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Freezing to death, suicide and an escaped asylum patient: The grim and grisly history of the north west’s highest pub

A refuge for travellers for almost two centuries the Cat and Fiddle Inn is one of the north west’s best-known pubs.

Standing 1,689ft above sea level on the Peak District moors it’s also the highest pub in the region and the second highest in England.

Situated on the infamous snaking road of the same name between Macclesfield and Buxton, over the decades it’s been the scene of several grisly and gruesome episodes.

Here, historian Dr Michala Hulme delves into the archives to take a look at the pub’s fascinating past.

READ MORE: Oasis tribute band and 50 punters trapped in Britain’s highest pub by Storm Arwen snow blizzard

As temperatures plummeted and snow and sleet blanketed the moors, Henry Critchley was forced to seek shelter in a derelict house.

The 18-year-old was making the arduous trip over the hills from Buxton to Macclesfield with two friends when the weather took a turn for the worse.

Undeterred, Critchley boasted to his pals that he could finish the journey alone.

Sadly, he had underestimated the extreme conditions.



A snow plough clearing the way to the Cat and Fiddle in March 1955

His lifeless body was discovered the following day by a carter, close to the Cat and Fiddle Inn.

It was the first, but by no means the last, tragedy to strike the landmark pub.

Records are conflicting, but the Cat and Fiddle had probably opened 15 years earlier in 1826, three years after the road to Buxton was complete.

It was built by a local silk merchant named John Ryle, who bought the plot of land because it was next to the new turnpike road.

But it appears that Ryle only owned the property for a few years, as in 1831, it was put up for auction.

Fast forward 40 years and the publican is now 36-year-old Joseph Trueman and his wife, Elizabeth.

The family’s time at the Inn was marred with tragedy.

In 1871, the couple’s five-year-old daughter Frances Ann died of ‘congestion of the brain’.



The remote pub stands 1,689ft above sea level

She would be the first person to be buried in a family plot in St Stephen’s Church, Macclesfield Forest.

Eleven years after the death of Frances, the family went through more heartache when, in 1882, Joseph Trueman took his own life.

He was found by the servants hanging from a rope in one of the outbuildings.

Joseph was reported in the press as a popular man and was widely known as the pub’s landlord.

He was buried alongside his daughter.

Two years after Joseph’s death, the pub was in the press again; this time, it was because a local man named Isaac Coulston had been brought up at the Petty Sessions in Buxton.

His crime was taking passengers in his cab from Buxton to the Cat and Fiddle without a license.



The Cat and Fiddle probably opened in 1826

He charged his passengers 1s. 9d each for the journey.

Knowing that he shouldn’t be taking passengers without a permit, he told his customers that he was only the driver and not the cab owner.

Coulston was refused a licence because he wasn’t a resident ratepayer. He was fined 10s. and costs was told that he must qualify for a license.

During the 1880s and most of the 1890s, Elizabeth Trueman was the publican of the Cat and Fiddle.

Following the death of her husband, she was in charge of both the pub and the farm.

While Elizabeth Trueman was still living at the inn, a young couple named Georgiana Martin and Matthew Beetham married in a suburb of Manchester.

A few months after the wedding, the couple left England to start a new life in Australia. They settled in Sydney and Queensland, where they welcomed two girls: Ethel and Ella Annie.

They stayed in Australia until 1896, when Georgiana decided to travel back to the UK.

She made the 75-day journey with her two young daughters, arriving back on October 15, 1896.



A bus outside the Cat and Fiddle sometime in the 1920s

Matthew returned three years later.

Sometime between 1896-1901, 48-year-old Matthew Beetham and Georgiana took over the running of the Cat and Fiddle.

The 1901 census reveals that the couple lived there with their two daughters, who worked as barmaids, and a groom named Albert Wilshaw.

The couple left the pub sometime between 1911-1918 and moved to Staffordshire, close to Matthew’s family.

While the Beethams were still at the Inn, a flurry of activity occurred on the moors surrounding the Cat and Fiddle when an ‘inmate’ from the Macclesfield Asylum named Miss Armstrong went missing.

Miss Armstrong believed that she had no stomach and spent 15 days on the moors near the Cat and Fiddle without food.

She was found sleeping by a brook and claimed to be a ‘tramp’.

She was taken to Strangeways gaol, where her identity was confirmed and she was transferred back to the asylum.



The pub’s remote, moorland location means it’s often hit by bad weather

In 1918, it was reported in the Times newspaper that the Cat and Fiddle was to close.

But it was saved after the Mayors of Buxton and Macclesfield spoke to the owner, a Misses Grimshaw of Errwood Hall, and they came to a ‘satisfactory agreement’.

That same year a long lease was taken out by Herbert Frood from Buxton, who was the inventor of the brake pad.

He stated that after the war, he was going to rebuild the Inn along the lines of a Swiss chalet, providing ‘first-class accommodation for motorists and residential visitors’.

When Frood advertised the tenancy, he had over 400 applicants, eventually awarding it to W. Kinghorn of the Wheatsheaf Hotel, Macclesfield.

The inn was never converted into a Swiss chalet; but, in 1925, the publican, Mr Cook, was granted planning permission to perform considerable alterations.

That same year, he spoke in the local press about the extreme weather, claiming that the snow during the winter months reached the top bedroom windows!

In 1937, 15 people were stranded in in the pub when the weather took a turn for the worse.

It took 28 hours for a snowplough to reach them.

The licensee kept the group entertained with cards and gossip.

And in 1940, the pub was once again cut off from civilisation.

The licensee James Clark and his wife Dorothy, her mother and a friend were left to survive on tinned fruit for a whole week.



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