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Berkshire Family Historian
March 2002

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, March 2002 Contents

. . . . . . . . stepped out of a window while talking to St Paul'

Daphne Spurling

For some years we have been intrigued by a comment in a letter from a first cousin once removed of my husband's grandfather:

'what wonderful ages all our ancestors and ancestresses attained. All of them over or near 80 except my grandfather, Stephen, who in afit of religious mania stepped out of a window when talking to St Paul and broke his neck in 1864 aged 59'.

But how did anyone know he was talking to St Paul and, indeed, why was he talking to St Paul? At last curiosity got the better of us. It was easy to get a copy of his death certificate which gave the cause of death as a fall from a window whilst in a state of insanity. The informant was the Coroner of Torquay. This raised other questions. What was Stephen Spurling, a London stockbroker who lived in Camberwell, doing in Torquay? The inquest should give the answer but unfortunately the Torquay inquests have not survived. This left newspapers as the only possible source of further information and the Devon Studies Centre was very conveniently across the corridor from the Exeter Record Office. The Studies Centre had no copies of the Torquay paper for that period but was very helpful in suggesting where else to search. Luckily for us, news was sparse around Christmas and we found the following short report in a West Country weekly1:

Stephen Spurling, Esq., a member of the Stock Exchange, London has committed suicide. He was advised to leave London a fortnight since for the benefit of his health. Accompanied by his wife and two children and his brother, Mr. Spurling went first to Sidmouth for afew days - thence to Exeter, where he became very excited, and Dr Budd advised that he should be strictly watched. Leaving Exeter they went to Torquay and lodged at No. 2 Sulyarde-terrace, and the next morning the unfortunate gentleman, who was apparently asleep when the person in attendance upon him left the room,jumped out of the window -some thirty feet in height. He was killed on the spot. Verdict -'Temporary insanity'. The cause is said to arise from the recent death of a favourite child.

It was relatively easy to track down the recent death of his favourite child: four year old Hubert had died in early September after 55 days suffering from typhoid fever. We don't know if the brother accompanying Stephen was Percival, my husband's great grandfather.

1. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire Advertiser. Vol Cii, No. 5, 142, Exeter, Wednesday December 28, 1864. Seen on microfilm at the Devon Studies Centre, Exeter.


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updated 29th May 2002