Preston army captain’s moment of insanity led him to take his own life

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the tragic case of a military man who killed himself with a shotgun.

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 12th November 2020, 12:30 pm
Haighton Hall
Haighton Hall

Haighton Hall and Squire Anderton’s Wood, with its annual display of bluebells, was a familiar place to take a stroll or picnic for generations of Preston folk.

The hall, built by Captain Evan Richard Gerard in 1820, was bought by James Francis Anderton in 1832 and would become the centre of the family life of Squire Anderton descendants for over 70 years.

Although Squire Anderton died in 1853, aged 49, from disease of the liver, his children and his wife Mary, who lived on until 1869, continued to occupy the hall.

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Sadly the Anderton family were to suffer a blow in August 1859 when daughter Francis Aloysia Anderton died aged 12. It is recorded that she had taken a ride on her pony to the Green

Man at Inglewhite, staying for lunch. Tragically, she came into contact with another child who was recovering from scarlet fever, and she contracted the disease dying within days.

Another tragedy was to befall the family in October 1866 when Captain Evan Francis Anderton, aged 31, the eldest son, who had been educated at Stoneyhurst College and was a member of First Lancashire Royal Militia dying suddenly on the last Saturday of the month.

At the Inquest held on the following Monday afternoon at the Earl Street police station in Preston the visiting coroner Mr. Holden of Lancaster called Patrick Collins, valet to the deceased, who stated he had attended the captain shortly after 6 o’clock that morning he being sat upon his bed in his night gown and slippers and complained of a restless night. He had been unwell for the past week and at dinner the previous night he had appeared in low spirits.

Next called was Alice Sergeant, housemaid, who testified she had seen the deceased walking down the stairs shortly before 9 o’clock and going towards his study. Five minutes later she heard the report of a gun coming from the direction of his room. The noise had alerted the butler Edward Rushton who, with the housemaid looking on, entered the room to find the body of

Captain Anderton on the floor perfectly still and apparently lifeless.

Dr. Hammond was then called and said he had been attending to the deceased for the last week as he had been suffering from nervous prostration, induced by mental anxiety. He had attended the death scene and confirmed that cause of death was a shotgun wound with the right side of his brain being strewn upon the floor. In his opinion he had been standing when he discharged the gun and had fallen partly under his desk. A short wooden stick found beside the body suggested that it had been used to pull the trigger.

Wilfred Anderton was next called and he deposed that the shotgun that his brother had used was his. Saying that it was due for cleaning and unloaded and that he often left it in his brother’s study.

The coroner then summed up the evidence for the jury and remarked that according to Dr. Hammond it appeared that in a moment of paroxysm the deceased had carried out the act of self destruction.

After retiring for a few minutes the jury returned with a verdict of suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity.

Squire Wilfred Anderton, the youngest son born in 1844, became a wealthy man. Owning not only the Haighton Park Estate but also a number of neighbouring farms, as well as having an interest in both the Blackpool and New Brighton Towers as those developments reached up into the sky. Twice married he died in 1926 and within a few years the family vacated Haighton Hall.