Local Drownings

A Brief Account Of Seven Drownings 1755 -1920 In Or Near Stratford Sub Castle

The river Avon runs a picturesque course through the village and the meadows and alluvial soil around it with the need to cross it, is why a settlement grew here.

But there is a cost.

In Stratford sub Castle

Thomas Rumbolt 1775. June 6th. Stratford sub Castle: drowned; Verdict accidental death. [1] (2423)

William Pretty 1888. On April 21st an inquest was held at the public house in Stratford sub Castle. William, age 5, went missing after school. He was looking for his father, (also William), a shepherd who lived on the Woodford path. PC Halliday searched for him and found the body 150 yards from the bridge. Verdict Found Drowned. [2]

Ellen Lilley 1913. An inquest was held at the Reading Room, Stratford sub Castle. She was a 23 year old spinster whose body was recovered from the river at Stratford sub Castle. There were no signs of a struggle. She was seven months pregnant. Her boyfriend, a chauffeur had left Salisbury two months before, there were no plans for marriage. She left a note in her bedroom “Dear Father and Mother, Try to forgive me, Your loving Nell”. Verdict: The jury found that the girl committed suicide by drowning herself. [2]


William Williams 1920. William Williams was a soldier, age 29, from North Wales, in 109 Battery Royal Field Artillery, whose body was found in the river at Stratford sub Castle May 19, about five weeks after he went missing from Winterbourne Gunner. He suffered from shell shock and nervous debility. The Coroner Mr Trethowan was told by Lt Walker that he used to lose his memory and was strange in manner, but deemed sane to serve. Verdict Found Drowned. [2]


Downstream, between Stratford sub Castle and Salisbury

Edward Wingrove 1878. On Good Friday April 1878 Edwin Wingrove age 16 and Charles Gaisford hired a boat and rowed up the Avon to Stratford Bridge. They met some friends, drank some beer and set off downstream, singing but seated and sober. Near Black Well Mews (Avon Terrace) Edward lost an oar, leant over to retrieve it, tipping Charles and himself into the water. Edward couldn’t swim and drowned. At the inquest the surgeon suggested copies of the Royal Humane Society instructions on resuscitation of the drowned should be displayed at the Boat House. Verdict Accidental Death. [2] The Royal Humane Society started as the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned in 1774 when one of its founders advocated a tobacco smoke enema. It was not unknown for people to be pulled from water and buried presumed drowned but still alive.

Upstream at Little Woodford

John Whitehorn 1755. Aug. 14th Little Woodford, infant: fell into a water-carriage and was drowned. [1] (2126) In the floated water meadows system the carriages were the channels along the tops of the ridges bringing water in, though sometimes the same word was used for the drains at the bottom taking it away. In the 16th C there was one manor of Woodford. In the 17th C there was Great and Little Woodford, matching the Durnfords on the other side of the valley. In the Andrews and Dury map only 18 years after this inquest the three Woodfords as today are shown.



Upstream at Little Durnford

Edward Maunder 1757 Aug 9th. Dragoon in General Hawly’s regiment: drowned
while bathing in a river. [1] (2157). This was the Royal Dragoons [3]


Colonel Henry Hawley was known for his brutality to the fleeing rebels after Culloden.





Coroners' records are subject to closure periods of 30 years for registers of deaths and routine administrative papers, and 75 years for individual inquest files/death reports).  Coroners were paid from 1752 so from then records were better and more survive. Very few Wiltshire Coroners records survive from the first half of the 18th C [1] (xxx).  Before 1752 they sent their records to Assizes judges who sent them on to the King’s bench and so ended up in national archives. From 1752 to 1860 they were filed at Quarter Sessions so ended up in local (County) archives. [4]. Salisbury City Coroner’s inquest files survive for the period 1876-1943 in the County Archive [5]


[1] Wiltshire Coroners’ Bills 1752-1796 Edited By R. F. Hunnisett Wiltshire Record Society, 1981. http://www.wiltshirerecordsociety.org.uk/pdfs/wrs_v36.pdf

[2] BenSloper.  South Wiltshire Coroner's Inquests 1868-1920 http://www.salisburyinquests.wordpress.com/ © 2010

[3] Morier, David 1748, painting of Dragoons From a larger Portrait https://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/armyunits/britishcavalry/generalhawley.htm                                       


[4] National Archives https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/coroners-inquests/                                                                                                                                                

[5] Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The Work of the Wiltshire Coroner 1194 – 1943 http://www.wshc.eu/blog/item/the-work-of-the-wiltshire-coroner.html




Kerry O’Connor

November 2020


Royal Dragoons.jpg