It was Christmas Day 1904 and the village was celebrating in it’s usual way. No one could have guessed as the families walked up to church in the snow just what lay ahead for the village. As they wished each other Merry Christmas the children were talking excitedly to each other before settling down to sing the oh so familiar carols. When the vicar, the Reverend Barry Roberts, delivered his sermon looking down at his family and parishoners from the pulpit, it was a time for rejoicing and celebration.
January 1905 started as a particularly cold month. Winds were sweeping across the flat Maelor landscape carrying drifting snow. The canal and ponds were frozen over and had been since the previous December. It was hard for the children to return to school as they had been enjoying their holiday, playing in the snow and sliding on the ice. Bettisfield School was opened in 1853. Built by The Hanmer Estates it had two classrooms. Situated close to the canal bridge Each classroom was heated by a pot stove, but they could not be described as cosy. Now on January 18th the children were back at school, there was excitement in thee air, they were keen to get outside and continue playing.
The Headmaster opened the door to let them out for their break, cautioning them to be careful and avoid the ice. The really keen ones dashed over the road and across the Gospel Meadow to where the Gospel Pool was frozen over. They had already made slides to carry them across the ice. but what they did not realise was that there was a thaw in the air and a swan was swimming in a small circle of water at the centre of the pool.
What happene next was terrifying. As the six or seven keenest ran to the edge and then slid on the ice it suddenly gave way and they disappeared into the freezing-coold water. The Gospel Pool is deep, as it may have formed from a Kettle Hole left by the retreating glaciers of the ice age. Walter Maddox, aged just 1, was at the edge and he cried out in alarm as his school friends sank under the ice. Throwing caution to the wind he went in and grabbed hold of his friend trying to pull him to the side of the pool but he was losing strength trying to struggle against the grip of the muddy bottom. His friend clung to him but soon Walter would no longer be able to hold him.
Luckily for Walter a Mr Kelsall who was worrking on a farm nearby heard his scgeams for help and had the presence of mind to rush over carrying a rope. He reached Walter and pulled the two boys clear of the water. Only Walter survived The other children Joseph Speakman (13), Evelyn Hughes (9), Albert Moore (13), Thomas Becket (11) and Lucy Mary Morris (9) all perished.
The following transcrip was taken
From The People Sunday January 22nd 1905
Five children Drowned
Aa terrible accident involving the deaths of five children occurred on Wednesday at the village of Bettisfield Flintshire about 2 o’clock when a number of the children were sliding on a small sheet of water when the ice gave away and five were drowned. A swan was swimming in the centre and it is thought that this tended to prevent the pond from becoming frozen all over. While the thaw had set in during the morning. A lad named Maddox aged 14 displayed great heroism seeing his school fellows drowning, he bravely entered the water and succeeding in reaching one girl. She was locked in the arms of a drowning boy and Maddox could not rescue her and bravely endeavouring to save his friend he well nigh lost his life. He was sinking when a man named Kelsall, from a neighbouring farm, rushed up with a rope and reached him. The names of the drowned are Joseph Speakman 13, Evelyn Hughes 9, Albert Moore 13, Thomas Becket 11 and Lucy Mary Morris 9.
From the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News April 1st 1905
A BOY’S GALLANTRY AT BETTISFIELD
Lady Hanmer presented The Royal Humane Society’s testimonial, a silver watch and chain and a Post Office Savings Bank book showing a deposit of £5 to an eleven-year-old boy named Walter Maddox at Bettisfield on Tuesday. It will be remembered that on January 18th young Maddox made gallant effort to save his companions who were the victims of the terrible catastrophe which occurred in the Gospel Pool, Bettisfield, through the ice giving way while they were enjoying their mid-day gambols. The presentation was to have been made by Sir William Hanmer, Bart. But owing to an accident he was reluctantly compelled to remain away and his place was kindly taken by Lady Hanmer. Who was accompanied by her daughter, The Vicar the reverend F Barry Roberts, and he was glad to see present that afternoon so many to take part – in the final episode – and it was only the pleasant one in an unfortunate story. They were there to honour the brave to mark their appreciation of the gallantry displayed on that memorable January day by Walter Maddocks (sic), who almost sacrificed his own life in trying to save the lives of others. Mr Roberts referred to the interest taken in the moment by Sir Wyndham Hanmer, and expressed regret at his enforced absence, afterwards reding a letter he had received from Dir. Aylward Lewis the County Coroner, recording his admiration for the efforts put forward by young Maddocks in a trying emergency and expressing regret that an important engagement would prevent his attendance. Mr Roberts went on to explain that apart from the Royal Humane Society recognition of young Maddock’s heroic deed there was a general feeling in the neighbourhood of doing something locally. He was pleased to announce that a committee was formed and that subscriptions flowed in freely. As Mr Warburton Lee a member of the Flintshire Education Committee had taken an active part in the movement, having himself had collected over £7 towards the object they had in view, he would ask him to present young Maddocks with the Post Office Savings Bank Book after Lady Hanmer had presented the Royal Humane Society’s testimonial which had been framed at the expense of Mrs Griffiths of Oswestry. And the watch and chain, the chain being inscribed ‘Presented to Walter Maddocks in recognition of his brave attempt to rescue his school companions from drowning January 18th 1905#.
Her Ladyship in making the presentation expressed her admiration for young Maddock’s bravery and the pleasure it would give to present a suitable inscribed pendant to attach to the chain. Mr Warburton Lee handed to the boy the Post Office Savings Bank book and expressed a hope that it might prove an incentive to other children in the county who might happen to find themselves placed in a similar position. (Hear Hear) – The Vicar afterwards gave details of the disbursement of the fund. Altogether £34 2s 10d was collected and after contributing £8 15s to the funeral expenses giving “312 12s for the memorial stone which had been placed over the grave of three of the children in the cases of the other two – the bereaved families are providing memorial stones – and paying for the watch and chain, and placing £5 to Walter Maddocks a credit in the Post Office Savings Bank, there was left a balance of £5 0s 10d; and after some consideration this meeting voted £4 to Mrs Speakman and her children. Mr Speakman having died since the sad accident occurred. And £1 to the Beckett family which was also reported to be in straightened circumstances. Suitable reference was made to the part played by the Vicar and Mr Wm. Kelsall junr. In connection with the recovery of the bodies., and the meeting ended with an expression of thanks to Lady Hanmer for her presence and assistance and of sympathy for Sir Wyndham.