Trade unionists and domestic violence campaigners in the northwest will hold a special event on Sunday 29 November 2015 at what is thought to be the oldest site in the world to commemorate a victim of domestic violence.
Ellen Strange (Broadley) was murdered by her husband, John Broadley on Holcombe Moor near Ramsbottom in January 1761. After which Ellen’s family and/or local people raised a pile of stones (a cairn) in her memory. This was called ‘Ellen Strange’ on the first Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1844-47. Yet by which time the true story had become clouded in the belief that a lover had committed the murder. One of the reasons for this was because of the practice - still common today in parts of Lancashire – to refer to married women by their maiden name.
Other facts, including that the murderer had been convicted and executed, had also been replaced by fiction. Then in 1989; local author John Simpson published (*) the results of his exhaustive research into events on the desolate moor over 200 years earlier.
John and Ellen Broadley were a very poor couple who led an itinerant life. Prior to her wedding, Ellen lived at Ash Farm in Hawkshaw with her parents. It appears almost certain that Ellen, hoping to take advantage of the full moon, was making her way to the family home when Broadley murdered her shortly after midnight The couple had been seen together at a nearby local pub in the hours before Ellen died.
When Ellen’s strangled and badly disfigured body was discovered her husband was arrested and indicted for her murder. At his trial a number of witnesses were called but as it was not the practice to write down such evidence then we will never know what they said. What we can be sure of is that their evidence was insufficient to convict Broadley. Forensic evidence had not yet been identified and the charged man pleaded ‘not guilty.’ It is almost certain that there were no eye-witnesses to the actual attack.
Since 1761 the practice of adding stones to the Ellen Strange cairn has continued. Late last year a small number of trade union members and domestic violence campaigners from the PAWS for Kids support project for women and children experiencing domestic violence walked to the cairn and placed their own stones.
|Photograph copyright Mark Harvey|
“It has been a real privilege to do this as we are also in the middle of a two week awareness campaign around domestic violence. It would be good if there could be erected a nearby noticeboard as many more people could then add a stone and remember Ellen,” said Linda Birchall, a Unite member at Marks and Spencer in Wigan.
|Copyright Mark Harvey|
“I did not know anything about this until very recently when it was suggested that the site should feature on the REBEL ROAD online education project. I am sure that Bolton Trades Union Council will now want to organise a proper commemoration visit and help make people aware of this important site,” said Martin McMulkin, Unite shop floor convenor at Jost, manufacturers of vehicle connections components in Bolton.
- ELLEN STRANGE - a moorland murder mystery explained by John Simpson was published in 1989 by the Helmshore Local History Society.
An initial organising meeting for the event on 29 November was held at Bolton Socialist Club in January 2015. The date was chosen because it comes within the Domestic Violence Awareness Fortnight and is also close to 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There will be a wreath laying ceremony and some speakers followed by a social occasion afterwards. The cairn is around 400 yards from a nearby footpath. It is not accessible for anyone in wheelchair or anyone with very limited mobility.
Plans are being made to organise transport from West Yorkshire and Bolton.
Meanwhile, John Simpson has agreed to rewrite his booklet and this will be re-launched on or around 29 November.
Funds are going to be needed to pay for the booklet and the events on 29 November. Bolton Trades Union Council has agreed that its bank account can be used for cheques payable to Bolton TUC. BTUC, c/o Bolton Socialist Club, Wood Street, Bolton BL1 1DY.
More details to follow.