Sam Greenwood, the sweetheart of Grace's oldest
sister, Alice. Sam was a train driver on the Sowerby Bridge to Manchester
route. There would be music and dancing, and party food, probably
prepared in the confectionery department below by Clara and Emily.
This may explain why Clara remained behind at work later than was
normal for a Monday night.
Clara failed to arrive home at her accustomed
time, her parents began to worry that something had happened to
her. Elizabeth Ann and William Law contacted her sister Mary and
other family and friends, but no one had seen her. William strolled
the streets without luck. As midnight approached, he and Elizabeth
Ann were frantic with worry. William ran to the Co-op and woke the
caretaker. By this time, Grace's birthday party was over, and all
the guests had gone, leaving the building dark and empty. The two
men entered the confectionery shop and were horrified to find Clara
lying on the floor, quite dead. There were three knife wounds in
her throat. Her arms were by her side, and her clothes were saturated
with blood. A couple of feet from her body was a large carving knife,
normally used by Clara and Emily for cutting sandwiches. The blade
had been wiped clean and there was one bloodstain on the handle.
police and Dr. Holden were called to the scene at once. Sometime
later, Clara's lifeless body was carried back to her home on Dale
Street. Grace Bowden would have been sound asleep, dreaming of her
elegant party, and quite unaware of the tragedy that occurred in
the room below. Her sister Alice would also be fast asleep, dreaming
perhaps of her own sweetheart, Sam Greenwood. Mary Hodson knew nothing
of the events of the evening, and only John William Halstead knew
where he had been all evening.
following morning, John William turned up for work as normal. On
being told of the gruesome discovery he seemed quite affected and
was observed to be very quiet about his work. The police arrived
to question him about his movements the previous evening, and whatever
he said, the police accepted for the time being. However, gossip
and tittle-tattle abounded, and the Co-op Manager found it necessary
to suspend John William from his duties pending the outcome of the
Inquest. He returned to his home in Eastwood.
Tuesday night, Sergeant Watkins of the West Riding Constabulary
interviewed John William and took a statement from him. He told
the Sergeant that he saw Clara at about 5pm the previous day when
she went in to the butchers shop to order an ox tail and a kidney.
He said that no conversation took place between them. He next saw
her at about 8-15pm passing from the kitchen and past the back door
to the passage, and did not see her again. He stated he left the
premises shortly after this. He denied all knowledge of her pregnancy,
said he had never promised to marry her and that he had not been
out with her during the past five years, and definitely not the
preceding Saturday evening. John William remained calm, cool and
collected throughout the interview apart from one brief moment when
he snapped at the Sergeant, saying: "Why do you bother me about
her? There's many more that have had as much to do with her as I
William stayed home that night and talked to his brother, Frank.
Frank asked him if he knew anything at all about the matter, to
which John William replied: "No, I am innocent." Frank then asked
him if he had spoken to Clara recently, to which the reply was:
"Yes, but only when she came into the shop to give orders. People
look to be against me."
William woke on Wednesday morning, 5th August, apparently in his
usual health and spirits. He left the house on Victoria Terrace
at ten minutes to eight, and shortly afterwards bumped in to his
brother, Edward, who enquired as to where he was going. He said
he was going for a walk and set off in the direction of Todmorden.
Before long, John William left the road and continued his walk along
the railway line towards the tunnel at Horsfall.
At that moment, a pilot engine
was emerging from the tunnel in the direction of Eastwood,
heading towards the walking John William, who was on the opposite
track. When the engine arrived just a few yards away from
him, John William deliberately crossed to the other side of
the line and threw himself in front of the engine, at the
same time holding up both hands.
was nothing the driver could do to avoid him. The wheels of the
locomotive passed over the man and severed his body. As soon as
it was possible to do so, the engine was brought to a standstill.
The driver? . Sam Greenwood, future husband of Alice Bowden, sister
of the party girl. The mangled body was picked up and conveyed to
the Halstead home at Eastwood. In one of John William's pockets,
there was a letter addressed to his brothers and sister. The letter,
written by John William, expressed his intention of committing suicide
and left directions as to some of his belongings. There was no reference
in the letter to the death of Clara Law.
following day, the Inquest opened on the bodies of Clara Law
and John William Halstead at the York Hotel, Todmorden. The
Coroner was Mr. Bairstow. The verdict on John William was
that he committed suicide by throwing himself under the wheels
of a railway engine. The Inquest on Clara was adjourned. She
was buried the following afternoon at St. Paul's Church, Cross
Stone. She was 25 years old.
Hotel as it was at the time of the Inquest
Tuesday 11th August, the Inquest resumed at the York Hotel. After
hearing evidence from many witnesses, including Clara's mother,
Elizabeth Ann, who was obliged to tell the court and the general
public about her daughter's affair with John William in full knowledge
he was engaged to another, and worse than that, she had to admit
to her daughter's pregnancy and the abortion preparations. William
Law had to give details of how he found his daughter's blood covered
body. Frank Halstead was called to give his evidence, and likewise
Emily Helliwell gave hers. There were statements about bloodstains
on the confectionery shop door and also on the key to the door,
of cups being left on the table in the kitchen, about the three
knives regularly used in the shop, and John William's own statements
were read. Mr. Bairstow summed up at considerable length before
the jury retired. It took them just half an hour to reach a verdict
are of the opinion that the deceased, Clara Law, was murdered,
but that there is not sufficient evidence to show by whom the
wound in the throat which caused her death was inflicted."
papers had a field day with headlines such as "Terrible Tragedies
- Tragic Love Affair at Todmorden" and "The Love Tragedy at Todmorden".
I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of the people of
the town as to who murdered Clara.