Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Servant Girl's Suicide

Lake and bathing pavilion, Wardown Park c.1910 [Z1306/75/8/3]

Monday 27th November 1916: An inquest has been held at Luton Court House into the death of Sarah Jane (“Annie”) Smith, aged 18, from Wood Ditton near Newmarket in Suffolk, who was found at Wardown Lake on Friday morning. Park keeper Alfred Lawrence told the court that his attention was drawn to a girl's body at about 10.45am; it was face downwards in four feet of water, not far from the footpath. He had recovered the body and sent for the police. There were no marks on the deceased and the symptoms all pointed to death by drowning.

Miss Smith had been working as a domestic servant for Mrs. Gale of Avondale Road, Luton, for seven weeks, when she died. Mrs. Gale had found her “industrious and satisfactory in every way” but said the girl sometimes seemed depressed and worried about outside matters, and never spoke except to say “Yes” or “No”. On Friday morning she had sent her out for some tomatoes and saw her go towards the shop at about 8am; this was the last time she saw Miss Smith. When the girl did not return for breakfast, her husband reported the matter to the police.

Private Walter Strogger of the Royal Field Artillery, who was based at Biscot Camp,  gave evidence that he had kept company with Miss Smith for three months, and the previous weekend she had stayed with his parents near Ipswich. He was with her on the night before her death when she seemed the same as usual, and did not seem worried that he was expecting orders to leave for the front. He had arranged to see her on the next Sunday.  

A number of letters and a postcard were found in the girl’s room. They included the following note to Private Strogger, which was never posted: “Dear Walter, many thanks for Thursday night’s walk. I enjoyed myself, but was rather downhearted. Crying finished it when I was alone. Good-bye till Sunday. From downhearted A. Smith.”  Her mother, Mrs. Jane Elizabeth Smith, identified her daughter’s body. She said her daughter wanted to get married, but that she had advised her to wait a bit. An older daughter who lived at home had been sending her sister letters saying she wished she would get married so that she could come and live with her. The jury returned of verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane”.

Source: Luton News, 30th November 1916

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