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Two deaths at Berton-under-Edge

Tragic events at the farm

Berton-under-Edge stands on Hunshelf Bank overlooking Stocksbridge and Deepcar. The farm itself has now been split into two dwellings, and there are barn conversions behind. The farm is Grade II listed and Historic England note that it is 17th century with late 18th century and mid-19th century alterations. The spelling has varied considerably over the years.

Writing in 1921, Joseph Kenworthy mentioned Berton-under-Edge’s past in the production of cloth. “Tenter Lane, at Snowdenhill, was used to stretch cloth on tenter-hooks after fulling, etc., to overcome shrinkage, and other lanes were used for the same purpose in connection with other homesteads in Hunshelf, such as Over House, Berton-under-Edge, Well House, on Hunshelf side, and New Hall Farm, and many others in Waldershelf, where woollen cloth, blankets, linsey-wolsey* etc., were once produced in large quantities.”
*a coarse twill or plain-woven fabric woven with a linen warp and a woollen weft.

Kenworthy quotes from a document of A.D. 1333: “Release by Thomas, son of Hugh of Langside [Langsett], to Ralph, son of Simon Hunderedge [Under-Edge, now Birkin or Berton-under-Edge] … of all right in the tenements which belonged to Agnes, the grantee’s mother, in Hunshelf. Witnesses: John, son of Matthew of Snoden-hille [Snowden Hill]. John, son of John of the same. William the Smith of Hunshelf. Adam Cole of the same. John, son of Henry of the same.” The places Hunshelf-edge and Eggecliffe [Edge Cliffe, the adjacent farm] are both mentioned in, or about, 1450. There could well have been a dwelling here in earlier times. Kenworthy makes reference to the Poll Tax Returns of 1379 when “Petrus, Under-edge, mason, and Johanna, his wife, are assessed at sixpence.”

The Newton family first arrived at Berton-under-Edge in 1714 from Cawthorne. This was Joshua Newton, and one of his descendants was William Newton, who opened a public house there in 1862. In his application to the Barnsley Licencing Magistrates, he stated that he had stabling for six horses. He began building a new public house further down the hill, The Rising Sun, but died in 1864 before it was completed. The new pub was open by May 1865 with William’s widow Martha as the landlady. Three generations of the Newtons held the licence here.

A school was run from one of the barns from 1811.

The farm is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a girl called Nancy, who supposedly fell into
a vat of boiling liquid used for dyeing wool. It was said that sometimes three loud raps could be heard at the back of the set-pot. When this happened folk would say, “Listen, there's owd Nancy; she’s at it again.” This tale came from William Newton’s widow, Martha, who died in 1910. The mysterious tapping noises were said to have been heard in the beerhouse, which had once been the weaving shed. Nancy died in the early 1800s and was a relative of Jonas Ramsden of Gin House (now Well House). I haven’t been able to find out anything else about her.

By 1911, the Cherry family were at Birkin-under-Edge. The farm was by now home to two families. The larger property, with 8 rooms, was occupied by a farmer, George Arthur Cherry and his wife Lucy Agnes Mitchell. George had been born in Ickford, Buckinghamshire, and had been living at Roughbirchworth in 1901. They had seven children living with them with ages ranging from 22 down to 3. The smaller property, with 5 rooms, was occupied by George’s son Archibald and his wife Mary Watts. They had married in 1906 and had two children, Mary aged 4 and Charley aged 2. Archibald’s brother George had married Mary’s sister Hannah in 1904.

The 1911 census was taken on the 2nd April and around two months later, Mary gave birth to a daughter called Ada. Tragically, not long after this, on the 28th September, Mary died in a fire at her home, and young Ada died soon after.

On Thursday 28th September 1911 Mary Cherry was in the house with her 4 year old daughter Mary and her 3 month old baby Ada who was in her cradle in front of the fire. Mrs. Cherry was having trouble getting the fire to burn and threw some paraffin on it. The flames shot out, setting her hair and clothes ablaze, and she burnt to death. It was said by the newspapers that she became a “living torch.”

There was an inquest, and young Mary had to give an account of what she had seen. The evidence rested entirely on her story – “a remarkably clear story” – which she gave through her father, being considered too young to give her evidence direct.

Mary told how her mother had been cleaning the upstairs rooms, and when she came back downstairs, the fire had burnt very low. Mrs. Cherry needed to get the fire going again so that she could boil some water, and Mary was sent to fetch some sticks. Unfortunately, the sticks were either too hard or too damp, and would not burn. Mrs. Cherry then fetched the paraffin can from the kitchen and poured a quantity into the grate. When the fire still did not catch, she struck two matches and applied them to the liquid. She told how her mother’s clothes and hair caught fire. The furniture soon caught too, and the cradle in which young Ada was lying.

Mary ran out of the house and found her uncle Victor Cherry, who was employed on the farm, in the cowshed. She shouted to him that her mother was on fire, and he ran to the door but could not get inside, being beaten back by the smoke and the flames. He told the court how he repeatedly tried to reach the hearth but was unable to do so. Mary’s husband, Archibald, was working in a nearby field. He heard his son’s cries and saw the smoke and rushed to help his brother. They found buckets and cans and threw gallons upon gallons of water on the “raging furnace within,” before they were able finally get through the door. It took fifteen minutes for him to reach the baby; he made one last desperate effort, and finally succeeded in snatching the baby from its burning cradle before he fell against the wall exhausted. In a few more minutes, both men entered together, and with considerable difficulty succeeded in dragging Mrs. Cherry to the door. Almost all her clothing had burnt away, and the poor woman was hardly recognisable. The ambulance was telephoned for from Sheffield and she was taken to the Royal Infirmary, but sadly she died on the way there. A verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned.

It was initially thought that the baby had had a remarkable escape, suffering from slight burns only, and it was not thought necessary to take her to the infirmary. The following day, however, she was taken to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Western Bank, on the advice of a local doctor. Miss Edith Barham, a nurse at the Hospital, stated that the child was suffering from extensive burns on the face and limbs and that she died the following morning from shock caused by the burns. A second verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned.

In the reports printed by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and the Penistone, Stocksbridge & Hoyland Express, there was said to be “a striking note of pathos” in one of the answers given by Mary’s husband during his evidence. “Did your wife speak to you at all?” asked the Coroner. “I said ‘Mary!’ and she said ‘Yes.’ Then she sang a hymn and died,” was the simple reply.

The Coroner expressed his sympathy, but he also stressed how this was also a “very severe lesson” about the danger of using anything like paraffin to light fires.

Crossland, Phyllis: Poverty and Prosperity: A portrait of rural lives in nineteenth century Hunshelf Parish by Phyllis Crossland, unpublished MS, 1999
Valerie Salim, Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Sheffield (2001)
Newspaper reports, available at Findmypast and the British Newspaper Archives
Photo credit: Picture Sheffield ref. s39474 and s39475
Census returns, parish registers etc. at Findmypast and Ancestry

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