Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at the tragic tale of a drunken woman who failed to get home...
On the fourth Monday of April 1899 the residents of Samlesbury were shocked to hear that the dead body of a female in a semi-naked state had been discovered in a field close to Beeston Wood.
It was discovered at five o’clock in the morning by William Woodruff, as he was passing through the wood on his way to work. The woman lay on her right side beside a thorn edge and a couple of yards from her lay a tattered skirt and boot, She had neither hat, stockings, nor underlinen, and the lower part of the body was destitute of any clothing.
As the police began to investigate the mysterious discovery the body was taken to the nearby New Hall Hotel, Samlesbury. Reports soon circulated that she had been seen in the company of a man on the Sunday afternoon, near to where the body was found. Talk was of foul play and gradually evidence of her movements was put together. She appeared to have been in drink and walking with a man.
A gang of youths, who had been gathered in the woods that Sunday, had followed them for a while observing them sharing a bottle of whisky. Investigations also uncovered the fact that the deceased had been in the Bay Horse beer house, Hoghton Lane, Walton-le Dale,the previous afternoon and a labourer, Edward Southworth, came forward to say he had been in Beeston Wood with her on the Sunday, and had left her there about 5 o’clock. The mystery would be cleared up two days later when the coroner conducted an inquest at the New Hall Hotel. The court heard that the woman was Bridget Murray, 38, a native of Wigan, and her body was identified by her widowed mother Ellen Murray. She told the inquest that she had followed the occupation of a cotton mill operative, but during the last five years she had roamed about and spent all the money she earned on drink. She had last seen her daughter alive three weeks ago, when she said she had got a job at Chorley.
William Woodruff told of discovering the body and his attempt to wake her as he realised she was dead. P.C. Fenwick said he had made an extensive search of the area where the body lay, but saw no signs of any struggle.
Edward Southworth, an elderly man, of Samlesbury, said he had met the deceased on the Sunday at the Bay Horse Inn and after having a couple of rums together they had headed towards Beeston Woods where they shared a bottle of whisky. He claimed that although under the influence of drink she was not in a drunken stupor when he left her and that she told him she was heading for Chorley.
Dr. Charles Rigby, police surgeon for the Walton district, said there were no marks of violence on the body. That death was due to a weak heart, the effects of drink on the stomach and exposure on a wet and wild night.
P.C. Almond was next called and told the gathering that the shawl worn by the deceased had been identified by a wardress at Preston Gaol, who had given it to her three weeks previously. He then confirmed that she had only been released from prison on the Saturday morning for a minor offence.
The coroner expressed his belief that the woman was considerably the worse for drink when Southworth left her, and was in no doubt she went to sleep. The jury after a short deliberation returned with a verdict that the deceased died from the effects of drink and exposure.