An Accidental Death

In A Dying Fall, I offered a link to an article about this sad event, available on the British Library’s Web Archive. Subsequently, the old LaF was taken down and has yet to be restored, so I am reposting The Fall of John Rawson below.

March 16 2012

On Thursday 20th May 1909 John RAWSON, a nineteen-year-old plumber in the employ of Councillor William GIBSON, painter and house agent, fell from a second-floor window ledge to the base of the stone steps that led up to the front door of 3 Belle Vue, Filey.

The Scarborough Mercury report the following day mentions cellar kitchens and gardens in portraying the location of the accident. Only one “house” comes close to fitting the description.  What was once 2 and 3 Belle Vue are now, I think, Apartments 1 to 10 Belle Vue Court. The private gardens are now public space and the two flights of stone steps that led up to first floor entrances have been removed. A single flight of concrete steps now leads down to the communal entrance of the apartments at cellar level. Number 1 Belle Vue is now, and always has been, the Hotel, built in the 1860s.

Ordnance Survey map, c. 1920, out of copyright

John was the youngest of twelve children born to William RAWSON and Elizabeth Ann MAULSON. He was described in the newspaper as steady, reliable, and very popular. Councillor GIBSON said he was a good worker and a willing lad “who would do anything for anyone”. John was a favourite of Hull doctor’s wife Mrs CROKE and on the fateful Thursday, she asked for him to call at No.3 Belle Vue. One of the tasks she gave him was to clean the windows. On an earlier occasion, GIBSON considered this a job for two men, which begs a question the deputy coroner failed to ask.

The Deputy Coroner said that there was no doubt deceased had received the injuries through


There seemed to be no question that anyone was to blame, or that there had been negligence. It was unfortunately one of those cases where deceased had not looked after himself sufficiently, and had lost his hold, or something of that kind, and fallen. It was usual, no doubt, to clean all the windows of those high houses from the sills.

The Foreman (Mr. Nellist): It seems a customary thing for them.

The Deputy Coroner: It is a thing which is a dangerous practice, but no doubt in many cases it has to be done in that manner.

The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death,” and attached no blame to anyone.

John Smith GOFTON, resident at 2 Belle Vue, heard the thud of John’s body hitting the ground and rushed out to give assistance. The young man was unconscious, “bleeding badly at the ear”. Medical assistance was sought and Dr C. B. SIMPSON was at the scene within minutes. He told the Inquest that John suffered four fractures of the skull and a fractured right arm. He was taken the short distance to the house of his sister Rose Annie Webb at 2 Rutland Terrace. He didn’t regain consciousness but lingered for almost five days, dying in the early hours of Tuesday 25th May.

There were no bad words spoken about John to journalists or at the Inquest but perhaps the most touching reference to his character comes to us 103 years later by chance. Christine Hayes, who supplied the Coronation Memories, has been collecting Filey postcards for about twenty years. She buys some cards on eBay but loves the postcard fairs where one can read the backs.

This charming viewpoint, now lost amongst trees, would have been a happy discovery but the sad message on the back of the card made it an immediately intriguing historical document. The postmark shows it was posted in Filey on the morning of John’s death, perhaps only an hour or so after ‘WGE’ learned of his passing.

We can only guess the age and sex of the writer but there is a real poignancy in “he is my last intimate friend”. I have spent some time looking for Nora Kirkaldie, assuming that she would be of similar age to WGE. I couldn’t find her in the 1881 Census but there were a few boys or young men who might have become her father. The heartland for Kirkaldies back then appears to be Kent, around Deal particularly, and towards the end of 1920, a Norah E. KIRKALDIE married Arthur J. GOLDER in Eastry Registration District.

WGE states that John fell “of 3 Belle Vue top window”, which is at odds with the newspaper account. Compare the map with this photo, taken today.

You can clearly see that the two windows with rounded arches must once have been the front doors of Nos. 2 and 3. To fall twenty feet onto the stone steps, John was most likely attempting to clean the single window just above the right-hand door, or perhaps the side window of the bay next to it. All the sills of red brick and tile are very narrow and slope down from the windows – accidents waiting to happen.

Because John didn’t regain consciousness after his skull cracked on the stones there’s no point wondering about who he thought of last. It is clear though, that a lot of people thought about him, during his life and after it, and kindly.

Update 18 Mar 2012

A LaF wiki Page has been created for John which has family and census information plus newspaper accounts of the accident and the Inquest into his death.

Nora Kirkaldie. Christine discovered that Nora was just fifteen years old in 1909. At the 1901 census, she is living with her parents and two older brothers at the Coastguard Station at Ringwould, Kent, about halfway between Deal and Dover. Her father, William KIRKALDIE, aged 42 and born in Deal, was a Commissioned Boatman with the Coastguard. (Written above the several Boatmen entries in a different hand, probably that of a statistical clerk, is “Navy Men”.) William died in the summer of 1908 aged 49 (Free BMD Medway Sep Q  2a 365) which goes some way to explaining why, the following year, Nora is living with a maiden aunt, Ellen Louisa KIRKALDIE, at 556 Garratt Lane, Lower Tooting. She is still there in 1911, a 17-year-old dressmaker.

This doesn’t help much with the sender of the postcard but Christine’s detective work makes it seem more likely that WGE was another teenage girl in 1909, perhaps a little older than Nora and close to John in age as well as affection. The handwriting on the postcard and the “form of words” seem to me, though, to belong to an older woman. I don’t suppose we will find out either way – but there’s always hope on the Internet.

John Harold was born in Filey, where his father kept The Grapes Hotel in Queen Street. John senior and his wife Rachel SPINK were from the Driffield area. John Harold doesn’t have a place on the FamilySearch Shared Tree yet and in the limited time I can give to searching I haven’t been able to find an ancestor to whom he can be linked with confidence. The following information should be checked:- John Harold married Elsie Eva CRAVEN in Bridlington in 1926. In September 1939 the couple was living in Skates Lane, Sutton on the Forest. The Register gives John Harold’s occupation as  “Company Secretary”. A cursory search of birth registers didn’t reveal any children. John Harold’s death was registered in Northallerton in 1981 and Elsie’s four years later in Central Cleveland.

William WARDHAUGH is one of many “singletons” in Filey Genealogy & Connections but probably unique in having a grand headstone.

In loving memory of WILLIAM WARDHAUGH, who died at Filey, May 21st 1897, aged 58 years.

The inscription seems to infer that he was a stranger, passing through – but who paid for the stone? I haven’t been able to find this William. I looked at several “possibles” but the likeliest lads outlived our man.

Path 169 · Nuns Walk

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