Readers of my posts about Louth will probably be aware that most of my information comes from old newspapers, bet the first mention of a fatality connected to the Louth Canal that I could find is dated 1834, many decades after the canal opened in the 1760s. One must assume that there were accidents and suicides during that period, but they don’t appear to have made it into the newspapers. This, then, was the brief but melancholy report in The Stamford Mercury on 15th August 1834.
Temporarily back in the present day, a summer doesn’t go by without a few scorching hot days, and these are inevitably accompanied by reports of people drowning while swimming in rivers or pits. It is nothing new, however, and in June 1841, The Lincolnshire Chronicle reported:
“We regret to record a fatal accident which happened to Mr. Boys, an assistant in the shop of Messrs. Sutton and Pettinger, drapers, Louth, and son to Mr. Boys, of Epworth, joiner. The young man, early on Saturday morning last, in company with three of his brother shopmen, repaired to the Louth canal, near thee third lock, for the purpose of bathing, but, within a few minutes after entering the destructive element, he sunk, and before assistance could be procured life was extinct. The other young men used every effort to rescue him from his fate; but, alas, proved of no avail. An inquest was held over his body the same day, and his remains were interred in St. Mary’s burying ground on Tuesday last. The spot where this unfortunate young man breathed his last, has long been a bathing resort for the young men of the town; but we hope this, added to many previous fatal occurrences, will tend to make others more careful in future.”
“The third lock” would be Ticklepenny’s Lock, and its dark reputation was beginning to be established. In February 1855, The Stamford Mercury, in its report into local inquests included an incident which would have a fatal echo over half a century later (see Part 1 of this feature).
The 24th August 1861 edition of The Louth and North Lincolnshire advertiser devoted just six lines to the death of a Tetney lad, but a search in the 1861 census records reveal that he was Matthias Richard Grimoldby, third son of Benjamin and Elizabeth. The same newspaper, in its edition of Saturday 14th December, reported at greater length:
“A melancholy event was brought to light yesterday about two o’clock p.m., by the discovery that a gentleman who formerly resided at Louth, Mr. Thomas Grant, and who was related to several families of the highest respectability in the town and neighbourhood, had committed suicide by drowning himself in Louth canal. The unfortunate gentleman had some time past resided with his family in Jersey, and about a week ago came over to Louth on a visit, but suddenly disappeared on Sunday evening last, leaving his father’s residence at about eight o’clock. On Wednesday, the most painful apprehensions were aroused at his prolonged and mysterious absence, and a bill was issued offering reward to any person who could give information where he might be found.
Yesterday it was resolved to run off the water out of the canal, and at the same time drags were employed; in a short time a hat was found which left no doubt on the minds of those engaged to the poor gentleman’s fate. Messrs. Phillipson and Sugden succeeded in recovering the body just outside the first lock, which they placed in shed at the River-head, and on examination it was found that the gold watch in possession of the deceased stood at 8-45, proving at what hour Sunday evening the painful event transpired. A young man named Easting, remembered seeing Mr. Grant, at about half-past eight the same evening, not many yards from the spot, and before he had got out of the neighbourhood heard a splash in the water, but he had no suspicion as to the cause. Evidence was adduced on the inquest, held yesterday at the Lock Tavern, which fully established the fact that the fatal act was committed when the deceased was in an unsound state of mind. Verdict temporary insanity.”
Sad to relate, in the decades up to the turn of the century, a further seventeen people (at least) died in the unforgiving waters of the Louth canal.
The death of 23-year-old James Davey in April was particularly horrific. He was mate of the sloop “Hawk” and was negotiating the boat’s passage through Willow’s Lock . He was drawing up the dam of the gates to let water into the lock when the handle slipped all of a sudden and he fell into the river. The force of the current rushing strongly into the lock, he was dashed against the gates and washed in therewith. The lock is very deep and had no appliances to render help, he sank and his body was not recovered until 30 minutes later.
In November George Ward went missing. He was not a happy man, and feared he was about to become the victim of a conspiracy. His housekeeper observed him at his house in James Street near Ramsgate, burning documents and papers, but his disappearance remained a mystery, until he was finally found in the depths of Ticklepenny’s Lock. The informative website called Death On Your Doorstep says:
“His body was taken to the Woolpack Inn, Riverhead and placed in an outhouse. His corpse was in an amazing condition and the coroner had just received that day a most vile and scandalous anonymous letter implicating certain people in his disappearance. When discovered, Ward’s face was caked in mud and in his pockets were a comb, seven keys, a knife, handkerchief and rather oddly, a pair of nutcrackers. There is no doubt that the body had laid in a hollow made by machines that scoop out the mud from the canal bed and there must have been thirty of these machines pass over, thus embedding the corpse in the mud.”
From The Lincolnshire Chronicle Friday 16th December:
On Saturday last an inquest was held at the Woolpack Inn, before Dr. Sharpley, coroner, on the body of Thomas Lidgett, of North Somercotes, aged 65, which had been taken out of the Louth Canal, near the first lock, the day before. The jury having viewed the body, the following evidence was taken. John Spoonser, Somercotes, said about half-past 12 o’clock on the night of Wednesday, the 23rd of November, Louth Martinmas fair day, the deceased and he left the Pack Horse Irnn together. “When near the Railway-bridge deceased said he should not go home that night, he would stop at the Woolpack Inn (River Head). Although the deceased was not sober he thought he was quite capable of taking care of himself. Witness himself had had some drink during the day. Samuel Dixon to a certain extent corroborated the statement of Spoonser, whom he joined at the Railway-bridge, but as he had not been in company with either of the parties during the day he knew very little beyond what Spoonser had told him on the road home. John Face, a sailor, said on the preceding day a man’s hat came under the quarter of a vessel he was aboard of, and he had heard that the deceased was missing and was supposed to be drowned in the canal, he and three others grappled for the body, which they found near the first lock, about 100 yards lower down than where the hat was found Having recovered the body they at once communicated with the police. Mr. E.D. Ditchett had made a superficial examination of the body, upon which had not found the slightest trace of injury. The jury after a short consultation, pronounced the deceased “Accidentally drowned. “
In July, eight year-old Joseph Proctor was found dead, floating in the canal. His father, Thomas Proctor, said he had been sent to Mrs Nell’s garden to fetch some vegetables in a basket. At the spot he was discovered, he must have bent down to get a drink from the spring and somehow, whether, by the wind blowing him in or a dizzy spell, he ended up in the water. He was found near a stone trough into which water is conducted from a spring in order to supply vessels, adjoining the wall of the canal basin.
In September, Betsy Carritt, aged 51, was found dead in the Louth canal near to Willows Lock. Her husband, Edward Carritt, saw her on Saturday afternoon when she went to the market. Later on that evening a man came and told him that he could hear his wife screaming. They got a lantern and went to search for her. They went to Ticklepenny’s Lock and got the drag, but in the meantime, her corpse had been found further on in the canal. She was pulled out around 9-30 p.m., with the basket of food in the centre of the lock. She had been drinking in the Marquis of Granby pub earlier that evening and this, coupled with her short-sightedness, and also the fact that she was tired and it being dark, were adjudged to have contributed to her accidental death.
From The Lincolnshire Chronicle, 14th June:
NEXT: 1879 – 1897