Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the tragic death of two young swimmers
In nineteenth century Grimsargh there was the well-established and popular St John’s College, a place where well connected families would send their boys.
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The place had a reputation for educational and sporting excellence. Sadly, the events of the last day of October 1892 cast a shadow of gloom over the school.
On that day the principal Rev. Peters organised a paper chase as an invigorating exercise. At two o’clock the 45 ‘hounds’ set off in pursuit of the 3 ‘hares’, lads of excellent physical stamina.
A splendid run took place for over an hour with the hares then being spotted on the river bank at Alston. Two of them, Fred Flood, aged 17, and Edward Jones, aged 16, notable swimmers were seen to splash into the icy water and Mr. Edwin Wall, a master, went in after them urging them not to venture further.
As he did they appeared to be making their way to the bank, only to suddenly find themselves swept into deep water and struggling for life. The master was unable to reach them and to the horror of the other pupils they disappeared from view and did not resurface.
Mr. John Crook the Ribbleside boat keeper from the Pleasure Boat Inn was sent for, but despite dragging the river for hours no bodies were recovered. In the weeks that followed Mr. Crook kept a look out for the bodies without success and then on the last Sunday of November he saw a body floating past his inn on a strong current. He at once set out to overtake it, but was unsuccessful.
The next morning Police Constable Naylor was looking out of the back window of the Walton-le-Dale police station, which had a clear view of the river Ribble, when he saw the body floating down stream. He rushed outside and followed the body for about 200 yards before plunging into the water. After a struggle in which he was washed about 50 yards down stream he brought the body clad in sporting gear to land.
The badly decomposed body was identified as that of Edward Jones a victim of the melancholy tragedy at Grimsargh. An inquest was held in early December at the Grey Horse Inn, Walton-le-Dale before district coroner Mr. W. Ascroft and the whole tragic event was relived.
Mr. Edwin Wall was a principal witness and he expressed his despair at the eventual outcome of the paper chase as both Jones and Flood plunged to their deaths and he was unable to save them. The coroner said the community had been shocked and saddened by the deaths. In accordance with the coroner’s instructions the jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ on the body of Edward Jones.
Unfortunately, no verdict could be delivered on Fred Flood with his body still missing and no closure possible for his grieving family in Dublin.
Edward Jones’ father, a builder from Liverpool, was amongst those who attended and he expressed his appreciation of Mr. Crook and P.C. Naylor for their efforts to bring closure to the tragedy. He then asked the coroner’s permission to award £5 to the constable for his brave action.
Naturally, the drownings cast a long shadow over the college that was noted for its sporting prowess for many years to come. In fact, the college set in 50 acres continued until 1909 when the Rev. Peters who was the driving force behind it died.