Thursday, 28 July 2011

Elizabeth Brook's address

Thanks also to Mary Twentyman for a correction to the address I gave for Rachel's mother Elizabeth Brook when she left Clifton to live with her nephew. The address was Goose Hill not Gorse Hill. Handwriting is sometimes tricky to interpret on a census and I imagine this is what threw me.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Oakenshaw Fair

Huge thanks to Mary Twentyman who has discovered the date of Oakenshaw Fair. Readers may recall that Liz Rayner and Rachel Brook were accompanied home from the fair by Thomas Ramsden. I now know this must have been on the 17th of September. By late December both girls were around 15 weeks pregnant. Counting backwards...well, the date fits rather well...

Friday, 1 July 2011

Family Tree magazine

I've recently had an article accepted for publication by Family Tree magazine. I don't know yet which edition it will be in, but I'm really pleased at the opportunity to reach more people.

Ideas about deer

As anyone who has read the book knows, part of my theory concerns deer. One Cliftoner was quick to point out, however, that during his grandfather's day there were no deer on the Kirklees estate - at least no herds. This puzzled me as on old maps the estate is clearly marked as a deer park. A little research in the Armytage's archive seems to clear the matter up. In a game warden's book from 1894 to 1903 deer stock in the park is noted on a weekly basis. And there are a large number of deaths, from attacks by dogs, to green tail, to tuberculosis. Following this in 1904, there is a lot of correspondence regarding the purchase of fallow deer - from France, Wales and Bourne. The final reference is a game book 1925-1946 - and here's the rub - no mention of deer at all. From this my conclusion is that tuberculosis became so endemic, it decimated the herd each time it was restocked until at last the whole idea was abandoned. This would explain why there were deer aplenty up until around 1905, but from then onwards there was no longer a maintained herd.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A suspect closer to home

Geoff Hirst has contacted me to suggest that William Rayner, Liz's father, is worth considering more closely as a suspect. It's certainly true that the murder of a child by a parent is,sadly, not unknown. He points out that there could have been two possible motives - the first that William disapproved very strongly of his daughter's behaviour and a heated argument turned tragically violent. The alternative suggestion is that he may have had an incestuous relationship with her (not unknown in those times) and wanted to dispose of the physical reminder of his actions. I agree that this is possible, but my argument against it is that if there had been some suspicion regarding him, surely he would have been asked to give a deposition before the coroner. The fact he didn't, seems to suggest that plenty people had seen him on the night of the murder, so his whereabouts were not in question.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Just sleuthing

It's great that readers are starting to send me alternative theories about the case. There are quite a few. I'll start with an idea suggested by both Helen Roberts and Eileen Depledge: did Robert Rayner tell Liz to go home because he was concerned for her safety?  Robert had clearly made up the message that their mother wanted her to go home and in the light of what happened to Liz later on that evening, it seems likely his motive for it went beyond that of a joke. Helen and Eileen point out he may have felt concerned her reputation might suffer further damage, or perhaps he had seen the three apprentices hanging around in the street. He may have picked up on a certain atmosphere that made him uneasy. This is certainly a credible idea. My only criticism of it is that if he had been truly concerned, wouldn't he have escorted her home? And later, at the inquest, wouldn't he have mentioned his concerns? Robert's silence seems to suggest quite strongly to me that Thomas Ramsden and the apprentices had something on him that prevented him speaking out.

 I'll be adding other theories later...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Blowing my own trumpet!

At the risk of enlarging the size of my head, wanted to share just some of the lovely comments I've received over the past couple of weeks about the book! Thank you to everyone who has commented.

"Prepare to be intrigued, entertained, enthralled and totally captivated." Virginia Mason writing in the Halifax Courier.
"An engaging and unusually constructed story with a feast of atmospheric prose and some incredibly enlightening historical knowledge." Beverley Beirne, Ilkley
"It was a good thing I didn't have anywhere to go this morning - I have been truly fascinated by the book." Mrs E. Powell, York
"I just meant to flick through and read it later, but have immediately got to chapter 2" Mrs Clarke, Brighton
"I found it fascinating." Mrs Kolbusz, Odiham.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Phoenix radio

Enjoyable chat with Sara Hinchcliffe on Phoenix Radio's Coffee Culture slot. Thanks, Sara!

Saturday, 7 May 2011


A very enjoyable evening at the Black Horse. Andrew and Jane, licensees, were extremely helpful, there were no technical hitches with the presentation, audience was well behaved, apart from a couple of ne'r- do- wells (you know who you are!) so all in all a successful night. My thanks to everyone who came along.

Thanks to Alan

A big thank you to Alan Burnett for putting information about the book on his blog. Alan's photo of the Anchor pub, taken in the sixties, is also included in Borrowers of the Night. The Anchor is opposite the Black Bull in Brighouse. Thomas Ramsden, one of the people to give a deposition before the coroner, spent New Year's Eve 1832 drinking at these two establishments. You can enjoy Alan's musings on Calderdale life, real ale,  a collection of fascinating sepia photos along with other topics on

Monday, 2 May 2011

Thursday Book Launch

Looking forward to the book launch at the Black Horse on Thursday at 7.30. Hope I've managed to work in something of interest for everyone. It's going to feel a wee bit spooky given the pub's close links to the murder and its investigation. Andrew and Jane Russell, the licensees, are being wonderfully helpful, so fingers crossed for a great event.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Read all about it

A productive week Three bookshops have agreed to stock the book, have had two interviews with local press and an invitation to talk about the book on Phoenix radio. Thanks to them all for their interest.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Launch detail musings

Andrew and Jane Russell of the Black Horse, Clifton, have very kindly agreed to let me use their function room for a book launch event on Thursday the 5th May at 7.30. I find myself wondering what the Rayner family would have thought if they'd known that almost two hundred years after Liz's murder, a book would be written about it and launched in the very place the coroner's inquiry took place. I suspect the air will be thick with ghosts...

Now available - Bank House Books, Amazon, and at Launch 5/5/11

Book jacket

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Book Excerpt

It is Tuesday afternoon, New Year’s Day 1833. Samuel Brearley, aged
fourteen, is in Clifton Wood with two of his friends, Simeon and John
Rayner, aged sixteen and eleven respectively. John is bragging about the
rabbit he caught in a snare the previous day and his plans to try and take
a deer.
‘Not a chance!’ mocks his brother. ‘You couldn’t hit a barn door at
ten paces, you.’
‘Shut your gob,’ says John, cockily. ‘I’m a tons better aim than thee.’
Always the peace maker, their friend Sam is anxious to prevent the
brothers ending up in a scrap. ‘Let’s find out then,’ he says.
He begins scanning the wood for likely targets. ‘Let’s see who can hit
. . .’ His words trail off as he catches sight of something a little way ahead.
‘What’s that?’ he asks, pointing to what must surely be a bundle of rags.
Simeon, asserting his status as eldest, walks cautiously forward. His
face drains to a sickening white. He gazes down at the body in its
blood-soaked clothes – clothes he recognises.Transfixed by the
horrific sight he mutters, ‘It’s our Liz.’
* * *
At the inquest four days later, it was to Sam Brearley that the coroner
turned for a description of the murder scene. It may be that Simeon
and John, Elizabeth’s brothers, were too traumatised to speak clearly
of their grim discovery, or perhaps Samuel was a level-headed lad
who could be relied upon to tell the tale plainly and calmly. Certainly
his careful description of the body and its position suggests a boy
of above average intelligence and observation skills. He recalls she
was on her belly, ‘arms crossed and her head was upon her arms’. The
body was facing uphill. He notes the abundance of blood, some of
it ‘a yard above her in the wood’, and ‘some on her back, fair across
her shoulders a great deal’. Other details are that her hair had fallen
loose and her legs were bare, ‘but her gown was not torn at the back
– it was covered in blood’.
Samuel also had the presence of mind to check for footprints,
but ‘the ground was all leaves and I could not tell whether anybody
else had been there. I could not see any footsteps.’ Neither were
there ‘knife, scissors or razor’. His keen eye also noted how ‘her shoe
toes had gone right into the ground’. This, together with the blood
a yard above her, suggests she was dragged further into the wood
from the initial place of execution, presumably so her body would
be less easily seen.
Whatever other thoughts tumbled through Sam’s head, he
wasted no time in alerting the village.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Almost there

The book is now with the printers. Feel as if I should be sipping gin and smoking Gauloise at the very least, but chewing a ballpoint and slurping echinacea and raspberry tea will have to suffice...

Monday, 7 February 2011

Background to the book

On New Year’s Eve 1832 while the villagers of Clifton, enjoyed their New Year celebrations, a young man called Robert Rayner played a practical joke on his sister Liz that put her in the path of a murderer.
Passed down through my family, the story of the unsolved murder raises intriguing questions. Who gained from Liz Rayner’s death? Did the assailant act alone, or was there a sinister conspiracy at work? And in such a small, tight knit community, how did the killer get away with it?
With these questions in mind, I donned my metaphorical deerstalker hat, and began to analyse the available historical documents: coroner’s court depositions, newspaper articles, parish records and censuses.  
The results of my research were astonishing and allowed me to build a theory about the motive and who the killer was. Of course, after almost two hundred years, it’s a theory that can’t be proved, and there are certainly other suspects in the case…
If, when you’ve read it, you’ve got a different theory – post this site

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Ghosts and Legends of the Lower Calder Valley

If you're interested in other local supernatural/ historical topics connected to the lower Calder Valley, visit Kai Roberts' fascinating blog.