Preston couple help rescue woman but her husband drowns in Blackpool

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the tragic drowning of a man in a popular resort.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 6:14 pm
The plucky constable dragged the body to shore
The plucky constable dragged the body to shore

On the last Thursday of November 1920 a Preston couple, Mr & Mrs Sullivan, were in the middle of a short break in Blackpool.

Close to midnight they left their boarding house for a stroll along the Promenade. As they walked along opposite Brighton Parade they heard someone screaming from the direction of the sea and along with two local men Norman Hill and Stanley Rowland they hurried to the sea front. On looking over the Promenade railings they could see a woman in the water of a full tide.

Hill was the first to react and he clambered down the steps and holding on to the railings with one hand threw his overcoat to the woman with the other. She grasped it and with assistance from the others he managed to pull her to the steps and get her out. The woman was taken care of by the Sullivans when she was out, and after she had vomited a lot of water she was clearly anxious and began shouting, “Get my husband out: Get him out!”

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At the same time Hill could see what appeared to be a man floating in the water about six yards away and P. C. Henderson, alerted by the screams, pluckily entered the water in a bid to rescue the man. The tide was high and observing him close to the sea wall and despite the strong waves he managed to get him out of the water. Unfortunately, the man was unconscious and had to be carried onto the promenade where local surgeon Dr. Findley was soon trying to revive him with artificial respiration.

An ambulance arrived within a quarter of an hour and the couple were rushed to the Blackpool Victoria hospital where sadly the house surgeon could only pronounce that the man was dead and that the women was in a precarious state.

On the following Monday morning an inquest was opened before deputy coroner Harold Parker and it was stated that the dead man was John Owen, aged 42, a diamond merchant from Sheffield, and that the rescued woman, still being treated in hospital, was his wife Catherine Elizabeth Owen.

Examination of Owen’s body had revealed that one of his thighs was heavily bandaged due to a recent injury and that he had been suffering from tuberculosis.

According to a statement made by Mrs. Owen they had been sat in a shelter on the Promenade when her husband without warning suddenly left her and entered the water, slipping between the chains which guard the steps at high tide.

She claimed that being a good swimmer and realising he was in danger she had flung herself into the water.

Unfortunately, she was unable to retain her hold on him and her screams had brought the rescuers to her aid.

After hearing evidence from various witness Mr. Parker adjourned the inquest after formally giving permission for Owen’s funeral to take place.

It was a week later when the inquest resumed and the deputy coroner informed the hearing that Mrs. Owen was still in a distressed state and had been removed from hospital to an asylum to help her recovery.

According to the police and medical people it was impossible for her to attend and Mr. Parker stated that although much of the statement given by the woman pointed to her husband of nine years as having committing suicide, there was no clear evidence to support it.

He therefore directed the coroner’s jury to return a verdict of ‘Found Drowned’, which they did after a short discussion.

Praise was then given to those who had come to the aid of the stricken couple including the Sullivans who had only been out for a midnight stroll when the drama unfolded.