Death of Mystery Cyclist on the Nant Ffrancon Pass, 1898, and Bethesda’s Kindness
About mid-day on Thursday, 18th August 1898, a cyclist, who was not known locally, started to descend the Nant Ffrancon Pass from Llyn Ogwen to Bethesda. A Llandegai farmer, who had two passengers in his cart (Leeds solicitor W S Hannon and his son), was heading uphill in the opposite direction towards Llyn Ogwen.
A little further on two cyclists, who were also riding up the pass, dismounted when the stranger passed them ‘looking flustered’ and hurtling downwards at the ‘speed of a mail train’ with his feet off the pedals and unable to control his speed.
As the cyclist approached the farmer’s cart, Mr Hannan remarked to his companions, “that man will come to grief”. Apparently the stranger bounced off the cart, hit the ground and received a fatal injury to the head. It was later said that he was riding an ‘old style racing bike with no brakes’.
Soon the owner of a wagonnet heading towards Bethesda arrived on the scene, and he conveyed the body to the Douglas Arms inn from where it was later transferred to a mortuary pending a coroner’s inquest. Police enquiries throughout the kingdom failed to establish the identity of the deceased. His age was estimated at 35yrs.
Mr D Griffith Davies, a local solicitor and the foreman of the inquest jury, said it had been decided that, as no relative had been traced, a collection would be undertaken forthwith amongst the townspeople to defray the cost of a public funeral, so that the deceased’s burial could be conducted without any tinge of pauperism. It was later reported that even had the arrangements been made by the man’s own relatives, they could not have been carried out more reverently or considerately.
On the 15th August at 6.30pm, after a half hour delay in case relatives turned up, a crowd estimated at 1200 gathered on the road between the Douglas Arms and Glanogwen Church where the interment was to take place. In addition to local traders, who closed shop early, and quarry workers who had but an hour before completed their day’s shift, the procession on the short journey comprised many women and children.
The Rev R T Jones led the way up the path into the church to the strains of the traditional Welsh hymn, Crug y bar, (for Vaughan Williams's arrangement of the tune click: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5wI4epdx5Q)
After the service the coffin was borne to the graveside. It was constructed of fine pitch pine with black furnishing and a breastplate bearing no inscription. Later a small slab was placed at the head of the grave bearing the inscription: ‘Died 11th August 1898: not known’. It was said at the time that the occasion reflected the greatest credit upon the people of Bethesda
But that’s not the end of the story... Some time later, the exact date is not known, friends or relatives came searching for their lost one. The burial certificate was amended to read George William Grossley, 6, Tillingham Street, Sparkbrook, (near Wolverhampton), and his age given as 30. A new headstone was erected bearing the inscription:
In Loving Memory
Aged 30 of Birmingham
Who Was Killed While Cycling
Near Bethesda on August 11th 1898
The Parents Wish to Place on record
The Christian Spirit of the Inhabitants
Of Bethesda in burying their son
Before he was identified
He is not dead, the son of our affection,
But gone into that school where he no
Longer needs our protection
And Christ himself doth rule
We know nothing more of George, other than the information below in the 1891 Census. It is possible he died unmarried without children, and so has no direct descendents alive today. However, he may have had siblings who may have married and have had children, and therefore the family may be represented in the current generation. If so, and given the facility of internet search engines, perhaps the following will attract visitors seeking and finding a sad yet rich family root.
1891 UK Census
I, Leopold Terrace, Aston, Birmingham
William Gressley 58 Whip Maker
Emily Gressley 52
Sarah Gressley 27 Wrapper- up and Brass worker
George Gressley 22 Tin Plate Worker
James Gressley 17 Brass Turner
William Gressley 15 Brass tapper
Arthur Gressley 13 Errand Boy
George's gravestone at Glanogwen church
View from the south east side of the church, with a light sprinkling of snow on the mountain tops
Our thanks are due to the verger of Glanogwen Church, ‘Albert’, who first informed us of the existence of the grave.
To understand a town is to know its history.
It is worth recalling that when Bethesda was extending such generosity of spirit to a deceased stranger, its own townspeople were under the oppression of landowner and employer, Lord Penrhyn, to a degree almost without equal in Victorian Britain. . For the student of social history, these may tempt further study
Roy Spilsbury with additional research by Judith Bartlett and Joyce Spilsbury