The murder of Allen and Clara

Allen and Clara, were on their way to a new life in April 1758. Forbidden to marry by her father they had set off on horseback for Peak Forest (Derbyshire’s Gretna Green of the time). They stayed overnight at the Royal Oak in Stoney Middleton to rest before their final journey which they would never complete.

Richly attired lovers Allen & Clara, forbidden to marry by her father arrived at the Royal Oak to stay the night. The following morning they set off on horseback for Peak Forest (Derbyshire’s Gretna Green of the time) where they could be legally married. Sadly they never made it as they were murdered by five miners in the Winnats near Castleton for their valuables. Clara’s saddle was kept in the pub before it closed and now resides at the Castleton Museum.
There is an account of this murder in Highways and byways in Derbyshire; by J.B. Firth:

There was a murder in the Winnats long ago. In 1768 a runaway pair, to whom tradition has given the names of Henry (Allen)  and Clara, were married at the extra-parochial chapel of Peak Forest, a sort of minor Gretna Green. While on their way to Castleton they were seized by five miners in the Winnats, dragged to a barn and murdered. Juliet was killed by a pickaxe ; Romeo had his throat cut ; and the bodies were hidden in a cave. Their horses were found at Sparrowpit and taken to Chatsworth, but were never claimed, and the saddles were long preserved there. The murderers were punished not by human justice but by divine. One is said to have broken his neck at the Winnats ; a second was crushed by a fall of stone ; a third committed suicide ; a fourth died mad, and the fifth made a death-bed confession. The bodies of the victims were not found for ten years. Such is the story, but I confess I am sceptical. It inspired a clergyman, the Rev. A. G. Jewitt, to compose in 1815 an amazingly doggerel ballad which concludes as follows:
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?


One Comment

  • Roland Birchby says:

    I read this synopsis with great interest;I first came across this tale around 1970,when the “Ripley Wayfarers” performed the “Winnats Pass Murders” song whilst appearing in my Folk Club in Bolton.(It appears on an old L.P.”Chips and Brown Sauce” I think.)In your version,also reflected in the song,both of these unfortunate young people were wealthy,yet I have come across other accounts which indicate that whilst Clara was rich,Allan was not so,which may have been the reason that her parents opposed the match,as apparently did Clara’s brother,who is said to have threatened Allen.
    It would seem that,if the couple had travelled from Scotland,as I’ve read elsewhere,with the intent of arriving at Peak Forest, her parents pursued them for a considerable distance to prevent the match.
    The “Wayfarers” version differs from all the other accounts I’ve read,insofar as it was Allen who received the pick axe blow,with Clara having her throat cut-I wonder why that differs from the generally held version.It’s claimed that the couple lie buried by the East Gate of Stoney Littleton Churchyard-living in Bath,I haven’t yet been up there to have a look round;it’s a very sad and gruesome tale,but it seems to me that there are elements of truth in it,however embellished!
    I enjoyed reading your article,and would like to find out more!
    Kind regards,
    Roland Birchby.

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