Monday, 1 September 2014

A shooting at Grindon



Any violent death has an impact upon a community even, it seems, after the passage of time. When I chatted to a person from Grindon sometime ago he said that although the event happened nearly 90 years ago and could not possible be in anyone’s living memory it was never discussed in the village. I imagine that what made it the more shocking was that they were  carried out by a leading member of the community and in a very  deferential society like  the Moorlands of the 1920s then there would have been consequences that would have reverberated down the years.

The tragic story was told in newspapers around the country in block headlines that  a Vicar was involved in a shooting incident in a remote, rural area. John Alexander Smith had been Vicar of Grindon, a parish of around 300 souls for 24 years by 1926. He was ordained in 1887 and had been Vicar of Handsworth in Birmingham for 5 years and then Rector of Rodington in Shropshire from 1893 for another 5 years before coming to the Staffordshire Moorlands. In his youth Rev Smith had a reputation as a keen sportsman and in his years at Grindon was well regarded for his pastoral work. His kindness was frequently remarked upon. His wife fell ill and he spent many years nursing her. Eventually Hannah Smith died in February 1926. The Vicar was badly hit by his loss. Smith confided with friends that he was suffering from depression and insomnia. He contemplated drowning himself and told his doctor that he had a desire to smash things. The clergyman apparently suffered a reaction to the medication he had been prescribed by his doctor. He went away on holiday for a period, but found no relief from his anxieties.

No one knows the chain of events that led to the tragic outcome in August 1926. Miss Poyser called into the rectory on the evening of Thursday 12th to deliver milk. She found the dying Hannah Austin the 37 year old house keeper who had been shot twice . Hannah had worked at the rectory for some time and was said to be happy and contented with her lot. It later transpired that Rev Smith had left her a large legacy. Miss Poyser called the landlord of the “Cavalier” Mr Derbyshire and Mr Walters the village school teacher who found the Vicar unconscious in an upper room. He had shot himself in the head. The police arrived and put the Vicar under open arrest, but the clergyman succumbed to his wounds at the North Staffs Royal Infirmary a few days later. The inquest the following month recorded an open verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane. Reverend Smith was buried in the churchyard by his wife.


 Suicide rates after the First War increased up to the early 1930s especially among unemployed older men who probably had the after effects of involvement in the war to come to terms with. I wondered how the Rev Smith had been buried in consecrated ground?  It seems  the law concerning the burial of suicides changed in the 1880s although suicide attempts remained illegal until 1961. Even in the 1950s people were sent to prison for attempting to kill themselves. Thankfully in 2014 we are more sympathetic to the plight of the desolate.