A sad and shocking fatality

For writing group today… a writing journey…

Her father told her about skating on the fens each winter; everybody had skates, he said, the fens would flood and the skaters would race, and dance, and have fun. In her early childhood when she was maybe three or four, the river froze and her father took his skates and the family went down to near Jesus Green by the River Cam. Here they were able to skate – she was too little of course, but her father put a scarf around his waist and she held the ends and he towed her about the ice. Somehow when she thinks back to it, she sees the little girl, flushed and excited skidding across the frozen river, not what she actually would have then seen, the back of her father and his feet in skates, the blades flashing away in front of her.

It was 1903, and the Times reported: THE THAMES FROZEN OVERThe very cold weather still prevails throughout the country. The Thames is frozen over at Marlow for the first time for some years, the ice being already nearly an inch thick.

1903 01. 17th.

A sad skating fatality occurred at Cowbit Wash, at a point known as Brotherhouse Bar, about six miles from Spalding. A young lady, her brother and a man to whom she was engaged started off towards Crowland, skating on the new river which runs through the Wash. The water here is very deep and the ice giving way, all three fell in. Every effort was made to rescue them but the girl was drowned and the two men were in imminent danger, one of them being taken from the water in an exhausted condition. The deceased was the daughter of the district manager of the Wombwell Main Colliery Company.

1903 01. 21st.

An inquest was held at Spalding touching the death of a young lady drowned whilst skating on Cowbit Wash. Her brother had made very gallant attempt to save her but there were two farm labourers only yards away. They could have saved his sister but they would not help. If only they had taken their coats off they might have reached them and got the girl out, but they stood looking on like cowards. He never saw such cowardice in his life. The jury strongly condemned their conduct, though who they were no one seemed to know.

The young lady was Dorothy Kate Newton who was with her brother Harry, fiancé Russell Casswell, and friends, Florence Bonner and her step-mother Lizzie

Cowbit is a village in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, 3 miles south of Spalding. It has a small 14th century church, two hundred year old mill, and a disused railway station.  Cowbit Wash lies to the west of the village, and is 8 miles from north to south, and nearly a mile broad. The surrounding area is mainly arable land, and as a flood plain for the Welland, the water would freeze during the winter and people from miles around would come to skate and enter skating competitions.


A sad and shocking fatality is reported which has caused a very painful impression throughout the district; it occurred at Cowbit Wash at a point known as Brotherhouse Bar, about six miles from Spalding on Thursday afternoon when a young lady named Miss Dorothy Newton was drowned.

Whilst skating was in full swing on the Wash; a party of young ladies and gentlemen, including Miss Newton, Mr. Harry Newton, her brother, and Mr. Russell Casswell of Dunsby Fen, to whom the young lady was engaged to be married, started off towards Crowland, skating on the New River, which runs through the Wash.

The water here is very deep and the ice giving way, the party dropped in. Every effort was made to rescue, but Miss Newton was drowned and the two young men were in imminent danger one of them being taken from the water in an exhausted condition.

The deceased young lady was well-known as one of the leading members of the Spalding Amateur Dramatic Society. She was the daughter of Mr. William Newton of Walland House, the district manager of Wombwell Main Colliery Company. At the very time of the accident, her father was at Boston being installed Master of the Boston Lodge of Royal Arch masons.

 An inquest was held at Spalding today, before Mr. C.E. Bonner; evidence was given by Mr. Harry Newton and Miss Gooch, two members of the party which also consisted Miss Gooch and Mrs Gooch. Miss Newton and Mr. Casswell were skating together when the ice suddenly gave way. Mr. Newton hastened to the spot and the two young men made heroic efforts to save the deceased; Mr. Casswell himself nearly lost his life and was too ill to attend to give evidence to the inquiry.

Both the witnesses who were called positively asserted that two men stood within fifteen feet of the accident and refused to come to their assistance saying they were not going to risk their lives. Ultimately a rope was obtained but the witnesses thought that if the men had come promptly to their assistance the deceased’s life might have been saved. It was thought that the accident occurred in crossing one of the dykes which intersects The Wash and not on the New River, but the witnesses were not clear as to the actual spot – a verdict of “Accidentally Drowned” was returned, and the Coroner and jury expressed strong condemnation of the action of the unknown men who refused to render assistance.

The Lincolnshire fens are broad and wide and empty, you can imagine the young people skating across the empty landscape, between the flat frozen earth and sky, no noise but their voices and the whistle and roar of the skates on ice. This would be the fastest they would ever travel apart from on a train; there were no cars or motorbikes, and the exciting sensation of speed must have been glorious.

They would have been warmly dressed, but would have no doubt felt hot from their exertions; maybe she had a muff, or maybe her gloved hand was linked through his arm, maybe they were holding hands, maybe their hands were bare.

The coroner overseeing these sad preceding lived not far from the Newtons and the Gooches, Florence and her step-mother Lizzie, and would have known the young people well.

Who were the two men who refuse to help? No-one will ever know.

If you have not yet read my e-books, mysteries, puzzles and genealogical conundrums, here is a link (also murder, stalking, love, family get-togethers and family fall-outs, dodgy lamas, mysterious floral tributes, strange Moroccans and plenty of pubs, cooking and food)


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