Charles Josiah Clark – sad suicide in 1888

The Feast week at Fenstanton was marked by a most sad and painful incident which occurred last Friday. About two o’clock in the afternoon it became known that one of its well-known residents (Mr Charles Josiah Clark), who has lived in Fenstanton for many years, had committed suicide. It appears that the unfortunate man had had his mental powers considerably shattered during the past few months, in connection with his business as a farmer, he not long ago being tenant of the “Hall Green” Farm, and since leaving it it is thought that Mr Clark had never been the same, but has every day become more depressed and melancholy.

He was missed by his family shortly after nine in the morning but was not discovered until a little after two when he was found by his wife, hanging to the banister on the top of the stairs in an empty house which adjoined the one in which he lived. Mrs Clark immediately fetched Mr Hodge, builder, and the police officer (P.C. Mynott) was sent for, and the poor man cut down. He was quite dead, and had apparently been so some time, and the body was placed in a “shell” coffin where it awaited the inquest, which was held last Saturday, the necessary arrangements having been made by P.C. Mynott, who at once communicated with the St. Ives police.

Deceased was well advanced in years, being 65, and leaves a wife and family of three daughters, with whom much sympathy is felt throughout all the neighbourhood. Mr Clark was well-known in St. Ives, his face being a familiar one in our market he having numerous friends in the district by whom he was generally liked; and the whole affair is a most lamentable one.

The Inquest.

The inquest was held on Saturday morning at half-past twelve, at the “George” Hotel, Fenstanton, the coroner being Mr Charles Robert Wade-Geary, St. Neots. The jury was composed as follows: – Rev. Arthur Denny (foreman), Messrs. George Hicks, George Radford, Stephen Sparrow, William Martin, John Powney, John Barnett, George Walton, Arthur Ball, George Lander, Alfred Pumfrey, Robert Chambers, and Robert Allpress.

The usual preliminaries were gone through and The Coroner, in directing the jury as to the best manner of arriving at a verdict said it was clear that the deceased had died by his own hand, but the question for them to decide was whether he was in his right mind at the time he committed the act or not. Dr. Grove (who was present) had recommended that, as it was absolutely necessary the evidence of the widow should be taken, they should hear her statement at her own house, as she was unable to come to them there. It would be no inconvenience as they would have to go near the house to view the body.

This was unanimously agreed to, and the jury then proceeded to view the body, which was lying in an out-house on the premises of his house, and also inspected the staircase on which deceased had put an end to his life. An examination of the place showed that the unfortunate man had had the rope too long to suspend the body completely off the ground, but that part of the feet and legs must have been touching the staircase. After viewing the body the Jury entered the house, and proceeded to hear the statement of Mrs Clark, wife of the deceased, who said he had been living in Fenstanton, five or six years, and was 65 years old. She last saw him alive about half past ten in the morning and found him about two hanging in the staircase. He had been in very low spirits for some time; which she had chiefly attributed to his leaving “Hall Green” Farm, of which he was tenant, and he had laid out money on the farm, and had left because the landlord wanted to raise the rent. He always disliked the house after Hall Green, and fretted a good deal.

The Coroner: Of course you had no idea of what he would be likely to do?

Witness said she always hoped nothing of the kind would happen. He was always low spirited and never talked much, but had talked a deal more since he had left the farm, but was very hard to please. She had recommended him to go and see the farm that morning but he replied that he had no interest in it, and it was such a dirty day.

After Mrs Clark’s evidence had been taken the inquest was continued at the “George.”

The next witness called was Bailey Kirby, who said he lived close to deceased, and heard someone call him to come but he could not say who it was. He (witness) knew deceased well, because he came into witness’s house two or three times a-day. Witness thought he ought to have been sent away, and advised him to go to the sea-side for his health. He thought his mind was a little unhinged. He was with him at half-past-ten, in the garden where he left him, and never saw him again until he saw him dead at two. When witness went in he was hanging at the foot of the stairs. The rope was in the double noose, and one foot was touching the stairs. He cut him down, in a hurry so he did not notice anything else.

Cross examined: He and another man came up at the same time. He was troubled by the floods, as well as leaving the farm, and had nothing much to do.

By the Coroner: Did he smoke? Witness: No. P.C. Mynott: Was there nothing else he complained of?

Witness: Of his having no garden at the house where he then lived, for he would often say to him “No fruit, no gooseberries, nothing to pull!” He missed the garden he left.

Rev. John Wilberforce Doran, vicar of Fenstanton, next gave evidence, and stated that he had been vicar of that parish five years or more; he knew the poor man pretty well because he was for two years his (the Vicar’s) church warden.

The Coroner Have you observed anything in his manner to give any suspicions about his mind being unhinged?

Witness: He was increasingly uncheerful. He was always a morose kind of man; not often bright.

The Coroner: Did anything in his manner lead you to have suspicions as to his intentions?

Witness: I cannot say that it had been so put to me. He would not listen to words of comfort. He (witness) saw him last on the afternoon of the previous day, in a field close to where the children were having their annual treat.

The Coroner, in summing up the evidence, said that there was not the slightest doubt that the man was dead, and that he died by his own hand. But it was for them (the Jury) to decide whether the circumstances were sufficient to derange his mind at the time he did the deed. He (the Coroner) considered that he had a great pressure put on his mind at the time. He could have easily saved himself if he had liked, and it was very clear he meant to kill himself in that way. If they thought he was in his right mind at the time, he would then have murdered himself, and the jury would have to give the verdict of felo de se. Deceased had no great resources for alleviating the distressing thoughts that had grated upon his mind – especially the one of leaving “Hall Green” Farm – he was no writer, nor did he smoke a pipe, which as Dr. Grove had informed him, was often the means of taking a man’s mind away from thoughts which depressed him. He (the Coroner) thought they would be unanimous in agreeing that he was not in his right mind at the time.

Mr G. Hicks mentioned that deceased had a short time ago gone to the Gymnasium in the school yard and handled the ropes, trying them, and saying “I wonder whether this would be strong enough to bear a man.” His conduct at one dinner time when he was sitting in the Gymnasium seemed very strange, and made a great impression on him (Mr Hicks), who watched him at intervals, until he had gone home.

The Coroner said they would have no doubt about the matter and the following verdict was accordingly given: – He the deceased (Charles Josiah Clark) committed suicide whilst suffering from temporary derangement.

The Rev. J.W. Doran thanked the gentlemen of the jury for the kindness and consideration shown by them throughout the whole of the proceedings.

The funeral took place on Wednesday last, the principal inhabitants showing some mark of respect to the deceased.’

The officiating clergyman at the burial of Charles Josiah Clark at Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, was the Revd. J.W. Doran, Vicar.

The gravestone is inscribed as follows: ‘In Affectionate Remembrance of Charles Josiah Clark Born August 6th 1823 Died July 6th 1888 – The Lord’s Will Be Done. Blessed Be The Name of The Lord.’

Newspaper Cutting (Huntingdonshire County Guardian) 11/7/1888:

‘Died. Clark. – July 6, at Fenstanton, Charles Josiah Clark, aged 65.’