Albert Edgar Daniels – An Ice Fatality
It was reported in The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Saturday 30 January 1897 that on Tuesday afternoon [presumably 26 January 1897] Mr Mark Whyley (County Coroner) attended at the Swan Inn, Goldington, for the purpose of holding an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of a boy of six years, named Albert Edgar Daniels, of Hand Court, Bedford, son of a marine store dealer.
On 27 January 1897 the Bedford Record published details of the severe weather conditions in particular during the previous week, so severe that it interfered with traffic in the town. It was noted that the local doctor was forced to make his visits in a sleigh! Snowfalls have always attracted children and Bedford River has been frozen over on various occasions, attracting children and adults alike. It appears that little Albert was one such child, captivated by the snowfall and icy conditions he encountered upon leaving school. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent continues:
‘The unfortunate boy fell into the river at Bedford near the Suspension Bridge on Monday whilst walking on the ice, and the inquest was held at Goldington as that Parish includes a large portion of the Embankment Promenade. The first witness heard was the mother of the boy, who said that at 2 o’clock on Monday she sent him to St Cuthbert’s Infants School and he went alone. His brother Edwin, who is a year older, left for the same school a few minutes afterwards. At about five o’clock, Edwin returned and said that his brother was drowned. She did not believe it at first, but other children came to her with the same story, including a little girl named Lenton. The latter said that the boy was about to cross the river on the ice and she asked him to come off but he said he would cross. She then turned away to look at the sweepers on Longholme and when she looked back he was in the water, “bobbing up and down” and trying to clutch the ice. Two boys, the girl said, went to the sweepers on Longholme and called them.’
At this point Edwin Daniels, Albert’s brother, [aged only seven, as noted above] was called into the room and interrogated by the Coroner. He told how they came out of school at four o’clock and went down to the river, with other boys and girls following them. There was some ice on the river and Albert and he went on it, but the other boys did not go on. He, Edwin, had got back to the bank when he saw his brother in the water. Some men came down to the river and he ran home when he could no longer see him.
The newspaper reports that ‘John Tyler, a labourer, of Russell-street, Bedford, who was “on guard” on Monday to prevent people from going on to the ice at Longholme, said that he saw the brothers and the other boys go past him to the river. Soon afterwards, one of them ran back and said that there was a little boy in the water. He jumped over the fence and ran to the river where he saw the boy with his chin on the ice at a distance of from seven to eight yards from the bank. Witness shouted “hang on my man, till I fetch the life-buoy” and he ran for the buoy near the Suspension Bridge. He ran back with it and the boys called out that “he was gone”. He went to the spot but could see nothing of him. The boy was too far off to be reached without the life-buoy and he (witness) could not swim.
‘P.C. Purser spoke to recovering the body which was quite lifeless at ten minutes to six, and Dr. R. H. Coombe, of Bedford, gave the result of an external examination of the body.’
The Jury returned a verdict of “accidentally drowned”.
According to some accounts, the children crossed the Suspension Bridge, which would take them close to the boat launching point, and this slipway would have given them easy access onto the frozen river. They made an obvious decision not to go home – and Hand Court was not far from the school – but to go in the opposite direction, leading down to the river. The brothers were so young, and no doubt Edwin must have felt guilty for leading his brother onto the frozen river and into danger. What a sad memory for him to carry throughout his life, being responsible for his little brother’s death. Both were of such a tender age and should themselves have been supervised and protected.
The 1891 Census return reveals that the boys’ parents were living at 22 Newnham Street and were John Daniels, bottle and metal dealer, and Emily R Daniels, both aged 24. Their two sons are Edwin aged 1 year and Albert 4 months. Ten years later in the 1901 return they are living at 12 Hand Court. Two boys are listed, Edwin Daniels aged 11 and Wallace Daniels aged 6 years and their mother Emily R Daniels aged 33. In the 1911 Census they are living at 25 Newnham Street, and again only Emily, Edwin and Wallace are listed. What then became of John Daniels, the breadwinner, as no occupation is listed for Emily Daniels? With no breadwinner life must have been a struggle.
The burial record shows that Albert and his brother Edwin John Daniels were living at Hand Court at the time of the drowning. Interesting that the family moved from Newnham Street to Hand Court and then back to Newnham Street some time after losing Albert. It is obvious that they did not have an easy life, and this is borne out by an article in The Bedfordshire Mercury, Friday 25 May 1906, which reported that John Daniels of Hand Court was summoned for neglecting his child, Wallace Daniels [aged 11] between January 1 and May 16, in a manner to cause unnecessary suffering. Wallace was born, it seems, in 1895 and aged about 2 at the time of Albert’s drowning.
Inspector Bray asked for a remand of the case until Tuesday’s Petty Sessions in custody; prisoner was only arrested after ten o’clock that morning. Prisoner consented, and the case was adjourned till the next day. Bedford Mercury 25 May 1906 reveals that he was sentenced to four months imprisonment.
From The Record, 26 October 1909, John Daniels, Newnham Street, was summoned for using obscene language in Newnham Street, on October 18. He did not appear. P.c. Manning stated that at 10.10 p.m. on October 18 in Newnham Street, defendant, who had had drink, but was not drunk, used disgusting language. – Defendant was sent to prison for 14 days without the option of a fine.
It seems poor Emily and her sons must have found life a struggle but the 1911 Census shows that Edwin aged 21 was working as a Labourer in an ‘Electric Engineering Yard’ and that Wallace aged 16 was working as an ‘Errand Boy’ for a grocer. By this time Emily was 44 and still married; there is no mention of husband John.
The Census return is signed in beautiful handwriting by Emily Rose Daniels. I hope life was getting easier for her by this time, supported by her sons.
Further details of the activities of John Daniels are revealed in The Bedfordshire Times and Independent. He was prosecuted for a number of offences such as using obscene language in Mill Street (30.05.1907), in Harper Street for nuisance behaviour (06.09.1907, using obscene language (11.06.1909) and whilst living in Newnham Street, begging (08.12.1911). The 1911 census shows aged 56, that he was in prison. He was involved in receiving stolen goods – copper, zinc, lead – (Saturday 3 March 1894 p.7). John Daniels lived at various addresses 72 Bower Street, 22 Newnham Street, 25 Newnham Street, 12 and 13 Hand Court. He must have set a poor example to his sons, by his irresponsible actions.
Wallace enlisted at the age of 20 and the British Army Records 80 Greyfriars Walk show [enlisting record] that he described himself as a ‘window cleaner’ aged 20 years 8 months, enlisting on 9 November 1915. His father is named as next-of-kin but the name is struck through and substituted with ‘Rose Daniels’ [described as ‘sister’ but believed to be his mother]. His service with the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment commenced 09.11.1915; between 10.12.16 and 22.05.18 he served in France. It seems John Daniels died on 6 December 1917, presumably whilst Wallace was with his Battalion in France.
What eventually became of Albert’s two brothers is for someone else to investigate. Perhaps they married and had children themselves, happy family lives, and were able to help their mother in her later life.
My story ends here and the only task left to me is to visit the burial place of little Albert; there is no memorial other than the memorial shown below. Poor Albert was not a baby, but was far too young to die and to lose his life in such a cruel way.
IN REMEMBRANCE OF ALL OUR BABIES
SO DEARLY LOVED
“AND HE TOOK THEM UP INTO HIS ARMS
AND BLESSED THEM”
St Mark Chapter 10 Verse 16
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent Saturday January 30 1897 p.6
The Bedford Mercury, Friday 25 May 1906
Ampthill and District News 30 January 1897
The Bedford Record 27 January 1897 and 26 October 1909
Burial Record Grave Ref. Section B Grave 147. There is no memorial.
Census Returns: 1891, 1901 and 1911
The Bedford Directory
British Army Records, 80 Greyfriars Walk
Maurice Nicholson (origin unknown)
Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
20 September 2019
With the Author’s sincere thanks to Maurice Nicholson, Colin Woolf and Linda Ayres for support with research, and to Marc Nicholson for IT advice.
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