The Mysterious Bill O’Jacks Murders
The year is 1832. The place is Saddleworth Moor, overlooking the conurbation of Oldham, Manchester. Saddleworth is, of course, more closely remembered for the horrific and sadistic Moors Murders, the memory of which lingers on to this day. However, not many people know the tale of another, equally disturbing case that took place one hundred and thirty years previously in a well frequented, yet remote local pub called The Bill O’Jacks.
The landlord of the pub was one William Bradbury who was (unbelievably for the time) eighty four years of age. Let us not forget this was a time when life expectancy in Cottonopolis was just eighteen for the average adult male. Bradbury’s son was the local Gamekeeper, his name was Thomas and he was forty six. It was alleged that Thomas was of ill temper and as a result quite unpopular with the local community. The Bill O’Jacks wasn’t the pub’s proper name – locally it was known as The Moorcock Inn, the alternative name comes about from a tradition in which a place was nicknamed according to father of the owner. Thus the owner of the pub was William and his father must have been called Jack, so Bill, son of Jack equals Bill O’Jack.
Bill O'Jacks, Saddleworth, Oldham (c) Greenfield Gone By.
On the evening of April 2nd, 1832 a violent struggle occurred within the walls of the pub. Reports that followed on later suggested that there was complete and utter carnage at the scene, with blood and vile gory matter splattered all over the walls and furniture of the interior.
William, the father had been discovered lying in his bed with his face beaten in. Thomas, the son was found lying downstairs with such severe injuries to his head and body he was virtually unrecognisable – whoever had killed him must have been of mighty strength, for Thomas stood at over six feet tall and was heavily built in stature.
Before he finally expired William was heard to utter the phrase “Patts” or “Platts”. Much debate surrounded what this could have meant at the time. Some people thought “Patts” might have referred to Irish Navvies who were working in the area and had perhaps behaved in a threatening way towards the two men. “Platts” may have been in reference to Gypsies who were frequenting the area and had had a run in with Thomas over access to his land. This was a time before such things as cheap landlord insurance existed, so matters of money and tenancy were never easily resolved and usually ended up in fisticuffs.
Despite an inquest and lots of evidence being heard from locals the murders were never solved and no-one ever brought to account. The only other possible suspect in the case was another person that Thomas had got into an argument with, a local poacher who was due to stand trial at Pontefract Court. He’d challenged Thomas and allegedly told him there was no way he would be brave enough to stand trial against him. The murders had happened the day before the trial was about to take place. However, the case against the poacher was simply not strong enough to warrant either an arrest or a detention and since no other leads were discovered the mystery, to this day, remains completely unsolved. It still intrigues locals to the area and is a story that has passed down through generations of people who live in and around Saddleworth, this most notorious moorland area of Manchester.
Bill O'Jacks, Saddleworth, Oldham. (c) Ashley Jackson.
What happened to the pub?
It was eventually demolished to make way for a plantation around a hundred years later in 1937. It must have been very off putting for the locals to go in carousing after such a gruesome event taking place there – and quite amazing it continued for so long after the deaths. Many people go to visit the site and indeed where the bodies are buried in Saddleworth Church Yard, the grave is still in excellent condition and the inscription on the tomb can be read very clearly indeed (as you can see from the picture). As folklore had it at the time, songs and poems were written about the crime as well, which told the story contemporaneously and still manage to breathe much life into this aged mystery:
"Whoever did this horrid deed, their blackened souls did save
And took their morbid secret with them to the grave
So the mystery still lives on and no-one has a clue
To what happened on that April night in eighteen hundred and thirty two"
(c) Lowri Welsch