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Girtford Suicides

One wonders what sort of place Girtford was in the mid 19th century. Was it a reasonably pleasant place to live, or somewhat grim? In the fifteen years from 1864 to 1879 there were at least three suicides in the village, as reported in the Bedfordshire Mercury, which seems quite a high figure for so small a place.

The Mercury for 4th January 1864 reported: "SUICIDE. - On Thursday morning last, it was discovered that Mr. Charles Carter, beer retailer and gardener, of this place, had committed suicide by hanging himself. On the previous day he had appeared much troubled about the rumoured murder of a woman called Lloyd, in a neighbouring village; and his neighbours say that he had been depressed in spirits for some time, in consequence of the low price of potatoes, having often expressed a fear that he should at last come to the workhouse. This was quite a delusion, as he was in comfortable circumstances. At an inquest held before the deputy coroner, Mr. Mark Whyley, on Friday, the jury returned a verdict of temporary insanity". It is not know  what beerhouse Charles Carter kept but the 1851 census has him just two entries before Richard Hall of the Dick Turpin. He may well, thus, have had a beerhouse on the Great North Road north of Girtford which did not survive his passing. He was listed as beer seller and gardener in a directory of 1847.

On 20th June 1874 the following article appeared: "SUICIDE - An inquest was held at the New Inn, Girtford, on Thursday, the 18th of June, by Mr. Mark Whyley, county coroner, on the body of Richard Bywater, whose death took place under the following circumstance: - David Bywater, a son of the deceased stated that his father was 74. He was talking to the deceased on Tuesday evening. He then seemed quite well and in better spirits than he had been, but he said I am going to have a miserable night. Deceased's house adjoined witness's and he heard the deceased look up the barn and go in doors soon after nine o'clock and go to bed. Deceased's wife was out nursing that night. The following morning when the witness came home to lunch his wife told him she had called the deceased four times and could not make him hear. After having his lunch witness got a ladder and went to deceased's bedroom window. The blind was partly up and he saw the deceased hanging. He called some men and then forced the door open and then found the deceased hanging by the neck to the bedpost. Witness cut him down and sent for a medical man but he was quite cold and stiff. Some two years ago deceased was desponding and unable to work. He said he should come to want. Deceased was a member of a club and owned the houses in which he and witness lived. Deceased was a temperate man and was at the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Tuesday night. He had lately been failing in his health and he was naturally of a worrying disposition. John Pinner [The Swan Beerhouse's licensee was Thomas Pinner] corroborated the last witness's statement of finding the body of the deceased. Mr. Walter Knight, surgeon, at Girtford deposed that he was called in and found the deceased quite dead with a cord round his neck. He had attended the deceased for some months. He had been low and desponding. Witness had no doubt the deceased committed suicide and that strangulation was the cause of death. The jury returned the verdict that the deceased committed suicide while suffering from temporary insanity".

Richard Bywaters, as he was described, was included in the 1871 census where he is described as a 71 year old agricultural labourer, who had been born in Knotting. His wife Hannah was aged 66 and had been born in Girtford. David, their son, aged 26 was living with them at that date - he had been born in Girtford. They lived adjacent to The Swan beerhouse on the Great North Road. This property lay at 114 London Road, putting the Bywaters residence at 112 or 116 London Road.

Finally, the Bedfordshire Mercury for 19th July 1879 reported: "SAD CASE OF SUICIDE. On Saturday morning last there was a great deal of excitement in this little hamlet, caused by a report that a young man named William Bywaters had committed suicide by hanging himself. The report turned out to be true. In consequence of unpleasantness at home the young man had several times threatened to kill himself, and on Friday night, after his father had been abusing him, he went home with his sweetheart and said that he would cut his throat. Of course, she did not believe it, or she would have watched him. She went to bed and left him in her house where he stayed till nearly four o'clock in the morning. At five o'clock his mother found him hanging in the barn, quite dead. On Monday last an inquest was held on the body at the Rose & Crown before Mr. M. Whyley, coroner, when the following evidence was given: -

"William Bywaters said: Deceased was my son. He was about 21 years of age. When I got up between three and four o'clock on Saturday morning he was not at home. I went to look for him; I went to my barn and to the stable, but I could not find him. If he had been in the barn I must have seen him. I last saw him alive about ten o'clock on Friday night in the street. I had no conversation with him. He has not had much illness; he has complained of his head, but he did not complain to me of anything. He had a fit some months ago at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, but I cannot say how long it was ago. He has not had a doctor for more than a year. He did not tell me of any trouble on his mind. We were good friends. We used to have a few words, but not lately, - not within the last week".

"Mary Ann Bywaters said: I went out on Friday night to see for my son; I saw him against Jeeves' [possibly the Dun Cow Beerhouse, run by Charles Jeeves]. I asked him to come home, and he said he would come when he liked and I might go home. I left him. He said - "Don't stop for me or I shall throw my old hat at you". He was sober. That was just as the Blunham clock struck twelve. I went home and went to bed and got up about five o'clock in the morning and went to the barn and opened the door and I saw him there. I did not know whether he stood or whether he was hanging. I called out to Stephen Cooper and James Jeeves to come to my assistance. We had no words; we never had any. He was keeping company with Maria Huckle. I did not oppose it. I have said nothing to him lately. I cannot account for his being so late on Friday night. My husband said the girl would haunt him to death".

"Maria Huckle deposed: I am a single woman and live at Girtford. I was keeping company with the deceased. I was with him on Friday night. He left me about 20 minutes to 1 o'clock. I left him and went home, and then he came to my house for a whip which he had dropped. I found it and he took it away. He said "Good night". He came back again just as I got into bed not many minutes after. He came in the house downstairs. I spoke to him as I lay in bed. Mother heard me. He also said that he should cut his throat. We were all in bed. Deceased was the only one downstairs. He said "Good night" and went away then. He has several times before threatened to kill himself, when his father has been going on at him, - hew could not stand it. He said he would cut his throat and drown himself. I have been keeping company with him nearly three years. I never heard his father go on at him before Friday night. When he was coming home he said his mother would be after him. She came but he would not go back with her; I was with him there. We met his father. Deceased said - "Oh, are you coming too". His father said - "You b ----, you go up Cupboard-lane [today's West Road] and live; you have been there two years". William never spoke. His father told me to go home and wash my black face. His father said no more, but went away home. William has not complained of anything, but last Tuesday might at our house he said - "I feel queer in my head". I have not heard him complain before. I was at the Methodist Chapel when he had a fit; it lasted about half an hour. It was about 8 o'clock when he had it. When his father spoke to him it was about 10 o'clock; I was with him all the time".

"Stephen Cooper: I am a gardener. I knew the decease dwell; I lived close to him. I heard Mrs. Bywaters call out, and I went to see what she wanted. I went to the barn and there I saw deceased hanging from the beam by a cord. His feet were touching the ground. I called James Jeeves and he came directly. When he came he laid hold of deceased's body whilst I cut the string and we paid the body down. We cut the string about four or five inches from the neck and left the string on the neck. It was my impression he was dead. I have heard disputes between his father and mother; I have heard so many that I took no notice of them".

"George Huckle: I am a labourer and live at Girtford. Deceased was at my house last Friday night. He left a little before four o'clock in the morning. I saw him go out of the door, but I did not then speak; I was up. I came down and found him in the house. He was there with my consent. He had been there several times before and stopped all night. We had no conversation except he asked me for the time. I used to leave the door open for he used to be in a queer way with his friends. I never heard him say the door was closed on him. When I was in bed I heard my daughter talking with him. I did not hear him say he would destroy himself. I heard him talk about it in the foremost part of the winter".

"Mr. C. P. Stephens said he had examined the body and he did not detect any injurious bruises upon the head. The appearances were quite consistent with death caused by hanging".

"James Watts [he had a busy time, having been involved in disturbances at the King's Arms and New Inn in 1877]: I am a police-constable stationed at Sandy. On Saturday morning the witness Jeeves came to me at six o'clock and I got up at once and went to the barn where deceased was. I removed the shawl and the string produced. I cut the string off his neck. The body was warm. I went to fetch the doctor between nine and ten o'clock. They had been before He would not come; he said it was no use going to see a dead man. It was about 50 yards from the doctor's house to the barn where the body was lying. I went to the doctor's again. His name is John Stephens; he is an assistant to Dr. Burnett, of Biggleswade. On Saturday afternoon I saw his brother, and I left word he was to examine the body and attend the inquest. Mr. Stevens [sic] came to me yesterday and said Dr. Burnett was going out, and he (Mr. Stevens) was going to London, so that he could not attend. I then went and summoned Mr. Stevens, of Biggleswade".

"The jury returned a verdict - "That the deceased did hang himself, but there was not sufficient evidence to show to the jurors what was the state of the mind of the deceased at the time he committed the act".

The 1871 census gives William A. Bywaters as aged 12, a general labourer, born in Girtford. He was living on the Great North Road, adjacent to the Rose and Crown Beerhouse. His father William was 38 and a coal dealer, who had been born in Girtford and his mother Mary Ann was 32 and a straw plaiter, who had been born in Biggleswade. Also living in the house were William's siblings: Mary Ann, aged 10; James, aged 8 and Harry aged 3. William's grandmother Mary Bywaters, aged 73 and a widow, who had been born in Girtford, was also living with them - she was described as "receiving Parish Relief". The Huckles cannot be traced on either the 1871 or 1881 census.