Outwell’s very own super hero - William Tolladay Streader - who saved nearly 100 lives during the late 19th century

 Bill Smith, Outwell,

Bill Smith, Outwell, - Credit: Archant

Gotham has Batman, Metropolis has Superman and Outwell has a man called William Tolladay Streader - who proved you don’t need to wear a cape to be a true super hero.

 Bill Smith, Outwell,

Bill Smith, Outwell, - Credit: Archant

William was a real life hero rescuing nearly 100 people from drowning - at least 25 of them from the River Nene in Wisbech - during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

William’s extraordinary story has been unearthed by Outwell-based local historian William Smith.

He stumbled across the tale of William Streader Tolladay completely by chance when a work colleague asked him to try to date a book called ‘To the Rescue’ written by S Horton.

“As I opened the book, the approximate date was immediately revealed as it was dedicated to Alexander Peckover, from the locally famous banking family.


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“But what particularly excited me was reading the first line: ‘Work necessitated our move to Outwell’. The book was about a William Tolliday Streader, whose father was a navvy or ‘banker’ as they were called. Reading the book it became clear the family moved to Outwell in about 1845 when William’s father was employed to work on the new cut through Outwell, which could only be the Middle Level Drain,” he said.

Mr Smith said the book was a real eye-opener and inspired him to research William’s life story some more.

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“I have done an awful lot of research and now I just want his story told because it really is incredible,” said Mr Smith.

He made his first rescue when he was about 11 pulling a boy called ‘Church’ from Well Creek and dragging him safely ashore.

His ability to swim enabled him to gain an education swapping swimming lessons for pupils at the grammar school with tuition for himself.

After serving in the army during the Crimean War William became a customs officer, a career move that came after he pulled a man from the river at Wisbech. A local customs officer witnessed the rescue and offered him a job.

Working by the water in places that included: Wisbech, King’s Lynn, Shoreham by Sea and Grimsby, gave William plenty of opportunity for acts of bravery.

In total he rescued 98 people and received two or three citations from the Royal Humane Society and was awarded over 30 bravery medals. He received one those medals at a public ceremony in Wisbech in 1864, when he not only received the Royal Humane Society’s medal but also five guineas.

He ended his working life at Shoreham where he became chief custom officer and one of his life-saving experiences in the sea happened at the Sussex coastal town when he plunged into the water to rescue a sailor.

He got the man out alive, but he later died and William never recovered from the shock of that struggle with the sea. Following the rescue a presentation was made at the town hall in Shoreham, which included forty guineas given by the townspeople, fishermen and sailers also gave a present and the board of trade sent a medal. A plaque near Shoreham harbour commemorates his acts of bravery.

He died in 1917 ages 82 and is buried at Walthamstow.

William did return to Wisbech in 1906 when he showed off his numerous medals and talked about the frequency he had rescued people from drowning in the river Nene.

Mr Smith, who has since obtained his own rare copy of ‘To the Rescue’, added: “William’s life motto was ‘to serve my fellow men and honour my God by doing my duty’ - I think he really lived up to that sentiment with his heroic bravery - he really was a super hero.”

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