First boating fatality at Wardown lake

Wardown Lake c1914

[The Luton News: Thursday, May 29th, 1919]

The first fatal boating accident in the history of Wardown Lake occurred last evening shortly before nine o'clock, when a young man name Edmund Victor Baden Chamberlain, who resided with his parents at the corner of Leagrave Road and Spencer Road, fell out of a canoe and was drowned.

It appears that about ten minutes to nine the deceased, in company with his friend John Garrett, aged 18, of Moor Street, hired two canoes, taking one himself and his friend one.

They were pushed off by the boatman, and all went well until they reached the middle of the lake, when the canoe in which Mr Chamberlain was paddling capsized and he fell in the water. How the canoe came to capsize it is impossible to say, but it is curious that when the young man fell into the water he remained under and never once rose to the surface.

A gallant attempt was made by three soldiers - Gunner Alfred James Sellwood, Gunner Robinson and Pte Reade, of the Remount Depot, Beech Hill – to save Mr Chamberlain. Immediately they saw what had happened they went into the water practically fully dressed and succeeded in bringing the young man out. Altogether it is said that the deceased remained under water some four or five minutes.

The soldiers immediately resorted to artificial respiration and energetically continued their efforts until the arrival of Pc Mason, who had been hastily summoned to the scene of the accident from Old Bedford Road.

The soldiers then continued to assist the constable, but their united efforts were unavailing, and when Dr Archibald arrived at 9.20 he could only pronounce life extinct. The body was subsequently removed to the mortuary on the police motor ambulance, and the facts have been reported to the Coroner.

The deceased was 19 years of age. It appears he had fallen in a shallow part of the lake, but difficulty was experienced in getting to him owing to the weeds and mud.

How the canoe overturned is not yet known, but a probable theory is deceased was seized with a fit and that his struggles upset the craft. It is stated that he was subject to these attacks and had been discharged from the Volunteers and rejected for the Army on account of them.

He was a member of the Parish Church and was employed with his father in the grocery business.


At an inquest on Saturday, May 31, Coroner Mr G. J. M. Whyley returned a verdict that deceased was accidentally drowned while suffering from an epileptic fit.

He hoped that Gunner Sellwood's action in diving into the lake in an attempt to rescue the deceased would be brought to the notice of the Luton Corporation and officially recognised by them. Having suffered from frostbite, the soldier was wearing special surgical boots supplied by the Army authorities and the cost of a new pair would fall upon him. The Coroner said he hoped steps would be taken to prevent that. The deceased's father intimated he wished to personally recognise the gallantry shown by Gunner Sellwood.
The Coroner also heard that it was the fourth time Gunner Sellwood had been similarly commended. He had previously saved three lives from drowning.

The Luton News of June 5th, then reported that representations had been made to the Royal Humane Society to recognise Gunner Sellwood's actions, and a grant from the Mayor's Fund would make good the damaged equipment of two soldiers involved.