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Accidents and Disasters

Archibald Philpott - Air disaster

Archibald Francis Philpott was born in Sevenoaks, 27 October 1901​

He joined the Royal Air Force on 20th January 1919 at the age of 18 and stayed for 326 days when he was discharged due to injury.​

On the 2nd February 1937 Archibald was the wireless operator on board an aircraft, owned by the Daily Express, along with a journalist from the paper, photographer and two air crew when it took off from an airfield in Renfrew, near Glasgow onto a flight to Liverpool in poor weather conditions. They were researching a proposed expansion of UK air corridors, but the plane crashed in the Galloway Hills, killing everyone on board.​

The plane crashed near the summit of Darnaw Hill, near Clatteringshaws reservoir. It is part of the Galloway Hydro Electric system which, in 1937, was just nearing completion and not yet mapped, and it is believed the pilot got confused. He may have thought he was over water, so could fly low.​

When the aircraft did not arrive in Liverpool, they sent out search teams. At first they searched the Lake District as people had heard an aircraft fly over. It wasn’t until 2 days after the crash, that the wreckage was found. A local man near to the crash site had heard on the radio of a request for farmers and shepherds to look out for a wreckage in their fields. He had recalled hearing a plane the previous day and decided to climb Darnaw, where he spotted the wreckage. He cycled 16 miles to the police station to notify them of his find.​

Other casualties were Major Harold James Pemberton, the great-grandson of Marie Tussaud of the waxwork fame, Reginald Wesley the photographer and Leslie Thomas Jackson the pilot.​

A memorial still stands on top of Darnaw Hill where the 4 men died.

Bensley Cyrus Lawrence - Murdered

Born on 17 April 1834 in Shropham, Norfolk, to William and Lydia Lawrence, Bensley married Maria Twigg in 1858 in Snetterton, Norfolk. He’d been employed by the Baltic Saw Mills in Goods Station Road for 6 years, having moved to Mercer Street in Tunbridge Wells from Bury St Edmunds with his wife and children. He was an engine driver and timekeeper, working for the manager, Mr Potter.

At about 9.45pm on Friday 20 July 1888 he was at home with his family when a man knocked on the back door saying that Mr Potter needed him at the mill. He put on his boots and went with the man - witnesses said they were seen standing opposite the mill in a pathway at 10.40pm.

Shortly after 11pm a pistol shot was heard and Bensley was found bleeding from a wound above his left ear. The pistol wasn’t found. He was carried home and taken to Tunbridge Wells Hospital where he never regained consciousness, dying the following afternoon, his wife by his side.

Tunbridge Wells was shocked at the news as it had been 21 years since such an event had happened in the town. The local newspapers reported he was a stoutish built man and a jolly looking chap who left a family of 3 boys and 3 girls.

His funeral took place the following week. The saw mills were closed and its employees attended along with ‘a vast concourse of spectators’. The Chaplain performed a Church of England ceremony and the coffin was covered in a black cloth.

In a letter from the Town Hall to the Home Office dated 28 July 1888, Mr Cripps, the town solicitor and clerk, wrote “nothing whatsoever has been discovered, in spite of the most strenuous enquiries, to show any adequate motive for the crime and though suspicion has fallen upon one or two person there is nothing sufficiently strong to warrant an arrest being made.”

On 11 August 1888, the Tunbridge Wells Local Board wrote to the Home Office informing them that a reward of £100 had been offered by the mill for information leading to a conviction – “it is considered by them and by the Police as almost a certainty that two men were concerned in the murder.

The Bill offering the reward has been extensively posted throughout the surrounding District and the Metropolis and has been advertised in the Police Gazette”. It read:
£ 100 REWARD KENT. 1.— TUNBRIDGE WELLS ( Borough) — Whereas on the night of 20th July, 1888, Bensley Cyrus Lawrence, an Engine Driver, was shot in the head with a pistol, near the Baltic Saw Mills, Goods Station Road, Tunbridge Wells, and died from the wound on the following day.

An inquest has been held, and a verdict of Wilful Murder returned against some person or persons unknown. £100 Reward will be paid by the Baltic Saw Mills Company, to any person giving such information as will lead to the arrest and conviction of the offender or offenders. Information to Supt. Embery, Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells.

The ongoing investigation into the case coincided with the 5 murders attributed to Jack the Ripper from August to November 1888. The Tunbridge Wells Advertiser received a letter signed ‘Another Whitechapel Murderer’ on 27 September 1888, in which the author wrote “I beg to state that all the evidence given at the inquest [was] utterly false”. The police considered the letter to be a hoax.

No progress was made until 11 October 1888 when 18 year old William Gower confessed to Walter Cottrill, a Salvation Army Captain. He was reported to have said “there has been something bad done in Tunbridge Wells but that me and my mate have been at the bottom of, we have been two bad characters. Me and my mate did it” (his mate being 17 year old Joseph Dobell).

The following day, Mr Cripps wrote to the Home Office stating “two men are in custody charged with committing this murder and there is but little doubt of their guilt”. It was said that they shot Bensley out of spite or revenge as they thought he was a ‘Master’s Man’, having fined Gower one penny for being late to work several times.

At their trial, the Judge commented “a more deliberate murder can scarcely be conceived. The two seem to have been reading about the exploits of notorious criminals and to have had their boyish imaginations carried away and to have conceived the ambition of themselves becoming great criminals and they resolved to begin their career by murder. They must be thoroughly bad fellows”.

They were both sentenced to hang. Petitions were sent to the Home Office with signatories from across the South East requesting that the sentence was changed to Penal Servitude since they were “victims of sustained and corrupt literature, their boyish imaginations being utterly demoralised and distorted” (‘Penny Horribles’ were found in Dobell’s pocket when he was arrested).

The petitions were in vain and they were hanged on 2 January 1889 at Maidstone Gaol. At 17 years old, Charles Dobell was the last person under the age of 18 to be hanged, the event being reported in newspapers across the country.

The National Archives -
ASSI 36/32/5
HO 144/216/A49141
HO 144/216/A49141B
Police Gazette, 10 August 1888
Aberystwyth Observer, 5 January 1889
Hollingsworth, J P, Some True Tales of Murder in Kent, Stenlake Publishing Ltd, 1st ed., 2000

Corlett family - a family tragedy

Finding a grave with the names of 6 family members, all of whom died between 1894 and 1914 led to a tragic story. William Robert Corlett had been born in the Isle of Man in 1854. He came to Tunbridge Wells, where he married Annie Manwaring in 1886, his occupation being described as a coachman.

Their first two children, Robert William born December 1887, and Joseph Arthur born June 1889 were born when the family lived at Kingswood, where father William was employed as a coachman. By 1890, when Thomas was born, they lived at Dudley Mews, Dudley Road, and on the 1891 census William’s occupation was described as Fly Proprietor. This suggests he was no longer employed, but had his own business. An advertisment in the Kent and Sussex Courier of 5th February 1892 was for the sale of ‘2 Cobs, suitable for nobleman or gentleman’. Their final child, John (Jack) Corlett was born in 1892, but not baptised until 25 October 1896, the son of William and Ann Corlett, living in Albert Street. However by this time he was an orphan.

Sometime after 1892, William returned to the Isle of Man where he died and was buried on 15 August 1894 aged just 40. Tragically Annie died the following year aged 41 at Southborough, leaving their 4 young sons as orphans.

Nothing more has been found about the boys until the 1901 census when we see that Jack aged 8 and Thomas aged 10 are boarding in Albert Street with their uncle Walter Hammond, his wife Jane (nee Manwaring) and family. Robert William, aged 13 was in a ‘Home for Little Boys’ in South Darenth, Dartford, and Joseph Arthur was an inmate of Muller’s Orphan House in Bristol.

Thomas died in 1904 aged 13 and was interred in the ‘old cemetery’ – presumably Woodbury Park; Robert William died in Torquay in 1908 aged 20 and Jack in 1909 aged 17 in Tunbridge Wells.

In 1911 Joseph was living with his aunt Jane Manwaring, who described herself as single, aged 53 born Cranbrook, and a lodging house keeper of Lime Hill Road. Joseph became a journalist but died of consumption in Benenden Sanatorium in 1914 aged 25.

Walter Hammond, the boy’s uncle, was a respected builder and ‘and enthusiastic worker in the East Ward Conservative Association’ as mentioned in his obituary in 1913. It can only be assumed that he paid for the quite substantial memorial to the Corlett family. William and his wife Jane are not buried in the cemetery

Eric Hatchell - Accident in the Chemistry Lab at school

Eric Christopher Wellesley Hatchell was born on 27th September 1898 and baptised on 18th October 1898 at All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad, India. His father, Christopher Frederic Wellesley Hatchell was the Clerk in Holy Orders who baptised him. His mother was Ella D’Arcy Hatchell. Eric had 2 sisters both born in Bombay – Eileen Constance born and died in 1897, and Sheila D’Arcy born 1902.

The Hatchell family were well established in Asia. Christopher Frederic Wellesley Hatchell was born in 1868 on The Prince of Wales Island in Penang, Malaysia, where his father David Thompson Hatchell was a Lieutenant in the Madras Staff Corps and a Police Magistrate in Province Wellesley. Province Wellesley, now Seberang Perai, was named after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, who served as the Governor of Madras and Governor General of Bengal between 1797 and 1805. No connection between the families has been found so the assumption is that the name Wellesley was given to Christopher due to the place of his birth and subsequently to Eric.

Eric was sent to school in England – on the 1911 census he was a 12 year old scholar at a school in Hastings called The University School. By 1913 he was a student at Lancing College. It was here that a tragic accident took place. Whilst taking part in a practical chemistry experiment, a glass tube broke in his hand, making a deep cut between the thumb and the first finger and extending to the base of the right hand. To the Medical Officer at the college it had the appearance of a clean wound and he disinfected and dressed it. Two days later there were signs of inflammation, which spread. He died 2 weeks later from septicemia causing heart failure. The Coroner’s jury expressed the opinion that all that could be done had been done by the college authorities and a verdict of accidental death was given. Eric’s father, who had come home from India on furlough, said that he was satisfied with the verdict.

Eric is buried in Tunbridge Wells cemetery next to the grave of his grandparents, David Thompson Hatchell and Eliza Emelie, who had died in 1906. David lived in Woodbury Park Road until his death in 1926.

Eric’s memorial has an anchor and chain – often symbolic of a naval or maritime profession – maybe he had aspirations to this. However, it maybe just has biblical connections representing strong faith.

Rev. Alfred Henry Wagentreiber & Florence Emily Brewerton
Tragically Drowned

“In death they were not divided”

The final resting place of the Rev. Alfred Wagentreiber and his fiancé Florence Brewerton is marked by a substantial cross. Weighing an impressive 7 tons, it’s standing on specially built brick foundations partitioned into 2 spaces. At the time, the Kent & Sussex Courier remarked that it ‘will be very noticeable among the very handsome memorials which exist in the cemetery’.

The inscription introduces the sad circumstances that led to their deaths aged just 35 and 21: ‘Accidentally drowned together on Conway Sands North Wales whilst collecting shells’. But first, some background to the couple.

Alfred was born in Calcutta in 1852, the son of Ellen Maria and Alfred Christian Wagentreiber (a merchant). When he died he had been the curate at St Mark’s Church, Broadwater Down, Tunbridge Wells, for nearly 6 years, having been ordained for the post.

Florence was born in 1866 in Walworth, Surrey, to Emily and Samuel Brewerton (a tea merchant). She was their only daughter but they also had 3 sons (2 of whom have a memorial in the adjoining plot having passed away in 1883 and 1889).

Alfred and Florence were both well thought of in the community, with their deaths casting ‘quite a gloom over the fashionable suburb of Broadwater Down’. Florence is recorded as having tastefully prepared the church Christmas floral designs and was a teacher of one of the Sunday classes.

They were both members of St Mark’s Temperance Society where Florence was the treasurer and superintendent. Alfred was a member of St Mark’s Working Men’s Institute and is said to have ‘always been active in all good work and the poor valued him as a loving sympathising friend’.

The details of their deaths understandably shocked the community. The details were given at an inquest held at the local Police Station the day after they died. Florence’s father had rented a house in Llandudno and Alfred was staying as a guest of the family. At 3pm the couple had gone for a stroll along the shore in search of shells.

It was said that the tide recedes as much as a mile and a half and then ‘rushes in with great rapidity so that anyone venturing any considerable distance from the shore at the flow of the tide are in the greatest danger of being cut off from the land before they are aware of the tide running in’.

An eyewitness commented that they were seen to be half a mile out and Miss Brewerton had beckoned Mr Wagentreiber with the intention of returning to the shore but she became stuck in quicksand on a sand bank. He rushed to her aid but both were engulfed in a few minutes. The eyewitness gave the alarm but there were no boats nearby that could have helped them.

Later, when the couple hadn’t returned for dinner, the family went in search of them. Her father was standing in the garden when he overheard a conversation about a young lady and a gentleman who had drowned only an hour or two earlier.

He then rushed into the town where the news was confirmed. He offered a reward for the recovery of their bodies but was told that they needed to wait for the tide to go out. When they were found, both their watches had stopped at 5.15pm.

Her father identified their bodies. He arranged for them to be sent back to Tunbridge Wells by train where they were met by ‘a considerable number of people [who] had gathered at the station’. Two separate hearses drove their bodies to ‘Lynwood’ (presumably the family home).

On the day of their funeral, long before it was due to start, ‘streams of people [were] observed making their way towards Broadwater Down’. The church was full ‘and the brilliant sunshine of a summer’s noonday poured through the painted windows with subdued effect’.

When the procession arrived at the cemetery, they were ‘met by the mournful tolling of the mortuary chapel bell’. The police had been asked to attend because of the number of mourners and it was said that over 70 wreaths were arranged around the grave, one of them reading ‘In loving memory of Dear Florry, from Grandma’.

Kent & Sussex Courier, 1 January 1886
Kent & Sussex Courier, 22 July 1887
Kent & Sussex Courier, 29 July 1887
Kent & Sussex Courier, 14 October 1887
Kent & Sussex Courier, 29 June 1888
British India Office Births & Baptisms (Wagentreiber)
England Births & Baptisms 1538-1975 (Brewerton)
1911 census: RG14/4926/107 (Brewerton)

William Charles Challis - accidental shooting

William Challis aged 52 had come to the Bayham Estate from his home in Moorfields, London with 3 friends: Thomas Emms – a retired publican, Frederick Eldridge of The Cat public house and William’s neighbour Alfred Weller, a licensed victualler. They had been invited by William’s brother in law, George Huntley, the head keeper on the Bayham Estate, to come down for rabbit shooting. They all travelled by train to Frant Station.​

William Challis had trained as a blacksmith but had moved into hot water pipe fitting in the growing world of London housing development. At the time of his death he was employing 2 workers in his pipe fitting business. William had married Jane Ann Jeffery from Brenchley in 1865 and they had had 4 boys. At the time of William’s death Alfred William was 17 and training to be an Engineer Fitter with his father, William Charles was 15, Arthur Amos was 13 and Christopher George was 11.​

It rained on the fateful day and the head keeper released the ferrets at about 11 o’clock. Men were shooting most of the day only stopping for a lunch of bread, cheese and beer at the keeper’s home. They finished shooting at about 5 o’clock and Alfred Weller was showing his friend William an injury on his right hand which was wrapped in a handkerchief. He had been shooting left handed since hurting his hand. Having served as a soldier he was used to guns historically but had not been out much in recent years. His breach-loading double barrelled shotgun had been lent to him by a friend in London and was not cocked. At the inquest Alfred Weller stated that he had no idea how it happened but then suggested that the handkerchief may have caught the trigger.​

William was shot in the hip at close range. He exclaimed, ‘You have shot me Alf!’ Alfred Weller caught him as he was falling and called out to the others to help. William in Alfred’s arms is reported as saying, ‘I know this will kill me. Oh dear! What shall I do for my wife and family?’​

George Huntley the keeper transported his brother in law in his trap to Tunbridge Wells Hospital. William was conscious and aware that he was dying. He wanted everyone to understand that it had been an accident.

The surgeon stated that the deceased had died within 48 hours. He estimated that William Challis’ wound indicated that the gun was discharged within 2 feet of his body, his hip was fractured in 4 places and the right kidney and intestines contused. The deceased had told the doctor several times that it was an accident.

The Jury at the inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.​

William is buried in Tunbridge Wells Cemetery, but there is no memorial to mark his grave space in B7 117.


Within 6 months William’s wife Jane Ann (nee Jeffery) aged 44 had married her cousin Thomas Jeffery aged 30, a sailor with no money and a drink problem. Thomas must have had charm and was used to travelling the world. Jane’s mother died later the same year and the following year Thomas, Jane and the younger boys travelled to Melbourne, Australia where they had mutual relatives.

Jane was already forgiving drunken outbursts, demands for money and physical abuse. However the cycle was to repeat itself over the following years and when Jane became aware that Thomas was having sex with other women (including a Mrs Grundy whose husband had caught Thomas in their bed and called the Police) she gave detailed evidence of his neglect and abuse to the Divorce Court in Victoria in 1894 after 8 years of marriage. Her husband did not contest but disappeared having been charged with the court fees.

Wendy Kusnecov, a descendent of William Challis, added the following information

Following William’s death his family went separate ways.

His sons, Alfred William and Arthur Amos, remained in England.

In July 1889 Alfred married Ellen Keeves in Bethnal Green, London. The couple had three children. Their two sons, Alfred and Frederick, died in 1896 at age 4 and 1 respectively. Alfred died in 1908. Thereafter, their daughter, Florence Ellen Challis, lived with her mother in Bethnal Green, London. Ellen went on to marry Alfred’s brother, Arthur, in 1915.

William’s wife, Jane Ann, married a young seaman by the name of Thomas Jeffrey (her cousin) in 1886. Jane Ann, Thomas and her youngest son, Christopher Challis, emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, on the “Hubbuck" in 1887.

At some point, Christopher moved to New Zealand and joined his brother, William Challis.
Christopher married Grace Rose Gordon in 1910. They lived in Wellington, New Zealand. The couple’s only son, Gordon Christopher Ernest Challis, who was born in 1912, was hit by a car and killed in 1917. Christopher served in the Boer War and in World War 1. He died in 1935 and is buried in the Karori Cemetery in Wellington, New Zealand.

William married Jeannie McInnes in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1895. They had one son. William worked mostly as a barman and publican in various places in New Zealand. He died in 1917 and is buried in Waikaraka Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand.

Jane Ann eventually settled in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, with her last known residence being 221 Yarra Street, Geelong. She died on December 12, 1924, of heart failure. She is buried in the Geelong Eastern Cemetery, Victoria, Australia. According to her death certificate she was pre-deceased by her husbands, William Challis and Thomas Jeffrey, and her sons Alfred and William. She was survived by her sons Christopher (in New Zealand) and Arthur (in England).

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