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The Sidmouth Observer - Wednesday, January 1, 1902

(John Denner, husband of Jessie Milden)

Saturday [Boxing Day], as most of our readers will remember, was an exceeding wet day. Rain fell from the early morning, and at times the downpour was very heavy. As the consequence, the River Sid, which, owing to the rain on several previous days, was already running fast in its course to the sea, overflowing its banks, with the result that the footpaths on either side became flooded. At the Mill bridge on Saturday night, it was impossible to cross, and the roadway there was covered with water, which was rushing down it at a terrific rate.

It appears that at about half-past five o’clock on that evening, old John Denner, who for several years past had been the grave-digger at the cemetery, and who lived at Sid, was on his way home. He had been down town and called at the “Volunteer” inn on his way back to look for someone. He was perfectly sober and did not stay at the inn more than two or three minutes. On leaving, it is conjectured he walked up the street to Limepark-lane. as that was the way he generally went home, and he was sure to go that way on a dark night. He had to cross the Limepark footbridge over the river whichever way he went, and it is safe to assume that he reached the bridge in safety.

On the opposite side of the bridge the water had washed away the earth from the foot of the bridge, and it is supposed that on Denner stepping off the bridge he stumbled and lost his balance, and perhaps also struck his head on the woodwork of the bridge in falling; at all events, he fell into the river about the spot indicated, and was carried by the great force of the water over many weirs past all obstacles, for a distance of nearly a mile to the sea.

Nothing was heard of him from the time he left the “Volunteer” inn, until the time his dead body was picked up on the western end of the beach on Sunday morning. The discovery was made by Fredk. Broon who saw the body beating up against the shingle. He went down, tried to pull it in there, then ran to the Coastguard station, on the way meeting a man named Maeer, who he informed of his find.

The Coastguard and Broon returned to the body, and it was pulled out of the water, and subsequently conveyed home. All the clothing had been washed off except the boots, a part of the trousers hanging loosely over them. It is suggested that the poor fellow’s clothes were torn off by the body coming into contact with the weirs in the river, and the bushes which line its banks, and this was undoubtedly the case, for on Sunday P.C. Hutchings made a search along the banks of the river and found several shreds of Denner’s clothing.

A parcel of pastry, which he was supposed to be taking home, was also found, and some loaves of bread were seen floating in the sea. The deceased was a hard-working man, the father of a numerous family, and much sympathy is felt with them and his wife, who is an invalid, for the loss they have sustained.


The Coroner for the district Mr C.E.Cox held the inquest on the body, at the “Volunteer” inn, on Monday afternoon - Mr. A. Maeer was chosen foreman of the jury.

Mary Denner, daughter of the deceased, said her father was 67 years of age last March. He was a general labourer. He was in his usual health when she saw him alive about half-past seven o’clock on Saturday morning.

Frederick Broon of Sid-row, Sidmouth, labourer, deposed that he knew the deceased, whom he saw at the “Swan” inn between four and five o’clock on Saturday afternoon.


Deceased sat next to witness, who bought some greens of him. He was perfectly sober. Witness left him there, and also understood that deceased left soon afterwards.

On Sunday morning, witness went down to the Esplanade and walked across. About half a gunshot from the last capstone westward, he noticed something in the water, and on going to see what it was found it to be part of a body. It was dark at the time. Witness tried to pull it ashore, and then went to the Coastguard Station. On the way he met Mr Maeer, who asked him what was the matter. He told him and went to the Coastguard Station.

The Coastguard on duty went with witness to the spot, but the body had been got up on the beach. The only clothing witness saw were the boots. Coastguard Albert Jarvis said he was at the boathouse when the last witness came to him at about half-past seven o’clock on Sunday morning, and said there was part of a body on the beach. Witness went to the spot. and saw that Mr Maeer had picked the body up. It had nothing on but boots; part of a pair of trousers were hanging over the boots.

Witness reported the matter to his officer and fetched the police, afterwards assisting Broon and the others to carry then body home.

Emily Ebdon, barmaid at the “Volunteer” inn said deceased came into the inn at about half-past five o’clock on Saturday afternoon. He never spoke, but looked around as if looking for someone, and then went out again.

By Mr. J.T. Clark (a juryman): she thought he was sober. P.C. Hutchings said that he had made a search along the river, and just opposite Colonel Mewburn’s residence he found part of a scarf which had belonged to deceased, while higher up, opposite Lawn Vista found a piece of the deceased’s waistcoat. Near the footbridge he found some pastry. Witness had made every inquiry, and all accounts agreed that deceased was sober.

Dr Pullin deposed that he knew the deceased, who was a man of fair health. He made a post mortem examination of the body, from which it was quite clear that death was from drowning. There were several lacerations, the chief of which was on the skull which was fractured, but whether the injury was caused before or after death it was impossible to say; it had probably been caused by the body coming into contact with some obstacle in the river. It was due to the poor fellow’s family to state that an examination of the stomach revealed no evidence of drink operating in the cause of death.

By Mr. J.A. Butter (a juryman). Witness considered the bridge dangerous in time of flood; but if a good bridge were put there he did not think it would be dangerous at any time.

The Coroner, in summing up said it was evident the deceased was a well-known and respectable man. It was a very sad thing that he had met his death in the way he had. There was no reason to suggest that that he was otherwise than in a perfectly sober condition at the time. The heavy rains had caused great floods and probably the jury would be of the opinion that the was cross ing the bridge at the usual place, and that in consequence of the darkness and flooded state of the river he accidentally fell in.

The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death” and added a rider calling the attention of the authorities to the dangerous state of the footbridge in time of flood. They also gave their fees to the widow.

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