Brewery traveller found drowned

Hertfordshire Mercury, 3rd March 1906


Mr C. E. Lewis, coroner for West Essex, held an inquiry at the George Inn, Great Hallingbury, on Monday afternoon, on the body (which had been taken out of the River Stort, on the preceding Friday) of William Biggs Smith, a traveller, lately in the employment of Messrs Benskin Ltd of Bishop’s Stortford Brewery.

Mr W D Calvert was foreman of the jury. The Brewery Company were represented by Mr W J Gee, solicitor; Supt Laver ( Epping) and Insp. Wedlock (Harlow), represented the police.

Benjamin Gayler, of Pierce Webbs, Clavering stated the deceased was his son-in-law, and was 44 years of age. He last saw him shortly before Christmas. When the deceased went away he told him he was going to borrow £50, and asked the witness to sign a note for him. Witness did so, and the deceased took the note away with him. Witness did not read it.

The Coroner: It is for £84.

Witness, continuing, said the note was not used, deceased writing that he had made other arrangements. Mr Gee at this point handed in some letters found in the deceased bag. One, the Coroner said, was from money-lenders about the £84. It appeared the loan was to have been £50, with the £34 for interest.

Mr Gee: The usual thing.

Witness handed in Dr Agnew’s certificate stating the widow was too unwell attend.

Charles Barber, miller, of Twyford Mill, said he knew the deceased as driving by the Mill for the last twelve years. He saw him shortly after 9am last Friday come along the tow-path from Bishop’s Stortford very leisurely. Witness remarked to his mate ”that man does not look like going into consumption”. They saw then who it was. Deceased crossed the road at the bridge on to the tow-path again. He went in the direction in which the body was afterwards found.

Deceased did not speak but kept his eyes on the ground.

Esau Bishop, of 20, Chapel Street, Bishop’s Stortford, said he saw the body in the water about 400 yards away from Twyford Mill while looking for watercress. Witness was walking on the Essex side of the river and the body was found in the centre of the stream.

He ran into Thorley to inform P.C. Westlake, but he was not at home. Mrs Westlake told him to go next door, and he did so and borrowed a pole, and with a man called Marshall turned the body over.

He then gave information to police at Bishop’s Stortford.

The Coroner: Why was not the body taken out on the Herts side ?

Mr Gee: The footpath is in Essex.

Geo. Arnold Seaward, general manager, Bishop’s Stortford Brewery said the deceased had been the private trade traveller for fifteen years. He was under notice to leave under consequence of his accounts being out of order. He was given notice on Thursday. He had been suspended from travelling from the beginning of the week, but was kept at work in the office. There was no specified time for his leaving, as they did not wish to be severe with him. He was to have met a director at three o’clock on Thursday afternoon, but he did not come, and a telegram was received from him ”Gone to see Gayler: will see you tomorrow”. There was no idea of a prosecution, and the deceased had been distinctly told so. He did not appear upset at the investigation into his accounts, but said the amounts would be paid in.

In answer to Mr Gee, witness said large amounts of money had passed through the deceased’s hands, and there had been no reason to complain until lately. The amount was only £30 (Sensation). Deceased said he had got behind through family troubles. He was earning about £200 a year.

P.S. Brett, of Bishop’s Stortford, said he went to the spot near Walbury Dells, and got the body out on the towing path, but did not know whether it was in Herts or Essex. Witness found in the pockets a gold watch and chain (the watch was going and gave the time as 12.05), a gold ring, 4s. 4 1/2d in money, and a number of letters and documents.

The Coroner perused these, and said deceased appeared to be in general trouble all round. A note in the deceased’s handwriting gave some particulars as to his receipts from the Brewery,and added ”Is there any wonder I have brought Benskin’s trade up to my own ruin”. The Coroner said there was also a notice to quit his house.

P.C. Sawkins, of Little Hallingbury, having given evidence of receiving the body from the last witness, Mr Gee, on behalf of the firm, said they deeply regretted the occurrence, and expressed their sympathy with the widow and children.

The Jury deliberated in private and eventually returned a verdict that deceased was ”found drowned, but there was no evidence to show how he got into the water”.

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