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1905: Multiple tragic deaths by drowning in Cuckfield lakes


“IT IS MORE THAN I CAN BEAR.” A Lady’s Maid Drowns Herself in Cuckfield Park

Cuckfield was startled on Saturday by the news that the body of Bertha Locke, who was in the service of Mrs. Bevan, of Horsgate, as lady’s maid, had been found in a pond in Cuckfield Park. Deceased, who was 25 years of age, was a very reserved person, but she was highly respected by her mistress. That she had made up her mind to take her life was apparent from the letters she left behind her, but no reason was given for the rash act. It was her secret, and she kept it well.

The usual inquiry was held by the East Sussex Coroner on Saturday evening, at the King’s Head Hotel, Mr. Askew being chosen foreman of the jury. The first witness called was Mr. Richard Alexander Bevan, J.P.. of Horsgate, Cuckfield.

He stated that the deceased had been in the service of Mrs. Bevan for 19 mouths as lady’s maid, and his wife had told him she never had a more capable, obliging, or nicer person attending her than deceased, and she had made no complaint whatever. The deceased was a very reserved woman, and very precise. She went out on Friday afternoon, between two and three. In the ordinary way she was expected back to tea at five o’clock. As she did not return by seven o’clock, Mrs. Bevan got anxious, thinking perhaps deceased might have had sunstroke or had been taken ill, and witness went down into the town to make inquiries. He could obtain no information about her, and the police arranged to telephone around the country the next morning.

At midnight the housemaid brought him a letter, and he immediately got together some of his people, and they went to the police and Cuckfield Park pond. In a very few minutes they saw the hat of deceased by the side of the pond. The body was also discovered immediately afterwards. That was about one o’clock on Saturday morning.

The body was found in the lower pond, as if the deceased had entered the park by the cricket ground, and had gone down the steps which led to the old boat house. Witness had communicated with the friends of the deceased in Norfolk, and also with the Vicar of the parish, but had had no reply. He expected a letter in the morning.

Cuckfield Park from South Street

Gertrude Edwards, housemaid at Horsgate, said she last saw deceased when she went out in the afternoon. Deceased was first missed when she did not put an appearance at tea at five o’clock. Later in the evening, as she was still missing, they all became alarmed. Deceased was a very quiet person, and suffered a good deal from nerves. She had had indigestion very badly ten weeks ago, and had not been well since. Witness identified the note produced as being in the handwriting of deceased. It ran:—

Give this to mother, please. You will find me in Cuckfield Park pond. Sorry I have done this, but it is more than I can bear. Good-bye all. God forgive me.

Witness did not know to what deceased referred, but her manner of late gave her the idea that she had something on her mind. Another letter was produced by the Coroner, addressed to Mrs. Locke, Flegg Green, Wereham, near Stoke Ferry, Norfolk. It ran:—

Dear Mother, —I sorry to do this, but it is more than I can bear. You will find all my money in the red box in the top drawer. Your loving daughter, Bertha. May God forgive me.

In reply to the Coroner, witness said she knew of no love affairs in connection with deceased. By the Foreman: She did not think deceased had been unduly affected by a recent sad drowning fatality near Horsgate.

The Coroner: That affair was not likely to affect anyone whose mental condition was quite sound.

Jessie Ackroyd, parlourmaid at Horsgate, said the manner of deceased had been very quiet, as if she was under some restraint. Lately her health had been bad. The letters were found at midnight, tucked underneath a handbag on the drawers in the bedroom. Witness had no idea what deceased meant by but it is more than I can bear.”

Horsgate House

In answer to the Coroner, Mr. Bevan said Mrs. Bevan had very great regard for the deceased, and she had recently asked the doctor to look at her, seeing that she was not well. Deceased could have again seen the doctor once if she had wished to so.

P.C. Day, of Cuckfield, said he received information about the affair at 12.40 a.m. that day, and he accompanied Mr. Bevan and others to Cuckfield Park, with lanterns, and they searched the lower pond. On the east side they found a lady’s hat, which was identified as that of deceased. He flashed his lantern on to the pond, and, three or four yards from the bank, saw what appeared to be clothes. Rakes were obtained and the body recovered. He formed the opinion that deceased had been in the water some hours. He had examined the spot, and found no signs of struggle. In deceased’s pockets were her handkerchief, gloves, a piece of paper and pencil. There was no writing on the paper.

Dr. Wells said he had attended deceased for indigestion. She had not complained of nerves, and he had not noticed anything peculiar in her manner. The Coroner, in summing up, said it was one of those cases in which there was nothing to explain the reason for the act of the deceased unless they assumed that she had temporarily lost her mental balance, which was generally called temporary insanity.

A juryman suggested that perhaps the great heat of Friday had affected her.

The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity.”

Portadown News - Saturday 05 August 1905


Another drowning tragedy has occurred at Cuckfleld. Miss Bertha Gertrude Edwards, aged about twenty-two, in the employ of Mr. R. A. Bevan, J.P., the banker, went out, and later on her body was found in the lake. Her hat had been left on the bank.

Miss Edwards gave evidence last Saturday at the inquest on the body of a fellow-servant, a lady's-maid, who had drowned herself in the same lake. Three weeks ago the little son of Mr. Bevan's gardener lost his life in another lake In Cuckfield.



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