Leaf Fall at the Woodman

Following on from Joanne Carter’s search for her Bishopthorpe ancestors, the Leaf family, I found the following sad story:

Richard Leaf was a 56 year-old tailor who lived in Main Street, Bishopthorpe.  On the afternoon of Tuesday, 21 April 1868, he called into The Woodman for a quiet drink and received a little more than he had bargained for.  His life came to an abrupt and unexpected end which necessitated a Coroner’s Inquest. The case had excited much interest because of the reluctance of some witnesses to give a straightforward account of the mystery which, at first, seemed to surround Richard Leaf’s death.

It was during this period that the York to Selby line of the North Eastern Railway was being built and the village pubs would have seen their fair share of navvies who were working in the area.  On the afternoon in question, Mr. Leaf found himself at The Woodman in the company of two navvies.  One of the men started to quarrel with his companion who refused to respond.  John Simpson, the landlord’s son, told the inquest that Leaf spoke to the quarrelsome navvy who objected to his interfering in a private argument.  They argued for a short while and then Leaf jumped up and challenged the navvy to a fight.  The two men fought until Leaf took a blow which knocked him into a chair.  His opponent wished to continue but John Simpson would not let him. Simpson also remarked that Leaf received a blow on his right cheek near the eye.  Leaf got up, put on his coat, and walked out.  He appeared to be well and was not drunk as testified by Sarah Kezia Simpson, the landlord’s daughter.  She stated that he had had two glasses of whisky, but added she noticed his face was bleeding.

Later, witnesses found Richard Leaf lying on his face on the ground outside The Woodman.  Two men carried him into the pub, laid him on the floor where he slept and snored loudly.  His wife Charlotte arrived, assumed her husband was drunk, and promptly returned home.  A further fight broke out between the navvies while Leaf was unconscious on the floor but witnesses claimed he was not touched.  Charlotte returned to the inn and found two men lifting up her husband. It was then she noticed that his face was bleeding.

The surgeon, Mr. J. I. F. Marshall of York, was sent for but, as he was not at home, he did not arrive at Bishopthorpe until a quarter-past nine in the evening.  By then, Richard Leaf was dead.  Mr. Marshall carried out a post mortem examination and discovered a small wound near the left eye and a bruise on the left cheek bone.  There were no other marks of violence on the body.  However, he found the body in a very diseased state and said he attributed death to apoplexy arising from the diseased condition of the brain.  Death might have been accelerated by excitement and, it was revealed, Leaf was also subject to apoplectic fits.

It was common practice to hold inquests on licensed premises and so The Woodman Inn served as the Coroner’s Court.  The inquest was held there two days after Leaf’s death and adjourned until the following Tuesday, for want of further evidence. In his closing remarks, the Coroner, J. P. Wood, Esq., said that, at one time, the case had assumed a very serious aspect.  There had been a great deal of discrepancy in the early stage of the evidence regarding the deceased being injured on the face.  He was particularly critical of the landlord, Thomas Simpson and his wife, from whom he had considerable difficulty in extracting the real history of the case.  However, following the surgeon’s evidence, the jury could not come to any other conclusion than that the deceased died of apoplexy and, therefore, returned this verdict.

Richard Leaf had lived and worked in the village since about 1834 raising many children from two marriages.  For the last few years of his life, he lived in the house next to The Ebor (currently no. 48 Main Street).  It’s, perhaps, not surprising to learn from a letter, written by a villager on the day after Leaf died, that there was “quite a gloom cast over Bishopthorpe” as a result of the death.  He was laid to rest in St. Andrew’s Churchyard down by the river.


Yorkshire Gazette, 25 April and 2 May 1868.

C.E.W. Brayley, The Annals of Bishopthorpe, (pamphlet 3, p2).

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