The Life and Crimes of Moses ‘Bolloper’ Clayton (1857 – 1919)


When Moses Clayton’s body was laid to rest on Saturday, 1st March 1919, it would close the book on one of Rossendale’s most notorious villains.  A character that had once terrorised an entire district with his brutality and drunken carefree attitude would no longer pose a threat to the townsfolk of Accrington, Bacup, Haslingden and Rawtenstall, as well as other places such as Whitworth and Todmorden.

Born in 1857 to parents James and Susannah, Moses was just one of nine siblings, and he had spent much of his childhood and early teens living in and around Crawshawbooth, within an area known as Lower Booths.  In 1871, from the census records, we can see he was living at number 25 Holmes Terrace along with his father James, four brothers and three sisters.  His mother had sadly passed away in 1870 at the age of 44.

Interestingly, one of the earliest accounts of Moses getting into any form of trouble appeared in 1870, the same year as his mother’s death.  The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser ran a small story detailing how a young lad, just 13 years old, had been arrested and charged by Inspector Hargreaves at the Salford Police Court under the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  Moses had been found working a horse that was in an unfit condition.  His employer, Mr. George Pullett, a coal dealer from Pendlebury,would eventually pay a fine of 40s.

1871 Census Record

Whilst this was obviously a serious charge, it would be nothing compared to what was to come.

Life would be challenging for Moses, as he would often find himself in-and-out of work, being employed as a coalman, a cotton reeler and a stone quarryman in a short space of time between 1870 and 1876, and during this period, he would find himself arrested for minor charges of theft.  On one occasion, he was sentenced to serve nine months in prison as well as face three years’ police supervision for stealing a fish that was valued at 9 pennies, from the property of Mr. William Gamson over in Constablee on the 15th December 1875.

It’s unclear at this point if this was Moses’ first stint behind bars, but it most certainly wouldn’t be his last!

On Tuesday, 2nd January, 1879, a man by the name of James Shuttleworth had visited the Sportsmans Inn public house, that was over in Halifax.  It was just after eight o’clock in the evening when Moses also arrived at the public house.  James had known Moses for around two to three years, and having nothing to seemingly worry about, both men shared a glass or two of drink together.  At around eleven o’clock, James and five other men left the public house to make their way to their  homes – Moses was one of them.

James turned and made his way along Shaw-lane and Moses went in the direction of Colden Board School.

Soon after, when James arrived at his farm house, Moses was already there, seemingly waiting for James to arrive.  As both men got within a few feet of each other, Moses grabbed James by a muffler that was around his neck.  He then gripped hold of James’ throat, telling James that if he did not ‘liver up’ he would ‘let me see what he would do for me.’

James tried to wrestle Moses’ hand off his neck, but his grip was too tight.  Moses, with his other hand, grabbed two purses and some money from inside one of the pockets of James’ jacket before running off.

It appears that Moses had seen which pocket James had put a purse when paying for some whiskey in the Sportsmans Inn public house. 

Police Constable Price would later tell how he had apprehended Moses on the Friday, 5th January.  After explaining why he was being arrested, Moses replied to P.C. Price, saying, ‘I do not think it is right for Shuttleworth to have all the money and me none.’

P.C. Price took Moses over to Todmorden to be charged, and on the way, Moses would ask him what he thought would happen to him.

Price replied, saying he didn’t know, to which Moses said, ‘I don’t care a —- what they did – they could not hang me.’

Four months later, and on the 1st May, Moses would appear at the York Assizes, charged with using personal violence to and robbing James Shuttleworth of £4 10s. 

His previous convictions of theft would be recorded against him and ultimately Moses would be sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour and three years’ police supervision.

The Police Gazette on Friday, 18th June 1880, would describe him as being 22 years of age, 5 feet 7 3/4 inches high, brown hair, blue eyes, pale complexion, oval face, proportionate build.  He had a cut mark on the right cheek and a burn mark on right arm and back of right hand, with a blue mark on left arm

After being released from York Castle,  Moses would soon find himself back jail. 

Under the sentence he had received on the 1st May 1879, and after serving time in prison, he had to serve a further three years under police supervision.  However, upon being discharged, and having reported himself as living at Hapton on the 12th November 1880, he simply disappeared – failing to notify the police of his whereabouts.  That was until January 1881, when he was apprehended over in Rochdale.  He was committed back to jail to serve a further two months with hard labour.

Whether it was whilst he was serving time behind bars, or if it was something that had been building up for months prior to his attack on James Shuttleworth, something had changed Moses.  We could perhaps say it was the death of his mother that had sent him on a spiralling path of self-destruction, but we will never know.  But the facts are, he had gone from petty stealing to becoming a drunkard who was being apprehended by the police within the different districts of Rossendale on a regular basis. 

He was now getting a name for himself and a reputation that came with it, and in such a short space of time, ‘bolloper’ would become the word that struck fear on those who dared whisper ‘his’ name.

During the evening of Sunday, 9th July 1882, a man named Ormerod Holden, whilst walking along Burnley Road near to Huncoat, he was approached by Moses, who had said that he was hard up and needed some help.  Ormerod gave Moses some money as well as walk with him to a nearby beerhouse where they had a couple of drinks together.

When Ormerod left, just after 10pm, he was followed by Moses, but when they had arrived at a place called ‘Peel’s Copy’, near to a farm known as Crawsharth’s farm, Moses suddenly launched into a ferocious attack on Ormerod.  Two other men appeared from behind a wall and not before too long, the three men had taken a watch, chain and money off Ormerod.

He was also thrown onto the ground where they would proceed to kick him until he was almost unconscious.  One of the men then knelt over Ormerod and began to throttle him.

As for Moses, he pulled out a knife and swore that if he (Ormerod) told the police, he would rip him up.

Leaving him badly injured and obviously shaken from the violent attack, Moses and his two companions then disappeared into the darkness of the night.  As for Ormerod, he would go against the threats made to him, reporting the incident to the police just before midnight that evening.

Two police officers were quickly despatched to try and apprehend Moses and his companions and it didn’t take long before they had word that Moses had been seen in another beerhouse, this time over in Hapton.

As police-sergeants Sinclair and Ham made their way to Moses’ last known whereabouts, spotting both of them entering the premises, Moses darted out of the back door and across some fields.  Both police-sergeants quickly gave chase but Moses had already made headway across the fields, and despite chasing him for around three miles, over rough ground and through streams – he would evade their advances by running into thick woods densely covered with underwood.

However, Moses evading of the police would be short lived and at around half-past ten the following evening, he would be apprehended in Rawtenstall after a desperate struggle with Police Constable Stott.

P.C. Stott was kicked and knocked down several times by a much stronger Moses, but with the help of some villages, Stott would finally succeed in handcuffing his prisoner, albeit by having to use the staff he was carrying!

Back at the police station in Rawtenstall, part of the money stolen from Ormerod Holden and some of the articles taken, were found in Moses’ possession.

Moses would be remanded before being brought before the magistrates on the morning of Wednesday, 12th July, where he would be formally charged with assault and theft.  The jury finding him guilty of the offences placed on him, Moses would be sent to trial at the next Liverpool Assizes.

And on Saturday, August 5th 1882 – he would stand trial before Mr. Justice North.  His case would be heard in quite a quick fashion, as would the verdict of guilty being placed upon him.

Moses would find himself yet again sentenced to more time in prison, this time for 18 months, but because of his previous convictions, he would also suffer the pain and humility of receiving 30 strokes with the ‘cat’.  But Moses, being somewhat of a different character to most, simply treated the sentence as a joke, sticking out his tongue to the judge and smirking and laughing to some people in the court.

A presentation to P. C. Stott for his bravery and for capturing Moses was held at the first annual gathering with the Police Cricket Club on Friday, 24th November that year. He was given a portrait by the Mayor, Alderman Lightfoot, and was advised he be given a promotion by his superiors for the noble way in which he had secured ‘the highway robber.’

Despite finding himself on the wrong side of the law for pretty much his entire life, no amount of time in prison and the dozens of fines he had been made to pay would have any effect on Moses.  If anything, they had the reverse effect and within months of being released from prisons, he would yet again find himself in a court of law having to face the consequences of his actions.

Many of the offences he committed had been down to being drunk, and during many of his outbursts, he would often end up fighting the police officers who had been sent to arrest him.

Some newspaper reports from the early 1900’s had reported that Moses had been arrested at least 71 times during his life of crime, with over 50 charges of being drunk and disorderly.  Staggeringly, by the age of 40, Moses had already spent around six years of his life in various prison for attacking police officers while under the influence of drink.

But his longest spell in prison would come in 1902. On Monday, 16th June, a sensation was caused in Worsthorne, a small rural village on the outskirts of Burnley, when Police Constable Bell had apprehended Moses on charges of theft.

A labourer by the name of Cornelius Whitham had accused Moses of stealing 14 shillings whilst both men had visited the Crooked Billet public house at Worsthorne during the afternoon. Another man, by the name of Dickinson, an accomplice of Moses’ was also present.

After drinking a couple of pints together, Moses leaned in towards Cornelius, ruffling his pockets in doing so.

“That’s picked me up!” said Moses, before making some blunt remark to Dickinson. He then told Dickinson to meet him outside in the backyard where he would pass over a 5 shilling piece.

During the pick-pocketing, Cornelius said to Moses; “Tha’s robbed me!” and warned him to give the money back or he would to the police.

Cornelius shortly informed P. C. Bell, who then shortly after found Moses. After being charged with theft, Moses went quietly with P. C. Bell for some distance, but something happened on their journey towards the police station.

As both men began to climb over a hedge, Moses turned and launched into an almightly frenzy, kicking and punching P. C. Bell.

“Tha’ll have to run for it, tha’ll have to fight for it!” shouted Moses as left P. C. Bell dazed and confused as he began to run down a field.

Gaining his composure, P. C. Bell began after Moses and soon caught up with him. But Moses, the hefty giant he was, began kicking at the police constable with his heavy clogs, as well as punch him in the face and ribs.

Both men grappled for what seemed an age until they fell onto the ground. Upon getting to their feet, Moses pulled out a knife, telling P. C. Bell, “I’ll cut yer liver out yo’.”

Having no choice but to defend himself, P. C. Bell pulled his truncheon, and as Moses ran towards him, he luckily managed to catch him on the wrist, knock the knife out of his hand. But Moses was too strong as he came forwards again.

As they grappled each other, both of them fell to the ground, this time with Moses on top of P. C. Bell.

At this point, two men appeared on the scene, a man named John Shackleton and another called William Blackburn.

“Stand back, Jack, this is the ______ I am going to kill!” exclaimed Moses.

The two men however, managed to drag Moses off the police constable, but again, he was just too strong. Picking himself up, he took hold of his knife and quickly ran down the field and towards another wall.

As the three men went in chase, and after catching up with him, Moses had a stone in one hand and his knife in the other.

“I’ll ______ well finish thee this time!” he shouted.

As P. C. Bell approached Moses, he was struck on the forehead which made him fall to the ground. Moses then crouched over the defenceless constable and proceed to hit him over his face with the stone, knocking out two teeth in the process. He then began biting his nose whilst gripping hold of the constables throat using his thumbs.

Shackleton and Blackburn, somehow managed to drag Moses off the constable, and using a rope one of the men had with him, they bound his legs together before carrying him some distance and towards the roadside.

Moses was still trying his best to free himself, and having no choice but to defend himself and the two other men who had helped him, P. C. Bell pulled his staff several times to weaken Moses. Luckily, a passing milk-cart was nearby and only quick thinking by the police constable prevented any further violent outbursts by Moses. Yet despite his injuries, P.C. Bell requisitioned the milk-cart, and with the help of Shackleton and Blackburn, Moses was flung into the back of the cart before being taken to the local police station Keighley Green.

Arriving at the station, one of P. C. Bell’s superiors was outside but could barely recognise the constable who had fought so bravely with Moses, such was the injuries he had sustained to his face. His police tunic was also saturated with blood by the time he arrived at the station.

The attack on P. C. Bell was so vicious, he would later in court remark that Moses had acted “like a vicious bull-dog.”

The press would soon headline this account with phrases such as “murderous affray” and “the Worsthorne sensation”, but to all who knew or had heard the name ‘bolloper’, it came as to no surprise that Moses Clayton was yet again in trouble with the authorities and it was only a matter of time before a longer prison sentence would be imposed upon him.

For the attack on P. C. Bell as well as stealing from Cornelius Whitham, Moses would be sentenced to five years in prison – by far the longest stretch behind bars he had ever faced.

After his release, things would settle down – albeit for around a year, when, in 1909, he would again be arrested for being drunk and disorderly as well as resisting arrest by P. C. Doncaster. Another two months in prison would await Moses.

The same patterns would quickly follow both in 1910 and in 1911 where he would face time in prison under hard labour.

It seems Moses Clayton’s life, despite many warnings and after spending a large portion of time in the courts as well as in prison, was one always on the wrong path.

He just could not keep his head down and stay out of trouble. It also seems trouble never came looking for him but quite the opposite and if there was ever an opportunity to make a few bob either from stealing food or items of personal belongings, or from ‘highway’ robbery, the consequences of his actions never deterred him.

He was a strong, hefty man who could look after himself, and we can perhaps assume he also revelled in the fact that many knew of his reputation and most certainly knew of his name – the ‘bolloper’ of Rossendale!

Grave of Moses Clayton and his father, James.

Moses Clayton’s name would be talked about long after his death in 1919, with many telling tales of his notorious ways and somewhat elaborating some of their finer details, – to some extent making him a legend in his own right.

But we cannot let fiction get in the way of facts. He was a thug first and foremost, often changing the lives of those who found themselves on the opposite end of his fists. Ormerod Holden and Cornelius Witham as well as police Constables Stott, Bell, Doncaster and many others would all testify to that!

And let us not forget, we have only scratched the surface with our story. As mentioned, Moses was reported to have had 71 convictions against his name by his mid-fourties. We can only guess what untold heartache he caused others that hadn’t been reported during the late 1800’s and early 1900s and his conviction record could well have been over one-hundred.

From Accrington, Bacup and Burnley to Haslingden, Huncoat and Rawtenstall as well as many other districts, he brought misery to everyone he encountered and whose lives he would forever haunt long after his death.

Moses was buried on the 1st March 1919. His grave can be found by visiting Bacup Cemetary, with his headstone numbered E440. He was 61 years old.

Sources used in this story;

Bacup Times and Rossendale Advertiser – Saturday 28 September 1889

Burnley Express – Wednesday 25 June 1902

Leeds Times – Saturday 15 July 1882

Liverpool Weekly Courier – Saturday 12 August 1882

Todmorden & District News – Friday 03 November 1911

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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