RECENT LOXLEY HISTORY
THE ROBIN HOOD INN AND ITS BUILDER
THE “ROBIN HOOD INN” in the Loxley Valley, Sheffield, England was built in 1799 by the local entrepreneur and Unitarian minister Thomas Halliday, and to attract the tourists he called the area "Little Matlock" after that beautiful place in the Peak District. He built the "Robin Hood Inn" using his wife's Martha Patrick's money and constructed walkways down the steep sided valley, and as an added tourist attraction bought the land on which Frank Fearns gibbet had stood. His plan seems to have worked because his "House of Refreshment" i.e. the “Robin Hood Inn” became very fashionable with the genteel society of day-trippers from Sheffield.
THE FIRE PROOF HOUSE
But Thomas Halliday had been greatly affected by the death of a relative in a house fire and he determined that all his properties should contain as little wood as possible in order to make them fire proof, so when he built a house at 239 Rural Lane he built it mainly of stone. The living room and kitchen were stone flagged and there was a stone spiral staircase leading to the first and second floors which were also made of stone. Fortunately for him he owned a quarry on Loxley Common and the house now is a grade two Listed building.
Mr Halliday, who built the fire resistant houses on Rural Lane and Ben Lane also built the fire resistant "Cave House" on Loxley Common. The house was built over the entrance of a cave, which became part of the living quarters. As he owned a quarry on the common he had plenty of stone to build the front and sides of the house. The roof was made of stone slate and a large table was chipped out from the rock face, as was the living room mantelpiece. The house was built for the local gamekeeper who was employed by Mr Haliday. The ownership of Cave House then passed to Dr Payne who employed Mr Hannah as his Game Keeper and Cave House became his home. Water was obtained from a well and there was a stone trough near the house. Vegetables were grown on a small piece of land just up the hill from the house and they may have kept a few hens. There was said to be a living room and a small kitchen and from the front it looked like any other regular house. It is said to have been built around 1740 and was continually occupied till the late 1920's when it was decided to demolish it, but it was so solid it had to be blown up with dynamite. There is little to be seen today.
Thomas Halliday also built Loxley House, which is an imposing building at the top of a drive, which sweeps up from Wadsley's Ben Lane. Above the window of the lounge is a sizeable stone, which originally bore the inscription "Thomas Haliday 1806." In 1808 "The House" was sold to Thomas Payne who rebuilt it in 1826. It was much grander than the original with three storeys and three wide set bays. At the same time John Payne bought the land where the gibbet of Frank Fearn had stood, and in 1913 the descendants of Parkin Payne gave that stretch of moorland to the citizens of Sheffield. "Seventy-five acres of Land at Loxley Common and Wadsley Common to be used by the public for the purpose of exercise and recreation, and to be known as 'Loxley Chase."
By 1865 an eccentric doctor called Henry Payne was living in Loxley House. His cure for all ailments was a hot blanket over the affected part. He quarrelled with the local parson and vowed never to go to the church again, but the parson reminded him he would be carried in at the end of his days, head first, in a coffin. But the determined doctor left instructions that he was to be buried on his own estate, which included Wadsley and Loxley Commons, without a church ceremony, his wishes being duly carried out in 1895. He even marked the spot where he was to be buried with a stone, stating he wanted to be placed within a Brick Vault in the plantation adjoining Loxley House. It should be covered with earth to avoid recognition. He even stipulated who should make his coffin and of what wood. He also named the gravediggers and the fee they were to receive. The house and estate passed to his nephew Thomas Philips and later Alderman William Clegg also took up residence and then also William Bush. Then during the First World War two of Dr. Payne's spinster nieces moved in and in 1919 the Cripples Aid Association bought the building for a convalescent home. Later it became the headquarters of the Sheffield Sea Cadets. It was put up for sale in 1996 and is a Listed Grade II building.
A LEGEND OF LOXLEY COMMON Cave House possibly plays a part in the next story, for on a bitterly cold day in 1812, when the sun set early, and low storm clouds hung over Loxley Common. In a lonely cottage on the bleak moorland, a mother sang over her sleeping baby. Lomas Revill, gamekeeper to the lord of the Manor, was late, and for his wife it was a weary vigil, relieved only by the visit of a woman friend from one of the cottages on the hillside. When she had gone Mary Revill watched the flickering uncanny shadows cast by the log fire, until eventually, weariness overtaking her, she nodded off to sleep.
Struggling fitfully the moon sought to pierce the heavy snow clouds, but with little success and the wind howled across the common. As the hours passed the storm mounted in intensity and blinding snow swept across the landscape until it was shrouded in a thick mantle of white. The following day was New Years Eve, and as morning broke, cold but fine, an acquaintance from the adjacent hamlet of Wadsley called to exchange the compliments of the day with the dwellers in the lonely cottage. The visitor knocked and knocked again, but getting no response she tried the latch and finding the door would open, she entered the room. A horrible sight met her eyes! Poor Mary Revill lay on the floor in a pool of blood-murdered! Whilst in the cradle near the body the baby lay fast asleep.
Outside the cottage the world was clad in white. During the night the snow had drifted all along the heath and piled itself upon the crags, which formed a rough boundary between Loxley Common and Wadsley Common. Leading from the cottage and right across the ridge and over the open common were large footprints, some partly obliterated by the drifting snow, but all leading in one direction, to a cave like well, on the crown of the hill overlooking the valley. The footprints went distinctly to the cave, into it and disappeared. Strangest of all, as far as can be discerned, there were no footprints leading out of the cave. When the news of this terrible crime spread around the neighbouring hamlets there was much weird speculation. Who was the murderer? What was the mystery of the footprints to the cave?
Meanwhile, Lomas Revill had been found in the gamekeeper's cabin far out into the woods. When told of the tragic death of his wife he accepted the news with little show of surprise or emotion. Though he had been seen in the village inn, much the worse for drink, on the night of the tragedy, no one could swear that the gamekeeper hadn't spent the night in his cabin. The moorland murder remained a mystery and for years the good folk of the area gave the cave a wide berth after night had fallen. As time went by, Lomas Revill became a strange man, prematurely aged with white hair, even though he was only forty-two years old.
Another New Year's Eve came and once more the common was deep in snow. At the local inn someone remarked that he hadn't seen the gamekeeper for a number of day's so deciding to investigate, a number of men made up a party and went along to the cabin in the woods. No trace could be found of Lomas until they tramped over the common to the old cottage, and there in an outbuilding, they found his body hanging from a rafter. Later a search of the cabin in the woods revealed a hunter's knife, rusted in gore, and a pair of blood stained gaiters. Folk who had known Lomas Revill well said that he had always acted strangely when New Year's Eve came round and that he had often been heard to mutter that he couldn't stand life any longer.
Wanderers over the common and the lanes about, thought of Frank Fearn's gibbet, creaking in the wind on the Edge only a stones throw away and all but the stout hearted feared to pass at night lest they should hear the clanking of Frank Fearn's chains or encounter the ghost of that poor unfortunate mother. For many years afterward a number of cottages stood empty, falling into ruin, because of the common's association with the murder of Mary Revill, and were demolished in the clearances in the early 1900's.
The ghost of Mary Revill is said to roam the common, and is known as the White Lady. In THE SHEFFIELD INDEPENDENT of February 5th 1920 several people reported they had seen a woman in white, moaning, with her hands in the air gliding silently over the heath near the Worrall to Loxley Road near to the old pit workings, and again during the mid 1980's
WATCHMAKER MURDERED Ever since the days of Robin Hood, Loxley has been in the news from time to time and the murder of Nathan Andrews in the 18th century is one example. It concerns Henry Fearn and his wife Lydia who had just taken over the tenancy of Onesacre Farm, but life was hard and money tight on those windswept moors. Sadly Henry died and Lydia was in dire straights. Her son Frank wasn’t interested in farming and he became an apprentice in the file trade, but he wasn't a good worker, he’d never had any schooling, he was only interested in himself, and he stole from his work-mates and employers to finance his heavy drinking. He was sacked, and desperate for money he devised a plan.
Just round the corner from his lodgings was a watchmakers shop run by Nathan Andrews and to help people buy a clock or watch, which then were expensive, sometimes publicans would organise a Pocket Watch Club for their regulars, where they pledged to pay a certain amount of money each week, which the landlord saved for them till they had enough to buy a watch, and Frank Fearn reckoned the Old Horns Inn at Bradfield was just the kind of place to run such a club, so concocting a story he went into the shop on Saturday morning and posed as the treasurer of the club. He said he had sixteen members and could get another four by Monday evening, and he persuaded the watchmaker to bring a sample with him to the Inn. We know now that there was no such club at the Old Horns Inn, nor ever likely to be, but the watchmaker wasn't to know that and Nathan Andrews the watchmaker was desperate for money as well because he had been declared officially bankrupt and any business was better than none, so Nathan agreed to go to High Bradfield providing there was a minimum of twenty people in the club and that they paid their subs on time.
As the watchmaker didn't know the way, Frank arranged to take him, so on Monday afternoon as arranged Frank went to Andrews shop, calling in at the White Bear Tavern first. He had a pistol with him there being no law against that in the 18th century; he also had a clasp knife, and a heavy stick. Andrews was dressed in black breeches, coat and leggings as befitted a man of his stature and he borrowed two shillings and sixpence from his wife to cover any expenses, saying he would be back that same evening.
On their way they passed Sara Woodhead and later Hannah Boulden who both remembered the men because of Andrews style of dress and it was Hannah who heard the gunshot but it wasn’t till later that she realized what is was. Close to the convent on Kirk Edge Road, Francis hit Andrews over the head with the barrel of his gun which made it go off but the bullet didn’t hit anyone and the blow to the head hadn’t knocked him out, so Fearn in his frenzy stabbed Andrews over and over again with his large clasp knife and then beat him to death with his stick. Fearn then robed his victim, and dragged the body to a depression in the coppice, covering it with leaves thinking it would lie there for months before it was discovered.
Mrs Andrews waited up all night for her husband, and when he didn't return she assumed he had spent the night at the Old Horns Inn, but when he still had not come back next morning to open the shop she informed the local constabulary. The next evening John Hudson on his way home saw Andrews body about ten yards from the road so he fetched two of his friends and they carried the body to High Bradfield. They realised it had taken a terrible battering, the face was covered in blood and his throat was cut. They didn't know who he was so they called the police who identified the body as that of Nathan Andrews.
Mrs Andrews was able to tell the police her husband had gone to Bradfield with Fearn so after a delay while they found out where Fearn was living they went to his lodgings. The landlady told them that Fearn was out, but something in her manner gave her away and the two policemen forced their way in and found Fearn in his third floor room getting out of bed. One sharp-eyed policeman noticed a gold chain hanging out of Fearn's pocket and it turned out he had a tortoise shell cased watch and a chain with two seals on it. The barrel of a pistol was found in the other pocket. Mrs Andrews recognised the timepiece, because it was one that had been brought in for repair.
At the trial the Honourable Sir James Eyre, Baron of the Exchequer found Fearn guilty of wilful murder and a sentence of death was placed upon him. The hanging took place two day's later due to the atrocious murder of a totally innocent victim. On that fateful day Fearn was first visited by the Chaplain and then taken to the prison yard by the executioner. After having a rope placed around his neck, he was put into a cart with a horse between the shafts and the other end of the rope was attached to the scaffold. Fearn's last act was to take off his shoes and throw them into the crowd, shouting. "There, me master said I'd die with my boots on and I've proved him wrong, that's made him a liar." Suddenly the driver made the horse bolt which pulled the cart from under Fearn's feet. It is said he did not die quickly, but died hard!
His fully clothed body was placed in an iron framework, mostly of chains and returned to Sheffield, after which it was taken onto Loxley Common where the gibbet cage was hung. Thomas Holdsworth who had been commissioned to erect the gibbet post was paid fifteen shillings. It remained there from 1782, as a deterrent to would be criminals, till Christmas Day 1797 when his skeleton fell from its cage, the post remained there for several more years a grim reminder to all who passed that crime does not pay.
Fearns last words in prison were;
"Christians pray that true repentance
May be given to a wretch like me
I acknowledge my last sentence
There is no law that can set me free
Let me endless bliss inherit
Wash me from my guilty stains
O receive my precious spirit
Though my body hangs in chains.
Later Thomas Haliday who was building up a thriving tourist business after building a "House of Refreshment" called the "Robin Hood Inn" which was very fashionable with the genteel society bought the land on which the gibbet stood as an added attraction for the sightseers from around Sheffield.
SPENCE BROUGHTON Coincidently around the same time Frank Fearn was getting into bother another likely pair by the names of Spence Broughton and John Oxley were holding up the Sheffield to Rotherham Mail coach and stole the postbags. Both men got away but were arrested some months later in London although John Oxley somehow managed to escape from the prison at Clerkenwell. Spence Broughton was tried, found guilty and executed and on the following Monday morning his body, which had been brought back to Sheffield was hung in chains on a gibbet on Broughton Lane in Attercliffe. An effigy depicting this event has been erected outside the NOOSE & GIBBET pub, and is there today. For the next few days the Sheffield/Rotherham road was crowded with people going to see the spectacle. The bones of the mail robber hung there for thirty-six years until they crumbled and fell from the chains. Later, another man by the name of Henry Sorby of Woodbourne Hall bought the land on which the gibbet stood and had the post removed to his coach-house.
After John Oxley escaped from prison, he made his way to Loxley Common where he hid up but a police constable walking on the Common saw a person fitting the description of John Oxley but before he could arrest him, Oxley fled and the constable found the body with its throat cut. Oxley had apparently committed suicide to evade the same fate as his mate Broughton.
THE SHEFFIELD FLOOD On a very stormy night with the water three inches from the top of the new Bradfield Reservoir Mr Gunson, the Sheffield Water Company's resident engineer arrived to make sure everything was all right. The wind was so strong he had difficulty walking and after checking he set of for home in his pony and trap. Later a small crack developed which gradually got wider and the sluice gates were opened to reduce some of the pressure Mr Gunson was sent for again and as they passed Hillsborough Barracks on their was back to the reservoir the sentry came out of his box to see who was travelling by in such haste on such a stormy night. At Damflask worried people were driving their cattle up the surrounding hills, and some had left their homes and were transporting what they could away from the valley.
Arriving at the dam the danger was realised and it was decided to blow up the weir with gunpowder to relieve more of the pressure. Unfortunately, the powder got wet and the explosion failed, then an opening about thirty feet wide appeared and within seconds the embankment completely collapsed. With a roar like a jet engine a raging torrent of one hundred and fourteen million cubic feet of water rushed down the valley. Massive boulders were ripped up and carried along by the floodwater, which swept before it houses, mills, cattle, trees, rocks, and anything else that happened to be in the way. The flooding of the Loxley valley took only forty minutes.
The first home the flood reached was Annett House, and that disappeared as if it had never existed along with Annett Bridge. Fortunately, the family had been warned and the parents and three boys ran up the hillside in their night attire, putting on their day clothes when they reached higher ground. At Lower Bradfield both stone bridges were carried away, the blacksmith's shop was destroyed, as was Joseph Ibbotson's Corn Mill, which was a three story building. The school disappeared completely and so did Martin Hawke's farmhouse and the wheelwright's shop. The first victim was at Bradfield where a one-day-old baby boy was swept out of his mother's arms. A few days later the baby's body was found in the coal cellar underneath the house. An old man asleep next to a donkey perished, as did Henry Burkinshaw known locally as "Sheffield Harry" who was in bed when the house was washed away and his body was never recovered. Many shared his fate. Night workers were drowned and hundreds of men lost their jobs because the water destroyed their places of work. Five miles from the reservoir the water reached Malin Bridge, which was a heavily populated area. The prosperous house and farm of James Trickett was destroyed with all ten inhabitants. A mother clinging to a lamppost with one hand and her little girl with the other, saw her eleven year old son who had been grasping her skirts, swept away and drowned by the deluge. Within a distance of only a few hundred yards both bridges were swept away and more than twenty houses were destroyed along with the loss of 102 lives, many more were made homeless. Water continued to race through Hillsborough and destroyed a tollhouse close to a bridge drowning the toll collector. Part of Hillsborough Barracks was flooded and two little girls the daughters of the paymaster were drowned. John Gannon, his wife and six children died together as their Neepsend house collapsed. Three children perished in a cellar at Neepsend whilst their parents were at a funeral in Wakefield. . . . . . . Thomas Peters a leather dresser who had been working away from home returned to find three of his four children dead and his wife hysterical. Thomas Elston, a blade grinder who was seriously ill with "grinder's disease" (inflamed lungs) had been advised to move to the countryside but delayed for a few days and as a result he, his wife and 12-year son died. The rushing waters covered the Midland Railway Station at the bottom of Spital Hill and when the flood subsided two bodies were found on the platform. The effects of the flood were felt in Rotherham and as far away as Doncaster where bodies and other items were recovered the following morning.
Bodies were assembled for identification at the Sheffield Union Workhouse, but many were buried anonymously. The newspapers rushed accounts of the drama into print, selling as fast as they could publish, and the city rallied round to assist the victims. Pathetic advertisements appeared in the newspapers seeking lost relatives and livestock and debates and recriminations began. A distress fund was started and five thousand pounds were raised on the first day. Queen Victoria sent two hundred pounds, the City of London gave five hundred pounds and many workingmen donated a day's wage. Within two months fifty thousand pounds had been collected to help the twenty thousand people affected by the disaster.
The reservoir held seven hundred million gallons of water, which would have submerged St. Paul's Cathedral, covering it by a further fifty feet. There were 240 people drowned, 798 houses completely destroyed, and 4357 houses flooded. Also lost were 693 animals and 15 stone bridges. The events of the Sheffield Flood although they were the worst tragedy anywhere in England in the 19th century is hardly known outside Loxley the home of Robin Hood which although now a suburb of Sheffield and a stones throw from the terrible events of the Hillsborough Disaster is a very special place with its beautiful scenery and with more than its fair share of local heroes in this unique backwater of Sheffield.
Loxley has continued to play its part in modern England, it is popular with the local orienteering club, there are tennis courts and football pitches, it has provided people with work, in the Second World War soldiers trained there and there were houses on the common. Cutlery was made in Wadsley till the Sheffield Flood destroyed the wheels, Ganister stone used in the construction of furnaces was mined on Loxley Common, and during the general strike of 1912 men dug for coal which could be found on the outcrops of the Ganister seams. It's hill top position commands beautiful views over Sheffield which is enjoyed by people who love and care for it as if it were their own back garden and although some happenings have been rather gruesome, in reality Loxley and Wadsley commons comprise woodland and moorland, which combined with the wonderful panoramic views over Sheffield makes it a beautiful place in which to spend one's leisure time. It makes an ideal picnic spot, there is a wealth of wildlife, and the local historical society is a mine of information. Long may it continue to be enjoyed by all.