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Death on the River Walkham

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Walla (river Walkham) already began to wake, to rise, and murmur with great rain messages from the midmost Moor. Anon her volume came down and her valleys echoed with huge riot. The river lifted a sound as of myriads that made mighty exodus to the bellow of trumpets and the thunder of drums.” Eden Phillpotts, The Mother, p. 182.

The River Walkham rises high in the norther fen at an altitude of some 539 metres (Ordnance Survey Grid Ref. SX 5800 8097) it then wends its way southwards over its moorland course of about 11 kilometres. Eventually the river winds its way down to Grenofen (Ordnance Survey Grid Ref. SX 4902 7096) where it then serves as the Dartmoor National Park boundary. Some 2.19 kilometres further downstream the Walkham’s waters are lost to its union with the river Tavy at Double Waters (Ordnance Survey Grid Ref. SX 4757 6990) which then flows down to its final confluence with the river Tamar. It has been suggested that the river’s name has derived from the old Anglo Saxon word wealcan, Ekwall, p. 493, which means to roll or toss, Clarke Hall, p.398. As can be seen from Phillpotts’ description above the River Walkham certainly can ‘roll and toss’ when awoken.

Probably the most famous of Dartmoor’s rivers is The Dart who over centuries has gained a fearful reputation for claiming human lives –  “Dart, Dart, cruel Dart, every year thou claim’st a heart.” However I would suggest that over time the River Walkham has cruelly taken its fair share of people to meet their maker as will be seen from various tragic newspaper reports below.

 “Shocking Murder & Suicide – A strange occurrence is reported from the western borders of Dartmoor. A well-to-do farmer named Giles living at Walkhampton, on Sunday morning, after having some angry words with a second wife, with whom he had not lived happily, went with his little boy, the son by his first wife, and with his dog on the moor to look after his cattle. In the evening the dog returned home alone, and betrayed great restlessness. The wife followed it to the banks of the River Walkham, where she saw the hats of her husband and his son. She was much frightened, and roused the neighbours, who ultimately found the bodies of both father and son in the deepest part of the river securely tied together with a stout rope. They had been dead some time.” – The London Daily News, May 28th, 1877.

Sad Loss of Life – Two privates named Henry Haytor, aged about 20, and Harnold of the Dorset regiment, in charge of the halting camp at Grenofen, about a mile and a half from Tavistock, on the Plymouth road, started for  a walk on Saturday afternoon, and, on reaching the River Walkham Haytor undressed, and said he should bathe. He then stepped on a rock and slipped off into a deep pool. Finding that he did not come to the surface, Harnold ran for assistance. On Haytor’s body being recovered life was found to be extinct.” – The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, September 14th, 1891.

Sad Affair at Horrabridge – James Bennett, an old man, nearly ninety years of age, who resided with his daughter at Horrabridge, was found in the River Walkham on Tuesday night with his throat cut in such a terrible manner that the head was nearly severed from the body. The deed was performed with a razor. The deceased had been in a terrible depressed state.” – The Western Times, March 27th, 1903.

Plymouth Nurse’s Death in the River Walkham – The adjourned inquest on a lady found by a Belgian refugee in the River Walkham, near Vixen Tor, on the 17th inst., was resumed by Mr. R. R. Todd, coroner, at Sampford Spiney yesterday. At the previous inquiry friends of Miss Edith Amy Glover, a trained nurse, lately residing at Rochester House Plymouth, gave evidence which tended towards identifying the body of that of that lady, who had been missing since April 24th, when she left Paddington Station for the West.
P. C. Arthur Edward Churchill said, following the previous inquiry on Thursday, May 20th, in company with Sergeant Screech he dragged the River Walkham, and in a deep pool about 500 yards above where the deceased was found, discovered a bag containing a dressing jacket, nightdress, hand mirror, brush, two combs, sponge, seven handkerchiefs, a vest, and a purse containing 6s. 9d. in cash, a syringe, and two keys and a pair of slippers. Some of the articles in the bag had been identified by Mrs. Crews as belonging to Nurse Glover. The pool in which the bag was found was about ten feet below a rock with a flat surface.
The Coroner: Would it be possible for the deceased to have been washed out of the pool by flood water? P.C. Churchill: It would take a big flood. In reply to the coroner, Mr. Munroe, a juryman said there was a considerable amount of water flowing down the river on the Sunday before the discovery of the body and several of the jury agreed that the river was then in heavy flood, and it was quite possible for a body to have been washed out of the pool to where that of the deceased was discovered.” – The Western Morning News, May 27th, 1915.

Tragedy of the Moor – “I hope to be forgiven by my wife and children,” ran the words written on a note left by Mr. Albert Rooke, stonecutter, of 5, Walkhampton Terrace, Merrivale whose body was found on Thursday night by his nephew, in a pool of water, near the River Walkham, just below Mis Tor, about two miles from his home.
Deceased who had been married twice and had three children by his first wife, had been in a bad state of health, leg trouble giving him anxiety. He had not worked for over 12 months. Prior to his health failing he was employed at the South Devon Granite Company’s works at Merrivale. Mr. Rooke’s brother resides at Tavistock and he stayed with him some considerable time. Mr. Rooke was always very punctual at meals and made it a rule to go for walks between them. On Thursday afternoon, however, he did not return for tea as usual and some alarm was felt at his absence. A search was made and his body recovered.” – The Western Morning News, August 7th, 1926.

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Body in River – The body of Hilda Elizabeth Greening, aged 28, single of 31 West Bridge Cottages, Tavistock who was missing from her home on Friday, was found on Saturday in the River Walkham. Deceased was formerly an attendant at the local cinema. On leaving her home, she is reported to have said to her mother, a war widow: “Goodbye mother; I am going for a long walk.” The following note has also been found:- “I find this is the only way out, as I cannot get a job. I leave all my money to Dolly (a sister) who is a cripple like myself.” – The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, April 14th, 1930.

Bathing Tragedy – While bathing in a 14ft. pool in the River Walkham at Grenofen Bridge, midway between Tavistock and Horrabridge, yesterday afternoon, Charles Frederick Hosking, aged 16, a hairdresser’s apprentice,of 13 Crelake Park, Tavistock was drowned.
It appears he entered the water about 3.30 p.m. in company with two other youths, Robert Sargent of Tavistock and Edwards Adams of Morwellham, and swam across the shallow part of the pool. Kenneth Dashper, of Crelake Park, Tavistock, was standing on Grenofen Bridge watching the bathing when he saw Hosking walk into the deep part of the pool and disappear. Adams dived into the water, but could not find him, and as Hosking did not rise to the surface Adams ran for assistance, finding Messrs. R. Bailey of Tavistock, Jackman of Whitchurch; and Pascoe of Plymouth. Hosking was brought to the bank, artificial respiration being applied immediately by Mr. Bailey. Mr. Jackman ran to Tavistock in his bathing costume for medical assistance. Constable Harding from Horrabridge assisted with artificial respiration, as did Sargent Barnacott and Constable Bedford, who arrived later. On the arrival of Dr. C. S. Henderson of Tavistock, oxygen was applied, but all the efforts proved abortive.” – The Western Morning News, July 6th, 1933.

Drowned Herself – “Suicide whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed” was the verdict at the Tavistock inquest on Mrs. Selina George, 59, of Plymouth, who was found drowned in the River Walkham at Horrabridge on Monday. Wm. George, her husband, said she had been ill and had recently recovered from a nervous breakdown. Horace Hendy of Horrabridge said his wife and Mr.s George were sisters. On May 24th Mrs. George went to stay with them. About 4.40 a.m. on Monday he heard someone go quietly downstairs. About 6.30 a.m. he was told Mrs. George was missing and after searching he found her down the slipway under the bridge.” – The Western Morning News, May 29th, 1947.

As can be gleaned from above, virtually all the deaths were the cause of folk committing suicide by drowning. The big difference between the deaths occurring on the River dart and those in the River Walkham is that the above were purposeful whereas most of those in the Dart were accidental. However, the River Walkham also has a merciful side to it as proven below;

Floated in River – Floating some 250 yards on her back and being carried over a 12 ft. weir in the River Walkham, Anne Marjorie Raby, aged two years of Horrabridge had a narrow escape from drowning yesterday. The child was playing in the garden of her home at Horrabridge, near the river, with her brother John Raby, aged three and a half years.
Mrs. Raby suddenly noticed that Anne was missing, and at the same time John came running indoors and told her his sister had fallen into the water. She rushed out to the river bank and looking down stream saw Anne floating on her back. Mrs Raby screamed to attract the attention of people standing near the bridge. They saw the little girl float past, her winter clothes billowing out so that she did not sink, and then dash over the weir and continue floating on.
Mrs. F. Westlake, of Horrabridge, who had heard of the accident, watched for Anne, and as the child came into sight, called to her brother Mr. G. H. Coop. Without waiting for his aid, Mrs. Westlake pluckily entered the river, but the current was too strong and she was unable to reach the child. Mr. Coop waded into midstream, where he managed to clutch the little girl and struggle with her to  the bank. Anne was semi-conscious. She was revived by artificial respiration, later being taken home. The current is very strong in the river at present, and in parts where the child was floating it was 8 ft. deep.” – The western Morning News, December 15th, 1938.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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