Harold Foster 1879-1907

This inscription on a gravestone in Monk Fryston cemetery, which I visited in May 2017, intrigued me and I decided to find out more about Harold and his family. Just first though to clarify how Harold and I are related; Harold was the grandson of my three times great grandfather Thomas Foster (1825-1902) so that makes Harold and I first cousins three times removed.

Harold was born to parents Rayner Foster (1856-1841) and Mary Smith and baptised in St Wilfrid’s Church, Monk Fryston on 9 November 1879, when his father at the time, was described as a labourer. In the 1871 census Rayner was recorded as a farm servant working on Approach Farm (Hollicarrs) in Escrick. He married Mary in 1877 and by the 1881 census they were living on the Leeds and Selby Road in Monk Fryston with their two sons: John (1877-1948) and Harold; Rayner was recorded as a gardener. Rayner and Mary went on to have another son who they called Rayner (1886-1903) and in the 1891 and 1901 censuses the family were living at The Lodge, Main Street, Monk Fryston. In 1901 both Rayner senior and Harold were recorded as gardeners not domestic.

St Wilfrids Church Monk Fryston

St Wilfrid’s Church, Monk Fryston

In 1903 Rayner and Mary’s youngest son, Rayner, died at the age of 17. He was buried on 30 December in the cemetery at Monk Fryston. This had been set up on land donated by Benjamin Hemsworth esquire and had opened for burials in May 1874.

Next for the family came the death of Harold in 1907. The inscription on the family gravestone about him reads “he was accidentally drowned in the Victoria Dock, Hull December 24th 1907”.

The incident itself was recorded under the headline “accidents in the fog” in the Yorkshire Post dated 26 December 1907. The report included the following information:

During Monday night and Tuesday morning Hull was wrapt in a thick fog, which continued for many hours, dislocating traffic of all kinds, especially in the vicinity of the docks, where the mist was so dense that it was impossible to walk with safety along the quays. One policeman lost his life, several other men fell into the water at various parts of the dock system and had narrow escapes from drowning…The policeman was a young fellow named Harold Foster, son of a gardener at Monk Fryston, employed by the North-Eastern Railway company in watching the Victoria Dock. It is supposed he walked over the quay side in the fog. No one saw the accident but a man named Larvin heard a splash and a shout. He pluckily dived in, and after swimming about for some time was very fortunate in being rescued himself. The body was recovered shortly afterwards, and a jury on Tuesday evening found that the officer had met his death by accident.

Victoria Dock Hull 1910

Victoria Dock, Hull in 1910

Harold’s funeral was reported in some detail in the Hull Daily Mail edition of 4 January 1908. It described how the body was moved from Hull to South Milford by train and then by hearse to the home of his parents: The Lodge, Monk Fryston Hall. A large number of his police colleagues, under Inspector Dobson, had travelled to Monk Fryston to act as pall bearers.

The funeral was very well attended with colleagues, friends and family and the article describes the choir, principal mourners and the floral tributes. It also confirms that Harold had worked at Monk Fryston Hall gardens for some years.  The following are selected quotes from the account:

The sad cortege left the residence of the parents about 2.30pm, for the beautiful little church – which was decorated with plants and evergreens and flowers – and was met … by the Rev W M C Clark and Rev B Hemsworth MA JP.

The church was crowded, and many present were in tears, for all the village appeared to feel the loss. On leaving the church for the cemetery the cortege was headed by the surpliced choir and the two clergymen; next came the police some from Hull and some from York, and they were followed by the officers and members of the Oddfellow’s lodge, of which the deceased was a member.

The accident sent a gloom over many hearts just occurring on the eve of Christmas and another pathetic feature of the accident that just four years ago – on the day of the funeral – the parents lost another son, aged 17. The coffin bore the inscription: Harold Foster, died December 24th 1907. Aged 26 years. Rest in peace.

The place where Harold died, the Victoria Dock in Hull, opened on 3 July 1850. The entrance to it from the River Hull was closed and remodelled in 1964. The dock was closed on 1 February 1970. In 1988 a scheme was started to redevelop the derelict dock into a dockland village.

Monk Fryston mapHarold’s father Rayner continued to work as a gardener to the Hemsworth family. In the 1922 edition of Kelly’s directory he was the gardener to the Reverend B Hemsworth MA JP and then in the 1927 edition to Mrs Hemsworth at Monk Fryston Hall. By the time of the 1939 register Rayner was recorded as a retired gardener living with his wife Mary at Lodge, The Square, Monk Fryston. Monk Fryston Hall remained in the Hemsworth family until 1946; it was sold at auction and converted into a hotel which opened in 1947.

I first came across Monk Fryston Hall in 1980 when my new husband and I chose it as the place to stay after our wedding. It is only more recently that I discovered the Foster’s during my family history research into my ancestors. Whilst looking around the cemetery I also found some more gravestones for members of the Foster family and I do intend to look further into their history