John Edward Down

Date published: 15/09/2017
© Newbury Weekly News 28 January 1897 and Berkshire Chronicle 23 January 1897




On Monday, December 21st, a young man named John Edward Down, living with his parents in Bear-Lane, Market Place, Newbury, left his home, and as he did not return that night his friends became anxious. Day after day brought no tidings, adding to the suspense of his friends, which at times became well-nigh unbearable. Christmas came bringing with it the joy of festivity, but not to the home of the deceased. The New Year brought no solution as to this mystery. Meanwhile search had been made along the river bank, and portions of the river had been dragged without success. Friday last was the thirty-first day that Down had been absent from his home. On the morning of that day a barge passed along the canal. The motion of the water probably detached the body which had become entangled in some roots, or was lying in the bed of the stream, for subsequently a corpse was observed floating in the water below Ham Bridge. On being taken out it was identified, and thus the month’s search had become solved in the way most people thought it would. When taken out of the water the body was conveyed to the “Swan” where the inquest was held. There were no marks of violence of any sort on the body, and it was evident that death had resulted from drowning. The deceased had suffered from influenza at the end of last year, and from his father’s evidence latterly had been absent minded and showed signs of behaving strangely. The jury having had no evidence of any kind to guide them as to where or how the young man came into the water, returned an open verdict.

THE INQUEST necessitated by this melancholy discovery, was held on Friday afternoon, at the “Swan” Inn, London-road, before the County Coroner, Mr. J. C. Pinniger. Mr. Charles Rolfe was chosen the foreman of the jury. The first witness examined was John Edward Down, the father of the deceased, who worked for Mr. Westcombe, and living at Bear Cottage, Bear Lane. He said he identified the body as that of his son, John Edward. He was 26 years old last May. The last he saw of him was on December 21st, about a quarter-past five, at his house. He returned home earlier in the year through ill health, but had obtained another situation, and was going to it on Wednesday, the 23rd of December. He complained that he was unhinged and had run down, through ill health. He had no trouble. He appeared to take no notice of anything, nor could he remember anything. He was accustomed to go walks. On the day in question he went out and did not return. Inquiries had been made, and the water was dragged by P.C. Gibbs.

Frederick Clarke, of Ham Bridge Dairy, said about a quarter to ten on that morning Mr. F. Cox called his attention to something in the water, and he helped to get it out. It was just below the Swing Bridge in the centre of the canal. They drew the body to the bank with a rope, and got it out. The body was brought to the Swan in his cart, and he went and informed the police. A barge was going through that morning, and the body had probably been raised to the surface by it.

P.C. Gibbs said he had searched the body, but discovered nothing of importance. The Coroner having briefly summed up the facts, the jury, without further consideration, were unanimous in returning a verdict of “Found drowned.”

The funeral took place at the Cemetery, on Monday afternoon, the Rev. W. M. Hope officiating.

Newbury Weekly News 28 January 1897



At ten o’clock yesterday (Friday) morning the mystery of the disappearance of John Edward Downs was cleared up. Mr. Fred Cox, mineral water manufacturer, from his van, and on his way to Thatcham, saw the body in the Kennet by the Ham Bridge. Information was given at Mr. Clark’s farm, close by, and with the assistance of one or two of the labourers the body was got out on the bank and the police informed of the circumstances. P.C. Gibbs was soon on the spot. The body was conveyed on a hurdle in a cart to the Swan Inn. The deceased was a single man, twenty-six years of age. He was well clad generally, and over all he wore a drab overcoat. On searching the body nothing particular was found on it. His purse was empty, and he wore a fox head pin, such as a groom would choose. From a circular found upon him it would appear that he was a member of the Adelaide Lodge of Oddfellows, Southgate. This was the place where he was last employed, and he lived, when there, at 12, Nursery Buildings. We hear that the deceased had a severe attack of influenza of recent date, and he came home to his father – who resides in the Bear Hotel Yard – about six weeks before Christmas to recruit his health, having left his Southgate employment. He was a steady man and he knew his business well. While at home at Newbury he had engaged himself at Sir Francis Scott’s, Wash Common, and was to have taken on on the Monday before Christmas – the day on which he was last seen. The deceased saw Sir Francis Scott on the Sunday and begged off to the Wednesday, as he did not feel well. He left his father’s home on the Monday, the 21st December, and from that time to the finding of the body he had not been seen. It was at first stated that when he left home he had his razor with him, but we are enabled to state that that suspicious instrument has been found at his home. Presuming that he took his life, it is inexplicable except that his mind was somewhat unhinged from the attack of influenza.

Berkshire Chronicle 23  January 1897



John Edward Down (1871 – 1896)


He was born in 1871 at Greys Court, Henley-on-Thames, the eldest child of John Edward Down and Ann, nee Gates. His parents were employed at Greys Court – his father as a Coachman and his mother as the Housekeeper/Cook. He grew up at Greys Court and by 1891, aged 19 years, he was employed as a Groom by the Lack family, in Southgate, Edmonton, Middlesex. Then tragedy struck when he went missing in December 1896 as reported in the Berkshire Chronicle dated 2 January 1897:


“THE MISSING MEN –Neither of the missing men, John Hobbs, the Craven runner, nor John Edward Down, a groom, who left his home mysteriously on the 23rd, have been discovered. Down had been very depressed, and there is every fear that he has committed suicide, as he put on his old clothes, and left instructions as to the disposal of his belongings. The river has been searched without result.”


Eventually his body was found and the two newspaper reports detail his last days. He was buried in a private grave on 25 January 1897 aged 26 years. His father, John Edward Down, who died on 19 April 1898, aged 67 years, is buried with him.


Sources: Birth Index 2Q 1871; Census 1881/1891; Death Index 1Q 1897. Berkshire Chronicle 2/1/1897.


Mrs. P. Code NCh (G) 3   Page 84


(Footnote: John Hobbs had been missing since 5 December and was found drowned in the river Kennet on 9 January 1897. He was a runner with the Craven Hunt. There was an inquest (Report in Berkshire Chronicle 16/1/1897) and to date there is no record that he was buried in Newtown Cemetery).






Sources:Newbury Weekly News, Berkshire Chronicle and Mrs Pattison

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