1926: Fatal thorn scratch – Oxenholme engine driver’s death

Mr. G. E. Cartmel (Coroner for South Westmorland) held an inquest on the body of William Duckett (67) of 15, Helmside, Oxenholme, an engine driver employed by the L.M.S. Railway Company.

Duckett, it was stated, was a widower and lived with his daughter, Mary Jane Duckett. On Friday night, the 12th inst., he was walking home from Oxenholme railway station, having been on a visit with his daughter to Lancaster. It appears that a motor car came along, and Duckett stepped in to the side of the road behind his daughter, catching his face in a rose bush which was hanging over the  wall. At the time he entertained the fear that his eye had been injured, but when he arrived home it was found that only the flesh at the corner of his eye had been lacerated. Miss Duckett attended to the wound, and next morning at 4 45 her father went to work feeling better. He retired to bed that night about nine o’clock, but at 12 30 Miss Duckett was disturbed by her father’s laboured and heavy breathing. She gave him some milk and bathed his eye with hot fomentations, later calling in Dr. Edgcumbe from Kendal. The doctor attended him up to the time of his death, which occurred at 6 45 p.m. on the 20th inst.

At the inquest, which was held at the deceased’s home, the Coroner returned a verdict that death was due to heart failure following blood poisoning accidentally received from a scratch by a rose thorn.

Lancashire Evening Post, 26 November 1926

1910: Oxenholme Tragedy – Lytham man’s terrible death on the line

Verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane”

The inquest was held at Oxenholme Railway Station, last evening, on the body of Thomas Grimshaw (41), insurance agent, 4, Queen-street, Lytham.

Deceased’s wife stated that her husband had complained of pains in his head and stomach for some time. The insurance company had written her stating that there was nothing wrong with his books. They had been at Endmoor for a little time, and she supposed him to have left to go back to Lytham. He was found dead on the line near Oxenholme on Saturday.

Evidence as to the finding of the body was given, but as to the train that passed over him it was impossible to trace it. The body was quite out of the way of any pathway.

A letter was read by the Coroner, which deceased probably wrote just before his death with the fountain pen found on him. It read:-

Mother also grumbling. Cannot help it. Hope you will get a better husband next time. Been good pals. Hope to meet [soon]. God bless baby and Tom. Hope got home all right.

The Coroner said there was no doubt the poor fellow was in a fit of temporary insanity and threw himself on the line.

A verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane” was returned by the jury.

Lancashire Evening Post, Tuesday 9 August 1910

1909: South Westmorland Mystery Solved


On 31 January 1908 William Dawson, a highway superintendent for the council, was last seen leaving the Kent Tavern close to the River Kent in Kendal. Nearly two years later, on 7 December 1909 the council sanitary inspector made a gruesome discovery. He found William Dawson’s decomposed body in a quarantine hut on the Helm near Oxenholme.

Details of the inquest held the following day were published by the Westmorland Gazette a few days later. We have transcribed the full article below.


Corpse found after nearly two years

South Westmorland Mystery Solved
The headline in the Westmorland Gazette, 11 December 1909

Two years ago next month, Mr. Wm. Dawson, a road surveyor in the employ of the South Westmorland District Council, mysteriously disappeared from Kendal, where he lived, and until this week there was absolutely no trace of his movements.

His public affairs had been properly conducted, his books were found absolutely correct, and so far as could be gathered beyond some personal troubles of a minor character, there was nothing that could account for his disappearance. He was a man well liked and a good public servant, and was generally of a cheerful disposition.

The last that was seen of him was on the night of January 31st, 1908, when he called at the Kent Tavern, Kendal, where he had left his gun some time before, and asked for that firearm, but there was no suspicion in the mind of those who saw him that he meditated putting an end to his life, as he was apparently as usual. Since then various rumours had been afloat as to his whereabouts, and it had been asserted that he had been seen in the United States. How unfounded those rumours were has now been proved.

In the course of his employment, Mr. Dawson had the oversight of a hut on Helm which had been used for purposes of quarantine in connection with outbreaks of smallpox.  It was customary for him to visit this place at intervals to see that it was in good order., but until this week the place had not been opened by anyone connected with the Rural District Council.

On Tuesday morning Mr. Robert Dobson, the sanitary inspector for South Westmorland, visited the place, and as the proper key could not be found, he opened the door with a skeleton key. To his horror, he found the decomposed body of Mr. Dawson lying in such a position on the spring mattress of a bed, with a double barrelled gun in his hand, that there could be no two opinions as to how he had met with his end. The top of his head was blown off, the body decomposed and had almost dried up, and it was apparent that death had taken place many months before.

The Inquest: Some pertinent inquiries

The facts of the case were reported to Mr. G. E. Cartmel, the District Coroner, who held an inquest on Wednesday afternoon at the Station Inn, Oxenholme, which was attended by Mr. Milne, clerk to the South Westmorland Rural District Council.

The Coroner said they had met to inquire into the death of the deceased, who disappeared from the district in January, 1908, which was rather a long time since. Nothing further was heard of him except that he had gone out with his gun. It was wondered where he had gone as he had left everything in perfect order, and his disappearance was a complete mystery. Everything was done to find him, but nothing was heard of him until this week, when Mr. Dobson, the sanitary inspector, having occasion to go to a quarantine hut on Helm, found the decomposed body of deceased. He gave information to police, and Sergt. Miles went up and found the body lying on a bed, with the gun in his hands. The left hand was on one of the barrels and the thumb of the right hand on the trigger, one finger being on the stock. The deceased’s face was partly blown off, but he was perfectly recognisable as being the absent man. One of the barrels of the gun had been discharged, and in the other there was a full cartridge, and he thought the jury would have little difficulty, judging from the position of the deceased and the circumstances, that he had done away with himself. The deceased was possessed of the keys of the hut, and it seemed that after he had gone in he had locked the door and hung the key up behind it. Then he had shot himself on the bed. Of course it might be a matter for wonder that a person could be left in that place for about two years without being discovered. It did seem strange that some person had not gone up and looked about the place, because if an epidemic had broken out it must have been rather startling to have found a decomposed body there. Mr. Milne and Mr. Roscoe were present, and would perhaps be able to explain why the place had not been looked into before. Although it did not arise in connection with that case, certain remarks had been made that the place should have been so long locked up without being examined.

The Evidence

The former Kent Tavern premises where William Dawson was last seen
The former Kent Tavern premises where William Dawson was last seen

Mr. James B. Rooke, landlord of the Kent Tavern, Kendal, said he had known deceased for a number of years. He had seen the body and identified it was that of Wm. Dawson, who he believed was about 50 years of age. He was a road surveyor for the District Council. Before he identified the body he had told the police about some particular marks on the deceased’s gun, and he identified the gun produced as the one.  Deceased took that gun from his (witness’s) house on the night of January 31st, 1908. He then seemed in good spirits. Not to witness’s knowledge had he had any trouble. Witness next saw deceased on Tuesday this week, lying on a mattress in the quarantine hut on Helm. In answer to a juror, he said the deceased was not under the influence of drink on the night of January 31st last year, and he had only complained of a little bit of cold, and that he had been spitting blood slightly.

Mr. Robt. Dobson, inspector of nuisances for the Rural District Council, said he had occasion to go up to the smallpox quarantine hut on Helm on Tuesday. He went for the purpose of lookin inside and seeing that all was right. He had not been up before. Deceased had always had care of the hut. He had the key of it. When deceased disappeared witness took over the highway business until another appointment had been made, and the council gave him the help of an assistant. On May 27th, 1908, he sent Mr. Thexton, the assistant, up to look at the place, and Thexton informed him the key witness had given him was not the right one, and that he could not get in the place. Witness mentioned that at the clerk’s office, and also mentioned when the new surveyor was appointed that it had been the duty of the deceased to keep an oversight of the hut. Witness had nothing to do with it except when patients were taken there, and after they had been removed and the place disinfected his duies in connection with it ceased.

A Gruesome Sight

In answer to the Coroner, witness stated that he mentioned the matter of the hut in the council clerk’s office on November 22nd, and was instructed to break the door open or get in in some manner. For that purpose he got a skeleton key and went up on the previous morning. When he got inside he lit a lamp as it was very dark, the windows being blocked up. He saw marks across the floor which appeared to him at the time to be caused by rain water which had come in. On putting the lamp through into the other room he saw the body lying on the spring mattress, stretched out with the head towards the top of the bed. The butt end of the gun was towards the feet, and the muzzle close to the head. The left hand was on the barrel and the thumb of the right hand was on the trigger, the fore-finger lying on the stock.

The Coroner: You got in with a skeleton key. Hadn’t you thought of using a skeleton key before? – It was not my duty.

The Foreman: Did the new surveyor know it was his duty? – I mentioned it.

The Foreman: Whose duty was it to go there? – There was no necessity to go there.

The Foreman: Is this place supposed to be left a year and eleven months without being inspected? Supposing any of our children had had to be taken there? – That is a matter for the council.

The Coroner: Is it anyone’s duty to attend to it? 

The Foreman: Is it the surveyor’s duty. Mr. Dobson: It is a special duty.

P.S. Miles said about ten o’clock on Tuesday morning he was informed of the finding of the body, and went with Mr. Dobson to the quarantine hut and saw it. It was in the position stated. The choke barrel of the gun had been discharged. The whole of the cranium part of the head had been blown away. There was 36s. 4½d. in the deceased’s possession, a pocket-book with a number of letters, and a receipt addressed  to deceased from Clerk to the District Council, a knife and other smaller articles. Witness recognised deceased. The body was stripped and the clothes destroyed. Witness had since examined the place and found two large keys hanging behind the door, one of which opened the door of the hut. There was no doubt in witness’s mind as to deceased having committed the act himself. The gun was very rusty.

Mr. Milne explains

Asked by the Coroner if he desired to say anything, Mr. Milne said he would gladly explain the matter. He stated that the shed of which they had heard was purchased seven or eight years ago by the Rural District Council at a time when smallpox broke out. The idea was that it should be a place of reception for persons who might have come in contact with smallpox cases. It was kept expressly as a sort of isolation place until it was seen whether there was smallpox or not. He did not think any use had been made of the place for something like five years. Mr. Dawson was highway superintendent, and it was not his duty as highway superintendent to have anything to do with the shed. But at a time when Mr. Dobson was very much pressed with other work, Mr. Dawson was asked to keep an eye on the place when he was passing, and see that it appeared to be in order. The bedding which was in the place was taken away to Woodside hospital, where they had one or two cases of smallpox sometime ago. The furniture which was left was not perishable and would take no harm. Mr. Dawson went to the place occasionally, and after his death Mr. Dobson took over his duties until Mr. Nelson was appointed. He was not certain now as to the instructions given when Mr. Nelson was appointed, but he believed Mr. Nelson would tell them he received no instructions in regard to the quarantine shed. He (Mr. Milne) did not know that it was not being inspected, and it came upon him as a surprise. He had not yet referred to the instructions given by the councilat the time of Mr. Nelson’s appointment.

The Coroner: I think you will agree someone should have inspected it. Mr. Milne: It is very desirable. It is a most terrible and regrettable incident.

The Foreman: Do I understand you that this duty was put on to Mr. Dobson? Mr. Milne: No. It was found he had not the time, and Mr. Dawson was asked to look to it. That continued until Mr. Dawson left.

The Coroner: It was really no one’s duty after? Mr. Milne: I could not answer that , and in order to do so I should have to refer to instructions which were given.

The Foreman of the jury said he was given to understand that Mr. Dawson periodically visited this place and a fire was put in occasionally, and it is apparent he had instructions to see  the sanitary arrangements were kept in good order. He considered that it was the new officer’s place to see the place was all right. The council had been negligent on their part in not appointing a man.

The Coroner said he thought they had better confine themselves to questions and not give expressions of opinion. They must have bounds to their inquiry. No doubt Mr. Milne agreed that it was unfortunate. Mr. Milne: Most unfortunate.

The Jury then returned a verdict of “Death from a gun shot, self-inflicted whilst temporarily insane.”

Westmorland Gazette, 11 December 1909


More information about William Dawson established by Oxenholme Past:

William Dawson was born at Old Hutton in 1858 to Thomas Dawson and his wife Isabella nee Bell. By 1861 William’s father had died and Isabella and William were living in Shap. His mother married George Wilson at Shap in 1863 and they had a daughter shortly after. Sadly Isabella died in 1864 leaving two young children. By 1871 William aged 12 was a farm servant lodging with his employer.

In 1881, William, then aged 22 was an agricultural labourer living with his uncle Robert Benson and aunt Elizabeth Benson nee Bell, his late mother’s sister.

William married Margaret Bentham (1858-1947) in 1883. William and Margaret had three children together: James Dawson (1883-1965), Robert Benson Dawson (1885-1972) and Isabel Jane Marr nee Dawson (1886-1957).

In 1901 the family was living at East Bank, Scalthwaiterigg. William was now Highway Surveyor and Inspector.


1880: Fatal Accident at Oxenholme Railway Station

An accident of a very distressing nature occurred on Saturday last at Oxenholme Railway Station, to a man named Stewardson Martin, who was employed at the works now going on there, and who sustained such injuries that he died the same night, after being conveyed to the Kendal Memorial Hospital. On Monday an inquest was held at that institution, before C. G. Thomson, Esq., coroner, and the following evidence was given:-

Mary Martin, of Yard 94, Kirkland, widow, deposed: The deceased, Stewardson Martin, was my husband. He was 50 years of age. He was a waller by trade, and in the employment of the contractor for the additions to Oxenholme Station.

Joseph McKenna, of 118, Silk Street, Manchester, joiners’ labourer, deposed: I am working at Oxenholme Station. At a few minutes past 12 o’clock at noon on Saturday last, I was standing at the south end of the platform at Oxenholme Station, near the Booking Office. I saw the deceased, he had just received his wages at the office of the contractor at the south end of the station, and proceeded to cross the line. He walked into the six-foot, and appeared to be counting his money. When in the six-foot he suddenly stopped and appeared to be going to turn around to go back the same way. Just at that moment a train came up, and as he turned round he saw it and endeavoured to proceed to get across and out of the way. Just as he was getting on to the parapet wall on the west side, the engine caught him and knocked him down between the parapet and the rails, and he lay there until the train had passed. I went to his assistance, and deceased was immediately removed to this hospital. The train from the South was slackening speed as it came up to the deceased. It stopped within forty yards of the place. I was too far away I could not hear any whistle. I did not see the train coming from the south until it was close upon the deceased. The subway is not yet completed. If deceased had been looking south he could have seen the train at a distance of 500 yards.

John Thomson, M.B., of Kendal, deposed: I attended deceased from the time of his being brought to the Hospital on Saturday, until his death. When he was brought to the Hospital on Saturday, until his death. When he was brought to the Hospital he was suffering from a broken arm, internal injuries, and one of his legs was all but severed from his body. Dr. Leeming amputated the leg in my presence, and, although he was very ill during the operation, he rallied well, and lived about eight hours after the operation. I saw deceased at eight o’clock on Saturday night last. I attributed deceased’s death to shock and internal injuries. I asked deceased how the accident happened, but he did not seem inclined to talk, and said he did not know anything about it until he found himself here. When I saw deceased on Saturday night, I was of opinion deceased might die of collapse at any time.

James Wilson, of South Street, Carlisle, engine driver, deposed: I was driving a passenger train from Preston to Carlisle, on Saturday last. We were timed to reach Oxenholme at 11.59, but we did not arrive until 12.9. Before coming to Oxenholme I shut off steam below the distance signal, and on coming to the Station I should be driving at the rate of between four and five miles an hour. I did not see deceased upon the line, but just as we were stopping I saw a hat and heard a crack in front of the engine. I took up the hat and gave it to one of the porters, and gave information. So far as I could see the line was perfectly clear. I blew my whistle just before the iron bridge which crosses the line, a distance of about 60 or 70 yards from where the accident happened.

Thomas Mitchell, of Carlisle, extra fireman, deposed: I was on the engine with the last witness on Saturday last. Just before entering Oxenholme Station, on looking out I saw the line was clear. I saw a man standing in the six-foot, and when we were about an engine length from him he made a rush across the rails on which we were travelling. The engine buffer plank struck him and knocked him down.

Helena Dickie, Matron of the Hospital, deposed: The deceased was admitted into Hospital about half-past 12 o’clock on Saturday afternoon last. Deceased died about 20 minutes to 10 o’clock in the evening.

Verdict: “Died from injuries received by being accidentally run over by a passenger train at Oxenholme Railway Station.”

Kendal Mercury Friday 17 September 1880


Note: Stewardson Martin was around 4 years younger than his widow stated.  They had six children ranging in age from 1 up to 16 years. 

1852: Melancholy Case of Suicide – Robert Bateman

An inquest was held on Thursday, by R. Wilson, Esq., at the Castle Inn, in Castle-street, n the body of Robert Bateman, an old man in his 73rd year, who was well known to all travellers on the Kendal and Windermere Line, as a vendor of newspapers, periodicals, and all kinds of railway literature. He was highly respected by all who knew him, and from his constant and punctual attendance, seemed to be as much identified with the line as any of the railway servants themselves. He had been for a long time in a very ailing state, and at time was in great pain from a distressing ailment with which he was afflicted; and it is conjectured that illness, with its attendant depression of spirits, a depression aggravated by the very scanty earnings of a laborious calling, led him to the rash act which prematurely terminated a life which could not, in all probability, have been prolonged, in the ordinary course of nature, many weeks. The verdict of the jury was “Found drowned.”

Snip from Kendal Mercury, 6 November 1852

We subjoin the evidence:-

Henry Rudd, of Kendal, porter on the Windermere Railway, examined.- The deceased was my father-in-law, and resided with me in the township of Nethergraveship. He was formerly a weaver, but latterly he has been employed selling periodicals to the passengers on the Lancaster and Carlisle and Windermere Railways. He was an old man about 73 years of age. About a quarter-past four o’clock yesterday morning he came into my room and asked me if I would have a light; I had one, and he left the house soon afterwards, as I suppose, to go to the station, and I never saw him again alive. I went to the station about twenty minutes to six, and I expected to find him at the refreshment-room, but he was not there. He had been there in the morning, and had opened the door and locked it again, and left the key in the waiting room, where he was accustomed to leave it, when there was only one key to the room. He had left some silver and copper money, a key, his pocket knife, and pencil, upon a table in th refreshment-room, and I then began to suspect that he had not gone up to Oxenholme, and commenced a search for him about the station; not finding him there, I returned home and went to his bed, thinking he might have returned there, as he had been some time unwell. He was afflicted with gravel, and appeared childish at times and changed, after the Dr. said he would not be able to work again. His spirits were affected, and he was desponding and in a despairing mood. The search was kept up for him all yesterday until evening, and I was told that he was found at four o’clock, drowned in the reservoir at Oxenholme.

James Anderson, of Oxenholme Station, examined.- Robert Bateman was missing all day yesterday, and I inquired for him throughout the day of any one likely to give information. About for o’clock in the afternoon I went to the reservoir at Oxenholme, formed for supplying the tank on the railway with water, and I found the deceased in the reservoir quite dead. He was about the middle of that part of the reservoir between the clue and the field on the Kendal side. He appeared to have been drowned. The body was all under water when I found it. I found his hat under water pressed under a rail by the side of the reservoir. I think this must have been done by the deceased or some other person; it could not have floated there. There was nothing on the side of the reservoir to lead to the supposition that any one had put deceased in the water, nor do I know how he came there. I don’t think any one had been at the reservoir after deceased was drowned until I went. There are no marks of violence about the body that I observed.

Kendal Mercury, 6 November 1852

1851: Coroner’s Inquests … Death by Drowning

On Saturday morning last the body of a young woman, named Eleanor Hayhurst, was found in the canal, close to the Highgate Settings Bridge.  An inquest was held the same day at Oxenholme, before R. Wilson, Esq., when the following circumstances were given in evidence:-

James Cleasby, of Oxenholme, in the township of Kendal, farmer, deposed – Eleanor Hayhurst, the deceased was my servant. She has served me since last Martinmas and was intending to leave my house at Whitsuntide. Some wearing apparel had been misplaced a short time ago, and I named it to the deceased last night about ten o’clock. The doors of my house were then bolted and made fast for the night, and we were about going to bed. We had no high words, and I told deceased that if she would take the things to their proper places nothing more should be said about them. He was then standing in the passage on her way to bed.  She made no reply to what I said, but stood still about five minutes. She then moved to the out-kitchen, extinguished the candle, placed it and the stick upon a table as she passed, and unbolted the doors and hastened out of the house. She did not add anything to her dress, nor did she speak to any one. I hastened after, and ran into the garden calling her by name, and I looked about for her but could not find her. I therefore returned and called my men-servants, and we searched all the outbuildings, but we could not find her there. It was then so dark we thought it useless to search the fields. We sat up to daylight, and the recommenced the search. Having searched various other places, we went to the canal, and, after searching there some time, I found a knife which one of my servants identified as her property. We then returned home and took drags with us. We very soon found the body of the deceased. She was in the canal, quite dead, and had apparently been drowned. We found the body under the Highgate Settings Bridge, in this township, and we removed it here. There are some very steep steps down to the canal bank from the road, and it was very dark when she left my house. If she had been intending to go on the canal banks to Kendal, these steps would be her direct road. The deceased was about twenty years of age.

James Parkinson, of Oxenholme, farm-servant, said- The deceased was a fellow-servant of mine. I assisted to search for her after she was missing yesterday night, and was there when her body was found. My master asked me to name to her that some clothes were missing, and I did so whilst we were milking yesterday. She denied that she had taken them, and desired me to go and search her boxes, which she said were open. She said she wished she was dead, and appeared very much distressed in mind.  She said such stories were enough to drive anyone mad. I believe I was the first to name the missing clothes to her and she at once desired her boxes to be searched.

Verdict – Found drowned.

Westmorland Gazette, Saturday 31 May 1851