Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Story of Bent's Green Lodge (1)

This article was lifted from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent. Dated 3rd March 1866



The following story is perfectly true. Bent's Green Lodge, near Ecclesall, formerly the public-house which was the scene of the events hereafter to be described, is now (having of course undergone sundry alterations and improvements) the residence of one of the best known and most highly respected of the inhabitants of Sheffield. Mr. Albert Smith. It was Mr. Smith's father, the Rev. George Smith, who, along with "Justice Wilkinson," the well known Vicar of Sheffield, received the dying confession of the unhappy murderer.

A year or two before the death of Lord John Murray, of Banner Cross in 1787, he built a house at Bent's Green on the borders of his Yorkshire estate, where it kins the high moors of Derbyshire. It was intended to unite with the characteristic conveniences of a farm which it was attached, that of a place of public entertainment. The idea was a good one; for, as the house stood high and in a lonely place, it might serve as a moon to the benighted traveller in that mountainous country, and could scarcely fail of being at times a welcome resting place to numerous petty farmers, condemned to carry their produce for many a wearisome mile, where human habitation never cheered their view, of Sheffield, the first populous town which offered them market.

It will be evident that a house of this description was more likely to be beneficial to him who occasionally used it, than profitable him who kept it; and although it was within a short distance of a manufacturing district, and in a manner surrounded by collieries, many circumstances combined to render it improbable that it should ever become that bane of society, a popular public-house; and the respectable couple who were placed in it were evidently of a description to forbid, rather than encourage, the visits of the idle spendthrift and the dislocate tippler. The man was considered an excellent servant, and the woman a good manager, of which evidence was given in the appearance of all around them.

Notwithstanding the bleak situation and the done fences, everything looked in a thriving state, and within their dwelling there was an air of comfort end propriety, which denoted industry and taste. Every room possessed one attractive elegance, being decorated with choice plants ; for the landlord understood gardening, and finding that the bleak winds from the high moors forbade the cultivation of flowers in his garden, supplied this innocent gratification to himself and his wife by choice myrtles and gay geraniums. He was a handsome man of three or four and thirty, was always seen at church, well dressed, with a sprig in his button-hole, accompanied by a little girl, who wore a gay bonnet and a long dimity cloak as white as snow, on whom he cast looks of tenderness and pride. She was, indeed, a lovely child ; his first-born and his darling.

But the time came when the landlord of the "Rising Sun" ceased to occupy his seat at church, to saunter about the door when the hours of labour were over, and (what excited still more attention in so industrious a man) to rise with the lark, and partake the toils of his plough boy. He sat in silence on one seat, and when roused by the inebriated demands of his temporary guests, would start as from the reverie of the studious, or the slumbers of the lethargic. The chance passenger would naturally condemn the lazy landlord, who sat in apparent stupor, as an inebriated sluggard; but the unhappy wife and the curious neighbour alike knew that he was at this time temperate to abstemiousness; that his manly form wasted, his ruddy complexion changed to cadaverous paleness because all appetite had forsaken him, and that his nights were subject to a restlessness which medicine could not quell, entreaty soothe, nor resolution control.

Hay-time and harvest passed unnoticed by the once active farmer; and the wife, reduced almost to despair by the melancholy supineness of her husband, became unable to avert the rain which hung around her. Their guests forsook the home; their servants ruled, or deserted it; and the neighbours, moved to compassion or excited by curiosity, busied themselves with investigating the cause of a change so entire and so unaccountable. They recollected that, although sober in his habits and orderly in his conduct, the landlord was wont to sing a hunting song and tell a moving tale to the circle he liked; but it was also certain that he was both proud and passionate to others; that he had an aversion to coarseness of manners, which they held to be ridiculous in his station; and an objection to drunkenness which, in a landlord, was absolutely unnatural.

Could these faults of temper so far operate as to render him melancholy, or, as they termed it, crazy? The wife turned a deaf ear to such suggestions: to her he was always kind, and at a period of suffering she could remember no faults. Driven from the idea that the evil arose from bodily disease, by the assurance of several medical men whom she had consulted, she listened eagerly to the advice of these among her neighbours who had lately joined the Wesleyan Methodists, and more,especially to one good old man whom she had long respected for his piety. But, alas! no suggestion, or exhortation, no example of sinners turned from the error of their way, of the conscience-stricken soul finding peace, and the mourner learning to rejoice, had any effect as offered by this humble teacher. The invalid heard all he said with a patient but abstracted air, and in perfect silence, and at length arose, saying, "You are a good man, and I thank you sincerely, but you are not the man to help me. I must get a clergyman, a really learned man." said the wife, not without recollecting certain stories of witchcraft, as told by her grandmother, in her days of childhood, which resembled this extraordinary case.

A gentleman for whom her husband had always shown much respect, gladly obeyed her summons. He was an elderly man, of benign countenance and kind manners, and, in the soothing gentleness of his address, for a few moments the imperturbability of countenance assumed by the invalid gave way, tears came into his eyes, his heart throbbed with agitation, but when he spoke it was only to say, as before, "Sir, you are very good; but, dear heart, you are not the person to help." It was in vain to inquire what that person was; for determined silence now sat on his lips, and, with the exception of the words "I wish," which seemed to burst from him involuntarily, and to be checked the moment he heard them, many weeks succeeded in which he never spoke. Yet even then his countenance showed that his mind was perpetually employed. There was an inward muttering, as of thoughts too terrible to be uttered, and an apparent intenseness of meditation on some awful subject, distinct from religion since it evidently admitted of no consolation, and could be blended with no other object.

In the autumn he began frequently to leave him house, and go out to walk alone, more especially during tempestuous nights, to which he seemed to taken with a kind of desperate pleasure. Never did his feet turn towards that path which led to the habitation of man but with quick strides he hastened to lose all traces of his fellow creatures, en those wild heaths and rock glens, where his strange gestures, or his incoherence soliloquies, were necessarily unnoticed. Often would his wretched wife follow him at a distance, alike moves by fear of the danger he might encounter, or that which he might intend against himself ; and as oft. would she return in the utmost eagerness to elude discovery, since he forbade her interference in terms of terror. He would come back before daybreak, exhausted, but calm; creep to his bed, and, if he believe her to be asleep, bend kindly over his wretched partner and sometimes shed scalding tears upon her face often would he kneel, and then deep groans burst from his bosom, but no articulate words of prayer escapes him.

At this period, the severe weather he encountered and the long rambles he took, gave the idea to man: that nothing less than the preternatural strength attributed to madness could have sustained him; and it was evident that the colds caught in her nocturne guardianship, had (together with her anxieties) ruined the excellent constitution of his wife, who was evidently in a consumption. This opinion gave way as the spring advanced, from its becoming certain that his strength also was completely exhausted, that his short and withered form would not much longer sustain the conflict. Perhaps a sense of weakness rendered him at this time as averse to being alone, as he had previously disliked society; even now he preferred his own little daughter to any other person. To his diseased imagination, apparently disturbed by superstitious terrors, the child appeared a kind of guardian angel, whose protecting presence secured him from the evils of apprehension and the appalling sense of a fearful solitude. The closing of a door in haste, the creaking of a sign post, and more especially the sound of wheels near the house, harrowed up his soul, as if with fearful visions and terrible alarm.

It was a pitiable but interesting spectacle to see this man, in the very prime of his life, wasted to a shadow, and bending with the tremors of premature old age, walk out leaning on the shoulder of a child of seven years old. To this child early sorrow had given premature powers of thought, which were united with uncommon beauty, and that simplicity of manner incident to her situation. She watched every turn of her father'. sunken eye, and never did it glance on a flower she did not gather, or a plant on which little Mary could not make some observation. She would woo him with a thousand endearments to excite his interest, or she would lead him to his withered myrtles, and his broken gates, and playfully chide his neglect ; then spring forward to show where the grass was most promising, and prophesy a fine hay time. When every effort failed to rouse attention and elicit pleasure, she would throw her arms round his neck, kiss his pale forehead, and, as the tears streamed down her rosy cheeks, exclaim "Have you not one word for poor little Mary."

Continued in part two.

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