Alfred Huber – Another Life Sacrificed
It was reported in The Bedfordshire Mercury on Saturday August 16 1879 [page 7] that ‘On Wednesday morning about 9.30, a little fellow named Alfred Huber, 7 years old, son of Mr Huber, cabinet maker, in the employ of Mr F. Hockliffe, furniture dealer, and book seller, St Loyes-street, Bedford, was drowned beside the bridge in the sight of a few young lads who were utterly unable to render help, and, we have reason to believe, in the sight of some adults on the bridge, who were unable to swim, but whose names have not transpired. Two sons of Mr Field, very young boys, were on the steps next the bridge leading down to the water, one of them being fishing, and the deceased happened also to be on the lower step, next the buttress on the left. While here he seems to have stooped over and put his hand in the water, thereby losing his balance, and the next moment he was in the water. He rose three times and then sunk. Shortly afterwards boats were on the spot and dragging was commenced by Inspector Haynes and Mr Goatley (of the boat yard opposite). After about three-quarters of an hour had been spent in dragging, Inspector Haynes succeeded in finding the body at the bottom of the river, in a part where the water is some 12 or 14 feet deep. It was taken to the mortuary as soon as possible, to await the official inquiry.’
The inquiry was held ‘on Thursday last at the Corn Exchange before the Bedford Coroner, Dr C. E. Prior.’ A jury of 13 members was sworn in. Inspector Haynes stated that “yesterday morning” between 9 and 10 o’clock he received information from Mr Nash’s groom that a lad was in the water at the bridge. He procured the drags from the Police Office at once and proceeded to the spot. He got into a boat and commenced dragging. After dragging about half an hour he hooked the body at the bottom of the river, a few yards beyond the landing place at the steps and in the deep water. There was a moderate current. He conveyed the body to the mortuary.
There were witnesses on the bridge but one ‘could not swim and had got gout in the hands and arms.’ The Coroner said it was very sad that three cases of drowning should have occurred in rapid succession by the embankment and the bridge, and there was some discussion about the need to fence the area to prevent further accidents but that ‘the area by the steps was an ancient water-right of the town’. The jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death.
The newspaper article bears a final comment that ‘evidently the value of human life is at a discount just now in Bedford’.
Alfred was buried in Bedford Cemetery on 15 August 1879 [grave section E6 6] and sadly his father Henry Huber died seven months later and was buried on 6 March 1880 aged 32 [grave section E6 16]. Father and son were buried side-by-side. There is no headstone.
As far back as 1868 Bedford Town Council were seriously considering the viability of building a wall by the embankment in order to prevent accidents.
The Bedfordshire Mercury, Saturday May 30 1868 [page 5] carried an article concerning the Bedford Town Council and tenders for completion of the embankment work. ‘At the adjourned quarterly meeting of the Town Council held on Wednesday at noon, Mayor T T Gray Esq read the following report of Mr Lawson, the engineer, which was addressed to the board:
‘I have examined the four tenders sent in for three different designs, viz:
No 1 ….. Wall having plain brick parapet
No 2 ….. Ditto, terra cotta balusters
No 3 ….. Ditto, Portland stone balusters and pillars’
There followed much detail regarding cost in particular, with design 3 being the most expensive at £2,360 [Winn and Foster, Kempston]. There was a suggestion that the wall was not necessary and that there was no wall at York, Norwich and other places. Alderman Nash proposed that the matter be referred to a committee which would report to the board and this was carried.’ Little support was shown for the construction of a wall it has to be said.
The Bedford Times and Bedfordshire Independent, Saturday February 13, 1869 [page 4] carried an article concerning another council meeting in which the river wall was discussed. It states that plans were submitted by Mr Lawson [engineer] regarding the elevation of the proposed embankment and river wall. ‘He said it had been suggested that iron columns with tubing or balls should be placed upon the present coping of the river wall, but at times of regattas a great many people would be assembled there, and unless the columns had a very firm foundation there would be a possibility of the structure giving way and precipitating people into the river. From the character of the present work it would not be an easy matter to get the necessary strength in the foundations and therefore he had prepared another design which, though more costly, was more suitable for the wall – brick with stone coping’.
Mr Lawson went on to say that the design is a balustrade somewhat corresponding to that of the bridge and that it would cost about £1 a yard – the whole cost about £250. It was decided to leave the matter until the Board were aware what the Duke intended to do.
On Saturday January 11 1890 [page 5] an article on this subject headed The Embankment and the Recent Fatality appeared in The Bedfordshire Mercury. It seems ‘The Embankment Committee recommended that the existing stone balustrade be continued to the stone pier opposite Mr Biffen’s house. The Committee estimated the cost. Mr Wells said that it was important that a fence of some kind should be put up and the Committee had come to the conclusion that it would be best in many ways to continue the fence that the Duke had put up, and besides, it matched the bridge. Mr Miller said the matter had been considered some years ago and then it was decided that if they did anything it must be in this substantial way, but he was not prepared to say how the payment of it was to be made. He was convinced that they would make a great mistake if they did anything else with it.’
‘Dr Paton, the Coroner of the borough said he held an inquest on December 24 last upon the body of a little boy accidentally drowned opposite the Club house, and it was believed there was another body at the present time in the river. At the inquest held at the Kings Arms the jury came to the following resolution: “the jury are of opinion that the present unprotected side of the river along the Embankment is a constant source of danger as shown by several accidents, fatal and non-fatal and they beg earnestly to report to the Town Council that a proper fence is required”.’ There was yet further discussion about the cost, also about the possibility of children running along a wall and falling into the river. Because of this, an iron fence was deemed to be less dangerous, but that an unclimbable fence would prevent timely assistance in the event of boat accidents.
It was agreed that tenders be obtained for fencing the Embankment in the three different stones previously mentioned by Alderman Young, and also for an iron fence.
Amidst the discussions, objections, costings and concerns, people continued to drown in the river, and although the final outcome, which can be seen to be as safe and secure as possible in addition to being an attractive asset to the town, could not benefit poor little Alfred and others who lost their lives in the river prior to Alfred’s death and indeed since.
Reference to the 1891 census shows that Alfred’s mother Charlotte had a son called Frank some seven years after the death of her husband and aged 4 at the time of the census. Charlotte describes herself as ‘Wid’ and she was obviously widowed; she uses the surname Huber and there is no husband listed. The children are John 21, Kate 14 and Frank 4, and Charlotte is aged 45. Interesting to note that Charlotte was summoned by J. A. S. Bowden, Vaccination Officer, for neglecting to cause her child to be vaccinated. [The Bedfordshire Times and Independent 19 May 1888]. The child was presumably Frank. Also interesting to note that John Huber is later described as ‘brother-in-law’ in the 1901 census and aged 42. Perhaps this is a second John Huber: the son aged 21 in 1891 emerges as John Huber, Head, 54 and single stone mason in the 1911 census, living with Frank Huber his ‘nephew’ aged 24; if this is the 4-year old Frank listed in 1891 as ‘son’ by Charlotte, when Kate was 14 years of age, then he is half brother to John and 17 years his junior!
Just to recap, according to the 1901 census the Huber family are still living at Albert Street and Charlotte is head of the family, ‘Wid’, 55 and a laundress on ‘own account’ and working from home. Living with her are Kate 23, a ‘cook (domestic)’, Frank aged 14, a ‘worker’ and John Huber 42, ‘brother-in-law’ and a stone mason. Also listed are Edward Huber 5, and Alfred 2, both described as grandsons. These could be Kate’s sons as she is 23 and still using her maiden name. Could they be John Huber’s children who is described as brother-in-law by Charlotte? If so, where is John, her son, aged 21 in the 1891 census? After this point life becomes difficult and complicated for poor Kate who was only 2 at the time of her brother Alfred’s death from drowning.
Charlotte Huber died aged 63 in 1909 whilst living at 19 Union Street. It seems she is not buried with her husband Henry. According to the 1911 census the head of the family is George Allen aged 35 and ‘single’. He is a house painter. Kate is described as a housekeeper, aged 34 and single. Frederick Huber, son aged 15 is a plumber’s (? assistant), Alfred, son aged 12 is at school and Laura Huber aged 8. At this point Kate Huber, still single, has three children. Could George Allen be their father? It is strange that Frederick Huber ‘son’ was not listed on the 1901 census ten years
Also in the 1911 census but presumably living at a different address, are:
John Huber, Head, aged 54 and single, and
Frank Huber, nephew, aged 24 and single
John is a stone mason and Frank a mason’s labourer.
Finally, in this conundrum one wonders what happened to Edward Huber aged five in 1901 and Charlotte’s grandson.
It seems that Charlotte’s daughter Kate, and the illegitimate children she bore, had a dreadful life; whoever fathered her children must have been irresponsible and unsupportive, and the marriage she undoubtedly anticipated never transpired. According to The Bedfordshire Times and independent, Friday 9th June 1911 the following occurred:
A Children’s Court
There was a Children’s Court on Thursday morning, before Mr. G. Royle (in the chair), and
Mr J. W. Carter.
Edward Huber, 37 Chandos Street, aged 15, was summoned on a charge of stealing between May 30th and June 1st, a quantity of lead piping, value 7s. 6d., the property of George Haynes. Kate Huber was summoned as parent.
Bedford Borough Police Court
Friday, 21st February 1908. Before Dr. Coombs and Mr. Deane.
A Sad Case
‘Kate Huber, of 8 Kerr Street, Northampton, was brought up in custody on a charge of leaving her three children, Frederick, Alfred and Laura Huber, chargeable to the Common Fund of the Bedford Union from the 11th inst. The defendant pleaded guilty.
‘Mr. W. Payne, Clerk to the Guardians, appeared to conduct the case on their behalf.
‘The Master (Mr. Blimrose) proved the facts that the woman took herself and three children out on Feb. 4, and that the latter were brought back by their grandmother on Feb. 11; the children’s ages 12, 9, and 5. The defendant is a cook, and has been in and out of the House for the last three years or more.
‘Mr. Payne said the Guardians realised that they would in all probability have to bring the children up, and they were prepared to do so, but they felt the defendant must be shown that she could not go and leave her children in this manner. It was a breach of the Vagrancy Act which the Guardians could not pass over.
‘The defendant, in answer to the Bench, said she had hopes of being married and getting a home together for the children.
‘The Bench, after careful consideration, adjourned the case for a month, liberating the defendant on her own recognizance of £5 to come up on March 24.’[Copied from the Bedfordshire Mercury, Friday 28th February 1908].
Kate Huber died on 7th March 1923, aged 55 years. She was living at 77 Queens Street Bedford.[Copied from the Bedfordshire Times and Independent 16th March 1923].
It appears that Frederick, Alfred and Laura were abandoned to the Workhouse, but there is still no mention of Edward. Did he continue in his life of criminal activities perhaps? He may have resorted to crime by theft in order to support himself. Little wonder that Kate died so young. Edward was not living with her at the time of her death, when he would have been 30.
In conclusion, and bearing in mind the discussion at Alfred’s inquest regarding the potential for accidents at the steps and landing point by Bedford bridge, it wasn’t until the 1890s that the balustrade which still stands today was built by the embankment. Iron gates now bar the way to the steps, to prevent unsupervised entry. Perhaps his death was not in vain and life is no longer ‘at a discount in Bedford’.
1891, 1901 and 1911 census
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 16 March 1923 and 19 May 1888
Bedfordshire Mercury, Friday 28 February 1908 and Saturday 16 August 1879
The Bedfordshire Mercury, Saturday May 30 1868 (p.5)
The Bedford Times & Bedfordshire Independent Saturday February 13 1869 (p.4)
The Bedfordshire Mercury, Saturday January 11 1890 (p.5)
Burial records, Bedford Cemetery: grave references E6 16 and E6 6
Views of the bridge and the embankment taken at about the time of the accident, from postcards, origin unknown (M Nicholson)
Present-day views of the steps and the embankment (by the Author)
Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
11 August 2019
My thanks to Linda Ayres and Maurice Nicholson for continued help with research.
August 04, 2021