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Elias Owen (jun) hanged himself in Efenechtyd churchyard on 20 September 1888, apparently after the discovery that his wife, Zillah (née Parry), had been having an affair. Zillah had given birth to their daughter, Eva Margaret Owen on 24 June 1888. Zillah, who in 1891 was living in poverty in Manchester, would spend her final years in the workhouse and die young. Her daughter would be raised by a local couple in Wales.
In carrying out research into Elias's suicide I came across the following bizarre story which, early in 1888, was carried in newspapers all around Britain. I have augmented the story with information from censuses, from the General Register and from a descendant of the brother of the young man who was the subject of these reports. There is absolutely no evidence that this story has any connection with the Owen family, other than that Elias's father, being the local rector, conducted the funeral service for the young man, but the proximity in time of events and their associated with Efenechtyd is intriguing. I include the story in the hope that someone might be able to shed light on a mystery that absorbed Victorians in the bitter winter of 1887-8.
For reference, Llanfwrog (1888 popn. approx. 1,200) is less than a mile southwest of Ruthin and Efenechtyd (1888 popn. approx. 200) is about one and a half miles south of Llanfwrog. Zillah's father worked on the Pool Park Estate which was near Llanfwrog, just off the Clawddwydd Road, the road running from Ruthin through Llanfwrog and on to Clawddwydd. According to the Denbighshire Free Press reporting Elias’s inquest, Elias had returned late to Efenechtyd from Ruthin the night he died.
About nine months before Elias's suicide, twenty-three year old David Bloor (aka Blore), described in the press as "well known [locally] and very highly respected", was buried in the churchyard at Efenechtyd. The many mourners included his parents, William and Hannah Blore (newspaper reports stated they lived "in humble circumstances" in the village of Efenechtyd), his younger brother, William, and his fiancée, Lucy Darlington. The funeral service was conducted by Elias's father, Rev. Elias Owen. (David's gravestone in Efenechtyd churchyard is pictured below.)
Events leading up to this solemn occasion almost beggar belief.
Just a few months before the birth of Elias Owen (junior) the birth of a David Bloor was registered [Ruthin 1864, 1st qt]. He and his brother, William, three years his junior, were born and raised in Llanfwrog; the family was living there in 1871. Their father, also called William, was a farm labourer; their mother, Hannah (née Davies) had been born in nearby Efenechtyd. In 1881, David’s brother was a ‘farm servant, indoor’ at Efenechtyd - the census states, as does the 1901 census, that he was born in Efenechtyd - but I have been unable to find David or his parents in the 1881 census. (Coincidentally, there was another David Bloor who in 1881 was a thirteen year old farm servant in Llanfair-Dyffryn-Clwyd (about a mile east of Efenechtyd), where he had been born [b Ruthin 1867, 4th qt].)
According to enquiries after David’s death he had once been ‘keeping company’ with a young lady, Elizabeth Bryan, several years his senior [b Ruthin 1860, 1st qt]. She was also a native of Llanfwrog but in 1881 she was living in Llanfair DC as a servant in the household of the local Vicar. Apparently David’s relationship with Elizabeth had ended in October, 1885 and two years later she was a domestic servant in the household of Mr. John Child, of Copley Hill, Halifax.
At some point it appears that David decided to better himself and by 1887 he had become an assistant schoolmaster at Middlewich National School, had become known as David Blore and was engaged to be married to Lucy Darlington, the daughter of a successful Middlewich tradesman. I believe she was Lucy Ann Darlington, born in Middlewich in 1865 [Northwich 1865, 3rd qt] whose father was a butcher. Middlewich in Cheshire is less than forty-five miles east of Ruthin and about half that distance south of Manchester. According to Mr. Ladbury, headmaster of the school, David was an excellent teacher, and his general conduct was exemplary.
However, on Friday, 30 December 1887, just a few days before he was due to be married, David died.
On the morning of Wednesday 28 December 1887 he had set off from Middlewich, having just told Lucy that he had been promised a more lucrative appointment in Bradford, as well as a house there, and that he was off to see about it. During his holidays he had, apparently, met a Mr. Childe (or Childs), manager of Bottomley and Co., general dealers of Bradford, who had offered him a "situation with a large salary". He arranged to meet Lucy in Manchester on his return the next day, Thursday. However, on the Wednesday afternoon he sent her a telegram saying that he had been taken ill, and would be returning that evening. He arrived at Sandbach, the nearest station to Middlewich, at 10.00 p.m. There being no suitable connection on the branch line to Middlewich he began the five mile walk along a road that followed the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Twenty minutes later he met PC Robinson, of the Cheshire Constabulary. It was a bitterly cold night with snow on the ground and David's clothes were soaking wet. He told the constable that he had just been violently attacked by some men, who had stolen from him £30 (two £10 notes, a £5 note, £5 in gold and silver) and his gold watch and chain. He claimed that his assailants had thrown him into the canal at the end of the attack and it was with difficulty that he had managed to scramble out of the water. PC Robinson searched in vain for these men and in retracing David’s steps he met another constable, PC Hunt, walking towards him. Hunt had taken the same route as David from Sandbach but neither he nor several canal boatmen nearby had seen or heard anything suspicious. Nevertheless, PC Robinson arrested, on suspicion, a certified pedlar named Thomas Parker of Princess Street, Chester, who was promptly released when David failed to identify him as one of his assailants.
David walked on to Middlewich, where he reported the incident to Superintendent Plant at the police station and the superintendent also set off to try to apprehend the highwaymen. Taking all the evidence into account, including the facts that there was no sign in the snow of a scuffle at the spot where the attack was alleged to have taken place and that David had no obvious injuries, the officers concluded that the whole story was a fabrication and that David had jumped into the canal and then climbed out. David’s response when told this was: “Well, I can’t help it. It is my loss”.
On Thursday 29 December David reiterated his account of events to Lucy and to several others but during the day he was taken very ill. Apparently he had several “peculiar” fits but, based on witness accounts, medical opinion at the inquest into his death was that these were not genuine; he had refused to seek medical help at the time. That same day he told Lucy he planned to go to Bradford the next day “if spared”. When she asked how he would manage to do this if he had lost his money, he replied that he had money at his lodgings. To his charwoman he was less positive, saying, “I am a broken-hearted man. Today is the last blow.” Elizabeth Eaton, who was with David during his brief illness, told the inquest that when reference was made to the ringing of the church bells and his approaching marriage, he said he believed no bells would ever ring for his wedding.
On the morning of Friday, 30 December he was found dead in bed. No money was found in his room, nor any papers to explain his death, but there was a letter allegedly sent to him by Mr Childe (or Childs), of Bradford. His charwoman, when cleaning his bedroom, found a bottle containing a deadly poison, prussic acid, out of which a small dose had been taken. This was handed over to the police but a post mortem showed no evidence of poison in David’s stomach. The doctor who carried out the post mortem concluded that death was due to inflammation of the bowels, the predisposing cause being a calcareous formation, and the exciting cause being exposure to cold. The jury therefore found that death was due to peritonitis, hastened by exposure.
Investigations early in January 1888 revealed that David had handed in his notice two months before his death. However, the letter offering him a job, purportedly from Mr Childe (or ‘Childs’), manager of Messrs Bottomley & Co, of Bradford, was in David’s own, faintly disguised, handwriting (Mr Childe had no knowledge of the letter). On the day before leaving Middlewich David drew his full month’s salary of £4 11s with which he at once paid off his rent, for both lodgings and food. In addition the police were able to account for all of David’s money, mainly through his own purchases which had included a lucky wedding ring he had apparently bought for Lucy when he was in Manchester.
Superintendent Plant reported that there was no evidence in Bradford of either the job or the house that David had been talking about. However, enquiries had revealed that in recent weeks David had sent several affectionate letters to his ‘ex-girlfriend’, Elizabeth Bryan, in Halifax, hinting at marriage and denying that he had any other “string to his bow.” In fact, at the beginning of December when he was supposed to have gone to Bradford, he had gone to Halifax to visit Elizabeth.
The coroner concluded: “Whatever the former life of the deceased had been, the latter part of it had been one of deception. Miss Darlington had good reason to be thankful that she was rid of such a man.”
In 1891 David’s parents were living in Efenechtyd where his father was a ‘general labourer’, which explains his burial in the churchyard there.
In the 1891 England and Wales censuses there were only twelve records of a ‘David Bloor’, two of a ‘David Blore’ and one of a ‘David Bloore’ (records for a particular individual often used alternative spellings) so the name was unusual. Of the two in Cheshire in 1881 and 1891, one was called David Reade Bloor [b Macclesfield 1863, 2nd qt]. He was about the same age as David, the young man who is the subject of this account, and it is particularly interesting to note that in 1881 he was a ‘pupil teacher’, living in Macclesfield with his family. Surely he could not have been the teacher at Middlewich since in 1891 David Reade Bloor was again living in Macclesfield, this time with his wife - he had married Frances Hannah Harding [Macclesfield 1883, 4th qt] - and their two sons. However, he was then a ‘clerk & traveller’, a change of career consistent with the information given by the headmaster of Middlewich National School, that his assistant teacher, David Blore, had handed in his notice. Could it be that, without a photograph, the police were confusing two young men of a similar age and if so, which information is relevant to one and which to the other? Alternatively, if David Reade Bloor had left teaching, could it be that the subject of this account 'stole' his teaching qualification in order to work at Middlewich? A descendant of David’s brother William was surprised that David, from such a working class family, had become a teacher.
These events took place over 125 years ago when technology, modes of communication, police resources and forensic science were far more basic and information was much more localised. In that chilly winter of 1887-88, the Victorians no doubt enjoyed following the melodrama that unfolded in successive newspaper reports and speculating as to what really happened. Sadly, it is almost certain that "The Middlewich Mystery", as the story was often headlined, will now remain a mystery.
With regard to others mentioned above:
Elizabeth Bryan married in 1892 [Ruthin 1892, 2nd qt] and in 1901 was living in West Derby, Liverpool, with her husband, Thomas Francis Ordish, and their two children.
The David Bloor who was born in 1867 in Llanfair-Dyffryn-Clwyd married Jane Jones [Ruthin 1889, 1st qt] and in 1891 he was a ‘General labourer’ living in Minera, Denbighshire, with his wife and baby daughter who had been born in Llanfair-D-C.
Lucy Ann Darlington became a fur saleswoman in Chorton, Manchester, and married in 1894 [Chorlton 1894, 2nd qt] John Haworth and - yet another coincidence - he too was a schoolmaster!
In 1891 there were three ladies called 'Elizabeth Eaton'in Middlewich, all living in Heath Road with George Eaton, a 'General labourer'; they were his wife, aged sixty-five, their daughter, aged twenty-six and their daughter-in-law, aged twenty-eight.
These are the bemusing facts as reported in the press. Perhaps David died of natural causes or perhaps he committed suicide. Perhaps he was worried by the prospect of marrying Lucy or by the web of deceipt he had spun, the extent of which is unclear. Might there be any surviving evidence such as a letter buried in a box in an attic? I would be delighted to hear from anyone able to shed light on this mystery, as would William Blore's descendants.
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