Murder at Oulton

The roof of Oulton Lodge can be seen just inside the park gates.

One of the most shocking events in the township of Oulton-with-Woodlesford was the murder of an old man who lived alone in the lodge next to the gates to Oulton Hall park. He died at dusk on Tuesday 4 March 1879. His killer was arrested in Hunslet the same night. The victim was 85 year old William Metcalf who had lived alone at the lodge since the death of his wife. As a young man he’d been a boatman on the Aire and Calder Navigation but for 40 years had acted as gate keeper to the Calverley estate. He’d also been the sexton for Oulton church looking after the fabric of the building and graveyard.

John D’Arcy, a watch and clock repairer, was convicted of the murder after a trial at the York Spring Assizes. He was hanged at York Castle just twelve weeks after committing the crime. He’d previously served a five year sentence for theft from a church in Ireland.

John D’Arcy placed an advert in the Rothwell Times in January and February 1879.

The case was widely reported in newspapers across the country as vivid details of the killing emerged. A woman who was passing the gate lodge heard shouting and raised the alarm. D’Arcy, who was inside attacking the old man with a poker, was nearly caught by a group of local men but in the dim light they thought he had threatened them with a gun and he was allowed to get away.

The darkness also meant the men couldn’t say for certain it was him. However he’d been seen by several people in the village that afternoon and William Metcalf had told his niece that D’Arcy had been in the house in the early evening looking at his watch.

D’Arcy escaped by crossing the beck which ran behind the lodge. He then jumped unseen over the estate wall and ran off leaving William’s watch and a sampler of needlework in a field bordering Methley Lane. At Methley he caught the 7.51 train to Leeds.

An extract from the Midland Railway’s public timetable showing the trains which passed through Methley and Woodlesford during the time John D’Arcy was in Oulton. A witness said he shared the same compartment on the 7.51 from Methley.

Meanwhile, with D’Arcy identified as the suspect the Oulton police constable, John Ross, set off to the house in Hunslet where he was known to live. At Woodlesford station he caught the same train but missed seeing D’Arcy on board in a separate compartment. After Ross got off at Hunslet D’Arcy travelled on to the terminus at Wellington station and went to a prayer meeting at the Young Men’s Christian Association nearby.

Later that night he returned home and when he was arrested claimed he’d been at Bramley during the day and had not been to Oulton. On him the police found a similar amount of money to that stolen from William Metcalf. A gold coin D’Arcy passed to his landlady was also identified as belonging to the old man.

D’Arcy was held in the cells overnight at Leeds Town Hall. The next day he was formally charged at Wakefield. Meanwhile his boots were taken to Oulton by detectives and they were matched to footprints in the mud behind the lodge.

A couple of days later a group of villagers from Oulton, including several children, all pointed out D’Arcy at an identity parade at Wakefield gaol. He continued to protest his innocence and at first refused to wear a flat topped billycock hat, similar to a bowler hat, which the witnesses said he’d been wearing in Oulton and which was found in his room.

The first accounts of the murder were printed in the Leeds newspapers the following day. Reporters were sent to Oulton and a much more detailed account, reproduced below, was printed in the Leeds Mercury.

An artist’s impression of the “shocking murder at Oulton” was featured on the front page of the Illustrated Police News on 5 April 1879.

Whilst murder was very uncommon in the area to the south of Leeds, violent death of a different kind in pit accidents was all too familiar and coincidentally on the same night as the events in Oulton 21 miners lost their lives. They died in an explosion just a few miles away at the “Deep Drop” pit at Stanley, so called because at 475 yards it was one of the deepest in the district.

The disaster meant there was pressure on the services of the coroner, Thomas Taylor, so on the following morning, after opening the inquest at the New Masons Arms and hearing initial evidence from William Metcalf’s niece, it was adjourned to resume on the following Saturday.

Then all of the witnesses from Oulton who had seen D’Arcy in the village along with the police who had arrested him and gathered evidence were able to give their sworn statements. After hearing them the coroner’s jury came to the conclusion that D’Arcy was guilty. (See below for a link to a transcript of the evidence.)

That weekend a large number of sightseers from surrounding villages and further afield travelled to Oulton to look at the scene of the murder. It was estimated that at one point there were over a thousand visitors around the lodge and the church. Many of them came from Leeds by train to Woodlesford.

The trial, over three days starting on Tuesday 7 May, took place at the Crown Court at York Castle before Mr. Justice Manisty. Most of the witnesses who had appeared at the inquest were called for the prosecution plus a number of others, including men who’d found the watch and sampler, and a man who said he’d shared a compartment with D’Arcy on the train from Methley to Woodlesford.

D’Arcy continued to plead his innocence with his barrister claiming the witnesses were mistaken in their identification of him. However he changed his story and admitted being in Oulton on the day of the murder saying he had walked back towards Leeds. A tram car driver and conductor gave evidence saying he’d travelled with them from Thwaite Gate at the same time he was alleged to have caught the train from Methley.

The jury were unconvinced and after deliberating for just 50 minutes they returned a guilty verdict.

Despite an appeal to the Home Secretary John D’Arcy was executed by the hangman William Marwood at York Castle at eight o’ clock on the morning of Tuesday 27 May 1879. A report in the Rothwell Times claimed he had continued to profess his innocence up until moments before his death. With a black cap placed over his head he had told a priest: “I am innocent according to the evidence of the witnesses; but I nevertheless acknowledge the justice of my sentence. Lord Jesus receive my soul.”

Map showing the location of Oulton Lodge. The site is now part of the roundabout at the junction of the A 639 Leeds Road dual carriageway and the diverted Rothwell Lane.

THE MURDER NEAR LEEDS. Leeds Mercury. Thursday 6 March 1879.

Further inquiry than was possible on Tuesday night serves but to confirm in the main the report published in yesterday’s Mercury of the murder of an old man named William Metcalf, the lodge keeper at Oulton Hall, Oulton, a village about five miles from Leeds.

There is not the slightest doubt that Metcalf, who was 85 years old, was brutally murdered in the lodge, where he lived alone, on Tuesday night; but there is only too much reason to fear that, through the cowardice of several villagers, under whose eyes the crime was committed, the murderer may escape the hands of justice.

It is true that, as already reported, the police apprehended on the same night a man named John D’Arcy, who is thirty years of age, and describes himself as a travelling watch and clock cleaner, suspected of being the murderer, and the grounds on which the police rest their suspicion of him will be gathered from the following narrative.

The murdered man, William Metcalf, was the keeper of the lodge at Oulton Hall, the residence of Mr. Calverley. The lodge is a building of one story, comprising a small living-room, two bedrooms, and a pantry, and stands at the entrance to Mr. Calverley’s park from the Leeds and Pontefract high road. In front of the lodge there is a high wall, almost hiding it from view, and behind it there is a deep beck, in which runs a considerable stream.

The village of Oulton stands immediately on the other side of the high road, but the nearest house is about fifty yards distant; whilst within the grounds and about a stone’s throw from the lodge stands the parish church.

About ten minutes before seven o’clock on Tuesday night, as a woman named Sarah Jeffery was passing the lodge gates on the high road, she heard Metcalf, whom she knew well, cry out, “Don’t murder me, oh don’t murder me!”

She opened the entrance gate, and no sooner had she done so than she saw someone close the front door of the lodge. Thereupon she ran along the high road to the nearest cottages, occupied by Alfred Morley, a young man, assistant gardener to Mr. Calverley, and by John Walker, a tailor. She told Morley to run along to “Old Billy’s” – that being the name by which Metcalf was known in the village. She was sure something was the matter, as she had heard such a noise in the house as she passed. Morley went at once to the lodge, and was joined there by John Walker.

The former went first to the window nearest the entrance, and found that the shutters were closed, but round the corner there is another window through which he saw into the living-room. The only light in the room was from the fire, but he saw a man kneeling on the floor with his back towards the window. He went round again towards the front door and told Walker that there was a man in the house knelt down. They both returned to the window, and saw that the man had got upon his feet and was in the act of opening the top one of a chest of drawers. The man’s back was towards them, however, and neither of them can give any account of his appearance.

Alfred Morley at last went to the front door, but found that it was locked inside. By this time a lad named William Butler had come up, and he and Walker ran to the back door, which leads into a little garden, whilst Morley remained at the front. The back door has two glass panels in it, and Walker states that when he and the lad Butler got to it they saw that a man had got hold of the handle inside with one hand, and that he had in the other what seemed to them a pistol.

On seeing the man in what seemed to him a menacing attitude, Walker thought that it would be certain death to remain, and he and Butler ran to the front, telling Morley that the man had pointed a revolver at them, and that a policeman had better be called. Morley went immediately for Police-constable Ross, who is stationed in the village and lives near, and on the way told Mr. Richard Walker, gardener, what was happening at the lodge.

By this time also a number of the villagers had gathered at the entrance, but all seemed to have been incapable through fear of doing anything. One man brought a gun, and armed with this Mr. Richard Walker, followed by a number of others, went to the back door. This was now found to be slightly ajar. Mr. Walker entered the house, and found the old man Metcalf lying on the floor of the living-room, in a pool of blood, insensible, but still alive.

Dr. Jewison was sent for, but the poor man died almost immediately after the doctor’s arrival, the left side of his head having been literally smashed in. In the meantime Police-constable Ross had arrived and proceeded to search the house.

Finding no one there a thorough search was made in the plantation and shrubbery nearby without yielding any clue to the murderer.

There is no doubt, however, that the murderer, as soon as Walker and Butler fled from the back door, opened it and made his escape across the beck, which has been mentioned, by means of a bridge of two planks; and whilst the terrified villagers were looking for him making his escape through the entrance gates, he had mounted the wall on the other side of the stream and jumped on to the high road.

The ground for this conclusion is that yesterday morning, as Superintendent Hall of Wakefield and Inspector Farquhar of Normanton were examining some footprints at the roadside, they found a poker, one end of which was covered with blood. It is evident that this was the instrument with which the ghastly wound from which Metcalf died was inflicted, and which, seen in the murderer’s hands in the dim light, seemed to the affrighted Walker to be a pistol. The murderer had carried it with him over the wall and laid it down on the road.

It appears that Metcalf has had as his housekeeper a niece named Sarah Metcalf, who lives in another part of the village, and only visits the lodge at intervals every day. On hearing of what had happened she came to the lodge, and was the first to notice that the old man’s silver watch, which usually hung in a wooden case on the mantel-shelf, was gone. This led her next to examine the drawers, from which she found that her uncle’s purse was also missing, and it, she believes, contained a half- sovereign in gold and eight shillings in silver.

Her suspicion seems at once to have lighted on the man D’Arcy, now in custody. Knowing by the description given who was the man referred to, police constable Ross took a train to Hunslet, where he was aware D’Arcy was living. He got the assistance of detective sergeant Lumb and two borough constables, and they proceeded to D’Arcy’s house at 30, Mulberry Street, Hunslet. He was not there; but they watched the house from an old building near, and presently D’Arcy was seen to enter the house. The detective followed, and apprehended him on the charge of murder to which the man made no answer. It appears that D’Arcy has been seen frequently of late in the village of Oulton, where he represented himself to be a watch and clock cleaner, and where he was well known.

On Friday last when when the deceased’s niece was at the lodge, D’Arcy knocked at the door, and asked: “How the time was going on?” The niece answered: “All right,” and at once shut the door.

When she visited her uncle between five and six o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, he said to her: “I have had that watch man again. He came in and asked to look at my watch. He examined it, and I said to him: “If you can tell me what ails that watch by the beat of her, I’ll give you sixpence.” He looked at the watch, and said: “She gains time; she’ll gain an hour a day.” I said: “Yes, she does, and more.”

He said, “If you will let me take her for a week I’ll make a good job of her and it will get my name up in the village.” I said to him: “I have promised my niece not to let her go out of my hands.”

The man then appears to have asked Metcalf if he had a son or daughter, and he said he had only a niece. He asked when she would be in, and was told not until nine o’clock, upon which he answered that he could not stay till then, as he must be off before halt past seven. The deceased then gave sixpence in copper, as he had promised if the man told him what was wrong with his watch.

The man showed him another watch, which he said belonged to a neighbour. This story the old man recited to his niece on Tuesday evening, and when she left him, shortly after six o’clock, she warned him not to let “that man” into the house again.

What occurred subsequently in the lodge has already been told; but as to whether D’Arcy was the man seen in the house at seven o’clock the same night there is no positive evidence, as neither Morley, Walker, nor Butler can give any description of the man they saw, except that one says he had a slight moustache, and wore a hat with a flat crown.

Neither the watch nor the stolen money has been traced, and the only articles found upon D’Arcy when he was apprehended were two leather straps, which had evidently been recently cut from a railway carriage.

The murder has, of course, caused the greatest excitement at Oulton, where the police were engaged yesterday in getting what evidence they could in regard to the case.


Yesterday forenoon the prisoner, John D’Arcy who is said to be a returned convict was brought up in custody before Mr. Charles Milnes Gaskell, at the Wakefield Court House, and formally charged with killing and slaying one William Metcalf. He was then asked if he had any cause to show why he should not be remanded till Friday.

The Prisoner: “I have no objection for a remand, but I am innocent, thank God; and my principal reason for not having any objection to a remand is that I wish very much if there are any of the parties here for to speak against me as being the committee of that foul deed, I pray them to consider diligently what they are about, as I am a man of very good character, going about there as a watch and clock maker. I go about in the county of York, and my reputation is very far about that county. I trust they will consider diligently, remembering that God is the only wise Judge to go before, not any earthly Justice. If it is deemed necessary that I should be remanded, after I made my statement, I have not the slightest objection.”

The Magistrate: “You are remanded till Friday, and meantime the police will give you every facility for your defence.”

The Prisoner. “Will your worship accept bail?”

The Magistrate: “No.” 

The Prisoner. “Is there any evidence to come against me this morning? I would like to hear it.”

The Magistrate: “You are remanded till Friday, when evidence will be proceeded with.”

A tramping collier, named Eli Oram, was also taken into custody yesterday morning, at Castleford, on suspicion of being concerned in the murder. He has not yet been brought before the Court, but the evidence against him seems to be that in a drunken state be made some statement about a murder having been committed, which is accounted for by the fact that he was drinking is a public-house in Oulton when the news got abroad that Metcalf had been murdered.


The inquest was opened in the afternoon, at the New Masons’ Arms, Oulton, before Mr. T. Taylor, coroner.

Sarah Metcalf, niece of the deceased, said that he was 85 years old. He was lodge keeper, and had formerly been sexton at the church. He was a widower, and lived alone, but she looked after the house. She left him in the lodge on Tuesday night at 22 minutes past six o’clock.

She intended to call at the lodge again about nine o’clock. She was sent for, however, about a quarter-past seven. She found her uncle lying on the floor, with the left side of his head laid open, and blood flowing from the wound. He never spoke, and only lived a minute or two after she saw him. She knew of no one who any ill-will towards him, and, as far as she knew, he was very much respected by his neighbours.

She saw at once that her uncle’s watch was missing, and on looking into the drawers she found that his purse was also gone. She believed that there was a half-sovereign and 8 shillings in the purse. The watch was usually kept hanging in a wooden case on the mantelshelf, and her uncle’s name was engraved upon it. One of the pokers was also missing from the fireside. There was nothing else about the house disturbed.

In order that the police might complete the evidence, the inquiry was adjourned until Saturday morning.

THE PRISONER D’ARCY. Rothwell Times. Friday 14 March 1879.

With regard to the prisoner John D’Arcy, who is committed for trial on the charge of murder, we learn that several years ago, in Ireland, he was he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude for stealing a crucifix and other articles from a Roman Catholic chapel at Mohid, county Leitrim.

His father, who was also a cleaner and repairer of clocks, was known in the district by the nickname of “Dr.” D’Arcy. He came to Leeds ten months ago and reported himself at the Town Hall, as required by law. He has taken an active interest in the Sunday School and temperance work of South Accommodation Road Chapel and was lately chosen its representative to the Leeds Sunday School Union, D’ Arcy being himself a senior class teacher.

Though formerly employed as a joiner, he has lately been engaged in watch and clock cleaning. The chain of evidence against him is singularly strong, though the Habron case calls for very clear proof of his guilt.

It appears likely that D’Arcy had been at Bramley in the early part of the day, whence he returned at about two o’ clock. He is then seen by a girl at John o’ Gaunt’s Inn about half past four, where he had two pints of beer. Ada Jowitt saw him at the lodge about a quarter past five.

P.C. Ross also saw D’Arcy at 5.50 in Woodlesford Lane; Sarah Metcalf left her uncle sitting in the lodge at 6.22, he having told her that the watch man had been; at a quarter to seven Tom Hartley saw a man go into the lodge; just afterwards Mrs. Jeffrey raised the alarm, having heard the noise and the voices in the house.

Richard Walker entered the house about seven; William Stones saw a man fastening Mason’s gate (where the watch and sampler were found) and afterwards met him going towards Methley; a train leaves Methley at 7.51 arriving at 8.12; D’Arcy was at School Meeting at South Parade at 8.15; on leaving the meeting he went home where he was apprehended having 7s 4 1/2d in his pocket, while it now appears he had passed a half sovereign to his landlady during the time the police were in the house.

On Saturday last large crowds of people visited the scene of the late murder from the surrounding villages. On Sunday, about 300 hundred people came by rail, and went in one mass to visit the house and the grave; the road was lined with pedestrians the whole of the day, whilst all kinds of vehicles were constantly bringing their quota to swell the crowd; at one time there must have been at least a thousand people around the house and church.

Click on the link below to read a transcript of the inquest into William Metcalf’s death. It was opened at the New Masons public house on the day after the murder and concluded the following Saturday.

Transcript of the inquest into the death of William Metcalf.

Another view of the park gates taken about 30 years after the murder.