Grisly murder at Hazelwood Place

For many years, the small roughly triangular patch of land enclosed by Sunny Hill, Well Lane, and Chevin Road was not, like the rest of Milford, part of the parishes of Belper or Duffield. In the 1791 Land Enclosures it had been allotted to a Francis Shaw of Hazlewood, and apparently as a result of this became a “detached” part of that parish, known as Hazlewood Place – the houses built on it being sometimes called Hazlewood Buildings. (And yes, that is the correct spelling – or was at the time. Local pronunciation may well have been different then, too – there are several 19th century instances of the spelling Hazzlewood.)

Hazlewood Place – area surrounded by black dots – in 1880 (from OS 25-inch Derbyshire XLV.5,
reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland –

In 1854, the name of Hazlewood Place became – briefly – famous as the scene of a sensational crime, reported as far afield as Australia. Yet the event seems to have been largely forgotten, unmentioned – as far as I know – in written local history.

Amongst the families then living in Hazlewood Place were Mary Goodall and her four children. According to the evidence she gave at the inquest, Mary had left her husband John for the third time late the previous year, and come to live in Milford. A house had been found for her by her father, William Parkinson, probably by arrangement with Anthony Radford Strutt, who had bought Hazlewood Place in 1833.

John Goodall was born in 1811, probably the eldest son of Thomas and Sarah Goodall of Doveridge, members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Uttoxeter. He moved as a youngster to Darley Abbey, where he became an apprentice fitter at Evans’ cotton mill. From there he moved to Nottingham, and then to Manchester, returning in his early twenties to the Darley Abbey area, to marry Mary Hollingworth. He seems to have been a skilled workman, well thought of, who had earned enough to buy a house in Manchester, where the couple went to live. However, sometime after the birth of their daughter Sarah, they must have returned to Darley Abbey, as the parish register there records the deaths of Mary, in January 1838, and of Sarah, two months later. Mary seems to have died from tuberculosis; her daughter’s cause of death is given as “water in the brain” – that is, hydrocephalus. It may be significant that both deaths were registered not by John, but by his sister Harriet, who also lived at Darley Abbey.

In early June, 1838, little more than two months after Sarah’s death, five months after that of her mother, John Goodall married Mary Parkinson in St Alkmund’s church in Duffield. They moved to Ancoats, Manchester, where their eldest daughter was born in 1840, but within a year were back in Derbyshire. Mary’s father William was “superintendant at the Cotton Factory”, according to White’s 1857 Directory of Derbyshire, but he was more probably simply an overlooker, as stated on his daughter Ann’s marriage certificate. He lived with his wife Ann, their then unmarried elder daughter – also Ann – and son George, all cotton spinners, in a now vanished house in the Mill yard. The 1841 census shows Mary, John, and a third Ann, their infant daughter, sharing that house with them. Ann had probably been named after her grandmother, who died later that year.

By 1845, Mary and John were back in Manchester, where their second child, William, was born. He was followed in 1848 by John junior, who died aged just 5 months, and a year later by Mary junior. Not long afterwards, John left his wife and family and went to America; there may well have been domestic discord, though perhaps he was simply looking to improve their prospects. However, he returned after just three months. The family’s next move might have been planned by John Goodall with a Milford acquaintance, John Ball, formerly of Hopping Hill, as the two “machanics” and their families were next-door neighbours in Newton Gardens, then just outside Manchester, in March 1851.

All this to-ing and fro-ing seems to indicate a level of instability. As the account in the Derby & Chesterfield Reporter puts it, from being a “a steady and industrious man”, John Goodall became increasingly unsettled, his “temper and conduct … violent and irregular”.  According to accounts given in the Derby Mercury and the Derbyshire Advertiser, he had frequently threatened to cut his wife’s throat, and on more than one occasion she had found a knife under his pillow. In June 1851 Mary left Manchester with the children – probably for a second time – and returned to stay in Milford. A reconciliation took place some months later, and they moved to Derby, where John worked at the railway station. The reconciliation seems to have resulted in another pregnancy, as on 28 December 1852, a third daughter, Rachel, was born. (This is the spelling on her birth certificate – most other documents have Rachael.)

The reconciliation was short-lived; Mary moved back to Milford in October 1852, while John went again to America, where he spent most of 1853. Returning in November, he found work as a fitter at Wolverton, then a railway town, now part of Milton Keynes. He wrote several times from there, and visited Milford twice, trying to get Mary to come and live with him again, but she refused.

On Tuesday 18 April 1854, John Goodall arrived by mail coach in Milford – Anthony Radford Strutt, grandson of Jedidiah, happened to be a fellow traveller – and went up to the house where Mary and the children lived. Goodall’s account at the inquest suggests that he called in first at his father-in-law’s house, not far from the then Post Office at the bottom of Chevin Alley, where the mail coach would have stopped. He was turned away by Mary’s sister Ann, who said “quite sharp” that William would not see him.

John had written to Mary to say he would be coming; she had asked her neighbour, Catherine Keeton, to listen out for trouble, and on the advice of her father had told the local constable, Thomas Shelley, who lived opposite Milford School. When John reached Mary’s house, she was doing washing. She initially refused to allow him upstairs, where the two youngest children were asleep, but didn’t try to stop him, assuming, she said at the inquest, that he was going to lie down.

Hanging out the washing, she heard a child’s scream and ran indoors, to find her husband just coming out of one of the bedrooms. In the room she found her daughter lying on the bed in a pool of blood with her throat cut. Mary’s cries of “Murder!” alerted Mrs Keeton and another neighbour, Elizabeth Brooks, of Well Lane, who rushed in. William Slater, landlord of the Beehive Inn – now the Milford Social Club – having seen John Goodall arrive at Hazlewood Place, also heard the screams, and sent a young lad to fetch the constable, who had already been woken by the disturbance. Slater and another neighbour stopped Goodall as he was walking back down the yard, and held him until Shelley came to take him to the lock-up down beside the mill.

The murderer made no attempt to resist or escape, saying simply that “the Lord” had ordered him to do it, and that Rachel was in heaven, and readily pointing out the razor he had used to kill her.

The inquest was held the following day, in the Beehive. (It was quite usual at this period to hold official meetings in public houses – in smaller communities they were often the nearest thing to community centres.) The Coroner was Henry Mozley, a lawyer who had twice served as mayor of Derby (and was himself to meet a dramatic end three years later, shooting himself just as he was about to be arrested for contempt of court as a consequence of insolvency). Very detailed and circumstantial testimony was given by Mary and her neighbours, and by the Duffield surgeon who examined Rachel’s body. John Goodall himself spoke rather incoherently, saying that he had wanted to “make things comfortable” and “bring things to an agreeable footing”, but had been turned down by his wife. He compared the situation of his children with what he had been able to provide them with in Manchester: “it almost broke my heart”.

The verdict of the coroner’s jury was predictable: “wilful murder”, and John Goodall was committed to Derby Gaol to await trial. This took place at Derby Crown Court on 28 July. Goodall’s defence was one of insanity; workmates from Wolverton and a former landlady described his eccentric behaviour, delusions of persecution and of being poisoned, and complaints of pains in the head. The surgeon who had been called to the murder scene, the superintendent constable, the coroner, and the governor of Derby Gaol all said they had seen no signs of madness, and their evidence was backed up by Mr Strutt, who had concluded from conversation with Goodall in the mail coach that he was “a shrewd, sensible man”. The trial jury sided with the defence, finding Goodall not guilty, on the grounds of insanity.

Copy of Rachel’s death certificate (above)

The trial judge, Mr Justice (William) Maule, had been involved twelve years before in the formulation of what became known as M’Naghten’s Rules, which prescribed that “to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong”.

He ordered that Goodall should be detained “until her Majesty’s pleasure was made known respecting him”.

On December 4 1854, a warrant signed by the then Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston, made it known that Her Majesty’s Pleasure was that John Goodall should be “removed from the Gaol at Derby to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum in St George’s Fields in the County of Surrey”. This was better known as Bethlem Hospital (the origin of the word “bedlam”).

John Goodall’s committal warrant(reproduced by permission of Bethlem Museum of the Mind)

It seems as clear now as it did then to the trial jury that Goodall’s behaviour – which included instructing his wife to burn his letters to her  – was symptomatic of insanity; he probably suffered from what we might call paranoid schizophrenia, as well as the religious delusion that the Lord had told him to kill his daughter. His behaviour in confinement tends to confirm this: he complained his food was being poisoned, and in letters to his family he called himself Prince John Goodall, declaring that Heaven had given him the authority to prophesy. It may be that his sanity had been affected by the deaths of his first wife and children; he may well have been told – and even believed – that they were better off in Heaven. The nearest to a diagnosis in surviving records is in a report of early 1886: melancholia with delusions.

A possible motive for Rachel’s murder appears in a medical report written a few months after his admission to Bethlem. This information was not in the very detailed newspaper accounts of the inquest and the trial, and can only have come from John Goodall himself. The report states that on his return from America “someone excited his suspicions regarding his wife’s fidelity during his absence”. The note continues “and he may have destroyed one if not two of his children.”

Each monthly report from March 1846 until December 1863 says “No change”, and after ten years in Bethlem Hospital, Goodall was transferred to the newly opened Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he was registered as Patient No. 3. At some point, his brother Thomas wrote asking after John’s welfare, and “what hope he can entertain of his liberty”. The letter has no date; it may have been enclosed with one to his brother. A note, presumably for a clerk to use in reply, just says “John Goodall not changed mentally & is in good bodily health”. A letter from Goodall himself, dated 1886 and addressed to the “Superintendant Broadmoor”, asks to be allowed to live in “a nice plain quiet home”, blaming “a rong spirit” for leading him into “rong streams of thought”. He had already made two attempts at suicide, but eventually died “of pericarditis” six years later, aged 82.

At some time before 1861, John Goodall’s wife and her three surviving children had moved back into the Mill Yard house with her father William, who had been a widower for twenty years and died later that year. Mary herself was probably the woman of that name whose burial record appears in the Duffield Parish Register on 21 May 1866. Her younger daughter is difficult to trace after 1861; her elder daughter, Ann, married Alfred Wathall in 1862. Alfred came from a small enclave of silk-workers living in King Street, Duffield, and went on to run a firm making elasticated stockings in Derby. Ann’s brother William took his father’s trade as a fitter and married a Wigan woman, Margaret Kellett.


So which house was the scene of the murder? No house number is given in the reports, and in any case, some time after 1939 the houses in Hazlewood Place were renumbered as part of Chevin Road. However, the evidence at the inquest provides a few clues, and census records – despite being sometimes garbled and incomplete, and not always where you might expect to find them – are also helpful.

UK national censuses are held every ten years. They were begun in 1801, but the first to contain detailed personal information, provided by householders to visiting enumerators, was in 1841. The 1851 census was taken before Mary Goodall and her children came to live in Hazlewood Place, and the next count was after they had left. However, at the inquest Catherine Keeton stated that she was Mary Goodall’s next-door neighbour. Families come and go over the decades, and there were Keetons at various addresses in Milford, but one near-constant was the tenancy of Catherine Keeton and her son Alexander, who stayed in no. 8 Hazlewood Place, with his wife Harriett after his mother’s death. Members of this family occupied the same house for over 70 years. (Alexander died in 1917, aged 88 – a good age, considering that at least five Milford Keetons had died prematurely of lung disease, including tuberculosis, and Alexander himself had spent his entire working life from the age of 12 or earlier as a bleacher.)

The National Register of 1939 (an early wartime measure) shows no. 8 occupied by Ernest and Lily Grace and their daughter Lily jnr. The Register was sporadically updated, including changes of name where a woman married, and Lily jnr.’s entry has “Lamb” written by it. She married Frank Lamb in 1943; when we came to live in Hazlewood Place, Mrs Lamb was our friendly next-door neighbour, living at what is now no. 11 Chevin Road.

Catherine Keeton’s next-door neighbours presumably lived at nos. 7 or 9. When we first moved to Milford, Annie Nightingale lived in our present house (13 Chevin Road); the Nightingale family are recorded as residents of 9 Hazlewood Place in censuses and news reports. Restoring a sash window here, we found that address written in pencil on one side panel.

The numbering of the buildings in Hazlewood Place when Anthony Radford Strutt bought it – for £1,320 – in 1833, does not correspond with the later system. However, a Estate rental list for which I do not have a date (but which was compiled around 1840), together with the order of the later census entries, up to and including 1901, suggests that nos. 1 & 2 were what is now 15/17 Chevin Road. Until 1891, no. 3 consistently appears as licensed premises (the New Inn, then the Beehive) and no. 4 as a grocer’s shop. I have seen a document which identifies the two houses forming the rear section of the shop building (now 7 & 9 Chevin Road) as nos. 5 & 6 Hazlewood Place. (The present no. 19 Chevin Road, a later building than most of the other houses, is recorded as 1 Hazlewood Place for the first time in 1911; as a result the previous nos. 1 & 2 became 2 & 3, but the changes stopped there, as the building housing the Institute – now the Milford Social Club – was no longer numbered.)

Identifying no. 7 is less straightforward. It last appears in the census in 1901, the year before the Beehive was transformed into the Milford Village Institute. On the right-hand side of the jitty running up to the left of the Milford Social Club stands a pair of stone gateposts. They no longer lead anywhere, but presumably at one time gave access to part of the building now comprising the Club and no. 11 Chevin Road. The 1911 census records a family living in rooms over the Institute, so the former no. 7 was probably absorbed into it, the old access being closed off by the extension housing the Institute’s new staircase.

In 1851 no. 7 was lived in by Elizabeth Thornhill, her two sons, and a lodger. Unfortunately, lack of detail in the 1861 census makes it impossible to tell whether there is any continuity of occupation, but the possibility that Mary Goodall’s family lived there is ruled out by her evidence at the inquest, when she described hanging her washing out in the garden. No. 7 had no adjacent land.

This suggests that Mary Goodall was Catherine Keeton’s neighbour on the other side, that is, no. 9, and Mary’s inquest evidence tends to confirm this. She said Rachel was in the left-hand room upstairs – the front bedroom in 13 Chevin Road used to be divided in two by a stud wall; and Elizabeth Brooks said she saw from the top of her wall John Goodall going down the yard, and that having climbed over the wall she was in Mary Goodall’s garden. In both the 1851 & 1861 censuses, there happened to be two Mrs Elizabeth Brooks, married to dyers who may have been brothers, living at nos. 1 & 4 Well Lane. (At this time only the continuous row of seven houses directly on Well Lane had that address; the group set back were numbered separately and sometimes called “Tantums”.) James Brooks’ wife lived at no. 4, now no. 12, almost directly above Mary Goodall’s garden.

All this leads to the conclusion that John Goodall murdered his daughter in what is now 13 Chevin Road, where we have lived for over thirty years. People may well wonder whether we feel at all uneasy at living in a house – sleeping in the room – where such a horrible crime was committed. We are not believers in any form of the supernatural, and while the story is unpleasant, we only think of it very occasionally. So the answer is no – in fact, finding out about the murder prompted us to examine the history of the house and its immediate area, and to help preserve that history we have called the house Hazelwood Place (having modernized the spelling).


Thanks are due to local historian and researcher Heather Eaton, who drew our attention to the murder (some years ago!), and kindly provided details of the history of Hazlewood Place.

A detailed account of the murder appeared in the Derby Mercury on 19 April 1854, followed in the next week’s issue by a report of the inquest. Almost identical reports were published two days later in the Derby Advertiser and Journal; on the same day the Derby & Chesterfield Reporter printed a slightly expanded version, with additional details on the background of the murderer. Shorter accounts, largely derived from the local reports, were published in the Daily News, the Liverpool Mercury, and The Times, amongst other newspapers, and a brief paragraph appeared three months later in the Hobart Town Daily Courier, perhaps from information supplied by a local resident with contacts or relatives in Derbyshire.

The trial was covered in the Derby Mercury’s issue of 2 August, with the DAJ and the DCR reports again appearing two days later.

A short version of the events, not entirely reliable in detail, forms part of Murder, Madness and Mayhem – Criminal Insanity in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, by Kathryn Burtinshaw and John Burt, published in 2018 by Pen and Sword Books of Barnsley.

(Views of Bethlem and Broadmoor in the public domain – originals of both images in the Wellcome Collection Archives.)

Griff Everett, August 2021.