A Tragic Love Story from Castleton, in 1768

Henry and Clara, young lovers, ran away from home because Clara’s father refused to let her marry Henry. They eloped to Peak Forest, to a church that would marry youngsters without their parents’ consent, a little bit like Gretna Green today.

They stopped over night at the Castle Inn where some local mine workers noticed their fine clothes. They were brutally murded by five miners early the next morning as they rode up Winnats Pass which is an eerie place – even more so now I know this story. They were said to be carrying the equivalent of £35,000 ready to begin their new life together. The miners were never convicted for their crimes but they all fell afoul of what is believed to be a horrible curse, caused by the ghosts of Henry and Clara. One of the miners fell to his death on Winnats Pass, one was crushed to death by a rock, one hung himself, one miner died because he had gone mad, and the last man confessed the whole story on his death bed and then dropped dead immediately.

The earliest written account of the story appears in The Arminian Magazine,1785 written by Thomas Hanby who had been told the tale by Thomas Marshall of Edale


“The following melancholy Account was given me by a very worthy man, Mr Thomas Marshall of Edal in Derbyshire, Dec. 17, 1778.

Twenty years ago, a young Gentleman and Lady came out of Scotland, as is supposed, upon a matrimonial affair. As they were travelling through that county, they were robbed and murdered, at a place called the Winnets, near Castleton. Their bones were found about ten years ago, by some miners who were sinking an Engine-pit at the place.

One James Ashton of Castleton, who died about a fortnight ago, and who was one of the murderers, was most miserably afflicted and tormented in his conscience. He had been dying, it was thought, for ten weeks; but could not die till he had confessed the whole affair. But when he had done this, he died immediately.

He said, Nicholas Cock, Thomas Hall, John Bradshaw, Francis Butler, and himself, meeting the above Gentleman and Lady in the Winnets, pulled them off their horses, and dragged them into a barn belonging to one of them, and took from them two hundred pounds. Then seizing upon the young Gentleman, the young Lady (whom Ashton said was the fairest woman he ever saw) intreated them, in the most pitious manner, not to kill him, as she was the cause of his coming into that country. But, notwithstanding all her intreaties, they cut his throat from ear to ear! They then seized the young Lady herself, and though she intreated them, on her knees, to spare her life, and turn her out naked! yet one of the wretches drove a Miner’s pick into her head, when she dropt down dead at his feet. Having thus dispatched them both, they left their bodies in the barn, and went away with their booty.

At night they returned to the barn, in order to take them away; but they were so terrified with a frightful noise, that they durst not move them; and so it was the second night. But the third night, Ashton said, it was only the Devil, who would not hurt him; so they took the bodies away, and buried them.

They then divided the money: and as Ashton was a Coal-Carrier to a Smelt-Mill, on the Sheffield-Road, he bought horses with his share; but they all died in a little time. Nicholas Cock fell from a precipice, near the place where they had committed the murder, and was killed. Thomas Hall hanged himself. John Bradshaw was walking near the place where they had buried the bodies, when a stone fell from the hill and killed him on the spot, to the astonishment of every one who knew it. Francis Butler, attempted many times to hang himself, but was prevented; however he went mad, and died in a most miserable manner.

Thus, though they escaped the hand of human justice (which seldom happens in such a case) yet the hand of God found them out, even in this world. How true then is it, that thou, O Lord, art about our path, and about our bed, and spiest all our ways!”

(Hanby, 1785, pg 213–14).”

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