A Sad HAUNTING – The Tale of Elizabeth Sheppard

Charlene Lowe Kemp

As a teenager growing up in Nottingham, it was quite the tradition to drive up to Newstead Abbey, when it was open at night, on a Friday or Saturday Night and scare the hell out of each other with our ghost tales of the place.

I remember at 17 years old traveling up Nottingham Road, close to the Abbey, and a friend of mine telling me the tale of the young girl appearing out of nowhere in front of the car or appearing In the rear-view mirror as a back passenger as you passed. I remember sitting in the back of the car, looking through the rare viewing mirror, as we drove all the way down Nottingham Road in the hope of a glance of the ghostly girl. Sadly I never did, and at the time, even though curious at the time, if I had, I would have properly screamed the car down at the sight. It has always been one of those ghost tales that I have always remembered.

I decided to take a trip to Annesley to take some pictures of a church I had spotted some weeks previously and didn’t have the chance to stop at before. I don’t know why but while I was there I had the sudden urge to pay Papplewick Church a visit. Has with anywhere I don’t like always like to research before I visit places, but as I sat outside the Church I felt I needed to.

There were no hauntings at Papplewick church but what I did find was that a lady named Elizabeth Sheppard, (Bessie) had been buried there, after being murdered, and her apparition had been seen on many occasions on the spot where she died, only a few miles away. I couldn’t find any headstone for Elizabeth but later found out that she was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere near the church tower. As I strolled passed the graves looking I came across two pure white feathers…Being the spiritual person I am, I took this as a sign and not birds just shredding feathers and continued to research some more.

I found that in the spot she died a remembrance stone had been placed there some years back, there were only two pictures of this stone available to see and one source had said it was in the undergrowth and quite hard to find. I pinpointed where exactly it could be and set off to find it.

On 7th of July 1817, Elizabeth Sheppard, a pretty girl only 17 herself at the time, set off from her home village of Papplewick around midday to find work in Mansfield. She was dressed in her ‘Sunday best’ and was wearing a new pair of shoes and carrying a yellow umbrella. It was a walk that was worthwhile as Elizabeth had managed to get herself a job as a servant.

It was getting late and Elizabeth’s mother started to worry where Elizabeth had got to. So she set off on the journey to Mansfield in the search for her daughter. Her mother recalls walking past the spot, which, Elizabeth was later found. Seeing a familiar figure in the distance ahead, Elizabeth’s mother assumed it was Elizabeth and turned back around to go home, thinking that her daughter would catch up to her pace.

Elizabeth’s mother recalls passing a stranger on the road, who was later identified as Charles Rotherham. ‘Charles Rotherham was a 33-year-old ex-soldier from Sheffield, it is likely that he had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Some men were volunteers, who had joined the army in an attempt to escape poverty, whilst others had been forced to join. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Wellington described the British army as ‘the scum of the earth and the dregs of society’. Thousands of men were discharged back into society by an ungrateful Government and left to wander the country looking for work. Even by 1817, these ex-soldiers were regarded as a problem to decent society. Using whatever skills they had acquired, these men made a living as best they could. Rotherham, a married man with children presented himself as an itinerant ‘scissor sharpener’.

Many witnesses stated that they had seen Rotherham in the hut, a pub not too far from where Elizabeth was killed, having a pint. From witness accounts, he was heading towards Mansfield. Coming in the opposite direction was young Bessie.’ info source
Tales From The Mansfield Road: The Elizabeth (Bessie) Shepherd Murder

This is the point where there is a huge question mark to who did kill Elizabeth!

The story goes that Charles Rotherham came across Bessie and violently killed her by ‘beating her repeatedly about the head with a hedge-stake, before throwing her body into a ditch and robbing her of her umbrella and a pair of shoes; he also tried to take off her gown, but could not accomplish it. She was found by quarrymen the next day who noticed odd coins on the ground and an immediate search for the perpetrator was undertaken. He had proceeded to the Three Crowns at Redhill where he had disposed of the shoes, and sung 2 songs. He had already tried to dispose of the shoes at the Ginger Beer House near the Seventh Mile Stone. He was captured on route to Loughborough looking over a canal bridge into the water. The girl’s mother said later that she had passed Rotherham whilst out looking for, her daughter. He was found guilty after he confessed to the crime, and duly hanged on Gallows Hill, Nottingham (near where St Andrews Church stands today at the junction of Forest Road and Mansfield Road) on the 28th July 1817.

A stone was erected February 1819, near to the spot of where Bessie Shepherd was murdered, between Thieves Wood and Rickets Lane on the east side of the A60. It was paid for by Mr. Buckles and other Mansfield residents. Bessie’s body was interred in Papplewick churchyard near the church tower.’ info source
Tales From The Mansfield Road: The Elizabeth (Bessie) Shepherd Murder

(Cuttings from a newspaper of the time of the murder and the execution notice, Cambridge Chronicle 1 August 1817 )

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(The murder of Elizabeth Shepherd recounted in a broadsheet
Credit: Nottingham Hidden History Team)

The stone has since been restored in 1988 as it was in a poor condition with deeply carved graffiti and the inscription barely readable. The worn original lettering can still be seen facing the woods but the front now has the inscription carved into slate.
There is another interesting part of this story though and that is that Charles Rotherham was not the man who had murdered Bessie. New evidence suggests Rotherham had just taken the blame and the real culprit had got away with it. In a book named ‘The murder of Bessie Sheppard’ by David Marshall, he looks at the evidence presented in court in Nottingham together with the crime reports from 1817 and highlights the deprivation, corruption, and depravity of 19th Century Mansfield. Marshall told the Chad Newspaper:

“I feel I’ve told Bess’ story fully for the first time and upon re-examination of the evidence I’ve put forward a defense for the man they hanged”

In his evidence, he suggests that Charles could have been given the conviction to cover for someone who was well thought of in Mansfield and that the real culprit could have even been the very person who had the memorial made from stone from is own quarry, or even a mason who worked for him.
GHOST SIGHTINGS OF ELIZABETH
Many of the sightings of Elizabeth is when the memorial stone has been disturbed in some way. In the late 1930s, the stone was moved back a few yards when the road was widened. For several days after, a ghostly apparition was seen in the area. In the early 1950s, the memorial was again disturbed when it was struck by a passing car. For a short time later, a young couple on their way to Mansfield reported seeing a white figure hovering over the stone. Many have also claimed that a woman has flagged vehicles down and got into the car for a driver to proceed to drive off and she had disappeared. Other reports are that she has appeared in front of the road and the driver either knocks her down or swirls but upon stopping and getting out the car in order to get help the driver finds that she is no longer there! Other reports are that whilst driving past the spot, drivers have reported a female sat in the back of the car when looking through their rare view mirror only on turning around to face the women they realize that she is no longer there!
The strangest incident of all happened in April of 1988. It was noticed that the headstone for Elizabeth had gone missing. Policemen, after having his picture taken with the stone, felt an overpowering urge to touch the stone and was immediately inspired to return it to the churchyard. The missing headstone was found underneath undergrowth just sixty yards from Elizabeth’s grave site.
so my question here is, with this new evidence coming to light is Elizabeth’s spirit restless because the wrong person was convicted?
Traveling back home I followed the path Elizabeth would have taken back home, and thought back to the time, at 17, when I was told the ‘really scary ghost story’. I think of all the things I have done and achieved since then and it saddens me to think Elizabeth had such a bright future with the world at her feet and it was so brutally taken away from her. If the ghost of Elizabeth has been seen, it isn’t a tale to be scared of and she isn’t a ghost to be feared, she is simply a lost soul looking for answers and maybe wants the wrongs to be made right!.

I managed to find the memorial stone, with a little help from from some locals. Anyone wishing to visit the stone I would advise to search for Portland College in Mansfield, if you are coming from Mansfield back into Nottingham, when you reach here, the college being on the left hand side (same side as the stone is on), carry on passed the bus stop and passed the 40 sign, there is a muddy pull in, park here. Do not pass the second flashing 40 sign, if you do then you have gone to far up. Carry on walking down a short distance and you will be able to see the stone. It is not really visible when driving on the road, but it is when you walk. The picture above should help you to pinpoint exactly where on the road it is.

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