Jacqueline Beard Writer

Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries

aldeburgh-PixabaySuffolk is a glorious place graced with rolling hills, salt marshes and sandy beaches. Charming villages and market towns lie scattered through the countryside while bustling seaside ports adorn the coast. Steeped in history, Suffolk has grown elegantly into the 20th century with towns like Bury Saint Edmunds enjoying the historic Abbey grounds as they blend harmoniously with sympathetically built shopping complexes and other modern structures. The Suffolk landscape is varied and naturally inspirational for writers. At least, it was for me.

My books are usually set in Suffolk. Vote for Murder features both Stonham Aspall and Christchurch Park in Ipswich. The Fressingfield Witch is the first of the Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries. Lawrence lives and works at The Buttermarket in Bury Saint Edmunds, where the book begins. Most of the book is set in the village of Fressingfield as the title implies. The second Lawrence Harpham book, The Ripper Deception sees a location change with Lawrence investigating in London and Brighton. Even so, much of the book involves Bury Saint Edmunds, Chelmondiston, and the delights of Pin Mill.


The choice of Suffolk as a setting for my books puts me in excellent company. There are many talented Suffolk writers, who will form the subject of a future blog, but this is a piece about books set in Suffolk locations, regardless of heritage.

1. The Death of Lucy KyteNicola Upson. I once met Nicola at a crime festival and should have told her that The Death of Lucy The Death of Lucy Kyte.jpgKyte inspired my first book. I have always been fascinated by true crime and mystery books are my favourite genre. With East Anglian heritage and a love of history, this Suffolk mystery was always going to please. The fifth of the Josephine Tey novels, The Death of Lucy Kyte centres around the infamous Red Barn Murder in the village of Polstead where Maria Marten died. It was a fabulous read that I can highly recommend.
2. The Town House – Nora Lofts. Set in Bury Saint Edmunds and featuring 14th-century blacksmith, Martin Reed, The Town House is the first of a Suffolk trilogy. Embarrassingly, I haven’t read anything by by Nora Lofts but The Town House  will be going straight to the top of my TBR pile.
3. We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea – Arthur Ransome. An enchanting children’s adventure set at Pin Mill on the banks of the River Orwell. I have read (and still own) the Swallows and Amazon’s books and have spent many happy moments on the Shotley Peninsula.
4. A Warning to the Curious – M R James. I haven’t read this yet, but I will. Set in the fictional town of Seaburgh, this short ghost story is reputedly dripping with atmosphere and supernatural tension. Seaburgh is evidently recognisable as Aldeburgh, and the author has taken great pains to describe his surroundings.
5. Children of Men – P D James. “…Early this morning, three minutes after midnight, the last human to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl”. So begins the compelling opening to a book which later became a movie. I watched the film a few years ago with no idea of the Southwold setting. A dystopian book about the effects of male infertility, the premise of the novel is fascinating and terrifying in equal measures. It is quite a departure from the author’s Adam Dalgleish novels. Gallowglass
6. Gallowglass – Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. No Suffolk book list would be complete without the inclusion of Ruth Rendell who not only lived in Suffolk but set many of her books within its varied landscapes. Psychological mystery thriller Gallowglass features the town of Sudbury, and this book will also be joining my TBR list.

PIle of Books

One unexplained death at the heart of an organisation is unusual, but three inexplicable deaths within a small group of friends seems more like the plot of a murder mystery novel. Yet that is what happened to Edmund Gurney, Arthur Myers and Frank Podmore, each of whom held important positions within the Society for Psychical Research.   

Edmund Gurney was first to die in 1888 and his death, covered in a previous blog post, was caused by an overdose of chloroform.  Gurney had dined with MP Cyril Flower the evening before and was described by his friend as ‘in good health and with brilliant conversation.”  Flower detected nothing abnormal or untoward in his behaviour. 

Next to die was Arthur Thomas Myers, brother of Frederic William Henry Myers who was President of the Society for Psychical Research from 1900 until his death in 1901.  Doctor Arthur Myers, a close friend of Edmund Gurney, died of asphyxia caused by an overdose of Chloral Hydrate in January 1894.  Mr G W Protheroe of King’s College, Cambridge dined with Myers on the Monday before his death.  He described the doctor as ‘very cheerful’ and said that he had spoken about a journey he was due to undertake to visit a relative. Once again, there was no indication of low spirits. 

The following years were quieter.  Frederic Myers died a natural death from Bright’s disease in 1901. Then, on 14th August 1910, Frank Podmore went missing from his home in Malvern.  

Podmore, who had been staying with Mr and Mrs Cross at 2 Ivy Cottages, The Wyche near Malvern Wells, disappeared on a rainy Sunday evening.  A thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning had disturbed Mr Cross who noticed that Frank Podmore was once again absent from the home, having already left the property several times that day.  The alarm was raised the following morning, and a search party organised but to no avail. Then, on Friday, Podmore’s body was found in a large pool adjoining the Malvern Golf Links.  There were no marks of external injury, and the body was removed to the mortuary. 

Frank Podmore had been composing a letter to his mother before leaving Ivy Cottages for the final time.  It was never completed.  His watch stopped at 11.23 pm precisely, and there is little evidence to suggest that he slipped and fell during the storm.  The jury at the inquest returned an open verdict of “found drowned.”  Mr George Podmore, brother of Frank, said that his brother was always of a particularly cheerful disposition and had been enjoying his holiday in Malvern.  He further added that his brother had always upheld the sacredness of human life. 

Three men, all members of the same organisation were reported as in good spirits at the time of their demise.  So, what happened?  In his book, ‘The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney’, Trevor H Hall speculated that Gurney had committed suicide on discovering that the Brighton telepathists had deceived him.  Though the theory has merit, and mesmerist Douglas Blackburn later confessed to trickery, there is no proof that Gurney was aware of it or that the knowledge might push him into ending his life.  After all, Edmund Gurney’s interests went much further than telepathy and hypnotism, and he was still working on other projects including a paper on “Apparitions occurring soon after death,” which he read during an SPR meeting early in 1888. 

And what of Arthur Myers?  His health had been poor for most of his life, and he also suffered from Bright’s disease, which claimed the life of his brother Frederic. Arthur Myers had recently retired, and it is not inconceivable that illness and a lack of purpose caused him to kill himself.  Yet he was a highly experienced doctor, and the overdose of narcotics left him lingering for two days.  He frequently self-medicated as an aid to sleep.  It is hard to imagine an accidental overdose even in the grip of a seizure, and equally unlikely that a serious attempt at suicide would not result in instant death. 

Frank Podmore’s final years were complicated.  The Lake Herald of 14th June 1907 reported that Podmore had severed his ties with The Post Office where he had been employed as a Higher Division Clerk in the Secretary’s Office since 1879.  His biographer later suggested that he had been compelled to resign from the Post Office due to alleged homosexual involvements.   During 1907 he moved to Broughton, near Kettering to live with his brother Claude leaving his wife alone in London. At the time of his death, Frank Podmore was virtually penniless, and it would be easy to conclude that he may have seen suicide as a way out of his problems.  But were they problems?  The Rugby Advertiser is one of the many papers to report that Frank Podmore returned to Ivy Cottage accompanied by a younger man – a causal acquaintance he had met during his walk and who had supper with him.  He had left his wife, and the split was permanent and bitter. She did not attend his funeral, nor did she send a wreath.  And she was not alone.  Several members of his close family failed to attend. But Podmore enjoyed a close relationship with his mother.  Both Frederic Myers and Henry Sidgwick had reputedly dabbled in homosexuality, and therefore his friends within the SPR were most likely tolerant of his lifestyle.  He had escaped what must have been a restrictive and unhappy marriage, and it may well be the case that in leaving London and his career with the Post Office, Frank Podmore had found the opportunity to be himself.  There is no evidence that he was worried or unhappy. 

So, were these deaths suicides, accidental deaths or something else?  We will probably never know.  Psychic researchers who believe in life after death, are introspective by their very nature and perhaps more prone to suicide.  And although Frederic Myers died naturally, suicide stalked his family beginning with the suicide by drowning of his lover Annie Hill Marshall in 1876 and ending with the overdose of his son Leopold Myers in 1944.  It is ironic that Myers, who died naturally and embraced his demise with enthusiasm, was a common denominator in the other mysterious deaths. 

In June 1888 a tall, moustached man arrived at the Cricketers Inn, Black Lion Street, Brighton suffering from neurasthenia (intense fatigue). A holiday in the popular Sussex seaside resort must have seemed like the perfect antidote to his ailments.  A student of the occult sciences, Roslyn Donston may well have occupied his convalescence in Brighton by furthering his knowledge of black magic and esoteric doctrines. Or, according to some, he may have been planning a series of murders in Whitechapel.

Roslyn Donston, otherwise known as Robert Donston Stephenson, was a ripper suspect for many years.  Hospitalised near Whitechapel at the time of Mary Ann Nicholl’s death, his proximity to the crime scene kept him high on the list of suspects until it was proved that he could not have left the hospital during at least one of the murders.

Nevertheless, he pushed himself into the investigation at any opportunity, often through his articles in the Pall Mall Gazette.  Later, he collaborated with an amateur detective, George Marsh, discussing the Whitechapel murders at length. Donston’s knowledge of the crimes was sufficiently compelling to prompt Marsh to report him to Scotland Yard.

In the early 1890s, Donston joined Vittoria Cremers and Mabel Collins to set up the Pompadour Cosmetique company in London. The venture failed, and the company was dissolved in the mid-1890s, perhaps with some ill-feeling between the two women and Donston.  Years later, Vittoria Cremers accused him of keeping blood-stained ties in a trunk and both women harboured strong suspicions that Donston was Jack the Ripper.

A retired army doctor, custom’s officer and author, Donston’s health and fortunes began to decline during middle age.  On 30th November 1890, he was admitted to Thavies Inn Infirmary aged 50 where his occupation was noted as a journalist.  He was immediately transferred to Bow Road infirmary suffering from paralysis agitans – a Victorian term for Parkinson’s Disease.  Donston was discharged on 26 Jan 1891 and was recorded as a resident of The Triangle Hotel on the 1891 census.  By the time of the 1901 census, he was back in the workhouse infirmary – this time in Islington.  Over the next ten years, he was repeatedly admitted and discharged from Islington Infirmary and was still there at the time of the 1911 census, where he was recorded as a 71-year-old author from Sculcoates, Yorkshire.  His last recorded discharge was from St John’s Road workhouse in Islington where he was sent to the infirmary on 28th September 1916. He died of cancer of the throat on 9th October the same year.

Was Donston Jack the Ripper?  Well, if the recent DNA testing of Catherine Eddowes’ shawl is correct, then clearly not.  However, several leading geneticists have cast doubt over the provenance and contamination of the shawl, and there are issues (which I don’t pretend to understand) regarding mitochondrial DNA.  The identity of the Ripper is by no means solved, and probably never will be.

Roslyn Donston was hospitalised during at least one of the murders, so his direct involvement is unlikely.  But did he know something?  Was there another reason he was so keen to ingratiate himself into the Ripper investigation?  And was it just a coincidence that he was in Brighton at the same time that Edmund Gurney died?

The Ripper Deception is a work of fiction based on real characters and events.  Why did Edmund Gurney die and what did Donston know…?

Edmund Gurney photoOn Friday 22nd June 1888 Edmund Gurney checked into the Royal Albion Hotel opposite the Aquarium on Brighton’s seafront. The hotel was an unusual choice for Mr Gurney. A frequent visitor to Brighton, he most commonly stayed in lodgings. Perhaps, this time, he craved the anonymity of a busy hotel. Gurney’s reason for being in Brighton was equally unclear. He had been summoned, by letter, but had not disclosed why, or by whom. His contact details were omitted from the hotel register, and he had no identification on his person, save for one unposted letter.

Edmund Gurney was a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research. A prolific writer and talented musician, Gurney had been involved with the organisation since its inception in 1882. The society investigated all manner of psychic events, cataloguing and seeking to prove or disprove their validity. Gurney had visited Brighton on numerous occasions while conducting experiments on hypnotism with George Albert Smith. Mr Smith, who later became a filmmaker, was a stage hypnotist and psychic who became Edmund Gurney’s private secretary. Together, they carried out work on telepathy and mesmerism.

Edmund Gurney 1888
So, what bought Edmund Gurney to Brighton in June 1888? Certainly not George Albert Smith who was honeymooning on the Isle of Wight. The contents of the letter summoning Gurney to Brighton were never made public although there was a suggestion that he was on Society business. In any event, he never returned to his family home in Montpellier Square London again.

At 2 pm on the afternoon of Saturday 23rd June 1888, a chambermaid at the Royal Albion Hotel raised the alarm after she could not access the room. The hotel manageress let herself in to find Edmund Gurney dead on the bed with a sponge bag over his face, and an empty bottle of a substance believed to be chloroform on the floor. At the subsequent inquest, details were given of Gurney’s insomnia and neuralgia for which he allegedly took chloroform for relief. His death was ruled accidental although later speculation suggested suicide.

But what if neither suggestion was correct?

Lawrence Harpham’s latest investigations lead from Ipswich to Brighton to Whitechapel. Find out what Lawrence concluded about Edmund Gurney’s death in The Ripper Deception.


Located a short way along the Shotley peninsula, the village of Chelmondiston is notable for the hamlet of Pin Mill and views across the River Orwell.  Rebuilt in the 1860’s, the local parish church of St Andrews lost its tower to a flying bomb in 1944.  But it was the Chelmondiston Rectory that was the subject of interest in a Bury & Norwich Post article during November 1890. 

My books are themed, and The Ripper Deception explores the Victorian fascination with spiritualism.  Before its conclusion in London, Violet and Lawrence embark on different investigations with Violet arriving in Chelmondiston to find out the cause of strange noises in the Rectory. Her visit coincides with one by a representative of the Society for Psychical Research. 

I based this part of The Ripper Deception on the Bury & Norwich post article which described the haunting in detail.  The Rectory, standing on the left of the road running from Ipswich to Shotley, was built around 1850 and was home to several rectors before the arrival of the Reverend George Woodward and his wife, Alice.  The previous Rector, the Reverend Beaumont, had a large family but the Reverend and Mrs Woodward were childless, and the household was considerably quieter.  When they first moved to the house, they were unaware of its reputation, but before long they began to hear footfalls in the passages and doors opening and closing in the dead of night.  After speaking to the servants, it became apparent that they also witnessed unexplained noises, and one of the maidservants saw the ghost who she described as a small, shabbily-dressed, grey-bearded man. 

The disturbances continued unabated with the Reverend concerned enough to search every nook and cranny of the house looking for an explanation.  He examined drains, removed floorboards and even inspected the ivy on the outside walls, but the noises and sightings continued.  The newspaper reported that a member of the Psychical Society arrived to instigate personal inquiries but heard nothing unusual.  Neither did several gentlemen of the neighbourhood who also watched at night. 

Nevertheless, rumours of the ghost spread into the village and reached the ears of the older inhabitants. They still remembered Reverend Beaumont’s predecessor, a certain Reverend Richard Howarth who was Rector of the parish from 1858 until his death from acute bronchitis in 1863.  Reverend Haworth was an inveterate miser, so mean that he dressed in rags and only allowed himself half an egg for a meal.  He became known as “cabbage” Haworth after promising an ill parishioner a treat and delivering a cabbage.   

But why would a miserly man of religion haunt the Rectory?  Those who remembered Reverend Haworth also recalled the unusual circumstances of his will.  Buried in the Chelmondiston churchyard, Howarth was worth about £40,000 when he died, and his will was supposedly found in a pond near the roadside in a book of old sermons wrapped in a piece of cloth.  Villagers believed that his troubled spirit still searched the rectory for some hidden portion of his money.   

The story sounds unlikely, but a quick look at the 1861 census shows the Reverend living at the Rectory with one servant.  He died a bachelor on 7th February 1863 and letters of administration granted personal estate and effects to his brother George.  So far, so good.  However, an article in the Cambridge Independent Press on 23 May 1863 describes a court case resulting when an anonymous letter containing the missing will turned up at the home of his relative James Haworth. The will, drawn up and executed by the Reverend Haworth’s nephew Richard was partly burned and torn. The judge viewed the will with great suspicion, as there was no indication of how it got burned, and whether the damage constituted cancellation. He postponed the case with instructions that it could not proceed without the collection of further evidence.  And that’s where my investigation ends.  I can’t find any other articles to prove what happened next.   

However, an 1884 newspaper cutting shows a list of large, unclaimed fortunes, one of which is in the name of Haworth.  Mysteriously, the final paragraph of the Bury & Norwich Post article explains the lack of progress in the case stating that the judge who tried the issue died suddenly at the most critical point.  This is true – he did.  Justice Cresswell died in office on 29 Jul 1863 from complications arising from a fall from his horse.

19th Century Surgical Instruments: Wellcome Collection Dr Lyttelton Forbes Winslow continued his considerations on the identity of Jack the Ripper in his ‘Recollections’ (1910): After the fifth and sixth murders, however, I changed my views. The exact similarity in the method of murder and the horrible evisceration of the body showed too much of a […]

via Jack the Ripper – Butcher or Surgeon? — DRACULA FOR DOCTORS

March 6, 2019


St Annes

It’s mid-October and the clocks go back next week. Days are shorter, leaves are turning golden brown and the air is crisper as Autumn melds into winter. Frightmare returns to Over with scary rides and rows of bloated pumpkins and thoughts turn inevitably to Halloween.  To ghosts, witches and undead things. Like the ghost of St Anne’s, Cheltenham’s most investigated haunting. 

My new book is almost written. Set in Victorian England, it portrays the Victorian fascination with all things supernatural. And it was during Queen Victoria’s reign in 1860 that St Anne’s was constructed.  Located on the corner of Pittville Circus Road, St Anne’s was a grand family residence set in extensive grounds.  It had a sweeping carriage drive, 14 bedrooms, stabling for three horses and a gardener’s cottage.   

The first occupants were Henry Swinhoe and his wife Elizabeth. Henry, born in Calcutta, was the son of a solicitor. He purchased the property from new and named it Garden Reach. 

Rose Despard and her family moved into St Anne’s in 1882. Rose lived there with her father, her invalid mother and several siblings. Ten months after moving in, Rose saw the ghost for the first time. She described it as an apparition of a tall lady dressed in black widow’s weeds wearing a bonnet with a veil. The woman clutched a handkerchief to her face concealing her features. The ghost appeared many times over the years. Her footsteps were described as light, like ‘a person walking softly with thin boots on.’ 

Rose knew Frederick Myers, a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research. Myers investigated the haunting obtaining statements from witnesses including family, friends and servants. The report of the ghost gained serious credibility.  

Rose’s account of the haunting appeared in the 1892 journal of the SPR. She identified the ghost as that of Imogen Swinhoe, second wife of the original owner. Rose’s investigations revealed that Swinhoe had turned to alcohol after the demise of his first wife. His new wife hoped to cure him of his intemperate habits but ended up becoming a drinker herself. According to rumour, Swinhoe had a special box constructed containing his first wife’s jewellery. The box was hidden under the floorboards in the front sitting room.  Henry intended to keep the jewels until his children were of age. They would then receive them as an inheritance. Imogen disapproved and was critical of the way the children were being raised. The marriage became strained. Drunken quarrels ensued, and they separated a few months before Henry died.  

St Anne’s or Garden House as it was called in her lifetime held awful memories for Imogen. It is hard to imagine why her apparition would return. After her divorce, she fled to Bristol.  Her remains were returned to Cheltenham and she was interred at Holy Trinity with her mother.  

Newspaper reports show that the Swinhoe’s marriage had broken down irretrievably by 1875. An article in the Cheltenham Mercury in April publicly declared that Henry Swinhoe would not be responsible for any of his wife’s debts. 

Henry Swinhoe debts

Soon after, he instigated divorce proceedings. Henry’s divorce petition is available on the internet. It makes uncomfortable reading. He accused Imogen of gross and continual habits of drunkenness and violent and indecent language.  On 22nd December 1874, Imogen allegedly threw a chair at him. On other occasions, she threw different articles of furniture. Henry claimed that her behaviour enfeebled him and was injurious to his health.  A further incident occurred on the 5th of April 1875 when Imogen accused Henry of infidelity. She stated that he fathered an illegitimate child by their housemaid, Elizabeth Townsend. Henry’s children and the servants were witnesses to this accusation. Elizabeth was so distressed that she bought an action for damages. 

The account in the divorce petition implies that Imogen was violent and unstable. But were things as one-sided as the evidence suggests? Local newspapers show otherwise.  In 1874 Henry’s name appeared in the newspaper coverage of a case of slander. It involved the local milkman who had been wrongly accused of kicking a neighbour’s dog.  Swinhoe had responded to the unproven allegation by taking his custom away. The judge called this action ‘foolish’ in his summing up. The Cheltenham Chronicle of 16th November 1875 covers an assault by errand boy Frederick Crisp. The assault was on Charlotte Wittington, a servant of Henry Swinhoe. It emerged, during the trial, that Swinhoe had threatened to shoot the boy. Within a week of this article, Henry Swinhoe appeared in court.  Henry had an abhorrence of perambulators. He had pushed his stick into the side wheel of Alice’s Speechy’s pram to overturn it into the gutter. But for the prompt action of Alice Speechy’s nurse, the child could have fallen from the pram. Henry Swinhoe was found guilty and fined. 

Both Henry and Imogen were obstreperous. But why? Henry’s ill-temper was borne of grief. His first wife died in childbirth. A poignant acknowledgement of his still-born son’s birth in August 1866 appeared in the papers. Henry became a widower with five young children. His marriage to Imogen in 1870 was likely made to provide them with a mother.  

Imogen was the daughter of Major George Hutchins and his wife Catharine McEvoy. George died in 1844 and Imogen remained close to her mother. She was the sole executrix of Catharine’s will when she died in 1870.  Catharine left a 7-bedroom property at 2 Blenheim Parade (off The Evesham Road). Henry let it in 1871 at a rent of £30.00 for the period from April to December, a far cry from today’s prices.   

2 Blenheim Place

If not always cantankerous, Henry’s behaviour was far from gentlemanly. The incident with the pram could have resulted in serious injury, if not a loss of life. He was ill-tempered and unpleasant. The marriage was a disaster and it is likely that Imogen was unhappy from the outset. Turning to alcohol may have been the only way she could cope. There were faults on both sides. 

But what of the ghost? Was it Imogen? Rose Despard thought so. Her research revealed no other candidates. The Swinhoe’s were the first owners of St Anne’s, constructed on the site of a market garden.  Henry’s first wife died before him and never wore widow’s weeds.  The next owner was Benjamin Littlewood, a Justice of the Peace. He purchased the property, which he renamed Pittville Hall, in 1879.  Benjamin died six months later in the sitting room where Henry Swinhoe had hidden the jewels. This ruled out the possibility of Littlewood’s wife being the ghost. The house lay empty for some time before the Despard’s arrived and with them the beginnings of the haunting. 

Most hauntings occurred in 1884, but sightings have continued as late as 1985. The ghost is usually seen in the house, but also in the gardens, in Pittville Circus Road and in the grounds of the opposite property. The ghost, if one believes in such things, has ties to the property. In the absence of any other candidate, it ought to be Imogen. But there is another person with tenuous links to the house. A person who lived nearby as a widow for many years, and who cared for Imogen until the end.  Catharine Hutchins died the year after her daughter married Henry Swinhoe. She may have seen cracks in the marriage before she passed away. It is not difficult to imagine her desire to comfort her troubled youngest daughter. To visualise her lingering near the property where her daughter suffered for so long…

Titanic Pixabay black

Around 2.20 am on 15th April 2012 two crew members of Leyland Liner Californian unknowingly witnessed the sinking of the Titanic.  Standing on the ice-cold deck, some 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, they wondered why the unidentified vessel in the distance was firing white flares into the night sky when it was standard practice for a ship in distress to fire red.  There was something troubling about the appearance of the unknown vessel and the way it listed strangely in the water.  Despite their disquiet, they were not sufficiently concerned to react that night and by daybreak, it was too late.  The odd-looking ship was RMS Titanic and she had subsequently sunk taking 1517 people to a tragic and untimely death. 

Titanic left Southampton bound for New York City on her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912 amid excitement and celebration.  With her watertight compartments and electronic watertight doors, she was widely believed to be unsinkable. Confidence was so high there was no concern that she only carried 20 lifeboats, enough to accommodate just 52% of her passengers.  Indeed, the Board of Trade regulations only required her to carry 16 lifeboats to fulfil their safety requirements.   

At the turn of the century, travel was still largely segregated by class and RMS Titanic catered for three divisions of travel.  Steerage or third class contained very basic accommodation, second class was more comfortable, but first class was an extravaganza of luxury, from the opulence of the sweeping grand staircase to the charm of the Café Parisien with its wide, open windows looking out to sea.   Along with the glamorous furnishings, Titanic also contained the latest in technology.  She was equipped with a Marconi wireless set with a nominal range of 250 miles and, after the iceberg hit, the radio was used to transmit one of the first ever SOS calls.   

The passenger list was no less impressive than the ship.  First class was populated with many well-known, wealthy Edwardians including John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim.  But, there were people from all walks of life on board and on that fateful day in April, there were three men on Titanic who had connections to the Cotswolds, each travelling in a different accommodation class and each united by the events of that night. 

Sitting in the splendour of the first-class dining room on 14th April 1912, Mr Frank Millett would have had no conception that it would be the last night of his life.  Born in Massachusetts on 3 November 1844, he was a talented artist best known for his painting “between two fires”, a detailed depiction of a family of Puritans, now hanging in the Tate gallery. Millett created the work at Abbots Grange in Broadway where he led an American art colony which settled in England in the early 1880’s.  Millett is believed to have rescued Abbots Grange from falling into a state of disrepair through his programme of restoration. 

Millett ordinarily visited the Cotswolds with his wife and family but this time he travelled alone and would have been looking forward to their impending reunion as he dined from the ten-course menu containing, amongst other items, poached salmon, oysters and peaches in Chartreuse jelly.  

When the iceberg hit the ship, Frank Millett probably approached the ensuing drama with dignity and calm.  He was familiar with crises having served in the Civil War and was also a war correspondent in the Russian Turkish war of 1877 – 1878. He was last sighted helping women and children into lifeboats with little thought for his own safety. 

Meanwhile, in the second-class restaurant, Henry Price Hodges dined on a less sumptuous menu choosing between baked haddock, curried chicken, spring lamb or roast turkey.  At 50 years old, Hodges was a wealthy music shop owner who lived in Southampton with his wife and five of his eight children at the time of his death. 

Like Frank Millett, he was travelling without his family and had purchased his ticket for just £13.  Ironically, he had been due to travel to America several weeks earlier but his voyage had been delayed by the coal strike. 

Born in 1862, Henry, a former pupil of Tewkesbury Grammar school was raised in Gloucestershire.  He was also the elder brother of Robert Hodges (born 1874), a teacher at Hatherley Road Council School.   

Another former resident of Hatherley, Mr Francis William Somerton of Greatfield, Up Hatherley, was travelling back from Cheltenham to his home in Canastota, New York state, having returned to Gloucestershire to visit relatives.  Travelling in third class, it is only possible to speculate on how he would have dined as no third-class menus survive from the night of 14th April 1912.  We know that he was born in Cheltenham and census records from 1891 show him living at 108 Gloucester Road with his father William, (a weigh clerk at the gas works), mother Hannah and three siblings. 

National probate records show that Francis William Somerton of Greatfield, Up Hatherley, Cheltenham died 15 Apr 1912 at sea. Poignantly, he left effects of just £5 which went to Mae Fryer Somerton, widow. 

All three of these men had one sad fate in common.  None of them survived.  They all lost their lives on that terrible night. 

The body of Frank Millett was recovered, and he was buried at East Bridgwater Central Cemetery in Boston.  He was 65-years old when he died.   His pocket watch and chain were found with him.  Henry Price Hodges was also located and laid to rest at Fairview Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He too was found with a pocket watch and money amounting to £45 7s on his person.  He was 50 when he died. Francis William Somerton died aged 30.  His body was never found.


Suffolk’s newest Crime Festival – Stowmarket Library 27 – 30 April 2018

Tickets on sale from Stowmarket Library and Mid Suffolk Tourist Information Centre from 6 March. £5 per author talk or £20 for all six.

Stowmarket Crime Fest Line Up