Canvey Resident's Strange Death
William Yetton 1865-1919
William Yetton’s story starts when he was born in Bethnal Green in 1865. His family had run the Rising Sun Public House in Globe Road since the turn of the century and William took his turn as the last Yetton to be the Licenced Victualler of the Pub. He can be found in the 1911 census living there with his wife, Ada Eliza, and their seven children. He retired about 1913 and it was about this time that he became estranged from his family. William came to stay in their holiday property, Union Jack Caravan, on Canvey Island and his family moved to Forest Gate. According to his grandson, Tony Yetton, it was not known why the family were estranged or indeed why he came to commit suicide, these were family secrets that Tony has never been able to fully understand. The inquest into William’s suicide was published in the Southend Standard in April 1919 and it is from this that Tony has managed to piece together some of the story. From the article we can not only see the events of William’s death and possible causes of his actions but small insights into life on Canvey at the time.
- ‘The Deputy Coroner Mr H. J. Jefferies held an inquest on Monday at the Old Red Cow Inn, Canvey Island, relative to the death of William Yetton, a retired licenced victualler, of the Union Jack Caravan, Leigh Beck, Canvey, who was found dead in a chair, with a gun close to his face, in an adjoining bath room on Thursday morning.’
Several witnesses were called including his son William Joseph Yetton of 72 Cramner Road, Forest Gate, who gave evidence of identification and stated he was an accountant. He said his father was 57 years of age and was not living with his wife and had lived on the Island on and off, for over fourteen years. It was also learnt from his son that William had suffered from cancer and was operated on two years prior to his death and was told some ten years before his death that it was incurable. No record was made as to what kind of cancer he was suffering from. William Junior did say that his father was becoming ‘very erratic in behaviour and speech. He had more than once heard him say he would commit suicide, and had even described the way in which he would do it, saying he should shoot himself’.
One interesting part of the dialogue told of the scheme that William was about to embark upon ‘to run a service of motor boats and motor cars’ but this was a large undertaking and William jnr thought it had been a cause of worry to his father being ‘more than one man could undertake’. William jnr also went on to say his father ‘would not accept any help or interference from relatives, and was of a stubborn character’.
Apparently William next to his caravan ‘had good Turkish and Russian baths’ and it was here that his body was to be found by an employee, James Kiley, of 76 Carlisle Street, Edgware Road, London. James Kiley who was the next witness, was 16 years old and helped on the farm looking after the pigs, poultry, etc. On the evening of Wednesday 26th March he went to bed before 10. He slept in the caravan and William Yetton had a room in the front but James did not see him that evening. James stated at the inquest that:
- ‘He heard nothing of deceased during the night, and got up at 5.55am and made a fire. He saw deceased’s overcoat and knew he had been in and concluded he had fed the pigs. He also saw that some of the poultry had been fed during the night he heard no reports of any gun. Mr Nuttall came in the morning and talked to him and just before Mr Percy Cock came at 6a.m he noticed that deceased’s gun had gone from its chain in the roof of the caravan he also missed some cartridges, he told Mr Cook that deceased had been home and gone out with his gun, and Mr. Nuttall said he was perhaps out shooting. Later he heard that Mr Yetton had been found dead in the bathroom. Deceased did not appear to him to be erratic and he saw no reason to suppose he was going to shoot himself’.
The next witness was Percy John Cock of Kent View, Canvey Island, motor car driver was the person who found William Yetton and he described to the inquest his involvement in the discovery:
- ‘On March 27th from what he was told by Kiley, he went to look for deceased soon after eight a.m. and searched the shore and a bungalow and eventually found him in a bathroom adjoining the caravan. He (deceased) was sitting in a chair, quite dead. The double-barrelled gun (produced) was fixed pointing at deceased’s head which was partly blown away on the left side. He informed his brother, Mr Walter Cock, who communicated with the police while he himself remained in charge. When P.C. Girling arrived, everything was just as he (witness) found it in reply to a juror witness said he knew deceased 12 years ago, but had since been in —–. Recently he had found deceased very erratic, he would start many jobs with his employee and finish none. He (witness) quite expected what had happened, and that was why he searched as he did’.
The final witness was P.C. Girling, of Canvey Island who was in Rochford when he received a telephone message about the death and quickly returned to the Island to take charge. He described to the inquest in great detail the scene and also provided details of an allegation against William Yetton which may have played a contributing part in his decision to end his life:
- ‘he found deceased sitting as described. Deceased’s forehead was blown in and his left eye hung on his cheek, the head rested on the Turkish bath, the legs were crossed, and the left arm folded across the body, the right arm hung down. Blood lay on the floor. The gun was fixed in a corner, between a —- and the wall, with the trigger upper most, the pulley (produced) was tied on a water pipe and a piece of string was through the pulley and was fixed on the right hand trigger, the end of the string hung down. Another piece of string hung from the trigger and the muzzle was about a foot from deceased’s face. Deceased could have pulled the string and fired the gun as he sat. The spent cartridge, produced, was in the right hand barrel the full charge had gone into deceased’s head as no shots were found elsewhere. He (Witness) removed the body to the mortuary. There was no writing found to say why deceased took his own life. On the previous day witness was with deceased in the caravan at 12 midnight making enquiries as to petrol alleged to have been stolen from the —- Station, it was also alleged that deceased had received this petrol and witness was making inquiries about this. He told deceased that he would have to report the matter to his superintendant and deceased said “For Gods sake don’t do that. It will ruin my business if you do”. He enquired as to whether anybody saw him about that morning but could learn nothing. Deceased’s bed had not been slept in. Replying to Mr W. J. Yetton, witness said he had no reason to suppose that he was so upset by the interview mentioned as to decide to take his own life’.
There seems to be little doubt in the Deputy Coroners mind when he addressed the jury:
- ‘Mr Jefferies said there could be no doubt that deceased committed suicide by shooting himself. The evidence was to show that the gun was fixed and elaborate measures were taken to ensure the shot taking effect. They had to decide whether he committed suicide and also as to the state of his mind at the time. They must remember that for some time past deceased had been erratic in manner which might be due to the terrible complaint from which he suffered. The scheme in which deceased was engaged may also have had something to do with this act. Thirdly, there was the allegation against him with which they, as a jury —— to do. It might be that these things taken together led deceased to commit the act within a few hours after PC Girling left him.’ He continued ‘No doubt they would come to the conclusion that deceased committed suicide and that they probably would find that he was of unsound mind at the time.’
The jury’s decision was as expected and with Mr Chambers, who had known William for many years as foreman, found that William Yetton died from the wounds inflicted by the gunshot and was at the time of unsound mind. William Yetton was buried in St Katherine’s Churchyard on the 2nd April 1919.
Tony still has many questions about his grandfather, which will probably never be answered. Although William was estranged from his family Canvey was a place visited many times when Tony was young. Although William was only spoken about in whispers the family still must have felt a connection to the Island. Tony remembers the stepping stones and the fields and the long walk from Waterside and it was to Canvey he moved in 1979 after his retirement. So after many years in the wilderness members of William’s family were again close to him here on Canvey. Lets hope he has found peace.
Many thanks to Tony Yetton for allowing us to publish this very personal story.
If anyone can shed any light on the incident or have any memories of The Union Jack Caravan please contact us or make a comment below.