Henry & Clara

Over moors and valleys deep, through the Dark Peak and the White

There two tragic lovers sleep in gritstone, blood, and lime

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In 1768, Henry and Clara, young star crossed lovers, run away from the house of her wealthy father who will not let them marry. They elope to Peak Forest, which was known as the Gretna Green of Derbyshire because it’s Church could marry young couples without parental consent.

A side saddle used by Clara

Clara’s saddle can still be seen at Speedwell Cavern.

As Henry and Clara ride through the limestone gorge Winnats Pass, they are set upon by five local miners from Castleton, robbed, and tragically murdered. The perpetrators of this crime were never convicted or punished, but their own fates became as famous as the murders they committed; one fell down Winnats to his death, one was crushed to death by a falling stone nearby, one committed suicide, one died mad, and the last man confessed the whole story on his death bed.


The tale of Henry and Clara is based on a true story, and is one of the most famous legends of the Peaks, though the facts of what occurred vary in each telling. I have always known the young couple featured to be called ‘Henry and Clara’, and this is also Jewitt’s choice of name, but many of the modern retellings of the tale refer to Alan, or Allan, and Clara. The earliest recorded version of the story appears in a publication of the Methodist church called ‘The Arminian Magazine’ in 1785, and was written by Thomas Hanby (1733-1796) after he was told the story by Thomas Marshall of Edale:

“The following melancholy Account was given me by a very worthy man, Mr Thomas Marshall of Edal in Derbyshire, Dec. 17, 1778.

Twenty years ago, a young Gentleman and Lady came out of Scotland, as is supposed, upon a matrimonial affair. As they were travelling through that county, they were robbed and murdered, at a place called the Winnets, near Castleton. Their bones were found about ten years ago, by some miners who were sinking an Engine-pit at the place.

One James Ashton of Castleton, who died about a fortnight ago, and who was one of the murderers, was most miserably afflicted and tormented in his conscience. He had been dying, it was thought, for ten weeks; but could not die till he had confessed the whole affair. But when he had done this, he died immediately.

He said, Nicholas Cock, Thomas Hall, John Bradshaw, Francis Butler, and himself, meeting the above Gentleman and Lady in the Winnets, pulled them off their horses, and dragged them into a barn belonging to one of them, and took from them two hundred pounds. Then seizing upon the young Gentleman, the young Lady (whom Ashton said was the fairest woman he ever saw) intreated them, in the most pitious manner, not to kill him, as she was the cause of his coming into that country. But, notwithstanding all her intreaties, they cut his throat from ear to ear! They then seized the young Lady herself, and though she intreated them, on her knees, to spare her life, and turn her out naked! yet one of the wretches drove a Miner’s pick into her head, when she dropt down dead at his feet. Having thus dispatched them both, they left their bodies in the barn, and went away with their booty.

At night they returned to the barn, in order to take them away; but they were so terrified with a frightful noise, that they durst not move them; and so it was the second night. But the third night, Ashton said, it was only the Devil, who would not hurt him; so they took the bodies away, and buried them.

They then divided the money: and as Ashton was a Coal-Carrier to a Smelt-Mill, on the Sheffield-Road, he bought horses with his share; but they all died in a little time. Nicholas Cock fell from a precipice, near the place where they had committed the murder, and was killed. Thomas Hall hanged himself. John Bradshaw was walking near the place where they had buried the bodies, when a stone fell from the hill and killed him on the spot, to the astonishment of every one who knew it. Francis Butler, attempted many times to hang himself, but was prevented; however he went mad, and died in a most miserable manner.

Thus, though they escaped the hand of human justice (which seldom happens in such a case) yet the hand of God found them out, even in this world. How true then is it, that thou, O Lord, art about our path, and about our bed, and spiest all our ways!”

(Hanby, 1785, pg 213–14).

The version of the story by Rev. George Arthur Jewitt was first printed in his ‘Wanderings of Memory’ in 1815, and later reprinted by his brother Llewellynn Jewitt in ‘The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire’ in 1867. Arthur Jewitt wrote:

“In the year 1768, a young lady and gentleman, each mounted on a fine horse, had been up to the chapel of Peak Forest to be married, (as being extra-parochial, the Vicar at that time enjoyed the same privileges as the parson of Gretna Green, and married any couple that came to him, without making any impertinent inquiries concerning them,) and on their return, wishing to take Castleton in their way home, and being strangers in the country, found themselves benighted at the Winnats… Here they were seized by five miners, dragged into a barn, robbed of a great sum of money, and then murdered. In vain the lady sought them to spare her husband; vainly he strove to defend his wife. While one part of them were employed in cutting the gentleman’s throat, another of the villains, stepping behind the lady, drove a pick-axe into her head, which instantly killed her. Their horses were found, some days after, with their saddles and bridles still on them, in that great waste called Peak Forest; and Eldon Hole was examined for their riders, but without effect. They were then taken to Chatsworth, (the Duke of Devonshire being Lord of the Manor,) and ran there as ‘waifs’, but never were claimed, and it is said the saddles are yet preserved there. This murder, thus perpetrated in silence, though committed by so large a company, remained a secret till the death of the last of the murderers; but Heaven, ever watchful to punish such horrid wretches, rendered the fate of all the five singularly awful. One, named Nicholas Cock, fell down one of the Winnats, and was killed on the spot. John Bradshaw, another of the murderers, was crushed to death by a stone which fell upon him near the place where the poor victims were buried. A third, named Thomas Hall, became a suicide; a fourth, Francis Butler, after many attempts to destroy himself, died raging mad; and the fifth, after suffering all the torments of remorse and despair which an ill-spent life can inflict on a sinner’s death-bed, could not expire till he had disclosed the particulars of the horrid deed.”

(Jewitt 1867, pg274–5)

Most versions of the story tell that Henry and Clara stop at an Inn at Castleton on their way to Peak Forest, and the miners, seeing her wealth, attack the couple as they ride up Winnats Pass. They therefore never make it to Peak Forest and are never married. I like Jewitt’s take on the story, where the couple are married at Peak Forest and are benighted at Winnats on their way to Castleton, so I have included the marriage in my ballad.

There is a very good essay on the legend, written by Mark Henderson, called ‘Murders in the Winnats Pass: Evolution of a Peak District Legend’, which explains many of the variations and evolutions of the story. It’s well worth a read, and it can be found online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.2010.511448

A side saddle, which, according to legend was Clara’s, is on display in the entrance to Speedwell Cavern at Winnats Pass in Castleton.

The perpetrators of this crime were local men, and their names are still very common in the area. It is considered bad practice to name them when telling the story of Henry and Clara, and I have followed this tradition and omitted their names from the song.

Henry and Clara: A Peak Ballad
By the Rev. Arthur George Jewitt, published in ‘Wanderings of Memory’ in 1815.
This version is taken from a reprinting of the ballad in ‘The Songs and Ballads of Derbyshire’, 1867

Christians, to my tragic ditty
Deign to lend a patient ear,
If your breasts e’er heav’d with pity,
Now prepare to shed a tear.

Once there lived a tender virgin,
Virtuous, fair, and young was she,
Daughter of a wealthy lordling,
But a haughty man was he.

Many suitors, rich and mighty,
For this beauteous damsel strove,
But she all their offers slighted,
None could wake her soul to love.

One alone, of manners noble
Yet with slender fortune blessed,
Caus’d this lady’s bosom trouble
raised the flame within her breast.

Mutual was the blissful passion,
Stronger and stronger still it grew;
Henry liv’d but for his Clara,
Clara but her Henry knew.

But, alas! Their bliss how transient,
Earthly joy but leads to care:
Henry sought her haughty parent
And implor’d his daughter fair-

Dar’d to ask the wealthy lordling,
For the damsel’s willing hand,-
Pleaded with respectful fervour,
Who could his request withstand?

Clara’s father,- he withstood it,
He the ardent suit denied,-
To a house so poor, though noble,
Never would he be allied.

Bade him seek a love more equal,
Banish Clara from his mind,
For he should no more behold her,-
She,- poor maid, he close confin’d.

Hapless Henry, thus rejected,
Lostz, unfriended, and forlorn,
Wretched, sad, by all neglected,
His fond heart with anguish torn.

Then, to crown his bosom’s sorrow,
News was whisper’d in his ear,
Clara on the coming morrow,
Would a lordling’s bride appear.

Wild, distracted, mad with phrenzy,
To the father’s house he flew,
There determin’d to behold her,
And to breathe his last adieu.

Joyous on the nuptial even,
Round the sparkling festal board,
With a crowd of guests carousing,
Sat the rich and haughty lord.

Left a moment unattended,
Clara soon that moment siez’d,
First to heav’n her site commended,
Then fled from home, tho’ weeping, pleas’d

Henry gain’d the castle portal,
A footstep Clara’s fears alarm’d;
She stops,-she lists,-they came,-fast panting,
Henry caught her in his arms.

Now no time for fond endearments,
Wife on wings of love they fled;
‘Till from father’s house far distant,
Father’s frowns no more they dread.

Then before the sacred alter,
They in wedlock join’d their hands:
Long their souls had been united
In indissoluble bands.

Now with vituous rapture burning,
Whilst fond hope encreas’d the flame;
Tow’rds their home again returning,
To this lonesome place they came.

Christian, shall I close my story?
Words can never tell the tale;-
To relate a scene so bloody,
All the pow’rs of language fail.

In that glen so dark and dismal,
Five ruffians met this youthful pair;
Long the lover bravely struggled,
Fought to save his bride so fair.

But at last, o’erpowr’d and breathless,
Faint he sinks beneath their pow’r:
Joyful shouts the demon Murder,
In this gloomy midnight hour.

Bids them not to rest with plunder,
But their souls with rage inspires,
All their dark and flinty bosoms,
With infernal malice fires.

High they lift the murd’rous weapon,
Wretches, hear ye not her cries?
High they lift the murd’rous weapon?
Lo! her love, her husband dies!

Rocks, why stood ye so unmoved?
Earth, why op’dst thou not thy womb?
Lightnings, tempests, did ye slumber?
Scap’d these hell-hounds instant doom?

High they lift the murd’rous weapon,
Who can ‘bide her piercing shriek?
‘Tis done- the dale is wrapt in silence,
On their hands her life-blood reeks.

Dark and darker grows the welkin,
Through the dale the whirlwind howls;
On its head the black cloud low’ring,
Threat’ning now, the grey rock scowls.

Conscience, where are now thine arrows?
Does the murd’rer feel the smart?
Death and Grave, where are your terrors?
Written in the murd’rer’s heart.

Yes, he sees their ghastly spectres
Ever rising on his view;
Eyes wide glaring,- face distorted
Quiv’ring lips of livid hue.

Ever sees the life-blood flowing,
Ever feels the reeking stream,
Ever hears his last weak groaning,
Mingled with her dying scream.

Christians, I have told my ditty,
If you shudder not with fear,
If your breasts can glow with pity,
Can you now withhold a tear?

Written by Bella Hardy
With extracts from ‘Henry and Clara: A Peak Ballad’ by Rev. Arthur George Jewitt, 1815.

Over moors and valleys deep, through the Dark Peak and the White
There two tragic lovers sleep in gritstone, blood, and lime.
Clara, such a tender girl, virtuous and fair to see
Daughter of a wealthy Lord, but cruel as death was he.
Suitors rich and mighty came, all for Clara’s favour strove
But only one, with fortunes none, young Henry stole her love

“Come my Clara, let’s be gone, slipping silent out of sight
From your fathers house we’ll steal into this moonless night”
Fast they rode to lands unknown, through the Dark Peak and the White,
Seeking for a place renown for pitying young loves plight.
So to Peak Forest they were led, where the Martyr’s bells do chime
And in God’s house these two were wed, in gritstone, blood, and lime.

Now this couple joined as one, laugh so glad the valleys ring
But as they ride for Castleton cold night comes creeping in
In Winnats Pass so dark and deep, five murderess miners lingered there
And lost in love, this hapless two were caught so unaware
Long, young Henry struggled brave, fought with every breath of power
‘Till at last his strength is gone, all in that midnight hour

Henry’s wrestled to the ground, and with poor Clara’s desperate cries
A knife is drawn across his throat; her love, her husband dies.
Then turning on this girl so dear, in one swift axe blow she too fell
Oh how good grace and justice slumbered in that dreadful dell.
Dark and darker grows the sky, through the dale the whirlwind howls
On its head the black cloud lows where hard the grey rock growls

But these five most murderess men, all fell foul to fates revenge
One tumbled down that self same dell, and one was crushed to death
One with guilt his own life took and one died mad before his time,
And the last, on his death bed confessed this terrible crime.
See in Speedwell cavern there, Clara’s saddle still at hand
All that’s left to tell the tale that’s buried in this land.

Over moors and valleys deep, through the Dark Peak and the White,
There two tragic lovers sleep in gritstone, blood, and lime

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