HIS brutal murder in a humble cottage near Warden shocked the nation, so much so George IV himself sanctioned the 100 guineas reward offered for any information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.

Now, almost 200 years later, elderly widower Joseph Hedley – known to all and sundry as ‘Joe the Quilter’ – is making headlines again, this time round for more savoury reasons.

For Beamish Museum has announced plans to reconstruct his cottage as part and parcel of its £17m Remaking Beamish project, an expansion that will include the building of Georgian-style hamlet.

Tragic as it was, the septuagenarian’s murder in 1826 produced records that are rare in their detail and have provided the information needed to reconstruct the cottage long after the original was demolished in 1872.

Geraldine Straker, Remaking Beamish project officer, said: “We don’t usually get to learn about people who were just living and working in Georgian times, but because what happened did happen there are details recorded about his life that we wouldn’t normally know.

“We have a full plan of his cottage and because his house contents were auctioned off afterwards, we have a list of what was in it.”

Geraldine and several of her colleagues attended a meeting in Newbrough last week designed to help members of the local community get involved with the project. That could mean anything from researching the social conditions of the time to helping excavate the foundations of the cottage where Joe spent his whole life.

It’s thought he was born there some time between 1746 and 1750. Apparently he was first apprenticed as a tailor before later turning his hand to the quilting that made his name.

His trademark big bold patterns, complete with the wide borders that became known as ‘Old Joe’s chain’, were in demand and his quilts were sent as far away as Ireland and America.

Beamish has one quilt that was definitely made by Joe. Records show it was made in 1820 and purchased directly from him by ancestors of the English family. The museum also holds another quilt (pictured) that is thought to have come from a family in Haydon Bridge and has been attributed to him.

The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend, published during the 1800s, is the source of much that is known about Joe the Quilter. It describes in detail how he would mark out his patterns in chalk on cloth stretched over a frame to the design specifications of his clients.

The size and look of his workshop within his cottage and the tools it would have contained calls for further research, perhaps by a member of the Newbrough community today?

Although by the end of his life Joe was referred to locally as ‘the hermit of Warden’, he did not always live alone. As one account published in North-Country Lore and Legend testifies to, he had a wife. Reportedly she was much older than him and bedridden for the last eight years of her life.

A poem written by one A. Wright the year Joe was murdered contains the verse: ‘He was her housewife, doctor, nurse/ But still the poor old soul grew worse/ And she was lifted to her hearse/ By weeping Joe the Quilter’.

The poem also describes how locals walking down Homer’s Lane often dropped in to talk to ‘canny Joe’, and that after his wife’s death he habitually allowed the ‘wand’ring poor’ to stay the night at his cottage.

Indeed, it is thought these down-and-outs were probably responsible for spreading the rumour – that he was a rich man – that perhaps led to his gruesome death.

Caring for his wife had, in fact, left him little time to earn anything other than a meagre level of subsistence and Wright’s poem records the fact he relied on parish relief and the generosity of his neighbours towards the end of his life.

However, one theory is that his uncommon level of hospitality, perhaps driven by his loneliness, gave the impression of affluence.

While the motive is the source of conjecture and the identity, or identities, of his assailant/s will probably remain forever unknown, what is known is that it was murder most foul.

North-Country reproduced a graphic description of the days concerned in 1826, based on a contemporaneous account published in a pamphlet by Davison of Alnwick.

Joe had returned to his cottage on the evening of January 3 after visiting the nearby Walwick Grange. There he had been given a pitcher of milk along with ‘other marks of the kindness of the farmer’s wife’, again implying he relied on the help of his neighbours.

At six o’clock, a labourer from Wall, named William Herdman, visited Joe and whiled away some time with him in front of the fire. He later reported that Joe had been preparing potatoes for his dinner.

Following this a female pedlar had stopped to ask Joe the direction to Fourstones; she said he was alone at that point. Then about an hour later a gentleman by the name of Mr Smith, of Haughton Castle, rode by – and saw the cottage was in silence and darkness.

Investigators concluded that Joe had been killed between the pedlar leaving and Mr Smith riding by, but it wasn’t until the Saturday afternoon that neighbours broke into the cottage and found his body.

Between them, North Country and the pamphlet record that he had 19 knife wounds to his head, face and neck and that his hands had been shredded in the attempt to defend himself.

The brutality of it all shocked the nation and not least the poet. Wright said that Satan himself must have put the idea to murder Joe ‘in some monster’s head’.