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100 years ago: Mystery of Patricroft girl, 17, found drowned in Bridgewater Canal

This story from the pages of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal of September 1916 tells of the mysterious death of teenager Doris Crossley, 17, who lived with her aunt Eliza Jane Blitzen at Oak Street in Patricroft.

An inquest into Doris’s death was held at the Grapes Hotel, Peel Green under the jurisdiction of the Manchester district coroner, Mr GS Leresche.

Eliza Blitzen told the inquest that Doris lived with her and her husband in Oak Steet and that Doris had worked at Cardwell’s Ropery in Eccles for the past three years.

The factory where she was working made industrial twine into rope for industry, perhaps for use at firms in Trafford Park, or on the ocean-going liners at the thriving Salford docks where MediaCityUK is now.

On a stormy Wednesday evening, Doris went to bed at 10pm as normal.

Eliza awoke the next morning and followed her usual routine of knocking on Doris’ door at 6am to wake her. Strangely, there was no reply. The door was open, so she pushed through and found the bed had not been slept in.

When her niece did not come back on Thursday, she said she was not initially concerned and blithely assumed that Doris was away staying with relatives.

Sadly, the teenager’s body would be pulled out of the nearby Bridgewater Canal the following morning.

Josiah Pearson, a bridgeman who operated the aqueduct for the Bridgewater Canal Company, told the court that as he worked on the bridge at 5.45am on Friday he had spotted the girl’s body floating in the water.

Barton Swing Aqueduct - canalscape.net

Barton Swing Aqueduct – canalscape.net

He called the local police and officer PC Cruise helped to recover Doris’ body, taking the corpse on to the mortuary.

Nelly Valentine was next to speak at the inquest.

She had worked with Doris at Cardwell’s Ropery and told the court at the time of her death she knew her workmate was going out with a young man called Thomas Lingard, of Lime Street in Patricroft.

She added rather ominously that she had advised Doris in the past not to associate with him.

A barge passes under the original Barton Aqueduct © Salford Local History Library

A barge passes under the original Barton Aqueduct © Salford Local History Library

Ethel Drinkle, another young girl who worked with Doris, told the court that on the Wednesday evening Doris went missing, Doris had mentioned to her that she was glad that it was raining because she did not want to go out with Lingard that evening.

Thomas Lingard appeared in front of the inquest. He told the court that he and Doris had been “walking about together” for the past six months and saw fit to add that the two of them “had never quarreled”.

He stated that he last saw her on the previous Sunday and that she was “in good spirits and cheerful” and he could not think of a reason why she should take her own life.

PC Cruise told the inquest that there were no marks on Doris’ body to suggest foul play, but there was also no evidence on the canal bank of how or exactly where she had gone into the water.

With this lack of hard fact the jury returned a verdict of: “Found drowned”.

This would suggest an accidental death with no suspicious circumstances, and hence there was no legal requirement for police to carry out an autopsy on the teenager.

But the case leaves many unanswered questions.

Having gone to bed at 10pm, why should Doris sneak out of her house at night, unless she was meeting Thomas Lingard or another man?

And why tell her pal she was glad of the bad weather so that she did not have to go out with Lingard?

Doris had never shown any intention of taking her own life before, so why should she suddenly decide to end it all at such a young age?

Why did her workmates dislike Thomas Lingard? Did he have a reputation as a womaniser, or a bully?

These questions apparently never came up at the inquest.

I have read similar stories of young girls who were made pregnant by their boyfriend and could not live up the shame of being a unmarried mother at such a young age.

If Doris had have been pregnant I’m certain that a postmortem would have detected this and put a whole new slant on her untimely death.

Without answers to these questions it’s impossible for us to know the true story.

The tragedy is that of a young girl with her whole life ahead of her being pulled lifeless from the murky waters of the Bridgwater Canal.

Main image: Bridgewater Canal at Barton, 1891

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.