The report in The Standard of the bathing accident in Which George Blencowe, one of the Postman’s Park heroes, lost his life first appeared in the 8 September issue where it was said that it took place on Monday evening (that is 6 September) near the old wooden bridge crossing the river Lea near Temple Mills. They named one of the victims as William Sales, 15 years old, from Limehouse who had swum across the river to the Essex shore, but got into difficulties on his way back. Another boy, George Blencowe, 16 years old, from Stratford, saw him struggling and went to his rescue. Unfortunately, he was dragged under by Sales and they both drowned.
The next day, the same paper issued a report on the subsequent inquest. The paper silently corrected several of the facts they had had wrong in the previous report; the boy who got into difficulties transpired to be Walter Sale and only twelve years old. He was the son of John Sale, a greengrocer, and had gone to the river with his friend Stephen Webb. Webb stated at the inquest that when they reached the Back River, Sale said he would go in, but as Webb could not swim, he stayed on the shore to look after the clothes. Blencowe, the son of George Blencowe senior, a fruiterer, had heard the screams for help, took off his coat and boots and swam to the rescue. Webb saw them struggling and disappear.
Stephen Jones, a hammerman, heard the screams from the Walthamstow side of the Lea and swam across the river and ran over a bit of marshland to reach the Back River. He was then told by some bystanders that two boys had gone down and he swam to where they were last seen. He managed to find Sale’s body and brought it back ashore. But when he returned for Blencowe, another man had appeared who, according to Jones “was standing on the boy’s body”. That man, who was later to be found intoxicated, tried to get hold of Jones and fearing that he would be dragged under and being exhausted by that time, Jones returned to the shore. Blencowe’s body was eventually recovered with the help of drags.
The other witnesses of the accident said they could not help because they could not swim. The coroner praised Blencowe for his heroic, albeit unsuccessful and fatal, attempt to save the life of another boy. The coroner also mentioned that it had come to his notice that this was the third person Jones had saved or recovered and that he would make sure that his conduct was brought to the attention of the Royal Humane Society and that he allowed him “with great pleasure” the remuneration he was entitled to receive. The Jury opened a subscription for Jones who said that “he considered it his duty to save a life if he could do so”. Hear, hear.
If the stretch of the river Lea described as the Back River can be identified as what is now called Bow Back River, it lies to the southwest of the Olympic Park. Temple Mills, mentioned in the first newspaper report, however, was a yard belonging to the Great Eastern Railway lying north of the Olympic Park and not besides the Lea. Walthamstow is still further north, but Jones may just have been referring to the east shore of what is now called the Waterworks River. The Wikipedia page on the Bow Back Rivers (note the plural) presents a schematic plan of the river Lea and its – mainly man-made – channels. Now, if the newspaper was wrong on the details of the victim Sale, it may also have been wrong about the name of the Mills; the boys were probably swimming near the City Mills section of the river. But never mind where it was precisely, it remains a dreadful accident and Blencowe fully deserves his place among the heroes of Postman’s Park.