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The Murder of Nurse Ada Bradley

Murdered by her former friend

by Claire Pearson

Early in the morning of Wednesday 11th April 1923 my grandfather’s uncle, Clement Donkersley, was unwittingly caught up in the brutal murder of a young nurse called Ada Bradley. The 23-year-old worked at the Wadsley Asylum at Middlewood, and she lived with her family and a friend called Rose Artliff at 5 Worral Road, Wadsley. Rose had been a former patient on Ada’s ward at the asylum, and when she was discharged Ada invited her to move in with her and her family. She had been warned by the asylum staff that it was inadvisable to take a mental patient into her home, but in spite of this she took Mrs. Artliff to live with her after the latter was discharged. Everyone got on well in the household for about a year, but things began to sour, and the two women began to have frequent arguments. Rose was in the habit of walking Ada to work and accompanying her back home again at the end of her shift. On the 11th April the pair set off as normal for Ada's early shift, but Ada never got to work; Rose took out a hammer and a razor and attacked her former friend, hitting her on the head with the hammer and slashing her throat with the razor. Although Ada was taller than Rose, she was taken by surprise and was unable to fight her off. Rose was said to be slightly built but “almost as strong as a horse.” The case made the newspapers all over the UK as well the National Press.

ADA BRADLEY – the victim
Ada had been born at Crabtree Lane [now known as Laird Road], Wadsley in 1900 to Willie and Harriet Bradley. Willie had been born at Brightholmlee and worked as a drayman / carter at a steelworks at Wardsend. The family later moved round the corner to 5, Worral Road. Ada had begun her nursing career at the pauper lunatic asylum at Storth Hall, Kirkburton, near Huddersfield, before moving to a job at the Wadsley Asylum near her family home. She had been there for almost three years.

ROSE ARTLIFF – the murderer
Rose Artliff was ten years older than Ada (she was 33) and had been admitted to the asylum as an in-patient in 1921 with mania, homicidal and suicidal tendencies. She was mainly quiet and orderly whilst there, but was reported to be “unstable, and at times dangerous.” She stayed there for between four and five months before being discharged as “sane” in December 1921. The widowed Rose had nowhere to go, and Ada invited her to live with her family. A member of the nursing staff expressed surprise that the friendship should have arisen, because, she said, the two women were of such entirely opposite dispositions; it was thought that Ada took pity on her patient because of her friendless condition. They apparently became fast friends, their friendship deepening into warm affection, and they became “inseparable.” They shared the same bed, but we shouldn’t read too much into this, because it was the norm at the time for sisters or friends in the same household to share a bed. Rose lived quietly and without bother with the Bradleys until January 1923 when she and Ada quarrelled. They had been “at loggerheads” ever since. Rose perhaps found work as a char woman, which is what she is described as on official records, but had later done very little work and had not paid her full board. Things came to a head and Ada’s father Willie told Rose she must leave, giving her a week’s notice on 7 April.

Walter Cooper had been born at Oughtibridge in 1900 and had been a lodger with the Bradleys for about two years before he joined the Army. He enlisted at Sheffield into the 1st Coldstream Guards on the 20th January 1922. He spent his Easter leave with the family, returning to his duties only the day before the murder. During this last stay, he had arranged to marry Ada in June. The couple were to have lived at the Tower Hill Barracks in London. Walter heard the tragic news of his sweetheart’s death in dramatic circumstances. He was crossing the grounds of Tower Hill Barracks, having just been granted special leave to be married by his commanding officer, when an orderly walked up to him with a telegram. It told him that his bride-to-be was dead.

Ada had given in her notice to leave the asylum because of her pending marriage. At the time it was expected that women gave up their jobs when they married. The previous Sunday she had made out a notice for the asylum authorities that she would not sit for the next examination, and she informed them that she intended to give her notice to leave in a fortnight, the 29th May. The wedding had been fixed for the first Sunday in June, and on the Saturday before she was murdered, Ada had chosen, and been fitted for, a light mauve wedding dress. Jealousy was suggested as the motive for the killing, but although there was speculation that Rose was in love with Ada’s fiancé, it was also speculated that she was jealous of Ada’s relationship and was unhappy that when Ada married she would soon lose her best friend and perhaps the home she had found shelter in. Ada’s mother told a newspaper reporter that Rose had been “intensely devoted” to her daughter, but that the forthcoming marriage had upset her, turning her sullen and out of temper. She had begun to make threats such as, “I shall stop one or the other. I shall kill two birds with one stone,” but the family thought nothing of these words at the time. Ada had been warned by a neighbour not to let Rose accompany her to work, but to get her father to go with her instead.

On the night before the tragedy Ada went to the cinema with a neighbour and Rose went to a whist drive at Normandale (Loxley). On her return everything appeared normal, Rose chatting away cheerfully to everyone. All was peaceful when the family went to bed, and that was the last time Mr. and Mrs. Bradley saw their daughter alive. At some point either that night or in the early morning, Rose stole a cobbler’s hammer from Ada’s brother and a razor from her father as part of a premeditated plan to kill her former friend. There were no eyewitnesses to the start of the attack but residents on the street heard screams and cries for help, and were horrified to look out of their windows and see one woman attacking another with a hammer.

Two of the first on the scene were a tram driver and conductor, who saw a woman lying on the footpath within about 20 yards of the Middlewood terminus, adjacent to the grounds of the asylum. They got off the tram and rushed to help. Two nurses, Ethel Turner and Maud Lillian Evison, heard Ada’s cries, and rushed to the bottom of Langsett Avenue where they saw Artliff, who they didn’t know, hitting Ada over the head with a hammer. Despite the obvious fury of the attack, they bravely stepped in and tried to help. Rose cried, “I intend to kill her. I intend her to die. I will do you in too!” More people arrived to help, including some attendants from the asylum, and these succeeded in overpowering Rose and taking the razor from her. “She will want an ambulance when I’ve finished with her,” she added.

Someone stopped a motor-cycle and sidecar, and some nurses, who had hurried to the scene from Wadsley Asylum, took Ada away in the sidecar, but she died before help could be obtained. The rider of this combination was my grandfather’s uncle, Clement Donkersley of Bolsterstone. Despite the huge amount of column inches devoted to this story, Clement’s name only appears in one report. He told the Coroner’s Inquest that the girl was alive when put into his sidecar, but was dead when seen by the doctor at the asylum where he took her, although a conflicting report says that every effort was made to save her life, but that she died a short time after admittance without regaining consciousness.

The tram men put Artliff into the tramcar and took her to the police station. Inspector Hughes, upon being told what had happened, charged her on suspicion of causing the death of a female asylum nurse about 5.30 that morning in Langsett Avenue. She replied, “Not as soon as that; it was just striking a quarter to six when I hit her with the hammer.” The Inspector then went to view the body and to see the place where the attack had taken place, where he found a Dorothy bag [a drawstring bag] and a Tam o’Shanter hat. At 10.30 the same morning he charged Artliff with the wilful murder of Ada Bradley. She simply replied, “thank you.” Later that morning Police Sergeant Boyd took Artliff to the Central Police Station. She apparently said, “They don’t know all. One tale is good till another is told. They were going to turn me out on Saturday, but they will not have the chance now. I could not sit there and see them stuffing and me having nothing. She’s dead is she?” The Sergeant replied, “She died about six o’clock this morning.” Artliff then said, “She’s done well to live till then after what I have done to her. She was getting married at Whitsuntide, but that is off now.”

Rose was taken from the police station to the City Police Court later that day on a charge of murder. She was accompanied by a wardress, and was dressed in a blue serge coat and a dark red frock and did not wear a hat. Whilst waiting for the case to come on, she chatted “vivaciously” in an undertone to the wardress and frequently looked around the court, as if expecting to see someone she knew. After the charge had been read out to her – “that you did feloniously, wilfully, and of malice aforethought kill and murder” she replied, “yes.” She was reported to look sallow and drawn, with her dark hair dressed straight back; her attitude was one of determined composure and she appeared to be self-possessed, taking a keen interest in the proceedings. She was remanded in prison for a week.

Rose turned up to the inquest wearing a blue blouse with white stripes and a dark blue hat. She sat calmly listening to the evidence as the proceedings were conducted by the Deputy Coroner Mr. J. Baldwin Young. She did not have legal representation and asked questions of the witnesses herself. The only time she showed any emotion was when she was quibbling with one of the witnesses as to whether she saw her hit the Ada with the hammer once or twice. On hearing the verdict against her she did not flinch, and seemed not to realise or care about the seriousness of her position. A letter was read out which hinted at Rose’s intention to murder Ada. She had written it on Saturday afternoon, three days before she attacked her former friend. She had handed it to Inspector Hughes, along with a photograph of Ada and two other nurses. Note: the letter was printed in the Sheffield Telegraph and in the Independent, but the wording was slightly different. This is what was printed by the Sheffield Independent, which contained an extra sentence:

“Dear Mr. Bradley, I am sorry to bring this trouble to you after you have been so good to me, but I cannot see my way clear to have my revenge any other way on your Ada, Cooper, and your wife, as they are all three against me. You have heard all their tales together, but it is, as I said to you on Saturday morning, when you told me I must leave your house. I knew it was no use complaining against such a set of liars. Your wife said she would make a bad enemy, but when she sees this she will see I have made a worse. I am writing this letter in the back bedroom on Saturday afternoon. Cooper told Ada not to go out with me; Little does he think she won’t be able to go out with him.”

When Ada’s father gave his evidence, Rose stood up, placed her hand on her hip and said, “you haven’t said that until Cooper returned to your house I never quarrelled with Ada. Cooper was the cause of the whole trouble.” At the end of the inquest the Coroner briefly summed up, telling the jury that it was a very simple story, and pointing out that there was no conflict in the evidence. He directed that it was no concern of theirs whether or not the prisoner was insane; all they had to do was to decide whether in their opinion the girl was murdered by Rose Artliff. After a brief retirement the jury returned a verdict that Nurse Bradley had been wilfully murdered, and she was committed on a Coroner’s Warrant to stand trial at the next West Riding Assizes at Leeds, which is where the most serious cases were heard. Witnesses were bound over in the sum of £40 each to attend the Assizes.

Rose appeared before the magistrates six days after the Inquest. There was a huge public interest in the case, and half an hour before the court opened there were hundreds of people stood outside waiting for admittance. Some of them had been assembling in Castle Street two hours before the hearing began, and were marshalled in a queue by the police. The court was packed, with women making up the majority of the crowd. In the dock Rose seemed comparatively at ease, with the exception that her mouth twitched and her hands toyed nervously with her woollen scarf. She still didn’t have legal representation, although she did apply for Legal Aid to be represented at the Assizes. She grew somewhat heated when she cross-examined the witnesses, and created “a sensation” when she alleged that Ada’s fiancé, Corporal Walter Cooper, had suffered from “a certain disease” (venereal disease, presumably). He said that there was not the slightest truth in the suggestion. Part of the court transcript of Ada’s questioning of Walter Cooper is reproduced below.

Mrs. Artliff (excitedly): “Did you tell Ada 12 months last January that she was not fit to wipe your boots?” – No
Mrs. Artliff: “Did you tell her mother that Ada had threatened to throw the kettle at you?” – No
Mrs. Artliff (impatiently): “Speak the truth, man.”
Prisoner then made a further accusation which witness denied, stating solemnly: No!
Mrs. Artliff: “You confounded liar. I don’t know how you can stand there.”
The magistrate’s clerk was obliged to tell her that she must not speak to a witness in that way.

After a hearing that lasted for exactly four hours, the Sheffield magistrates committed her for trial at the Leeds Assizes. As Ada’s mother Harriet left the court, many of the women stopped to express sympathy with her.

The funeral service was held at Wadsley church, and it was estimated that about 5,000 people turned up. The road leading from the Bradley’s home in Worrall Road was crowded with people an hour before the appointed time for the funeral. All the roads leading to Wadsley were thronged with people, and the crowd was so great that many friends of the dead girl could not get a view of the cortege as it passed. Mounted and foot police were in attendance to help with controlling the crowd. The Sheffield Independent reported that the churchyard was “invaded” by hundreds of people and the church doors had to be locked against them. Despite the vicar’s appeal to the crowd to respect the graves in the churchyard, flowers and evergreens were trampled underfoot, and considerable damage was done to many graves including the new grave of a child. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph thought that some of the crowd were there out of morbid curiosity. They also said that many of those present did their best to miss newly tended graves, but the crowd was so big that some damage was inevitable. There were no carriages, and the coffin was carried to the church by uniformed attendants from the asylum, and about 100 nurses were present. Fifty of them, in uniform, lined the path leading from the church gates to the church door as the cortege passed. Ada’s fiancé Corporal Cooper wore the uniform of the Coldstream Guards. When the church doors were opened the crowd surged in, and every available seat in the building was occupied. People who could not find a seat stood up in the aisles. Several women fainted, and had to be helped outside. Edward Bell attended as the official representative of the night staff of the asylum, and Mr. H. Coopland represented the day staff. Albert Drury, organist at the asylum, played the organ.

A “True bill” was returned by the Grand Jury in the case of Rose Artliff; this is when the Jury decides that there is enough evidence to warrant committing the accused for trial.

Rose appeared at the Leeds Assizes on Friday 11th May to stand trial on the capital charge of murder; the charge was one that could carry the death penalty. She listened to the indictment and answered, “not guilty.” After hearing the evidence, Mr. Justice Sankey summed up and drew the attention of the jury, which included two women, to the facts of the case, Artliff’s medical history, and her extraordinary callousness and demeanour after the crime. The jury, without retiring, found her “guilty but insane,” and the Judge ordered her to be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure [indefinitely]. “Thank you very much, sir; I was guilty, but I was sane,” she said. Her defence had told the court that, because of Rose’s spell in the mental hospital and her complete lack of regret for what she had done, the jury could not come to the conclusion that she was sane; he asked them to find a verdict that she was guilty but insane. It must be remembered that during the period 1900-1957 the death sentence was mandatory upon conviction for murder, and therefore a defence of insanity was often attempted as the only way to save the prisoner from the gallows. It is notable that after the abolition of the death sentence, insanity defences became much rarer.

Ada’s family later moved to Vere Road, Hillsborough [between Leppings Lane and Penistone Road]. Walter married Emma Sophia Hedditch at Portsmouth in 1927. Rose was in the high-security psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor when the 1939 Register was taken, and that is where she ended her days, dying in 1973 aged about 84.

Not much seemed to be known at the time about Rose’s life previous to her meeting Ada, and I wonder whether Ada knew anything about the woman’s past. It does seem as if she had a chequered history. All that seemed to be known was that she was a widow, and it was believed that her husband was buried at Tinsley. Her four children had been in the Fir Vale Workhouse for some time, and she had three sisters. She had previously lived in Nottingham and in Attercliffe. Ada’s mother said she smoked cigarettes incessantly.

Ada had been born on the 11th November 1889 or 1890, and her maiden name was Whitmore. I am unsure as to her origins. I did think I had identified a Whitmore family in Nottingham who had a child called Rose, but it turned out she was actually called Rosa, and her date of birth was 1893; she was recorded as Rosa on the 1901 census and Rose on the 1911 census, then as Rosa on the 1921 census; this lady was still with her family in 1921, unmarried, still with the surname Whitmore, so I do not think this is the right family. Substantial research has failed to unearth Rose's birth with any degree of certainty.

Rose had two illegitimate children to a man in Nottingham before marrying John Henry Artliff in Sheffield in 1916. She bore a daughter to him, Florence Artliff, in December 1916, but John died later the following year and was buried in the Tinsley Park Cemetery. He was 37 years old. I cannot track down an online marriage certificate for them, which would have perhaps given Rose’s father's name, so the only way to see this would be to buy the certificate.

Rose was living at Princess Street in Attercliffe in April 1920 when, heavily pregnant with a fourth child, she left her three children, aged three, seven and nine years old, to set off to walk from Sheffield to Nottingham. She aimed to find the man who was the father of two of them. She was walking because she had no money to go by train (Google maps estimates it would take about twelve hours to walk from Sheffield to Nottingham). When she got to Mansfield, a walk of around five hours, she broke a shop window. Later that day, Sunday 25th, she walked into the police station and asked if they were looking for someone who had broken a widow; her excuse was that “I was walking from Sheffield and was tired so did it to get a rest.” She was sent to prison for one month.

The Attercliffe police had been notified that Rose had left her three children “entirely destitute” in the house in Princess Street. The authorities at the Fir Vale Workhouse were notified and the children removed there. She had sold all her furniture because she had no money to live on, and all the children had to sleep on was a piece of old hearth rug on a bare floor. She had left 1s. 6d. in the house for the children but luckily the neighbours had been looking after them. When Rose returned to Sheffield after her month in prison, she appeared at the Sheffield Police Court on 28th May charged with abandoning the children. She pleaded guilty. It was reported that she was “in a certain condition” (pregnant) and she was advised to go to the Fir Vale Workhouse, which she refused. She was given one day’s imprisonment, and was advised to go to the Workhouse on her own account. She gave birth to a daughter, Maggie Artliff, not long after. Maggie was born in Nottingham. A year later Rose was admitted to the Wadsley Asylum and her four children were still in the Workhouse.

I have also been unable to determine who Rose’s children were. Two were born in Nottingham c1911 and 1913. However, I cannot find any illegitimate Whitmore/Whitemore births in the Nottinghamshire districts 1910-1916 or in the Sheffield / Ecclesall Bierlow RDs. Rose then moved to Sheffield, but again I don’t know why. The child she had with John Henry was Florence, born in December 1916, and her later illegitimate child was Maggie, born in Nottingham in 1920. I think Maggie is listed at the Workhouse on the 1921 census, but I can’t find the others (these records I would have to pay for). Unfortunately, the records of the Sheffield Workhouses, including Fir Vale, were destroyed in the bombing of Sheffield during the Second World War.

I hesitated as to whether to include so much information on the woman who committed the murder, but in the end I decided that it was of interest; what caused her to be the way she was? It seemed that she lived in poverty, with the threat of eviction and the Workhouse a constant fear. There was no help available, even in the asylums; women were often sent there on what seem to us these days to be shocking circumstances – depression, post-natal depression and having illegitimate children. We know nothing of her marriage to John Henry; perhaps she saw him as a way out of the poverty trap, but his early death left her alone in the world with no one to support her. It seems that she did have family – a court report mentions three sisters – but we don’t know anything about them. She refused to enter the Workhouse even though her children were there. What she did was terrible, but perhaps Rose was a victim too. Food for thought?

I have written this using the words which were used in the reports; words such as insane, asylum, mental institution and so on are not used today, but those are the terms in use at the time and I have chosen to keep them in.
I relied heavily on newspaper reports, of which there were many. Then, as now, the reporters didn’t always get it right, and there was a lot of conflicting information which I have had to verify from other sources. Sometimes it just wasn’t possible to be completely accurate and I have made this clear in the text.

Newspapers at Findmypast; also available at the British Newspaper Archive. The story was covered in newspapers all over the country as well as some of the national newspapers, but the most detailed reports were in the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Telegraph. The Illustrated Police News contained a report and some sketches.
Vital Records and census returns at Findmypast and Ancestry
Picture Sheffield
Google Street View
National Library of Scotland for map
Walter’s Army Record at Findmypast (Coldstream Guards Enlistment Register, Nominal Roll 1921-1923. Walter’s Army number was 2650162.
Illustrated Police News contained a report and some sketches. Note: This was a weekly illustrated newspaper and was one of the earliest British tabloids. It was popular for its sensational and melodramatic reporting of events. The illustrations, which were artists’ impressions, drew in the audiences along with attention-grabbing headlines, and there would be a report elsewhere in the paper. It ceased to be published in 1938.

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