Sunday, 1 May 2016

Soldier Drowns at Public Baths

Sketch of Waller Street public baths from Borough Engineer’s plan, 
December 1910 [X558/6/108/4]

Monday 1st May 1916: An inquest has been held this afternoon into a tragic drowning which took place at Luton Corporation Baths on Friday evening. The dead man was Charles William Fowler, aged 40, a Territorial Army driver at the Artillery Training School at Biscot. He was a single man who had been a clerk in a distillery for 26 years and lived at Clerkenwell with his father. A nervous man, who had suffered as a child from St. Vitus’ dance, he had a weak heart and also suffered from cold extremities. He had enlisted under the Derby scheme and had only been in the army for three weeks. His father had last received a letter from his son on the Wednesday after the Bank Holiday, thanking him for sending some money. He had heard nothing from his son to suggest that he was unhappy.

Dr John Birch told the Coroner that he had been called to the Public Baths at about 8.25pm on Friday evening and saw the body in the corridor. Artificial respiration was tried for an hour and a quarter but without success. All the symptoms pointed to the man having drowned. A large abrasion over the eye was probably caused by the man’s head catching on the tap as he was lifted out of the bath. Archibald Cooper, the baths manager, was there when Charles Fowler arrived at about twenty to eight. When he went round at about twenty past eight to announce closing time he received no reply, but saw a pair of boots under the door. He went to the next cubicle and looked over the partition; the man’s feet were where his head should have been and his head was drooping forward, partly under water. He burst open the door, pulled the body above the water and called for help. They took the man out of the bath, tried artificial respiration, and called for the doctor. His legs were tied together with string which had then been wound around a pipe above the man’s head, apparently so he could pull his legs out of the water.

There had never been another death at the baths in the 25 years Mr Cooper had worked there, and the rooms were of the latest type with nothing which could cause harm to a bather. The only conclusion it was possible to come to was that Charles Fowler had been the instigator of his own death. The Coroner suggested to the jury that the sudden change from his civilian occupation may have caused Fowler’s nervous temperament to give way. A verdict of suicide while temporarily insane was passed.

Source: Luton News, 4th May 1916

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