The Ord sisters and Ethel Stokell (2), May 2 1897

It was, as I suggested, pretty easy to find more on the story behind the Piercebridge memorial. Given that the four girls drowned on Sunday, and late on Sunday too, the reporter from Darlington’s Northern Echo was pretty swiftly on the scene. The first account is in the newspaper the very next day – before, in fact, all the bodies had been recovered:

The reporter does pretty well, all things considered. He gets the surname ‘Ord’ wrong (he has it as ‘Auld’); he doesn’t know which girl has not yet been found; and he doesn’t know Ethel’s first name. He does get the nicknames of the Ord sisters: Hannah is Hannah, but Genevieve is ‘Vevie’, and Winifred is ‘Winnie’. Nor are the details lurid, but they are of course sad, and a little sentimental – probably the two details he picks up on would now be treated with the same eye for detail, but with a lot less respect. The four girls had been collecting flowers: gathering primroses. Four bunches were found on the bank. They’d taken off their boots and stockings, and – although, as the reporter says, this is surmise – decided to test the water for a paddle. Did one slip, and the others try to rescue her? he asks. He also makes an illogical remark (well, I find it illogical): that they had not spent long on the bank, because, close to where the shoes and stockings were found, the name of one of the girls was found ‘written in the sand’. (This factoid is never repeated.) Two of the girls have been found in shallow water, but 600 yards from the shoes and stockings, in the Darlington direction; the other is 150 yards further on.

It was finding the shoes and stockings that started the alarm, according to the reporter, although this story is to change. What subsequently turns out to be the true story is that a Colonel J.G.Williamson – not Wilson, as first reported – of Cliffe Hall, has been out for a late Sunday afternoon walk with a friend and two of his sons, when one of them, Maurice, has spotted a body. He and his brother have pulled it out, only to discover a second. And at this stage, the alarm is raised, the third body is found, and the search starts for the fourth (it is still going on late on Sunday evening, before being abandoned). In the meantime, Ethel’s father, who has been over to visit the Ords with his daughter, and has left her with them, has blithely gone homewards in a train – from Piercebridge Station, leaving at 8.30. This doesn’t fit with the suggestion that the alarm has been raised. He has been stopped before reaching home – either Whitby or Hartlepool, it never says, and I’m not clear – by a telegraph sent to Bank Top station. You have to say that this is all amazingly efficient. And that the fact that you could hop on a train at Piercebridge seems somehow admirable. I suppose a mobile phone call would have reached him more quickly, which would have been awful (he was informed of the drowning by a railway official, not by a random call). Always odd to contrast the technologies.

The bodies have been taken to a local farm (Low Fields Farm, the property of a Mr. Dickinson). The search for the missing fourth girl is resumed at first light on Monday, by which time, they know they’re looking for Hannah, the eldest. She isn’t found until three o’clock, ‘in a deep pool  … close to a large rock’. By deep, about ten to twelve feet is meant. Grappling irons have been used in the search, but they don’t seem to have been used in the discovery. By the time Tuesday’s Northern Echo has reported this, the inquest is already fixed for Wednesday, at The Crown Inn, Piercebridge.

Not surprisingly, Mr. and Mrs. Ord – particularly the former, who was in poor health, and who had only a year or two to live – were horribly distressed. ”The father and mother seem[ed] almost demented.’ They were spared having to identify the bodies, which were laid out upstairs, above the inquest – for viewing by the jury. Their bodies were unmarked, according to Annie Thoroughgood, who had laid them out. A young girl called Annie Graham says that she saw them at four o’clock, near Cliffe Hall, on the Durham side of the river. This in itself is odd, since the original reporter clearly says the boots and stockings were on the Yorkshire side. He may have been wrong, as this is never challenged. There is some speculation that they have walked along a stone shelf, when one has fallen into deep water; there is some speculation that they were thinking of crossing the river (the river incidentally had no footpath, something perhaps we take for granted).  As the coroner remarks, the only thing they can say is that ‘these bodies have been found drowned, but … there is no evidence how it occurred’. The foreman assents.

Two odd things turn up at the inquest – one is that Ethel Stokell has had 2s 8d (quite a lot for a 14-year-old!) on her, a silver ring, and a watch that had not stopped. The other is that only one pair of boots has actually been found, one additional boot, and five stockings. But to look into that mystery, relatives would need to be called, and the Coroner doesn’t wish to involve them.

After this, the Northern Echo – preoccupied not only with the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, but also with a pit accident at Kelloe, and plenty of other incidents (the death of a young girl falling off a trap, as in pony and trap), moves on. The funeral is not mentioned. However, about a fortnight later, the members of the Victory  Harmonic Social Club organise ‘a smoking concert’ – the Mayor in attendance – in Darlington, proceeds to the parents of the girls. (Actually, the parents were quite well off. Stokell owned houses in Hartlepool, and Ord had a reputation as a decorator and photographer, having originally been a hatter and mercer in Bishop Auckland.) It would be interesting to find photographs of the four. And also to find out what on earth a ‘smoking concert’ was (actually, this last bit proved to be easy. It was a musical concert only attended by men: rather odd, in the circumstances. The term is apparently still in use in obscure men-only circles).

11 Responses to The Ord sisters and Ethel Stokell (2), May 2 1897

  1. Alan & Karen says:

    Hello Bill,
    We came across your blog while researching the history of our house at Castleton near Whitby. The house was built by Thomas William Stokell in 1890, and he and his family lived here for several years. It was sad to read about the deaths of two of their children. We would be very interested if anymore information about the family came to light.
    Many thanks, Alan and Karen.

  2. Jan Hurlestone says:

    Hi I am descended from the Ord family, and was looking for information on the girls who drowned at Piercebridge. Thankyou for your blog. Could you please give me a link to the newspaper articles please?
    Thanks, Jan

    • Hi Jan

      Thank you for this. I don’t have a link – I went to the Darlington library. You might find the papers have been digitised, but probably best to ask the Darlington librarians if you can photocopy it

      best wishes


      • Jan Hurlestone says:

        Hi Bill, thanks for your reply.
        Unfortunately, because I live in Australia, distance is a bit of an obstacle.
        If anyone else is researching this, could you please post a photo online?

  3. Mary Round says:

    Benjamin Thomas Ord, the father of the three girls drowned at Piercebridge was the brother of my great-grandmother, Mary Ord. Her parents were George Miller Ord and Annie Monica Limbert of Bishop Auckland. Mary and her husband, James Wilson came to Australia from Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1882 with six children. Eventually they had a family of thirteen. My grandmother was their third child born in 1875. Some years ago, I came across this story by chance because I wanted to find which ancestor my mother, Genevieve, had been named after. All she had said was she was named after ‘someone who had died’. To cut a long story short, I found Genevieve’s name with her sisters in the Richmond Death Registry. The Cleveland Family History Group came to my aid because a member remembered going on a bus trip to see graves where stone/ boulders had been used as monuments. Other siblings of Mary Ord had come to Australia and I asked around the descendants if anyone had heard the story. My aunt had written her memoirs when she was in her nineties and had said that she remembered her mother telling her and her sister about the shoes and flowers found on the riverbank and they had cried themselves to sleep. We never thought to ask her to elaborate. Even though the girls died in 1897, Grandma must have told the story in c 1904-5. My mother was born in 1906, so it may have been around that time. For it hardly to be mentioned again in a family of storytellers amazes me. Maybe for Grandma it was just too sad. She would have heard the dreadful news a few weeks before her first child (of eleven) was born. She had probably known the older girls before she left England.
    Another branch, Edward Ord’s family, had never heard about it at all.
    With the third family I struck gold. Fred Ord had come to Queensland in the 1870’s, married and had children. It was suggested to one of his daughters, Georgina, that she write to Cousin Emily, because the other surviving siblings had come to Australia and she would be lonely on her own. That correspondence lasted for years and in the 1960’s Georgina’s daughter visited Cousin Emily (Stott) in Darlington. Emily gave her a photo of Genevieve and I now have a copy. I would say it was one that Benjamin had rejected and given to Genevieve. She must have been about ten and had a mop of unruly curly hair. She certainly wasn’t dressed up or posed. In fact, it looks like he may have been experimenting with flash because on of Genevieve’s eyes has caught the light. Most poignantly, she has inscribed the photo, ‘To darling Emily from Vyvy’.
    I haven’t mentioned yet that not only my mother was Genevieve, but I have a sister and a daughter with that name. One nephew has a daughter with the name but that shouldn’t count because he was completely unaware that it was his grandmother’s name. It was chosen because he is into everything medieval. (He makes his own chain mail!)
    The name Winifred was used too but as there were a few Winnies on both sides of the family, it wasn’t so obvious. ( I am usually fussy about how names are spelt but I gave up worrying and just spell Winifred with two ‘i’s and an ‘e’.
    The other surviving children were Annie and Robert Victor Ord. Annie married Arthur Edgar and Victor, as he was known, married Hannah Florence (Flo)Vickers. Both couples lived in Mount Morgan, along with the Wilsons,the Fred Ords and the John Henry Ords. Descendants of the Edgars were contacted but they weren’t interested in family history.
    I tried but didn’t succeed in tracing Ethel Stokell’s family or her connection to the Ords.
    Benjamin Thomas Ord was a hatter by trade and took over his father’s woollen drapery in Bishop Auckland. I saw somewhere that both went bankrupt at some stage but haven’t investigated that further. I have BT Ord’s death certificate, He died from diabetes in 1899 in St John of God Hospital in Scourton in Yorkshire. Perhaps the disease was a result of being a hatter. I have one photo taken in 1894 of him leaning on the parapet of Raby Castle. I have other photos but I am only guessing which brother is which.

    It should be noted that George Miller Ord had a brother, Benjamin Thomas Ord, the first of three generations of BT ORD, Printers and Stationers, Hartlepool. The father of the girls was George Miller Ord’s son, Benjamin Thomas Ord. At the moment I can’t remember the name of the newspaper, BT Ord published in Hartlepool, but it would be interesting to know if it had an account of the tragedy.

    I hope you find this interesting.

    Mary Round,

    • Sorry for the delay and thank you for a brilliant response – really interesting

      best wishes


      • Mary Round says:

        I found the Stokell family on the 1891 Census. William and Elizabeth were living in Danby with their three children, Tom 12, Ethel 8 and Sidney 1. William was born in Hartlepool and Elizabeth in Bishop Auckland where BT Ord was born .Her maiden name was probably Hall (from Free BMD). One of the newspaper reports said that Ethel was a cousin of the Ords, so, if it was true, it must have been on their mother’s side. Her name was Harriet Davison. I tried to find out the connection years ago but will try again now. I wondered if there are descendants of Tom and Sidney Stokell about but then I found that Sidney had died in the December quarter of 1895. The parents and Tom aren’t on the 1901 census. I will finish this now but will contact you again if I find out more.

        Mary Round

  4. I would be very interested to hear more – and to share the photo!


  5. Mary Round says:

    Can I attach the photo to an email?

  6. Alan & Karen says:

    Hello, we posted a brief comment on your blog two years ago when we first came across this story on it.

    We thought you and your readers might be interested in some more information we have found about the Stokell family.

    The first deed we have shows Thomas William Stokell buying a piece of land adjoining the railway station, at Castleton, on the 3rd of December 1889. Although Sydney’s birth certificate shows him being born 9 days later in a house on the site.

    The house seems to have changed name a couple of times, while the Stokells lived here. Firstly it was called The Orchard, on Sydneys birth certificate, ( its now called Orchard House) then later on the 1891 census, and the birth certificates of two more sons born here, it is called The Nook.

    The two sons were, Ernest Reginald b. 14.11.1891, and Rupert Cleveland b.14.3.1893.

    The Stokells did not sell the house until 1904, but on the 1901 census I think they are living at 37 Bondgate Bishop Aukland, so there must have been a period when the house was empty, or rented out. We cant see it on the 1901 census. They were still here in 1895 when Sydney died of diphtheria.

    It would be interesting to know why a family with its roots in County Durham made a brief detour out to Yorkshire. The 1891 census says he is a brick manufacturer, and there was a large brick works a short distance away, in Commondale, which is the next stop on the railway line. Perhaps he invested in this?

    We hope this will be of interest to you, and look forward to reading any more information anyone digs up.
    All the best,
    Alan & Karen.

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