In Sheffield's City Road Cemetery, there is a grave of a William Ratcliffe - he shares it with eight other burials

Ratcliffe, William (Scale presser, age 45).      Died at Boden Lane; Buried on October 12, 1883 in Consecrated ground;
     Grave Number 11917, Section X of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

There is no mention of how William died, but a report I unearthed in The Liverpool Mercury (Liverpool, England), dated Tuesday, October 9, 1883

"A shocking discovery was made in Sheffield. On Sunday (7th October) in a house in a squalid court off Boden Lane, a neighbour found William Ratcliffe, fortune-teller and herb dealer, lying unconscious with two stab wounds to his temples. Medical aid was obtained, but the man died yesterday morning, (8th October) and it is supposed that he is a victim of foul play. The man who used to travel about the country as "the bearded lady" was wretchedly poor"

An inquest took place but was adjourned pending further enquiries. The inquest was re-opened on the 19th October 1883. A report the next day gave brief details of the post mortem and the conclusions reached. 

"The Sheffield coroner yesterday resumed the inquest on the body of William Ratcliffe of Boden Lane, Sheffield who obtained celebrity in country fairs as "The Bearded Lady". His death occurred on the 8th inst. in mysterious circumstances. He was found lying across the threshold of his house in an unconscious state, and an examination proved that his skull was fractured seriously. The doctor who made the post mortem examination gave it as his opinion that the wound could only have been caused by a very severe blow, and he thought that it highly improbable that it had been accidentally inflicted. Nothing further was discovered, and an open verdict was recorded"

Aside from the fact that the first report gave the cause of death as "two stab wounds to his temples", whilst the post mortem said that death was caused by a " very severe blow", both agreed that death was not accidental. And yet an Open Verdict was recorded.

Nowadays an "Open Verdict" is regarded by many in the legal profession as an unsatisfactory one. It strictly means that the death is suspicious but the jury are  unable to reach any of the other verdicts open to them (wilful murder, accidental etc). It therefore affirms that a crime has been committed without stating by whom. After reviewing the evidence, which admittedly is from secondary sources, I am of the opinion that William was murdered by a person or persons unknown. All the evidence points to this verdict. Given that William was "wretchedly poor", I just get the impression that it was deemed prudent to return an open verdict rather than have an unsolved murder. The police no doubt did make enquiries but these would have been of a cursory nature, and once they had been completed, they would not have wanted to devote any additional resources to apprehending William's murderer (s).

William's hovel disappeared many years ago - it was one of Sheffield's worst nineteenth century slums. But the road still exists today


Boden Lane, Sheffield - Photo taken 2000


The Liverpool Mercury (Liverpool, England), dated Tuesday, October 9, 1883

The Sheffield Indexers

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This page was last updated on 26/07/10 12:38