Inscriptions: Memorial to Edgar George Wilson
IN MEMORY OF
EDGAR GEORGE WILSON
WHO, IN RESCUING TWO BOYS
FROM DROWNING, LOST HIS LIFE,
JUNE 15, 1889, AGED 21 YEARS
ERECTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE
OXFORD YOUNG MEN’S CHRISTIAN
ASSOCIATION, BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION.
UNVEILED NOVEMBER 7 BY THE MAYOR
OF OXFORD WALTER GRAY ESQ.
This obelisk is situated on the footpath which runs alongside the River Thames from Osney to Folly Bridge, near the railway bridge that served the gasworks..
The above picture shows the scene of the drowning. Immediately ahead is a footbridge known as Boney’s Bridge spanning the point where the Hincksey (or Hinksey) Stream enters the Thames; and to the left is Osney railway bridge spanning the Thames. The name Boney’s Bridge probably has a connection with Napoleon Bonaparte.
On 16 October 1886 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on the building of a new gasometer which necessitated a new railway bridge
The inconvenience and expense of carting coal through the streets from the Railway Station to the Gas Works has long been felt, and the present undertaking will provide a saving to the ratepayers of t he City, and the roads will be relieved of their heavy traffic. An embankment is being made on the south side of the river near Boney's Bridge, and an iron and steel bridge will be carried across, the rails for conveying the trucks of coal going direct into the retort house on a timber gantry with three turntables, weigh bridge, &c.
The railway bridge confusingly also became known as Boney’s Bridge, and is thus described in the inquest report below.
Flowers were laid at the obelisk on 15 June 2009 (exactly 120 years after Wilson drowned) at a gathering organized by Peter Unsworth of the Oxford Mail. Two relatives of Christopher Green (one of the two boys rescued) attended the ceremony: his great-grandson Kevin Green and his niece Mrs Barbara Cox (below).
What exactly happened?
Edgar George Wilson was an assistant to the chemist William Luff at 24 Cornmarket Street, and lived with his parents and siblings at 14 Abbey Road in West Oxford. On Saturday 15 June 1889 he came home at lunchtime to help one of his sisters prepare for her music examination. Evidently he was not in a hurry to get back, because after leaving home at about 2.15pm he crossed the Botley Road and started on the the long riverside walk back to Cornmarket via Osney and Folly Bridge.
When he saw Christopher Green (9) and Thomas Hazell (10) in trouble in the water, he appears to have jumped in fully clothed to rescue them, even though he was not strong and could barely swim. The boys got out of the water, but Edgar drowned, possibly because one of his arms had become entangled in the boys’ fishing lines.
The above memorial was erected by Mr White of Walton Street on ground given by University College. The cost was £22, which was raised by subscriptions from about 2,000 Oxford citizens, 200 of whom attended the unveiling ceremony on 7 November 1889.
Transcript of inquest report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 22 June 1889
Family of Edgar George Wilson
Edgar’s father was the Revd George Wilson, Minister of the Baptist chapel in Commercial Street, St Ebbe’s. George Wilson had been born in Londonderry, but his family moved to England while he was still a baby. In 1841 he was one year old, living in Portland in Dorset with his father William Wilson who was a seedsman, and his mother and three-year-old sister, both called Charlotte. It appears that the family stayed in Portland, as in the third quarter of 1865 George married Edith Comben who had been born there.
George and Edith’s first three children were born in Portland: Edith Anne (1867), Edgar George himself (1868), and Archibald (1870). By 1871 they had moved to Ordinance Road in Yarmouth, where George (now 30) was a sailors’ missionary, and their next two children, Lizzie and Mary Louisa, were born there in 1873 and 1876.
The family then appear to have moved to Dawley in Shropshire, where Florence was born in 1880, but by the time of the 1881 census George was a Baptist minister living in Totteridge Road, Wycombe.
The Wilsons’ Oxford home at 14 Abbey Road (right) was built in about 1887 and they were probably its first occupants: they were certainly there by the time the 1889 street directory was published. They did not stay in Oxford for very long: they are still listed in the house in the 1890 directory, but gone by 1891.
The family appears to be missing from the 1891 census, apart from young Archibald (21), who can be found lodging in Bournemouth and, like his ill-fated brother, was a chemist’s assistant.
By the time of the 1901 census, George (60) was still a Baptist minister, now living at Newton Villa in Barrow-on-Soar, Leicestershire with Edith (56) and two of his daughters: Lizzie (27) and Florence (20). Lizzie was probably the sister whom Edgar had been helping to prepare for her music examination, because she is described in the census as being a “Professor of Music” working from home.
Who were the boys who were rescued?
Both boys were living in St Ebbe’s at the time of the incident. Neither family had any of their children baptised in St Ebbe’s Church, suggesting that they may have been nonconformists like their rescuer.
The Hazells (who often spelt their name “Hazzell”) lived at 1 Wharton’s Row. The head of the family was the labourer Henry Hazell, and both he and his wife Rachel had been born in Berkshire (he at Chaddleworth in c.1850 and she at Carmore in c.1855). They had three children still living at home in 1891: Mary Jane (born c.1874), described as a general servant; George James (born c.1876), described as a “printer taking off”; and Thomas H. Hazell himself (born c.1878), who appears neither to be at school nor at work. The 1881 census suggests that the Hazell children did not attend school, as none of them are described as “scholars”.
By 1901 the Hazells were living in York Place, St Clement’s. Thomas (now 22) was a cattle man on a farm.
The Greens lived at 75 Blackfriars Road. The head of the family was the cab driver/groom Frederick Green: he had been born in Oxford in c.1855 and , and his wife Eliza had been born in Bladon in c.1856. At the time of the incident they had eight children, and went on to have three more. They were all born in St Ebbe’s: Frederick (1878), Louisa Frances (1879, died age 3); Christopher himself (1880), Alice (1882), James (1884), George (1885), Lily (1886), Annie (1889), Kate (1890), Louisa (1892), and Edith (1895).
By 1901 the Greens were living at 81 Blackfriars Road. Christopher (20) was then a bricklayer’s labourer, while his brother James was a machine boy at the University Press and George was a draper’s porter.
Christopher married Ada Bertha Tritton in 1903 and they had eight children: Christopher Charles (1904, died shortly after birth), Elsie Mabel (1905), William Arthur (1907), Alice Rose (1908), Percival John (1908), George Edward (1911), Amy Rose (1913), and Albert Edward (1915). At the time of the 1911 census Christopher was still working as a bricklayer’s labourer and living with his family at 10 Silman’s Row, Summertown.
Christopher Green joined the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and died in 1917 in the First World War aged 36, near Paschendale (CWGC page). He was buried at a military cemetery in Belgium. After his death his wife and children were living in Blackhorse Lane off the Woodstock Road in Summertown.
Oxford Mail, 16 June 2009:
“Ceremony honours drowned hero, 120 years after tragedy”