Parishioner finds hanged man in Preston church

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at a grim discovery at a church...
William Lane worked at the Co-Op on Fletcher Road, PrestonWilliam Lane worked at the Co-Op on Fletcher Road, Preston
William Lane worked at the Co-Op on Fletcher Road, Preston

In 1853 a group of Primitive Baptists of Preston, who had broken away from their congregation in Vauxhall Road, built a chapel in Regent Street at a cost of £500, equivalent to £45,000 these days.

It was called the Zoar Chapel. Unfortunately, after a promising start the congregation went into decline and the building was taken over by the Catholic Apostolic Church who often filled the 200 pews with their enthusiastic followers.

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Amongst the church helpers in 1912 was Thomas Hartley, a builder and picture framer, of Adelphi Street. After attending an evening service on the first Sunday of August 1912 he was preparing to close up the chapel when he noticed a hat and umbrella on the cloak stand.

He thought it strange a hat should be left there and thinking someone may still be in the chapel, commenced a search for the owner.

He looked through all the rooms on the ground floor in vain, and then climbed the stairs to a room over the vestry. On going upstairs he discovered a man’s jacket hanging over the banister, and going into the room he saw a man hanging by the neck from a rope attached to a ladder which was reared against a beam.

The rope was fastened to a stave of the ladder, and nearby was a chair which had evidently been stood upon. The person was suspended by the rope with his feet some eighteen inches above the floor.

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He recognised the man as William Lane, a member of the church, and wasting no time he hurried downstairs to get a knife, with which he cut down the lifeless body that felt quite warm.

He then called for help and Dr. Rigby was called in and he pronounced Lane to be dead with the body being moved to the mortuary.

On the following Tuesday an Inquest was held by the County Coroner John Parker at the Earl St police station. Amongst those called to testify was William Watson, a constable at Preston and brother-in-law of the deceased who worked at the Co-op store on Fletcher Road.

He explained that the deceased was a single man who lived with his mother. Stating that he had suffered a nervous breakdown three years earlier, and had also attempted suicide by taking poison.

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He had seen him a week earlier when he seemed in good health and spirits.

Thomas Hartley then explained the harrowing experience that befell him. He stated that he did not recall seeing Lane at the service, although he had a key for the premises.

He told the court the room in which he was found was very seldom used and that he had not the slightest idea where the rope came from.

P.C. Harkinson who attended the scene said there was a deep red mark around the neck and that on a search of the deceased’s clothing there was no note or anything indicating why he had acted in that way.

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In conclusion, the Coroner addressed the jury telling them the evidence indicated the man was very depressed at times and not of sound mind. After a short deliberation the jury brought in a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind.

These days the former Zoar chapel is home to a medical clinic and was previously a place for cosmetic surgery.