Preston brother and sister killed in drowning and shooting tragedies

Walton-le-Dale where the tragedy struck
Walton-le-Dale where the tragedy struck
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Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at a double tragedy for a Preston family...

In the first week of August 1863 an all too frequent tragedy occurred when a teenager drowned in the notorious ‘Church Deeps’ stretch of the river Ribble at Walton-le-Dale.

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On the Monday evening William Bibby Bennett, aged 16, was bathing in the river when he suddenly got into trouble in the deep water.

By the time other bathers were alerted to his difficulties he had drowned and his lifeless body was dragged out of the water.

He was carried home and Dr. Ashton attended and declared that life was extinct. At the inquest on the following day attended by his distraught family a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ was recorded by deputy coroner Mr. Walker.

On the third Friday of October 1864 tragedy was once again to strike the Bennett household.

That afternoon after school Martha Bennett, aged 12, went to the home of their near neighbours the Mansley family, who were market gardeners, to carry out her regular domestic servant duties. Her task that day was to clean some tea services down in Mr. Mansley’s cellar kitchen.

Meanwhile, John Mansley, one of Frank Mansley’s sons, went into his father’s garden armed with a fowling-piece, that had not been used for a couple of years, hoping for shooting practice and to bag a rabbit.

No rabbits appeared so he returned to the house without ever firing the loaded gun, placing it in a corner of the kitchen alongside a short cavalry rifle he owned as a member of the Walton volunteer battery.

A couple of hours later after eating his tea he left the house for the stable, but had not gone many yards when he heard the report of a gun.

He at once hastened back to the house where as he opened the door a volume of smoke greeted him before a horrifying sight presented itself.

The girl was lying on the kitchen floor, and his brother William was standing on the other side of the room in a state of stupor with the fowling-piece at his feet.

Frank, feeling sure the poor girl had been shot, ran off to the residence of Dr. Ashton, who he eventually located in the nearby parsonage.

As Frank rushed for help a few of their neighbours alerted by the gun fire entered the house and despite the shocking spectacle before them, as one woman fainted, they resolved to carry the girl to her parents’ home. Dr. Ashton was soon on hand, but could do nothing to aid the stricken girl who appeared to have died the moment she was shot.

Her vertebral column had been shattered by the gunshot, with a wound some three inches in diameter. On the Saturday evening an inquest was held at the Grey Horse Inn in the village and William Mansley, aged 22, was called to explain the tragic events.

He told the gathering that he thought his brother had been out shooting with the cavalry rifle and that he was examining the fowling-piece, not being aware that it was loaded, when it exploded. Medical evidence was heard from Dr. Ashton and details of the circumstances surrounding the killing were related to the court.

The jury after a short consultation returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ and they insisted that the coroner caution both the young men about using firearms so carelessly in the future.

In addressing the Bennett family the coroner expressed his deepest sympathy that a girl so full of life had been taken from them.

Then he told William Mansley that it was apparent that he felt acutely the distress he had caused and the fact that he was the unwitting author of the calamity.

The tragedies that befell the Bennett family would live long in the memory of the village.