Road dangers existed in Lapford even before the arrival of motorised road transport. The main street through the village centre was a thoroughfare for the transport of goods between northern parishes and Lapford station.
Sainsbury’s Oldest Supplier
Even the market-town of Witheridge, 90 mins away by cart, made regular use of Lapford station. Frederick Maunder, a Witheridge farmer, used it from the 1880s for the supply of fresh produce to London. His son, Lloyd, became a successful supplier to J J Sainsbury. He established a system for the collection of eggs, butter and meat by pony and trap from neighbouring farms.
Goods were taken to Lapford Station by cart driver, Fred Leach, and loaded onto trains for Exeter St Davids where they were transferred to trains for London Blackfriars from where they were collected by Sainsbury’s fleet of carters. It was a controversial arrangement as it by-passed Smithfield market.
Lloyd Maunder’s company began a dramatic expansion and became a large haulage business. Today, they remain Sainsbury’s oldest supplier. The company used Lapford Station until just before the start of the First World War.
A Case of Fowl Play?
Was a child’s tragic death a case of hit & run?
Amongst the goods transported through Lapford by horse and cart was a new wonder product for farmers: imported Peruvian guano. The bird droppings were highly nutritious. Moreover, they were inexpensive enough for regular use, enabling farmers to end the centuries-old practice of crop rotation and free up fallowed land for crops. It was a revelation!
On Thursday 16 March 1893, John Butt was transporting 6 cwt of the bird excrement from Lapford station to his father’s farm at Burridge. The two-mile climb from the station to the 630 ft hill top at Forches Cross was a long drag. Approaching Westgate, he found himself behind the slow wagon of labourer John Worth. Suddenly, the horses of the guano cart broke into a gallop, and overtook John Worth’s waggon at speed. In the process the horses struck Ernest Edworthy, a four year old school boy, who was out playing. He suffered a fracture to the base of his skull and was killed instantly. John Butt’s guano cart failed to return to the scene.
There was speculation that the young boy’s tragic death was the result of a reckless overtaking manoeuvre, and that John Butt had purposely fled the scene.
At the inquest in the Railway Inn, Lapford, John Butt claimed his horses had become frightened, and that he was unable to prevent them from breaking into a gallop. He claimed to have no recollection of the four-year-old boy. This was disputed by the evidence of Mrs Sarah Rowe, who had witnessed the accident from her window. She said the young boy was running by the front of the horses with his arms waving, as if he was trying to get away. She was sure he must have been noticed by the driver. Mrs Rowe described how she quickly ran out of the house to tend to the child but found him dead and the horses out of sight.
It seems certain that John Butt, at some point, tried to slow his horses—17 year old shoemaker Arthur William Northcott said he saw the driver pulling at the reigns as hard as he could.
Many of those present at the inquest were infuriated that John Butt presented his evidence in an apparently unconcerned manner. The coroner criticised the driver for his “unfeeling conduct” and suggested that he made some amends to the mother for the loss of her child. Nevertheless, there was no clear evidence of a deliberate attempt to cause injury and the jury gave a verdict of accidental death.
The school log book shows that Ernest had attended Lapford school for 5 months, starting when he was 3 years 8 months old. His “leaving day” is recorded as 16 March 1893, the date of his death.
Ernest’s mother, Jane (née Rice) had a difficult life. By the age of 37 she had been twice widowed and given birth to nine children. Her first husband, William Stoneman, and her second husband, Richard Edworthy, both died at the age of 29. Richard’s death was sudden and came less than 6 months before the death of 4 year old Ernest.
A man named Edworthy, who has been working for Mr. R. Densham, Bury Barton, Lapford was taken ill early on Sunday morning, but recovered sufficiently to return to work. While at lunch, however, he had another attack. Dr. Tronson, who was at hand, came quickly the spot, but his efforts were useless as the poor fellow had expired before his arrival.
Jane died in Lapford in 1909, age 61. It is not known if John Butt ever helped her financially as the coroner had suggested. John Butt came to his own tragic end: in 1914, he left his wife at the breakfast table and cut his throat in a field on his farm. His eyesight was failing and he was scared of the prospect of going blind.