Murders and other Criminal goings-on in Oldham

The Bardsley Bookshop Murder

In the early hours of Sunday 27th July 1913, James Greaves, the watchman on duty, was making his usual rounds. As he made his first round of the evening he noted from the clock on the Parish Church that it was a quarter to one. He proceeded on his route checking the doors of the various premises as he went along. He entered the alley that led from Radcliffe Street along the rear of the Yorkshire Street shops. The alley led to a yard serving several of the Yorkshire Street shops, including Bardsley’s Bookshop which was at 43 Yorkshire Street. Each shop had an outer gate leading to another yard and a back door. During this visit both the gate and the door of the bookshop were secure.
Two hours later when the watchman made his next rounds he found the yard gate open and the back door to Mr. Bardsley’s store latched but not locked where previously it had been locked. Mr. Greaves tried to gain entry to the shop but only succeeded in being able to open the door by 2 or 3 inches. By using more force and with a great deal of difficulty he finally succeeded in gaining entry, whereupon he found the body of Mr. Bardsley lying stretched out on the floor. It was his feet resting against the door that had prevented entry. There was blood on the floor near his head and his clothing was also saturated in blood.
After a quick appraisal of the room Mr. Greaves went to the Town Hall to inform Police Inspector Johnson of his discovery. They both proceeded at once to the bookshop where a more detailed investigation was carried out.
It was found that Mr. Bardsley was quite dead with his head having been smashed in and a large wound was seen on his chin. On the floor near the body lay a wooden Indian Club of a variety usually used in gymnastics. This club was stained with blood and it was concluded that this must be the murder weapon.
The Police Surgeon, Dr. Fort, was sent for and having found life extinct the body was taken to the mortuary. A Post Mortem was held on Sunday afternoon by Dr. Jackson of the Oldham Royal Infirmary. There was no doubt cast about Mr. Bardsley having been murdered most likely with the Indian club.
Mr. Bardsley had last been seen alive at half past 10pm by his 2 shop assistants, Miss Leach, who had taken him the money from the cash register box and Miss Clara Hall as they left for home. As Mr. Bardsley frequently stayed late in the shop no alarm was felt by his brother and nephew with whom he lived.
Mr. Bardsley also employed a youth by the name of Hilton. He had not been employed much above 3 weeks and it would seem his work was not very satisfactory and there had been talk of dismissing him.
Hilton was therefore arrested and, in view of the statement that he gave to the Inspector Piggott and Detective Jones, arrested another suspect Ernest Kelly, a 20yr. old piecer from Ward St, Oldham. Both of them made full confessions to the murder of Mr. Bardsley.
The prisoners appeared before the Oldham Police Court on Monday. There was a large public presence. It was not until about 11am that the prisoners were put in the dock. A press photographer who had been hoping to get a snapshot of the prisoners was ordered from the court. Hilton was said to be fairly well clothed whilst Kelly was said to be rough and somewhat dirty. Both were described as under sized youths.
The charge against Hilton and Kelly was “Having feloniously, wilfully and of malice afterthought, killed and murdered one Daniel Wright Bardsley, at 43 Yorkshire Street, sometime between10pm on the 26th June and 3am on the 27th June”
The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body were given to the court. They were both charged with the offence. Hilton pleaded not guilty stating that he never touched Mr. Bardsley. Kelly pleaded guilty stating that he hit Bardsley on the head with the club, threw it down, and then Hilton hit him twice. It was said that when the case is fully gone into it will be established that the motive was robbery as the till money was missing and had not been recovered to any great extent. The case was remanded for a week to enable all the evidence to be gathered. Hilton’s clothing, his trousers and his socks, were to be sent to the Public Analyst for examination of the blood found on them.
When the police report was received it stated that it was thought to be impossible to decide which of the two culprits had played the greater role in the death of Daniel Bardsley. They were both convicted of murder and sentenced to death with a recommendation of mercy on account of their youth.
Edward Hilton was thought to be of feeble mind and had been previously sent to Sandlebridge School for defectives. There was no such report about Ernest Kelly. They were found guilty at Manchester Assizes on the 24th Nov 1913 and taken to Strangeways Prison to await execution.
A petition was sent, signed by the people of Oldham, to the Home Secretary. On the 17th Dec 1913 the Oldham Chronicle carried the following news:

Official notification has been received of the decision of the Home Secretary on the petition for the reprieve of the condemned Oldham murderers and the decision is that Hilton is reprieved and Kelly is to be executed on Wednesday morning at eight o’clock. This news reached Strangeways Gaol at about three o’clock on Sunday morning, a special messenger bringing the official document to the governor of the prison, who at once roused Hilton from his sleep and conveyed the news to him. Hilton is said to have received it joyfully. Major Nelson, the governor, also informed Kelly of the decision in his case and Kelly was much downcast as he had been buoyed up with hope of a reprieve. The Home Secretary has also informed Mr. Nicholson, the solicitor, who had charge of the detention of Hilton, as to the course to be taken in a letter as follows:

Home Office Whitehall
London Dec 13 1913
Sir – to reply to the petition transmitted by you on behalf of Edward Wilde Hilton and Ernest Edward Kelly who are now being under sentence of death in his majesty’s prison at Manchester. I am directed to acquaint you that in the case of Edward Wilde Hilton in view of his youth and mental weakness, the secretary of state has felt warranted in all the circumstances, in advising his majesty to respite the capital sentence with a view to penal servitude for life, but that in the case of Ernest Edward Kelly, he regrets that, after considering all the circumstances of the case he has failed to discover any ground which could justify him in advising his majesty to intervene with the due courses of law.

The news was conveyed to the parents of Hilton by the Rev. H. Eaves, curate of St Andrews, who had been given charge of the keys of the solicitors office in order that he might examine the letters arriving by the morning delivery. Mr & Mrs Hilton were naturally very greatly relieved though expressing regret that the reprieve had not been extended to the youth Kelly.

This decision outraged the people of Oldham and they lobbied their MPs and even the Queen Mary claiming Ernest the less guilty of the two. Informal meetings were held at various places in the town to bring pressure upon the Mayor - Alderman Wilde - to hold a town meeting at which the public could express their feelings. One such meeting was held at the Platt's Works and was reported as follows:

A mass meeting was held outside Messrs. Platt Bros. & Co. Works at 1 o’clock today (Monday) Mr. James Mills presiding. Mr. Fred Wood moved and Mr. William Matthews seconded the following resolution which was carried unanimously:
That the meeting representing all classes of workers at Messrs. Platt Bros. & Co., Werneth, strongly protest against the decision of the home secretary in respect to the petition of Hilton and demands equal treatment for both. Copies of this resolution to be sent to the mayor of Oldham and the home secretary.

The following correspondence was subsequently sent :
The Mayor (Alderman Herbert Wilde) has sent the following telegram to the Home Secretary Lord Emmett and Mr. E. R. Bartley Denniss M.P.
Oldham murder, Great indignation that Hilton only should be reprieved, public meeting tonight to recommend reprieve for Kelly. Will forward copy of resolution, Wilde, Mayor.

Oldham Labour Party’s telegram :
To the editor of the Oldham Chronicle
The Oldham and District Labour Party have forwarded the following telegram to the Home Secretary,
McKenna, Home Office, London.
Oldham Labour Party representing 25,000 trade unionists, consider reconsideration necessary in Kellys case and in common justice urges reprieve.
Councillor Frith, chairman
Eli Bottomley, secretary

The mayor called a public meeting to be held in the large room of the Town Hall but later in the day, hearing that there was likely to be an enormous attendance, arranged for a second overflow meeting to be held at the Salvation Army Citadel, Union Street.
Long before the meeting was due to commence the open space in front of the Town Hall was getting ever more crowded and the crush was quite severe. The whole street, the passage behind the iron railings, the churchyard and every inch of room was filled. It is estimated there was at least 30,000 people in attendance.
The crowd was very bad tempered and a lot of threats and recriminations against the Home Secretary and Mrs. Lees were made. It was of general opinion – although unfounded – that Mrs. Lees had used her influence more on Hilton’s behalf than Kelly’s.
Due to the size of the crowd it was considered impossible to hold the meeting inside as planned and instructions were given out not to open the Town Hall doors. A few members of the council, magistrates, officials and press representatives were admitted to the Town Hall by the police.
A megaphone was procured and the crown was addressed by the Mayor accompanied by the Mayoress and Mrs. Alderman Lees from one of the middle windows of the Town Hall.
There was a tremendous amount of hooting and bad manners from the crowd and attempts to calm the uproar proved futile. Many were shouting for Mrs. Lees to go away but she remained steadfast stating that she would remain all night if necessary.
The crowd eventually got tired of shouting and eventually decided to listen.

Ernest Kelly was hanged on the 17th Dec 1913

Edward Hilton was released from Penal Servitude on 18th Sep 1933. His parents visited him, in Maidstone Prison, every summer in the firm belief that he was innocent. Upon release he was given a free voucher to travel from Maidstone to Oldham but broke his journey at some point before reaching Oldham and was met by his parents to avoid press attention.
Some photographs were taken of him leaving the prison dressed in a dark suit and a bowler hat. He carried a Euphonium under one arm and a cornet case under the other. It was noted that he had been leader of the prison band at Dartmoor Prison.

Contributor Pat Etchells

Oldham Chronicle