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“Whoa, mate, we’ve got a horse on the front!”

by Colin Williams

Accidental death of a dairyman

On Saturday 29 July 1911 at 09.45, with these words, fireman, Ernest Preston, on the 09.35 Basingstoke to Alton train alerted engine driver, George Munday, to what would prove to have been a horrific collision as the train crossed Viables Lane: a horse was on the front of the engine. Bringing the engine to a halt the crew climbed down: whilst fireman Preston dealt with the horse found to be suspended on a buffer and impaled on a broken shaft, driver Munday went back to the Viables Lane crossing. There he found Mr Samuel Gear lying with both legs and an arm broken and choking on his blood. Leaving Mr Gear in the care of a railway ganger and his crew who had been close by, the driver took the engine on to Cliddesden station to use the phone there. An ambulance was called for and shortly an engine arrived with medical help but Mr Gear died within twenty minutes of the accident. The horse – it is not named – died as it was released from the buffer; except for the broken shaft Mr Gear’s trap was intact.

Before the fatal day

But how had Samuel Gear come to be travelling along Viables Lane? The answer goes back to Michaelmas 1908 when he took over Viables Farm on the Bolton Estate. Previously he had been a dairyman and fruiterer, seemingly, living at 4 Winchester Street with premises in Church Street, during which time his two trades resulted in his involvement in two very dissimilar Court cases, first as defendant and then as complainant: on 20 June 1893 he was charged with selling adulterated milk but after a very effective defence by his solicitor, Mr Wills Chandler, the case was dismissed; and on 28 August 1900 he had brought before the Court a 14 year old garden boy for stealing plums to the value of 4s 7d but the boy having pleaded ‘guilty’, the Magistrates took a lenient view and fined him just 5s which the boy’s father paid. Also, during his time in Basingstoke the only child of his marriage to [Eveline] Bessie, their son, Charlie, died in the typhoid epidemic of 1905. [Charlie would otherwise have had to have taken his chances during the Great War.] After his move to Viables Samuel Gear relinquished his fruiterer’s business. In becoming a farmer he was following a family tradition as he came from a well established farming family being the second son of Francis Gear who farmed 240 acres at Cheesedown Farm, Steventon.

The Inquest

The inquest was held on Monday 31st July at Viables Farm with chairs for Coroner Mr Spencer Clarke and jurors being set up under a tree in front of the farmhouse. His widow does not seem to have been present. First to give evidence was Miss Ellen Tubb, live-in cashier and book-keeper, who said that her employer had left at 9.30 that morning. He was taking refreshment to his workers in the harvest field. Driver Munday said that he knew Mr Gear well by sight but had not seen him that morning; he had blown the train whistle on approaching the crossing; he had been on the driver’s side of the footplate – the right-hand side; and the first he knew of the collision was by his fireman alerting him. Fireman Preston said that he had seen Mr Gear approaching the crossing on the left-hand side but scarcely moving; he then had to attend to his duties; as the train continued he saw the horse on the left-hand buffer and alerted his driver. Medical evidence was given by Dr Bethell that Mr Gear had been “pitched against the side of the train” and had not been under the train. Jurors raised questions about the use of the engine whistle, the height of a hedge obstructing the view, and whether the horse may have reared up. Some jurors were concerned by the lack of gates at the crossing. Having deliberated, the jury’s verdict was ‘Accidental death’.

The Funeral

The funeral took place the next day at the South View Cemetery with the former pastor of London Street Congregational Church, the Rev. A. Capes Tarbolton, returning to officiate. The service commenced at the Chapel and moved on to the graveside. In the service the Rev Tarbolton made particular mention of Charlie, “the dear lad who had gone before”. Samuel was buried next to his son. In its report the Hants & Berks names many of the mourners describing their floral tributes; that of Bessie featured a harp with a broken string and inscribed “From his sorrowing wife – at rest”; she had now lost both child and husband.

The graves of Son Charlie, and Samuel Charles Gear

The widow

Three months later probate was granted on his will with his estate valued at over £5000. Bessie moved back to Basingstoke where in 1921 she and Thomas Snelgar married. They were to move to Fleet and later to Totton where in 1927 Thomas died. At the time of her death in 1934 Bessie was living in Salisbury.

Sources: The Basingstoke & Alton Light Railway, by Edward Griffith; Hants & Berks GazetteBerks County Paper; the Great Basingstoke Typhoid Epidemic,   by Bob Clarke; JLResearch

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