Family history writing group, skating on thin ice

We had a most enjoyable meeting of our family history writing group yesterday. As usual everyone had tales to tell, some very moving. I was delighted that one of the group who had written about two relatives, brothers who served in the first world war, had worked on their story to reflect not only what happened to them, but what happened to their families at home. There was an excellent and beautifully written memoir of a childhood Christmas, and a darker tale of early family life. We also had an interesting account of the Lewisham flood – which I had never heard of before –

The River Ravensbourne and its tributaries, the River Quaggy, River Pool and Honor Oak Stream (Chudleigh Brook), pass through the heart of the London Borough of Lewisham..
Flooding from the River Ravensbourne has been recorded in the Lewisham and Catford area since 1809. The last major flood was in September 1968 where heavy rainfall caused the river to overtopped the banks, flooding several hundred homes and businesses. Less severe river flooding has also been recorded, including in 1977, 1992 and 1993.

For our next meeting I suggested the group might like to think about the weather, and when writing about their family history imagine what it might have been like and use it to add drama to their true but imagined stories. If records show a wedding was in June, was it a beautiful hot and sultry day, or maybe it was unexpectedly miserable, overcast, or even rainy? Did a doctor have to fight his way through snow to attend a birth, or perhaps, more sadly, a death-bed?

I am just finishing my latest genealogical mystery about my character Thomas Radwinter and his family, and would you believe it, I’m already planning the next. For my writing group I shared a true story, in which I have slightly edited some newspaper reports about a tragedy which happened 115 years ago on a winter’s afternoon in January. It is not my story but I may take the bones of it for my next Radwinter story.

It started with a weather report:

1903 THE THAMES FROZEN OVER – The 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.

…and then a background story:

DANGEROUS CONDITION FOR PEDESTRIANSRoads at St Ives assumed a dangerous condition for pedestrians, as a sharp frost had made them as slippery and smooth as glass. On Sunday morning one could skate from St Ives to Hilton on the main road, a distance of over four miles, without injury to the skates. Mr Thomas Phillips, wholesale fruiterer of the Market Hill slipped and sustained serious injury to his thigh. Mr Mason, the noted bone setter, of Wisbech, was sent for but could not come.

… and then the tragedy:

DISTRESSING SKATING FATALITY – YOUNG LADY DROWNED – A sad skating fatality which has caused a very painful impression throughout the district, occurred at Cowbit Wash at a point known as Brotherhouse Bar, about six miles from Spalding, a young lady, Miss Dorothy Kate Newton being drowned.
Skating was in full swing on the Wash with a party of young ladies and gentlemen, including Miss Newton, Mr. Harry Newton, her brother, Mr. Russell Casswell of Dunsby Fen, to whom the young lady was engaged to be married, and Mrs Gooch. They started off towards Crowland, skating on the New River, which runs through the Wash.
The water here is very deep and Miss Newton and Mr. Casswell were skating together when the ice suddenly gave way and the party dropped in. 
Mr. Newton hastened to the spot and the two young men made heroic efforts to save the deceased. In imminent danger, every effort was made to rescue her, but Miss Newton was drowned.and Mr. Casswell himself nearly lost his life and was taken from the water in an exhausted condition. He was too ill to attend to give evidence to the inquiry at the inquest..
Both the witnesses who were called to the inquest 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. They were two farm labourers and only yards away and could have saved Miss Newton, 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. Her brother who had made very gallant attempt to save her said he never saw such cowardice in his life.
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 conduct and action of the unknown men who refused to render assistance. Who they were no one seemed to know.

These people are nothing to do with my family, thank goodness, but what a very tragic tale.

Here is a link to my genealogical mysteries:

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