The Gaskell Society

The Gaskell Society

Celebrating the life and work of Elizabeth Gaskell

Diane Duffy looks tells the story of a tragic drowning in Silverdale in 1850, which echoed a story written by Elizabeth Gaskell three years before.

While it would be good to think Elizabeth Gaskell could add the power of a sybil to her list of achievements, we all know that is highly unlikely. However, while scouring the newspapers for information on Plymouth Grove and its residents, I found an interesting, if tragic, article about a drowning on the Lancashire coast, in Silverdale no less. 

Silverdale was where the Gaskell family spent many of their holidays during the 1840s and 50s  and, of course, Elizabeth wrote in Lindeth Tower (pictured) in the village. It’s now a holiday let, although it is periodically opened to members of the Gaskell Society. Well it seems that two of Gaskell’s neighbours also spent time in this rather picturesque part of Lancashire.

John Morris was an attorney, who had bought a second home – Know Hill Lodge – there. His Manchester home was on the opposite side of Plymouth Grove to the Gaskells’, as you travel towards Longsight. Also in the party was Alfred Jackson Coates, the son Richard Coates, another of the Gaskells’ near-neighbours, who is mentioned in some of Elizabeth’s letters. Alfred was engaged to Miss Morris, John Morris’s daughter,  a good enough reason for visiting the family in Silverdale.

On 24th May 1850, a party of ten, comprising friends, relatives and servants, set out across the Bay from Know Lodge, Silverdale to Grange. Poor conditions forced them instead to Kent’s Bank, just along the coast, and they lunched at the local hotel. By early evening, the older members and the women left for Silverdale, leaving the young men to return later, by carriage with the guide, John Carter. As the guide was not at his cottage, it would seem that the young men availed themselves of their freedom and returned to the Hotel at Kent’s Bank. From here the reports are vague, but mentions of the men being in ‘high spirits’ suggests perhaps too much alcohol. Despite shouting out for help, none came and all five men died. The verdict was accidental drowning, although there was conflicting evidence at the inquest; one man saying that the boat had capsized, another that no-one had been in it and no-one wanting to take any blame for inaction. 

Now back to Gaskell and the prophecy. Three years earlier, in 1847 Elizabeth Gaskell had published a story, ‘The Sexton’s Hero’ which deals with an accident of this nature.  She would no doubt have heard of similar accidents, the sands of Morecambe Bay are notoriously treacherous, but I don’t suppose she ever imagined that such a tragedy would come so close to home. 

You may be interested to note that Know Lodge (now spelt Knowe ) was still standing in 2011 and was a family home. Read my post on ‘The Sexton’s Hero’.

Report from the Lancaster Gazette, June 1st 1850