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History

It is 2.50 on 20th September 1931: a quiet Sunday afternoon in Regency Square. It has been a busy week in the boarding house at number 45 but for just for a few hours, Isabella Hargreaves and her companion, 16 year-old Hilda Lawford, are resting in the basement. The doorbell rings and Hilda, more a domestic help than a lady’s companion, is sent upstairs to find out who it is. 

 

Hilda opens the door and screams.  In front of her stands Harry Cashford. In his left hand he holds a pistol.  Seconds later, Harry has fired a shot into Hilda’s face.  Luckily he shoots wide, merely grazing Hilda’s cheek and breaking a fanlight above the inner door behind the girl. Hilda knows, moreover that it is Isabella who is Harry’s real target.  Harry pushes past Hilda towards Isabella who has been standing in the hallway at the top of the basement stairs.  Isabella turns and manages to reach the bottom of the basement stairs before she hears the second shot.  Harry Cashford has fired a single bullet from his 303 Webley Service Gun - into his brain.  At 4.16 the same day, at the Royal Sussex County Hospital he is pronounced dead.

 

What provoked this violent attack and why did Harry commit suicide? Harry Cashford and Isabella had previously lived as man and wife for some six years and had arrived at 45 Regency Square in December 1930.  Harry’s behaviour, however, had lately become rather erratic.  In January, Harry he had brought a girlfriend into the house, at which point, understandably, Isobel refused to continue to live with him. He became threatening; so much so that Isobel applied to the Police Court for protection from him. In August 1931 he moved out of Regency Square, but not far away.  He took a room at 6 Sillwood Street, just couple of hundred yards away, enabling him, to take the short-cut through the twitten which ran directly from Little Preston Street into Preston Street and on into Regency Square.  At one point, Isobel believed his motive was financial, and gave Harry £15 to stay away.[1]   But still the threats continued.

 

And what of Harry himself?  Was he vindictive, jealous or insane?  When PS Wren, the Coroner’s Officer, searched Harry’s room in Sillwood Street that same night, he found a fourteen page document written the previous day, Saturday.  Much of this document the Coroner refused to read at the Inquest as, according to the Coroner himself:  “it was absolute abuse of certain well-known people living in the town.”  This might lead us to think that Harry was paranoid or suffered from delusions about local people.  The first words read out by the Coroner are not palatable: 

 

“I do certainly hope that what I am about to do will be successful.  I have been trying for some time to get ammunition for my gun, but have had no success.  I have made one to fit my shooter.  If only I had been able to get revolver ammunition I would put a good few people on the spot.  I pray to God to help me in what I am about to do.  If I fail it means hanging or imprisonment for life and I don’t want to linger on.  You can give my rotten body to any hospital who cares to accept it.  I hope to injure her and not to kill her so she will have to face up to the world after what is about to happen.” 

 

Here is a man who feels himself to be a failure and who wishes to avenge his failings on other people.  Yet they are not the words of a madman and he knows what punishment to expect.  He even thinks of leaving his body for medical research.

 

The Coroner had already revealed that the title Harry had given to his document was “Journey’s End”.  It makes poignant reading:

 

“I pray once again to God to help me in what I am about to do and I am happy to think my troubles will soon be over.  May God forgive me for what I am about to do.”

 

And here it is worth reflecting that, had Harry lived, he would have been punished not only for an attempted murder (the Coroner was quite clear in his own mind that there was no premeditated attempt to murder Isobel and he had no interest in harming Hilda).  He would also have been found guilty of the heinous crime of attempted suicide; punishable, until 1961, by imprisonment.

 

Harry continues:  “Think kindly of me.  I have no regrets so goodbye all and may God bless you.  I could say quite a lot more but I am tired.  It is very hard to leave.  I have had good times and bad times.  I can’t grumble as I have had a good innings, knocking up more than a century [2]…” 

 

At this point the Coroner again seems to expurgate the text.  The suspension marks are the Evening Argus journalist’s way of indicating that the Coroner jumped to a later part of the Harry’s document which goes on: 

 

“… If I am successful tomorrow and can fix things I shall be happy.  At present I am lonely.  Any good things I have got on at different places, they may keep themselves as I won’t need the money after tomorrow, Sunday.  I am just going round to 45 Regency Square.  I sincerely hope I find someone there.  This is the Journey’s end.  I can’t stand it any longer.”

 

Harry Cashford might well have been both mad and bad, but today, reading his last testament, he also appears to be a victim of severe depression. At the end of the Inquest the Coroner, in measured tones, pronounced his verdict: 

 

“In this case, of course, I must find that the man committed suicide whilst of unsound mind.” 

 

And that was the last that was heard of Harry Cashford.

 

Suzanne Hinton

 © 2013

 

[1] In this same week there were small ads in the Evening Argus offering Bed and Breakfast from 21/- (£1.05p) per week at 39 Russell Square.  Bed-sits for a single person in the same area cost 7/6d (37½p) and a large bed-sit for two was 12/6d (62½p).  For £1 per week, you could have the luxury of a sitting room, a bedroom and a kitchen.  The £15 offered to Cashford was, therefore, a considerable sum.

[2] As Harry was only 45 years old at the time of his death, the “century” he refers to cannot be his age.  The reference is unclear.