Thousands of motorists on a busy Notts road will have passed the location, but few are likely to have noticed a tragic reminder of a grisly murder over 200 years ago.
A memorial, known as the ‘Murder Stone’, honors Elizabeth Sheppard, known as Bessie, who was brutally beaten to death with a hedge stake.
Legend has it that her ghost haunts this stretch of the A60 between Ravenshead and Mansfield where she died, with many spooky stories recalled.
Some locals know it as Bessie’s Stone, but many have never heard of it, nor the tragic story that unfolded in July 1817.
The 17-year-old from Papplewick had gone to look for work as a domestic servant in Mansfield and was returning home when she was assaulted.
Killer Charles Rotherham, who is said to have fought in the Napoleonic War, had been drinking in the nearby Hutt pub, which still stands today in Ravenshead.
The two ran into each other on Mansfield Road – now the A60 – not far from Harlow Wood.
After throwing her body away, the 33-year-old fled with her new shoes and distinctive yellow umbrella and returned to the Hutt where he tried – and failed – to sell the stolen goods.
Heading to Nottingham, he tried to sell them in the long gone Ginger Beer House, and later in the Three Crowns in Redhill, where he had stayed.
After an unprecedented manhunt, he was found by police strolling across a canal bridge in Loughborough. The Itinerant Knife Mill, Sheffield, appeared in a Nottingham court and, as was the law at the time, was sentenced to death.
His public hanging in Gallows Hill – three weeks to the day of the murder – drew large crowds.
Bessie was buried in the graveyard of St James’s Church in Papplewick.
The shocked residents were so dismayed at the crime that they teamed up to have a murder stone erected in 1819 on the spot where Bessie died.
The inscription reads: “This stone is erected in memory of Elizabeth Sheppard, of Papplewick, who was murdered while passing this place by Charles Rotherham on July 7, 1817. Aged 17.”
Such stones were popular in the 1800s and were placed at infamous murder sites to commemorate the victim – or sometimes warn of the consequences of a murder.
The Bessie Memorial – considered the only one of its kind in Nottinghamshire – has remained there ever since.
It has been restored over the years and a slate plaque with the inscription added so that it can still be read when the stone has weathered.
There have been several reports of strange occurrences in the surrounding area. Legend has it that if the stone is disturbed, the ghost of the dead girl will appear.
The stone was set back a few meters when the road was widened in the 1930s, causing a ghostly apparition to appear.
After the stone was hit by a passing car in the 1950s, a couple driving to Mansfield claimed to see a ghostly white figure hovering over the memorial.
The strangest story of all, however, happened in 1988 when vandals struck St James’s Cemetery and Bessie’s gravestone disappeared.
In an attempt to track him down, the Nottingham Evening Post had to launch an appeal – but landed an even better story.
As two policemen posed next to the stone for the newspaper photographer, one policeman felt an overwhelming urge to touch the stone and suddenly felt compelled to go to the cemetery where he found the missing gravestone buried in the vegetation 200 feet from Bessie’s grave.
Lindsay Groves, who works at the Hutt pub not far from the location of the murder stone, said she never realized it was there.
The 30-year-old team leader said: “I’ve heard about it – my grandfather has mentioned it before – but I wouldn’t know where it was.
“Maybe I walk past it everyday and I don’t know. It’s fascinating.”
Local history buffs are also fascinated by the history behind the murder stone.
Al Wells, who sparked a wave of interest when posting about it on the Old Nottingham Pictures Facebook page, said: “They are not very common. There are maybe less than 100 in the Kingdom. “Uni. It’s just one of those Nottingham quirks, I guess.”
“I was told that until recently the area was a bit overgrown. People were looking for her and not finding her, so maybe she was quite obscured. You could have walked past a dozen times and never seen it. “
A man said he had stopped to pee in the nearby shrubs in the early hours of the morning after a long drive, when he was surprised. “I saw a woman in a ball gown sliding through the trees. I’ve never driven so fast in my life,” he said.
Another remembers riding a motorbike through the site on his way home to Oxton. He said: “I had the scariest feeling like I was carrying a passenger and it only left when I got home, I never heard of that killing stone.”
When Thom White found the stone, he saw that someone had left flowers there. “I still wonder who left the flowers on the memorial stone,” he said.
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