SARAH HENLEY - SHE
Extracts From Local Newspapers Referring To The Incident
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.
Henley was the girl who jumped. She was
22. It happened on
they buried Sarah Ann at
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
“Evening World” office today came a copy of the old
“Bristol Magpie”, dated
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.
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
passing of time
“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.
the souvenirs of the fall, but they were destroyed when she left her home in
Tales From History
(Brian Gearing recalls the story of a heartbroken girl and a callous cabby)
She was 22,
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.
Stevens, resident inspector of
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
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.
episode was serenaded in verse by a William E. Heasell, who called it An Early Parachute Descent in
Its rather a jolly little piece, highly reminiscent of comedian Cyril Fletcher’s much loved Odd Odes.
When crinolines were all the rage
A dame in fashionable attire
Would change her life for one up higher
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.
feel it only right to share my research findings and must thank Clive Henly of
Chippenham, Wiltshire and Chris Buss of
Henley was born on
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.
to the 1881 Census Sarah Ann’s family were in
Henley; age 43; born in
Henley; age 35; born in
Henley; age 16; born in
Henley; age 18; born in
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
Henley wife born 1868 born in
Emily M. daughter born 1890 born in
Sarah A. Henley daughter born 1863 born
Henley son born 1865 born
the 1861 Census it lists Thomas Henley (born 1838) as a lodger in
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.