William WALTERS – Old Billy Whip

William WALTERS, better known as "Old Billy Whip" was a parish character. He worked as a boatman on the Cromford Canal.

His accidental death in May 1910 was fully reported in the press at the time.

Transcriptions of the newpaper reports courtesy Hugh POTTER.

Derbyshire Courier; 14 May 1910
Sad end of a Bull Bridge Character
Fatal Fall Down 12 Stone Steps

An unusual sensation was created in the little village of Bullbridge on Saturday when it was known that Mr William Walters, better known in local circles as ‘Old Billy Whip’ had met an untimely end on the aqueduct at Bull Bridge where he had spent the greater portion of his life.Old Billy was a very familiar figure on the canalside, and had plied his trade as a boatman on the canal between Bull Bridge and Cromford for the last 40 years. He is a native of Sandiacre, Notts, but very little is known about his early life. He went out to Singapore and India at an early age and after spending some years there worked his way back as a sailor to England.After a good spell of knocking about on board merchant vessels as a sailor, he came inland got a position at Stanton Ironworks. Not settling down to this he wandered down as far as Cromford, and secured a job more to his liking as a Boatman on the Cromford to Bull Bridge stretch of the canal.He was very handy on the boats and could be relied on to successfully pilot the huge cargoes of cold from wharf to wharf, along the route of the canals.His hobby was to repair and patch up any defects in the boats, and for a quantity of years made his residence in a boat cabin on the aqueduct at Bull Bridge. He had worked successfully for Messrs Wheatcroft and Dawes of Cromford and Messrs Elijah Bradley and White at Bull Bridge. Of late years he was employed more as a jobbing man, and was greatly indebted to the kindness of Mrs Else, Lea Wood, and Mr White, of Bull Bridge.It was while working for Mr White that he met his untimely end. It appears he had gone on a little errand, on the canalside, this being his last job for the night, the time being about 7.45 and on returning it is surmised he stumbled at the top of the steps which lead from the canalside to the house of Mr White, and fell a distance of about 13 or 14 feet down 12 stone steps, alighting on his head. It is believed death was instantaneous.Mr Thomas Poyser of Bullbridge was the first to discover the body, which was quite warm. Artificial respiration was resorted to, but it was found useless. PC Bagshaw of Ambergate was on the spot and Dr Rankin and Sgt Wyles of Crich arrived shortly after when Dr Rankin pronounced life extinct.Deceased was removed on a truck belonging to Mr Henry Lock of Bullbridge to the school room at St Anne’s Church Ambergate which is used as an ambulance headquarters.Mr Walters was 76 years of age and was a very heavy type of build. He was seldom seen in the village, except when on shopping expeditions.He had a remarkably clear skin which he attributed to the cold water tubs and splashes he regularly indulged in. Scrupulously clean he could be seen at his advanced age even in the winter months breaking the ice and having his morning tub. In the winter time he occasionally spent a portion of the hard months in the Belper Union but often expressed his contempt for such a life and only recently stated he would not die in the workhouse.One strange fact connected with the case is that the late Mr Halliwell, the Cooperative manager at Holloway, whose sad end we recorded last week, repeatedly endeavoured to secure for him the old age pension, but on account of Old Billy resorting to the Union in the winter months these efforts always resulted in failure. Old Billy like many more was anxiously looking forward to the time when the pauper disqualification would be removed.He was a very interesting and old character and a chat with him often revealed facts which proved entertaining.His only relative appears to be his brother who has been a resident of the Belper Union for a considerable time. Old Billy asserts he never had his photograph taken “since he wer’ a lad”.

Belper News & Derbyshire Telephone. 13 May 1910
Accident at Bull Bridge Inquest and verdict.
At the St Anne’s Schoolroom, Ambergate, on Tuesday Mr R Sale, coroner for the Appletree Hundred, held an inquest concerning the death of William Walters, Single, of no fixed abode, who was found dead on the previous Saturday lying close to a number of steps situate on the canalside at Bullbridge leading to the House of Mr John White a boatman. The Rev HD Field was foreman of the jury.John White, of Bullbridge, Heage, boatman, said he had known the deceased about 40 years. He was a native of Stapleford but has been living in the neighbourhood for about 40 years having. He had no settled house, last lived in boats belonging to witness on the canal near Bullbridge and at other times where he could.The Coroner: Had he been in the Workhouse? Yes, in Belper workhouse for three months during last winter. He has been about the neighbourhood for three months.How had he got a living? He collected sticks and exchanged them for food.Did he do any other work? Yes: odd jobs now and again, but did not do much work.Witness said deceased was about 71 or 72 years of age. He saw him alive last Wednesday, about 5 o’clock at night. He was in witness’s house smoking a pipe.Was he in good health? Yes: he left my house and went to the boat to sleep, and I did not see him alive again.A juror: did you see him after he was dead? Yes: I saw him on Saturday night about 8 o’clock. I was passing by the bottom of our steps.How far do the steps go? From the canal down to the door, which is a little below the level of the canal. I saw Walters lying at the side of the steps flat on his back, his legs were towards my house, and his head by the side of the steps. I spoke to him and he did not answer.Did you examine him? I went and told my son that Walters lay dead at the corner.The Coroner: Was he dead or alive? Dead: my son then fetched the police.A juror: How many steps are there? There are 12 steps. They go up by the gable end of my house. There is no handrail. I saw a bag at the top of the steps, which I recognised as belonging to deceased, containing food.Rose Locke, of the Lord Nelson Inn, Bullbridge, wife of Henry Lock, said she had known the deceased about 16 years. She last saw him on Saturday at 6:30 pm.The Coroner: Where did you see him? He went past my house door and offered to come in but I told him to go further on.Why was that? Because he was not in the habit of coming in my house, and generally imposed upon someone.What was his condition? I thought he was little fresh, and had had enough to drink, considering he was going to the boat on the canal. I never saw anything more off him alive.Was he able to walk straight and steady? YesA juror: did you notice which way he went? He went as if he was going to the boat.Was it the nearest way up the steps at Bullbridge? Yes, from our house.Dr Henry Rankin of Crich stated that on Saturday he was called by Sgt Wyles about 9:30 pm to Bullbridge. He went with the officer and found the deceased lying at the bottom of the steps, which passed at the side of John White’s house to the canal. He was quite dead, but warm. He saw no marks of violence. There were a few slight scratches on the crown of his head. He recognised the old man as one he had been called to attend about three years before in Mr White’s boat. He then found him suffering from bronchitis and heart troubles. He got him removed to the workhouse infirmary. He never saw him afterwards alive. The theory was that he had fallen down steps. The scratches were not sufficient to cause death.
The coroner asked the doctor to again view the body, as he thought the bruises on the forehead were serious.After examining the body the doctor said that they were gravel scratches. Death was due to heart failure, caused by a shock through falling down the steps. The neck was not dislocated nor the scull fractured.PC Bagshaw, station at Ambergate, said information was given to him, and he found the deceased lying as stated by the other witnesses. There were 12 steps, and about 7 feet high in all. The steps were 3’8” wide and fitted up to the end of the house, but there was no handrail.The coroner: Did you notice anything about? About a foot from the side of the steps and a foot higher than his head I saw an indentation in the ground and on further examination found there was human hair in the impression. I searched the body and found a pocketknife, two clay pipes, tin of tobacco, and an empty tin, and 3 boxes of matches. I saw a sack at the top of the steps which contained a few buns and bread, belonging to the deceased.The jury returned a verdict of heart failure caused by shock from falling down the steps.