Ellen Strange Cairn

Tne Monument and Cairn
The Monument and Cairn with Cowpe Low and Rossendale behind

On the northern fringe of Holcombe Moor above the village of Helmshore there is a cairn and a monument which are said to mark the location of the murder of a woman called Ellen Strange which took place on the moor on 26th January 1761.  The site is not marked on most OS maps but the grid reference is SD 77573 19246, on the north-east ridge of Bull Hill.

The Ellen Strange Monument
The Monument

Actually the monument is modern, erected as part of a commemoration ceremony in 1978.  The woman’s name was Ellen Broadley, though her maiden name may have been Strange.  It is not even certain that the cairn is on the site of the murder.  However the inquest took place at a farm nearby two days afterwards.  Ellen’s husband, John Broadley was arrested and tried for the crime at Lancaster Assizes but there was insufficient evidence and he was acquitted.

For over 200 years different accounts of these events have flourished, several of them including a long poem written down over 100 years afterwards.  It was said that the killer was caught, confessed his sins, was tried and  hanged at Lancaster Assizes and his body placed in a gibbet on Bull Hill. There is a suggestion that the cairn lay elsewhere on the moor and was moved to its  present location by a group of schoolboys just before the First World War. And the  memorial stone, with a carving supposedly representing the tragic Ellen, was thought by some to be an  ancient waymark showing the face of Mary and the baby Jesus.

Quite recently, research by the Helmshore Local History Society provided a more definitive account.  It was published in 1989 in a booklet by John Simpson which can be viewed here.