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The Death of Joe the Quilter

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, April 11, 2016

On the evening of January 3, 1826, someone entered the Northumberland home of Joseph Hedley—known locally as “Joe the Quilter” for his great skill with needle and thread—and brutally murdered the lonely old man. Joe’s murder was a sensation that drew even the attention of King George IV, who issued a reward for information leading to the culprit. The reward was never claimed and the crime went unsolved, but Joe was never forgotten. More than 60 years later, a newspaper article was published about his murder, and when archaeologist John Castling of the Living Museum of the North in Beamish began speaking with locals last year, he was surprised to find that people remember the story.

 

Trenches England Quilter

 

Inspired by an 1826 postcard and using old maps of the area, Castling and his team began to look for Joe’s cottage. On a piece of unfarmed land, they identified pottery dating to Joe’s time and mortar associated with a building. Castling excavated the site for four weeks and uncovered 10 tons of material: stones from walls, flagstones, fireplace bricks, buttons, and pins made of bone—and lead weights possibly associated with quilting. “We were lucky because the house is so isolated, no other buildings were ever built there, and it wasn’t destroyed until 1872,” he says. Plans are now under way to reconstruct Joe’s cottage. “It’s so rare to find anything related to an individual, and especially so because Joe and those who knew him weren’t wealthy or particularly famous,” says Castling. “It’s a real insight into the life and home of a genuinely ordinary man only made famous by his extraordinary death.”