30th April 2014
As I was taking photos in Ryecroft Cemetery for my previous blog post I noticed a pair of old, worn gravestones leaning against a nearby hedge. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the words “accidentally drowned”, so I looked closer . . . .
Turns out one of the headstones was from the grave of Edward James Oakley, who drowned in Hatherton lake, in what is now Walsall Arboretum, whilst searching for the body of a former mayor of Walsall, J. H. Harvey, who had drowned the previous evening as he swam in the lake. Edward was helping to drag the lake when the boat he was aboard capsized.
After a young man drowned in the same lake recently I was chatting to a few locals on Facebook. The subject of local old wives tales concerning the Arboretum and its lakes cropped up, and someone mentioned that a mayor of Walsall had drowned in Hatherton lake in the 19th century. An online document gave a few details and mentioned that one of the folk searching for the body had also lost his life. Here I was face to face with the headstone of that very person. . . . .
The inscription reads :
To the memory of Edward James Oakley aged 19 years, Who was accidentally drowned july 9th 1845 While engaged in searching for the body of J H Harvey esq, Late mayor of this town, Who lost his life in a pool in Lichfield Street when bathing there
There is also a passage which starts:
“Stay reader and behold the hapless lot of one whose presence will be soon forgot. Reflect on life’s quick transit from the bloom of eager youth to an untimely tomb….“
Due to the photo being taken with my iPhone camera and the very worn condition of the headstone the rest of the passage is difficult to read, so I’ll revisit another day armed with my dSLR and attempt to get better shots . . . .
Rest in peace, Edward . . . .