Priesty Fields to the South of Congleton aquired its name from the fact that at one time there was no priest to perform services in Congleton, so the nearest Priest who could take on this responsibility was one based at Astbury, he would walk across the fields from Astbury to Congleton to perform his duties, this is how the fields obtained their name.
In 1776 however, Priesty Fields became the site of a grisly murder. At this time Congleton had a population of about three thousand people, many of whom were preparing for the annual hiring fair in November, this was the time when workers who were seeking a change of job could indicate their availability to a potential employer. Once the worker and employer had agreed terms the bargain would be sealed by the employer handing over a shilling, and then the employee would start work for his new employer on the 1st January.
The two participants in the tragedy were Samuel Thorley and Anne Smith. Thorley was a Butcher’s Assistant by trade, sometimes employed as a cattle slaughterer. Anne Smith was a Ballad Singer, she would sing ballads in public houses to earn a living, and would attempt to sell copies of the ballad for a few pence. Two weeks before the annual fair she was lodging in Congleton, but she left the area saying she would return for the fair.
Two days before the fair on a late Wednesday afternoon, Samuel Thorley was returning from Astbury churchyard where he had a part time job as a gravedigger. In Astbury village he met Anne Smith and for some unknown reason she agreed to accompany him to Priesty Fields. Once there he killed her and dismembered her body, disposing of most of it in nearby Howty brook.
On the Saturday following the fair a weaver by the name of Newman Garside took some cows that he owned to Priesty Fields for grazing. A boy that was with him noticed an object on the other side of the brook, on inspection it was found to be a cloak with blood underneath it. When the Police arrived and a thorough search took place parts of Anne Smith were discovered and placed in a nearby barn. Suspicion that Thorley was the murderer arose almost immediately, Thorley was arrested at Astbury, he was then taken to Chester where he was sentenced to be hanged. After his execution he was brought back to Congleton and hung in chains at its western boundary for all to see!
The eerie looking path which leads to Priesty Fields.