Isabella Walker : The Missing Child of Cribden (1910)


Towering over the town of Haslingden, Cribden Hill imposes its presence in a grand demeanor.  And whilst it may look picturesque from spring right through to the autumn months, it can arguably be as intimidating as well as beautiful looking during the winter months, and it’s during this period back on Sunday, 6th March, 1910 our next story takes place.

Please check out our video on this very same story!

Young Isabella Walker, who was just 2½ years old, had spent the best part of the day outside playing with other children.  Although it had been a cold and mixed type of day, this hadn’t stopped any of them from enjoying the rare opportunity of making the most of their free time together.

By mid-afternoon, many of the children had returned home, leaving Isabella pretty much alone.  It seems that she still had an abundance of energy still to burn off and so she went back to her home to spend time with her elder brother and sister, John and Hilda.  John was seven and Hilda, ten years of age.

Unbeknownst to her, both John and Hilda had already been sent out to a farm a short distance away to collect some milk and so, after finding only her mother and father at home and with her brother and sister nowhere to be seen, she left the house to go and look for them, or so it seems.

Time would soon pass, and despite John and Hilda returning home with the milk, it would be around 5.45pm when Isabella’s parents, Frederick and Margaret would for the first time realise Isabella was missing.

The home of Frederick and Margaret Walker was situated on the slope of Cribden Hill in an area known as Cribden ‘Side’, with several farm buildings separated by dry stones walls and the odd hedgerow.

They had four children, with Isabella being the youngest at just 2½ years of age.  John and Hilda, as we have already mentioned, and also Isaac, who was five years old.

With Isabella now apparently missing, Frederick set out to scour the moors, frantically searching for his daughter.  But as a thick layer of mist soon began to fall and with darkness quickly descending, his search would turn to frustration, and with a gaslamp as his only source of light, visibility was extremely poor.

Shouting out into the thickness of the fog, the sound of his voice would be muffled out just as quickly as it left his mouth.

Underterred, Frederick would spend the next eight hours traversing through the darkness, slipping on the wet ground beneath him and at times dropping the lamp he was carrying which would occasionally result in the flame being extinguished just to add to the frustration he was already suffering from.

By two o’clock the following morning, an exhausted Frederick had to make possibly one of the hardest choices he had ever had to make, and that was to end the search for his missing daughter and to return home to inform the police of the situation his daughter was in.

The police quickly formed a search party, scouring not only the surrounding area where Frederick and his family lived, but also within the town of Haslingden in the hope of finding poor Isabella.

We can only speculate, but the fear that Isabella’s family would have been feeling, many of us will never hopefully have to encounter, but worst still, what was Isabella herself going through, being all alone and with no help seemingly in sight?

The police would spend all of Monday searching the hillside just as Frederick had done the previous evening, and they too would struggle on foot through the dank, boggy moorland as well as battle with the dense mist that had again fallen which would hinder their search.

And just like Frederick before them, and despite constant searching throughout the day, nightfall would blight their endeavors to the point that the search party had no other option but to retreat back off the moorland, leaving Isabella all alone for a second consecutive night.

The odds of finding Isabella alive where now dwindling but the furor surrounding her disappearance had aroused the interest of more police officers, and by the following morning, Police Sergeant McLean would round up four more police constables from Haslingden as well as three from Rawtenstall. 

Taking them from their ordinary duties that day, he gave them clear instructions to beat and scour Cribden Hill.

By eight o’clock that morning, the seven constables along with Police Sergeant McLean had begun their search.

The mist that had hindered the search for missing Isabella on Sunday and on the Monday was much greater on the hill than it was in the town and this again would prove to make things considerably more difficult for the search party.

Up on the hill, the object of the search party was to form a line, with each policeman standing roughly thirty yards apart from the other.  They would commence on one side of the hill, and sweep it section by section until they had searched every yard and every blade of grass.

After having made a couple of forward and backward journeys, the police officers had become scattered due to the thick mist and unable to see each other and after a short period of searching which was now becoming more and more difficult, Police Sergeant McLean called the officers back so they could realign themselves.

Upon making their way to McLean, Police Constable Clarke, who was based in Rawtenstall, gave out a loud yell; “I’ve found it!” he shouted in a gleeful tone.

Police Sergeant McLean and several of the other police officers quickly hurried over to where P.C. Clarke’s shouting had originated from.  First to arrive was McLean, and he would enquire about the health of Isabella, asking if she was still alive.

P.C. Clarke would quickly assure McLean and the other officers that she was alive but only just.

The area in which Isabella was found was at the very top of Cribden Hill and not more than half a mile from her home.  However, there were no footpaths or roads nearby and it seems she had been wandering around aimlessly.

Isabella, dehydrated at this point and in an extremely weak condition was found lying face forward on the bogland with her legs drawn up.  Her face had sunk a little into the soft ground and dirt had entered into her mouth. 

She had been wearing absolutely no outdoor clothing.  Her hands and knees were torn, evidently through climbing up the hill.  The clothing she was wearing was torn as were her slippers.

Without a doubt, Isabella was bordering on suffocation and if P.C. Clarke hadn’t found her when he did, the odds on her surviving would have been nil.

Some of the police officers involved in the search were carrying food and drink for lunch to which P.C. Clarke offered Isabella a little bread, which she snatched and ate at it.

A few minutes elapsed, and after some quick thinking by P.C. Clarke, he wrapped Isabella in his coat before running down the hill and towards her home. 

Whilst doing so, the police officers who were now following behind, cheered when they heard a little moan coming from Isabella, who also said in a weak voice; “I want my mamma.”

On arrival at her home, one of the police officers rendered first aid to prevent Isabella from going into shock, and this would gave them time whilst awaiting the arrival of Dr. Coates of Haslingden.

After examining Isabella and after attending to her wounds, Dr. Coates gave the opinion that she would be fine within a reasonable amount of time but added that there was some risk of bronchitis or pneumonia because of the exposure on hill.

He would also be of the opinion that Isabella had survived two nights on the hill because she was a chubby and healthy child and along with the weather, albeit being damp, it had been an unusually mild time of year.

Dr. Coates would examine Isabella again on the 11th March, just three days after her ordeal had come to an end, and he would give her the all clear, saying she was making “splendid progress” and that he felt the risk of any complication such as bronchitis or pneumonia was now low.

What makes this story even more incredible is that during the Monday, when several police officers had been searching for missing Isabella, they were within 250 yards of the spot where she would eventually be found by P.C. Clarke.  But due to the poor weather conditions, she was not seen.

To some of the officers, they would later go on to say that she would have more than likely have been in that same spot on that Monday morning.

Isabella had somehow survived 41 hours alone on the moors.  She had to suffer the extremities a blistering wind, dehydration, starvation and the not knowing if anyone was coming to rescue her.  How a 2½ year old child could survive such conditions is truly amazing.

And without a doubt, if it wasn’t for the unquestionable efforts of the police, refusing themselves to acknowledge being beaten even when they were baffled as to her whereabouts, Isabella would surely had perished.

Looking back, it is possible that if the line that the police officers had first started with, with each man standing off around thirty yards of each other, hadn’t been broken, poor Isabella would again have been lost in the mist that had tried its best to hinder their search, and it’s frightening to think that Cribden Hill may not have yielded its secret it was fast taking to itself.

Sources used in this story;

Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 12 March 1910

Independent – Saturday 12 March 1910

Northern Daily Telegraph – Wednesday 09 March 1910

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

Special mention as always to Jackie Ramsbottom for allowing the use of the two old photographs of Duckworth Clough Mill. Please visit the website for more information on the town of Haslingden!

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