Comb Shopbrow Murder St Helens

Liverpool Times, 1st December 1842

It is our melancholy duty to record the circumstances of a most atrocious and cold-blooded murder which was committed on Sunday evening last in the neighbourhood of St Helens. The victim is a young married woman of respectable connexions and the wife of a painter who has recently been employed by Mr A. T. WOODS of St Helens. The tragedy is aggravated by the supposition that the ruthless miscreant who perpetrated the terrible deed is her own husband.

At present it would be highly censurable to attribute so dreadful an offence to any individual until there has been a judicial investigation, but from what has already transpired, we are afraid the surmise above alluded to, will prove reality. So far as we have been able to collect the particular circumstances attendant upon this shocking event, it is found that on Sunday afternoon, the husband of the deceased went to church and afterwards about 5pm took his wife for a walk. The direction they took was up the Liverpool Road and at about 7pm, the called at a public-house in Eccleston on the Liverpool highway, where they had a glass of rum each. Nothing more was seen of them in company, at about 8pm, the husband, Wilbraham BUCKLEY went to the house where he lodged and inquired for his wife, stating that when at the top of Comb Shopbrow, he had occasion to leave his wife for a few minutes, and when he returned to where he expected to find her she had gone, and had not since been seen by him. He made inquiries at other places where she was accustomed to call, and could not find her so went to bed, giving the parties with whom he lodged, to understand that he imagined his wife had gone to Ashton where her mother lived, and he would follow her in the morning. This did not appear improbable, for his wife, whose awful end we are now recording was very advanced in pregnancy, and her mother, as it was known, had invited her to Ashton, there to stop for her accouchement.

Early on Monday morning BUCKLEY left his lodgings for Ashton, and at about 7.45am the body of his wife was found in a field at the top of Comb Shopbrow, with a dreadful wound inflicted in the throat, the windpipe and veins in her neck being completely divided. Information was immediately forwarded to the police station, when Mr Superintendent STOREY, with his officers proceeded to the place where the catastrophe had occurred, and the body being removed and afterwards identified, pursuit was made after BUCKLEY to Ashton, BY Mr STOREY and two other gentlemen in a Whitechapel, and shortly before reaching Ashton they met BUCKLEY along with his mother and father travelling towards St Helens. Mr STOREY took BUCKLEY into the Whitechapel and on reaching St Helens he was examined.

His shirt sleeves were steeped in blood almost up to his elbows. A knife with two blades was found in his possession, but no stains of blood could be detected. It would be unwise to give credence to all the tales which are flying about respecting BUCKLEY’S guilt, but a full investigation will be made today [Tuesday] before the coroner. Suspicion is at present attached to no other person but BUCKLEY, but he strenuously denies his guilt and states that the stain upon his shirt is colouring, which he had been using in his daily occupation.

The excitement produced by this fearful event is very great in the neighbourhood of St Helens, and hundreds have not only thronged the place where the body lies, but as many have applied to the police station for permission to see the suspected criminal. If BUCKLEY is guilty it is supposed by those with whom he was acquainted, that jealousy had been his incentive to rid himself of his partner, while it is reported that she was a very temperate and prudent woman. Such are at present all the particulars we can supply of this sad and horrible deed, and how dreadful it is to contemplate, that there is even a possibility of the devoted wife having fallen victim to the direful malice of her husband and at one fell stroke, hurried his conjugal partner and her first offspring into a premature and untimely grave


Marriage: 6 Feb 1842 Christ Church, Salford, Lancashire, England

Wilmot Buckley - 22, Plumber & Glazier, Bachelor, Ashton, Parish of Winwick

Elizabeth Hart - 21, Servant, Spinster, Salford

Groom's Father: Peter Buckley, Silk Manufacturer

Bride's Father: Peter Hart, Cotton Manufacturer

Witness: George Buckley; William Langton

Married by: Richard Rigg

Register: Marriages 1838 - 1876, Page 3, Entry 6

Source: LDS Film 1786368


Burial: 1 Dec 1842 St Thomas, Ashton in Makerfield, Lancashire, England

Elisabeth Buckley - Wife of Wilmot Buckley

Died: 27 Nov 1842

Age: 21

Abode: Green Bank in St Helens

Cause of Death: Wilfully murdered by her husband

Notes: [Transcribed from Bishop's Transcripts]

Buried by: Edmund Sibson, Minister of Ashton

Register: Burials 1842 - 1861, Page 8, Entry 60

Source: LDS Film 1469065


St Helens, November 30th

St Helen’s murder, confession of the murderer.

Wilmot BUCKLEY, aged about 25, his appearance neat and somewhat fashionable, he wears a new cloth cap, a blue outside frock coat, the front of which was turned up with velvet, a blue jacket, vest and trousers, and a flashy red plaid, neckerchief. His height is about 5ft 3inches, his eyes are of an excessively blue colour, his features long and swarthy, his cheeks almost wholly covered with freckles and small red pimples, convey the idea, corroborated by general report that he is addicted to drink.

His wife was 23 years old and was eight months and upwards advanced in pregnancy. They married in January last and the woman with whom they lodged since March has distinctly stated they appeared to live on the most amicable terms together. The deceased was a low sized woman, fond of making a respectable appearance of herself in the streets and the daughter of parents in comfortable circumstances, who reside in Ashton. At the time of her marriage she presented her husband with 100 guineas, but the whole of this sum has been long since exhausted, in supporting them when BUCKLEY was out of work, and enabling him to make bets at the bowling-green at St Helens where he was constantly found.

If the whole of BUCKLEY’S confession be credible, and there is every reason to believe that it is, the immediate cause of the perpetration of the murder was a feeling of jealousy upon the part of his wife. He states that while they were walking on Sunday night last, he began to tell her of an old sweetheart he had shortly before seen at Wigan, that she unbraided him with paying more attention to other women than a married man was justified in doing, that he repeatedly warned her to desist, and threatened her with the consequences, she continued to goad him despite his remonstrances , he then put his hand in his pocket and took out a large clasp knife and cut her throat in a manner to cause her instantaneous death.

This confession he made first in the presence of Mr GREENALL, M.P, and the superintendent of police, and next at the inquest, on both occasions with a frankness, coolness and an apparent indifference, as to the consequences, unaccountable in a man whose life depends upon the issue.

To describe the excitement the case created among the surrounding population would be impossible, thousands thronged to the police office and inquest to catch a glimpse of the prisoner, but most were disappointed in their expectation as he was conveyed from the lock-ups to the inquest in a covered vehicle. The lower orders of the female sex seemed bent on tearing him to pieces if they could only get him in their clutches.

From the evidence adduced at the inquest, which was held at the Eccleston Arms, before Mr John HAYES, the county coroner, and a respectable jury, the room was crowded to excess by the public.

The murder was committed in a field within 40 yards of the high road leading from Liverpool to St Helens, close by a hedge and a cluster of respectable houses. The body, when discovered was taken to the stable adjoining the Eccleston Arms, where a number of persons wended their way to get a glimpse of the fatal gash in the throat of Elizabeth BUCKLEY.

Thomas LITTLER was the first witness called, a labourer and collier by trade. On Monday morning he had been engaged in sinking a coal pit in a field at the top of Comb Shopbrow, and about 7.20am he went to the house of George MORTON, who lived at the top of the brow, to borrow a spade, while they were looking for the spade MORTON looked out of the pantry window down the adjoining field and said, ”What lies yonder?” Witness said it looks like a man or woman and he would go and see. He jumped over the hedge and found it was a woman, quite dead, stiff and cold, lying on her left side on a heap of soil, with her right cheek turned upwards. On further examination he found her throat had been cut, and she was lying in a quantity of blood. A small piece of cloth had been stuffed into the wound in her throat and it was saturated in blood. Witness pulled out the cloth, which appeared to have been torn off some part of her dress. Witness also found a pair of scissors with a chain attached and a thimble under the deceased. He subsequently returned them to a man named Edward MERCER and at the same time informed Mr GLOVER, a constable of Eccleston. The deceased was found within about 40 to 50 yards of the turnpike road, in the field next to the road in a hedge.

James William GLOVER deposed he was one of the constables of Eccleston, and that on Monday morning, about 7.30, the last witness informed him of the murder, in a field at the top of Comb Shopbrow. Witness went to the spot immediately and found a thimble under the deceased, there was no knife on her person, nor any blood upon the gloves she wore on her hands, nor upon any part of her clothes. The gloves were dark and made of kid, they were not even soiled. She had on a bonnet, the ribands tied in the ordinary manner under her chin. Witness caused the body to be taken to the stable of the Eccleston Arms, where she lies at present and received a pair of scissors on a chain and another thimble from Mr MERCER. Witness had not been acquainted with the deceased.

Jane RIGBY, deposed she lived at the Crescent Mount Street, Green-bank, her husband was John a labourer. The prisoner and the deceased lodged at her house, she had known them since March. They occupied the front parlour and a bedroom overhead. They appeared to live very comfortably together and were in the habit of walking out together on Sundays. On Sunday last the deceased was at home all day, the prisoner went to church in the afternoon and on his return at 5.20 pm, they went out together to walk. Prior to leaving the deceased told the witness she was going to take a walk, she knew not when she would return and deceased asked the witness would leave the key to the back door underneath the basin where it was usually left. They did not lock their room door. Witness left the key as directed. They then went for their walk, the witness left the house to visit a neighbour. Shortly before 7pm she returned and found the key in the same place, she went out again returning about 8.30pm, the key was as before.

About a quarter to nine prisoner called and asked had Elizabeth returned home, witness replied that she had not, and that she had found the key where it was left.

Prisoner said that they had gone up to the Bird-in-hand for a walk and on coming back he stopped in a lane where Samuel CLOUGH lives and she went on, it was 8 minutes before he would overtake her. He could not find her and asked several persons whether they had seen a woman in a dark cloak, but they had not. He went to the house of his sister Mary but she was not there, and he had now come home to see if she was there.

The prisoner then made a fire and in a few minutes went out again, saying he would call at other places to find her, his brother–in-law was with him at the time. The prisoner returned at 11pm, and called out that he was unable to find his wife, he had been everywhere he thought she would have been, she was nowhere to be found. After he had got into his room he said he had found her keys in a box, and that she could not have gone any distance, such being the case he went to bed.

At 6am the witness got up and rapped on his door suggesting he should go off to Ashton at once to look for his wife, he promised to do so and after coming down stairs having two cups of tea and smoking his pipe he left for Ashton. Witness told him she had a miserable night in consequence of the woman being absent, prisoner said he had not slept, until after 4am and had burnt out his candle in keeping watch. Witness handed him a lighted candle in order that he might dress and prepare himself to go to Ashton. At 6am he went to Ashton where the parents of his wife live and where it was arranged that the deceased would be confined, she expected her confinement in December, her first child and had been married in January last.

While he was in the act of eating his breakfast he held up his boots to the fire, and looking at them said he had been sick with knocking about looking for his wife and there had been great thunder and lightening during the night.

Peter ROBINSON deposed that he was the landlord of the Bird-in-hand public house and had known the prisoner and the deceased before they had come to his house at 6pm on Sunday evening where they both had a glass of hot rum and water. They remained about half an hour there was no one in the room with them. They appeared comfortable together no words were heard to pass between them. Witness does not know who paid for the rum, but they went away together. He does not know which way they went, whether from or towards St Helens.

Mrs RIGBY was recalled and stated she was not aware whether the deceased had the handling of the money of the prisoner, but the deceased frequently complained of the prisoner being in the habit of bowling and spending his money in that way.

John CHADWICK deposed that he was a groom in the service of Mr William WEST, and he lived in a cottage at the end of Size Lane, which is within 150 to 200 yards of the place where the murder was perpetrated. On Sunday evening he was returning from St Helens in company with his wife, and after he had entered his house he heard a loud noise two or three times, similar to that of a drunken man. It appeared to be a man’s voice, his wife heard it also, and thought it a very dismal sort of noise, it was about 6.45 pm. He told his wife to lock the door, which she did, his house is a quarter of a mile from the Bird-in-hand.

Elizabeth CHADWICK the wife of the last witness deposed that the noise she heard was so unusual and dismal a kind as if of distress, that she fastened the door, and she shortly afterwards heard two or three persons pass the road talking very loudly.

W. STOREY deposed he was the superintendent of police at St Helens, and on Monday morning last in consequence of information he received he went in guest of the prisoner and found him on the high road coming towards St Helens in company of his father and his mother-in-law. Witness got out of his conveyance and asked him what he had done to his wife. He said he had been out walking with her the night before and had lost her. Witness said the account of the loss was very strange, to which he replied, he had the occasion to go into a field, that she had walked on and he had lost her on the way. Witness proceeded to examine him and found a large clasp-knife, 21s in silver and some coppers, 6 keys, four in a bunch and two loose, a pencil, a pencil case, two combs, a purse, a silk handkerchief with marks of blood on it, and a watch and guard. Witness looked at the knife and saw a mark of blood close to the handle of it, witness asked where he had got the blood on it, to which he replied, it was not blood but red paint. Prisoner then took off his coat and witness saw blood on both wrists of his shirt, upon seeing this witness thought this sufficient evidence and charged the prisoner with the murder of his wife, to this he made no reply. Witness next examined his trousers and found blood upon the legs and on the inside left-hand pocket. There was no blood on the waistcoat, but, there was blood on the left sleeve and the wristband of the coat. The coat, waistcoat, and trousers in question were not worn by him at the time of his arrest, but were found in a box at his lodgings. Marks of blood were found on a candlestick and some towels which were found in the sitting-room downstairs. There was blood on three half-crowns found in the prisoner’s pocket.

Between 3 and 4pm yesterday the prisoner knocked at his cell door and expressed a wish to see Mr GREENALL. M.P the magistrate. Previously he had asked to see Mr WOODS, for whom he had been working some time. Witness said he would be present at the interview between him and WOODS, and at the same time cautioned him against saying anything which might implicate himself. He said, the witness might be present if he pleased, and that he had something on his mind which he wished to communicate with Mr WOODS who had been a friend to him. Witness went for Mr WOODS and found he was from home. On his return he met Mr GREENALL, whom he brought to the Town-hall to dispose of some felony cases. After the cases had been disposed of the prisoner asked again to see Mr GREENALL, he had not been told Mr WOODS was out.

When Mr GREENALL entered the cell, the prisoner said he wished to make a statement. That statement had not been in writing but as it was made in the presence of John THOMPSON, a deserter, in the same cell, it could be corroborated.

Mr GREENALL cautioned the prisoner against saying anything, whereupon the prisoner turned around and addressing the witness said, “It was me that committed the deed, and I hope that you will be a friend to me?”

Witness said, “Whatever you say to me I shall have to give in evidence against you, I cannot befriend you, your case might go before a higher tribunal.”

He then stated he went to the Bird-in-hand where he had a glass of rum and his wife another, he had not had above three or four glasses that day, that he left the Bird-in-hand when the St Helen’s church bells were ringing a little after 6pm. As they were returning towards St Helens the coach from Liverpool passed them, and when he heard the coach coming he said to his wife, “Is this the St Helen’s coach?” and they both stopped until the coach passed them. He said his wife had been browbeating him on the road, that she was jealous of him because he had spoken to a girl shortly before, whom he had seen in Wigan. He stated he had occasion to go into a field and his wife followed him and began to browbeat him again, and that he jumped up pulled his knife out of his pocket, and stabbed her with the very knife upon which the mark of blood had been found. He said he knew not how he had done it or how he got out of the field. Witness asked how he held her when he perpetrated the deed, he said he did not know, after he committed the deed he took three half-crowns out of her pocket. He saw three men and two women on his way back to St Helens.

On the morning of the present day the prisoner asked the witness if his wife had been washed and cleaned, the witness replied in the affirmative. The knife which had blood on was very sharp and appeared to have been ground. The prisoner again expressed a hope this morning that the witness would act a friendly part towards him, to which the witness said he could do nothing for him further that to speak of his general character while he had been a resident in St Helens.

John THOMPSON, the deserter was called, he stated that the prisoner had made a confession of the murder in the cell before Mr GREENALL was present, and that he passed his nights in a disturbed and sleepless manner.

Mr W. Edmund SCUDAMORE, deposed that he was a surgeon and an assistant to Mr GARSTON of St Helens. He was requested on Monday last to examine the body of the deceased. He did so, and found her lying in the stable of the Eccleston Arms. He examined her clothes to see if there was the appearance of her having struggled from the grasp of her destroyer, but there was none. She was carefully and nicely dressed, and had only one, and that a very deep wound to the throat, it was 3 inches in length and 2 inches deep. Witness extended it a little and found that the windpipe, larynx, and two external jugular veins had been severed. The instrument with which this had been inflicted entered between the 4th and 5th vertebrae, a clasp-knife would inflict such a wound and death must have been instantaneous and it was impossible the deceased could have cried out after the wound had been inflicted. She was 23yrs old and in the last month of her pregnancy.

The evidence being here closed.

The Coroner cautioned the prisoner and then asked whether he had anything to say.

The prisoner made a confession similar to that already deposed to by Superintendent STOREY, expressing a wish it might be taken down in writing. He stated that the deceased had goaded him to distraction about his former sweetheart at Wigan, and that he pulled the knife out of his pocket and stabbed her.

The Jury without hesitation returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against the prisoner, who was immediately after removed to Kirkdale gaol, Liverpool, to abide his trial at the next assizes.


St Helens 1841 census

Mount Pleasant, Eccleston, Jane RIGBY, aged 50

Toll Gate (Bird in Hand), Eccleston, Peter ROBINSON, aged 21

Liverpool Road, Eccleston, Samuel CLOUGH, aged 38 and wife Sarah CLOUGH, aged 35.


On the 8th April, 1843, Wilmot BUCKLEY was tried at the Crown Court for the murder of his wife, Dr BROWN conducted the case for the prosecution and Mr JAMES defended the prisoner.

Dr BROWN stated the case and the whole of the evidence which was given before the coroner and as above, was then gone through. The witnesses were cross examined by Mr JAMES but it did not in any way alter the facts of the case.

Mr JAMES in his address attempted to dispute the fact that the prisoner had given the death wound, he contended that the prisoner was not guilty of the charge of murder, but that he was guilty of the inferior crime of manslaughter. He suggested that the deceased followed the prisoner into the field for the purpose of abusing him, that he did not go there with any deliberate intention of committing murder, but that it was a result of a momentary passion.

His LORDSHIP in summing up, said that the law was, that whenever it was proved that a man by an act of violence was the cause of the death of another, the offence was wilful murder, unless the circumstances of the case, which appear in evidence, brought against the accused, or that brought forward in his behalf, should induce the Jury to come to a contrary conclusion, and to think it was less than that offence. In order to reduce the offence of killing another from murder to manslaughter and they must be satisfied that there was that provocation which the law contemplated and that the provocation was the cause of the blow being given. The Learned Counsel in his ingenious and able defence, had suggested there was such circumstances, but he could not point out one circumstance of the case that would justify that conclusion. After reading over the statement of the prisoner before the coroner, his Lordship said it was his painful duty to say that if nothing more occurred than what was here described, it was an act which the law called wilful murder.

The Jury then retired and were absent about 20 minutes. As soon as their names were called Mr HOPKINS, Clerk of the Crown, said, “ Do you find the prisoner guilty of not guilty?”

Foreman, “We find the prisoner guilty, but if we had the power to recommend him to mercy we would do so”

His LORDSHIP, You have the power but whether that would be attended to is another matter.

Foreman, On account of his own statement.

His LORDSHIP, I must say I cannot see any grounds in his own statement.

Mr Justice PARKE then went to consult with Mr Justice COLEMAN. He was absent only a few minutes, and having placed the black cap upon his head, addressed the prisoner as follows:-

Wilmot BUCKLEY, the jury of your fellow countrymen who have just pronounced the verdict of guilty against you have had a painful duty to perform, but they were bound to perform it under the solemn obligation of that oath which they have taken. I have also a duty which is painful for me, but which I must perform by telling you that for that crime of which you have been most justly convicted, for of that there can be no doubt, you must die an ignominious death on the scaffold. The jury have for some consideration of mercy recommended you to the favourable consideration of the court, from the statement you made, thinking you received some provocation from your unfortunate wife, I cannot see the propriety of that recommendation. I cannot see anything in your statement to excite the violent act you committed. No words can in the eye of the law, be deemed a justification for the act, to raise his own hand to his wife in that cruel and barbarous manner. Which produced her instant death.

All I can say is, that, as it is my duty I shall forward that recommendation to her Majesty’s Secretary of State, who will pay such attention as he thinks the case deserves, but I most earnestly desire you not to place any reliance on that hope, which will most probably turn out against you.

Your crime is one of enormous magnitude. What a man of brutal passions you must be, under the influence of any provocation, to tell your wife the consequence of such a repetition, and on the repetition deliberately execute that threat, because, although the crime was suddenly committed, you must have led a vicious course of conduct before you could suffer such thoughts to pass your mind. As it is, I advise you to endeavour to repent. You gave your unfortunate victim no moment of reflection or preparation for death, not one instant to make her peace with an offended God, but the humanity of the law affords you a short respite from death which you did not give your wife. There will be allowed to you a few days to live, during which I earnestly implore you devote every exertion of your mind to repent of that crime, and those many crimes you have committed before you.


6th May 1843

Executed at Kirkdale Gaol

Wilmot BUCKLEY who murdered his wife at St Helens, and Betty ECCLES who poisoned her stepson at Bolton were executed by hanging at the drop erected on the north-west corner of Kirkdale GFaol. Neither of the culprits made any formal confession, but both acknowledged the justice of the sentences they had respectively received. BUCKLEY adhered to the to the assertion that he struck his wife in anger and knew not where the blow fell. Betty ECCLES acknowledged the murder of which she was convicted, but to the last resolutely denied that she had ever before caused the death of any other person.

From an early hour in the morning the approaches to the gaol were crowded by dense masses of individuals, male and female, chiefly of the most dissolute orders, who indulged in coarse jests, cursing, swearing, laughing and shouting. The scene was one of the most disgusting description, and little calculated to have a beneficial effect on any of the bystanders. Carts, cars, and coaches, loaded with the inmates of brothels, drove up to the spot, and Scotland Road bore much of the same appearance that it does during the races.


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