The Brutal Attack on Thomas Oxford (1889)


When 16 year old, Thomas Oxford, began loading his cart with milk churns, he could never have envisioned the events that would take place later that same day.

Thomas was a farm servant living with John Clark, farmer, at a place known as Shuttleworth Hall that still is situated to this day in a place called Hapton.

It was around 6.30am in the morning on Saturday, 19th January 1889, when he left the Hall in the usual way, with his milk-cart fully stocked and ready to be delivered by going on his rounds by the way of Cheapside and Burnley Lane.

And by half-past nine, he had already finished delivering the milk and had made his towards Elm Street, just off Burnley Lane.  Happy that the morning had gone as planned and relatively stress free, Thomas began on his journey back to Shuttleworth Hall when, coming from the direction of Burnley, another boy by the name of William McMenemy met up with him.

William, who was a little older and aged 18, was known as “Jimmy” to his friends, as he was rarely ever called by his Christian name of William. 

“See thee, Tommy, look what a nice hammer I have found” William spoke as he pulled out a joiners hammer from his trouser pocket and handed it over to Thomas.

Impressed by the find, Thomas replied, “Ay, give it me.”  Thomas then offered William two pence for it, but William shook his head and turned down the offer.

Thomas placed the hammer into his cart box but no sooner as he had done so, William took it back out, remarking that it would come in useful as he put it into his trousers pocket and covering it with his waistcoat.

Both boys then got onto the cart and began to make their ways towards Ashfield Road but had to jump out and walk some way as there was a hill and the horse pulling the cart was beginning to struggle.  As they did this, Thomas started to count the weeks earnings from the sale of milk.  Nearing the Burnley Spinning and Weaving Company  Mill, William hopped back into the cart whilst Thomas carried on walking up to the top of the street.

After counting the money, Thomas was about to put it back into his pocket, but William, who had been watching Thomas, said to him he had miscounted.  Not sure, Thomas thought he’d better check and so began to recount the money.  It would later emerge that Thomas was carrying £2 3s, the equivalent of just over £273 in today’s value.

Thomas’s return journey would normally see him make his way back along Burnley Road before turning right onto what is now known as Manchester Road. He would then normally have passed the Bridge public house before turning left onto Castle Clough lane and then towards Shuttleword Hall farm.

However, on this occasion, the two boys, after being talked into it by William, would instead make their way towards a place known as Stone Moor Bottom.

And it was here, William told Thomas to; “Come round by the fields Tommy, you will be home sooner.”

Happy to oblige, young Thomas followed Williams instructions and as the boys wandered down the old, uneven road, William jumped off the milk cart to open a set of gates.  Travelling towards Fenny Fold, they turned left and made their way towards Castle Clough Brook and then through the fields close towards Shuttleworth Woods.

It was here that the boys came across another set of gates and this time Thomas said he would open them.  Meanwhile, William took out the hammer from his trouser pocket, saying it had begun to dig into his side and was hurting him.

After opening the gate, the boys carried on towards Shuttleworth Hall.  William asked Thomas how much money would he give him for the hammer, but when Thomas replied, saying two pence, William quickly lifted it and struck Thomas on the side of his right eye.

Shocked and obviously badly injured by this attack on him, Thomas fled down the field and headed towards a fence into the next field but William was too quick for him, hitting Thomas three times on his head with the hammer.

Thomas put his hands up to his head to protect himself and was struck twice on his left hand.  Falling into a ditch, Thomas had become dazed.  Somehow he managed to find the strength to get back onto his feet, but in doing so, William had one hand in Thomas’s pocket and the other on his shoulder.

Thomas then pleaded with William to take him home as he felt he was dying.  William replied, saying he would do so but only if he gave him his money.  Handing over what he had, Thomas again begged William to take him back to Shuttleworth Hall.  This time, William asked to looked at watch Thomas was wearing.  Raising his arm, William quickly managed to wrestle the watch off Thomas’s wrist before hitting him on the left eye and fleeing from the scene.

Minutes passed, and Thomas who was in an obvious state of shock and losing quite a lot of blood from the wounds on his head, managed to get back onto the milk cart. At this point he didn’t have the energy to drive the cart, instead giving the horse a pull on the reigns.  The horse would instinctively make its way back to Shuttleworth Hall.

At around 11 o’clock, Thomas returned and after making his way off the cart he walked into the kitchen within the hall.  Inside was sat Michael Crook, a retired farmer who lived there with his son-in-law, John Clark.

Jumping out of his chair, he shouted, “The horse has run away and killed Tommy!”.

Thomas replied, “No, there is a lad tried to murder me down the field.”

After making sure Thomas was comfortable and thinking he would be safe for now, a panic stricken Michael ran out of the hall to look for assistance. 

Edward Siddron, a farm servant at Shuttleworth Hall, after seeing poor Thomas for himself, left at around quarter past eleven to report the matter to the police.  In doing so, he walked in the direction of the Castle Clough print works and towards Stone Moor.  There, he noticed William walking fast across the fields.  Following him, Edward soon caught up with William on a nearby canal bank, and, having a dog with him, asked him if he had seen any sheep straying?

William replied, saying no and  then went on his way.  Edward, noticing William was acting a little strange, and perhaps it was just a gut instinct, soon followed him back to his home in Cog-Street and once satisfied he could remember which house number William entered, Edward then proceeded to the nearest police station that was situated at Wood Top.

Police Sergeant Sharp, who was on duty that morning, and after hearing of the attack on Thomas, visited the home of William at around quarter past twelve. There, he asked William’s whereabouts that morning and what he had been doing.  Based on the information he received, Sergeant Sharp took William over to Shuttleworth Hall, where Thomas identified him as being the boy who had assaulted him that morning.

Sergeant Sharp, happy that he had his man, then took William to Hapton Railway Station ready to board a train to Burnley.  There, William passed over to Sergeant Sharp .5s, telling him Thomas had given him the money.

Both William and Sergeant Sharp then made their way to Burnley where William would be charged in the usual way at the Burnley County Police Station.  William made no reply to the charges put to him.

Shortly after, William was escorted back to Shuttleworth Hall, along with Mr. J. C. Massey, J.P, Mr. Artindale, the magistrates clerk and Superintendent Barnett. 

On arriving at Shuttleworth Hall, Mr. Artindale proceeded to take the depositions from Thomas who was now conscious but in great pain. 

Dr. Thomas Law, accompanied by a policeman, soon arrived to attend to Thomas’s injuries.  He found Thomas in an exhausted condition and was struggling to answer any questions put to him, only saying “Yes” or “No” for most part.

Both of his eyes were swollen and he was, as the doctor would later state in court, almost “pulseless.”

Thomas’s head was a mass of bruises, cuts and wounds, from which a large quantity of blood was still flowing.

Due to retching and vomiting, Dr. Law was fearful that Thomas had sustained a serious concussion of the brain and may not live through the remainder of the day, so suggested to the police that they take his depositions as a precaution.

Thomas was by now in serious condition and could not offer any help to the police, so with that being the case, he was taken to his room and made to rest.  Everyone who had come to his help prayed that he would survive the night but such was his health, many were not hopeful.

A search for the hammer that was used on the attack on Thomas was soon found in the field where Thomas had apparently been left for dead.  Weighing nearly two pounds, the iron head being four or five inches long and an inch in diameter.

Meanwhile, news had quickly spread to the surrounding area, with many locals making their way over to Shuttleworth Hall.  A number of farm labourer’s pleaded hard for the police to deliver their charge, so that they could deliver their own form of justice on William.

On Saturday evening, William’s mother and father, along with his two brothers were allowed to visit William, who was now in the charge of Sergeant Bond at the County Police Station over at Keighley Green.

After spending a short time together, and after his parents had left him, William seemed to be in a distressed state by their visit, and told Sergeant Bond that he did not want anybody to see him again.

The following morning, Dr. Law returned to examine Thomas’s his injuries and found 15 distinct wounds on his head and one on the side of his face.

The wounds were mostly severe ones, into two of them he could put the tip of his finger without disturbing the thin layer of tissue underneath the scalp.

Dr. Law would describe the injuries as those resembling a honeycomb, and had not Thomas been of a strong and robust nature, and in a good state of health with youth on his side, the injuries would have more than likely proved to be fatal.

Thomas’s left hand was also considerably swollen, indicating that it had received an incredibly hard blow to it.

On Monday, 21st January, William was brought before the County police court, before Mr. W. Dugdale, Mr. G. Sutcliffe and Mr. C.J. Massey, charged with the attempted murder of Thomas.

William was comparatively  unknown to the police and had lived with his father who himself had only recently been discharged from the army with a pension.

Police Sergeant Sharp, whom had arrested William on the Saturday afternoon gave formal evidence, saying he had seen Thomas that morning but he was unable to attend the hearing due to his injuries.

Superintendent Barnett then asked for a remand until the following Monday morning.

The attack on Thomas had left the locals of Hapton exceedingly angry, with the court room being packed with hardly any standing room left.

On Monday, 28th January, at the Burnley County Police Court, William was again brought up and charged with the attempted murder of Thomas.

The magistrates on the bench that morning were T. H. Whitaker, W. Dugdale, C. J. Massey and J. Baron and whilst it was made clear from the outset that the case would not be gone into much detail, the court was again filled by curious bystanders.

Mr. Artindale. having read the depositions of Thomas, that had already been taken by Mr. Massey, said he understood that Superintendent Barnett’s request for Thomas to miss the proceedings due to him not being fit enough to attend due to his injuries.

Superintendent Barnett then applied for another remand, which was accepted by the magistrates.

Two weeks later, and on Tuesday, 12th February, William appeared at the Burnley County Police Court for a third time in what turned out to be a quick inquest.

And just like in previous meetings, the story had generated much interest and whilst it was unclear at the time if William would be brought before the magistrates, the court room was again packed.

However, this time, Thomas himself would make an appearance, his head bandaged but still in an obvious weary condition.

He would give evidence, detailing the events that took place back on January 19th and how he was attacked by William when setting off back to Shuttleworth Hall after a morning of delivery milk.

Michael Crook, Dr. Law and several other witnesses gave evidence but strangely, when asked if he had anything to say, William shook his head and stayed silent.

At the end of the proceedings, William was committed to the next Manchester Assizes, having been charged on two counts.  One being with the attempted murder of Thomas Oxford, and another of having robbed him of a watch and money totaling around £2.

Two weeks later, and on Thursday, 28th February, William would, for the last time, find himself in a court of law, this time at the Manchester Assizes and before Mr. R. H. V. Williams, Q.C,. Commissioner.

William appeared in a very weakly condition and was not defended by counsel, seemingly accepting his fate. 

As on previous court appearances, the same witnesses all gave evidence and just like during his last appearance in court, William had nothing to say in his defence.

The Commissioner, in summing up, said if Thomas had given up the money under the influence of fear of violence by William, then William was guilty of robbery.

And after a few short minutes of deliberation, the jury found William guilty of robbery with violence.

In passing down his sentence, the Commissioner said it was extremely fortunate for William that he did not kill Thomas.  He did everything that might have killed, but Thomas’s life had been spared through the skill of Dr. Law.

William’s father and also that of Dr. Law addressed the commissioner, both expressing their opinions that William was in an indifferent condition mentally.

The commissioner thought long and hard, trying to find some reason as to why he should give William some benefit of doubt and whilst he appreciated that the severe nature of the assault of young Thomas was abhorrent, he would finally agree with Dr. Law and William’s father.

He would tell the magistrates that if it wasn’t for William’s bodily and mental condition, it would have been his duty to order him a flogging, in addition to other punishment such as imprisonment.

He also knew that William must, for a long period of time, never have the opportunity of repeating such conduct and was happy to believe that it was the best thing for William to be ‘shut up’ for a considerable amount of time.

With all the evidence and you could say, with some leniency, the commissioner ordered William McMenemy to serve seven years in penal servitude.

As for Thomas, he would go on to live a relatively normal way of live. At the age of 28, he married Isabella Lancaster on the 12th September 1901. Together, they would have three children – Edit, Doris and Ivy. Sadly, Ivy would pass away on the 9th August, 1907. She was barely one year old.

Thomas lived until the age of 77 before passing away on the 4th April 1950.

Sources used in this story;

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 26 January 1889

Burnley Express – Wednesday 30 January 1889

Burnley Express – Wednesday 13 February 1889

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Friday 01 March 1889

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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2 responses to “The Brutal Attack on Thomas Oxford (1889)”

  1. Paul Wilkins avatar
    Paul Wilkins

    Poor Thomas subjected to such a horrible attack. He lived to a good age despite the blows to his head but I wonder how his quality of life was affected. Thanks for sharing bud.

    1. Chris avatar

      One thing I didn’t mention towards the end of this story is that Thomas entered into the army and became a Sergeant! However, there isn’t too much on this period of his life, unfortunately. Thanks as always, Paul, for commenting 🙂

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