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From the Sussex Express, 27th June 1863


The south eastern district of the counties of Kent and Sussex were visited last Wednesday evening by a dreadful storm of thunder and lightning. It commenced between eight and nine o'clock at night, and at first, though the flashes came in quick succession, yet the thunder was almost unheard, and only at a considerable interval after the flash. That, at least, was the case in Lewes and the neighbourhood. Gradually, however, the storm rolled nearer and nearer, and about 11 o'clock it seemed to reach its climax, the lightning being terrific, and the thunder bursting with a frightful crash right over head. It was at this time the melancholy accident occurred between this town and Glynde, which proved fatal to three unfortunate individuals who, braving the storm, had left Lewes between ten and eleven o'clock, when the rain was falling in perfect torrents. The most striking feature of lightning was its continuousness; the flashes followed with such rapidity as to defy distinct observation; frequently it seemed as though two or three flashes were lighting up the sky at the same time. The storm extended west as far as Chichester, and was felt very severely at Worthing and Brighton; but its greatest violence seems to have manifested to the east of Lewes, through the Weald of Sussex and Kent, and right away as far as Staplehurst, on the South-Eastern railway, and Maidstone. With these preliminary observations we append our local report:-


One of the most frightful accidents on the high road which it has ever been our painful duty to record, occurred in the road between Lewes and Ranscombe on Wednesday last. A terrific storm broke over the district between nine and ten o'clock. Flashes of lightning took place in quick succession, and the peals of thunder were loud and continuous - indeed, such a storm in this neighbourhood has scarcely ever been before known. Rain poured down in torrents and the roads in different parts of the town were completely flooded. It was while the storm was raging with such fierceness that the frightful and melancholy accident took place. The spot was on Ranscombe Brow, a short distance to the west of the house of Mr Matthews, who occupies the Ranscombe Farm. The unfortunate sufferers are Henry Mockett Weller, in business as a butcher at Glynde, his wife, and a young woman named Elizabeth Bingham. Weller and his wife, it seems, went to Brighton in a horse and cart on the Wednesday afternoon, passing through Lewes at about five o'clock. The young woman Bingham was returning to spend a short time with them, and we are told, was to have been married at Glynde during her stay. The accident by which all three of them were so suddenly deprived of their existence must have happened between eleven and twelve o'clock, as they passed the Southerham toll-gate not far from the spot a few minutes past eleven, while the rain was descending in torrents. They were driving in the direction of Glynde, and this was the last time they were seen previous to the accident.

Mr Geer, of the Star Hotel, during the evening, drove over in a four-wheel to Firle to visit Mrs Geer, their son and Mrs George Cooke. Whilst at Firle the storm commenced, and as it continued almost without cessation for several hours they were detained there till very late, but were obliged to return that night. The storm abated about two o'clock and the party started on their way home. Though at setting off the rain was but little, the lightning still continued at intervals, lighting up the whole of the surrounding neighbourhood. They got on very well till they arrived at Ranscombe Brow, the spot already indicated. (On the north side of the road there is a bank, and Mr Geer was driving carefully, the night being very dark, and it being impossible to distinguish a single thing a yard or two off).

On reaching the summit of the brow Mr Geer was not a little surprised to find his horse make a dead stop, and kick and plunge most violently. He could see no reason for this, and though he applied the whip the animal would not move forward but backed. His son remarked, 'There's something in the road, father', and Mr Geer immediately directed him to get down and go to the horse's head but it would not go on, and telling Master Geer to keep a tight hold of the animal's head, he alighted, and went forward to see what the horse had caught sight of. He had not gone many paces before he saw a spring cart lying on its side in the road, and a horse which was in the shafts was kicking and plunging most violently. He ran up to the cart being convinced an accident had happened, and at the moment of his arrival a powerful flash of lightning illuminated the district, and judge of his surprise and horror when, at his feet he saw two females lying, very near to the horse's hind legs, and apparently quite dead. Mr Geer immediately returned to his friends, and told them what was the matter, and what he had seen. They hastened back to Ranscombe, and alarmed the labourers living in the cottages there, and also awoke the inmates of Mr Matthews' house. Mr Geer's horse was secured, and lights having been obtained, everyone, with the exception of the ladies, returned to the scene of the disaster. Mr Rigden, surgeon, was sent for, but his assistance was of no avail, the poor creatures being quite lifeless. Mrs Weller and the young woman Bingham were taken out from under the cart; the former was quite cold, but the latter was warm when discovered, and it is asserted by the men present that when they were removing her she uttered a low moan, but that could not be the case, as the medical evidence proves that her neck was completely broken, and that death must have been instantaneous. Up to this time no one knew that a third corpse was near them, but on preparing to move the cart, poor Weller was seen lying completely under it, with the axle and nave of the wheel resting on his face, which was much lacerated. He was promptly extricated but, of course, life was quite extinct; in fact, there can be no doubt that death was instantaneous. The clothes worn by the sufferers were completely drenched by the rain, and the contents of the cart were thrown about the road. The cart having been placed on its wheels again, the bodies were removed to Ranscombe to await the coroner's inquest.

It was now breaking day, and the spot at which the accident happened was examined by Mr Geer and others. We have before said that on the near side of the road there is a bank, and on close scrutiny, marks as of a wheel running on it were plainly visible. It is , therefore, thought most probable, though the matter is left quite open, that whilst driving along the horse shied at one of the flashes of lightning, and swerving the near wheel, ran on to the bank. If so, no doubt the poor fellow Weller was thrown out, and the cart fell over on him.

The death of the females is attributed either to being thrown out, or to the electric fluid, or to their having jumped out, and the latter seems the most likely, in consequence of the position in which they were found. Weller, we are glad to say, leaves no family.

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