Alfred was born on 28th May 1856 to William and Jane (nee Halsey) Knight. His birth was registered at St Pancras, London. William and Jane had eight children including Alfred. W (William?) Duncan was their first born, circa 1845 followed by Phoebe M c1847. Approximately 2 years after Phoebe their next child John was born c1849. After him, Susanna was born c1851 followed by Arthur W c1853. Constance was next c1855, and after Alfred, the youngest was Claudia born in 1859.
The census of 1861 shows the family living at 20 Carlton Hill Villas, Islington. Alfred’s father, William, is 43 years old and states his occupation as a ‘Soap Manufacturer’. Alfred is now 4 years old.
By the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to 66 Ladbroke Grove, Chelsea and William states that he is the Head of Firm, John Knight and Sons Soap Manufacturers, employing 250 men and 50 boys. John Knight’s Soaps were based in Silvertown at the time and are now a subsidiary of Unilever. At the time of the census Alfred is 14 and is at the Amersham Hall School, Caversham. This was a private school “for the sons of Dignified Gentlemen” and is now Queen Anne’s School.
Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 census, Alfred has flown the nest and can be found in Derbyshire. He is a farmer of 120 acres at Shottle Gate employing a Dairy Maid, a Cow Man and a Domestic servant. During his time in Derbyshire he met and married Luna Lizzie Tomlinson from Ashbourne on 25th July 1882.
One year later they had their first child. Cecil Bertie Howard was born on 3rd June 1883 in Arkely, Hertfordshire, near Borehamwood. He was later to become a clergyman and served during the First World War as a Chaplain in the Royal Army Chaplains Department in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. He also had a book published called The Story of Chingford Old Church (All Saints) and the Parish Church (s.s. Peter and Paul) in 1959.
The Electoral Roll of 1885 shows their address as being 17 Claremont Road, Cricklewood. It was while they were living here that they had their second child. Vivian Berkeley Howard was born in the second quarter of 1886 and later became an engineer. He died on 20th April 1917
They stayed at the same address until after the 1891 census when Alfred was 33 years old and states that he was Soap maker by profession. They then moved to 1 Chatsworth Road, Brondesbury (now NW2) according to the 1895-1898 Electoral rolls. By the time of the 1901 census they had moved to Leyden Cottage, Morple Road, Epsom. On the day of this census Alfred is at his father’s address in Brighton. By 1911 Alfred and Luna have moved to Worthing and the two sons have left home.
As soon as war broke out Alfred volunteered for the army and was given a commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment. It was while he was serving at Lesness Heath Camp, Abbey Wood that Alfred sadly died on the 10th December 1915. His death certificate shows that the cause of death was;
“Shock from revolver shot wound in the head, self inflicted. Suicide whilst labouring under temporary mental derangement, suddenly”
The following is a transcript from the newspaper article that appeared in the Erith Observer on 17th December 1915;
OFFICERS SAD DEATH
FOUND DEAD IN LESNESS HEATH CAMP
Particularly pathetic circumstances were associated with the death of Captain Alfred Howard Knight, lately attached to the 72nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, stationed on Lesness Heath, Abbey Wood. The deceased officer, who was 59 years of age, had followed a mercantile career for many years, but retired owing to ill-health. When war broke out he offered his services and received a commission. He brought the same enthusiasm to bear on his military duties as he had devoted to his work in civil life, and although advanced in years, he volunteered for foreign service. He was not accepted, and that appeared to prey on his mind. He afterwards seemed somewhat depressed, and on Friday night his absence from mess being unaccounted for, a search was made, and his body was found lying on his bed in his hut, death having been caused by a bullet wound.
Mr H.B. Sewell, District Coroner, and a jury, sat at the West Street Schoolroom, Erith on Tuesday afternoon to inquire into the circumstances associated with the death.
The Rev. Cecil Bertie Howard Knight (son), Chaplain to the Forces, stationed at Tidworth, Salisbury Plain, said that his lived at Upway, Church Walk, Worthing, and was a Captain in the 72nd Prov. Battn., Royal Sussex Regt. stationed at Lesness Heath. He was a man of extreme energy, and of good health during the time he had been in the Army. He had been at Lesness Heath about seven weeks. Witness last saw him alive on Wednesday, December 8th at the camp. He appeared very depressed, and utterly tired out. Witness went with his wife, and both thought he was very bad. It was attributed to the overstrain of his work. He always worked too enthusiastically. He was expected to go to Marnham, Sussex, on the following Friday morning to take charge of a new guard. He was glad to get away from his present work, which was too much for him, and the prospect of a quieter time at Marnham, and having his wife with him seemed to have a good effect upon him. Witness heard of his death on Friday. Witness had never heard of his father speak of suicide, but he was evidently worn out and his mind had given way. He had been in the Army about 14 months. He was previously a manufacturer, but had to give it up through ill-health.
VERY MUCH DEPRESSED
Lieut. Leopold Amon Vidler, 72nd Prov. Battn., Sussex Regt., stationed at Lesness Park, said he had been working with the deceased since June last. He was very depressed. He was keen to go on foreign service, but he was rejected on December 4th. He was quite a different man afterwards. On Friday morning witness saw him just before nine o’clock in the breakfast room. He seemed very depressed, as his servant was leaving that morning, and he asked witness about another one. He gave him the name of a man, and deceased then went to see a party off. Witness and he returned to the orderly room when he still appeared to be very depressed. Later in the morning deceased offered to assist in the payment of men, and went away, but did not return. Witness did not see him at tea or dinner, and inquiries were made as to his whereabouts. Witness heard shortly afterwards that he was found shot.
In reply to the Coroner, witness thought deceased worried unnecessarily about details.
FINDING THE BODY
Capt. Aldred Clement Rowden, Adjutant of 72nd Prov. Battn. Sussex Regt., said he never thought that Capt. Knight by age, temperament, or want of military knowledge, was fitted for the position. He was amongst men much younger, and it seemed to prey on him. The party he was expected to take charge of was handed over to another officer. Witness only saw him for a few moments early on Friday morning and did not meet him again. He made inquiries as to the deceased’s absence from mess and on going to his quarters, he found the door locked. On looking through a window at the back, it was found that Capt. Knight was lying on his bed. The Medical Officer was called, and on the door being forced the body was seen lying on the bed with a bullet wound in the lower part of the forehead, and a service revolver in the left hand. The body was fully dressed, and there was nothing disarranged in the quarters, except that some articles had been packed for going away.
MEDICAL OFFICER’S EVIDENCE
Edmund Gonin, Lieut. R.A.M.C., attached to the same Battalion, said he had not noticed anything about Capt. Knight except that he was depressed when he found he could not go on foreign service. Witness was called to deceased’s hut on Friday evening, and on the door being forced he found Capt. Knight dead as described by the last witness. Death must have ensued some hours, and the cause was due to a self inflicted bullet wound.
Sub.-Div.-Inspr. Charles Jefford, Metropolitan Police, said on Friday night at ten o’clock he was called to the camp, and went to the deceased’s quarters, where he found the body as previously described. The revolver was gripped by the left hand in front of the trigger guard, and the right hand was close by. The revolver contained five live cartridges, and one spent case. There was nothing found on the body or in the hut to show that the affair was premeditated.
Mr Alfred Hugh Knight Squire, of Bromley, a nephew to the deceased, said the latter’s affairs were all in order, and he had no debts.
The Coroner said it was a sad case of suicide, and all the Jury had to consider was the state of the man’s mind at the time. They had ample evidence as to that.
The Jury returned a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily mentally deranged.”
Capt. Rowland, on behalf of Col. Mostyn and Officers of the Battalion, expressed deep sympathy with the relatives of the deceased, and how deeply they deplored the loss of such an energetic and keen officer.
The National Probate Calendar of 1916 records that his estate passed to his two sons.
His wife, Luna Lizzie appears to have moved back to Ashbourne, Derbyshire after Alfred’s death. She died on 12th August 1923 and left her estate to Cecil.
This story has been researched by volunteers. We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this soldier, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.
Commemorated at Home
Alfred Knight did had no known connection to East Wickham and Welling, but has been included on the online memorial as he is buried in the grounds of St Michael’s Church, East Wickham
St Michael’s Church East Wickham CWGC Memorial