Siblings Phoebe Hardy aged 17, and Peter Bradburn aged just nine, were both murdered by their father William Bradburn, 36 on May 3, 1882, on Kay Street in Farnworth.

Phoebe was Mr Bradburn's stepdaughter, whilst Peter was his son whom he had with Phoebe's mum Agnes, who sadly died on April 16, 1880, after they were married for around 15 years.

At trial Mr Bradburn took responsibility but was spared the death penalty after pleas from the jury.


The Bolton News:


He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment in Broadmoor Asylum in Berkshire.

During the trial when being questioned, William initially said he ‘knew nothing about it”.

In a Bolton News article dated July 18, 1882, it said: “He asked the jury to treat that [murdering his son] as a mere circumstance, and to try and carefully guard against any prejudice.

“They must remember that he was only standing on his trial for the murder of the girl, and in no sense for the murder of his own child.”

However, a letter to his mum was discovered dated April 20, 1882, which said he was “not well” and had a “great deal of trouble” since moving to Farnworth.

It went on to mention how Phoebe had met a young man, which he was not happy with, and how he would not have much time left if this continued any longer.

There was also a slate he wrote on where he said he was sorry.

Prior to this he was an inmate in Prestwich Asylum, and questions were asked over the mindset he was in at that time.

William died in Broadmoor in 1928, meaning he served a whole life sentence of 46 years.

His son Peter also worked and went to school at the time.

The Bolton News: What happened leading up to the murder?

The Bolton News reported that during the short time he lived in Farnworth he “conducted himself with perfect propriety and respectability and was considered by his fellow workmen to be a steady and industrious man, going to his work regularly and attracting no attention amongst his fellow workmen by any sort of eccentricity or unusual conduct or conversation”.

But everything would change on April 23, 1882, when he discovered Phoebe had met a young man named Thomas Houghton.

At the time The Bury Free Press newspaper said: “On the 23rd of April, Phoebe, a girl of 17, made the acquaintance of a young man named Thomas Houghton, and after meeting two or three times by appointment, Houghton went to see her at the prisoner’s house at about 9pm on Friday, April 28, when the prisoner was away at his work on the night shift.”

The report continued, saying that the two days before the murders took place, Mr Bradburn left work early and said he was ‘ill’, before visiting Thomas’ father, and asking where Thomas was, and saying he did not “want him coming about the house any more or Phoebe either”.

The newspaper reported that he also told Phoebe on May 2 she “shall not go with him” whilst he is alive, and at around 9pm that day was the last time the children were seen alive, although Phoebe was heard speaking to her father in a loud voice after this time.

The Bolton News: This would have been only 10 or 12 hours before the children were murdered.

According to the report Mr Bradburn was “severely cross-examined” as to whether epilepsy was a symptom of “insanity”, where he had previously been “violent”.

The case attracted a “vast amount of interest” from people in Farnworth, with the court being filled with residents.

The article also says that William was seen at the time in the area of Longcauseway, bleeding after attempting to take his own life, although no reason was given.

Family tree

William – a labourer - and Agnes also had a further son James Stephen Bradburn in 1870, but he died in 1873.

William was from Barton Upon Irwell – a suburb of Salford - and had only been in Farnworth for three months after moving from Pendlebury, after finding work as a coke burner at a large firm near Farnworth Messrs Roscoe’s.

William also lost his father in 1880 which Simon says may have “contributed to him wanting to keep those close to him even closer”.

William has at least two brothers James and John, and also two sisters Sarah and Mary.

The present-day names from that lineage are Newth, Tasker, and Brodie, and Simon says they are spread all over the country.

The Bolton News:

Amateur genealogist Simon King said: “Despite the close proximity of Barton and Farnworth I can’t see any modern day Bradburn's in Farnworth.

“I can see some in Barton, and they may well be descendants but no iron clad proof at this stage.”

William’s wife Agnes had a sister called Phoebe who died in 1867 aged just 18.

Agnes’ mother Susannah tragically died when Agnes was a child, and she went to live with her elder sister and her husband’s in laws - The Beswick family - as her father George would have had to have been at work to keep the home going.

Simon added: “They would have been terrified of ending up in the workhouse so this would have been deemed the best thing for them.”

Tragedy continued in Agnes’ life when her brother Stephen - who worked in the Clifton Hall Colliery – had a son James in the May of 1864 with wife Elizabeth Ann Clark, who died after just a few days.

The son was baptised almost instantly because he was not expected to live.

Just two months later in July of 1864 Stephen was killed when the roof collapsed in a mine at the colliery.

Simon said: “So, you have a whole scenario around this family where death and tragedy just seemed to be never ending, which was common in them days though, and lots of families would have gone through similar.

“You then have that William suffered from epilepsy resulting in violent outbursts, and I think also in the background there would be fear of the workhouse.

“Should Phoebe marry and move out then who would care for young Peter?

“Phoebe was working, so she would have been contributing to the upkeep of the house too, and without her income, times would be even harder.

“None of that is an excuse, it’s still dreadful what William did, but maybe the above contributed to his state of mind - we'll never know I guess.”

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