William Parkin of the L & N W Railway

The gravestone of William Parkin and his wife Elizabeth has an anchor carved into it, above their names. Which suggests some maritime connection – despite Penrith being a long way from the sea.

But in this series of posts on people buried at Beacon Edge Cemetery, the only connection with water is a tragic one.

William Parkin

The gravestone tells us that William and Elizabeth Parkin lived in Mill Street, Penrith. And they are easy enough to find:

1891. 6 Mill Street 

William Parkin, 65, railway porter, born Crosby. Elizabeth, 62, born Penrith, and daughters Sarah Jane, 25, and Mary Hannah, 21, who are (like so many single women in those days) recorded as dressmakers. Sarah was still with her now-widowed father ten years later, at the same house.

In 1881 and 1871, the family were at number 4 Mill Street. William was a railway porter, and we learn there were older children John, William and Margaret, as well as Sarah Jane and Mary.

The headstone ‘covers’ Sarah Jane, who died in 1910, aged 44. Mary Hannah married railway supervisor William Robson on November 18, 1901. 

William Parkin married Elizabeth Atkinson in 1852. Her surname is too common to be sure of more, without ordering certificates, but the gravestone tells us she had a sister Margaret. There’s a possible match for them in Drover’s Lane in 1841, with what looks like a mother Margaret.

The Parkins had lived in Great Dockray previously. 1861 has William as a railway porter, with Elizabeth, John and William, and a daughter Elizabeth Ann. Who may have left home for domestic service by 1871.

A life by the railway

William Parkin was the son of Joseph Parkin and his wife Elizabeth. He was already a railway porter at 25, when he was living with his parents and siblings in Wilson’s Row, off Middlegate. Dad Joseph was a ‘boots’ at the George Inn, a pretty humble job. They had a lodger to help support their family.

The 1895 reports on his daughter say he worked for the L & N W Railway, and had charge of the cattle lading department at Penrith Station.

 A little more on William Parkin

In 1863, the family home in Great Dockray was among a number of properties there up for auction. But the family stayed on a while at least, as in November 1864, they announced the sad loss of a baby son, Henry, who had been born in the March quarter of that year.

In 1866, William Parkin was called to court to give evidence in the case of a cattle dealer called William Waugh, who was charged with removing six cattle without a certificate during an outbreak of cattle plague. William Parkin has seen the defendant with some cattle in the station yard on the morning in question. 

Working as a cattle truckman, he was involved in an accident at Penrith Railway Station in December 1887. One animal swerved, jamming his right arm between it and the gate post, breaking it in two places below the elbow. A Dr Thompson attended him, but it must have cost him some time off work.

A family tragedy

We know from the gravestone that daughter Margaret had died before all of them, in 1895, aged 34. The story is a tragic one.

In June 1895, it was reported that Margaret Parkin had been missing for several days. She’d been ‘in delicate health’ after a severe attack of flu, and staying at home. But she’d improved in recent weeks and had returned to Langwathby, where she worked as a cook for John Watson Nelson, of Eden Bank. Two of her sisters had walked there with her. 

On Sunday, June 16, 1895, Margaret Parkin had set out to walk the five miles or so home to Penrith. A fellow servant thought she look delicate and advised against her walking so far, but she made light of it and said she’d turn back if she felt tired. 

She was seen to pass over Eden Bridge…

Her family weren’t expecting her, so it was Mr Nelson who raised the alarm on June 17, when she hadn’t returned. 

John Watson Nelson said she was of excellent character and cheerful.

Police issued a description: blue eyes, black hair, slender figure, about 5ft 4ins or 5ft 5in tall, wearing a light blue dress and a black hat trimmed with blue, and carrying an umbrella. 

Lamentable suicide

The report of June 22 is a sad one. Margaret Parkin had been found drowned in Edenhall Pond.

It fills out her story a little: she’d worked as a cook in Manchester for five years, returning home at the start of 1895 after scalding her foot in an accident. And then she’d caught flu. 

There had been a number of search parties looking for her, with her brother John coming home from Manchester to join them. 

John and brother William Parkin (see footnote) were among the search party who found her. One of the party, Charles Dawson Bailiff, found an umbrella near the water’s edge. The water was too discoloured to see anything, but Sergeant Bremner had a boat rowed out and its occupants saw a dress floating.

The inquest

The inquest heard poor Margaret was found drowned in about four feet of water. She was fully dressed, including her hat and gloves, and had money in her purse. There was no sign of foul play, and no way she could have fallen in accidentally. The pond wasn’t on her route home and was some way off the highway.

There was no note, and witnesses who’d seen her that day and the day before had found her in good spirits.

The coroner said it was quite common for people to suffer ‘depression and strange fancies’ after a bout of influenza. They could only suppose she’d suffered such an attack of depression after leaving Langwathby and ‘in that moment of insanity, she destroyed herself’.

The jury found a verdict that she drowned herself while temporarily insane. 

William Parkin junior

William Parkin junior, at the Blue Bell Inn, Little Dockray, circa 1900

William and Elizabeth Parkin had a son called William. Born about 1860, he was briefly (1898-1901) the landlord of the Blue Bell Inn, Little Dockray. While he is no relation to me at all, because of my connections to the pub, a photo of it with William Parkin junior standing outside hangs on the wall on my landing!

Beacon Edge Cemetery

This post is one of a series on people buried at Beacon Edge, above Penrith.

Others include publican Thomas Dixon and the local bonesetters, the Dennison family.

And Charles Gilder, a yeast merchant. And William Weight.