SARAH HENLEY - SHE JUMPED FROM CLIFTON SUSPENSION BRIDGE AND SURVIVED

 

Extracts From Local Newspapers Referring To The Incident

 

Evening World - 7th April 1948

 

Jumped From Suspension Bridge - Lived

 

The True Story of Mary Ann

 

All Bristol is today recalling a story that outstrips fiction - a story too good to be true, but one that really happened - the miraculous escape from death over 60 years ago of a young woman who jumped from the Suspension Bridge - and lived!

 

She jumped, the story goes, after a lovers quarrel, but, her skirts acting as a ‘parachute’, she landed in the mud.

 

Sarah Ann Henley was the girl who jumped.  She was 22.  It happened on May 8th 1885.

 

Yesterday they buried Sarah Ann at Avon View Cemetery.  She was 85.  Her astonishing gamble with death gave her an extra 62 years of life.

 

She married too, and Sarah Ann Lane, widow, was the name they wrote on the death certificate.

 

She lived at Croydon Street, Easton.

 

Sarah Ann’s jump has become legend.  It is recorded in the official history of the Suspension Bridge.  What really happened?  There are many still alive who may recall reading about it at the time.

 

The “Magpie’s” Story

 

Into the “Evening World” office today came a copy of the old “Bristol Magpie”, dated May 16, 1885

 

There, in the fourth paragraph of the City Notes, is a reference to the classic jump.

 

Says the Magpie:  “The young woman, Sarah Ann Henley, who jumped off the Suspension Bridge and marvellously escaped instant death, is, strange to say, still alive in the Infirmary, and may possibly recover.  We believe that out of the 16 or 17 persons who have jumped off the bridge, only one, on being approached, exhibited any signs of life; death in every case have been apparently instantaneous.”

 

“There being a slight breeze blowing on Friday the young woman’s clothes were inflated and her descent was thereby considerably checked and the wind also prevented her falling straight into the water, and she was carried into the mud on the Gloucestershire side.”

 

“The rash act” says the Magpie, “was the result of a lovers quarrel.  A young man, a porter on the Great Western Railway, determined to break off the engagement, and wrote a letter to the young woman announcing his attention.  This preyed on the girl’s mind, and she, is a state of despair, rushed to end her life by the fearful leap from the Suspension Bridge.”

 

The story appealed to the Magpie sufficiently for them to publish an artist’s impression of the jump.

 

Sarah Ann never went back to the Rising Sun in Ashton where she was working as a barmaid.  The young porter disappeared and some years late she married the late Mr. Edward Lane, who worked at a Bristol wagon works.

 

With the passing of time Mrs. Lane ceased being self conscious about the affair.  She even kept as souvenirs the photographs of the two children who were thrown over the bridge by a parent, and who, with herself, shared the honour of surviving the 250ft. drop.

 

“She remembered it all right.  She didn’t make any bones about it, and didn’t mind talking about it.” A relative told the “Evening World” reporter today.

 

“She kept the souvenirs of the fall, but they were destroyed when she left her home in Croydon Street about a year ago to go into an institution to be looked after.”

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Bristol Evening Post - 25th April 2000

 

Tales From History

 

(Brian Gearing recalls the story of a heartbroken girl and a callous cabby)

 

Friday, May 8, 1885, was the day that broken-hearted Sarah Ann Henley made the history books.

 

She was 22, lived in Twinnell Road, Easton, and had just been jilted by her sweetheart. A Great Western railway porter.

 

He had written , breaking off their engagement after she had stormed into his workplace and harangued his foreman about what a rogue he was and how she had dozens of suitors, all of a higher standing than a mere porter.

 

This had been the last straw in a stormy relationship, during which they argued constantly.  Even so, when Sarah’s father learned of the letter, he punched the young man on the nose.

 

But Sarah, it seems, was unprepared for the end of the relationship.

 

Thomas Stevens, resident inspector of Clifton Suspension Bridge, was watching visitors walking across in a brisk breeze when he saw Sarah climb over the railings and on to the parapet.  Before anyone could reach her, she threw herself off. 

 

She was blown by the wind across the Bristol side and then turned a complete somersault so that she was now falling feet first to the ground 250 feet below.  But the wind blew under her wide skirt and her clothes acted like a parachute, gently slowing down the rate of her fall.  That saved her life.

 

The tide below was receding, and Sarah landed in thick mud.  John Williams, of Ashton Gate, and George Drew, who had seen her fall, rushed to her aid, dragged her out and into a railway station refreshment room.

 

Sarah was alive and conscious and able to answer questions but a Dr. Griffith, who was passing at the time, advised that she should be rushed to Bristol Infirmary.

 

A detective called Robertson requested a local cabman to rush Sarah to the hospital but he refused, saying that she would make his cab dirty.

 

Robertson argued with him and even offered him payment, saying Sarah would die if she wasn’t treated urgently.  The cabbie replied: “I don’t care - let her die.”

 

He wouldn’t budge, so men were sent were sent to Clifton Police Station to fetch a stretcher and carry her to the infirmary.

 

It was over an hour before she reached the infirmary where she found to be suffering from shock and severe internal injuries.  Sarah recovered slowly but her fame spread rapidly as the girl who had fallen from the Suspension Bridge and lived.

 

She received several offers of marriage while in hospital, and one wealthy suitor bribed a hospital official to ensure that Sarah received his offer of a life of luxury as his wife.

 

Showmen also showed interest in her - one offered her a contract to tour, with £400 down and a share of the profits; another approached her father with an offer of £1,000.

 

The callous cabby was widely vilified and wrote to the Bristol Times and Mirror to justify his refusal to help. 

 

His reason was that he had only just had his cab cleaned and repaired, during which it was off the road and he was unable to earn a living.

 

He called for a fund to be set up to assist cabbies in these circumstances and pointed out, reasonably enough, that the corporation should have had an ambulance available for incidents like this.

 

Sarah survived her injuries and all the publicity and went on to marry, becoming in later years Mrs. Lane of Croydon Street, Easton.  She died, aged 84, on March 31, 1948, and was buried at Avon View cemetery.

 

 

Bristol Evening Post - 2nd May  2000

 

Penning A Few Lines For An Unusual Descent

 

Reading the story of Sarah Ann Henley and her unsuccessful attempt at suicide by jumping from the Suspension Bridge reminded David Elliott of Hanham of a short poem about the event.

 

You may recall Sara Ann was saved by her voluminous skirts acting like a parachute, plus the fact that the tide was out and the mud was soft.

 

The whole episode was serenaded in verse by a William E. Heasell, who called it An Early Parachute Descent in Bristol.

 

Its rather a jolly little piece, highly reminiscent of comedian Cyril Fletcher’s much loved Odd Odes.

 

 

Once in Victoria’s golden age

When crinolines were all the rage

A dame in fashionable attire

Would change her life for one up higher

So up to Clifton Bridge she went

And made a parachute descent

But though, ‘twas not the lady’s wish

A boatman hooked her like a fish

And thus a slave to fashion’s jaws

Was snatched from out of Death’s hungry jaws

This story’s true I’d have you know

And thus it only goes to show

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The stories gave rise to an interest by myself in trying to claim Sarah into the Henly clan that I am part off but to date have failed miserably.

 

However I feel it only right to share my research findings and must thank Clive Henly of Chippenham, Wiltshire and Chris Buss of Bristol, Avon for their valuable contributions.

 

Sarah Ann Henley was born on the 8th July 1862 to parents Thomas and Caroline Henley of Bristol.  Sarah had a brother Thomas who was born in 1865 also in Bristol.

 

Sarah’s father Thomas Henley was born circa 1838 and had a sister Sarah Henley who was born circa 1840 from whom Chris Buss is descended.

 

Sarah Ann Henley married Edward Lane in the March Quarter of 1900.  According to the Vital Record Index for the British Isles (produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)) the marriage took place on 26th January 1900 at Temple, Bristol, Gloucestershire.  Sarah Ann was aged 37 and Edward aged 36.  Sarah’s father is named as Thomas Henley and Edward was the son of George Lane.

 

According to the 1901 Census Edward Lane was born in Bagstone, Gloucestershire circa 1864 and was living in Bristol with Sarah Ann Lane (nee Henley).  Edward was described as a General labourer and Sarah Ann as a hat trimmer.

 

According to the 1881 Census Sarah Ann’s family were in Bristol and are listed as follows:-

 

Thomas Henley;            age 43;             born in Bristol; occupation - Pork butcher

Caroline Henley;           age 35;             born in Bristol;  occupation - Keeper of butcher shop

Thomas Henley;            age 16;             born in Bristol;  occupation - Day labourer

Sarah Henley;               age 18;             born in Bristol;  occupation - Hat trimmer (mill)

 

However according to the 1891 Census the family make up has changed to the following:-

 

Thomas Henley             head

Elsie G. Henley             daughter           born 1891        born in Bristol

Emily L. Henley            wife                  born 1868        born in Bristol

Emily M.                      daughter           born 1890        born in Bristol

Sarah A. Henley           daughter           born 1863        born in Bristol

Thomas E. Henley        son                   born 1865        born in Bristol

 

Checking the 1861 Census it lists Thomas Henley  (born 1838) as a lodger in Bristol.

 

From the above we can assume that Caroline Henley died sometime between 1881 and 1890 although I am unable to find a death registered for her and that Thomas married for the second time during that period again I am unable to find any formal record of this.