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From the Sussex Express, 26th January 1923




A distressing accident to a little child occurred at Ranscombe, Beddingham, on Sunday morning. The victim was Winifred Rose Wooler, aged two years and four months, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Charles Richard Wooler, of 4 Ranscombe Cottages. Near her home is a pump run by a petrol engine for supplying water to the cottages. While the engine is in an engine room, the pump is in the open, being connected by three lengths of spindle, coupled together. In some way the child's clothes became entangled in one of these, and she was twisted over and over. The engine was stopped with all speed, but the child was found to be dead.

The facts were disclosed at an inquest on Monday afternoon, conducted by Mr G Vere Benson (Coroner for East Sussex) who sat with a jury, the foreman of which was Mr William Reynolds.


The first witness was the father of the child, a carter, who stated that he last saw her alive about two minutes before the accident. She was then at the back door of the house. Witness went into the garden to get some vegetables, and shortly afterwards a little boy named Baker called him and said, 'Winnie's caught up'. Witness saw his child being carried round on the spindle of the pump, and her legs were striking the ground. She made no sound. The child must have gone straight to the pump when he last saw her. The engine was stopped, and Mr Funnell took the child off. Witness had often warned the children not to go near the pump.

The Coroner – Have you ever suggested to Mr Mount or anyone that it should be fenced in for the sake of the children?

Witness – No. He had other children, whom he had warned about the pump.

By the Foreman – The pump had never been cased in since it had been there.

The Foreman remarked that he had known the pump for the last 50 years. Formerly it was driven by a horse.

Ernest James Baker, a boy of 12, said that he went on Sunday morning with Mr Wooler's son to the cart lodge to get a spade for his father. He took it down the yard and left Winnie at the corner of the house. When he came back he saw her on the spindle. She was not crying out and made no sound. He called her father, who sent him for Mr Funnell to stop the engine. Witness knew of the danger of going near the pump, but thought Winnie was not old enough to understand, but he had told her not to go when he had been there.


Frederick Funnell, cowman, of 1 Ranscombe Cottages, gave evidence that at about 11.35 he was told by the previous witness to stop the engine, as Winnie was killed. Witness got the key from Mr Akehurst, who was upstairs in the same house, and rushed to the engine room. He stopped the engine at once, but it could not be stopped dead. He untwisted the child from the spindle. She was dead. The clothes were very tight round the neck. The head was close to the spindle.

George Akehurst, cowman to the farm, said he looked after the engine, which was for pumping water for the cottages and cattle. The engine was in an engine house, and the pump 14 yards outside and 23 yards from the cottages. The pump was driven by three lengths of spindle coupled together. There was no protection whatever. Witness started the engine on Sunday morning about 11.15 and it would have been running up to one o'clock. He looked to see if there was anyone about, and then went indoors.

The Coroner remarked that looking round was not much good unless witness was going to stop there. Someone might come along afterwards.

Witness stated that it was only his duty to start the engine and then leave it. Mr Funnell came to him for the key, and witness followed after throwing the key to Mr Funnell from the window. When he came out he saw the little girl being whirled round and Mr Funnell going into the engine room to stop the engine. The child's clothes were tight round the neck and under the arms.

The Coroner – I suppose this little girl and others were frequently out on the ground.

Witness – Yes, it was a sort of playground.

The coroner – A very dangerous toy to leave in their way. Has no one ever suggested the danger of it and taken steps to prevent accidents?

Witness replied that he did not know, as he had only been there about three months. He did not know if there had been other accidents.

The Foreman remarked that to his knowledge the engine was started in the morning and left running practically all day.

The Coroner – It is wonderful there has not been an accident before.


Edward Mount, tenant of Southerham and Ranscombe Farms, stated that the ground where the pump stood was the property of the farm. The pump had been working for some time, but the engine was put in about six years ago. It had never occurred to him that it ought to be fenced in or guarded in some way, and he had never had a suggestion from the people who lived near by or used the yard. There had never been an accident before.

The Coroner – Was it by your instruction that Akehurst left it unwatched?

Witness – Yes, they put on the engine and leave it. There is supposed to be no danger as far as I know. The pump is to be covered in tomorrow, although that is too late now.

The Coroner – That is very right, and it is wonderful to me that there has never been any accident before.

The witness added that the pump really stood on private ground, and it had never been suggested as being dangerous.

A juryman asked if it had never occurred to Mr Mount that some protection should be taken for his own safety.

Witness – No, or I should have had it done.

The same juryman was of the opinion that where a lot of children were playing about the pump should have been covered in. If a little child was told not to go near it, it would not understand.

The Coroner expressed surprise that the parents of the child did not realise the danger and complain about it. It was easy to see the danger now the accident had happened, but the first people to recognise it, one would have thought, would have been the parents. It was only fair to Mr Mount to point out that the danger was never recognised by the parents.


Addressing the jury, the Coroner said he considered that medical evidence was unnecessary. They did not know whether death was caused by the child being strangled by its clothing, which was possible, or some vital part being caught while it was going round. It was for them to say whether death was accidental or anyone was to blame. It might be suggested that the parents should have kept the child out of the way or asked Mr Mount to have something done. Apparently no one realised the danger.

The jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of accidental death, but were of the opinion that Mr Mount should be severely censured for not having the pump covered in before.

The Coroner – Well, Mr Mount, you have heard the verdict. It is their censure, and it is my business to convey it to you. Everyone can form their own opinion as to the degree in which you have failed to see the danger. There is no doubt that if you had seen danger you would have had something done. I am sure the jury will be gratified to know that the danger is to be stopped from tomorrow at all events.

The Foreman, on behalf of the jury, expressed sympathy with the parents, in which the Coroner joined.

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