The farmer murdered for a fistful of gold

BYGONE DAYS: York Road at Hartlepool in bygone days.
BYGONE DAYS: York Road at Hartlepool in bygone days.

HARTLEPOOL farmer Mathew Hodgson may have supped only one pint of beer on the afternoon of March 19, 1864 – but his actions would cost him his life.

Indeed, if the 65-year-old had by-passed the Raby Inn at Hart that day, or even been just a bit more cautious, he could have lived to enjoy his retirement.

YESTERYEAR: Victoria Terrace, Hartlepool, from the south.

YESTERYEAR: Victoria Terrace, Hartlepool, from the south.

“Poor old Mathew caught the beady eye of a trio of shifty men drinking at the pub,” said historian, and retired police inspector, Norman Kirtlan.

“The little gang were obviously up to no good –sparking the suspicions of Hodgson’s daughter, Esther – who lived and worked at the popular pub.

“But, when she suggested he leave his money with her for safe-keeping, Mathew rattled a fistful of gold coins – then returned them to his pocket.”

“No, no, it will take a man to knock me down, I shall take it home myself instead,” he replied. Tragically, he would never make it back alive.

As Mathew headed outside, one of the strangers – Joe Charlton – turned to a regular and asked: “Where has the old man to travel?” “Hart Bushes,” came the reply.

Within seconds, Charlton had slipped quietly outside. An hour later he – or someone similar – was spotted tailing the farmer along the railway embankment.

Witness Margaret Denton later revealed the man following Hodgson “gave the appearance of being a navvy” – with tar on his trousers and carrying a stout stick.

With every step, she told the police, he had been gaining on Hodgson – but she saw nothing suspicious until she found the farmer unconscious some time later.

“Then, at the arch leading down to North Sands, she saw the man who had been following Hodgson. The two exchanged glances and Margaret hurried on,” said Norman.

The Reverend Harrison, vicar of Hart, was next to pass the stick-wielding stranger – just moments before stumbling upon the badly beaten Mathew Hodgson.

After helping to carry Hodgson to Hart for medical aid, the vicar – who was also a magistrate – took down a dying declaration as the farmer breathed his last.

“I left Hartlepool at 3pm,” he groaned. “Three men followed me. One of them felled me. There was four pounds in gold in one pocket and silver in the other.”

Within just a short time three navvies – Joseph Charlton, Joseph Skelton and John Wilson – had been rounded up and appeared at an inquest into the brutal death.

But the men challenged every allegation thrown at them; Wilson even offering to prove he was in Newcastle at the time of the murder.

“All three walked free, as there was so little evidence against them. It was not, however, the last time Margaret Denton would see Joe Charlton,” said Norman.

Just a few weeks later, as Margaret was taking a taxi home, the carriage made a brief stop at Northgate – with the cabbie excusing himself for a moment.

Hearing the shuffle of footsteps outside, Margaret turned to find a figure staring at her. It was Joe Charlton – and he appeared to be very keen to get a lift.

“The driver refused, much to her relief, and set off,” said Norman. “But a few minutes later, Charlton appeared again – shouting at the driver to stop.

“Once again, he was given short shrift. Poor Margaret was left terrified but, when she tried to tell the police of her concerns, they paid her little attention.

“Until that is, a few days later – when Charlton flagged down the cabbie and asked, most insistently, if Margaret had said anything about him after seeing him.” “No” came the reply.

So, Margaret had indeed seen Mathew’s murderer that fateful day – and he had remained in Hartlepool to haunt the one woman who could send him to the gallows.

“The police stepped up their murder hunt, but failed miserably. Whoever killed Mathew would sadly never be brought to justice,” added Norman.

Also in the news in 1864...

THOUSANDS of music enthusiasts flocked to West Hartlepool on August 8, 1864, for a Brass Band contest and concert.

Musicians paraded through the streets before performing at the New Market, where Mr James – bandmaster of the 8th Hussars – officiated as judge.

Eight bands competed for honours, with first prize awarded to Kirkstall. Bradford was named as runner-up, with West Hartlepool Operatic in third place.

l Businessman John Punshon Denton joined with William Gray to form a new shipbuilding firm – Denton, Gray & Company – at Middleton, Hartlepool, in 1864.

Three iron barques – the Sepia, Carlisle and Deerhound – were built at the yard in that year, as well as the iron cargo ship Dessoug.

Dessoug was later selected by Navy commander Harry Honychurch Gorringe to transport one of Cleopatra’s Needles from Egypt to New York City in 1880.

l St William’s RC Church in Trimdon Village was opened on January 17, 1864.

l An appeal to fund a Jewish Cemetery at Hartlepool was launched in 1864 – after local councillors refused to provide land for free.

“Hartlepool is fast increasing, and likely to become a large Jewish community; at present most of them are of the poorer class,” reported the Jewish Chronicle.

“The want of a burial ground is greatly felt, the nearest being upwards of twenty miles’ distance. It is hoped the appeal will meet with a liberal response.”

l The Lammermuir – a composite clipper ship – was built in 1864 by W. Pile and Co of West Hartlepool for London-based firm John Willis & Son.

Although designed for the China tea trade, the ship won lasting fame by carrying 18 Protestant missionaries from Britain to China in 1866.

The trip has been hailed as ”a turning point in the history of missionary work in China”. The ship was later lost at sea on a trip from Australia in 1876.

l Three men were rescued from a West Hartlepool pilot boat on December 2, 1864, after their vessel was wrecked in a storm.

l Mayoral chains dating to 1864 – presented to James Gros – were stolen from Hartlepool Civic Centre in 2008.