The Cross Keys Mystery

This was not one of the ‘stories’ that the newspapers published in 1856 but a story I came across in 1979. Unfortunately I cannot remember the source and would be delighted if anyone reading this web site can track down the original source.

Bob Brettle, a famous Birmingham bare knuckle fighter, was in training at Hednesford in readiness for his championship fight with ‘Gypsy’ Jem Mace. Two of the main backers of Bob Brettle were the gamblers Dr. William Palmer and John Parsons Cook for whose murder Palmer was later hanged at Stafford.

Cook and Palmer used to meet up each day with Brettle in the Cross Keys Public House, after his day’s training, to check up on their fighters progress. The Cross Keys at Hednesford is the public house behind which Hednesford Town Football Team used to play before their move to a new ground at Keys Park in 1995.

The Cross Keys Public House as it looked February 2001 Photograph by D. Lewis
The Cross Keys Public House as it looked February 2001 Photograph by D. Lewis

One night in the Cross Keys there was a big brute of a navvy (a labourer) who took great delight in playing tricks on people or insolently drinking other people’s drinks. Bob Brettle gradually became more and more fed up with the antics of the by now drunken and loud navvy and was threatening ‘to sort him out’. Palmer was worried about his prize fighter getting hurt before such an important fight and told Brettle to leave the bully to him.

Palmer got Brettle to order a drink for the navvy and then took a packet of white powder out of his pocket and put it in to the navvy’s drink. They had no more trouble from the man until, at closing time, the landlord found him completely unconscious slumped at a table. The landlord made up a bed of straw for the navvy in the stables.

The navvy slept “like a corpse” in the stables. Brettle was worried about him and went in next morning and several times during the day to check on him. It appeared that the dope had not worn off and the man looked as dead as a door nail. Brettles was so worried that he got up early the next morning to go again and check up on the man but to his surprise the body had disappeared.

Had the navvy regained consciousness and slipped away or had Palmer disposed of the body? We shall never know!!