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Drownings in Harrold

View downstream from Harrold Bridge May 2008
View downstream from Harrold Bridge - May 2008

As one might expect history relates a significant numbers of deaths by drowning in the River Great Ouse in Harrold. Indeed, entry 194 in the Coroner's Rolls makes one wonder how many souls the River Great Ouse has claimed in its time. It reads: "After lunch on 30th January [1273] John le Man of Harrold went by the river Ouse between Harrold and Carlton, found an old boat, boarded it and crossed the river. He then wished to return the boat with his hand, went too near the water, fell in and drowned by misadventure. On 2nd February his mother Maud Waukeleyn first found him dead, raised the hue and found pledges, Waukelin the Smith and William son of Waukelyn of Harrold. Inquest before Ralph of Goldington, coroner, by Harrold, Carlton, Turvey and Odell: a misadventure. The boat was appraised at 8d. and delivered to Harrold". One wonders if John's had been a liquid lunch making him rather unsteady. In January the river may well have been in flood, running deeper and faster than usual.

Harrold Mill July 2008
Harrold Mill in July 2008

Entry 142 reads: "About nones [around 3 p.m.] on 17th May [1276] Robert son of Margery and John son of Richard of Harrold were riding on Ralph Morin's horses in Harrold and came to some water intending to water the horses. Robert entered the water first and stationed himself in a deep pool on the south of Harrold mill, fell over the horse's head into the pool and drowned by misadventure. John tried to save Robert and entered the water, but could do nothing. Robert's mother Margery immediately came, found him drowned, raised the hue and found pledges, Geoffrey Hounting and Geoffrey le Cuvere of Harrold. John found pledges, Henry Hunting and Robert son of Stephen of Harrold. The horse was appraised at 3 shillings and delivered to Harrold".

View from the mill in 1925
View from the mill in 1925 [AD1147/7]

Nor have all of these drownings been so ancient - witness this excerpt from the Bedfordshire Mercury of 18th July 1859: "It appears that on Monday evening last a lad named William Knight, whose parents reside in the village, went down with a companion named Thomas Webb to the river near the mill in order to bathe. At this point the water is shallow, but in one particular spot there is a pit several feet in depth. On their arrival at the river, they saw some companions on the opposite side, who requested Knight and Webb to cross the stream and join them. The former was cautioned not to attempt to swim across, but he replied "If I get drowned I'll go", and at once got into the water. He proceeded for a short distance in safety, but all of a sudden, he was observed to struggle, went down, and was never afterwards seen. The lads got into the water, and catching hold of each other's hands, formed a long line in the hope that they should thus be able to reach the unfortunate youth, but in this noble endeavour they were disappointed. An alarm was instantly raised, and on arrival of a number of persona at the spot, Samuel Islip, an apprentice in the employ of Mr.T.Pool, at the risk of his own life, courageously dived into the water, but was unable to rescue the deceased. The body was recovered by the aid of drags, after having been in the water three quarters of an hour; Mr.W.Wootton, surgeon of Harrold (who had been previously summoned) of course knew that it would be impossible to restore animation, and therefore, did not attempt it. An inquest was held on Wednesday last, at the George Inn, before E.Eagles, Esq., when the jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death".

Harrold Bridge May 2008
Harrold Bridge May 2008

Almost exactly nine years later the river swallowed another life, as the Bedfordshire Mercury for 14th July 1868 relates: "On Thursday an inquest was held at the Globe Inn, before M.Whyley, Esq., coroner for the county, respecting the death of Levi Robinson, 23 years of age. It appeared that on the Tuesday evening previous the deceased, with William Clayson and Thomas Squires, went fishing in the river Ouse, at Pickering's meadow, and expressing his intention to bathe, he was requested to go farther down the stream. He swam across the river, got into some reeds or the bank, and in swimming back again, was just speaking to Squires, when "he went down in a moment", although a good swimmer. Neither of his companions were able to swim: they pushed a fishing rod down to him, as they could see his face, but it was of no avail. While Clayson had gone for Police-constable Cook, Squires and others got out deceased with a hay drag after he had been immersed half an hour. Cook, having sent for Mr.J.B.Bodilly, surgeon, of Harrold, procured a horse and cart, with ropes, went to the bank were [sic] Ribinson lay quite dead. The body was taken home in the cart and Mr.Bodilly pronounced life extinct. After an examination, he stated that, although there were no signs of cramp from the time the body had been in the water, doubtless he had sank from that cause. A verdict of "Accidentally drowned" was returned by the jury".