William Sandford (c.1846-1921)

William Sandford was a weaver and grocer in the Holmfirth area who likely died of a heart attack whilst out walking near Cook's Study with his son, Harry, in August 1921. Harry then committed suicide in Snailsden Reservoir, perhaps in the belief that he had been responsible for his father's death.


He was born in either Cartworth or Wooldale, near Holmfirth, sometime around 1846, the son of farmer and weaver Tedber Sandford.[1]

By 1861, he was working as a woollen weaver and living with his parents and siblings on Lane Head, Cartworth.

He married Mary Jane Sanderson in 1866 and they had the following known children:

  • Ruth Anne Sandford (c.1867-1872)[2]
  • Ann Sandford (1870-1874)
  • Alice Sandford (1872-?)[3]
  • Harry Sandford (c.1875-1921)
  • Eleanor Sandford (1878-?)
  • Fred Sandford (c.1881-1882)

By 1881, the family was residing at Hillhouse, Cartworth, and, by 1901, he had begun working as a grocer.

Mary Jane Sandford died in 1906, aged 61.

The 1911 Census listed 64-year-old William working as a grocer. His daughter Alice (aged 38) was his housekeeper.

Deaths of William and Harry Sandford

Shortly before 9am on Thursday 11 August 1921, William Sandford left his house to meet with his son, Harry. The two men then set off walking towards Cook's Study at around 10am and were seen near the Rising Sun Inn on Cartworth Moor at around 10:10am by labourer Harold Hinchcliffe.

At the inquest into William's death, Hinchliffe stated that Harry was walking ahead of his father and he was of the opinion that the two men had been arguing and that Harry was in a foul mood.

The morning was foggy and farmer Eli Roberts of Elysium Farm was out with his dog searching for stray sheep. At around 10:30am, the dog attracted Roberts to something it had found laying on the roadside — the dead body of William Sandford. An investigation of the body revealed no signs of violence and, as soon as it became known that William had been accompanied by his son, a search began for Harry.[4]

At the inquest into William's death, Dr. Edward Trotter stated that his post mortem examination had revealed that the 74-year-old had long-suffered from heart disease and that, in his opinion, "death was due to some sudden exertion or emotion." A verdict of "Death by natural causes" was returned.[5]

The inquest also heard that Harry had been suffering from sleeplessness and depression, having recently lost his job. Shortly after the discovery of William's body, Dr. Trotter had visited Harry's wife who told him that her husband had told her about "life not being worth living." She was already of the opinion that Harry's disappearance meant that he "had committed suicide."

The police search continued during the following days, aided by "a large party of volunteers", however the large expanse of moorland made this is a difficult task.

The widespread belief that "a sunken body will float on the ninth day" led to a watch being placed on Snailsden Reservoir, situated a short distance away from Cook's Study, on Saturday 20 August. The watchers saw "something like a ring on the surface of the reservoir" before a dark object rose to the surface. Police Constable Smart swam out and retrieved Harry's body.[6]

The subsequent inquest, the coroner was of the opinion that "the fact that the deceased's father had an attack and fell dead threw the young man off his balance, and he want and committed suicide in the nearest piece of water." A verdict of "Suicide by drowning" was returned.[7]

Notes and References

  1. Tedber remarried around 1846, so it is uncertain whether William's mother was Tedber's first wife Ann or his second wife Mary.
  2. Died December 1872. Buried 25 December at Cartworth.
  3. Likely married Harry Brook in 1922.
  4. "Strange Affair at Holmfirth" in Yorkshire Post (12/Aug/1921) and "Mysterious Affair at Holmfirth: Unexplained Death by the Roadside" in Yorkshire Post (13/Aug/1921).
  5. "Holmfirth Mystery: Father's Death Explained, The Son Still Missing" in Yorkshire Post (16/Aug/1921).
  6. "The Holmfirth Mystery: Missing Man's Body Found" in Yorkshire Post (22/Aug/1921).
  7. "End of the Holmfirth Mystery" in Yorkshire Post (23/Aug/1921).