Man joked about drowning wife before both found dead in Preston canal

The couple ended up in the Lancaster Canal
The couple ended up in the Lancaster Canal
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Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the mysterious and tragic end for a married couple...

On the last Tuesday of May 1849 considerable sensation was caused in the Preston neighbourhood when it became known that the bodies of William Hull, a bricklayer of Preston, and Margaret Hull, his wife, had been found in the canal at Cottam, about three miles from town.

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The following morning an inquest was held at the Plough Inn, Ashton, before coroner Richard Palmer on view of the bodies of the two unfortunates. Mrs Alice Ward, innkeeper, of the Plough Inn, told the gathering that the couple had visited her premises on the Tuesday afternoon. She stated that they both appeared to be sober, although he seemed drowsy, and when he requested a pint of ale, his wife refused to let him have one.

They stayed only a short while with him having a cigar and she purchasing two pennyworth of bread and cheese. Although they appeared to not be on good terms, no unpleasantness passed between them. They went off towards the lane leading to Lea with Mrs. Hall wearing a red velvet bonnet and a shawl.

John Singleton, labourer, from Lea, deposed that he saw the couple a few minutes later near the kiln pit and that striking up a conversation William Hull asked which way to the canal, before remarking in what appeared to be a joking manner: “I am going to drown this woman.”

His comments were viewed as nonsense and his wife smiled as Singleton’s companion Dr Wilson, a veterinary surgeon from Preston, said in a joking manner to Hull: “If you are tired of that woman, you had better hand her over to me.”

Singleton concluded by stating that the couple did not appear to have been quarreling and the wife although not speaking seemed to smile and treat the conversation in a jovial manner.

Robert Burns, farm labourer, of Cottam, recalled walking along the canal in Cottam a couple of hours later when his attention was drawn to the body of a man floating in the water. Along with others he had hooked the body, that was identified as Mr Hull, out of the water by the collar of his coat. A couple of hours later the body of Mrs Hull was taken out of the canal within a few yards of the first discovery.

P.C. Richard Hindle deposed that he had examined both bodies. The body of Margaret Hull was without bonnet or shawl and she had a slight scratch under one eye, but William Hull had no marks upon him.

Neither had any marks that would cause death. In the hand of William Hull were found a few strands of long hair as if torn from his wife’s head.

George Harden, builder, stated that the deceased Hull had worked for him in Preston and was thirty years of age.

Whilst Margaret Hull was a year younger and they had not been long married and had no children.

Henry Hull then testified that his brother had been drinking lately to a considerable extent being quite deranged at times and he had seen the couple earlier on Tuesday when they had set off for a walk with the intention of sobering him up.

The jury after a lengthy deliberation returned a verdict of ‘Found dead in the canal, appearing to have been drowned, but how they came to be in the canal there was no evidence to show.’