Drowining of worker whose screams were heard from Preston milll

Local historin Keith Johnson looks back at the drowning of a man who fell into murky water at night.

Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 3:42 pm
Updated Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 3:44 pm
The Berry Lane crossing by the Longridge Station
The Berry Lane crossing by the Longridge Station

On the second Monday of December 1852 Richard Houghton, aged 22, the secretary and former clerk to the Preston & Longridge Railway Company caught the half past five o’clock train from Preston.

That evening he had official railway business to attend too with Mr. William Marsden of the Hayhurst & Marsden factory in Longridge, known as Cramps Oaks Mill, and situated close to the railway station.

The train arrived at Longridge at ten minutes before six o’clock giving him just 10 minutes in which to visit the factory, transact his business, and return to the station before the train began its return journey.

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He started at once for the mill, and as his time was short took the nearest road. The night was dark, and that way to the mill being strange to him he unfortunately missed his turning in the road and went past the entrance to the mill and ended up plunging into the lodge which was unfenced.

The men in charge of the train waited beyond their usual time of starting, expecting his return at any moment. When he did not reappear John Parkinson, clerk at the Longridge station, went to the mill to see Mr. Marsden who stated he had not had sight of him.

They became alarmed that something may have happened to him and they enlisted the help of mill engineer Samuel Roscow. A lantern was secured and they began a search and to their horror within minutes they spotted Houghton’s cap floating on the lodge water. A grappling iron was immediately procured and in a short time Houghton’s lifeless body was dragged out of the murky water. All attempts to revive him being fruitless.

On the following Wednesday an Inquest was held at the Towneley Arms Inn before Blackburn coroner John Hargreaves, Esq. Amongst the witnesses was William Marsden who stated that a few minutes before Parkinson’s arrival he had heard three loud screams and he thought someone in the mill had been hurt; but that was not the case.

He explained that the regular road to the mill was not by the lodge and that he thought Houghton must have been heading towards the light of the tackler’s shop close by the lodge, and must have walked straight into the lodge, where the water was over six foot deep.

Samuel Roscow described the discovery of the body and how it was removed to the Towneley Arms and stated that there were no marks on the body, except for a swelling of the throat.

Ann Threlfall, who had identified the victim, told the hearing that she was the wife of Leonard Threlfall and that the deceased had lived with them from being an infant until he was sixteen.

She believed after a lengthy courtship he was on the point of being married and stated that he had been the chief support of his mother, who was a widow.

The inquest jury after a brief deliberation returned with a verdict of ‘Accidental Death by Drowning’. The Preston & Longridge Railway Company in recognition of the duties he had performed and his loyal service announced that they would pay all the funeral costs incurred.

The Cramps Oak Mill was the second cotton mill in Longridge to be driven by steam power, following the founding of the Stone Bridge Mill in 1850. The arrival of the Preston-Longridge railway in 1840 had encouraged mill operators to expand into the Longridge area.