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Harold Saunders - the mysterious disappearance...Vicki Powys contributes a condensed version from 1900 newspaper reports relating to the death of her SAUNDERS relative from Brentford.
Thanks to Janet McNamara who provided the relevant copies from the Middlesex Independent newspaper and also the photograph of Harold's grave in South Ealing cemetery and the inscription from it.
MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A BRENTFORD SOLICITOR - MR. HAROLD SAUNDERS MISSING.
This was the newspaper headline of the Middlesex Independent on August 18th, 1900, when my great-uncle Harold Saunders went missing, believed drowned in the Thames.
Harold was just 22 years old but already he was a successful solicitor, with offices at 115 High Street, Brentford. He lived with his four sisters at “Maisonette”, 129 Windmill Road, Brentford, and their parents lived further along Windmill Road at number 4. The family were well respected.
Harold was a keen sportsman said the newspaper reports, and he was captain of the reserve team of Brentford Football Club, and secretary of the Boston Park tennis and cricket clubs. He was also an honorary member of the Brentford Conservative Club. Generally he was reported to be a popular and well-liked young man.
He had recently taken up the sport of canoeing, and on warm summer evenings when the sun did not set until 8.30 pm it was not uncommon for people to go boating on the Thames in the twilight, or even by moonlight.
On Tuesday evening August 14th, Harold had travelled several miles from Brentford to Teddington, where he hired a canoe from Mr. Shaw’s Boathouse at 10 past 7 p.m. He had removed his coat and vest, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and paddled upstream. At 7.30 pm he met with a friend for just one drink at a riverside hotel The Anglers, and by a quarter to 8 p.m. had then continued paddling the canoe.
The next morning the canoe was found wedged up against Teddington Weir, and still in the canoe were Harold’s coat and vest, watch and chain, gloves, and paddle. But there was no sign of Harold. Four days later his body was found floating near Teddington Weir and was taken to the mortuary.
So what had happened?Top
An inquest was held at the Assize Court at Kingston, as reported in the Middlesex Independent on Wednesday 22nd August, 1900.
Dr. Havenden of Kingston reported that the deceased had been a healthy male and had died by drowning, and that he had a small cut on the chin.
Harold’s brother Edward Saunders, a butcher of Thames Street, Hampton, identified the body and reported that Harold was a poor swimmer, that he had recently taken up canoeing, that he had sometimes gone on moonlight trips, and that he was untroubled when Edward last saw him 9 days earlier.
Another brother Christopher Ernest Saunders, auctioneer of 112 Wellesley Road, Chiswick, said that he had last seen Harold at Boston Park cricket ground the previous Sunday, and that Harold did not have any troubles. He noted his brother’s interest in canoeing, that he was a good sculler, that he was very venturesome, and that three weeks ago Harold had fallen from a canoe between Teddington and Twickenham when the canoe capsized.Top
The newspaper reporter for the Middlesex Independent had earlier commented on the unstable nature of canoes, and that Harold had been inexperienced in handling them, and was a poor swimmer.
Henry Humphries of 11 Derby Road, Twickenham, worked at Shaw’s Boathouse and had hired out the canoe to Harold. The canoe was 16 feet long and 2 foot 7 inches wide, had a keel, and could hold 3 people. A single paddle had been taken with the canoe, as was the custom.
Frederick William Stone, of Strafford Road, Twickenham, had seen Harold paddling the canoe at the bridge at Teddington on Tuesday night at ten past 7 pm. They both called in at The Anglers for a drink, and Harold had had one whisky and soda. Harold then went back to his canoe, and Stone went back to his own boat on the other side of the lock. He saw Harold paddling first towards the weir, and later paddling back downstream towards Twickenham.
The lock keeper at Teddington reported having seen a gentleman struggling with a canoe near the weir, where the water was turbulent, on the evening of the 14th.
Walter McBride, a fisherman of Teddington, reported that he had found the canoe jammed against the weir early on Wednesday morning at 5.30 or 6 a.m.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the river had been dragged but no body was found.Top
George Humberley of 17 West Road, Teddington was a waterside labourer and saw the body floating upright in the Thames near Teddington Lock on Saturday 18th August, at 10.35 am, near the Surrey shore. He had retrieved the body. The deceased was wearing a white shirt, an undervest, trousers and boots.
P.C. Thomas Tew, 605 V, had taken the body to the mortuary from the foreshore at Kingston near Teddington Weir.
The Deputy-Coroner H.R. Oswald and a jury led by Mr. T. Atkins found that Harold Saunders had most likely met his death accidentally on the evening of August 14th. The canoe had not capsized because the coat and other belongings were intact. The deceased could have fallen from the canoe, or perhaps even from the river bank, but there were no witnesses to say how he came to be in the water and the coroner’s jury had no choice but to return an open verdict.Top
Harold Saunders was buried in Ealing Cemetery on Thursday afternoon, 23rd August, 1900. Mr. Wickenden of Brentford arranged the funeral. Mr. Lewington of High Street, Brentford, supplied most of the floral wreaths. Rev. P.C. West conducted a service at the cemetery chapel and at the graveside. In accordance with the wishes of the family, the funeral was conducted on a quiet scale.
The cortege left for the cemetery from “Maisonette”, home of the deceased. The coffin was of polished oak with brass fittings, borne in a glass car, and bore the inscription “Harold Saunders, died August 14 - 1900 - aged 22 years”.
Chief mourners were brothers of the deceased Mr. C.E. Saunders, Mr. W. Saunders and Mr. E. Saunders, also a cousin Mr. G.W. Earee, solicitor.
A large number of Brentford residents and others attended the ceremony, including:
Floral tributes were sent from:
HIGH STREET LINKS
Harold Saunders’ offices at 115 High Street were opposite the Town Hall/ Petty Sessional & County Court where he would regularly plead on behalf of his clients with ‘characteristic tact’. In 1901 these premises were leased by his brother Christopher Ernest Saunders, an auctioneer. Harold’s mother was the granddaughter of George Sanders, a cordwainer, tax collector and property owner, of 307 High Street in early 1800s.Top
Page published April 2010