Local History Society

 Families - John Walter IV of Bearwood

John Walter II (1777-1847)

John Walter III (1818-1894)

Mrs. Walter, widow of John Walter III, who died in 1917

Arthur Fraser Walter



The memorial on an island in Bearwood LakeJohn Walter III 's eldest son, John Balston Walter, died in tragic circumstances on Christmas Eve 1870 aged only 25.

As heir to the Bearwood estate, his loss sent a shock-wave through the neighbourhood as news rapidly spread to towns and villages on that Saturday afternoon, and cast a deep shadow over what was normally a festive season.

A memorial to John Walter IV now stands on an island in Bearwood Lake (Click on the picture on the right for a larger image).

The 'Reading Mercury' of Saturday December 31st recorded the news and the inquest, and included Obituaries from The Times (quoted below), the Daily News and the Daily Telegraph.


An accident occurred on Saturday afternoon at Bearwood, the seat of Mr. John Walter, M.P., which caused the loss of a very valuable life. There is a fine lake in front of the house, extending View of the Lake from the Terraceover many acres, and in parts of considerable depth.

It affords in winter a splendid skating field, and it had been completely frozen over by the severe weather of last week. The family were assembled in the house to spend Christmas together, and in the afternoon a large party were enjoying themselves on the ice. Mr. John Walter, the eldest son, who had just returned from a lengthened tour, was skating with his brothers, Mr. Arthur Walter and Mr. Henry Walter. Another brother, Mr. Thomas Walter, was pushing his cousin Richard before him on a chair.

Mr. Walter himself, with some of his younger children, was upon another portion of the lake. On a sudden an alarm was raised, and on looking round, nothing could be seen of Mr. Thomas Walter and his cousin but their hands. They had fallen into the water at one of the deepest parts of the lake, where the waterfowl had kept the water open as long as possible, and where the ice consequently was weakest. Mr. Walter and his two brothers skated as rapidly as possible to the spot, and found Mr. Thomas Walter clinging to the broken ice with one hand, and supporting his cousin with his dis-engaged arm.

Bearwood Lakes, as shown on the Bearwood Estate Map (courtesy Bearwood College)

[Bearwood Lakes, as shown on the Bearwood Estate Map - by courtesy of Bearwood College]

Mr. John Walter instantly threw himself upon the ice, and stretched out his arm, but he had scarcely reached his brother’s hand when the ice gave way beneath him, and he, too, was immersed. On seeing this, Mr. Henry Walter promptly followed his brother’s example, and stretched himself along the ice to rescue his two brothers and his cousin. But just as his elder brother had grasped his hand, the ice gave way under him also, and four of them were thus in the water together. Both Mr. John Walter and his brother were excellent swimmers, and had perfect confidence in themselves; but their position was evidently perilous. Meanwhile, Mr. Arthur Walter, with great presence of mind, had skated as fast as he could towards the home farm, calling out as he went for assistance and for a rope. Happily his cries were heard, and a rope was at hand. It was soon brought to the spot, but too late to save a very precious life. Mr. John Walter had disappeared. His brothers said he sank almost immediately after Mr. Henry Walter’s effort had failed.

It is evident he had suffered one of those seizures by which the strongest and most experienced swimmers are from time to time overpowered. The annals of bathing, and bathing at our schools and universities, record several such melancholy instances. Such seizures are generally ascribed to cramp, but they are probably due to some sudden determination of the blood to the head, and in the present instance this was rendered the more probable by the extreme cold of the water. The other two brothers were much exhausted, and Mr. Thomas Walter, who was the longest immersed, says he believes he was only kept from sinking by the sense that his cousin was depending on him. The rope, however, was in time to save the other lives which were imperilled. The weaker ice had been broken away, and it was possible to approach the edge of the water. Mr. Thomas Walter and his cousin were rescued by means of the rope, and Mr. Henry Walter was extricated by a boatman. Mr. John Walter seems never to have risen to the surface after he first disappeared, and his body was only recovered after a four hours’ search.

There are circumstances which render this calamity particularly startling and distressing. About a year and a half ago, after an honourable course at Eton and at Oxford, Mr. John Walter started on what is now the grand tour, to go round the world, and see all forms of human civilisation. He went by the Baltic to St. Petersburg, and thence across Russia to the Caucasus, and thence to Constantinople and the Holy Land. He proceeded through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to India, and saw the principal cities of our Eastern Empire. After visiting Australia, he returned by China and Japan to the North American continent, and traversed the United States from west to east. He was expected home some days before Christmas, and his friends had been joyfully awaiting his return. He reached home safely on Thursday evening, to the extreme delight of his family, and to the apparent fulfilment of their brightest hopes. Within forty-eight hours he had been snatched from them for ever on this side of the grave.

It is one of those dispensations of Providence of which we can see nothing but the mystery, and which it needs the strongest faith to support with resignation. For a private calamity, it is hard to conceive a greater. Mr. John Walter was 25 years of age. As we have said, he had passed an honourable as well as blameless career as a boy and a student. His abilities were great, and his character was admirable. His rare natural goodness of disposition was enhanced and animated by a most profound and unaffected piety. To a vigorous frame he joined an active mind and a manly heart, and he was guided and sustained by firm religious principles. To these qualities he had just added the most instructive experience now open to a young man, and he had fully availed himself of its advantages.

When he reached his home on Thursday, his life was fraught with very high promise, not only to his family, but to a far wider circle, if not to the public at large, and its sudden eclipse is overwhelming to those by whom he was known and beloved. It may seem a mockery to seek for any topic of consolation in the presence of such an irreparable sorrow. Yet, if it is strange and bitter that a young man should be spared through all the perils of extreme climates and dangerous voyages, and, at the very moment when he and his friends were most thankful for his safety, should die by a common accident within sight of his father’s house, it is something that he should have returned to revive, before he departed, the remembrance of his virtues and his love, instead of passing out of sight in a foreign land. He lived long enough, at all events, to die for others, and his death binds him still more closely to his home and to those who are most afflicted by his loss – Times.

On Monday morning [Boxing Day] an inquest was held at Bearwood, on the body of the deceased, before W. Weedon, Esq., Coroner, and of the following jury:-

The Rev. Sir John Warren Hayes, Bart. [Rector of Arborfield], foreman;
Sir John Conroy, Bart.
[of Arborfield Grange, late of Arborfield Hall],
Rev. J. T. Brown,
Rev. Dolben Paul [Rector of Bearwood],
Rev. Wyndham Hugh D’Aeth [Curate of Arborfield],
J. Simonds, Esq. [the second, of Newlands], 
J. Simonds, jun., Esq. [the third, of Newlands],
Capt. Gray Skipwith,
R. H. Thorold, Esq.,
T. Harman, Esq.,
F. Sarnay, Esq.,
W. H. Pratt, Esq.,
and Joseph Lawes, Esq.

The inquest was held in the library of the mansion. After the jury had viewed the body, the evidence of George Webb, a carpenter in the employ of Mr. Walter, who witnessed the accident, and of James Rackley, the old fisherman who assisted in rescuing those immersed, was taken. James Dance having proved the finding of the deceased near the opening where he had fallen in, the Coroner said: "There are no other witnesses, gentlemen, and I think you will be perfectly satisfied that it was an accident".

The jury acquiesced.

The Foreman, addressing the Rev. Dolben Paul, said, - Before we separate, I think we should all express our deep sympathy with the family on the death of Mr. John Walter in his attempt to rescue his brother and cousin, and request that you will kindly convey that expression of sympathy to the family.

The Rev. J. T. Brown. – It is a very sad event, and it seems to have reached every home and every heart, and to have clouded every family at this festive season. It shaded the joy of every one.

The Rev. Sir John Hayes. – All the poor of Arborfield feel it extremely.

The jury gave their fees to the Rev. Dolben Paul for the poor of the parish.

The sad event cast a gloom over the entire neighbourhood, and on Sunday, touching references were made to it by the Rev. Dolben Paul and other clergymen. The deceased was generally beloved, and highly respected, and his premature and untimely death will long be lamented.



The news of the sad calamity at Bearwood, which has created to painful a reaction throughout the district, reached this office on Saturday afternoon, and as the melancholy tiding became generally known, most heartfelt were the expressions of sorrow heard on all sides.

To very many, Mr. John Walter, jun., was personally known and beloved, whilst all have cause to respect and honour the head of the family, whose great liberality and kindness are justly appreciated; and it may perhaps give a silver lining to the dark cloud which now hangs so heavily over Bearwood, for its mourning occupants to know that their grief is shared by all their neighbours, both rich and poor. Indeed, the sudden removal from amongst us of the valuable life, so full of bright hope and promise, is felt as a personal loss by each inhabitant of the district, and universal sympathy is expressed for the members of the deeply-afflicted family.

The account of the melancholy accident and of the inquest, will be found in another column of this Journal. We understand that the funeral takes place this day (Saturday) at St. Catherine’s, Bearwood, at 1.30 p.m.; Messrs Netherclift and Gilbert, of London-street, Reading, are entrusted with the arrangements.

January 7th 1871:




The funeral of the late Mr. John Walter, junr., took place at St. Catherine’s Church, Bearwood, on Saturday. The high esteem in which the deceased was held, was manifest by the large attendance of people of all ranks who crowded the church and churchyard. The funeral took place shortly before 2 o’clock. The deceased was followed to the grave by the members of the family, and a number of relatives and friends, including many old College friends.

The coffin was covered with fine black cloth with silver furniture. The plate bore the following inscription: - " John B alston Walter, Born March 23, 1846, died December 24, 1870". On the pall were placed a large cross of white camelias, and also a wreath of white flowers. The undertakers were Messrs. Netherclift and Gilbert, of London-street, Reading. The service in the church was conducted by the late incumbent, the Rev. W. H. E. Welby, vicar of Grantham, and at the grave by the Rev. Dolben Paul, the present rector. At the vault a large crowd of people assembled, and the deepest sorrow was depicted on every countenance. Many persons availed themselves of the opportunity of viewing the coffin, after it had been conveyed to its final resting-place and a most profound sense of grief was everywhere visible. At Wokingham and the adjacent villages business was almost entirely suspended and the greatest respect was shown to the memory of the deceased.

At a meeting of the Wokingham Town Council on Thursday, a vote of condolence with Mr. Walter and his family on their irreparable loss was unanimously carried. Mr. Alderman Page brought forward the motion, and in introducing it, alluded to the connection of Mr. Walter’s family with the borough.

Memorial stone to John Balston Walter at Bearwood Churchyard

John Walter IV is commemorated in this stone at the family memorial in Bearwood churchyard.

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