Saturday, 23 March 2013

Attempted Suicide of Mrs Lark

I love reading old newspaper article transcripts in relation to Beccles and its colourful history. That is mostly why I started the 'Relics of Beccles' Twitter account. Sometimes I've come across some facts which relate directly to my own ancestors, which is pretty exciting, and other times I've read things which just make me that little bit more eager to dig deeper. One such transcript was from the East Suffolk Gazette on 3rd February 1914:

ATTEMPTED SUICIDE: Mrs Larke of 13 Puddingmoor. Jumped into the river, saved from drowning by young man beside river.

My first instinct was to find out who Mrs Larke was. My second instinct was to find out whether my great-great-grandfather William Waters was involved in any capacity. Why? Because Mrs Larke tried to drown herself in the Waveney (a tragic tale) and William Waters was the Superintendent of the Bathing-Place in Beccles at that time (family connection). My curiosity got the better of me and so I donned my Miss Marple hat and went investigating.

Picturesque Beccles and the River Waveney

The full article in the East Suffolk Gazette is as follows:
ATTEMPTED SUICIDE: The wife of Mr Frederick Hindes Larke. 13. Puddingmoor, made a determined attempt to commit suicide by drowning herself in the River Waveney on Sunday morning. It appears that about 8.15a.m, as soon as she came downstairs, she bade those in the house "good morning" and walked out. Her daughter happened to inquire where she was, and search was at once instituted. A young man, named Flatt, walked down to the river, near the Bathing-Place, and  was just in time to see Mrs Larke being carried away by the tide. She was fully dressed with the exception of her boots. Flatt jumped into the river to rescue her, and she clutched him by the throat, so that he experienced great difficulty in holding her up until with the assistance of *Mr. Waters, she came with a boat, and Mr Sturman, she was got safely ashore. Mrs Larke has been in ill-health for several years, and her mental condition is such that her removal to Melton Asylum is anticipated.

What struck me most about this article was that it never gave her full name. I had to go looking for that myself, and the best way to find out was by looking at the census returns.
I found Mrs Larke most frequently written in census returns as Mrs Lark so I will continue to use that spelling for the purpose of this blog post. Mrs Lark was Sarah Jane Lark. Born Sarah Jane Harrod in 1858, she was born in Thwaite St Mary, the daughter of Jeremiah Harrod and Elizabeth Thelen. Sarah Jane married Frederick Hindes Lark in 1879 and yet, interestingly, she had an illegitimate daughter in 1877, named Rose Anna, who was born in Ilketshall (It is doubtful that Frederick Lark was the father as she never legally took on his name and when she married in 1907, she married with the name Harrod not Lark). Frederick and Sarah Jane (often named Jane in census returns) had two children: Elizabeth Ellen Arnoup Lark (born in 1879) and Frederick William Lark (born in 1881).
Frederick Hindes Lark (born in Beccles in 1849, son of Robert Lark and Rachel Arnoup, who, incidentally, had also lived in Puddingmoor) was a Boat Builder/Shipwright by trade, and in 1881 he and his wife and family resided in Northgate Street but by 1891 they had moved to Puddingmoor, and remained there for many years. Who were their neighbours? My great-great-grandparents, William and Emily Waters!


Frederick and Sarah Jane's son, Frederick William Lark, married Emma May Ashby on 5th December 1911 at St Michael's Church and they later resided in Fair Close Road. Frederick worked as a Bus Man for the Kings Head Hotel, in New Market, Beccles. When the Great War broke out he joined the Royal West Kent Regiment (6th Battalion) on 20th November 1915 and rose to the rank of Corporal in April 1917. On 17 July 1917 he died as a result of wounds (gun shot wound to the back).

Beccles War Memorial
F.W. Lark, top centre

What was the fate of Sarah Jane Lark? She was sent to Melton Asylum, as the newspaper article so coldly reported, and died later that same year, in 1914. I would be curious to know how she finally died. Was it another suicide attempt that this time did not "fail" or did her physical body give up, dying of an illness or malady?

My great-great-grandfather was often called upon to rescue swimmers, boaters, and even animals who were stranded in the Waveney and nearby marshland. Every instinct told me that he was there that day when Sarah Jane Lark threw herself into the river that bitterly cold February day so when I saw his name mentioned in the full East Suffolk Gazette article, I wasn't in the least surprised. Was it just a routine rescue for him that day, just another statistic he helped pull from the river? Did he feel deeply for those people who wanted to take their own lives? It was well known that he liked a drink or four, so perhaps he was trying to forget how terribly sad life could get that his local neighbours resorted to taking, or at the very least attempting to take their own life.

River Waveney, Beccles
Taken by Robert W. Copeman

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