BARBARA Sagar died an agonising death in the filthy, disease-ridden surroundings of Exley Head Workhouse in Keighley.

A government inspector stated that the workhouse was ‘so dirty that vermin dropped from the ceiling like flies,’ and ‘staff were encouraged to wear light coloured clothes as it was easier to spot fleas and pick them off.’

Barbara, who met her grim end in 1857, was not among those penniless souls who sought refuge in the building, but its matron. She was married to John Sagar, a former painter and later publican in Cullingworth, who took on the role of workhouse master.

The pair are said to have had a volatile relationship, with rumours rife in the locality that John - described by many as a ‘cruel, nasty person with a sadistic streak and a natural bully’- mistreated his wife.

When Barbara’s health suddenly deteriorated, she became mistrustful of the medicine given to her by John, telling one visitor: ‘take that bottle and smash it to shivers, as I will take no more of it, it will kill me.’

She allegedly told fiends that her husband was trying to murder her, saying ‘If owt ‘appens to me then you might think it was murder’. Not long after, Barbara died.

The story of her death and its aftermath is among those included in Bloody Yorkshire: Volume 2, the second book by author Wendy Rhodes, which continues to document Yorkshire’s most unsavoury crimes.

Barbara and John suffered tragedy in their lives, losing nine children, all before the age of four. All are buried in Haworth churchyard not far from the Bronte Parsonage.

It was a mystery to everyone as to why they left a decent home in Cullingworth take on their roles at the workhouse.

A post mortem after Barbara’s death found arsenic - ‘more than enough’ to kill her.

Yet, despite this evidence, and testimonies from others as to the cruelty inflicated upon her by John, including dragging her by her hair, beating and kicking her, the court case collapsed. It was felt that there was not sufficient evidence to convict him.

Instead of facing the gallows, John moved to Bradford and, amazingly, married Elizabeth, a woman 22 years his junior. They lived at 45 White Abbey Road. John died in 1873, aged 69.

Also featuring among these often gruesome crimes of bygone years, are two cases of murder from Bradford, both fuelled by overindulging in alcohol.

One involved Esther Neale who with her husband Francis, ran a draper’s shop at 14 Darley Street. Due to her unhappy marriage, Ester turned to drink. She was involved in many a drunken brawl with Francis, disturbing the residents of Grosvenor Street, Manningham, where they lived.

In 1888 Esther’s failed attempt to seduce a tradesman resulted in a fight when Francis, who caught the pair together. Francis claimed she was alive when he left to go to a local pub. When he returned she was dead.

Her injuries included five broken ribs, alongside evidence of violent blows.

Francis was arrested and put on trial. Despite the evidence against him, he was found not guilty of murder due to the provocation of seeing his wife naked with another man (who wanted no part of it and tried to persuade her to get dressed).

He was released to a round of applause, which was suddenly halted by the judge.

Wendy relays details of an incident in Wilsden. In the early hours of Saturday 23 August the village was alive with rumours of murder and suicide involving Ezekiel Sutcliffe and his wife Jane who lived with four of their six children at 22 Shay Gate, one of a row of cottages.

Villagers stated that Ezekiel had been behaving strangely for a long time, one saying he was ‘wrong on his head.’

Jane, from Haworth was a good mother and hard worker but she and her husband did not get on and would argue into the night.

One evening in 1890, Ezekiel drunk himself into a frenzy and strangled his wife as slept. Shortly after, he left the house and ran to Birks Head where he climbed the fence surrounding a dam and ended his life.

He was found by a weaver Robert Hornby. Sutcliffe’s head was embedded in the mud at the bottom of the dam - which was only four feet deep - while his feet were sticking out of the water.

The inquest was held at the Brown Cow inn, Ling Bob. Ezekiel’s motive was said to be jealousy - he suspected that his wife was having an affair, but this was not true.

Bloody Yorkshire: Volume 2 by Wendy Rhodes is published by La-di-Dah Publishing and is available from Amazon.