Sir Henry Bruce and the Old Charlton Road Footpath

Old Charlton Road where Sir Henry was killed

Old Charlton Road where Sir Henry was killed

Old Charlton Road that starts from Guston, passes the Danes Recreation ground, Dover’s three main cemeteries, Charlton, St James and St Mary’s, the Danes Court estate and St Edmunds school, finishing at the junction of Barton, Connaught and Frith roads. From the start of the cemeteries to Barton Road is a raised, narrow footpath and recently, parking restriction have been put in place alongside this footpath.

Of interest, and therefore the subject of this story, the footpath was laid following the tragic death of one of Dover’s most distinguished residents,  Sir Henry Le Geyt Bruce, KCB.

Sir Henry lived with his wife,  Lady Alice,  at 1 East Cliff and they were very much part of the town’s elite.  Born in Wingham in 1823, Sir Henry attended Kings School Canterbury and entered the Bengal Artillery at the age of 19. The East India Company had controlled Bengal from 1765 and in 1772 had established Calcutta as its capital. The rule was to last until 1858, the year after the Indian Mutiny when the British Government assumed control. (See Haunted Dover by Lorraine Sencicle  and published by History Press, the Rifles’ Monument story).

During that time, there were a number of military conflicts on the sub-Continent. These included the First and Second Sikh Wars (1845-1849) that resulted in the subjugation of the Sikh Empire and the annexation of the Punjab. Sir Henry was in both campaigns and following the battle of Sobraon (10 February 1846), was awarded the medal and clasp.

The annexation of the Punjab resulted in the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), where Sir Henry was stationed. He subsequently commanded the 3rd Punjab Light Field Battery but the occupation was far from peaceful. Nonetheless, with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny on 10 May 1857 at Meerut, Sir Henry and his company were redeployed. During the Mutiny Sir Henry was mentioned six times in despatches.

In 1863, Sir Henry married Alice Chalmers, the daughter of a doctor in the Bengal medical service and they had at least two daughters and a son. Created a Commander of the Bath (C.B) in 1874, four years later sir Henry was appointed Lieutenant General. In the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee honours of 1897, he was awarded the K.C.B. – military.

By that time, Sir Henry and Lady Alice were living in Dover and on Friday 9 April 1899, attended the funeral of Emily wife of Colonel Maxwell Morris. This was at St James’s cemetery, Copt Hill. Following the funeral, Lady Alice returned home by carriage but Sir Henry chose to walk with his friend Colonel Edmund O’Brien.

Laslett's livery stable advert 1899

Laslett’s livery stable advert 1899

Going along Old Charlton road, the two gentlemen walked on the side by the high wall, keeping clear of the mourning coaches that were being driven past them. One of these coaches, owned by Laslett’s of Castle Street and pulled by two horses, suddenly swerved towards Sir Henry. Colonel O‘Brien attempted to pull him out of the way but one of the horses’s knocked Sir Henry down and trampled on him.

Dr Osborn was leaving the cemetery in another coach and administered first aid then Sir Henry was taken home. There he was seen by Dr Pinhorn, his own doctor, who diagnosed several injuries to the head, fractured right hip joint and one or more ribs broken.

That night, Sir Henry rested well, but the following morning Dr Pinhorn recognised signs of the beginning of pleurisy. This became worse as the day passed such that the doctor reported that Sir Henry’s breathing became so rapid he ‘had to struggle to keep up.’ Finally, Sir Henry’s heart gave way and stopped at 00.20hrs the following morning.

The Borough Coroner Sydenham Payne held the Inquest at the Burlington Hotel. Thomas Frederick Rints, the driver of the carriage, said that the horses became restive while standing at the cemetery. This had been between twenty minutes and half-an-hour and it was cold. When his passengers returned he had followed another carriage at walking pace. Once on the road, the carriage in front broke into a trot and his horses followed at the same pace.

Why or how the outside horse managed to get its leg over the traces, Rints had no idea. However, this had pushed the other horse towards the wall and caused the trace pole to swing round. Immediately, Rints said, he pulled the horses up and at the same time heard someone call out, ‘there’s a gentleman underneath the horses.‘ He held the animals on as tight a rein as possible but the pole hit Sir Henry in the back.

The Inquest Foreman, after consulting the jury, said that they considered Sir Henry’s death an accident, and that no blame was attached to anyone.  However, the Coroner commented that from the entrance of St James’s cemetery to Barton Road there was no pathway. Consequently, there was very little room for people to walk especially with the great amount of vehicular traffic in the road.

This led to the council laying the narrow footpath from St James’s Cemetery to Barton Road along the Old Charlton Road that we see today. Old Charlton Road was once called Love Lane; it was after it was formally adopted and laid out in August 1882, at a cost of £1,585, that it was renamed.

  • Published
  • Dover Mercury: 15 November 2012

NOTE: Double yellow lines were painted along Old Charlton Road to stop car drivers parking partly on the footpath. This they still do. It would seem that such parking is with the full sanction of the school and the authorities that are suppose to stop unlawful parking. Such parking near schools is common practice in England.

Further, if the pedestrian is forced to walk on the road because of the narrowness of the footpath with cars partly parked on it – as is the case along Old Charlton Road – and the pedestrian is knocked down by a vehicle using the road the blame lies with the pedestrian. They SHOULD use the footpath and if there is no room, then they should find an alternative route, if possible, and only use the footpath at such time as they can traverse it safely – this I was told by a police officer.

Old Charlton Road is the only access to where a lot of folk, from youngsters to the elderly, live.

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About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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