The Drowning of Nancy Wood

The waters of the River Roch have claimed more than their fair share of lives over the centuries. One of the earliest recorded drownings was that of 15-year-old Nancy Wood at Crimble back in December 1845.

The River Roch passes the Crimble Mill, 2013. (Dr Neil Clifton)

Nancy, described at the time as a ‘highly-respectable woman’, lived with her parents in a cottage across the river from Crimble Mill, where she worked. One evening, after the mill machinery had stopped for the day, she left work late to find that the river was swollen and fast after a day of torrential rain.

Her mother went to the end of the stone bridge with a large lantern, to provide a bit of light for Nancy to cross over. It was very dark, but she thought she saw Nancy leave the factory door and then shortly afterwards - with a tremble of horror - thought she heard a splash in the river. She watched and listened for Nancy but saw nothing and heard only the roar of the water. She called out Nancy’s name but received no reply, so she crossed the bridge and asked after her daughter at the mill. She was told that Nancy had left around the time her mother thought she had seen her.

People searched the riverbank near the mill but nothing could be seen of her. The search continued for days afterwards, as far downstream as the confluence with the Irwell, but Nancy’s body could not be found.

The mill owner, John Fenton, took part in this search himself, and offered a substantial £3 reward for anybody who could find Nancy. The description of her was given as “15 years of age, light complexion, light brown hair, dressed in a blue printed Dress, brown Holland Pinafore, red plaid Handkerchief (which she wore over her head), and Clogs.”

It was said that Nancy’s mother held out hope for her daughter’s return for years afterwards, and would walk to the door and look outside every time she heard approaching footsteps. It seems that Nancy's body was never seen again.


  • William Robertson, Old & New Rochdale and its People, Kessinger People, 1888.
  • Heywood Advertiser, 1 June 1906, 15 June 1906, 15 March 1907.