Is this the saddest place in Blackpool? In this grave in Marton Cemetery six people are buried. They all died on the same day on Tuesday 3 March 1942.
When Phil Haynes told me about this grave I was shocked that I hadn’t known about this and that the incident was not more well-know. People in Blackpool had other things to think about.
Within living memory residents of the Moss spoke a different dialect. It was an agricultural enclave surrounded by aggressively unrural Blackpool. It was a place where community and tradition prevailed. Strawberries and then tomatoes from the Moss were famous and enjoyed premium prices. Farmers took cartloads of sewage from Manchester Square. Traditional though the Moss was it had been created by modern drainage and Enclosure . In the 18th Century a farming revolution increased the value of land by a quarter. This is the time when many of the great estates were rolling in money, building stately homes and gardens and using wealth to finance the slave trade and the Industrial Revolution. Jane Austen country. So as you can imagine these fortunate landowners decided that they would share their good fortune by giving their workers a huge pay rise. Well no they didn’t. What they decided was that common land which had been worthless was worth… well acquiring. So they employed legal experts and MPs to pass bills saying that the land used in common really belonged to them. The people who used the common land had no access to politicians or legal representation. The landowners did well. Much of the land was to become part of urban Blackpool and building land was worth ten times as much as agricultural land.
After a thousand years the people of Marton and Layton, perhaps smallholders living at subsistence levels, were no longer able to use the area for grazing and peat.
Any road up the new character of the mosslands was of large flat fields hedges and dykes draining the boggy land. Broad well planned roads like Lytham Road and and Highfield Road were the basis of South Blackpool’s later urban geography. It is said that peat burials were dug up in the land but a peat burial would not look different from an old log to a farm labourer. Stony Hill… the site that gave its name to an area and was probably a pre-Roman burial site and a landmark for fifteen hundred years where some kinds of ritual had carried on since before Christianity were cleared away … efficient agriculture.
An agriculture enclave with its own traditions and customs conservative at a time when growing urban Blackpool was brash and innovative. There are still houses on the Moss and in Layton built in the traditional Fylde way from sea cobbles. Enough limestone could be found on the beach to make mortar and the structures were stable… the mortar stretched in extreme conditions.
But I digress. One Monday morning there were six live people in a house on Marton Moss and next day there were six corpses. Why? Well I don’t know but this is what I think happened.
Six people dead in a house gets as much space as a report on rationing. But we are talking about March 1942. An impartial gambler might bet on Germany winning the War. Expansionist Germany and Japan were at the height of their powers . They still enjoyed agressor’s advantage.
The “Blackpool Regiment” was a revival of the idea of “Pals Regiments.” Regiments would come from a town the idea being that they would be more willing to volunteer and cohesive. The idea was shelved when it turned out that a town could lose its young male population in twenty minutes of machine gun fire.
Many young people from Blackpool volunteered and were caught up in the biggest British disaster of the War. The capture of Singapore by the Japanese was an unprecedented event. The British surrendered to a smaller force with fewer resources. Churchill wanted the commanders at Singapore to fight to the death and then commit suicide presumably as a morale raising gesture. Hitler wanted the same of the commanders at Stalingrad. The British surrendered on 15 February 1942.
It is only fair to say that the Japanese General Yamashita was a maverick who was sidelined by the Japanese Command after Singapore. He had Japanese wrongdoers executed and apologised for massacres. He was executed after the war on the basis that he was responsible for the actions of his men even if he was unaware of them.
Every day in the Gazette their would be pictures of lads missing. Of the 580 people in the Blackpool Regiment 224 died, 134 as prisoners of war. Many of the survivors did not fully recover. So the tragedy of the Smith family is a tragedy within a larger tragedy.
TRAGEDY ON THE MOSS
On Monday 2 March 1942 the older children went to Moss Side School from their home on Moss Side Lane. Edmund Smith worked as a nurseryman. In the evening his wife Freda went to see the White Geese Calling at the Opera House. Edmund called at the Doctor because his son David had bronchitis.
About three in the afternoon the following day, Tuesday, Edmund’s brother who lived within yards broke into the house. In the kitchen his brother, his sister in law and his nephew Baron were dead. He called the police. In other bedrooms were two daughters and another son. These are the deceased: Edmund Arthur 37, Freda 36, Baron 10, Peter 9, David 4, Carol 3. All the deceased had throat or head injuries except David who had no marks. A razor and piping was found which was thought to be the weapon involved. David was ill with bronchitis so he may have been killed without leaving marks. Because Baron’s body was discovered in the kitchen he may have been disturbed by noise and gone to investigate.
The Inquest was brief… about half an hour… and concluded that Edmund had killed his wife, his family and himself. All agreed that Edmund and Freda had been very close and that they had been proud of their family. Edmund’s brother Harry said that they were very happy. The people of Marton Moss… Edmund’s colleagues… were not given to gossip but a work colleague of Edmund said that he had said he was going to see a solicitor the next day. I do not believe that Edmund told a fellow worker that he was going to see a solicitor without explaining the circumstances. Possibly Edmund and Freda were experiencing difficulties… why would he see a solicitor?
The funeral service was at the Coop undertakers on Bispham Road. Six coffins. Rev C W Macready from the Marton Church had the task. The funeral cortege was led to Marton Cemetery by two police cars. Five hundred people attended as six coffins were lowered into the ground. I would like to believe that it says something about the sense of community among the people of Marton Moss that there was no word of condemnation of Edmund.
Edmund’s mother was in a mental institution.
Imagine: a man with some mental frailties has built his life around his wife and family and this relationship is threatened…
Think about Edmund Smith’s state of mind when he has killed his wife and children and sets about cutting his throat. And you have problems… really?
Many thanks to Blackpool Local and Family History and a big thanks to Phil Haynes who told me about this little known incident. His work indexing early issues of the Blackpool Papers is exhaustive and (I imagine) exhausting.