High on the slopes of Buckden Pike, at the Northern end of Wharfedale, lies the abandoned ‘Buckden Gavel Mine’. Worked out, it was closed in 1877.
It contains a vast maze of caverns and tunnels, and in 1964 a couple of students from Birmingham University decided to explore it’s labyrinth. After spending a several hours in the mine they went into a large chamber and were horrified to discover the body of a man lying on the floor! They quickly left the mine and called the police – who subsequently launched a murder investigation.
When the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue reached the body, they discovered little more than a dark-stained skeleton clothed in studded boots, trousers, shirt, waist-coat and a felt hat. It was obvious that he had been there a very long time. The body seemed to be in a relaxed pose with the hands folded across the chest.
The contents of the mans’ pockets were examined and revealed an old-fashioned clay pipe, a tobacco tin, a box of three-inch (7.5 cm) long Crown Vesta matches, a medicine bottle containing a colourless fluid, a silver sixpence dated 1872, two shilling pieces dated 1885 and a funeral card for a John Winskill, who is thought to have been buried at Settle in May 1890. A walking stick was also found next to the body.
The pocket contents seemed to place his demise in the early 1890’s, and he seemed to have suffered a natural death – but who was he? In the absence of a formal identification he was dubbed ‘Buckden Bill’.
For years the mystery endured, however it is now looking like identity of ‘Buckden Bill’ may finally be solved.
Members of ‘The Northern Mine Research Society’ have been working hard to discover the identity, searching through old Parish records and it now looks like our ‘Bill’ may in fact be one John Sunter Place. John was a local lad, a lead miner, and in 1868 he married Mary Ann Wiseman. In 1881, with little work in the Dales, they moved to Burnley 35 miles distant to look for work in the cotton mills.
In 1891 John appears to have gone missing, yet no record of his death has ever been found. A later census describes Mary as head of household – though still listed as married. Mary became a cotton weaver, along with 5 of their 6 children.
So where did John Sunter Place go? Judging by the funeral card it would appear that he attended the funeral of John Winskill in the nearby village of Settle, and that for some reason he entered the old Gavel Mine – for whatever reason we’ll probably never know. He was found around 400 yards into the mine in a little-explored passage only reached by climbing three 60ft. shafts. So he didn’t crawl in for shelter. Maybe he was looking to see if there was enough lead still in the mine to allow him to move back and support his family.
And think of his poor wife and children, not knowing what happened to him – waiting for him to come home. Never being able to find out what happened to John Sunter Place.
A very sad, tragic tale.