Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/Bishop-Dyke Pond


On the Monday following Palm Sunday, being the 14th of April, 1690, William Barwick, a man living in Cawood, a village a few miles south of York, on the Ouse, below its junction with the Wharfe, took his wife a stroll along a pleasant lane leading to Bishop Wood, then an extensive tract of forest trees, and even now one of the wildest and most picturesque spots in the neighbourhood of Selby.

Mary Barwick was expecting her confinement at no great distance of time. William made her walk before him; they crossed the little bridge over Bishop's Dyke, and entered a close or field where was a pond. It was surrounded by thick rushes, and the willows were covered with their silken tufts, unrifled by the children for "palms" on the preceding day.

William Barwick looked round. No one was in sight. He seized his wife, threw her into the pond, and did not let go his hold till she was drowned. When he was quite satisfied that life was extinct, he drew the body out of the water, and concealed it among the rushes which lay between the water and the quickwood hedge. He then returned home.

At dusk he revisited the spot, and taking a hay-spade from a rick that stood in the field, he made a hole by the side of the pond, and there buried the poor woman in her clothes. What was the motive which actuated William Barwick does not transpire.

Next day Barwick visited his brother-in-law at Rufforth, three miles east from York, a man named Thomas Lofthouse, who had married the sister of poor Mary Barwick, and told him that his wife Mary had gone to his uncle, Richard Harrison, in Selby, where she was likely to remain for some time.

Lofthouse gave no thought to this announcement. Whether he supposed that Barwick was in difficulties, and it was likely to prove advantageous to his wife that she should be confined in Selby instead of at home, where she could have more comforts; or whether he thought there had been a quarrel, and the announcement of Barwick intimated a separation, I do not know. At all events, the statement of Barwick caused no surprise to his brother-in-law, nor did it arouse any suspicion of foul play in his mind.

Exactly a week after that visit, on Tuesday in Easter week, about half-past twelve o'clock in the afternoon, Thomas Lofthouse, having occasion to water a quickset hedge not far from his house, brought water for the purpose in a pail. As he was going for the second pailful, he suddenly observed a woman, in shape like his sister-in-law, going before him towards the pond. He was startled, but hardly thought at the moment that he saw a ghost. The figure glided before him, and seated itself on a rising green bank right over against the pond; he walked before her as he went to the pond, and as he returned with the pail full of water he looked sideways to see if the figure were still there. He saw the face—it was that of Mary Barwick, but deadly pale; the lips bloodless, the teeth showing, and the eyes fixed on something white, which he thought was a bag at the time, but afterwards supposed to be a baby, which she seemed to be dandling. As soon as he had emptied the pail, he went into his yard, and stood still to see if the figure were still in the same spot; but by this time it had vanished.

Lofthouse said nothing about what he had seen till evening. He was saying family prayers that night before retiring to rest, when, in praying for their friends and relations, he came to the name of his sister-in-law. He faltered, trembled, his voice broke down, and he could scarcely conclude his devotions.

When he went to bed he told his wife everything, and the poor woman was dreadfully alarmed. She implored her husband next day to go to Selby and see Richard Harrison, at whose house Barwick had said his wife was staying. He promised to do so, and on the morning early saddled his horse and rode to Selby. His nearest road was by York, Cawood, and Wiston; but he had no mind to meet William Barwick, and he therefore took the high road from York by Escrick, Riccal, and Barlby.

On reaching Selby he soon ascertained that poor Mary Barwick had never been there. On his return he went to the Lord Mayor of York; and having obtained a warrant, got Barwick apprehended and brought before the Mayor. The wretched man then acknowledged what he had done, and his confession was written down and signed in the presence of the Lord Mayor. To this were annexed the depositions of Lofthouse, and Barwick was consigned to York Castle.

These depositions are of sufficient interest to be here given verbatim:—

"The Information of Thomas Lofthouse, of Rufforth, taken upon oath, the twenty-fourth day of April, 1690; who sayeth and deposeth,—

"That one William Barwick, who lately married this informant's wife's sister, came to this informant's house about the 14th instant, and told this informant he had carried his wife to one Richard Harrison's house in Selby, who was uncle to him, and would take care of her; and this informant, hearing nothing of the said Barwick's wife, his said sister-in-law, imagined he had done her some mischief, did yesterday go to the said Harrison's house in Selby, where he said he had carried her to; and the said Harrison told this informant he knew nothing of the said Barwick or his wife; and this informant doth verily believe the said Barwick to have murdered her.

"Thomas Lofthouse.

"Jurat die et anno super dicto coram me.

"S. Dawson, Mayor."

"The examination of the said William Barwick, taken the day and year abovesaid, who sayeth and confesseth,— "That he, this examinant, on Monday was seventh night, about two o'clock in the afternoon, this examinant was walking in a close betwixt Cawood and Wiston; and he farther sayeth that he threw his said wife into the pond, where she was drowned; and the day following, towards evening, got a hay-spade at a hay-stake in the said close, and made a grave beside the said pond, and buried her.

"William Barwick.

"Exam. capt. die et anno super dict. coram me.

"S. Dawson, Mayor."

"The examination of William Barwick, taken the twenty-fifth day of April, 1690, who sayeth and confesseth,—

"That he carried his wife over a certain wain-bridge, called Bishop-Dyke Bridge, betwixt Cawood and Sherborne, and within a lane about one hundred yards from the said bridge, and on the left hand of the said bridge, he and his wife went over a stile, on the left-hand side of a certain gate entering into a certain close, on the left hand of the said lane; and in a pond in the said close, adjoining to a quickwood hedge, did drown his wife, and upon the bank of the said pond did bury her; and further, that he was within sight of Cawood Castle, on the left hand; and that there was but one hedge betwixt the said close where he drowned his said wife and the Bishop-slates belonging to the said castle.

"William Barwick.

"Exam. capt. die et anno super dict. coram me.

"S. Dawson, Mayor."

William Barwick was tried and convicted before Sir John Powell, Knight, at the Summer Assizes held in York on the 18th of September, 1690.

"On Tuesday, September the seventeenth, 1690, at York Assizes, Thomas Lofthouse, of Rufforth, within three miles of York city, sayeth,—

"That on Easter Tuesday last, about half an hour after twelve of the clock in the daytime, he was watering quick-wood, and as he was going for the second pail there appeared, walking before him, an apparition in the shape of a woman. Soon after, she sat down over against the pond, on a green hill; he walked by her as he went to the pond, and as he came with the pail of water from the pond, looking sideways to see if she sat in the same place, which he saw she did; and had on her lap something like a white bag, a-dandling of it (as he thought), which he did not observe before. After he had emptied his pail of water, he stood in his yard to see if he could see her again, but could not. He says her apparel was brown cloathes, waistcoat and petticoat, a white hood, such as his wife's sister usually wore, and her face looked extream pale, her teeth in sight, no gums appearing, her visage being like his wife's sister, and wife to William Barwick.

(Signed)"Thomas Lofthouse."

When Barwick ascended the gallows to be hung, he told the hangman that he hoped the rope was strong enough, as if it should break with his weight he would fall to the ground and become a cripple for life. His apprehensions, however, were soon quieted, for the hangman assured him he might venture upon it with perfect confidence.

After he was dead the body was hung in chains by the pond where the murder had been committed.

  1. J. Aubery, in his "Miscellanies upon Various Subjects," 1696, gives the particulars of this curious story.