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1888 Fatal Accident

by janet on 18 May 2012 · 2 comments

From the Hertfordshire Express, 19 May 1888

WALKERN ? FATAL ACCIDENT: An inquest was held at the White Lion Inn, Walkern, on Friday week, by F Shillitoe Esq, coroner, touching the death of John Swain, a labourer who was accidentally killed near Walkern on the evening of the previous Wednesday.

The following evidence was given:- John Savage, who works for the executors of Mr Wright, Brewers, Walkern, said he was called up on the Wednesday night by Mr Porter, and on going down the road he found a wagon lying on the road in a confused state; he found Swain a little distance off lying on his face, in the gutter, quite dead.

Swain had worked at the brewery and had been accustomed for some time to take out the van. Mr Samuel F Porter said that on the Wednesday while driving from Benington about ten o?clock at night he saw a van in the road, blocking the way; he got down from his cart and went to call John Savage and told him something was the matter down the road. He then went on for Mr Wright, and they both went back to the spot.

They found Savage with the deceased in Shumery-lane; the wheel seemed to have gone over his back. The slide of the wagon had not been used. The horses were found some distance away, partly unharnessed. The body was carried to Mr Wright?s house.

John Harrison said that on the Wednesday night Swain had passed the George and Dragon public house driving the van; he was sitting on the box and appeared quite sober and capable; he said ?Good-night? in a friendly sort of way. He was driving towards Walkern.

Mr G Smith Ward, Surgeon, Stevenage, said that the injuries to the body were evidently caused by a wheel passing over it.

At Shumery-lane where several accidents have occurred before, there is a long hill and the lane is narrow with a very high bank. It is thought the horses could not be stopped, and that Swain found it impossible to escape the wheel which passed over his body. The waggon was laden with bricks, and death must have been instantaneous.

Swain was a widower and leaves two daughters. He bore an excellent character, having been in the employment of Mrs Wright for fourteen years.


John Swain was born in Walkern in about 1846, the son of a gardener, also John Swain, and mother Elizabeth. As a young man he found work as a ploughboy and agricultural labourer. He married Sarah Ann Merryweather at St Mary?s on 13 January 1873, and it is soon after that that he found employment at Wright?s Brewery as a ?Brewer?s labourer?. They had two daughters, Jessie born in 1873 and Carrie, born in 1874. Tragically, his wife Sarah died aged 28 in March 1879.

John Swain was 41 at the time of the accident and living with his two daughters at his parents? cottage in Walkern. He was buried at St Mary?s on 14 May 1888

I haven?t been able to trace what happened to his daughter Jessie, but Carrie, who was christened Caroline Elizabeth Estwick Swain, was living with her widowed grandmother as a general servant in Walkern in 1891. In 1895 she married Walkern bootmaker, George Carter and they had 5 children, living out the rest of their lives in the village.

The man who found the body was not actually John Savage but James Savage, a 46 year old maltmaker for Wright?s Brewery. Samuel Franklyn Porter was the 52 year old farmer at Finches farm. The Mr Wright referred to was Samuel Eustace Wright, 27, who inherited the brewery from his father, and was married to Samuel Porter?s daughter Ellen. The Mrs Wright referred to in the report was Samuel E Wright?s widowed mother, Emma, who ran the brewery along with her son.

Shumery Lane is the road leading from the Watton-Walkern road up the hill to Benington. It is still narrow with steep sides, and it is all too easy to imagine how, having omitted to use the wheel safety device, John Swain would have had little chance of escaping the heavily laden wagon as it careered out of control down the hill.

JW, March 2012

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sylvia Wright September 12, 2016 at 9:34 pm

I am trying to trace a Salisbury/Salesbury Hall, Shumery, Hertford.
A family by the name of Snell lived there at the end of the 18th C.

Would anyone be able to help me?

Many thanks. Sylvia Wright


Don Aldous December 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm

A very intresting piece of local history I was born in old Stevenage in the 1940s and then moved to Buntingford 30 years ago and i try to keep up with all local history keep up the good work.


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