James Morris


The Raid on Far Pike Low

An Innocent Bible Reader

On 25 August 1858, Mr Heath, Supervisor of Excise, Blackburn, and two Inland Revenue officers raided the home of 46 years old James Morris at Far Pike Low at the furthest edge of Grane, above the slopes of Pickup Bank. Entering the house, they found Morris reading a Bible, and when they stated the object of their visit Morris lifted his eyes to the ceiling in astonishment and protested before man and God that he was as “innocent as a child unborn.”

The Discovery!

The officers were not easily fooled and began digging for evidence. After three days they found some lead pipes that led to a subterranean cavern, obviously used as a distillery. Pipes carried water there from a well over a hundred yards away.

Heath told the court that “after entering the subterranean cavern, he found a still which contained 100 gallons; also 5 jars containing whisky, 2 of which were full; there were 8 or 10 gallons altogether. There were 3 tin cans which would hold 40 or 50 gallons of whisky. 3 wood tubs capable of holding 10 gallons each. They were sunk in the ground. It was impossible to bring them out, and they therefore broke them in place. There were measures and glasses of all descriptions.

A 20th century backyard whisky still
A 20th century backyard whisky still

“Mr Heath said that he had no doubt, but the revenue had been defrauded out of £700 a-year. He had communicated with the Board in London, and they had ordered him to press for the highest penalty. He had no doubt but that the place had been built on purpose, and that the elicit manufacture had been carried on for fifty years. He stated that there was a drainer in the place, which fitted so tight that not a particle of steam could escape. He had never seen such a place in all his experience. At one place they came to a long flag, which they had taken up, expecting that they were just going to find the entrance to another passage, when the stone was taken up, mortar was found underneath, and all had the appearance of being right. One policeman, more sagacious than the rest, thought there was more in that stone being there than they imagined, and put his hand upon the mortar, when he imagined that something moved; the hand was again applied, and the flag ran upon a railway on one side, and left open a man-hole. The stone was so nicely adjusted, that the least push would throw it one side, and would immediately return to its place, as though nothing had been disturbed.

“Mr Heath said that he had no doubt in his own mind, but that the prisoner had gone down by the trap while they were searching the premises; and it was then he cut the two worms[5] into a hundred pieces. While they were searching, the prisoner, after driving out the cows, took down his Bible, and in the presence of the officers read several chapters. The magistrates said that they would inflict the highest penalty, namely, £200. The hypocrite will have to remain in prison during her Majesty’s pleasure.” [6]


It was rumoured that the informant on this occasion was Alice Haworth, the wife of neighbour Jonathan who had only recently come out of prison for a similar offence. Maybe she resented the Morris family being able to get away with the offence for which Jonathan had been punished. Or maybe someone in the Morris family had informed the police about her husband in 1857 so she was settling a score. We don’t know.

Secret Deliveries

Morris’s whisky was said to be of a superior quality! Apparently, the whisky from Grane was regularly delivered to a Haslingden hotel by a daughter of one of the weaving families from the valley. She would fill a hollow metal saddle placed on a donkey with 3 or 4 gallons of the whisky and conceal the contraband beneath bales of cloth. There is even an account of a distributor who collapsed drunk at Haslingden Fair and was found to be wearing a hollow metal waistcoat filled with Haslingden Grane whisky! Workers at nearby quarries were taken buckets of whisky for their ‘refreshment’! Oral traditions of Grane are rich in such stories of moonshining!


Money Ned’s close family ties to James Morris might provide a clue to the source of some of the money which financed his property speculations! By 1861 his brother-in-law James Morris had moved to Rothwell Fold in Grane Village and was working as an engine tender at Calf Hey Mill close by. Probably he was back at spinning whisky too. It was too much of a coincidence that after the engine house was demolished in 1910 to permit the filling of the new Ogden reservoir, a complete whisky still was discovered there!

It seems unlikely that such a profitable illicit business could have continued for over a century without the nodded acceptance of the gentry and judiciary. It is interesting to note that the magistrate who presided over the trial of James Morris was none other than Daniel Thwaite who later went on to establish Thwaites brewery in Blackburn. Bad luck if your local magistrate was a legitimate brewer!

Jonathan Haworth of Bentley House was obviously judged not to have defrauded the Revenue of quite as much so had been treated more leniently.

Back to the Whisky Spinners

[5] Coiled copper piping, the most incriminating piece of the distiller’s equipment.

[6] Blackburn Standard Sep 29th, 1858

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