Shown here with the kind permission of Jennie Lee Cobban, from her personal collection.
In my book ‘Lancashire Folk’ I mention a well-known story about the ghost of John Dawson who is said to haunt a lonely lane in Bashall Eaves. As the book contains so many stories, this piece is of necessity short, but after consulting several versions of the tale I thought I had all the correct facts I needed to write a decent summary. And then I came across someone who is in full possession of all the real facts – because she is the great-niece of the aforesaid Mr Dawson. Except that his name was Jim, not John. This was my version:
In 1934, farmer John Dawson was on his way home from the local pub when he felt a sharp blow to his shoulder as if someone had thrown a stone at him. He looked around for his assailant but saw no-one. His shoulder was painful but he gave it little thought, until next morning when the pain had increased so much that he asked his sister, with whom he lived, to have a look at it. She was horrified to realise that her brother’s pain was caused not by a stone, but a bullet. She immediately sent John to hospital, but it was too late and he died a few days later in Blackburn Royal Infirmary.
Police spoke to every gun-owner in the area and, as the bullet had clearly been hand-made, every workshop was examined for evidence but the killer was never found.
Today, the lane by John Dawson’s farm is still avoided at night, as many people have seen the ghost of a figure with a gaping wound in his back, passing through the hedge into the farmyard.
When I asked Jennie Lee Cobban about her great-uncle’s story, this is what she wrote to me:
“Jim Dawson, my great uncle, was shot in the shoulder while walking down a dark lane on his way home to Bashall Hall on March 18th 1934. The case remains an unsolved crime. He was shot by an unknown assailant, using an unidentified weapon that shot a home-made bullet as big as a bird’s egg. No motive was ever established and he died of septicaemia four days later. His ghost is said to lurk around in the hedges forever looking for the weapon that fired the bullet that killed him.
“His name was James (usually known as Jim) Dawson, not John. John was one of his brothers. When Jim got in after he’d been to the pub (the Edisford Arms, a couple of miles away) he didn’t say a word about what had happened, had a good supper and went to bed. My father Jack slept in the same room as his uncle Jim and heard him tossing and turning all night. The next morning Jim called for Lily Lee (nee Dawson – his sister and my grandmother) to come and look at his back, commenting that he thought he’d been shot the night before. My father Jack (then aged 17) noted that there was a pool of blood under the bed.
“Jim wasn’t sent by his sister to Blackburn Infirmary. He and Lily together went to see a private radiologist in Preston New Road, Blackburn who X-rayed his shoulder and discovered the large home-made bullet lodged there. Bizarrely, he then refused medical intervention and went home and actually showed the police round what was to become the site of his own murder. Jim died not in Blackburn Infirmary but a private nursing home at 20, Shear Bank Road, Blackburn on 22nd March as a result of the wound becoming septic.
“It is correct that every household had to hand in their guns for examination and that the police prowled round all the farms looking for evidence of a weapon that could have fired the enormous bullet. His ‘farm’, was actually Bashall Hall, a medieval manor house that the Dawsons had farmed since the mid eighteenth century!
“The ‘lane by Jim Dawson’s farm’ is presumably referring to Back Lane, the narrow and usually deserted lane where he was actually shot. People don’t avoid it because of Jim’s ghost – most people haven’t a clue that this is where the shooting took place! And unfortunately not a single person has come forward to confirm that they have actually witnessed the ghost.”
Jennie has spent a large amount of her time researching this case and, as a lover of ghostly tales and folklore, would have liked nothing better than to find someone who had actually seen the ghost of her great-uncle. Strange, then, that a local tour-guide was able to appear on TV stating that some postmen had not only seen the ghost, but heard him moaning ‘Why? Why? Why?’ And strange that the many other versions of this story, published in many other books, include it precisely because it is a ghost story, which naturally infers that people have actually seen the ‘ghost’.
A ghost story without a ghost? We shouldn’t be surprised. Proper and diligent research often finds evidence that a folkloric story is but a storyfied version of the truth. The tale of the White Lady of Samlesbury Hall, for example, names her confidently as Dorothy Southworth – but in fact there is no such name anywhere in the family pedigree. However, a similar story was told about Pleasington Hall, not too far away, where there was indeed a factual Dorothy. It is entirely possible that the stories became mixed, over the centuries.
Finding historical facts is part of the joy of exploring folklore and ghost stories. It must be irritating to Jennie to find so many erroneous versions of the ‘facts’ which have been published over the years. I can only apologise for promoting yet another mythic version of the truth – ‘Lancashire Folk’ has gone to print now, so it’s too late for me to put things right. However, as Jennie says, ‘…the ghost story has, without doubt, helped to maintain the high profile of this puzzling murder mystery.’
To read more – and you should, it’s really interesting – please see this link which will take you to the relevant chapter in Jennie Cobban’s book; ‘Wall of Silence: The Peculiar Murder of Jim Dawson at Bashall Eaves’.
(It’s a facebook post in images – go full-screen and keep clicking the right arrow for further pages.)