Tuesday , June 18 2024
Home / Tales Of Dartmoor / Did He Die or Disappear?

Did He Die or Disappear?


On the 26th of February 1909 the following appeared in many of the local newspapers; “The usually peaceful little town of Okehampton is just now greatly excited at the fact that Mr. Harford Green, a Hertfordshire gentleman, who had been staying there, has been missing for three days.” What they didn’t know that this mysterious disappearance would capture the public’s interest for many months to come and asked several questions which to this day have never been answered.

Firstly, who was Mr. Harford Green? He  was a married man who lived at Normanhurst in Hertfordshire and was head of a general merchants called J. Green and Co. He was also a justice of the peace, a member of the Essex County Council, Chairman of the Bishop’s Storford Board of Guardians and a member of Stanstead Rural Council. So what brought this very eminent man to Dartmoor? There have been two suggestions; firstly he suffered from ‘lapses of the brain’ for which he had previously consulted a brain specialist or secondly, he was a keen naturalist  and was in search of a rare fly that was supposed to inhabit the Dartmoor bogs. However, the latter claim was later refuted by his wife and son who deemed this idea to be either a lapse of his memory or a joke.

On the 22nd of February Harford Green had travelled from Dawlish where he had been saying and arrived at Okehampton at around 6.00 p.m. when he went to Mr. Stapleton’s Arcade Temperance Hotel. On booking in he said he wished to stay a few days and it was his intention to visit some Dartmoor bogs in search of a rare fly. At 8. a.m. the following morning Mr. Webber, the local carriage owner, drove Green to the Dartmoor Inn at Lydford, having said it was his intention to return to Okehampton via the military camp. Once at the inn he apparently stayed there for roughly an hour and a half during which time he wrote some letters and the posted them in the nearby pillar box. Having been told of the man’s reason for wanting to visit the moor Mr. Heathman, the landlord, gave him some directions as how to visit the ‘boglands’. These direction were to visit the  Vee and Tiger’s Mash bogs. Clearly here the person who wrote the report fell foul of the local dialect or typos because Tiger’s Mash is Tiger’s Marsh and the Vee bog remains a mystery. If wanting to get to Tiger’s Marsh from the Dartmoor Inn the logical route would be up the river Lyd to its headwaters so presumably the ‘Vee Bog’ is an old place-name somewhere in that vicinity? It seems that Harford Green intended to return to Okehampton once he had visited his intended location for he was told to head to Yes Tor as a landmark guide. Now for somebody who was definitely not acquainted with the North Moor these were very vague directions. It was around about 9.30 a. m. when Harford Green made his way up to the Moor, at the time he was described as being; “a tall man, dark complexioned, with a moustache and about 50 years age. He was wearing a bowler hat, a long dark grey overcoat and black leggings, his height was given at 5 feet 9 inches.” With him he had some sandwiches and a notched stick. Basically that was the last anybody ever saw of the man.


By the evening of the 23rd of February the weather conditions on Dartmoor had become inhospitable to say the least, one of the infamous fogs had descended and the temperature had dropped dramatically. Therefore it is no surprise that by the late evening people became concerned for Hartford Green’s well-being as he had not returned to the hotel.  The police were informed of his disappearance but deemed that the darkness and weather conditions made it impossible to begin a search. Come the morning there still was no sign of the missing man despite extensive enquiries in the Lydford and Okehampton areas. A postcard addressed to his wife was found in Harford Green’s room and a wire was immediately sent informing her of the situation, her reply said she had not seen her husband.

It did not take long for search parties consisting of horsemen, people on foot and an assortment of dogs to begin scouring the moor for the missing man on the following morning. The searchers where split up into groups, one party went to the Dartmoor Inn from where they followed the river Lyd to the Vee Bog (there it is again?), from there they went to the ‘peat works’ (Rattlebrook Peat Works) where fruitless enquiries were made of the workers as to any sightings of the man. The party then went on to Kneeset Nose Tor (presumably Kneeset Nose) finally ending up at Cranmere Pool. Whilst there they checked the visitor’s book but found no entry from Harford Green which suggested he had not reached that spot. The search party then returned via Dinger Tor and Milton (Meldon) Hills. Another group walked out from Okehampton to Yes Tor and then on to High Willey’s Tor (High Willhays) from here they went over to Forston Ledge Tor (Fordsland Ledge) and on to Kneeset Nose where they met up with the first party. After a brief consultation the party returned via Black Tor from where they followed the West Okement up to Meldon Quarry and back to Okehampton.

The next day it was announced that a local farmer, Mr. Walter Alford from Southerly had discovered a bowler hat and a dark grey overcoat which was turned inside out near Lidda Bridge (Lydda Bridge). Along with the clothes were two envelopes, one addressed to Harford Green’s wife and another to himself, in the coat pocket was a blood stained handkerchief. The news of this find led to a report stating that a man fitting Harford’s description  had asked a local man from Lake for the directions to Bridestowe Station. However, this man was described as being clean shaven, wearing blue glasses, a cap but no overcoat.  This sighting occurred at between 12 and 1 o’clock on the Tuesday , which was the same day the man had supposedly gone missing.  Other witnesses said they had seen a man walking up and down the near the railway crossing. It also seems that a gentleman fitting Harford Green’s description bought a rail ticket to Okehampton at Bridestowe and that he travelled on the 4.30. p.m. train. However, oddly enough, that man never got off the train at Okehampton and the station masters recalled having seen him still on the train? All these events had lead to the idea that Harford Green had shaved off his moustache, hence the blood stained handkerchief, got rid of the overcoat, swapped the bowler hat for a cap and wore the glasses in order to disguise himself. But why?

Meanwhile search parties went out once again, one went from the Dartmoor Inn and across High Down then over to Sharp Tor, on to Great Links Tor then down the Foxhall Valley (Foxholes) to Doe Tor farm from whence they returned to High Down. It was here that the party met Walter Alford who related his earlier discoveries.  The other search party went from Meldon Quarry down the West Okement river to  Shilston Tors (Shelstone Tor) then on to Greek Quarry (?) and Crocker’s Pits then to the Slipper Stones and over to Stinger Tor (Stenga-a-Tor). From there the group went back to the Peat Works and down to Dunnagoat Hill and finished up at Doble’s Cottage (?). Following this trek the party then went to Greenator (Green Tor), Great Links Tor, Hunter’s Tor, (Hunt Tor) Tiger’s Marsh Bog, Branscombe’s Loaf, Sourton Tors, Liddia (Lydda Bridge) then finished up at Southerly Down. For anyone who knows Dartmoor or who has access to an Ordnance Survey map will see that these search parties went to great pains in order to find the missing man, all to no avail. Not only did they put in a lot of effort but spent many fruitless hours of their own time. It was pointed out at the time that many of the members of these search parties were experienced moormen, many of whom claimed to have known; “every stone on the moor.” Therefore considering the range and thoroughness that these experienced local searchers went to it seems odd that if Harford Green was lost or had died on the moor they found no sign of him?

By the March of 1909 there had been no sign of Harford Green and in many quarters it was assumed that at the time he was suffering from a ‘mental aberration’ and that he had perished somewhere on the moor. However in the April of 1909 it was reported that a receiving order was made at Hertford Bankruptcy Court  against Mr. Harford Green. It revealed that the liabilities of his business J. Green and Co. amounted to £24,000 but all his assets to £20,000. In the June of 1909 the public examination into the bankruptcy found that by then his liabilities still stood at £24,000 but his assets had decreased to £17,000. On the application of the Official Receiver the examination was adjourned ‘sine die’ or in other words there was no appointed date given for resumption of the proceedings. In the September of 1909 a Mr. H. D. Headley was the chairman of the new Board of Directors for J. Green & Co. issued a statement saying that they had made enquiries through the police and other agencies throughout Britain and through Consuls on the Continent and were then starting to make enquiries in the colonies. however, it was still the opinion that Harford Green’s body was still lying somewhere in the ‘boglands’ of Dartmoor.

So the big question is; ‘Did He Die or Disappear‘? Was the man genuinely suffering from a mental disorder which led him up to the ‘boglands’ of Dartmoor? Did he end his days alone in some remote spot of the moor where his body has lay undiscovered. It’s a pretty sure fact that if he was lost and disorientated on Dartmoor in a fog in the bitter nighttime February temperatures then his chances of survival were fairly slim. Or did he leave the moor safely in disguise and simply disappeared? If this was the case for what reason would he do so? Perhaps the bankruptcy hearing is a clue, was his business about to go under and so did he simply want an easy way out? It’s worth remembering that Harford Green was a prominent member of his society and back in 1909 bankruptcy held with it a terrible stigma. As with many of Dartmoor’s mysteries we shall never know the truth but be left to speculate as what may have occurred.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor


  1. Actually he didn’t die or disappear, but later surfaced in the courts, and was convicted of indecent assault of children in 1925.

  2. Hello,
    I’m Harriet, Harford’s great-granddaughter, and I can tell you what happened next, if you would like to hear it. The likeness of that sketch is very good!
    Please feel free to get in touch.
    Harriet Green

  3. I’d love to hear!

  4. David Simmonds

    I am carrying out research into the Visitors’ Book of Hatfield Forest (owned since 1924 by the National Trust).

    An entry on 22 July 1896 (a Wednesday – early closing day?) reads –

    Harford Green & Party with 200 school children – Stansted Essex.

    This encouraged me to try to find out more about him and I was amazed to learn about of his disappearance on Dartmoor by reading this fascinating website. I have since found out more about him from websites and newspaper archives.

    There is a photograph of the staff of Joshua Green’ s store at http://www.essexrecordofficeblog.co.uk/d-f-48-1-crop/ They are outside the store, which is decorated to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Those in the picture are not identified, but I would be surprised if Harford is not included. Perhaps he is the man at the back right?

    The Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator shows that Green’s excess of liabilities over assets of £4,000 in 1909 would be almost £490,000 today (2020). A most substantial amount!! (The later figure of £7,000 gives about £850,000 today!)

    After his disappearance in 1909 on Dartmoor, he turned up in May 1914. A newspaper report states that he lost his memory while on Dartmoor and returned after he read a newspaper article while in a club in Buenos Aires. He then worked as an Admiralty Clerk, before being discharged with a good character.

    His next job was at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, where he was appeals secretary. While there he interviewed girls to be ballot ticket sellers and, having told them he was an artist, persuaded them to pose nude. He was tried in early 1926, found guilty and jailed for eight months

    He died in Harrogate on 8 October 1931 after a short illness.

    So, the conclusion is that he disappeared, but what an amazing story!

  5. Until I saw the earlier comments, I was reminded of the gentleman who went up on Saddleworth Moor a couple of years back, simply to die. In the end the police did, I believe identify him, but have yet to establish a reason for his actions. So, he simply arranged a disappearance, to escape business and social worries. A friend tells me it was easier to do so before the Great War, as passport and travel requirements weren’t as strict. Whatever would Conan Doyle have woven around this tale?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.