The cottages at Daisy Croft, named after a corn mill which had stood on that site beside the River Calder since the Norman period, were probably already a couple of hundred years old when they were demolished in 1905 to make way for the Brighouse Assembly Rooms and they would once have adjoined the Anchor Inn and faced the Black Swan in Queen Anne’s Square. Sadly this formerly thriving area between Brighouse and Bridge End is today little more than a traffic thoroughfare and car-park in the shadow of the derelict silos of Sugden’s Mill. But in July 1887, Daisy Croft was the location of a curious and macabre episode in Brighouse social history.
At the time, the cottage Number 23, was occupied by Mrs. Sykes and her teenage son, who’d moved into the dwelling a couple of years previously. One day whilst the boy was cleaning in an upstairs room, his attention was drawn to a small vent hole in the ceiling. Squeezing himself through the narrow aperture into the void beyond, amidst the darkness and centuries’ accumulated detritus he was soon startled to run his hand over something which felt very much like bone. Unnerved, he hurriedly returned to the light of the room below, carrying his discovery with him and sure enough, on closer inspection he realised he’d found a human arm and leg bone.
A local physician, Dr. Bond, was summoned and concluded they belonged to the right side of a young human female. He also speculated from the state of preservation that when they were concealed, they probably still had human flesh upon them. The discovery and Bond’s subsequent conjectures caused a great stir in the town. Rumours circulated that it was the skeleton of a young woman who’d disappeared some years previously and that when she was found, she was still wearing a jewelled ring on her bony finger. The frenzy was stoked by the fact that Mrs. Sykes began to display the bones in the cottage and charged admittance to see them, attracting hundreds of visitors per day until the police removed the remains for reburial.
Subsequent investigation revealed, however, that the truth was less grisly than many had supposed at the time, although no less bizarre. It transpired that in the early 19th Century the cottage had been used as the surgery of one Doctor Hopkinson. He was regarded in his day as a specialist in a number of diseases but he was also known for having a drink problem and a morbid sense of humour. Some of the older people in the town recalled that he kept a human skeleton in his consulting room and when he was under the influence of alcohol, would delight in using it to terrify his young and elderly patients. Unsurprisingly, the police concluded the bones were most likely to have been left there by Hopkinson, maybe by accident or maybe as some further practical joke from beyond the grave.
The exhibition of human remains was evidently a common practice in Brighouse during the late 19th Century. An article in the Brighouse Echo dated 18th July 1952 records that more than half a century previously a coffin had been unearthed during quarrying at Southowram. It contained the skeleton of a local landowner named Dan Maude, who’d died at least fifty years before that, leaving instructions that he was to be buried on his own land. The bones were exhumed and placed on public display, with local people charged two-pence each to view the macabre spectacle. However, it is recorded that it was “eventually kicked to pieces by drunkards”. One doubts the outcome would have been any different had the skeleton been displayed in the district in more recent times.