Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frederic New

Today the London Street tunnel provides easy access for shoppers walking from Swindon town centre to the designer outlet village.  Built by Joseph Armstrong in 1871 the tunnel originally had a much more serious purpose.

Men living in the company houses would not longer have to dice with death as they crossed the busy railway line to work.  But people continued to use the railway line as a dangerous short cut and along its length accidents continued to be a frequent occurrence.

In February 1878 the Advertiser reported the death of Frederic New, a clerk at the Works, found dead on a stretch of the line between Swindon and Wootton Bassett.

The coroner heard how Frederic was in the habit of visiting his friend Thomas Large, farmer at Toothill Farm in the neighbouring parish of Lydiard Tregoze.

On the evening in question Frederic had walked from his home in North Street to New Swindon, where he met W.H. Shepherd, a friend and fellow clerk at the railway works.  Shepherd declined an invitation to join Frederic, who having bought some tobacco, continued on his journey alone.

The New family home in North Street

At the Running Horse public house he climbed the railway embankment to take a short cut along the railway line and thereby considerably reduce the length of his journey.

"The night was very dark and the wind somewhat boisterous," reported the Advertiser.  "The up side of the line is much the best for walking on and it is supposed the deceased kept his side until arriving within a very short distance of the place where he would have had to leave the line for the fields to go to his friend's house."

With a goods train fast approaching it was thought Frederic crossed over to the other side of the line, stepping in front of the Weymouth express travelling in the opposite direction.  Struck on the back, Frederic was thrown 100 yards down the bank.

When he failed to arrive at Toothill Farm, Large assumed his friend's plans had changed.  Back home in North Street his wife Isabella put their three young children to bed and presumed her husband was spending the night in Lydiard Tregoze.

Isabella New and the three grown up children she raised alone
Frederic's body was found early the next morning by a packer named Edward Bathe on his way to work.

An examination was made at the Accident Hospital by GWR surgeon, Dr. Swinhoe. Frederic's injuries were found to include a fractured right arm and right leg and a lacerated wound over the right hip.  Cause of death was identified as a compound fracture of the skull at the back of the head.

Frederic was buried in the churchyard at Christ Church.  His memorial reads - erected by the officials and his fellow clerks at Swindon as a tribute of respect.

Frederic's memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Frederic's youngest daughter Edith trained as a teacher before joining the Women's Social and Political Union.  An active and militant member of the suffragette organisation, Edith served several prison sentences including one for breaking windows at 10 Downing Street.

Images - Frederic New's memorial is published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball - visit their website on

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