Joseph Clay Howcutt & the runaway horse


Woodbridge is a market town a few miles from the Suffolk coast. One Wednesday in 1886, a runaway horse catapulted a member of the Howcutt family into the local news.


Joseph Clay Howcutt was born at Creaton, about three miles west of Brixworth, on 16 August 1864 and christened there on 6 November of the same year. The family soon returned to Brixworth, where both his parents, William Howcutt and Sarah Ann Clay, had been born. It was there that they were living with their four children at the time of the 1871 census.


The Woolpack (left of picture) [2]

By the 1881 census, Joseph had moved the 65 miles from Brixworth to Newmarket – a town whose two parishes of St Mary and All Saints had a total population of 4,094. Then, as now, Newmarket was a place best known for horse racing, Joseph being one of the many stablemen involved. He was listed as a boarder at the Woolpack Inn [1], which stood on the east side of Drapery Row and was the second building to the south of its junction with Market Street, facing the Green Dragon and the Bushel Inn. Drapery Row was part of a congested and picturesque area known as The Rookery. Many of the historical buildings in the vicinity, including the Woolpack itself, have since been swept away.


Joseph did not remain at Newmarket for long but spent most of the remainder of his life at Woodbridge, a town about 45 miles further to the east. In 1885 he married Elizabeth Barkway, a widow with two sons, in the Ipswich registration district. [3]


Church Street looking south

On 19 May 1886, Joseph was involved in a dramatic accident at Woodbridge. Joseph was one of the grooms employed by John Grout, who was the licensee of the “Bull Hotel” at Market Hill. [4] On that day, Joseph was on the box of a brougham with Gissing, the coachman of Mr T L Place of Orford, on their way to collect Mr Place from the Lecture Hall, where he was performing at a Primrose League concert. When travelling downhill and having reached the middle of Church Street the horse grew restive and began to prance and pull, throwing the coachman onto the pavement. The animal then bolted and it was reported “Howcutt pluckily took up the reins and kept his seat, until the brougham came into collision with a lamp-post opposite the Crown back gates, which resulted in Howcutt being thrown off”. The horse careered on for quite some time afterwards, all the way down Quay Street until at the bottom, it tried to jump the gates at the railway station.


The Bull hotel

Joseph was taken to the Bull Hotel where it was found that the two rear wheels had passed over his shoulder and leg, inflicting two ugly cuts as well as bruising. The railway gates and the carriage were wrecked but, surprisingly, the wayward horse was uninjured. A more detailed account of this incident can be found in the local newspaper. [5]


The 1891 census recorded a population of 4,480 living at Woodbridge. Amongst them was Joseph Howcutt, a “hostler and groom” living at New Street with his wife and her two sons, Charles and Ernest Barkway.


Joseph Clay Howcutt had no children of his own. He was described as an “ostler at a hotel” when he died at New Street on 8 August 1893, the death being registered by his stepson, C F Barkway. [6] The cause of death was certified as delirium tremens, from which Joseph had been suffering for three days, and paralysis of the heart.


It was not long before Elizabeth suffered another bereavement, as her 16-year-old son, Ernest Edward, was accidently drowned when bathing in the river Deben at “Hackney Hole” near Woodbridge on 5 July 1896. [7] “Elizabeth, widow of the late Joseph Howcutt” died at New Street on 15 May 1900. [8]




[1]      The 1881 census of Newmarket, Suffolk includes “Joseph Clay” as a 19-year-old who had been born at “Northamptonsh Brixworth”. However, no birth of anyone just called “Joseph Clay” was registered in the Brixworth district in the period 1837-1900. Nor has Joseph Clay Howcutt been located elsewhere in the 1881 census. Moreover, in the 1891 census Joseph Clay Howcutt reported that he had been born at Brixworth. There can be no doubt that the person recorded at Newmarket in 1881 as “Joseph Clay” was actually Joseph Clay Howcutt, despite his true age then being only 16 years.

[2]      Picture courtesy of Peter Norman: Newmarket Shops History – The Rookery: (accessed 12 September 2016).

[3]      Elizabeth Allen had been born at Woodbridge about 1855. Her first marriage, to Charles Alfred Barkway, had taken place in 1875, also in the Woodbridge district. Charles Alfred was 35 years old when his death was registered at Woodbridge in the first quarter of 1884.

[4]      The 1881 census records John Grout as a licensed victualler, horse dealer and farmer of about 270 acres, living at the “Bull Hotel” and employing 13 farm labourers, 20 grooms and other helps.

[5]      “The Ipswich Journal”, 22 May 1886, page 5, column 5.

[6]      No later record has been found of Charles Frederick Barkway; he was about 16 years old when Joseph died.

[7]      “The Ipswich Journal”, 11 July 1896, page 6, column 4. The newspaper mistakenly gives his name as “Ernest William Barkway”.

[8]      “The Ipswich Journal”, 19 May 1900, page 8, column 6.