Killed by Lightning

 at the Tring Agricultural Show in 1897






Joseph Putman [sic] was born at Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead in 1875, probably in Duck Hall Cottages, where the family was living in 1881. His father was William Putman, a blacksmith born at Bourne End, Berkhamsted in 1835, and Sarah, born at Boxmoor in 1851. By 1891 the family were living at 33 Wingrave Road, Tring, and young Joseph was recorded as a boat builder's labourer.



… We regret to state that at Tring two young people lost their lives as a consequence of the storm. Unfortunately the proceedings at the Agricultural Show, which was being held in Tring Park, were upset by rain falling heavily, and naturally enough visitors sought refuge under the trees. Among them was a young man and a young woman, Joseph Putnam, of Tring Ford, employed in a boat-building yard at Campbell-wharf and Miss Keen, of New Mill, Tring. The former was killed instantaneously by lightning, which struck the tree under which they were sheltering, but the woman was still alive when picked up, though she died soon afterwards from the effect of the shock. The calamity is all the more sad seeing it is stated that the young couple were engaged to be married, and the banns were published on the first time on Sunday. Mr. F. W. Kinnier-Tarte, who, together with several other visitors from St Albans and district, states that the fatality occurred during the time the sheep dog trials were in progress, and when the storm came on, he, along with a number of other people, sought shelter under a tree, about twenty yards from that under which the unfortunate young people were standing. He stated that when the lightning struck the tree they were nearly blinded, and the noise that followed was tremendous. As soon as the report occurred, it was noticed that the bark of the tree had been split off, and that the young man and the young woman were lying on the ground. A great deal of excitement followed, and several people rushed to the scene of the calamity. Mr. Tarte and others examined the victims of this sad circumstance, and found that the young man was quite dead, but the young woman still lived. She drank a little water, and when she had had sufficient she waved her hand to indicate that this was so. She appeared to rally a little, but after a further examination the seriousness of her injuries were apparent, and she died soon afterwards. Her clothes were very much burnt, and one of her boots were split open. It is rather curious that when Mr. Tarte picked up the young woman’s hat it burst into flames. The bodies were afterwards removed by the police to await an inquest.

Herts Advertiser, August 7, 1897



Esther Keen was born in Tring in 1877, the daughter of Thomas Keen, a labourer born in 1845 in Wendover, Bucks, and Ann, born 1844 in Chesham, Bucks. Esther probably spent all her life in Brook Street/Wingrave Road, New Mill, Tring. In 1891 she was employed as a silk winder, which would have been in the Silk Mill in Brook Street.


Frederick Walter Kinnier-Tarte was a surveyor and architect who had been born in King Williams Town, South Africa and was living in St Peter's Street, St Albans.




On Friday evening, at the Victoria Hall, Tring, was conducted by Mr W. Grover (Coroner for the district), the inquest on the bodies of Joseph Putnam and Ester Keen, who had met their death on the previous day under the most awful circumstances. The whole town seemed moved at the dreadful calamity that had happened in their midst, and a large crowd waited outside the Victoria Hall, where the bodies of the unfortunate couple laid, while the inquiry was being held. …

William Putnam, the young man’s father, was called. He said he was a blacksmith living at Tring Ford, and he identified the body as his son, Joseph Putnam, who was 22 years of age. He was a journeyman boat-builder, and lived with the witness. He left home yesterday to go to the show and called for Esther Keen, who accompanied him. …

Mrs. Ann Keen, the girl’s mother, was next called, and she was deeply affected when giving evidence. She said her husband’s name was Thomas Keen. He was a labourer and they lived at New Mill. She had seen the body of her daughter … She was keeping company with the young man, Joseph Putnam, but they were not thinking of getting married yet. …

P.c. Stevens … did not know them personally, but he noticed them sitting under a large lime tree about an hour before the storm came on. When the storm commenced, a few minutes before two, they put up an umbrella …

William Douray, landlord of the White Hart, Berkhamstead, … was at the show with the Fire Brigade engine, and he and some of the others got under the trees with the horses to shelter and have lunch. There were about six of them there, and all at once a young man shouted out, “There are two people struck down by lightning.” … The storm was raging fearfully at the time and the lightning was very vivid. …

Herts Advertiser, August 14, 1897

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