Tragic background to sisters who died in sea

Inspired by the tragic story of the Palethorpe sisters of Newmarket who committed suicide by drowning themselves in the sea at Felixstowe in February, 1961, because the cottage where they had lived all their lives which was being demolished to make way for a new housing development on Icewell Hill, Journal reader Charlotte Kemplin, of Burwell, decided to take a closer look at the background of Elsie and Sophia.

She writes: "My interest in the family was inspired by the article, and I did some research on Elsie and Sophia's family history.

"I discovered that their mother, Sophia Coleclough, was born in Hawarden, Flintshire, in 1852, and their father, John Palethorpe, in Broughton, Lincolnshire, in about 1829.

"John worked as servant, and later house steward, for the Earl and Countess of Yarborough, at Brocklesby Hall, for a total of at least 30 years from at least 1851 to around 1881.

"On the 1881 census, Sophia Coleclough is listed as cook for the same family.

"In 1882, John and Sophia were married in Hull, and the following year Roderigo George Palethorpe was born. By 1886, the family had moved to Woodbine Cottage, where Elsie and Sophia were born. The 1891 census shows the family living at Woodbine Cottage, along with a cousin, Mary Williams, aged 12 and born in Chester (so presumably on Sophia's side of the family). Mary Williams' visit from Chester indicates that Elsie and Sophia may have had living relatives at the time of their deaths, but had perhaps lost touch with them.

"After Mr Palethorpe's death in 1894, Sophia is shown on the 1901 census as living with her three children at Woodbine Cottage.

"By the 1911 census, Roderigo has left home. In fact, it appears he was not a bachelor, as on the 1911 census, he is listed as living with his wife, Susannah Nellie Palethorpe (ne Gibbons), at 19 Lisburn Road, Newmarket. They had been married six years and had no children.

"Roderigo was an architect, but was unemployed.

"There are planning office records which show that Roderigo was undertaking various architecture projects in and around Newmarket in 1922-23. These records are now held at Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds branch. Roderigo did indeed die more than 10 years before Elsie and Sophia – the records show that his death was registered in 1944.

"I have not yet searched for a death record for Susannah – she may also have been alive at the time of Elsie and Sophia's deaths.

"Sophia was 73 when she died on that cold February evening and her sister 76. Before they left Woodbine Cottage, where they had lived all their lives, they settled all their bills and left notes for local police explaining what they had done.

"At the inquest into their deaths, a neighbour Mrs Annie Grogan said: 'They were worried about what they were going to do with their furniture. It's the large, old-fashioned type and they didn't like the idea of moving. They liked being on their own,' she said.

"Recording a verdict of suicide at the sisters' inquest, coroner Norman Butters refused to consider a suggestion that the sisters had received a notice from the Newmarket Urban Council about whether they could continue to live at Woodbine Cottage

" 'It is not a matter for this court to inquire into,' he said. And the inquest heard the sisters had made no reference to any such notice in their letter to the police inspector.

“After the verdicts Mr John Crabb, council clerk, claimed that at no time had the cottage been threatened with demolition.

“ ‘The council has included the property in a clearance site and were negotiating with the two ladies for the its purchase,’ he said.

“Woodbine Cottage was eventually demolished along with the rest of the houses on Icewell Hill, but the sisters didn’t live to see it.”