Seldom today do we hear of people drowning in the River Weaver. In the 1800s, it was a different matter so let’s look at 1880, in this case, Saturday, September 18, when a report appeared in the Winsford Guardian.

Three Irishmen named William Burke, aged 45, Patrick Devaney 49 and Patrick Ratchford 36, were in Middlewich on Sunday, September 12. The three friends were out for the day, but only one, Ratchford, had employment, and he lodged with a Mr Dooley in Donefields, Winsford. He was a coal discharger at Mr Evans’ salt works and had, apparently, agreed to put the other two up in the engine house at the works.

It was a stormy night and Burke, and Devaney lived a good way off. The three friends were seen walking along Middlewich Road towards Winsford that night, which was the last time they were seen alive.

The towpath stands a good seven foot from the river at a point not far from the works. It seems that all three men, possibly somewhat drunk from their afternoon in Middlewich, walked off the towpath into the river and were drowned.

On Monday, two hats were found on the bank, but the river was not dragged until Wednesday when their bodies were found in the river a short distance below Winsford Bridge at 6pm.

Walter Curzon found the bodies of Burke and Devaney; the bodies were pulled into a boat operated by William Brooke and landed on the bank. Sgt Gunn and PC Drury instructed that the bodies be taken to an outhouse at the Red Lion Inn.

The following morning Walter Curzon and Enoch Bratt recovered the body of Ratchford; it was taken to join the other two in the outhouse of the pub. All three men had homes in Ireland and had left large families behind to seek more chances of employment.

When the bodies were searched, Burke had £4.12/-, Devanney £3.6/- and Ratchford 2/8.

On Saturday, September 18, Dr Baird, the deputy coroner, heard an inquest at The Red Lion. Some were unhappy that the inquest had been held so long after the deaths, and the bodies had started to decompose and smell bad. The jury returned a verdict of ‘found drowned’. They were all Catholics, and the bodies were taken to the Catholic part of Middlewich graveyard for interment.

As a result of this, a letter was sent to the Guardian, referring to the deaths of these poor fellows and asking that gas lights be provided on the towpath. Several people have drowned there, and can something be put at the water’s edge that someone falling in could hold on to until help arrives. It was signed ‘An Old Resident’.

A month later, in October 1880, another inquest was held in the Red Lion, also with Dr Baird presiding.

On this occasion, it was to investigate the drowning of James Cawley of Wharton.

Enoch Hickson was a waterman going about his business on the river when he saw the deceased in the water. He noticed that he was at that time alive and struggling; he was trying to get to the other side where there was a high wall.

He appeared to be having a fit and was dragged from the water into the boat. At this time, he was still breathing, and attempts were made to help him, but it was not to be, and he died. His body was taken to the bank and handed over to some friends who took him to his home in a wheelbarrow.

At the inquest, his wife said that he was prone to fits, and due to this, he had no job; she suggested that he may have had a fit and fallen into the water.

Dr Baird summed up the hearing, and the jury under the Foreman Mark Atherton returned a verdict of accidental drowning, falling into the water while having an epileptic fit.

Paul Hurley has a successful Facebook group called Mid Cheshire Through Time it’s a non-political page and all are welcome to join and peruse an archive of more than 20,000 posts, jokes and images.