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Sixty Years – Part 2

On Saturday night into Sunday morning of May 5th/ 6th  1956, sisters Margaret Jane (69) and Mary Ormesher (67) were viciously killed in their own home, ‘Ivy Dene’, 8 Asmall Lane, Ormskirk.  The house was the former Brickmakers Arms, a ten room house with a court yard behind, which contained several small dwellings, all accessed via a passage way between number 6 and number 8.

Ormesher sisters gravestone

The Ormesher sister’s gravestone at Ormskirk Parish Church

The spinster sisters lived a quiet life with their black spaniel dog ‘Trixie’, being regarded as a reliable alert dog,Trixie was known to greet people noisily.  The dog was in the kitchen of the house where the two ladies were found and Trixie had received a considerably heavy blow to the head, she was in a poor state when the house was entered by a neighbour and followed the neighbour out of the back door.

Minutes later P.C. Mellor arrived, there being police houses at that time just 100 yards up the road.  At the September inquest, P.C. Mellor states that apart from the victims and various items he noticed, a small mongrel dog came out from under the kitchen table as he stood surveying the awful scene. The sisters did only have the one dog, known to be a black spaniel.

At the inquest several people made statements to the court about hearing a variety of noises, groans, breaking glass, bin lids clattering, voices, both male and female.  These noises appeared to have been heard from around 11.15 and 11.30 pm.

The area behind the Brickmaker’s Arms was a small compact yard overlooked by no’s 1 & 2 cottage to one side and No’s 3 to 7 cottage along the back, residents at no 2 and no 3 all heard the noises later reported in depositions, however, on the night they were dismissed as ‘someone having a bit of bother’ or ‘someone drunk’ and everyone went to bed again.   

Mary Ormesher had arrived home from her shop alone between 10-10 and 10.25 pm, she was carrying the brown attaché case she always used for the shop takings in her right hand and something else in her left hand, but the neighbour who saw Mary from the window did not see what else Mary was carrying.

At around 10.18pm, another neighbour who had been out and was returning to his cottage in Brickmakers Yard, saw a man he did not recognise across the road from the Yard.  Sometime later, another neighbour left his house by the front door to take some golf clubs across the road to a neighbour, returning at 11.20 but he did not mention seeing or hearing anyone in the area.

Despite a witness coming forward in the days that followed the murders saying they also saw a man with a similar description in the same area, that man does not seem to have been identified in the days/weeks following.

The police searched the house and found that the brown attaché case was on the kitchen table and contained a small amount of silver but the two khaki cloth money bags which Mary used for the takings were missing.  After a thorough search of the house, small quantities of money, wrapped in paper, were recovered from various rooms.  Despite local rumour that said the sisters were hoarding cash, only a modest amount was recovered and the house had not been ransacked at the time of the murders.  Mary had not left a will but the letters of administration granted on June 12th declared an estate of £1722.14s.4d.  Margaret had not left a will either and in the letters of administration granted on June 20th her estate was £249.13s .4d.

Stan Draper CBE tending the sister's grave

Stan Draper CBE tending the sister’s grave

The town came to a standstill for the joint funeral of Margaret and Mary, it was a poor day and rained constantly but hundreds of people lined the streets to pay their respects as the funeral cortege passed through the town from the hospital to the Parish Church. The sisters were laid to rest together in the Parish Church and for many years their grave was tended by Stanley Draper C.B. E. Church Sexton.

Five weeks after the murders, and after searches using police dogs at Ruff Wood, Edge Hill College and the Burscough Brick Works, the investigation was not progressing and although 1000 fingerprints had been taken and eliminated, the decision was made at a special court on June 14th to begin to fingerprint every male in the district aged over 16 who was living in the district on the weekend of the murders. This was to be done by plain clothed detectives visiting people in their own homes and it was expected to take up to a month to complete the exercise.

The person or persons who committed these murders has never been officially named and identified, rumours would emerge over the years as to the identity and fate of the killer. The case will never be closed.

Memories recently shared by a cousin of the family, paint a picture of a hard working woman in Mary and a gentle caring person in Margaret Jane.

“Maggie and Polly were such gentle souls – there wasn’t an ounce of animosity in them.  Mother and I visited quite a lot and were always made very welcome. Polly was the bread winner and Maggie the homemaker who also looked after their mother Emma – she died aged 84 in 1951.  Auntie Maggie always ‘read our tealeaves’. Polly opened the shop every day –including Sundays- she was so very well known in the town, she always had a roaring fire burning, like everyone else they had evacuees during the war, there was a young boy and later a mother and son.

Their murder was a dreadful shock for everyone, not least the family – it was unbelievable.

If only the one witness- Trixie their little dog, could have talked.

Although the house was quite big they only seemed to use the one room-it always felt very homely, Maggie made delicious pies!”

ormesher shop demolition

Shortly after their deaths, although it had already been decided beforehand, the sister’s shop was demolished

The shop in Church Street had been the subject of a demolition order due to the condition of the old building since the early 1950s and following the deaths, the order was carried out and the shop demolished and re-built.

Ormskirk Bygone Times has copies of the reports of the events following the murders and the details on the coroner’s enquiry.

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Sixty Years On: Part 1

Sixty Years On: Part 1

Ivydene on Asmall Lane, with detectives and police at the scene

Ivydene on Asmall Lane, with detectives and police at the scene

On May 6th this year, it will be 60 years since the town was rocked with the tragic news of the brutal double murder of the Misses Margaret Jane and Mary Ormesher.

The sisters were the daughters of the late Edward and Emma Ormesher, who had brought their family up on Asmall Lane, close to “Ivydene”, the house which  was to become the scene of their deaths.

There were five daughters born to Edward and Emma, of which Margaret was the eldest, Mary the second child and then three more daughters, Emily, Ellen, who sadly died aged just 2 years old in 1897, and May. When May was born in 1900, Margaret was 12 years old.

Mary Ormesher

Mary Ormesher

Edward worked as a carter for a Mineral Water Company, he had moved the family to Chapel Street for a short time in the early 1900s where they ran a small beerhouse known as the John Bull at the corner of Chapel Street and St Helens Road, but they moved back to Asmall Lane where Edward took the licence for the Brickmakers Arms.  Margaret Jane left home to become a live in domestic servant for a newly married couple Albert Kelsall and Hilda Clarice his wife, at ‘Highfield’, 31,Greetby Hill.

Younger sister Emily was married in 1917 to a soldier who was serving in the war, her younger sister May was a witness, the husband John William Allen was from Halsall Lane, Emily’s father Edward (Ned) Ormesher set up his own business after the Brickmakers Arms licence was made redundant selling small hardware like brushes and oil lamps from a horse and cart, he travelled around the district and was well known in the area.  He had a brother Robert from Westhead and 2 married sisters, Mrs Lydia Light and Mrs Annie Lownsbrough, there were therefore  several cousins of the sisters in the Ormskirk, Westhead, Lathom and Skelmersdale areas.

The shop on Church Street run by the sisters

The shop on Church Street run by the sisters

Mary Ormesher took a lease on a small shop at 24 Church Street and ran a sweet and tobacco business for a number of years.  She became well known in the town and very well liked and respected as was her sister Margaret.

Whether it was because of local rumours that suggested the sisters were money lenders and were hoarding large sums of money, (rumours proved false by the C.I.D. team after the murders) or whether it was an opportunist robbery gone badly and devastatingly wrong, one or more people committed the murder at the Asmall Lane Cottage overnight from the 5th to the 6th May 1956. There had been intelligence sources relayed to the local police 18 months before the murders suggesting that the shop was going to be a target for a robbery and the sisters were advised to be vigilant.

The sisters apparently put up a desperate fight to fend off their attacker, police statements at the time were clear that whoever did enter the cottage, will have left with some serious wounds which would need medical attention.

Specific items of jewellery were taken, of which there were very precise descriptions, an 18ct gold patterned ring, similar to a man’s signet ring but with a large blue sapphire and two smaller sapphire stones on it. A lady’s oblong faced platinum bracelet watch made by Russell, with diamond chipping surround and sapphires at each corner, quite distinctive. Bought in 1942 for £95.00, which is almost £45.000.00 in today’s money, although the piece sounds so unusual it could well be worth more because of its quality.

Margaret Jane Ormesher

Margaret Jane Ormesher

The beloved family dog, a black spaniel called ‘Trixie’ was also killed on that night, which explains the lack of barking which might have alerted the neighbours more than they already had been that night, when breaking glass and ‘groaning’ and a man’s voice were discounted as anything serious.

The Ormskirk Advertiser immediately posted a reward of £50 to anyone providing information which would lead to the culprit.

There are so many aspects of the case which in modern times would most likely lead to an almost immediate arrest of a suspect, unfortunately it happened at a time when crime scene investigation was not supported by the technology and science available now.

Ormskirk Bygone Times have a large collection of information surrounding the sad loss of these two well known and well liked residents of Ormskirk.  Part 2 of this article will follow soon

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