An Accident Revisited

John William Sumpton SAYER’s death was briefly reported in newspapers around the country under headings such as “Man Killed on Beach” and “Run Over by a Fishing Boat”. In not many more than fifty words it was explained that fishing boats in Filey were, in 1939, pulled down to the sea “on two wheels”. John had taken a boat to the sea’s edge when two men following with another coble shouted for him to get out of the way. “Sayers appeared to stumble and before the men could stop, one of the wheels went over his head.” He was killed instantly.

Trivial accounts like this are so unfair – in seeming to imply that the person who died brought on their own demise. John was 62-years-old, a husband and father of two girls, then in their thirties. He deserved better.

He is not, as yet, on the FamilySearch Tree but he has one of the more extensive pedigrees on Filey Genealogy & Connections.Kath Wilkie has attached a note to his record that gives the sad event some context – and the stricken man a measure of dignity that the newspapers denied him.

Severe weather conditions: raining cats & dogs – dark @ 6.30am on Weds. 18 Jan 1939. Had been helping to launch cobles, but had left his oilskins under a fishbox on Coble Landing.  Went off to get them after 3 cobles had been launched so that he wasn’t drenched to the skin. Put his oilskins on and bent his head against the wind and rain.  He couldn’t see because it was so dark, but he knew the way anyway – he’d done it often enough.  He didn’t hear them bringing the ‘JOAN MARY’ down, because of the wind, rain and the sea – and the others couldn’t see him either.   He was knocked down – but nobody saw – and the wheel ran over his head and he was dragged up to 20 yards before they realised what had happened. One of them ran to get Dr Vincent, but he was dead.  The verdict was ‘accidental death’, but the coroner recommended that they use a light when launching the cobles in the dark to avoid any such further accidents.  The inquest was held at the Police Station on Thursday evening.  He had a traditional Filey Fisherman’s funeral with a short service at home (85 Queen Street) and then on to Ebenezer Chapel. He was buried in St Oswald’s.   The two men who were launching the Joan Mary were Thomas & Robert Cammish, both of Queen St (49 & 70) – plus others.

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The tall house is No.85 Queen Street, photographed this afternoon. John’s grave has a kerb rather than a headstone and the inscriptions on such are often obscured by vegetation.

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In Loving Memory of my dear husband JOHN W.S. SAYERS

accidentally killed 18th Jan 1939 aged 62

Also of his dear wife ELIZABETH ANN died 27th Nov 1964 aged 87

‘Reunited            In God’s keeping’

John was a grandfather of William Johnson COLLING, one of the “Langleecrag Cousins” (see 15th November’s post). His somewhat unusual middle-name “Sumpton” had come to him from at least as far back as the late 17th century. His fourth great-grandfather, Henry SUMPTON, was born around 1685.

This post was written before I checked out Looking at Filey. I wrote about this accident on 18 January 2011.

I have created a page on the LaF Wiki for John and Elizabeth Ann’s Monumental Inscription record.

Mistaken Identities

Eighty-seven years ago John William WILLIS was crushed by a wheel of the Filey Lifeboat carriage as Hollon the Third was being hauled down the Coble Landing. At the Coroner’s inquest into his death the Lifeboat’s Honorary Secretary, Charles BURGESS, admitted that the launch had been chaotic because there was nobody effectively in charge. Frank COLLING testified that his father, who had formerly acted as chief launcher, had not informed the Institution that he had been losing his sight over the preceding twelve months or so and was not in a position to give orders. The consequence seems to have been that a shout to let go of the hauling ropes was given and all the “lanshers” heard and responded except John William. He held on, the wheels turned and he was knocked down and killed.

The tragic accident was reported in newspapers around the country and one scribe reported in the Hull Daily Mail that it was the unfortunate John William who was blind. An apology followed but averred that “These remarks should be been (sic) applied to Mr. Collins.”

The Lancashire Evening Post report of 1st September was brief and to the point.

John William Willis of Queen Street, Filey, one of the lifeboat crew, and skipper of the herring drifter Protect Me II, was killed by being knocked down and run over by the carriage when the lifeboat was being launched to the assistance of the Yarmouth steam drifter Girl Ena.

Girl Winifred
Steam Drifter ‘Girl Winifred YH 997’by Kenneth Luck (1874–1936) and Claude Mowle (1871–1950), © and photo credit Great Yarmouth Museums

John William was 54 years old, husband to Tilly, nee CLARK, and father of two daughters.  There were two other Filey men bearing his name, born within ten years of each other, but not related by blood – and Filey Genealogy & Connections, alas, gives us the wrong victim of the accident. The World Tree doesn’t have “our” John William or Matilda. I’ll deal with this omission as soon as I can.

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I went to the churchyard this afternoon to photograph the headstone and walked on to the cliff top overlooking the scene of the accident.

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