Caroline Ridge; a fatal accident at the Regatta

Caroline Ridge; a fatal accident at the Regatta

The Bedford Times and Bedfordshire Independent, Tuesday July 20, 1869 [p.5] reported as follows:

‘We regret to have to record that a fatal accident has attended this year’s Regatta. At about half-past eight a little girl named Caroline Ridge, [Diana Caroline Ridge] aged 10, ran in front of the gun with which the boats were started just as it was being fired, and received such serious injuries to the upper part of her neck, which was much lacerated, that she died within an hour and a half after being taken to the General Infirmary. The cannon was at the time in charge of Sergeant Ashley Hartley, of the 82nd Regiment, now in Bedford on recruiting service. He was apprehended almost directly after, but was bailed on being taken before a magistrate. On Friday morning he appeared before Mr. Alderman Trapp and Captain Jackson, on the charge of feloniously killing and slaying the girl, but formal evidence, for the purpose of a remand, having been taken, the further hearing of the charge was postponed to Monday, the 19th. Sergeant Hartley was admitted to bail in £25 and one surety in the same sum.


‘On Saturday evening, the 17th inst., an inquest was held at the General Infirmary by Dr. Prior, Borough Coroner, on the body of Caroline Ridge (aged 10), daughter of Mr. [George] Ridge, The Albion, Harpur Street. The death of this unfortunate little girl has been already noticed in connexion with our report of the regatta, but the full particulars will be found in the subjoined report of the evidence taken by the Coroner.

‘The following were empanelled as the Jury. – Mr. P. S. Fry, foreman; Messrs. John Andrews, John Hardwick, Charles Albert Reeves, Thomas Bull, Benjamin Harrison, Wm. Samuels, Isaac Simpkin, Edward Smith, James Pratt, William Webbs, Thomas Harding, and Thomas Stock.

‘Mr. L. Jessopp, solicitor, appeared to watch the proceedings on behalf of Sergeant Ashley Hartley, 82nd Infantry Regiment. The body having been viewed, the following witnesses were examined:-

‘Thomas Pearson: I am an upholsterer and reside in Castle-lane. On Thursday last I was engaged by the Regatta Committee, to start the boats, just below Waterloo. [Waterloo being a row of dilapidated cottages which stood on the embankment, situated roughly opposite the War Memorial. These properties have been demolished and the ground laid to lawn and gardens].

River Bank by Waterloo

My boat was moored opposite the locks. Two small cannons were placed on a block on the embankment, but previous to the accident the man who had charge of them in the morning, and who fired one or other of them all the day, had dismounted one of them. Just as the boats had started the cannons were fired in order to let the public know that the race had commenced. About 8 o’clock, p.m., I was sitting in my boat, just as a race was about to start. At this time one of the cannons had been dismounted, Sergeant Dyer, who had charge of them having said he would fire no more cannons. Just as the race was about to start it was my place to lay hold of one of the boats until the umpire gave the word “Go!” after having twice asked “Are you ready?” At this time a four-oared race was started, and just as the boat left my hand the cannon was fired. My head being turned in the direction of the cannon, I saw the deceased child fall immediately the discharge took place. The child’s head fell into the river. I pulled my boat across as quickly as possible, thinking the child was my niece, and I said “Who will fetch the doctor?” as I saw that the child had been shot. Sergeant Hartley was standing by and I said to him “You have killed the child.” He was against where the child was, and I had seen fire the cannon. He said “It’s done!” I then walked down the embankment and saw a policeman, to whom I said, “There is a child shot and Sergeant Hartley has done it. He has just gone out of the baulk.”

Waterloo Cottages demolished by 1891

‘By the Foreman: The cannon might be two yards from the river edge. Just in front of it there was a little bit of a nook, about three yards, and the child must have run around by that in order to get to the front of the cannon, unless, of course, the child had been standing there previously. A lot of people stood there. The cannon was placed sideways so as to shoot off the river rather slanting, and thereby to avoid the people.

‘By Mr. Bull: The elevation of the gun was rather over Mr Harrison’s mill (something about 45 degrees).

‘By the Foreman: There were a great many children and grown-up people about the cannon, but I could not see any in front of it. When the gun was about to be fired in the fore-part of the day I heard the word given to “Clear the way!” The poor child must have been in front of the cannon; she was standing there, for as I lay I could not help seeing the cannon. I did not see her run in front of it, but I should think there were a score others standing about it, and they were all on the move.

‘To the Coroner: I did not hear “Clear the way” in the latter part of the day.

‘A Juror: This little grip was originally Mr. Rogers’ boat-house.

‘By a Juror: On this occasion the cannon was fired as soon as the boats were started

‘Another Juror: Can you state a reason?

‘Witness: According to my own judgment I can give a reason. The man who had charge of the cannon in the forepart of the day got drunk, and he was incapable of taking charge of it after.

‘By Mr. Bull: I had hardly let the boat out of my hand when the cannon was fired.

‘The Coroner: Mr. Bull can state what were the instructions given by the committee.

‘Mr. T. Bull: Early in the morning I went down to Mr. Dyer, and gave him instructions in my capacity of member of the Regatta Committee. Those instructions were – that when the umpire gave the final word “Are you ready, gentlemen?” – “Go!” the cannon was not to be fired at that moment, but that the boats should be allowed to proceed a short distance, say up to the locks, before the gun should be fired to warn boats off the course and give the public information that the race had commenced.

‘The witness Pearson (to a Juror): I should think that the elevation of the gun was such that, at the distance of two yards in front of it, the explosion would touch anybody of any size.

‘A Juror: Why was it removed this year from Mr Harrison’s meadow?

‘Mr. Harrison: Because I would not allow it.

‘By Mr. Hardwick: Sergeant Dyer, of the Beds. Militia, had charge of the cannon in the morning. Two races went off for which he could not fire the cannon at all. He became incapable from drunkenness of firing the gun at all during the latter part of the day. That is to say, I am speaking as far as my judgment will allow, for if I saw a man acting like him I should say he was not capable.

‘A Juror: Could the person in charge of the cannon see the child in front of it?

‘Witness: Could I see you, sir?

‘The Juror: You could if you look.

‘Witness: So could he see the child?

‘Mr. Harrison: Had the gun been properly elevated the explosion would have gone over the head of the person two yards in front of the muzzle.

‘By the Juror: Sergeant Hartley was with Dyer during some parts of the afternoon. I did not see Sergeant Hartley the worse for liquor in any way.

‘By Mr. Bull: I could not swear that the child was standing in front of the cannon when the fuse was applied. [We may here state that the gun was fired by means of an ordinary cigar fusee (a kind of match), instead of a fuse.]

‘Daniel James Hostler deposed: I am a labourer working at Messrs. Howards’. At about 8 p.m. I was sitting on the bank near the starting-place, with my wife and niece. Immediately the two four-oars race started I looked towards the cannons so that I might caution my wife as to the report. I saw Sergeant Hartley strike the fusee and put it to the touch hole. The cannon went off, and the child, who was standing in front of the cannon, dropped. She was standing near Sergeant Dyer in front of the cannon, just before it was fired. I did not notice her until a minute or two before the boats started, for my attention was just then drawn to Sergeant Dyer, by something he said to one of the crews.

‘To the Foreman: The child was standing on the little bit of a grip.

‘To Jurors: When I saw the child she was standing close to Sergeant Dyer, but I did not see that he had hold of her hand. I was rather askew to the cannon; I should think about eight or nine yards from it.

‘By Mr Harrison: I saw the child move about before the cannon was fired. I think she was talking to Sergeant Dyer. She didn’t make a sudden bolt to the front of the cannon.

‘To Mr. Jessopp: The cannon was elevated at about 45 degrees, and stood about 18 inches from the ground.

‘Witness (to the Coroner or the Jurors): Sergeant Dyer did not give the order to clear the way while I was there. The boats had gone about 50 yards when the cannon was fired, and I should think the child was about 3 yards in front of it. In the early part of the day I heard the order to clear the way. I heard Sergeant Dyer say something to one of the crews, but could not tell what. I could not say that Sergeant Dyer was sober. I had seen him come to the public-house two or three times in the afternoon.

‘The Coroner: He might go to the public-house and not be drunk necessarily.

‘Witness: His actions showed he was not sober. If he was sober I am not sober now. He seemed quite lost, and did not know what he was doing.

‘Mr Harrison: In what state was the man who fired the cannon?

‘Witness: He had had beer; anyone could tell that. He had been in company with Sergeant Dyer. I was down there three times in the afternoon and saw them drinking together. In my opinion he was not so drunk as Dyer.

‘The Foreman: If he was not sober then, how could he have been sober in five minutes?

‘Witness: Well, sir, the fright might take great effect upon him.

‘The Juror: The man was staggering about, was he not?

‘The Coroner: Was he making a noise or abusive?

‘Witness: No. Sergeant Dyer was foolish. He could scarcely stand at all. Sergeant Hartley walked as well as he could I believe.

‘The Coroner: I know of my own knowledge that he is crippled at present.

‘By Mr. Bull: If the man were lame that would account for the way he walked.

‘By a Juror: I must say there was a great difference between Sergeant Dyer and the other.

‘To the Coroner: I cannot say that Sergeant Hartley was the worse for liquor.

‘To Mr. Jessopp: I should think the child was standing three yards from the cannon when it was fired. Dyer seemed to stand at the corner of the grip, side-ways from the child. Sergeant Quarry was standing near the cannon and close to the side of the child when the cannon was fired, and I should think it must have almost blown him over.

‘William Guest deposed: I am a smith and work at Mr. Kilpin’s. I was on the embankment close to the cannon, and a great many people were around. I heard no order to clear the way. When the boats started I ran along the bank, and when I had gone about ten or twenty steps the cannon was fired. I then heard the cry that someone was shot, and as I had lost my little girl, who was with me a minute or two before, I turned back. I turned up the face of the child, and saw it was not my own girl. I then gave all the assistance in my power. There was plenty of room for anyone to pass between the cannon and the river.

‘Mr. Jessopp: Was Dyer drunk?

‘Witness: I cannot say. My opinion was that he had a little beer, but he was not thrown off his guard or anything of the sort.

Mr. Jessop: Then he was not drunk?

‘Witness: Oh dear, no! He could stand upright as well as I could. Sergeant Dyer was not incapable. He asked me for a fusee or lucifer and I found two or three. I handed them to him and he said “That’s the boy.” That occurred previous to the fatal shot, by about two or three minutes.

‘To a Juror: Sergeant Dyer seemed excited. I know nothing of Sergeant Hartley.

‘At this stage one of the Jurors stated that Sergeant Dyer should be called, and a policeman was sent for him. Sergeant Dyer was soon in attendance, but it was decided not to call him.

‘Sergeant James Quarry, Militia Staff: I was so near the cannon when it was fired that the nap of my neck was singed. Having never been at a regatta before I thought the boats were started by firing of the gun, and having seen the boats started I naturally went close to the river. Thinking that the cannon had yet to be fired off. The child must have been close to me, in fact touching me, for when the cannon was fired I knew I was struck somewhere, and at first I thought that my coat tails had been taken off. The moment the gun was fired I saw the little girl swept to the water, and her head got in. I think no one else saw her fall but myself, for nobody offered to pick her up, all being intent on looking at the boats. Shortly after the accident a lad from the country, whom I do not know, told me that Sergeant Hartley called out to clear the way and that he pulled him back from the front of the gun. Sergeant Dyer must have been looking at the race as well as I. I really believe nobody could have told who fired the cannon if Sergeant Hartley had not owned it at once himself. I heard Sergeant Dyer enquire immediately who had fired the gun.

‘To the Foreman: Sergeant Hartley was sober, I believe.

‘To a Juror: I didn’t take notice of Sergeant Dyer. He seemed to be sober. As a military man I should not have taken the position I did had I known that the cannon was about to be fired. Had they called out “clear the way” I should, if I had looked, have taken particular care to leave the way. Powder exploded in that manner has a tendency to lateral expansion. I thought the gun was not sufficiently elevated, considering that the people were round it. It would have been right enough if the people did not crowd around it. Sergeant Hartley was taken into custody.

‘A Juror suggested that in this event, the policeman who took Hartley into custody could speak to his sobriety. Sergeant Hartley was, accordingly, requested to retire. In his absence Police-constable Edward Wm. Walford deposed: About eight o’clock the witness Pearson called me to fetch Sergeant Hartley back as he had shot a child. The sergeant was then walking steadily up the baulk. Directly I overtook him he said “I know what you have come for. I own I let the cannon off. Is the child dead? I hope in God she is not.” He was perfectly sober.

‘Police-constable Wm. Henry Haynes (the inquest officer) stated that he entered the charge against Hartley at the station, and that Hartley was then perfectly sober, and had lodged for two years at the house of the child’s father.

‘Sergeant Ashley Hartley then voluntarily gave the following evidence: Between 7 and 8 o’clock Dyer asked me if I would fire the cannon, and gave me a pipe fusee and a piece of stick to which I attached the fusee. He told me I was to fire as soon as the boats had started. Previous to firing I told the people to clear the way in front and to get to one side. I saw the front cleared, and then lit the fusee, but it dropped out of the stick. I picked it up and lit it again, and then applied it to the touch-hole with my hand. Before the fusee dropped the front was clear, but there were people to the right and left. Being in a stooping position at the moment, I could not see that any one was in front, the cannon being pointed in an echelon (askew) direction.

‘By Mr. Bull: The elevation of the gun was about 45 degrees, and I should not have thought that it would hit a child at the distance of two or three yards. Had I seen any person even five or six yards in front I should have cautioned them, but still they would be in no danger.

‘Wm. Billing, Volunteer sergeant: About nine o’clock on the same evening I saw Sergeant Dyer at the house of deceased’s father, and heard him say that he gave Sergeant Hartley leave to fire off the gun.

‘By Juror: Dyer was hardly sober at the time.

‘Mr. W. G. Johnson, house Surgeon, Infirmary, deposed that the deceased was received about 8.40 p.m., in an insensible condition, suffering from a lacerated wound about an inch below the occipital protuberance. She never regained consciousness and died within an hour and a half. The Post Mortem examination showed a fracture of the scull and injury of the brain, to which death was attributable.

‘After private deliberation the Jury returned a verdict of accidental death, with the following addendum:- “The Jury express a hope that for the future care will be taken by the authorities connected with the river regatta, that the cannons may either be enclosed or placed in such a position that the public cannot be endangered; and also wish to censure Sergeant Dyer for neglect of duty in delegating firing of the cannon to any other person.”

‘During the enquiry the learned Coroner gave the necessary order that the friends of the deceased should have the body for interment.’


‘On Monday, the 19th inst., at the Borough Petty Sessions, Sergeant Hartley surrendered to his bail on remand from Friday, 16th, on the charge of feloniously killing and slaying Caroline Ridge. The evidence already taken for the prosecution was read over and did not differ materially from that given at the inquest.

‘Wm. Wheatley, fishmonger, Castle-lane, was the only witness then examined who was not called before the Coroner. He deposed on Friday that he had been employed to fetch the cannons home and went about 7.30. The boats had gone about 30 yards, when the cannons went off, and the witness had nearly been blown into the water. He heard no warning given and did not see the child. Could not say there was no warning given.

‘Mr Jessopp appeared for the defendant, and the usual form of caution having been gone through, addressed the Bench on the facts brought out in the evidence. He then called Frederick Richards (9), a scholar at Mr Riley’s school, who deposed as follows: “On the evening of the regatta I was standing by the side of the deceased just before the accident. She ran away from my side just before the cannon was fired, and as she ran away from me I saw her knocked down. I was frightened and ran away. She was only two or three yards from the cannon when she commenced to run.

‘To Mr. Burch: I heard Sergeant Hartley make the remark “Are you all clear?” (applause).

‘[The manner in which this boy was procured as a witness was rather strange. Mr. Jessopp was inspecting the site of the accident on Sunday evening, when a person standing by pointed out wrongly the position in which the cannon had been placed. This little boy was close to the spot with his aunt, and then described to Mr. Jessopp the entire of the facts as given in his evidence. Before he was called the Chairman (Mr. Howard) asked Mr. Jessopp could he not bring some one of mature years to give evidence. Mr. Jessopp made an eloquent reply, declaring that the evidence of such a boy was infinitely more creditable than that of adults who might be biassed, and the feeling of the audience was so far enlisted by the remark that they attempted to applaud.]

‘The Bench, after nearly two hours and a half had been devoted to the case, conferred together for a few moments.

‘The Chairman, in discharging the accused, delivered the following admonition: I need not tell you that this inquiry has been conducted with great deliberation, and very great pains have been taken to ascertain the truth. I could not say that the Bench are thoroughly satisfied that you were as careful as you ought to have been in discharging a deadly weapon but I am glad to tell you there is no disposition to carry this matter any further. We don’t feel that the evidence has been sufficient to sustain a charge of manslaughter, but I hope you will take a word of advice from an old man, and that this will be a subject of deep regret to you. If you are a man of any pity, or capable of keen sympathy for the parents of this child, I hope it will be a matter of regret that you, in an unguarded moment and without sufficient caution, have been the instrument of sending a child into another world without a moment’s warning. Whenever you are discharging a deadly instrument again be sure you never do so without seeing, at least, that there is no one in front of it.

‘Sergeant Hartley (for whom much sympathy was shown, and who evidently has been sadly put about by the unhappy accident) was loudly applauded on leaving the court.’

The colourful and exciting Regatta event has taken place in Bedford on the River Ouse for a great many years [since 1853] and there may well have been accidents and even fatalities on various such occasions. It is astonishing to learn that a child was shot through the neck by a cannon, operated by professionals, back in 1869 and that cannons continued to be used during subsequent regattas.

In the same issue of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent the following report appeared describing the Regatta itself. This is a lengthy article beginning as follow:


‘On Thursday last this pleasant annual meeting came off, with a degree of success, which fully corresponded with the anticipations entertained even by the most sanguine of its promoters. The facilities afforded by the Midland and the London and North-Western Railway Companies had the effect of inducing numbers of excursionists to visit the town, the additional attraction of fine weather being also much in favour of the Regatta. Special trains conveyed holiday-makers from Leicester, Northampton, Hitchin, Luton, St Pancras Station and from most of the lesser towns along the lines of the railway, so that the sudden influx of visitors gave a decidedly animated appearance to the principal streets of Bedford. By noon there was gathered along the river the largest assemblage we have witnessed for years. The gardens of the Swan Hotel, kindly thrown open by Mr. Wicks for the accommodation of the subscribers to the Regatta fund, affording a delightful promenade during the day to the many who availed themselves of the privilege. The grounds abutting on the portion of the course between the Grammar School and the Britannia Works were occupied by a vast concourse. On the north side Mr. H. A. Dale, of the Kings Arms Inn, had a series of spacious marquees in a pleasant meadow, and we need scarcely add that the spirited caterer was thoroughly attentive to the wants of his numerous patrons. On the opposite bank similar arrangements were made by Mr. J. Napier, of the Star Inn, Harpur-street, who also had a large share of the public patronage. Mr. Smith, who had the letting of the fields, took every precaution to insure the safety of the visitors, and we noticed that on this occasion there was a strong line of hurdles laid along the bank in addition to the usual fencing, the whole being arranged so as to afford protection without interfering with the view of the river. The bridge afforded a vantage position to crowds of spectators, and all along the new embankment there were hundreds gathered during the day. A variety of amusements were provided in the meadows, and the band of the Luton Volunteer Corps was in attendance.

‘The arrangements made by the committee were of a satisfactory character, everything having been done to keep down the expenses to a degree consistent with efficiency. The gentlemen on whom this important duty devolved were:- Mr. H. D. Hinrich (chairman of the committee), Rev. F. Fanshawe, Rev. J. Y. Segrave, Messrs. A. E. Burch, W. J. Nash, G. P. Nash, John Sergeant, E. Green, T. Bull, J. B. Lee, and C. E. B. Gillions (hon. Sec.).

‘The course was from a white flag below the locks to a flag near the Midland Railway bridge. The umpires were:- Mr. J. G. Wood, Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Mr. E. D. Brickwood, London. They were rowed about for the greater part of the day by Bedford crews. The duties of Judge were performed by Sergeant Major Neat, with the Beds Militia permanent staff.

‘The Regatta commenced at Noon, and from the following report it will be seen that clubs from a distance, metropolitan and provincial, were well represented.’

The article gave details of the various events, followed by the heading FATAL ACCIDENT AT THE REGATTA (see on-line article). In that article it is reported that measures were taken to safeguard the spectators, but at the same time, it seems that insufficient safeguards were in place to ensure the safety of those in close proximity to the cannons, in particular the children. The unfortunate Caroline apparently had no parental supervision and one wonders where were her parents at this time and why, after the Inquest and Ministerial Investigation was her body released to her ‘friends’ to arrange interment. There is no mention of her parents, George and Margaret Ridge.

According to the 1841 Census for Bedford, the young George Ridge was living in an institution, the Blue Coat Hospital, in the parish of St. Paul’s. There were 18 girls and 19 boys between the ages of 9-13 years. The Blue Coat Hospital was in Harpur Street [The Bedford Directory and Almanac – and history of the town]. In 1831 this comprised a range of buildings, in the Tudor style of architecture, situated in Harpur Street. These buildings consisted of the Commercial [formerly the preparatory Commercial,] the General Preparatory, and the Girls’ Schools, as well as a Blue-Coat hospital for the board and education of poor boys and girls. George received an education at this establishment, and was obviously trained or apprenticed until he qualified as a tailor. It seems that children of poor honest parents, ‘no bastards’ and of good health attended the Blue Coat School (which was not a reformatory). They were given food, lodging, clothing and instruction. It is much the same as Christ Hospital Schools, which was an organisation set up for bright students from poor backgrounds. On leaving school George served his apprenticeship as a tailor. Perhaps bricklaying was more lucrative and this explains the change of career in later life. It can be concluded that he was a bright boy from a poor but honest family, fortunate to be educated and equipped for a trade or profession.

George married Margaret Carter on 24th December 1849 at Clapham, Beds, and the 1851 Census shows them living at Gravel Lane, Bedford. He is a tailor by trade. In 1857 Margaret gave birth to a son, William Ridge, who died aged 1 year 5 months and was buried on 18th June 1858. Also on 19th August 1857 the couple lost their five-year-old son George William Ridge, in tragic circumstances. At this time they are living in Harpur Street, Bedford. The 1861 Census reveals that they are living at 20 Harpur Street, The Albion Public House, with a son John aged 6 years and daughter Caroline aged 2 years. In 1867 Margaret had a third son, Charles Ridge, who died aged 1 year, in 1868. Their daughter Caroline Ridge died in tragic circumstances, as already described, in July 1869. By this time George Ridge describes himself as a ‘bricklayer’. It seems likely that Margaret ran The Albion public house.

The Albion Public House

In the 1871 Census for 20 Harpur Street, Bedford, the Albion public house, George and Margaret [having lost four children] have three remaining children, John aged 17, William aged 9, and George aged 5 years. Both George and his son John are bricklayers.

The Bedford Mercury, Saturday 29th August 1857 reported that a little boy named George William Ridge, aged 5 years, slipped into the river at the Common while playing on the bank. The family were living in Well Street, now part of Midland Road (near Specsavers) but where there was originally a well in the middle of the street hence the street name. The accident was observed by someone who ran to a boat which was a short distance away to alert the occupants, a man and a boy, what had happened. They lifted the deceased out of the water by using the sculls, and imprudently held him with head downwards ‘to let the water run from him’. Having been undressed and rubbed down with a flannel, he was carried home to his parents, but he could not be saved and he died at 3 o’clock on Thursday morning. An Inquest was held at The Nags Head, St. Paul’s and a verdict returned of ‘Accidental Death’. Death was a frequent visitor to George and Margaret’s home.

George Ridge, Caroline’s father died aged 47, on 11th April 1878, at Bedford. In 1879 Margaret married her second husband Joseph Lowe. He was a shoemaker. Her son George aged 13 years was apprenticed to a shoemaker (presumably his step-father).

Margaret Lowe died in 1891 aged 60 years. On 13th April 1891 she transferred the licence of the Albion Public House to her son William Ridge aged c. 30 years and it remained in the Ridge family for 60 years. It may be assumed that son John was always a bricklayer, George a shoemaker, and that William had always helped to run the pub.

Caroline was buried on 19th July 1869 [Grave ref 105 G-8]. There is no memorial.

Rest in peace little Caroline.

SThe Bedford Times and Bedfordshire Independent, Tuesday July 20, 1869 p.5
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 18th April 1891
The Bedford Mercury, Saturday 29th August 1857
The Bedford Directory and Almanac 1831
Free BMDs: 1849, 1857, 1878, 1879, 1891
Census returns: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871

Photographs: Maurice Nicholson (source unknown)

Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
4 November 2019