On the A60 between Nottingham and Mansfield, a little north of its junction with the B6020 to Kirkby, is the once conspicuous landmark of the Bessie Stone. Now standing in a dip thanks to road improvements, it is marked ‘Sheppard’s Stone’ on the Landranger map and was erected in memory of Elizabeth Sheppard of Papplewick, murdered on this spot on 7 July 1817 by Charles Rotherham of Sheffield.
She was about seventeen, and had left Papplewick that morning to go to Mansfield to find work in service. She was later seen leaving Mansfield but did not reach her home. According to a contemporary broadsheet, some quarry men going to work next morning saw a few halfpence lying on the ground and, when they looked around for more, saw the girl’s mangled body through a hedge. Her head was so battered that her features could scarcely be recognized, the brains protruding from the skull, and one eye knocked completely out of its socket and lying on her cheek.
On 25 July, Charles Rotherham, aged thirty-three, stayed overnight at the Three Crowns in Redhill. While there, he tried to sell a pair of women’s shoes and an umbrella. Unsuccessful, he left the shoes behind in his room but managed to sell the umbrella at Bunny. It was not long before the connection was made between these items and the known possessions of the dead girl. As the broadsheet tells the story, he was traced along the road from Redhill to Loughborough, and was taken on the bridge leading over the canal near there. When the constable approached him, he was looking over the bridge into the water, and did not resist arrest. According to other versions of events, he was caught at Mansfield after selling the girl’s shoes in Nottingham market, or at Nottingham having sold them at Mansfield.
At the coroner’s inquest, Rotherham confessed to the murder but said he did not know why he had killed her. He did not know Elizabeth and did not speak to her during his brutal attack. He had beaten her over the head and other parts of the body with a hedge stake and then thrown her into a ditch. Having found no money on her (evidently the immediate object of the attack), he had taken her shoes and umbrella, and would have taken her gown but could not get it off. The verdict could be nothing other than guilty, and on 28 July he was hanged at Nottingham on Gallows Hill.
Pat Mayfield, in Legends of Nottinghamshire (1976), reports that not long after these events Bessie’s ghost appeared at the spot where she died and coachmen often reported seeing her. It was eventually concluded that she appeared whenever her memorial was disturbed – supernatural occurrences are frequently said to follow the disturbance or removal of particular stones held for one reason or another to be numinous.