This is the record of the SHAW family taken on the night of 3rd April 1881

Source Information: Dwelling Hagg Lane Census Place Upper Hallam, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342118 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4628 / 44 Page Number 7

Household Record 1881 British Census

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation
James SHAW Head M Male 27 Bradfield, York, England Stone Mason
Mary SHAW Wife M Female 24 Bradfield, York, England
Frederick SHAW Son Male 4 Bradfield, York, England
Herbert SHAW Son Male 2 Doncaster, York, England
John T. SHAW Son Male 1 Sheffield, York, England.

Hagg Lane still exists but the house has long gone. - see note 4

As far as I can ascertain the other party in this tragic affair MARY WAGSTAFFE, was not living at home in April 1881 but working as a domestic servant at the house of William Bentley on Owlerton Road (see note 1) 

In little over a month later both families would be ripped apart by the actions of the couple. In May, a local newspaper reported that a "Romantic Double Suicide" had occurred in Rowell Wheel Dam in the Rivelin Valley near Sheffield



The Sheffield coroner on Friday held an inquest at the Admiral Rodney Inn, Loxley near Sheffield on the bodies of James Shaw, aged 28, and Mary Wagstaffe aged 25, whose bodies were found in Rowell Wheel-dam on Thursday morning. Shaw who was a married man maintained an intimacy with the girl Wagstaffe. In early life they were sweethearts, and would have been married had the girl's mother not interfered. Shaw and the girl disappeared on Monday and were supposed to have eloped to America but after spending two nights in Sheffield they returned to Loxley valley on Thursday morning, and deliberately drowned themselves in a dam. Shaw could neither read nor write but the girl could do both and before committing suicide she wrote in the dark by the water-side, which were picked up by a boy and read at the inquest. The first was dated rowell wheel and ran thus

"Dear father and mother - I hope you will forgive us, as you know he was the first and for five years he has been the last. When we heard that someone had been asking about us at the Pack Horse (the public house where they stopped at Sheffield) it made us determined that if we could not live together, we should die together. I hope you won't fret about me, as I think we shall be better contented. This has been written in the dark. It was no use trying to keep us apart. I am sure that I will die without a pang, so now we do the end ourselves with love to all."

The second letter was addressed to Mrs. Jas. Shaw, Rivelin near Sheffield and though written by the girl, professed to come from her husband . It stated

"Dear wife - I now write a few lines to tell you the end and the cause for doing so My companion was the first girl and the only girl that I have ever really loved: and I could not settle without her. there for it has caused me to do what I have done. I respect my children; hope some one will be kind to them, as I would like them to be brought up right. Hope no one will cast any reflections on their fathers account. Give my love to my father and mother, and fare you well" J SHAW

It was disclosed in evidence that Shaw who was a master mason and contractor had been in pecuniary difficulties, and had threatened to commit suicide. About an hour before the couple flung themselves into the dam, a policeman had heard a male voice repeat several times " Come along come along! as if encouraging somebody in the way. Before taking the fatal plunge, the girl had loosened the braid from her hair and fastened her wrist to Shaw's arm and thus they died. The jury returned a verdict that the deceased had committed suicide by drowning, but as to the state of mind at the time there was not sufficient evidence        


Another local paper that covered the Inquest more or less painted a similar picture although it did add that the deceased wife had no knowledge of any "intimacies" between her husband and Mary Wagstaffe 

But by far the fullest account appeared in the Illustrated Police News under the heading "ROMANTIC DOUBLE SUICIDE AT SHEFFIELD"

It would be interesting to know as to what became of James Shaw's family. His wife Mary had three sons under five years of age, and through his death, James had left them at the mercy of providence. 


Mary's grave in the church yard at Christ Church, Stannington, Sheffield

The monumental inscription reads as follows

In Loving Memory of 


Beloved husband of 


Born July 20th 1831

Died December 10 th 1909

Also MARY ANN, daughter of the above

Also of the above named


who departed this life June 25th 1921

in her 90th year



son of the above

Died December 15th 1942

Aged 77 years

I found the grave by following the instructions in the Illustrated Police News report of the interment - Mary Ann was buried in the North East of the churchyard. The memorial is of a later date, and no mention is made of Mar Ann's details. - were the family ashamed by her death?. The prevailing view in the late nineteenth century was that suicide was viewed as a shameful act rather than a sin or crime.  Whatever their thoughts, her mother Elizabeth who seems from the newspaper reports to be the main protagonist in ensuring that James and Mary Ann never married, lived another forty years after her daughters death. I wonder why she took such a dislike to James. As for James I could not find a memorial for him and so I can only assume that he lies in an unmarked grave   


1. Household:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
William BENTLEY Head M Male 34 Pabby Bridge, York, England Assistant To Surgeon 
Fanny BENTLEY Wife M Female 27 Sheffield, York, England 
Edith E. BENTLEY Daughter Female 5 Sheffield, York, England Scholar 
William W. BENTLEY Son Male 3 Sheffield, York, England 
Harriett TWIBELL Sister In Law U Female 25 Sheffield, York, England 
Mary A. WAGSTAFF Serv U Female 25 Ecclesfield, York, England General Servant (Domestic) 
Tom STOREY Groom U Male 19 Sleaford, Lincoln, England Groom (Dom) 

Source Information:Dwelling 45 Owlerton Road Census Place Nether Hallam, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342117 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4624 / 18 Page Number 27

2. Mary's family are recorded as living in Bradfield at the time of the tragedy


Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Charles WAGSTAFT Head M Male 49 Bradfield, York, England Clay Miner 
Elizebeth WAGSTAFT Wife M Female 49 Bradfield, York, England 
Clara WAGSTAFT Daughter U Female 26 Bradfield, York, England 
John WAGSTAFT Son U Male 17 Bradfield, York, England Sand Pipe Maker (Earth Mf) 
George Charles WAGSTAFT Son Male 15 Bradfield, York, England Sand Pipe Maker (Earth Mf) 
Keziah WAGSTAFT Daughter Female 12 Bradfield, York, England Scholar 
Agnes WAGSTAFT Daughter Female 10 Bradfield, York, England 
Elizebeth WAGSTAFT Daughter Female 8 Bradfield, York, England 
Marion WAGSTAFT Daughter Female 4 Bradfield, York, England 

Source Information:
Dwelling Throsle Nest Census Place Bradfield, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342115 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4619 / 134 Page Number 9

3. The execution that the crowds at the funerals were referring to was that of James Hall age 53 in Armley Goal, Leeds.(23 Mayl 1881) He had murdered his wife 

4. In June 2016 I received this information from a reader of the original article

"Suicide at Rivelin. In the article with the picture of the cottage top right, you stated the cottage on Hagg Lane is no more. I can assure you it is, as I lived there in the mid-60s. It is the cottages below the Bell Hagg pub that was. Reading your article gave food for thought as we had a ghost of a woman holding out a child as to give to you in the bedroom.

The reader also kindly sent my some excellent photos of the cottages that were taken in the 1960's



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This page was last updated on 30/11/16 15:14