Who was John, Jane and Elizabeth Brass?


“Jane, daughter of John Brass of Ferryhill, baptised Feb 22, 1662” (EP/Mer 1)

“John, ye sonne of John Brass of Ferryhill, baptised Aug 29, 1665” (EP/Mer 1) (Extract Above)

“Elizabeth, daughter of John Brass of Ferryhill, baptised 1672” (EP/Mer 2)   

Merrington Parish Register (Picture Courtesy of DRO EP/Mer 1)



John, Jane and Elizabeth Brass were the children of John and Margaret Brass who owned Brass Farm, west of Ferryhill - now known as High Hill House Farm.  The oldest child was Jane Brass, who was about at the time of the murder 19 years old.  John, the second oldest and the only son in the family, was 17 years old. The youngest was Elizabeth, who would have been about 10 years of age. 


Who was Andrew Mills?  


Andrew Mills was known to be 18 to 19 year old, who killed his employer’s three children at the time of the Christmas celebrations of 1683.  He was a servant at Brass Farm – now known as High Hill House Farm – which still stands in the far west of Ferryhill, behind now Ferryhill Comprehensive School.     He was known to be deficient of intellect or somewhat deranged.


A plausible connection to servant hiring at Durham City


Jacob Bee, a resident of Durham City at the time of the murders, wrote this information in his diary.


“1682…The first day that men and women servants presented themselves to be hired in Durham markett was the 6th day of May 1682.”  

Jacob Bee’s Diary, 1683

Available in publication form in "Six North Country Diaries", edited by J.C. Hodgeson (The Surtees Society) 1910  


 The London Article comments "... he living there but a short time..." may connect to the above.


How the legend starts


According to records, the parents went to visit friends. They were bragging about the news that their eldest daughter was going to be married at Candlemas (February 2nd).  The folio sheets that just before the parents left the house, Mills was outside "feeding the oxen".   


The Murders  


Original Documents


The murders took place at Brass House, now known as High Hill House, on the western ridge, between Ferryhill, Kirk Merrington, and Spennymoor.  Given its almost secluded location away from all three towns, it would set the scene of the North of England most inhumame murders.  These murders were so terrible by description that the news of them even spread as far down to London.


The London Folio Sheet of 1682 (n.s. 1683)


Full Original and Transcript Details Here


According to the folio sheet of 1682, it states that the children were "most Barbarously and Inhumanely Murdered: Their Throats being Cut, their Bodies greatly Mangled, especially their Heads and Necks." 


Jacob Bee's Diary, commencing 29th of August 1681.


Jacob Bee’s Diary, 1683

Available in publication form in "Six North Country Diaries", edited by J.C. Hodgeson (The Surtees Society) 1910

"Jacob Bee, his booke, given him the 29th of August, 1681" 

Available on Durham University Archives and Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Ref: PG, Special. Shelfmark: XL942.06 BEE  


19th Century Information


Information by Robert Surtees, Historian of County Durham


Robert Surtees of Mainsforth, who researched and wrote the volumes "The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine in Durham" in the 19th Century, mentions Andrew Mills confession.  Accordingly, he chased the two elder children into a bedroom, where Jane managed to bolt the door locked just before Mills reached her. He then thrust his axe against the wood.  It did not take much before the iron hinges started to move, and the wood stables to shatter.  In desperation, Jane used her right hand and put it through a crack, and used it as a makeshift bolt.  It only took the final blow, and Jane’s arm broke, and sent her flying across the room.  She looked on as John struggled with him for a while but it wasn’t long before he too lost  some sort of concentration with the fight, and Mills knocked him in the head with the axe. John lay in pain on the floor, dying from a fractured skull. He then proceeded with cutting his throat. He then went to Jane and killed her.


Elizabeth was screaming and Mills then turned, and put his attention, with his wide wild violent eyes, to her, who now, so terrified, lay shaking violently and hiding under her bed linen.


According to Mills’s confession, he had a fond relationship with the eleven year old, whilst being in employment. It was due to his childlike ways.  Elizabeth cried in sorrow, and prayed to Mills to spare her life. She offered him bread, butter, sugar, and toys – all the little things that meant so much – in return to keep her soul.  Andrew left the room and it seemed that Elizabeth was going to be spared.    


 The Devil Appears 


When Mills left the room whilst Elizabeth’s life was at the edge of her hands, he walked in to the dark corridor near the stairs where he chased Jane, and it was here, according to his confession, where the Devil in the shape of a hideous creature met him in the passage.    


"...but that in going of the room he met in the passage a hideous creature like a fierce wolf with red fiery eyes, its two legs were like those of a stag, its body resembled an eagle, and was supplied with two enormous wings; this apparition addressed Mills with a most unchristian croak, in the words


Go back, thou hateful wretch, resume thy cursed knife

I long to view more blood, spare not the young one's life


And the injunction was obeyed."  

W. Longstaff, "The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington", 1854 (page 152)  


The Devil told him to spare no-one, and with the words, ringing continuously in his ears, Mills returned to the room, dragged the girl from under her bed and began by “dashing out her brains”.   


Legend stated that Mills stayed with his bloody victims for quite some time but realizing the enormity of his crime, he bolted from the house, and ran into Ferryhill where his blood-stained clothing and wild talk sealed his fate… 


Other Accounts of the Murders


Many local people in Ferryhill continue to associate the Old Windmill with the Murders.  However old records state that the Murders took place inside the house, and the fact that the Windmill was not built until the mid 19th century.  


Finding the Bodies, and the Arrest of Andrew Mills


Andrew Mills rushed into the home of which John and Margaret were visiting, and proclaimed to his employer that two men had broken into the farmhouse and had murdered all the children, during the time when Mills had been apparently "feeding the oxen", and had overheard one man say to the other,.  However, Margaret Brass, the employer's wife, possibly noticing something about Andrew Mills clothing, and body language, cried out, "Villain, none but thou has Murther'd my Children"


Upon hearing Andrew's account, lots of people within Ferryhill flocked to Brass Farm, taking Andrew Mills with them, where they found all the Children barbarously murdered in a bedroom.  Two (short handled?) blood-stained axes were found at the scene of the crime.  Everyone at this point suspected that Andrew Mills was the murderer and upon being body searched, a blood-stained knife was found in his pocket.  However Mills protested his innocence.


A coroner was sent for, and a panel of people were empanelled as jury and questioned Andrew about the murders, but, with Mills still insisting on his innocence, the coroner asked the jury to withdraw, and he then asked Mills that if he was guilty of the murder and confess this fact, then he would befriend Mills by saving his life.  He confessed and was subsequently arrested and taken to Durham Goal.


Troops marching to Durham


According to some books, troops marching from Darlington to Durham that very night apprehended Mills as he came running into Ferryhill with wild news of a triple murder. 


"1682-3. Jan.  A company of troopers passing from Darlington to Durham are said to have assisted Mr. Brass to seize the probably insane Andrew Mills...It is said also that the old Brasses on their return heard the most dreadful howlings of dogs and screeching of owls, the horse bolted continually, and at last, at the place where Andrew Mills's Stob afterwards stood, would not move a peg more.  Andrew threw from a thicket, and on enquiry told of his horrid deed.  The mother fell to the ground, and the troopers who were passing at the time helped to secure the murderer.  Mary was conveyed to a place of safety, Dobbing again went on, and the hapless father arrived at his bloody home."  

W. Longstaff, "The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington", 1854 (page 152)  


Another story of how Mills was suspected...


Another local legend has it that John and Margaret Brass were traveling back home when they accounted Mills.  According to the legend, Owls from the trees and dogs from nearby farms started to go mad and Dobbing, their horse which was driving John and his wife home suddenly stopped and refused to go further.  Suddenly Mills came out the darkness and upon seeing his employer, (with some accounts informing that Mills spoke about what he had done; other accounts informing that Mills after been recognised, ran past without saying a word), and his blood stained appearance caught the attention of troops that were traveling from Darlington to Durham that very night.  After the parents made the horse move again, they managed to reach home and found the bodies alone. 


The Children are buried at St. Johns Church, Merrington



“John Brasse, Jane Brasse and Elizabeth Brasse, the son and daughters of John Brasse of Ferryhill, all three murdered in their father’s house, by one Andrew Mills, and were all three buryed, XXVI of January, 1682/3”.

Merrington Parish Register (Courtesy of DRO EP/Mer 2)

Fragment of original Brass Children tomb inside St. John the Evangelist Church, Kirk Merrington (North Wing)



The morning after the murders occurred, the burial of the children took place in the Churchyard of Merrington – know called Kirk Merrington.    


Tradition says that Mills’ father, who showing still some affection for his son, went up to Merrington, and scratched away the word ‘Executed’ with the tip of the walking stick, but this has to be considered very unlikely due to the restoration date of the tomb was 1789.   



Mills' imprisonment at the Old Gaol of Durham City


Click here to see an old painting of Durham Gaol at the top of Saddler Street, Durham.  This was demolished around 1820, after the completion of the current Durham Prison, at Old Elvet, Durham, at the same time.

Link to Durham University's "Pictures in Print" website


Middle of Saddler Street - former location of the original Durham Gaol, before its demolition around 1820. Jimmy Allen's Bar and Lounge, under Elvet Bridge.  In the 17th Century, this was the House of Correction, which was linked to Durham Goal in 1632 Jimmy Allen's Bar and Lounge.  The building is reputed to be haunted by the ghost and sound of bagpipes of James Allen, piper to the Duchess of Northumberland

Photography by Darrell Nixon, 2007


Criminals of all kinds would have been imprisoned either at the County Gaol at the top of Saddler Street, or at the old 'Bridewell' / House of Correction (now the "Jimmy Allen" bar), under Elvet Bridge, both in Durham City.  These prisons were interlinked around 1632, according to David Simpson in The Northern Echo newspaper, "Echo Memories" column. 


The condition of the cells were intolerable.  A typical cell, according to the Durham University website "Crime and Punishment in Durham, 1750 - 1900", would have been around 13 to 14 feet in length by 13 feet in width, and 9 feet in height.  Prisoners were kept in total darkness - the lucky ones based in the Gaol at Saddler Street had a window where they could see the grand view of the Cathedral or the view of Saddler Street. Rubbish and human waste were only removed on small occasions. Sometimes the cells were overcrowded, and felons laid on beds made of straw and their sheets often infected with bugs and insects.  Rats were the only company a felon had.  These were considered "fitter for reception of coals than any human being". 


The trial of Andrew Mills, and been condemned ‘INSANE’   


17th to 18th Century Law on Murder


"By Stat 25. Geo. 2. c. 37. Persons found guilty of willful murder shall be executed on the day next but one after sentence passed, unless the same happen on a Sunday, and then on the Monday.  The body, (if executed in London or Middlesex), to be delivered to the surgeons company to be anatomized, if in any other county, to such surgeon as the judge shall direct for that purpose.  The sentence to be announced in open cart immediately after conviction with the time of execution and the marks of infamy hereby directed.

If there be reasonable cause, the judge may slay execution.  The judge may order the body of the murderer to be hung in chains, but in no case to be buried, unless after dissection.  After conviction the prisoner to be confined separate and apart from other prisoners, and not person but the gaoler, &c., to have access to the prisoner without license from the judge, sheriff, or under-sheriff...and after sentence until execution the prisoner to be fed on bread and water, except on receiving the sacrament, or in case of violent wounds or sickness".

"A New Law = Dictionary, containing the interpretation and Definition of Words and Term used in the Law, as also the Law and practice under the proper Heads and Titles.  Together with such learning as explained the history and antiquity of the Law; our Manners, Customs, and Original Government", Compiled by Gilles, Jacob, and now corrected and greatly enlarged by J. Morgan. Esquire. 

London. Printed by W. Stratan and W. Woodfall, Law-Printers to the King's Most Excellent Majesty.  MDCCLXXII (1782)


The Old Assizes


The Exchequer, Palace Green - on the site of what was originally, until 1811, the County Court or "Assizes"

Photography by Darrell Nixon, 2007   

"Immediately north of Windy Gap and fronting on to Palace Green originally stood the former County Court or Sessions House building of the Palatinate of Durham, which until 1811 served also as the Assize Court.  The court building was rebuilt on this site in 1588 and it was rebuilt again for Bishop Cosin in 1664, with an impressive loggia of semi-circle arches along the front, possibly retained from the earlier building.  Traces of the ends of a covered passage which at one stage, probably in the late 18th and 19th centuries, connected the court building to the Grammar School on the opposite side of Windy gap are visible in the exterior of both buildings."  

Text used by permission of Palace Green Library, Durham University, in their exhibition catalogue 

"The Changing Face of Durham City", which ran from 29 August 2006 to 31 January 2007.   


At Andrew Mill’s trial at Durham Assizes, Palace Green, not a single motive was established.  Local Reports stated: “The half witted creature gave no motive for his crimes beyond suggesting he had done all at the suggestion of the Devil”.     


Jealousy was suggested by the 19th Century historian Robert Surtees who that Mills harboured some desire for Jane, and as she did not take well to his advances, he became violent when she pushed him away.  This may have given reason for him to snap so suddenly, but this could not be proved.  There was even the suggestion of a quarrel occurring after the parents had left the house, but even this was unproven.  Mills remained to his words, right to his end, that he had acted under the most diabolical influence and suggestion of the Devil.  


The Judge listened to the expert 'testimony' and witness accounts, but at sentencing, he would have no option but to issue the death penalty and for Andrew to be hung at once.



Torture, Hanging, and Death of Mills


Before mentioning the circumstances surrounding the death of Andrew Mills, it has been made possible to note the following:


Weaver, writing in 1631, says:-

"He that commits that crying sinne of murther, is vsually  hanged up in chaines, so to continue vntil his bodie be consumed, at or near the place where the fact was perpetrated"

Weever, "Ancient Funeral Monuments", p22, edit, 1631, 

Mentioned by Albert Hartshorne, in "Hanging in Chains", The Cassell Publishing Company, New York, 1893.


On Wednesday 15th August 1683, Andrew Mills was hanged in chains at approximately half a mile north of the village of Ferryhill..    


By Andrew Mills, their father’s servant,

For which he was executed and hung in chains  

"Hanged Man", by Stephen Livingstone of Spennymoor.  

A.J. Coia "Millennium Memories", Spennymoor Town Council, 2000 

Epitaph Description, St. John's  Church, Kirk Merrington  


The Fact


The fact is that Andrew Mills was executed by hanging by rope at or near Dryburn, Durham, and then his body would be transported to near Ferryhill for public exhibition and caution to other could-be criminals.  This is recorded in two books and even on the Children's Alter tomb:


"...1683.  In that year the body of a man, named Andrew Mills, who had been executed at Durham for the murder of his master's three children, was hung in chains near to Ferry Hill."  

"Notes and Queries", Oxford Journal, 1872 (4th S.X. Nov. 9, '72)  (page 382)  


"Andrew Mills was executed at Durham for the triple murders of the Brass children at Hill House Farm, near Ferryhill."  

A. J. Coia "Millennium Memories" Spennymoor Town Council, 2000  (page 99)  


"By Andrew Mills, their father’s servant,

For which he was executed and hung in chains. "

Part of the murdered Brass Children's Tombstone Epitaph


The following is customary for its time:


Andrew Mills was sentenced to be hanged at Durham.  As public opinion was high in that time, it was demanded that his body should be brought back to near the scene of the crime to be displayed. So before he was hung, he was measured by a local blacksmith - usually hired by the Court - in his condemned cell.  He was measured for his last suit - a gibbet cage for which his body would be later displayed.  


His execution took place straight after his trial of being found guilty.  Armed soldiers escorted Mills from the Court, and put into a metal cage on a cart and driven through the old streets of Durham.  First from Palace Green in the shadow of the Cathedral, down Owengate, through the Great North Gate of Durham Gaol, down Saddler Street, through the Market Place (the place where possibly in May the previous year he stood as part of a servant auction), down Silver Street, across Framwellgate Bridge, along Millburngate, and through Framwelgate Peth to Dryburn, at the outskirts of the city. The day of his execution would have indeed drawn masses of crowds; people wanting to see the young man responsible for the "most and barbarous murder that was heard on in the North or elsewhere". Through the streets, crowds would have shouted abuse and hauled stones and rotten food at him.  


The exact location of pre-1811 executions at Dryburn and Framwellgate are impossible to state.  Three locations are mentioned by local historians.  The first being Gallows Field, now the site of St. Leonard's Roman Catholic School.  The second being Gilbert Knowles, formally called Gibbet Knowles.  This is now a street called 'Black Western Hill'.  The third location being now the site of the University Hospital of North Durham.  It is possible that all three locations were used as execution spots at one time or another.


At the site of Andrew Mills' execution, there was a public gallows, of which there was a high platform with a strong wooden beam running across the top, attached to it some hanging ropes.  His hanging would have drawn a massive crowd.  The rope was put round his neck and at the last beat of a soldier's drum, a hole beneath his feet opened, and he was hung until he was dead.  A doctor announced his death at the scene.


A few days later, he was taken down from the rope, and before his body was placed in his metal cage, it would have tarred with pitch for preservation.  Andrew, inside his cage, would have been lifted onto a cart and driven by soldiers to the location, a three-quarter mile north of Ferryhill, overlooking the scene of the murder.  He was placed on his gibbet on Wednesday 15th August 1683.


It was said that his gibbet overlooked the scene of the murder, approximately at a half mile distance north of Ferryhill.  Even today, at this distance, you can still see High Hill House Farm on the ridge facing west.  His gibbet would have been a 30 foot, strong, wooden post where an iron compartment, holding inside the body of the criminal, hung from.  


His body was left to rot - his flesh and eyes pecked and eaten by crows - until all his bones fell out of his metal cage.  


The Fiction


It is entirely untrue that Andrew Mills was sentenced to be hung alive in chains.  Reason being - opinion and continuous belief has replaced fact.


Many historians have been based their work on the second possibility, because Jacob Bee wrote in his diary:


“...This same Andrew Millns, alias Miles, was hang’d in irons upon a gybett nere Ferryhill upon the 15th day of August, being Wednesday, this yeare, 1683.” 

Jacob Bee’s Diary, 1683 

Available in publication form in "Six North Country Diaries", edited by J.C. Hodgeson (The Surtees Society) 1910

"Jacob Bee, his booke, given him the 29th of August, 1681"

Available on Durham University Archives and Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Ref: PG, Special. Shelfmark: XL942.06 BEE  


It is customary, according to the law at the time, for bodies of criminals to be hung in chains.


During the period of his hanging, it is said that a couple of families left the village, until his cries of agony were over.


"There is a further supernatural story of Andrew's living several days on the stob or gallows from whence his agonised cries were heard for miles around; and of the people in Ferry Hill and the adjacent hamlets actually deserted their dwellings till life had departed from the poor wretch.  A beautiful tale connects this surviving with the tenderness of a peasant girl beloved by Mills, who brought him milk every day, and fed him through the iron cage in which his tortured limbs were bound."  

W. H. D. Longstaff "The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Darlington", Darlington & Stockton Times, 1854  (page 152)  


Mills was tortured in an iron cage in which his limbs were bound, and was apparently fed with milk on a stick through the bars by his sweetheart.  It is said that when Mills hungered, a ‘penny loaf’ was suspended on a string, with the bread being held by an iron pike, in front of his face but just out of his reach.  When he tried to eat the bread, the iron pike would enter his throat, so to add pain to his already agonising torture.     


Mills was said to have survived his torture for a period of several days, but when he did die, he ‘expired with a shriek that was heard from miles around’.   His body was left to rot - his flesh and eyes pecked and eaten by crows - until all his bones fell through the metal cage.  


Common Sense


"We have a story from Durham, showing that one Andrew Mills, gibbeted alive in 1684, for murdering his master's three children, was kept in existence for some time by his sweetheart  (of course), who, until she was prevented, gave him milk on a sponge at the end of a stick.

   These kind of stories usually fall to pieces when they are examined, and it so happens that on the tombstone of the three unfortunate little children, in Merrington Churchyard, are the words:-"He was executed and afterwards hung in chains"; but "executed and" have been obliterated by deep chisel marks, thus forming at once both the post hoc and propter hoc of the story.  As to the milk, and sweetheart, this part of the fable is nothing but a free rendering - necessary under the circumstances..."

Albert Hartshorne, "Hanging in Chains", The Cassell Publishing Company, New York, 1893


Pros and Cons of Andrew Mills gibbeted alive:


Pro - Support for Andrew Mills to be gibbeted alive  Con - Andrew Mills was dead when he was gibbeted.
  • The public wanted Andrew to suffer the same was what he did to the murdered children, so they prolonged his death.

  • The sweetheart that fed Andrew Mills milk through his cage believed that perhaps her boyfriend was innocent.

  • The murdered children's tombstone states "for which he was executed..." (first hanged to death) "...and hung in chains" (gibbeted).

  • The term "hanged in chains" or irons was very common in Europe, and the method was generally to hang first and then have the dead body of the culprit incarcerated in joined mental strips and placed upon the gibbet.

  • Andrew was sent to Durham Gaol to await his trial and judgment.  It is general for public executions to take place in major market towns or cities - to attract larger spectators.  Durham is one of these places.

  • The gibbet post itself would have been 25 and 30 feet high - thus allowing the culprit to view the scene of their crime without obstruction.  The height also meant that for everybody visiting the gibbet could not reach the cage contained the dead without the aid of ladders.

  • The gibbet post was set aside from towns and villages, so to prevent the body of the culprit to be taken down and stolen. 

  • There is no possible way to move your head or body whilst placed in the gibbet cage to either eat or drink, as they would be metal bands around the culprit's head and neck, preventing the mouth jaw to open. 


However it is very sad that most people believe that Andrew Mills was alive when he was placed in his iron cage.  The reasons are that it has been mentioned time and time again in books, and stories are sent down through generations, making facts disappear and putting opinions in place.  What ever you believe, in the end, Mills was suffered justice.


Albert Hartshorne, puts it as simple that gibbeting alive is pure fiction:


"...if the English law had ever contemplated the infliction upon a subject of such lingering torture as gibbeting alive, it would have been as coldly and legally set forth, and, by this time, as legally repealed, - which is perhaps, more to the point still.  And, further, it is difficult to believe that any English official would, at any time, - whether under the pressure of the hardening influences of religious intolerance, or politics, - have taken upon himself so serious a responsibility, or that any section of the English people would have suffered such wanton barbarity.  The conclusion were are happily driven to is that ... all the old and modern hare-brained irresponsible chatterers  have been carried away by a superstitious belief in a poor, vulgar fiction, "a vain thing fondly imagined," and to which the multitude of to-day still appear to cling with a fatuous devotion, which  probably, no amount of education or refutation will ever entirely eradicate.  This shows the strong vitality of fiction."

Albert Hartshorne, "Hanging in Chains", The Cassell Publishing Company, New York, 1893


What happened to Andrew Mills' body?


The Law on the punishment of murderers.


"... The judge may order the body of the murderer to be hung in chains, but in no case to be buried, unless after dissection. ..."

"A New Law = Dictionary, containing the interpretation and Definition of Words and Term used in the Law, as also the Law and practice under the proper Heads and Titles.  Together with such learning as explained the history and antiquity of the Law; our Manners, Customs, and Original Government", Compiled by Gilles, Jacob, and now corrected and greatly enlarged by J. Morgan. Esquire. 

London. Printed by W. Stratan and W. Woodfall, Law-Printers to the King's Most Excellent Majesty.  MDCCLXXII (1782)


Tradition & Superstition


We do not know for certain if Andrew Mills' remains were buried or burnt (cremated), however it was sometimes customary for bodies displayed in gibbets to be buried underneath their post.  However, it is believed by some people of Ferryhill that his body was disposed of at the crossroads at Thinford Inn, at the site of which is now Black & Deckers, Spennymoor, as it is believed that his ghost resides in one of the offices.


Crossroads, according to historic superstition, were places of evil.  


"crossroads   The intersection of roads and pathways are dark and dangerous places, according to widespread and ancient superstitions.  Crossroads are unhallowed ground; haunted by vampires, demons, the devil, witches, fairies, ghosts, and a host of supernatural creatures, such as trolls and spectral hounds... Crossroads also play roles in various funeral and burial customs designed to keep the dead from returning to harass or attack the living..."  

Rosemary Ellen Guiley, "The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters". Chechmark Books, 2005  ISBN: 0816046859 (page 152)  


"Burial at cross-roads.  Historically, burial at cross-roads was the method of disposing of executed criminals and suicides."  

Burial - Wilkipedia, the free encyclopedia.  


The Public display of "Andrew Mills' Stob"


The Gibbet was thereafter called: ‘Andrew Mills’ Stob’ and it overlooked the scene of the murder, and was located about half of a mile, north of Ferryhill village on the Great North Road. Click Here to find out "Where was 'Andrew Mills' Stob' located?"    


The 18th and 19th Centuries


Life of John Brass, Snr


There are some small amount of records which tells us of the life of John Brass after the death of his children.  In Easter 1690, he was chosen as churchwarden and an overseer for the poor for Kirk Merrington Church.  Again in Easter 1713, he was again chosen as churchwarden.


"Church-wardens chosen in ye year 1690

Merrington - Ralph Rawling

Ferry-hill  - John Brasse

Chilton - Ruth(?) Bruck

Hett - John Adamson

Overseers for the Poor and  ----- of high-ways

[same names as above]"

"Church-wardens chosen on Easter Tues 1713

Merrington - Martin White

Ferry-Hill - John Brasse

Chilton - Thomas Dunn of West Close

Hett - George Jackson..."

Merrington Parish Register - Vesty Minutes and Account Book  (Courtesy of DRO EP/Mer34)

Available on microfiche at Durham County Council County Record Office. Burial of Margaret Brass appears in Microfiche EP/Mer 2  


The churchwardens were chosen annually at the Easter vestry and their responsibility lied in the protection of church property, to superintend the performance of divine worship, etc., to act as the legal representative of the church generally.  Overseers of the Poor was also chosen at the same time as parish officers responsible for the care of the poor.  An overseer would judge whether a family could pay the poor rate, collect this, and apply it towards the relief of the poor.  


Other information is also available on John Brass, snr.  


Death, Re-marriage, and Death


The Brass Parents were buried in the same Merrington Churchyard.  


Margaret Brass, mother, died in December 1703.


1703.  "Margaret, the wife of John Brass of Ferry-Hill, Buried December 16th".  

Merrington Parish Register  (Courtesy of DRO EP/Mer2)

Available on microfiche at Durham County Council County Record Office. Burial of Margaret Brass appears in Microfiche EP/Mer 2  


Exactly five months following the death of Margaret, John Brass married Elizabeth Humble at the church of St. Mary-le-Bow at Durham City.


1704.  "John Brass of Ferry-Hill, yeoman, and Elizabeth Humble of the same place were married at Durham with a License.  May 16th".  

Merrington Parish Register (Courtesy of DRO EP/Mer2)

Available on microfiche at Durham County Council County Record Office. Burial of Margaret Brass appears in Microfiche EP/Mer 2  


John Brass was buried with his first wife in 1722.  Elizabeth Humble, now Buston, joined her husband in 1758. Their alter-tomb reads as follows:


1703. Margaret Bras, wife of John Bras,

In peace therefore lie downe will I

Taking my rest and sleep

For Thou only wilt me, O Lord,

Alone in safety keep.

                                    Dun By Me, A. Kay.

Here lieth the body of John Brass of Ferryhill,

Who departed this life Jan 22nd day 1722.

Here lieth the body of Elizabeth Buston,

Who departed this life Nov 19th A.D. 1758. Aged 86.  

Epitaph Inscription, St John’s Church, Kirk Merrington


"To Kill All, like Andrew Mills"


From the murders to the late 19th Century, the above expression was used by County Durham residents to describe certain sportsmen who would indiscriminately kill all that come in range of their guns.  


The Tombs, the Gibbet, and the Play


The Children’s tomb was restored in 1789 at the expense of Mr. George Wood, a Senior Proctor of the Consistory Court of Durham, but he stated on the tomb that it was done by public subscription.  All of the words from the original tomb were restored onto the new stone.


During the 18th Century, a man called Willy Lynn, who owned the ‘Bay Horse’ public house at Merrington, was often fond of an argument with his customers.  He believed that Andrew Mills could not have died by execution but death by being hung alive, and by trying to make some point, he entered the Churchyard, and scratched off the word ‘Executed’ from the murdered children’s alter-tomb.  


The 19th century naturalist and explorer Charles Waterton, near the end of his life, recorded the oaken post of "Andrew Mills' Stob", from his childhood at Tudhoe, Spennymoor:


“Betwixt Tudhoe School and Ferry Hill, there stood an oaken post, very strong, and some nine feet high. This was its appearance in my day, but formerly it must have been much higher. It was known to all the country round by the name of Andrew Mills’ Stob. We often went to see it, and one afternoon, an old woman came up, took her knife from her pocket, and then pared off a chip, which she carefully folded up in a bit of paper.  She said it was good for curing the toothache".   

“The Monthly Chronicles of North Country Lore and Legend, Volume Two”   


Andrew Mills’s Stob – the oaken post or gibbet which Mills was hung – remained until the mid of the 19th Century, until it was taken down, cut up for souvenirs and charms.  The area was ploughed over and levelled, by a man called Mr. Laverick


In the late 19th Century, a play was written on the triple murder and was performed at Cambridge Theatre, Spennymoor. It was said that it drew immense houses, as the local interest was so great. Not a single playwright of the murders can be located today. The Cambridge Theatre opened in the early 1870s, and became a cinema in 1932. However the whole building was destroyed by fire in the summer of 1972.


In 1887, one historian wrote: “were an Andrew Mills of our time to murder a family and lay the blame on the Devil, there are not 12 men in England who would agree to hang the murderer.  He would be immediately voted insane and kept from doing mischief to his fellow creatures during the rest of his natural life". 


Superstition of Ghosts and Spirits


Ferryhill Windmill, Merrington Lane, Ferryhill (before its restoration)  


There is said to be some form of paranormal phenomenon around High Hill House farm and the Old Windmill and stories have circulated in the village of Ferryhill, since that terrible night in 1683.


According to local superstition, on New Year, you can hear Andrew Mill’s wild cries near the old farmhouse. 


“Since then, it is said that his wild cries can still be heard in the area around the farmhouse at New Year”.   

 “Ferryhill Facts” free newspaper, issue 3, April/May 1989, article by Geoff Wall, Ferryhill Historian.   


Other stories involve seeing some sort of shadow floating on the walls of the Old Windmill. However when you get close to the mill, there is nothing there.  These stories were just probably thought up as to keep young and immature children and teenagers away from the windmill due to previous dangerous condition.  In the summer of 2006, The Mill was repaired and made into a house


The Murders As Told Today


The Devil Within - The Andrew Mills Story.


In 2007, came the first ever film adaptation of the Brass Children Murders which was funded by Sedgefield Borough Council, in partnership with Endeavor Training and Capture Films.  Four young people from Newton Aycliffe, trained by Endeavor Training and Capture Films, created a 20 minute film based on the murders.  Click here for more information


"In the film, a narrator tells the horrific story with flashback action scenes that were shot across the region."

The Northern Echo - Friday 13th April 2007.  "Filmmakers brings murders of 1683 to screen", page 33


The film involves professional actors in period costumes, and the film is not recommended for any person under the age of 12, due to the nature of the film.  The film was completed over a period of 8 weeks, and was premiered at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on Monday 23 April 2007. It then moved on tour across the south of County Durham for the public, and the public screenings were:


Tuesday 24 April 2007 6.00pm Spennymoor Town Hall
Wednesday 25 April 2007 6.30pm Newton Aycliffe Youth Center
Thursday 26 April 2007 7.00pm St Catherine's Centre, Crook
Friday 27 April 2007 6.30pm Kirk Merrington Church Hall.


Critic Review of Film


I went to the screening at Crook on Thursday 26th April 2007, and whilst watching the film, I was rather impressed with the script, camera work, film photography, skills of the actors and actresses used, and the interpretation of the folklore surrounding the deaths.  I was impressed as it was a documentary-drama, and not just a documentary. I felt it was creepy when the voices inside Andrew Mills head came onto surround sound, when I saw flashing images of bloodshed on screen, and when Mills was screaming because of his inner torment.  The scenes involving the actual murders of the children were superb as they did not show the axe actually killing them, and therefore they were not gory.


At the end of the film showing, I felt the need to clap as I felt this was a film that was brilliantly done. The only slight discourse I had with the film is that the murders were shown to have happened in the 'Old Mill', when historically, the murders took place inside the old farmhouse, but "you can't please everyone". Other than this, it was a wonderful showing.


The Children's Grave


You can still walk or travel to Kirk Merrington Churchyard, and still find the alter-tomb where the murdered children were buried in.  If you visit the church on a Sunday, you can enter inside the church and see a fragment from the original tomb before its restoration.


According to the epitaph, it states that the Children were murdered in their sleep.  The London Article reports this as true.  


The Brass Children Alter-tomb 

Kirk Merrington Church

Personal Photography, 2006


Here Lies The Bodies


Children Of


Who were Murdered the 25th January 1683.

By Andrew Mills, their father’s servant,

For which he was executed and hung in chains.


Reader, remember, sleeping

We were slain;

And here we sleep till we must

Rise again.

Who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall

His blood be shed.

Thou shalt do no murder.





Sources of Information

Click here for a complete list of sources.



White Text = Facts, which have been reserarched from original sources

Yellow Text = Unsubstantiated information, mainly from 19th and 20th Century local historians. Without the aid of original documents from the time of the murders, this information can not be regarded as fact