Violent Burglary at Tatham Mill, Lowgill, 1858


Tatham Fells rarely makes it into the pages of newspapers elsewhere in Britain, but a particularly violent burglary in "the quiet locality of Lowgill" in the early hours of 11 November 1858 did just that, appearing in the press in London, Ireland, Manchester, Leeds and other provincial cities.

The victims were Francis and Jane Dickinson. Francis was a local man, baptised at St James the Less church Tatham in 1787. In the 1830s and early 1840s he had been in business at the Castle Inn in Hornby, where he and his brother Thomas were innkeepers.1 Jane had been born Jane Parkinson in 1793 to Nicholas, a cordwainer, and his wife Jane. In 1815 she had married Thomas Gardner, husbandman of Tatham, whose family owned Tatham mill. After his death, Jane had married Francis in June 1842, and they had moved to live at Lowgill mill.


Tatham Mill and chapel from First Ordnance Survey 6-inch map, published 1849


Tatham mill was known by various names, including Lowgill Chapel Mill which gives a good indication of its location. The mill was situated approximately where Glen Cottage now stands on the steep road leading up from Fairheath Lane to the chapel. This was essentially a smallholding with its eight acres entirely surrounding the old chapel on the hill above.2 The house was attached to the mill itself but the mill was rented out to a sawyer, George Bibby, reported to have lived in a house a short distance away.3

As a couple who had had both business and landowning interests, it is not difficult to appreciate why they might have been targeted. At the time of the burglary Jane was in her 60s, Francis 71, and where they lived was a secluded and isolated location. Indeed, this was not the first time that their house had been burgled. Almost exactly ten years earlier in November 1848 a rather younger Francis had successfully scared away three men who attempted to break in.4

Reports of the break-in initially appeared in Lancaster papers in mid-November 1858 and were reproduced, particularly that from the Lancaster Guardian, by most newspapers elsewhere over the next few days. The Kendal Mercury, however, included additional information the following week. This account is pieced together from these reports.5

At about two o'clock on a Thursday morning burglars entered the house through a kitchen window by making a hole about 16 inches by 12 inches. They proceeded upstairs to the couple's bedroom where one of them battered the old man about the head with a piece of iron, almost certainly the iron screw-key later found covered in blood in woodlands nearby. Mr Dickinson cried out to his wife that he had been hit but his assailant continued to attack him until he become insensible. The assailant then seized hold of Mrs Dickinson by the throat exclaiming "Give me your money, or your life", but she too was soon rendered unconscious. The burglars escaped empty-handed, although it was reported that there were both money and plate in the house.

The couple were discovered the following morning at about 8 a.m. by John Langstroth, the farmer at Knott Hill. As he was passing he heard Mrs Dickinson crying out and entered the house. He was horrified by what he witnessed in the bedroom. Francis, with his head cut and bruised, was still lying upon the bed which was saturated with blood. The room was also blood spattered. Local magistrates and the Superintendent Constables for the divisions of Ewecross and South Lonsdale Constabularies, William Exton and James Clegg, based at Ingleton and Skerton respectively, immediately instigated enquiries. As well as the iron key, they found a hay fork on the premises, which had been brought from a barn at a distance. Their questioning of the couple, however, revealed no clues, although the Kendal Mercury reported that some thought that the old man, from fear or possible intimidation, did not give all the information he might.

Mr Dickinson had bled profusely, and his skull was reportedly fractured so he was initially not expected to survive. However, he was put under the care of Mr Richard Elletson, surgeon of Lake Head, Low Bentham, and, defying local expectations, within a week he was reported to be making a good recovery. However, he died on 2 April the following year and the press speculated, not without reason, that his death may have been accelerated by the brutal treatment he had received.6

Not surprisingly, his widow Jane did not continue to live at the mill. By the time of the 1861 census she was in Lowgill village, and the properties at the mill were rented out to a labourer and a carpenter and their families. Soon after that the Tatham mill estate was sold to the church, allowing the incoming curate, Revd James Chadwick, to erect the vicarage and the new school (now "the old school") in the 1860s. In 1871 the house by the mill was lived in by another elderly couple but by 1881 it had been transformed into what is now Glen Cottage and was lived in by William Wolfenden, a supporter of the church.

No one was ever apprehended for the crime. 


1 Lancaster Gazette, 15 June 1833; Kendal Mercury, 11 June 1842; Census, 1841.
2 See Tithe Map and schedule on this website.
3 Lancaster Gazette, 9 March 1844 reference to Robert Varty and Robert Haresnape, bobbin makers of Tatham Mill. The census of 1851 William Haresnape was living there and by 1861 William Fletcher, a carpenter. Reports from 1858 suggest it was leased to George Bibby, sawyer from Bentham.
4 Lancaster Gazette, 11 November 1848.
5 Lancaster Guardian, 16 November, Kendal Mercury, 20 November, 1858.
6 Lancaster Gazette, 6 April 1859.

MW 2018
Page created 30-09-2018. Latest update 30-09-2018
Click here for further authorship and copyright information