Mrs Sarah WATERS, formerly Mrs SYLVESTER, née Sheen (1800–1872)
Her son Edward SYLVESTER (1826–1874)
St Giles section: Row 2, Grave B27

Edward Sylvester











Edward Sylvester's father is not buried here, as he died in 1832, before the cemetery was opened.




Sarah Sheen was born in Greatworth, Northamptonshire in 1800 and baptised there on 17 August. She was the daughter of the farmer John Sheen and Elizabeth Freeman, who were married at Greatworth on 29 October 1790. They had five other children baptised at Greatworth: Benjamin (1791), Elizabeth (1792), Mary (1795), Ann (1797), and Hester (1806, died the same year). Sarah's father John Freeman died in 1813.

On 9 March 1825 at Thame Church, Sarah Sheen, described as being of the parish of Thame, married her first husband, Edward Thomas Sylvester of St Giles's parish, Oxford, and they had the following children:

  • Edward Sylvester (born in St Giles’s parish Oxford on 25 January 1826, with his birth registered at New Road Baptist Chapel on 30 October 1826)
  • Paul Sylvester (born at Beaumont Street, Oxford on 15 December 1828, with his birth registered at New Road Baptist Church on 29 January 1829).

Sarah's husband Edward Thomas Sylvester was a chemist, and Pigot’s Directory for both 1824 and 1930 lists the firm Thurland & Sylvester in St Mary Magdalen parish (probably at 10 Magdalen Street). He died on 12 February 1832, and his death was reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal. His place of burial is uncertain, but he could not have been buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, as it did not open until 1848.

On 19 December 1833, at St Mary Magdalen Church. Oxford, Mrs Sarah Sylvester (33) of Beaumont Street married her second husband, John Whittenbury Waters (21), who was born in Easton, London on 24 August 1811, the eldest son of the Revd P. Waters of Worcester, and later baptised at Silver Street Baptist Church, Worcester). . The witnesses were William and Sarah Maria Sylvester.

Edward's mother Sarah had three more children by her second husband:

  • Thomas Waters (born in Oxford on 19 September 1834 and registered at New Road Baptist Church
    on 15 October 1835, but died straight afterwards, aged one month)
  • Alfred Waters (born in Birmingham in 1836/7)
  • Sarah Matilda Whittenbury Waters (born in Oxford in 1838/9).

Sarah's second husband John Whittenbury Waters was also a chemist, and Robson’s Directory for 1839 shows that his shop was at 21 Magdalen Street, Oxford; meanwhile Edward Thurland, Sylvester’s former partner, still had his shop nearby at 10 Magdalen Street.

In 1851 Sarah and her second husband were living in New Street, Birmingham with their son Alfred (7) and one servant, and in 1861 Sarah (60) and John (49) were living at 39 Aston Street, Birmingham.

Sarah's second husband John Whittenbury Waters died in Aston, Birmingham on 3 August 1869.

At the time of the 1871 census Sarah Waters (70) was staying at 95 Wilmslow Road, Chorlton, Lancashire with her son Paul Sylvester (42) and his wife Catherine (49). She then appears to have returned to Oxford to live with her unmarried daughter Sarah Matilda Whittenbury Waters at 3 Norham Gardens, and she died there in 1872:

† Mrs Sarah Waters, formerly Mrs Sylvester, died at Norham Gardens at the age of 72 in October 1872 and was buried at St Sepulchre's Cemetery on 23 October (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

Edward Sylvester continued

By the time of the 1841 census Edward Sylvester (who was then aged only 15) had already left home and was living as a servant of the grocer William Richardson over his shop in Queen Street, Oxford.

By 1851 Edward (25) was working as a clerk of the accountant Thomas Hawkins of 2 St John Street, and lived alone in lodgings in that road.

By 1855 Sylvester must have been made a partner in the accounting firm, as that year a joint lease was granted to Thomas Hawkins and Edward Sylvester, accountants. This probably relates to 68 St Giles’s Street, where the accountancy firm of Hawkins & Sylvester was henceforth situated.

Helen Bobart, Sylvester's future wife, was born at St Giles’s Terrace in Oxford on 20 August 1832 and was baptised at St Giles’s Church on 20 August. She was the youngest daughter of Tilleman Hodgkinson Bobart (c.1771–1838), an Esquire Bedel of Law who was the descendant of Jacob Bobart, the seventeenth-century keeper of the Botanic Garden. At the time of the 1851 census Helen was living at 6 St Giles’s Road (the name given to the south end of both the Woodstock and Banbury Roads) with her widowed mother Harriett Elizabeth Bobart and her sister Mary Ann (23) and brother Gamaliel (17). On 23 September 1851 Charles Titian Hawkins (an accountant at 9 Broad Street) married Helen’s sister Mary Ann Bobart at St Giles’s Church, and both Edward Sylvester and Helen Bobart were the godparents of their son Charles Laurence, baptised at St John the Baptist Church, Summertown on 21 September 1852. Helen Bobart’s mother died in 1856 (registered second quarter).

On 23 September 1856 at St John the Baptist Church in Summertown, Edward Sylvester married Helen Bobart, and in the marriage announcement in Jackson's Oxford Journal, Edward was described as being of Summertown, and Helen of Oxford. They had no children, and appear to have separated soon after the marriage. At the time of the 1861 census Helen (29) was living in Ashby-de-la-Zouch with her brother Tilleman H. Bobart, who was a land agent, and his family .

On 30 March 1868 at Manchester, Edward's brother Paul Sylvester, described as a chemist of Ashton-under-Lyne, married Catherine Phythian of Rusholme, near Manchester, and an announcement was placed in Jackson's Oxford Journal.

By the time of the 1871 census, Edward Sylvester (45), who continued to describe himself as married, was living at Burford Villa, 3 Norham Road, Oxford with his unmarried half-sister Sarah Matilda Whittenbury Waters. Visiting them was Miss Sophia H. Waters (36), born in Garford, Berkshire.

On Christmas Eve, Thursday 24 December, 1874 Edward Sylvester set out from Oxford station with his half-sister Miss Sarah Matilda Whittenbury Waters on the 11.40 am express train from Paddington to Birmingham, planning to spend a week in Manchester, probably visiting their brother Paul Sylvester. When train reached Oxford, all fifteen carriages were already full with people travelling home for Christmas, and an old third-class carriage was attached to it to accommodate the people getting on at Oxford station. About a mile after passing through the Woodstock Road station, the tyre on one of this carriage's wheels broke. The train managed to cross the wooden bridge over the River Cherwell at Hampton Gay, but 200 yards further on as the train passed over the canal bridge it went over an embankment, dropping 16 or 20 feet, and the third-class carriage was “smashed to atoms” and others followed. This Shipton-on-Cherwell railway disaster was one of the worst train accidents in the UK's history, with 34 people killed and 69 injured.

Drawing of the original bridgeEngraving of the disaster published in the Illustrated London News, showing the bridge over the canal
at Shipton-on-Cherwell, and the train which had plunged down the embankment just before reaching it.
Some of the wheels of the train can be seen in the canal

Sylvester was one of the 26 people who died instantly in the crash, and his body was laid out with the others in sheds at the Hampton Gay Paper Mill and identified by Thomas Frederick Hawkins, the son of Sylvester's business partner Thomas Hawkins. Because he had died to the north of Oxford, his death was registered in the Woodstock district. After the inquest, the first part of which was held at the Manor at Hampton Gay on Saturday 26 December, his body was brought back to Oxford:

† Edward Sylvester died on 24 December 1874 at the age of 48 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery with a private funeral for relatives only on 29 December (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

The following notice was placed in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 2 January 1875, after the funeral:

Dec. 24, by the accident at Shipton, Edward Sylvester, of the firm of Hawkins and Sylvester, and of Burford-Villa, Norham-road, Oxford. Friends will kindly accept this intimation.

The report on his funeral read:

On Tuesday the funeral of Mr. Edward Sylvester, of St. Giles's, Oxford, took place at St. Paul's Cemetery. The Rev. C. P. Longland, Vicar of Headington Quarry, read the Burial Service. The funeral was strictly private, only the relatives of the lamented deceased being present.

The same edition of newspaper had the following report on the accident:

Among those who were instantaneously killed, judging from the extent of the injuries, at the moment of the accident, was Mr. Edward Sylvester, of the firm Hawkins and Sylvester, accountants, St. Giles’s, whose residence was at Norham Manor, St. Giles’s. Miss Waters, his sister-in-law [i.e. half-sister], who was travelling with him to Manchester, is seriously injured. The deceased gentleman was very highly respected throughout the city. He was buried on Tuesday morning in St. Paul’s Cemetery, his mortal remains being followed to the grave by those nearest and dearest to him.

The writer of these remarks saw the deceased searched within an hour or two of the accident, and the official report then made was as follows:—“No. 5, Man, aged 40, 2l. 13s. in money, two tickets Oxford to Manchester, third-class; card, with name, J. Burgess, 19, St. Ebbe’s, Oxford.” The finding of this card naturally gave rise to the suspicion that Mr. Burgess was the victim, but it appears that Mr. Sylvester had engaged Burgess to drive him to the Station in his cab, and had further engaged him to meet him on his return on the 31st, and hence it was that Burgess gave him his card. Within a few short minutes Mr. Sylvester was a mutilated corpse.

His effects came to nearly £2,000, and his executor was his brother Paul Sylvester, described as a chemist of Rusholme near Manchester.

On 12 June 1875 the newspaper advertised an auction at his house in Norham Road of rosewood and mahogany furniture; valuable oil paintings, prints and engravings; and china, glass, and kitchen requisites.

Sylvester's half-sister Sarah Matilda Wittenbury Waters, who had been badly injured in the crash, was aged 43 and boarding at Harborne, Staffordshire in 1881. In 1882 she married the commercial traveller Alfred Jeff, and died just a year later on 21 May 1883 at Greenfeld Road, Harborne

Sylvester's estranged wife Mrs Helen Sylvester was boarding at Brentford in 1881 and at Ealing in 1891. She died at 241 Uxbridge Road, Ealing Dean, Middlesex at the age of 65 on 12 December 1896. Her effects came to £1,460, and her executor was the accountant Frederick Hawkins.

Shipton-on-Cherwell railway bridgeThe Shipton-on-Cherwell railway bridge over the River Cherwell photographed in 2023, with the footpath to Hampton Gay running under it. In 1874 the London to Birmingham train despite its broken wheel managed to pass over the former wooden bridge that stood here, but just a very short distance later (just before the bridge over the canal 200 yards further on) it plunged down the embankment



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