Sunday, 29 November 2015

Postman's Park (33): River Lea

Several drownings in the River Lea are recorded on the Watts Memorial: those of William Donald in 1876 and George Blencowe in 1880. The problem of deaths in the river was obviously an ongoing one since it was raised in Parliament in 1896. One issue was the lack of proper fencing or walls along the banks, although this appears to have played no part in the incidents recorded in Postman's Park.

Donald was bathing in the River Lea at Old Ford when his cousin, swimming with him, got into difficulties. Donald drowned trying to rescue him. There are two points of interest about this sad story. First, they were on their uncle's farm land (indeed, he saw them and went to help, but was too late to reach them). Today, his farm has been given over to light industrial use and looks across to the 2012 Olympics buildings. Second, as in Alice Ayres's case, the family relationship went unmentioned on the memorial: perhaps the rescue of a cousin sounded somehow less heroic than attempting to save a stranger.
WILLIAM DONALD OF BAYSWATER, AGED 19, RAILWAY CLERK, WAS DROWNED IN THE LEA TRYING TO SAVE A LAD FROM A DANGEROUS ENTANGLEMENT OF WEED, JULY 16 1876
Sixteen-year-old George Blencowe drowned similarly, attempting to rescue a friend. When a twelve-year-old boy got into trouble swimming near the White Hart Inn on Hackney Marshes, his friend called to Blencowe for help. He swam out, but was dragged under the water by the panicking boy; when rescuers reached the pair, both had already died. The inquest jury would speak highly of Blencowe's bravery. 
GEORGE BLENCOWE AGED 16, WHEN A FRIEND BATHING IN THE LEA CRIED FOR HELP WENT TO HIS RESCUE AND WAS DROWNED, SEPT 6 1880
These were not the only moments of danger suffered in the river. However, where the outcome was happier, it was left to other organisations to recognise a rescuer's bravery. Thus in 1909, 13-year-old Florence Manning was awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society after she saved a friend from drowning.


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