Hunting trip ends in drowning tragedy for former Preston mayor’s son

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a family tragedy for a former civic leader of Preston.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 12:30 pm
Lord Street, Souhport, where Humber worked as a bank clerk
Lord Street, Souhport, where Humber worked as a bank clerk

On the second Wednesday of February 1914 John Sherwood Humber, aged 24, the only son of former Mayor of Preston, Major John Humber, went out shooting wild ducks at Crossens as he often did with his companion Conrad Ernest Brooke.

The young bank clerks, employed at the William Deacon Bank on Lord Street in Souhport, went to the shore at Marshside at eight o’clock in the morning, and walked into the tide, which was about half flood. They each carried a gun and as they went they fired several shots as some birds came into view. They walked up to their knees in the tide towards Crossens, coming to a wire fence near the sluice.

They had by this time noticed that the tide had surrounded them, but they thought they could walk out all right, knowing that the high water was a couple of hours later. Nonetheless a man in a fishing boat a few hundred yards away suspecting they could be in peril beckoned them to go back towards Southport.

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They retreated a short distance, but found they were getting out of their depth. So they returned to the side of the sluice, and started to swim towards the embankment on the opposite side. Soon after starting to swim they became separated and when Brooke reached the embankment he turned round but could not see his pal anywhere.

Feeling anxious he remained there a short time and then went to a nearby cottage to raise the alarm before returning to the embankment. By this time William Wright, a Marshside fisherman, was at the scene and he told Brooke that he had seen the pair of them swimming to safety and had seen Humber sink below the water when he was about 300 yards away and that he rowed to the spot remaining there for quite a while, but could find no trace of him.

Sadly, the lifeless body of Humber was recovered close to the sluice in mid afternoon and communication was sent to the young man’s father who was attending to business in Preston that afternoon.

A couple of days later an inquest was held in Southport and a couple of workmen from the Southport sewerage works, near Crossens Sluice, were amongst the witnesses.

They had observed Humber getting into difficulties from a distance and remarked that clad in heavy boots and leggings he had clearly been struggling to swim.

It had clearly been a regrettable tragedy and the coroner remarked that Humber had been a fine young fellow who was beloved by all. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ and expressed sympathy for his relatives.

His father Major John Humber who was the Mayor of Preston as the Preston Docks were formally opened in June 1892, had later moved to Southport with his family residing at 147 Cambridge Road.

He was connected with the Sherwood Foresters and had served with distinction in the Boer War, being presented with a service medal by King Edward VII in July 1901.

He was still an enthusiastic Conservative in his latter years becoming the chairman of the Churchtown Conservatives in 1921. Major Humber died, aged 65, in late November 1924 after a short illness.