I knew t had to happen one day. I had had a sense of foreboding for a while.
Wildsworth is a beautiful if isolated place, on the eastern bank of the River Trent. Its beauty lies in its very wildness. I am drawn to wild places, and for the past couple of weeks have gone back and back and back to this place. I wanted to know it. REALLY know it. To know its past. To know about the lives of the people there over the ages. I wanted to know what joys, sorrows and tragedies it contained.
This river has always fascinated me, yet at the same time filled me with a sense of dread. It is a very powerful river, with fast flowing currents, and if you fall into it you haven’t much chance of coming out alive. As you drive along the river bank from one small village to another, you often see lifebuoys attached to the walls of pubs, houses, etc.
I had a friend who died in that river. Her name was Molly. A most beautiful person. But when she was in her forties something went badly wrong in her head. She tried on numerous occasions to wade into the river, to drown herself. She never succeeded. Until on one occasion she took herself to Keadby Bridge, some miles up the river from where she lived, and jumped from the bridge into the river. She hadn’t a chance. The middle of the river is very deep and dangerous. But of course she knew that. That was why in the end she went there.
Molly was one of my best friends. A very humble, self sacrificial lady. She gave up her bed for me once, on a Retreat that we went on in Yorkshire. I had been assigned to a dormitory with a lot of other women, but I had not long been out of hospital where I had been for three months, being treated for tuberculosis. I had been on complete bed rest, and barrier nursed. I was not allowed out of my bed at all for that whole three months, and was not used to being with people any more. So by the time I left hospital, I was not good at dealing with lots of people chattering around me. I had signed up for the Retreat not realising that I would not be able to deal with lots of people in a dormitory. Molly stepped in to help. She offered me her bed in a private room. She and a mutual friend called Marjorie had booked this room to share together. Feeling rather reluctant, as I don’t like to put people out, I accepted gratefully. Molly gave up her bed in a really nice room, for me. I will never forget her for that.
Just recently, my brother, who knew nothing of this (he is 11 years younger than me) purchased the bungalow where Molly had lived, looking after her aged father. Her two sisters had moved into the bungalow after Molly’s death, but have recently had to go into sheltered accommodation. My brother knew nothing of Molly’s suicide, as he wants nothing to do with me as he cannot cope with my blindness, and the fact that I am in a wheelchair. So we are estranged. Sadly, he has said that I am not his sister. But it was only after moving into the bungalow that he and his wife discovered about the suicide. It feels very strange and eerie to me that they are now living in my friend’s bungalow. It is in a very beautiful place, situated high on the cliff above the place where three rivers meet, one of which is the Trent that flows through Wildsworth. It is right next to a Roman maze, cut in the turf at the side of the bungalow, called Julian’s Bower. The whole place is full of history.
Wildsworth is level with the river. There are grassy floodbanks to prevent the village from being flooded. They have not always been there however. Not too long ago, whilst I had cancer in fact, the river did flood. Many villages were affected, and people had to be evacuated. Their properties were badly damaged in some cases. It is a tidal river, and at high tide, in the event if there being a storm as well, flooding can occur.
Our recent visits to Wildsworth therefore, have had a very eerie feel to them. Beautiful though the place is (to ME anyway) there is a sense almost of foreboding. The grassy floodbanks at Wildsworth are about ten feet high, but you are ever aware that just below them is a very dangerous fast flowing river. I have found myself on many occasions, whilst visiting that place, wondering how many people have lost their lives in that river. And wondering if any of them were from Wildsworth.
There used to be a ferry at Wildsworth, to take people to the village of Owston Ferry, on the other side. This is a much larger village. The ferry, in the 1400s, gave a Mr. Dallison an income of £300 a year. A large amount for those days. Mr. Dallison lived in Laughton, along with my ancestors, and was a big landholder. He was very rich and the ferry made him much richer. I wondered what tales there could be of the ferry, but have been able to find nothing. Since the building of Keadby Bridge there has been no need for the ferry. In times past each village seems to have run a ferry from one side to the other.
Last night, as we were sitting by the graveyard, I had a very strange sense of something. It felt dark and foreboding. In the field next to the graveyard the two newborn lambs were playing happily, leaping high into the air, and landing on their mothers’ backs. All was well in the sheep world.
As we sat by the graveyard, suddenly the sun came out from behind a dark cloud, and illuminated one of the graves. With the aid of binoculars, my husband was able to read the Inscription on the grave. Although only partially. The grave was that of a child who had died at the age of three, in 1897. My heart felt sad. But infant mortality was high in those days. Yet, both of us had a strange feeling about this particular grave.
When we got home, I looked, online, at the parish registers to try and find the child. And there it was. The first name that I came to. And the words below his name were:
“Accidentally drowned in the River Trent.”
I immediately burst into deep tears. How awful!
I thought of the impact upon the family. A farming family. And I grieved with them.
Another lost child. A little lamb whom God gathered into His arms and laid gently on His bosom.
For us, yesterday, it was Ascension Day. A time when we are reminded of where we are supposedly going when we die. I had just listened to a priest telling of how he went to Jerusalem, and there, there is a rock with a footprint on it, said to be the footprint of Jesus. He said laughingly that he did not know whether that was true or not, but that he liked to think of the rock as a grave. From where we are all going to the bosom of the Father.
It could not have been a more apt day on which to see the grave of this poor little boy.