brutal murder of Mary Pemberton
was a pretty 19-year-old chamber maid employed at Leftwich Old Hall,a
large tudor mansion-house situated midway between Northwich and
She was an orphan and had been placed out to service at the age
of 12 by her guardians, (the overseers of the poor for the township
of Northwich). For her duties she received £7.10s.6d. per
annum plus free board, lodgings and maid's uniform provided by her
The large farmhouse and stead consisted of 180 acres of rich pastureland,
and employed two kitchen assistants, chamber maid, two cooks, two
cowmen, three teamsmen, a shepherd, a cheesemaker and two labourers.
Duties for the household staff began at 6.00a.m. and usually finished
around 7.00p.m. after evening meal, with alternate Sundays off duty.
Mary's living quarters were in a large garnett, which she shared
with the two kitchen staff. The girl had been brought up in the
Witton poorhouse where, despite her tender age, the conditions were
harsh, and Mary considered herself fortnate to have attained such
lucrative employment at Leftwich Old Hall, where the living quarters
and conditions were above standard.
Mary had met Samuel Thorley, a local farm Labourer, at the annual
Witton Wakes and the two had been 'going steady' for almost 18 months.
The couple were making plans for a spring wedding, and had been
promised the rental of a small cottage, by Thorley's employer, Mr.
Ted Leather, a local farmer and timber merchant.
Thorley had served in the King's service for two years and had been
wounded whilst serving abroad. He was well respected within the
local community and had hopes of starting up his own carrier business
with a small legacy left to him by his late aunt.
Mr. Ted Leather had offered him some timber haulage when he obtained
heavy chain horses and timbers.
Late one Sunday evening Mary Pemberton failed to arrive home at
Leftwich Old Hall. Her two room mates thought she was delayed because
of a violent thunderstorm which had been raging throughout the evening
and that she had decided to stay overnight with her elderly aunt
They thought she would arrive early the following morning but by
mid-day she had failed to report for work and her employers sent
a rider into Northwich to enquire of her whereabouts.
One of the serving girls was instructed to go across to Ted Leather's
farm and to speak to Samuel Thorley. From the accounts later reported,
Mary had not arrived at her aunt's and Thorley himself had failed
to report for work. The cottage where he lived with his mother was
Two days later there had been no reports of the couple's whereabouts,
and there was great speculation that they had eloped to Gretna Green,
and would probably return married. Six days after the disappearance
of the lovers a gruesome discovery was made in the River Dane beds,
belonging to Mr. George Gorst. One of his men, whilst cutting willows
in the plantation, had discovered the partly clothed body of a young
Doctor Hennrietta later confirmed that it was the corpse of Mary
Pemberton, and that she had been strangled.
An immediate search was made for her assailant, and the missing
Several important witnesses reported seeing the couple. A butcher
annd farmer, testi-
fied on oath that he had passed the couple crossing the Dane Meadows,
and that he heard the sound of raised voices, and Samuel Thorley
had raised his fist as if to strike the woman.
The brutal murder shocked the whole town. and tradesmen offered
a substantial rewards for information leading to the the killer.
Ten days later Thorley walked into the offices of the Justice at
Chester Castle. He was unkempt and said he had walked from Northwicb,
and had been living in Delamere Forest.
Thorley pleaded guilty. The couple, he said, had a violent quarrel
over wedding plans and in a fit of temper he had strangled her,
leaving her lifeless corpse in the willow beds. Thorley's trial
took place at Chester and on his own evidence, he was hung on April
10, 1777. The corpse was later gibbeted.
A local ballad of Samuel Thorley was often sung by girls employed
in the Northwich Cotton Repository, which stood alongside the River
Weaver. Leftwich Old Hall was demolished many years ago, and a farmhouse
erected on the site.
In the 17th century, Leftwich Old Hall was the residence of the
Today little remains to remind us of the past, but ghost stories,
legends and reports of strange happenings abound in his area of
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