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The memorial plaque to Thomas Simpson.


The memorial plaque commemorating Thomas Simpson located in Postman's Park reads as follows, "Died Of Exhaustion After Saving Many Lives From The Breaking Ice At Highgate Ponds. Jan 25 1885."


The Pall Mall Gazette reported on his death in an article that apppeared on Monday 26th January 1885:-

"The London parks were crowded yesterday by people who had come to see whether the frost of the last few days had hardened the ice on the ornamental, waters sufficiently to allow of skating or sliding, upon it.

The ice was not, in any of the parks, safe to go upon, but the police had great difficulty in keeping venturesome persons off, and one or two boys had narrow escapes from drowning.

In Regent's Park in the morning between three hundred and four hundred boys and men were skating and sliding upon ice that was in very bad, condition.

In the suburbs all the frozen ponds were fully occupied by skaters and sliders, and on the Highgate Pond a fatal accident occurred.

About four o'clock in the afternoon, while about two hundred persons were skating on what is known as the second pond, where a boy was drowned on Thursday, a large portion of the ice gave way, and nine persons were immersed.

A constable who was on special duty at the pond, having life lines and drags in his charge, threw in a line, and it was caught by three of the persons who were struggling in the water, and they were with assistance pulled on to the bank.

A labourer named Thomas Simpson, who had bravely plunged in and with considerable difficulty brought a young man out of the water, plunged in a second time and struggled hard to effect another rescue; but the bitter cold of the water and the physical strain began to tell upon him, and it was soon apparent that he was sinking.

Mr, Frank Pullen, of 198, Brecknock-road, then sprang upon the ice, ran several paces towards the hole, slid up to the brink, and plunged in.

He succeeded with difficulty in reaching the drowning man, and brought him safely on to the ice, but all efforts to restore animation proved unsuccessful..."


On Tuesday 27th January, 1885, the Yorkshire Gazette gave a more detailed account of the events of the Sunday afternoon and provided a little insight into the character and personality of Thomas Simpson:-

" At five o'clock on Sunday evening the ice on the second of the seven ponds at Highgate - the central one, that is, of the three which are situated outside Lord Mansfield's enclosed estate, gave way, and two, if not more, persons were drowned.

On Friday there were persons skating on this pond, but not on the other two; but throughout Sunday all three ponds were covered with skaters, varying in number from one to five hundred.

In no case, however, did the ice exceed, if it attained to, a thickness of two inches, and both yesterday and on Friday it was feared among the more experienced that a fatality might occur.

Some weight, indeed, was given to this foreboding from the circumstance that on Thursday a lad did actually lose his life while sliding on tint very pond which was the scene of the accident on Sunday, and it is a melancholy coincidence that it was here, too, the ice broke some four years ago and a skater was drowned.

At the time of the fatal occurrence on Sunday there were from 130 to 200 persons on the ice, the tea hour having done something to thin the number.

With the sudden crash of the breaking ice there arose loud shouts, and the skaters, as if impelled by one impulse, swept like lightning on to the banks, and, where there had been a gathering of moving human beings, there was now a dreary stretch of ice, the whiteness of which was broken only in one spot - some twenty or so yards from the bank at the London end - where in the dark grey water some six or seven persons were seen struggling to keep afloat.

Not a moment was lost before several persons proceeded to risk their own lives in the endeavour to save those in the water.

One of the first to go to the rescue was a boy named Thomas Burke, living at 18, Anatola-road, Dartmouth-park-hill. He went to the brink of the breakage in the ice, took off his coat and extended it to a man struggling in the water, who seized hold of it and was drawn out.

Meanwhile two skaters had left the bank and proceeded near to the fatal spot with a rope, which, however, proved to be rotten, and of little use.

Police-constable Howard, J. Webb, C. Keighley, W. Thorne, and others, in effecting rescues were themselves immersed in the water; but the man to whose prowess painful prominence was given was an occasional labourer on Mr Ward's neighbouring farm, named Thomas Simpson.

Immediately upon the accident occurring he bravely plunged in and, with considerable difficulty, brought a young man named Annett out of the water; then he again plunged in and struggled hard to effect another rescue.

But the bitter cold of the water and the physical strain began to tell upon him, and it was soon apparent that he was sinking.

A gentleman upon the bank, Mr. Frank Pullen, of 198, Brecknock-road, suddenly at the critical moment sprang upon the ice, ran several paces towards the hole, slid up to the brink, and plunged in.

He succeeded, with difficulty, in reaching the drowning man, and brought him safely on to the ice.

When, however, the latter was laid on the bank he was found to be insensible, and after every effort had been made by gentlemen around to restore animation, Dr. Pepper, of 38, Mansfield-road, N.W., arrived upon the scene, and pronounced life to be extinct.

Meanwhile Professor White, of the king-street Swimming Baths, had done some good service in the water, and, thanks to the ready assistance rendered generally, several persons had been drawn on to the ice, and no one remained upon the surface of the water.

But it was whispered that one person, if not more, had gone to the bottom, and evidence which seems conclusive pointed to a young man named Francis Annett, of 4, Ashbrook-road, Elthorne-road, Holloway, as having unfortunately lost his life.

Sergeant Barton, Police-constable Smith, and Mr. F. Crowdy, surgeon, rendered effective service after the fatility had occurred.

An ambulance truck was fetched from Highgate Police-station, and the body of the unfortunate man Simpson was transferred to the St. Pancras Mortuary.

The deceased was fifty years of age, and has been in the habit of doing odd work in Highgate.

When the news of his death became known, there were many expressions of regret among those in the neighbourhood who had grown familiar with his good-natured face.

The meagreness of the life-saving apparatus deposited in the neighbourhood of Highgate Ponds by the Royal Humane Society was the subject of some comment during the evening.

By daybreak yesterday the police were to drag the pond."


The Pall Mall Gazette carried a brief report on the inquest into the death of Thomas Simpson, and the deaths of others who had lost their lives that day, in its issue of Thursday 29th January 1885:-


"Dr. Danford Thomas held inquests yesterday, at Crowndale Hall, into the circumstances attending the deaths of Edward Banks, Francis Annett, and Thomas Simpson, who were drowned in one of the Highgate ponds, the first-named on Thursday last and the remaining two on Sunday evening.

A verdict of death from misadventure was returned.

The jury, recognizing the exposed and public character of the Highgate ponds, recommended that the Royal Humane Society should be respectfully requested to consider the subjeet, with a view to establishing their life-saving apparatus and drags, and that some authorized person should be stationed at the ponds, when ice was on the water, to protect the public from danger."