No leap in the dark under the bridge

Preston Coroner Richard Palmer

Preston Coroner Richard Palmer

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‘Terror gripped’ the young man as his female friend struggled in the dark water, but at first the charge was one of murder...

During Whitsuntide in 1844 a young couple, Ann Brown, 17, and Richard Talbot, 18, who both worked in the cotton trade in Preston, began keeping company.

Scene of tragedy near the Maudland Road canal bridge, in Preston

Scene of tragedy near the Maudland Road canal bridge, in Preston

The pair seemed well suited and Talbot would often take the young girl to the lodging house of Mary Rigby in Mount Pleasant Street where he resided.

It was his custom to walk her home of an evening to her family home in Bolton Street, often going by way of the tow path of the Lancaster Canal.

The first Sunday of December 1844 was such an occasion.

The evening was a particular dark and dreary one and the pair left the lodging house shortly before 8pm, with Miss Brown wanting to get an early night.

Walking towards the Maudland Bridge the footpath became particularly muddy and clingy, making progress difficult especially in the darkness.

The girl chose to use the stones on the edge of the canal to make her way along.

Talbot, who preferred to step his way by the canal wall, was then alarmed to hear a splashing sound as Miss Brown plunged into the water.

Rushing to the canal edge and peering through the darkness he eventually saw her come up struggling in the middle of the canal.

As he could not swim he was fearful of attempting to save her and yelled out for assistance.

At that moment William Walch, a weaver, who was heading over the Maudland Bridge, after visiting St Peter’s Church, heard the cries for help although he could see no figure in the gloom.

Talbot eventually made his way onto the bridge where he explained his plight to the man, before running off towards Ann Brown’s nearby Bolton St home and informing her parents.

The Browns hurried to the canal with Talbot and soon quite a crowd had gathered on the water’s edge.

One person jumped into the water and waded across to where she had been seen, but there was no sign.

Only after some grappling irons were brought was the apparently lifeless body recovered.

She was at once taken home, attempts were made to revive her but a doctor declared her dead.

While on the canal bank her distraught father James Brown accused Talbot of throwing her into the canal and PC Joshua Dyson quizzed him about the allegations.

He denied any such actions saying they were on the most friendly of terms with never a wrong word between them.

On the following day coroner Richard Palmer conducted an inquest at a packed Town Hall.

There was clearly much sorrow amongst those present as the tragic tale was told.

A visibly upset Richard Talbot told the gathering how terror had gripped him and prevented any attempt by him of rescue.

The jury, after a brief consultation, found a verdict of ‘Accidentally Drowned’ and the coroner emphasised that the young man was without blame, a statement that James Brown, on reflection, agreed with.