Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at the sad demise of a former mayor of Preston...
On the third Sunday of August 1922 a man was found shot through the head in the River Thames near Windsor.
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He was identified as Philip Samuel Park, aged 57, a former Mayor of Preston. News of the bizarre end to the life of Mr Park surprised the people of Preston, who had been well served by former Councillor Park and by his father and grandfather before him.
His municipal career had begun in November 1893 when he was elected for the Maudland Ward. Just two year later, still aged only 30, he became Mayor of Preston and was assisted in his duties by his second wife, Sarah Ellen Park.
He had worked in the offices of Messrs. Garlick, Park and Sykes civil engineers, the firm in which his father was a partner, being employed on surveys of the Ribble for the Preston Docks project.
By August 1887 he had become a partner in the firm Park and Son and was a member of the Lancashire County Council and numerous public bodies. After the death of his second wife, he disposed of his house in Preston and from 1912 onwards he lived in Crowborough, Sussex. Whilst there he got married for a third time to the daughter of William Perrin of Dublin.
During the summer of 1922, he was staying at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, in the company of his third wife. It appears he had become obsessed with his financial state – although he should have been secure enough after the sale of his property in Preston and from the proceeds of his second wife’s estate.
Nevertheless, he wrote to a long-standing solicitor friend, asking him to find him a job, stating his finances were very, very bad.
As he dwelt on his financial affairs he told his wife to visit her family in Ireland. By the middle of August he had left the Grosvenor Hotel and moved to the Bray Mead Court Hotel, near Maidenhead. He prolonged his stay into a second week and on the Wednesday he left the hotel to go for a walk.
That evening a passenger in one of the Oxford and Kingston steamers reported to the Windsor police that a body had been seen in shallow water on the Thames above Surley Hall. The Eton police were informed and the Windsor Royal Humane Society searched the river but found no sign of a body.
On the Friday afternoon a man from Portsmouth who was staying at Windsor, walked into Eton police station and handed in an automatic revolver, which was loaded in four chambers, two having been discharged. The man had noticed the gun in the water while he was fishing. He got it out of the river and while wiping it he had accidentally touched the trigger and almost shot himself in the leg.
A search was made of the river, and eventually a body was found floating face downwards about four yards from the bank and close to where the revolver had been found. The body, entangled in weeds, was that of Philip Park with a bullet wound in his head.
At the inquest conducted by the South Bucks coroner it was stated that a search of Park’s hotel bedroom had led to the finding of a note that read as follows – ‘Please communicate with my wife. The rest of my luggage is at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. My brain is on fire and I feel mad. I have been living in hell for the last two years.’
According to the police Mr Park had stood in shallow water and shot himself with the body floating down stream. His financial affairs were then discussed and as he had been a faithful and affectionate husband, with no reputation for drinking or gambling, it was thought heavy taxation may have dwindled his wealth.
Reference was made to a letter he had sent to his wife in Ireland in which he had written that his brain was in a whirl. The conclusion drawn was that worry over his financial affairs had led to his drastic action and the jury delivered a verdict of ‘suicide whilst temporarily insane’.