A fatal tricycle accident at Waters Upton – Part 2

< Back to Part 1.

PC Thomas Alexander Lee

Thos. Alexander Lee deposed: I am a police-constable, stationed at Waters Upton. On Tuesday night [11 August 1891], at 10-35, I saw William Matthews and the last witness at Matthews’s wicket [= gate]. There were two tricycles and a man on the ground. I asked “What’s up?” and Matthews said, “Sammy Dodd’s had a drop of beer and fallen off his machine.” I examined the deceased, but did not think he was hurt. The only mark I saw was a scratch on the hand. I saw that the machine was broken.
I went to my rooms, close by, and fetched some matches. Matthews also fetched light. While he was away I lit the lamp of the tricycle, and examined the deceased. I satisfied myself that no bones were broken. I told Matthews that if deceased was hurt it must be about his head, but I could find no marks. Deceased had been vomiting, and smelt strongly of drink. I asked him several times to get up, and he muttered that he should be all right directly if let alone. I was under the impression that he was drunk, and not hurt.
Matthews asked the deceased if he was going home, and he said something about bed. Matthews said, “What have you been doing, Sammy, to get into this state? I’ll not have you in my bed in this form, but I’ve plenty building, and will bed you down.” On that I left them. Owen followed me and said that deceased would be all right—that Matthews would look after him. I did not think deceased capable of going home, but I did think Matthews would take care of him.— [Questioned by] Mr. Superintendent Galliers: I knew deceased to be a friend of Matthews, and believed that Matthews would take him into his house.

Thomas Lee (Police Constable 107) was one of a number of people whose appearance on the 1891 census at Waters Upton was the only time they were enumerated at that place. He was a native of Whitchurch in Shropshire, where he was baptised on 24 February 1864; his parents were farmer William Lee and his wife Mary, née Robinson.

places - Whitchurch (The Old House)

The Old House in Whitchurch, Shropshire.

Newspaper reports of the proceedings of the Petty Sessions at Wellington in 1890 and 1891 give the (probably misleading) impression that PC Lee’s duties while stationed in Waters Upton revolved mainly around dealing with drunken patrons of the local hostelries. The earliest such report that I have found so far, in the Wellington Journal of 5 April 1890 (page 6), shows that PC Lee charged two men with drunkenness at Waters Upton on 22 March 1890. Later that year he charged one man with being drunk and disorderly at High Ercall on 11 September and two men for the same offence at Waters Upton on the 20th (Wellington Journal, 4 October 1890, page 3).

A variation on the regular theme was the man summoned by PC Lee to appear at the Petty Sessions on 15 December 1890 “for being drunk and asleep while in charge of a horse and trap on the 8th inst., on the road leading from Crudgington to Waters Upton”. It was ‘business as usual’ on Boxing Day however (two men drunk at Waters Upton, and in May 1891 Thomas charged two men with drunkenness in the village, and another with “being drunk and refusing to quit the Swan Inn, Waters Upton”. (Wellington Journal, 20 December 1891, page 6; 10 January 1891, page 2; 30 May 1891, page 3; and 13 June 1891, page 6.)

PC Lee was clearly used to seeing the effects of alcohol on people, but should he have known better in Samuel Dodd’s case? He did not remain stationed at Waters Upton for long after Dodd’s demise. A round-up of cases heard at the Wellington Petty Sessions on 28 September (Wellington Journal, 3 October 1891, page 2) indicates that he had been transferred to Wellington itself by then. I cannot help wondering whether this move was connected with his conduct on the night of Sam Dodd’s fatal accident, or if the timing was simply a coincidence.

At some point over the next ten years, Thomas and the Shropshire Constabulary parted company. He was enumerated in 1901 at Whitchurch, his birthplace, where he was living with his sister (also unmarried) and working as a County Court Bailiff. The only thing that had changed when the 1911 census was taken (apart from Thomas’s age of course) is that he was living with his widowed mother Mary. The death of Thomas Alexander Lee, aged 68, was registered in the Atcham Registration District of Shropshire in the last quarter of 1932.

Robert Nicholls, Joseph Jones, Walter Welsh and Jane Jones

Robert Nicholls said: I am a labourer, and live at Waters Upton. Yesterday morning, at five o’clock, I looked out of my bedroom window, and saw some one lying on the footpath. At half-past five I went out to see who it was, and found deceased lying on his side. He was then alive. I thought he was drunk. I spoke to him but he made answer. I called Joseph Jones, and he came and helped me to put him in a pigsty close by. Jones said thought deceased would be better after a lie down. Other people came and saw him, and I then left—[Questioned by] the Foreman: I have heard of deceased being drunk, and I thought he was drunk then. He breathed rather heavily.
Walter Welsh said: I am a blacksmith, and live at Waters Upton. Yesterday morning, shortly before six o’clock, I saw deceased in Matthews’s pigsty. He was breathing very heavily. I knew that Nicholls had put him in the pigsty. I did not know the deceased intimately, but have seen him drunk.
Jane Jones said: Yesterday morning I went into Matthews’s house. Deceased was there on sofa. Directly after I got into the house deceased passed away. I did not lay the body out I put him straight.

The 1891 census shows that Joseph Jones was a farm waggoner, and Jane was his wife. Both were residents of Waters Upton from the mid-1860s – I will return to them in another article. Robert Nicholls and Walter Welsh on the other hand were, like Samuel Owen and Thomas Lee, short-term inhabitant of the parish. I have written very briefly about Walter in Blacksmiths in Waters Upton – Part 2.

Robert Nicholls was born in the small settlement of Sleap, to the south of both Waters Upton and neighbouring Crudgington, and was baptised at the parish church of Ercall Magna on 3 June 1855. He was named after his father, and like his dad he worked as an agricultural labourer.

places - Rowtown All Hallows

Rowton All Hallows.

Robert married Emma Teece in the first quarter of 1882 (Emma was born and baptised in Waters Upton in 1856, and has a story of her own to be told).

The 1891 census shows that the couple’s first two children were born at Rowton while the next two were born in Waters Upton, giving 1887 or thereabouts as an approximate timing for the family’s relocation. In similar fashion the 1901 census suggests that the Nicholls family had moved to their next home, at Crudgington Green, in the middle of the 1890s; Robert was a waggoner at this time. They were still there in 1911, by which time Robert was a farm labourer again. The death of an 83-year-old Robert Nicholls, quite possibly this former Waters Uptonian, was registered at Wellington in the first quarter of 1939.

Medical evidence

Dr. George Hollies deposed: I am a physician and surgeon, practising in Wellington. Yesterday morning I received a telegram asking me to come to Waters Upton to a bicycle accident. I arrived about 11 o’clock. The man was then dead. He was lying on a couch in Matthews’s house. I made an external examination of the body. I found an abrasion on the back of the right hand, with sand and soil in the palm. There was also an abrasion on the left hand, and a slight abrasion on the left elbow. There was a slight scratch on the forehead, above the right eyebrow. I found blood mixed with sand and soil about three inches above the right ear. There was an abrasion of the scalp, larger than shilling. The scalp was swollen and bruised. I consider that such an accident as a fall from a tricycle would cause the injuries described.
From the evidence I have heard, and from the external examination I made, I should judge that the man died from compression of the brain, following concussion, but of course l am unable exactly say from mere external examination. It is difficult to say whether the exposure would have made any great difference in this case. No doubt the danger would be increased the fact of the deceased being moved about. I could not say that death was accelerated in this particular case. It is a common error to mistake the condition in which this man was for a state of drunkenness.

William Matthews’ deposition

William Matthews said: I am a sawyer, and live at Waters Upton. On Tuesday evening I and deceased went for a ride on our tricycles. We called at the Buck’s Head, Long Lane, had some drink there, and remained about an hour. We left about a quarter-past nine, and rode together to Crudgington Road. Deceased then went on in front of me.
I met Mr. Percival [Purcell] by the Post Office, and stopped to talk to him. Samuel Owen came to us by the Rectory, and told us that the deceased had been upset. I asked if he was hurt, and Owen said the machine was worse hurt than the man. I came down to my wicket. Deceased was then under the tree. I stayed with him for some time.
Afterwards Police-constable Lee came, and Owen left. I remained with the deceased until 11-30. I asked him stop with me, and he said he would go home. I did not think he was hurt. He had had some beer, but came as far as I rode with him all right, and I thought he was quite able to get home. I did not think that be wished to stop. I have seen him drunk before. I found him in my pigsty next morning about eight o’clock.
I went to try and get a conveyance to take him home, and sent a telegram to Dr. Hollies. I then got deceased into my house, and did all I could for him. I saw deceased’s father when he came. Dr. Hollies afterwards came, but the man was dead then. I have known and worked with the deceased for some time, and he was an intimate acquaintance of mine.
places - Long Lane, The Bucks Head

The Buck’s Head at Long Lane as it appears today.

The verdict, and a reprimand

The Coroner then summed up, and the jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased died from the result of injuries received by accidentally falling from a tricycle. They added a rider the effect that the witness Matthews was greatly to blame for not taking the deceased into his house, and requested the Coroner to censure him.—Matthews was then called in, and the Coroner severely reprimanded him for his conduct.

Was the censure of Thomas Matthews fair – was he really at fault? What would you have done in his position, and would it have made a difference? Hypothetical questions aside, would you recognise the symptoms of head injury and concussion (and know what to do) if you saw them today?

After the inquest

Two letters appeared in the Wellington Journal of 22 August 1891 (page 3). One was sent by Samuel Dodd’s sister, Margaret Wood, of Bolas Magna. She had “worked the tricycle” from which Sam had fallen, back to Bolas Magna – and found it was in good working order. She expressed, in terms which made her distress and bitterness clear, her disbelief that anyone examining the machine could say it was broken, “unless the witnesses kindly mended the machine, whilst leaving my brother to mend himself.”

The other letter was submitted by “one of the jurymen”, who was sympathetic to those who had not been able to tell that Samuel Dodd had been suffering from concussion rather than the effects of drink. Concerned that “Waters Upton is situate five miles from any medical man”, he suggested that “ambulance classes in country districts” should be established. How wonderful that his proposal was, in time, acted upon by the Waters Upton resident whose home was used for Sam Dodd’s inquest (and who may have been the anonymous juryman). The following report appeared on page 8 of the Wellington Journal of 22 October 1892:

WATERS UPTON.
Ambulance Class.—An ambulance class in connection with the Wellington Technical Instruction Committee has been established here by Mr. Wm. A. R. Ball, and the first lecture was delivered at the schoolroom on Monday evening by Dr. Hollies, Wellington. The register contains 25 members, and 22 of these answered to their names. The committee consists of Messrs. Walter Dugdale, H. F. Percival, J. N. Cornes, Humphreys, the Revs. J. B. Davies, L. V. Yonge, and H. T. Tetlow. The secretarial part of the duties are performed by Mr. William A. R. Ball.

Picture credits. The Old House in Whitchurch: Jaggery / South side of The Olde House, Dodington, Whitchurch / CC BY-SA 2.0; taken from Wikimedia Commons and modified, used, and made available for reuse under the same Creative Commons licence. All Hallows church at Rowton: Photo © Copyright A Holmes; taken from Geograph and modified, used and made available for reuse under a >Creative Commons licence. The Buck’s Head at Long Lane: Photo © Copyright Row17; taken from Geograph and modified, used and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence.

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