Seaside Suicide

As dawn broke on the bitterly cold morning of Tuesday 16th December, 1930, two drowned bodies were discovered washed up on the beach, at South Shore, Blackpool, Lancashire. The couple were later to be identified as James Smith (aged 68) and Lily Lavinia Francis Ferris (52 years old.)

The bodies were washed ashore nearby

James Smith was known locally as a widower, but it later came to light that when he first met Lily he was married with daughters and living quite comfortably in Bristol, where he had worked as train driver for many years.

Lily’s story on the other hand is more complex. It is believed she hailed from an affluent family as her baptism was conducted at St Paul’s Cathedral, yet her father was a bigamist who having married Lily’s mother also wed another woman some four years later. Both of his wives bore him a daughter and both of these baby girls were to be named Lily.

In 1899 Lily Lavinia married Tom Ferris, but when Tom went to serve in WWI she sought solace in the arms of of an Australian soldier.

After this relationship had run its course Lily was to meet James Smith, who had been advised to move to the coast for health reasons. James, having become besotted with Lily, decided to leave his family behind and make a fresh start at the seaside with her.

Lily too had recently discovered her heath was in decline after receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy, so the couple made plans to settle in Lytham, Lancashire.

Not long after arriving on the Fylde Coast the couple found their finances to be in dire straits, forcing them to live in abject poverty.

Home became a makeshift shelter on the Sandhills at Blackpool, a small wooden hut James built himself. They scraped by, living hand to mouth, financing their meager existence by selling pieces driftwood they found washed up on the shoreline as fuel to local people.

The Sandhills became home

Sometime later Lily received the news her mother had died, leaving her a not insubstantial windfall of around £400, a huge amount of money during the depression of 1930. This sudden advantage enabled the pair to relocate to ‘Ivanhoe’ a property on Common Edge Lane with a small kiosk attached, from which they sold souvenirs and cigarettes alongside serving refreshments. Astonishingly, ( and perhaps because the business saw little in passing trade) the couple still struggled to make ends meet, existing on a diet of only bread and margarine.


This strange yet steadfast couple took in lodgers, William Denton and his wife, to help eke out their existence (there was still a small mortgage to be paid on Ivanhoe).

It became obvious to James and The Denton’s that something was seriously amiss with Lily, not only were her seizures becoming more frequent, she was also slowly starving to death. Her weakened state and erratic behaviour caused James great distress. Then, after receiving a summons for knowingly selling stolen wood (of which he was later cleared) his mind must have been in absolute turmoil.

James was a man on the edge, his beloved partner was fading before his very eyes, he was without the funds to keep a roof over their heads and he was being hounded for unpaid rates.

For this now impoverished couple there seemed to be only one solution, they made the heartbreaking decision to walk into the sea together, ending their own lives, thus unburdening themselves from the fear and failure circumstances had cruelly dealt them.

As reported in the newspaper

The funeral of James and Lily, at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, was to be a quite affair, attended only by Mr & Mrs Denton and the Reverend W Lang who conducted the service in the pouring rain. They were laid to rest separately from each other, poor Lily taking up the last place in a paupers grave, marked only by a small bunch of wilting chrysanthemums.

Lily lies in an unmarked, paupers grave

As suicide was against common law until 1961 this benevolent couple were considered criminals in death.

Upon James’ burial plot was placed a small wreath with a note reading;

‘Man’s inhumanity to man make countless thousands mourn.’

( a quote from *Man was Made to Mourn* by Burns.)

James Smith’s plot

It has often troubled me how the couple became so destitute after Lily’s ample inheritance, I find myself pondering where all the money went. It really is a mystery.

But getting answers won’t change the dreadful outcome of this tragedy.

Layton Cemetety

Published by Deborah Contessa

Dilettante Historian, Graveyard Detective, Folklore Geek & Paranormal Enthusiast.

7 thoughts on “Seaside Suicide

  1. Another sad tale of a suicide pact,later to be carried out was in 1966 here in Blackpool.A couple were found drowned on the beach just north of the North Pier one Saturday.They were found chained to each other.They had come from around the Rochdale or Oldham area.When the police were alerted,they gained entry to the family home and found,I think,three of their children dead.Apparently,from notes written and left by the children’s parents before their departure to Blackpool,they had stated they were afraid of a nuclear war.This was during the ‘cold war’ times although the worst of it had passed after the Cuban crisis of 1962.No doubt being afraid themselves,they murdered their children as not to suffer themselves.The Evening Gazette did a report at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To both end their lives as one, horrendous, if James was also interred in a paupers grave the authorities should have placed them together, maybe it was to punish them for committing suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

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