On Christmas Eve 1933, after a fortnight’s illness, Batley’s nationally acclaimed rat-catcher Thomas Cassidy died.
During his working life his skills were in much demand by a cross-section of businesses and organisations: From local mill owners and town Corporations, including Batley and Dewsbury; to railway companies such as the London and North Western, North Eastern, Midland and Scottish Railways. This latter work took him throughout Britain and Ireland.
A bit of a local legend, a thrilled journalist even reported of spending a most exciting four hours, with some lively experiences, under the Dark Arches in Leeds in the company of Thomas Cassidy, one of his sons and a fox terrier named Gipsy. The Dark Arches are the brick-built network of arches constructed in the 1860s to support the railway station.
The two major records Thomas claimed were:
1,227 rats caught alive and 446 killed in six hours for Ossett Corporation; and
153 [out of 155] rats caught in thirteen minutes on the premises of a hide and skin merchant in Heckmondwike in 1908. This was unassisted by dog or ferret.
For the latter he is recognised by Spen Valley Civic Society with plaque number 18 on the Spen Fame Trail. This plaque is located on The Green in Heckmondwike.
Well-known in the Batley area, he was not an unfamiliar sight in the local courts either. On at least one occasion he regaled the Bench with his rat-catching exploits including, in 1907, another tale of his expertise … and possibly the explanation for his appearances before the Batley magistrates. This time he boasted of capturing 154 rodents in 75 minutes which he sold for 4d. each – but the money went on drink. The newspapers prefaced this court report with a rather lurid description of one of Thomas’ more colourful claims to local notoriety, describing him as:
Batley’s professional rat-catcher, and the individual who, some time ago at a local polling booth, bit off the heads of a couple of live rats in the presence of disgusted voters .
Born in Batley’s New Street on 3 February 1870, he was the son of labourer John Cassidy, who hailed from County Clare, Ireland and his West Ardsley-born wife Emma (née Garlick). He was baptised at St Mary of the Angels RC church in Batley.
Thomas married Harriet Ann McDonagh  at the same church as he was baptised, on 13 February 1892. By this stage he worked as a coal miner. Their children included Johanna, Emma Jane (who died in infancy), Robert Ernest, Thomas, John Edward, Leo, Mary and Arthur.
His rat-catching exploits were inspired following a walk near Batley, when he saw a refuse tip ‘alive’ with rats. He explained:
I went home, took a pillow slip off my bed, and soon had it full of live rats from the tip. I sold these at 4d. each to people with dogs they wanted to train as ratters. I had 10s. 6d. to take home, and I’m glad to say I gave my mother ten shillings. I’d never had so much before…I was only earning eighteen pence a day in the pit as a pumper” .
The refuse tip became a gold mine for him, as he progressively cleared it of all vermin. So lucrative did this new business line prove, in around 1904 he left the pit for good to become a full-time rat-catcher.
Rat-catching was a national obsession. In fact at the end of 1919 the Government passed a Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, such was the concern about their capacity to spread disease, destroy property and contaminate food. A new war raged in this inter-war period, and during each November there was even a designated National Rat Week endorsed by the Ministry of Agriculture when a nationwide effort was made to destroy the creatures to control the population. Publicity for the campaign was widespread via the press, billboard posters and in the cinema. This included a specially commissioned government “Kill That Rat” Pathé film in 1919. Leeds Corporation produced its own rat killing promotional newsreel in 1920. Entitled “It’s Rough on the Rats” it demonstrated the launch of its asphyxiating gas offensive.
For Thomas business was booming and he became a minor celebrity. He held long-term contracts as official rat-catcher in two Leeds railway stations, and it was this work which the Leeds Mercury’s Special Correspondent shadowed (literally as the work was undertaken by candle light) in 1923.
A huge mound of refuse, sweepings from 10 railway station platforms of the London and North Eastern railway station above, accumulated in the Dark Arches. Here the rats thrived.
As a preliminary to his clearance work Thomas, along with his son, turned over the refuse mound – a mixture of food, dust, cinders and even crockery – revealing holes big enough for rabbits. In the process they were cornering the creatures in preparation for their capture. The rats could be heard scurrying below – huge creatures sustained by all the railway detritus.
The Cassidy’s fox terrier Gipsy was tied to a drain pipe, becoming increasingly excited by the activity.
Then the work began.
With their bare hands Cassidy and his son began catching the rats, shoving them in an army kit bag. Other rats were strangled. Those trying to flee were caught in string netting strewn across a mesh barrier which fenced off the bay of the archway. They were forced back into the clutches of the Cassidys.
Thomas was now bleeding profusely from a rat bite to his thumb knuckle, but undeterred he carried on. An occupational hazard, his hands bore the marks of his work over many years. Yet he had only sustained blood poisoning five times from rat bites in 30+ years’.
Gipsy bit through her leash, eager to join in the killing spree. After four hours, exhausted by their exertions, they finished. The bag contained 36 live rats and 60 dead. Gipsy accounted for around a further 40. Only one rat managed to escape. At the end of their work Thomas told the reporter
I’ve a fox at home which will kill rats quicker’n’ that ‘ere dog .
Perhaps this was one of the foxes which he captured in 1921, for his snaring exploits extended beyond rats. The Yorkshire press reported on his fox-catching efforts, which extended over two days. The result was a haul of two foxes from a drain near Wilton Park. One was a four-feet-long dog fox weighing 17½lbs. The other was a 42-inch-long 13¾lbs vixen. Methods unsuccessfully employed in this star capture included cayenne pepper and a fox terrier. Finally he and his colleague hit on the ingenious idea of sweeping the drain with prickly brushes roped together. This did the trick.
As for his rat-catching methods, Thomas remained slightly coyer. Ferrets were commonly used by others to catch rats. New Street station in Leeds was the scene of some of Thomas’ heaviest slaughtering. Three different rat breeds could be found in its refreshment rooms. It was in this station he once lost a ferret for three days. When finally located it was in such a bad state after constant fighting with rats it had to be destroyed. By 1926 Thomas no longer used ferrets, preferring to use what he termed as ‘secret methods’.
He was clearly keen to keep his tricks of the trade in-house, explaining his art in only general terms. He occasionally employed dogs, owning two fox terrier bitches by 1926. He preferred bitches to dogs because they were keener, fiercer and more easily controlled. He was not a general believer in poison. This he reserved for factories, where wholesale slaughter was required. He claimed to have killed thousands of rats using this technique at the Dewsbury mills of M. Oldroyd & Sons and Wormald & Walkers. But his favoured method was to catch his prey with his bare hands, delivering the killer blow by banging their heads on the floor.
And throughout his career he retained a great respect for the cunning, ferocity, thoroughness and perseverance of his enemy, the rat.
Thomas, who died in the same street in which he was born, was buried in Batley cemetery on 28 December 1933.
Here are some rat-catching tips from the 1920s:
Don’t touch a dead
rat – use a shovel;
Don’t leave the old
homes of an exterminated rat colony intact as you will soon have another
settlement. Fill the holes with cement, or failing that, a mixture of tar and
Don’t touch bait
with your fingers as rats won’t come near it. Use a spoon tied at the end of a
Don’t forget to
warn people and keep domestic animals away from baits;
Don’t forget that a
change of bait – kipper instead of cheese for instance – works wonders; and
Don’t forget you
are liable to a £20 fine if you allow your property to be rat-infested.
Notes: Bradford Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1907;  The spelling of Harriet’s surname varies depending on record, including McDonegh, Donegh, Donagh and McDunach; The Leeds Mercury, 3 November 1926; The Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1923
1871- 1911 censuses
Batley Cemetery Burial Records
General Register Office birth, marriage and death records
On the evening of Friday 24 April 1896 as the life ebbed from seven-year-old George Sharpe ,he named the person responsible for shooting him – his playmate Alfred Brearey.
George was the son of rag grinder Jesse Sharpe and his wife Mary Wilson.
The couple married at Batley Parish Church on 28 April 1877 . It was
Mary’s second marriage. Her first husband Fearnley Windle died in 1875, age
19 , just over a year after their marriage in the same church .
George was born on 27 April 1888. By the time of the 1891 census the family were living in the Healey area of Batley, at 41 Healey Street. In addition to George, their other children included Joseph (12), Rebecca (9), Letitia (6), Alice (5) and Lily (4 months) . Ten years later they were at 5 Clark Green Street . But at the time the incident took place their address was 4 Knowles Hill, otherwise known as Baines Street, off Dark Lane in Batley, with George attending Purlwell Board School.
Who was the boy accused of the fatal shooting? Many of the records,
including the notes of Coroner Thomas Taylor, refer to him as Arthur. But clues
exist that this is not the full story. There are several other references
naming him as Alfred or Alfy, many of these within the same documents which
refer to him as Arthur.
The report in The Batley News of 1 May 1896 provides the answer
to this confusion. A footnote states:
It will be seen that the prisoner was referred to in almost every case as “Arthur.” His Christian name is Alfred.
Accordingly, Alfred was the name by which he was summoned before this
Court. His birth date was also helpfully confirmed in the Batley Borough Court
evidence as reported in the same edition of The Batley News – Alfred was
11 on 8 April.
Combining this information with General Register Office birth registrations, the fact he was the nephew of Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley, and his father was a carrier named Thomas all pinpoints him as being the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Brearey (née Crossley), who married in 1871. His baptism  at Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 18 May 1885 confirms his 8 April 1885 birth date, and a Hanging Heaton residence .
Alfred was one of 14 children born in the marriage, but by 1911 only seven were still alive, with Alfred being the only surviving son. In 1891 the family lived at Mill Lane , and it was the Hanging Heaton Mill Lane Board School which Alfred attended. But, prior to the shooting, the family moved to Norfolk Street which was close to where the Sharpe family lived. It was once Alfred “flitted” here that he became friends with George.
I have pieced together the events of the evening of George’s death from various reports on the two official hearings, including the inquest notes made personally by Coroner Thomas Taylor.
First came the inquest on 27 April 1896. With a bitter twist of fate this would have been George’s eighth birthday. Held at The Commercial, this piece of Batley history is no longer a public house and was ear-marked for demolition to make way for apartments. I’m not sure if that is still on the cards.
Two days later, on Wednesday 29 April, the boy accused of causing
George’s death appeared before the Batley Magistrates in a special session of
the Borough Court.
In my narrative, to avoid confusion, I will use his officially
registered name, Alfred. Though do bear in mind if you are searching yourself
many of the original references are actually in the name of Arthur.
This is my summary of events.
On the evening of his death George came home from school at about 4.30pm and, after having his tea, he asked if he could go with Alfred to Farfield Nursery. He set off at around 5pm. This was the final time his mother saw him alive. The nursery, located near the Lady Ann Railway Crossing in Batley, was owned by Alfred’s uncle, Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley – a gardener, seedsman and florist who lived at Park Farm on Grovesnor Road. The Kelly’s West Riding of Yorkshire Directory of 1893 describes Crossley’s multiple floristry services which included:
….ball & wedding bouquets made to order, cut flowers with ferns for table decoration, Memorial wreaths & crosses of white flowers at short notice & moderate prices.
In addition to the nursery, he had an establishment located on Branch Road, easily accessible to potential customers popping into the town centre. Presumably it was from these premises that orders for flowers could be placed.
The 1895 published map of Batley shows Farfield Nursery to be of such a significant size to feature. In 1929 when, after 48 years ownership by B.W. Crossley & Sons, the market garden and rhubarb forcing business was sold, it consisted of five acres with greenhouses, cold frames, two large forcing sheds and three dwelling houses . Back in 1896 it was where Alfred’s father, Thomas, had employment as a carter.
Alfred was in the habit of going to the nursery most evenings to wait
for his father to finish work. For the past month or so, whilst waiting, he had
undertaken simple tasks such as pricking out and transplanting seedlings.
George, at most, accompanied him to the nursery on only a handful of occasions.
This particular evening Alfred went into the potting shed to prick out seedlings, whilst George played, running about the nursery land. Head gardener George Benson left his office in the potting shed at around 6.10pm. He claimed to have locked the office door and put the key in its usual place, hanging by a nail outside the office at a height of about five feet. In the office was a single-barrelled shotgun. This was stored on a beam about seven or eight feet from the ground, but it was accessible to boys if they climbed on the office table. Used for scaring or shooting the pigeons, these birds posed a constant threat to seedlings and crops. In fact, only recently they had destroyed almost all the pea crop. However, it was debatable whether the birds should actually have been shot – many local men owned racing pigeons and some of these birds were quite valuable, as indicated in my blog post about the fate of some local Batley youths who stole pigeons to earn cash. Benson fired the gun on Thursday, and reloaded it with shot and powder on Friday morning. He placed a cap on the gun along with a label on the trigger indicating the weapon was loaded.
Within 20 minutes of Benson’s departure, at around 6.30pm, Benjamin Crossley was summoned by his nephew to the nursery. A boy had fallen in the gardens and was bleeding. Crossley could get no more information from Alfred, so he hurried to the nursery to investigate. He found George face-down on the cart road about eight yards or so from the potting shed, with a trail of blood leading back to it. Crossley turned the boy over and asked what was wrong. Cinders embedded in his face from his fall, George uttered the chilling words: Alfred had shot him.
George asked for some water, and the child took a sip. Crossley then
went to get medical help and the police. On his way he saw Batley Councillor
Rooke Garbutt in the garden of his Howley View home and informed him of the
incident. Garbutt, the manager at John Jubb and Sons shoddy manufacturers at Batley’s
Phoenix Mills, hurried to the nursery which quickly became a hive of activity.
In the melee Arthur melted away. He went to the home of George’s parents.
Jesse Sharpe was now home from work. Ironically, he worked in the same mills as Garbutt. He had eaten his tea and was smoking his pipe when Alfred turned up. It was around 6.45pm. Alfred seemed frightened and was trembling, which prompted Mary to ask where George was. Alfred spoke two words only – “He’s dead.” With that he left. Stunned by the news, Jesse went to find out what on earth was happening.
Back at the nursery Rooke Garbutt was doing his best to assist the boy,
who had a wound the size of half a crown in his right side between his ribs.
From the air being expelled from the hole, the shot had clearly entered his
lung. Deep red blood flowed, which Garbutt tried to stem with his handkerchief.
Garbutt judged by the jagged shape of the wound, and the absence of pellet
marks, the lad had been shot at close range. He asked the child’s name and, on
at least two occasions, he questioned who had shot him. The response never
changed. Alfred Brearey.
Dr Wilkinson arrived on the scene, and immediately judged nothing could be done. George was placed on an ambulance cart and Garbutt, assisted by others, started the journey to Batley Hospital. From the description provided, and with Garbutt said to be between the shafts, it appears this was a cart pulled by the men rather than one drawn by horses. There were various designs of these wheeled ambulance litters and carts throughout the country in this period. The example below is one of the models in use. Others, like the Bischoffsheim hand ambulance which was particularly favoured by London police in this era, were akin to wheeled stretchers. What is unclear is if the mode of transport used for George was an improvised ambulance cart, rather than an official one – especially given there appears to be no named official bearers.
On their way to the hospital Mrs Dyson of Grosvenor Road came out to dab George’s lips with brandy. She gave the ambulance-carriers the bottle in case more should be required. George managed one final word “mother” and, as the ambulance neared the hospital on Carlinghow Field Hill, he breathed his last.
Garbutt passed him to the care of Miss Kanann, hospital Matron, who did
her utmost to revive George, but to no avail. Drs Russell and Keighley arrived
and pronounced death.
George did not stand a chance. The gunshot had fractured his ribs,
perforated the lower part of his right lung, and caused injuries to his liver
and abdominal cavity. His body was carried back to his home. Catherine Smith of
Thorn Bank Cottage on Dark Lane, who had seen George leave his house at 5pm, only
around three hours later was laying out his body. She burned his blood-soaked
vest and shirt to spare his mother further distress, an action which earned
censure from the Coroner. Evidence should not be destroyed. George’s mother
finally saw her son at home at around 11pm, once Catherine work was
Meanwhile police brought in Alfred on suspicion of having caused the
death of George Sharpe. Inspector Weightman interrogated him. He described
Alfred as quite calm, but uncooperative. Alfred stuck to his story. He had
found George on the ground; George had fallen; and Alfred had not seen a gun.
Weightman finally took him to the nursery at 9pm, where Crossley and
Garbutt met them. The office gun had vanished from its stated place on the
beam. Even then Alfred denied ever seeing a gun, but eventually said it had
been in a corner of the building. A search ensued and, after around 10 minutes,
the discharged weapon was found beneath a bench with the exploded cap still in
place. When Alfred’s father arrived, the lad said Benson had told a story – the
office door was unlocked and the gun was not hung up. The police decided to
release George into his father’s custody whilst investigations continued.
On Sunday evening, Alfred, accompanied by his parents and a sister went to the Sharpe house. It was an act which demanded tremendous courage under the circumstances. One cannot imagine the reaction and emotions of the Sharpe family when the boy accused of killing their son turned up on their doorstep. At first Alfred denied having shot George, but when pressed by Jesse he finally admitted to it.
The Coroner’s inquest, headed by Thomas Taylor, was held the following
morning, 27 April. Taylor was critical of the nursery’s gun practices. Firstly,
he questioned the necessity for having one at all, suggesting they should
employ a boy to scare the birds. He also criticised the way in which the nursery
kept the gun, particularly the fact it was stored fully loaded.
As for the shooting, he pointed out only George had provided evidence
that Alfred was responsible, as the admission extracted by Jesse was
inadmissible in Court.
In summary, Taylor stated the boys had no right to be in the office where the gun was kept, but they had got into boy-like mischief. It was impossible to say whether they were simply curiously examining the gun or playing with it. But it was unlikely Arthur would fetch the gun and deliberately shoot his friend. If a person over 14 years old killed another it was murder, unless the contrary could be proved. However, if the person was under seven it was no crime in law. Between the ages of seven and 14, as in Alfred’s case, the jury needed to consider whether the perpetrator had sufficient comprehension to know what he was doing. The jury must consider whether Alfred was playing, as boys would do, and this was an accident; or if he shot George wilfully and with knowledge and understanding. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes before returning a verdict of “Death from Misadventure.”
That very day, on what should have been George’s eight birthday, he was
laid to rest in Batley cemetery.
The Borough Court hearing of 29 April initially did not reveal anything
further, other than Alfred had never been in any trouble, and caused no
problems at home. It was in Court that Alfred was finally interrogated publicly,
this not being allowed at the inquest. And it was here, in a dramatic turn, he
finally revealed his version of events that fateful evening.
He stated George entered the potting shed asking to see the plants
tended by Alfred. The office door was wide open. George went in, got the gun
from behind the door and gave it to Alfred. Alfred was trying to put it back
when it knocked something and went off. Both he and George were in close
proximity in the office when it happened. Sharpe ran for about 10 yards then
The Mayor’s summing up and address to Alfred was recorded in The Batley News. He told Alfred that his:
….future might be a bright and successful one….but a cloud would hang over him. If he desired to get on in the world he should remember that it was only by being honourable and upright that he could hope to succeed, and he hoped the events of the past few days would be a lesson to him and to boys outside not to meddle with anything that did not belong to them. Had the gun not been touched except by those to whom it belonged a great deal of misery would have been spared. A liar was worse than a thief, for doors could be locked against a thief but the mouth of a liar could not be bolted. He trusted therefore that the prisoner would take warning. If he [took to heart all that has been said] he would find himself not merely a good lad but a good citizen, and (if he married) a good husband.
The Bench duly agreed with the verdict of the Coroner’s Jury – George’s
death was the result of misadventure. Alfred was discharged.
Whether the full truth came out in Court when Alfred finally admitted responsibility, we will never know. But the scenario described by Coroner Thomas Taylor at the earlier inquest does seem plausible. This was a case of lads messing around. Whether George did get the gun, or whether it was Alfred wanting to show off to his younger friend, is unclear. What is obvious, reading through all the evidence, it does seem to have been a horrible accident. Alfred was only just 11, a child himself. He would have been traumatised by the events of that evening – in shock and extremely frightened. No wonder he did not dare admit what happened. But still he went to seek help.
As for Crossley, he unsurprisingly declined the option to take back his gun. The Coroner’s words of two days earlier clearly hit home. If the gun had been stored correctly none of this would have happened. A boy would still be alive to celebrate his birthday. A mother and father would still have their son.
But even though this was all clearly a tragic accident, Mary Sharpe’s reaction is one with which everyone will sympathise. On hearing the verdict, she burst into tears and said “he has got off scot free, whilst we have lost our George.”
So, what became of Alfred Brearey? Did he heed the advice given by the Court? It seems he did. A warper at Taylor’s Blakeridge Mills, he married Florence Shephard on 2 September 1905 at Batley Parish Church . He was an active member of St John’s Church, Carlinghow where he was Secretary for their football club. A sports enthusiast, he was a particularly good cyclist and member of the Yorkshire Road Club. They awarded him a medal in 1909 for his record-breaking ride to Goole and back in 4¾ hours. He went on to serve with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in World War One, and was killed in action on 27 August 1917. He has no know gave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. At home he is remembered on Batley War Memorial and is recognised in the Rev. W.E. Cleworth’s Soothill War Register and Record book .
Footnotes:  Other records have the spelling Sharp, but for consistency I will use the Sharpe variant;  Jesse Sharp/Mary Windle Marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/27;  GRO Death Registration for Fearnley Windle, accessed via the GRO website, reference June Quarter 1875, Dewsbury District, Volume 9B, Page 388;  Fearnley Windle/Mary Wilson marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, 19 September 1874, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/26;  Sharp family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives Class: RG12; Piece: 3721; Folio: 137; Page: 31  Sharp family, 1901 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives, Kew Class: RG13; Piece: 4258; Folio: 49; Page: 1;  His name is entered as Brearley in the Baptism Register. The error is replicated for some of his siblings. Even the Coroner in his notes occasionally records his name as Brearley, and then this is amended. Baptisms for other of Thomas and Martha Ann’s children are recorded under the surnames of Brearey or Breary;  Baptism of Arthur Brearley [sic], Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference C7/1/2;  Brearey family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line], original record The National Archives RG12; Piece: 3736; Folio: 14; Page: 22;  The Leeds Mercury, 11 September 1929, accessed via Findmypast;  The Batley News & Advertiser – 1 May 1896;  Alfred Brearey/Florence Shepherd marriage, Batley Parish Church marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/36  Cleworth, Rev. W.E. Urban District of Soothill Upper, Yorkshire, War Register and Records, 1914-1919. Batley: E.F. Roberts, n.d.
Inquest notes for George Sharpe, Coroner Thomas Taylor’s notes, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference C493/K/2/1/198
Kelly’s West Riding Directory, 1893, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
Posted onAugust 28, 2019|Comments Off on Mining Genealogy Gold – A Hidden Gem in Leeds Central Library
As a family historian, I’m always on the look-out for sources which flesh out the lives of my ancestors. Leeds Central Library has one particular gem which deserves a spotlight. For those of us with early Victorian mining ancestry it is a must.
The Children’s Employment Commission looking at children and young persons working in mines published its findings in 1842 . This report is only a fraction of the evidence gathered. It draws on the masses of summaries, information and interviews produced by its Sub-Commissioners countrywide. These far more detailed Sub-Commissioners’ reports formed separate publications, reprinted by the Irish University Press in 1968 as part of its Industrial Revolution Parliamentary papers series . Leeds Library holds two volumes of this evidence, containing a wealth of information which did not make the cut for the main report.
Appointed from late 1840 onwards, the remits of these Sub-Commissioners encompassed all fields of mining – from coal, to copper, tin, lead, zinc and ironstone. It covers those toiling underground, as well as those engaged in surface work and smelting. All corners of the country are represented – including Scotland, Wales and Southern Ireland. So it would be a mistake to think it is only relevant for those with Yorkshire or coal mining ancestry.
Yorkshire coal mining, though, is my particular interest, and the focus of this summary. However, this summary will give you a taster for the information available for other regions and sectors of mining.
reported on the West Riding coal mining areas. Their evidence spans both
volumes, and the amount of name-rich genealogical information they produced is
staggering. We owe tremendous thanks to the trio.
William Raynor Wood examined the employment of children and young persons in the collieries and iron works of the towns of Bradford and Leeds;
Samuel S. Scriven investigated those employed in the collieries around the Halifax and Bradford districts; and
Jelinger C. Symons looked at the remainder of the Yorkshire coal field.
They considered a range of issues including ages, numbers of children, the employment of girls and women, how the children were hired, the jobs they undertook, their wages, their working hours including night shifts, their workplace conditions including accidents, meals both in and outside the workplace, holidays, how they were treated, their educational standards and the impact the work took on their physical, religious and moral condition. These findings are illustrated with sketches of children and youths at work, diagrams showing pit layouts and illustrations of machinery.
Tables and appendices collate an array of information, some of which is unexpected material. Fatal pit accidents in a 3½ year period in Bradford and Halifax District feature, with the names and many ages of the victims. There are lists of child workers in particular pits. These include details of in excess of 200 named Bradford and Halifax hurriers with their ages, height, physical condition, whether they could read and write, along with their employment details. There is a tabulated medical examination of children in Dewsbury Colliery. There are also tables showing the names, ages and wages of the three youngest children and three oldest young people working at selected collieries. Beyond this, for comparison purposes, similar wage, age, physical and educational information is collated for children in other industries such as worsted workers in Halifax, or scribblers, carders, spinners and card setters. So, don’t rule out evidence relating to mines if you have ancestors working in other industries.
Crucially, these findings were based on interviews with a cross section of people directly involved in, or with an interest, in mining. You get the usual suspects – coal mine proprietors, doctors, workhouse staff and vicars. But you also have statements from coal miners, mothers and fathers of children employed in the industry, as well as the children themselves. Working class folk whose voices are not ordinarily heard. Here are the real treasures of these reports. You can almost hear the accents and regional phraseology of these long-gone people in the written statements. And yes, there is an explanation of terms generally in use among colliers of the West Riding. Addle, agate, leet, lake and mashed up are my favourites .
Each interview is prefaced by the deponent’s name and gives location, age and employment details. And because the interviews were conducted at around the time of the 1841 census, it is easy to cross match them to your ancestors. From this you can find out precisely where they worked, what they did, wider family information, their health, their educational standard, what they ate, even where they lived and their previous abodes.
My 4x great grandfather Jonathan Ibbetson, a widower, and three of his children, are interviewed by Symons. These include his 11½-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. From the interviews I learned that two out of his three daughters worked below ground, one having done so since the age of six. The girls were hurriers, employed by their brother. This was common practice – the colliers, not the mine proprietors, generally employed, and paid, hurriers themselves. The hurrier’s job was to convey the empty corves (wagons, usually with small wheels) to the miner, help fill them with coal, then push the laden corves by dragging, pushing, or ‘thrusting’ them with their heads in readiness for them to be taken to the surface. In this case the two girls worked together, thrusting the corves a distance of 160 yards, and back, which Elizabeth says hurt and made her head sore. On average they conveyed 16 full corves daily. We learn the family moved from Queenshead (Queensbury) to the Birkenshaw area, and worked in Mr Harrison’s pit in Gomersal. We also learn of their poverty, with John (a hurrier, aged 13½) saying:
I have been to Sunday-school. I stop at home now, I’ve no clothes to go in; I stop in because I’ve no clothes to go and lake with other little lads.
One particularly shameful practice, the plight of pauper apprentices, is highlighted in the evidence. Poor Law Unions were in effect binding out workhouse children to miners to work as hurriers. Dewsbury Poor Law Union were singled out for particular censure for putting out a Batley workhouse boy, Thomas Townend, to work for a Thornhill collier. Symons described it as:
A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child…before he was quite five years old.
Thomas is interviewed
I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay.
For those of you who watched the BBC TV series ‘Gentleman Jack’ there is evidence from children working at the Rawson-owned Swan Bank and Bank Bottom collieries, as well as ones employed at the late Miss Anne Lister’s Listerwick Pit . There are also details about the ages and wages of some hurriers at Listerwick.
And where else would you
get an entire section devoted to the families of six colliers in Flockton? Not
only do you get the names, ages, relationships, occupations and wages of every
household member, you get a summary of their weekly food and fuel consumption,
along with a description of their house, garden, and furniture right down to
the books they owned. There is even a
pen piece for each family. Samuel and Martha Taylor’s reads:
The parents of this man were ignorant, being totally uneducated, and their moral character not good; yet, notwithstanding, he has turned out a very respectable man; and having married an industrious, worthy young woman, he is likely to become a good member of society. His wife has taught him to read and write; and though brought up amidst dirt and disorder his cottage presents a pleasing picture of comfort.
Pure genealogy gold!
Even if your ancestor is not interviewed or mentioned by name, the evidence is well worth consulting for the incredible overview of all aspects of the everyday lives and work of those employed in the mines in this period.
As a result of the investigation, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.
This blog pulls together my three previous posts on this subject. These are:
With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volumes 7 and 8.
Notes:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volumes 7 and 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  To earn; to be employed; as it happens; to be idling/passing time; and disabled/worn out.  Anne Lister died in September 1840 and the evidence was taken in May 1841, but the boys had worked there for around three years.
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‘Gentleman Jack’ catapulted Anne Lister and her diaries to national and international fame. The pitting of wits between her and the Rawson family over coal was one of the threads running throughout the series. But whilst Anne’s written thoughts are receiving widespread attention, lesser known are the words of the children who toiled underground in the coal mines of Anne and those of her Rawson rivals.
But they are there, albeit fleetingly,
giving a tantalisingly brief glimpse into the life and times of these
youngsters. As you read their testimonies you can almost hear their voices
speaking across the centuries.
Samuel S. Scriven collected oral evidence from a handful of children who worked at Anne’s Listerwick coal pit and Rawson’s Swan Bank and Bank Bottom collieries. Their names and words connect real people to the otherwise anonymous individuals whose labour was an essential part of the chain bringing the coal to the surface. Beyond that, Scriven also collated some wage and accident information – the former covering Anne’s pit, and the latter including a Rawson-owned colliery, so even more details about real people working the mines. Scriven did this in his role as a Sub-Commissioner reporting to the Children’s Employment Commission looking at mines, with the findings published in 1842. Scriven’s patch included collieries in the West Riding in and around the Halifax and Bradford Unions. He visited around 200 coal and ironstone pits there, and descended around 70.
The evidence he, and other Sub-Commissioners collected, provided the basis for the final report . This final report, however, is only a fraction of the evidence collected. Fortunately for family, local and social historians, the findings of the Sub-Commissioners were published separately. I consulted the volume containing Scriven’s evidence , a copy of which is available at Leeds Central Library.
Scriven categorises Messrs Rawson’s Bank Bottom Pit
as a day hole worked by means of a tunnel. Their Swan Bank Pit, and Miss
Lister’s Listerwick colliery were shaft mines worked by steam engine.
As for the evidence, the children were interviewed by Scriven in May 1841, after Anne’s death the previous September. The interviews of Listerwick children are prefaced with the fact Anne’s executors were in charge at this point. But the child workers giving evidence had been employed at Listerwick whilst Anne was still alive.
I make no apologies for including the full transcripts from Scriven’s evidence as I believe these voices deserve to be heard. I have copied them exactly so the regional accents and phraseology are not lost through editing. They are as follows:
Messrs. Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery, Swan Bank and Bank Bottom No.11. Edward Jones, aged 9. May 10  I don’t know how old I am; I can’t tell how long I have been here to work, not so long; I worked at Listerwick Colliery afore I comed here. I never went to day-school; I have been to Sunday-school, at the Chapel school in Halifax. I can read, I cannot write. I come to pit at six o’clock in the morning and go home sometimes at seven, and six, and five, in the evening, but it’s all as happens, if I gets my work done early or late. I gets my breakfast afore I come – porridge and bread and treacle. I generally bring my dinner with me, and sometimes take an hour to eat it, sometimes half an hour. I drive galloways  in and out the hole [tunnel 800 yards to shaft] .
No.12. Edward Butterworth, aged 13. May 10  I hurry corves  for Joseph Jeek; have been employed three years in the pit; I thrust  mostly, but sometimes pull; I wear a belt round my waist; the corves are 14 stone; I hurry singly about 300 yards. I hurry from 16 to 22 corves a-day before I go home. I come at six o’clock or half-past, and leave at four, sometimes after; I get my breakfast before I come, and bring my dinner [a cake]  with me, which I eat in pit; I eat it always when I am hurrying; I do not take any time for it, because I have to follow up the galloways. I go home to tea, and get potatoes and meat. I sometimes, with three others, come at ten o’clock at night, and work up to six in the morning, then go home to bed, and get up again at noon; I then go laking [playing] until drinking time [tea], then go laking again until work. This next week I turn abut with others, and shall go to work at two o’clock in the afternoon and stay until ten at night. I went to day-school at Oldham; I go to Sunday-school now; I cannot read or write; I work with all my clothes off except my vest; my feet are pretty sound now, but I hurt them by treading ‘top of the coals, which run into them and makes them sore. I never met with any accident in pit. I have never seen any sulphur here, but have at Bank Bottom; I have never been burnt .
No.13. William Whittaker, aged 16. May 10  I hurry corves for Frank Holden. I have worked for Rawson eight years, hurrying corves here all the time. I never went to a day-school; I cannot read or write. I come to work at six o’clock in the morning, and leave at four, five, and six, that’s according to the forwardness of my work; I get my breakfast before I come [tea and cake], and bring my dinner [cake and butter] with me. There is no stated times at which we get our dinners; the galloways get their feed, and then the colliers make me get out coals in readiness for the galloways when they come back. I eat my cake when I am thrusting. The bare patch on my head is caused by thrusting [all the hair is worn off]. The height of the corves is not more than two feet; they are made of sheet-iron; the height of our ways is a yard and four inches; some places are not more than a yard. I hurry naked, except my waistcoat. My feet arn’t so very tender, but sometimes run matter. We have no girls working with us. My master behaves very well to me. Some of them behave badly to other lads, they pales them [thrash] with their fists, that is if they are long in hurrying. I am always very tired when I go home. I would rather work eight hours a-day than twelve. I think all the rest of the boys would .
The Executors of the late Miss Lister, Lister Wick Coal Pit No.24. John Brook, aged 13. May 15  I have worked nearly three years in the pit as a hurrier; I generally go down into the pit at seven o’clock, but sometimes at half-past six and sometimes at eight; I sometimes come up to fetch my dinner which I eat whilst at work in the pit; I generally leave at six in the evening and have a dinner when I get home, and get potatoes and often bacon. I have not worked at night for half a year or more, then I worked at night week and week about; this was on account of driving a “head” and water in the pit. I never went to day-school, but I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; I have begun with “Reading Made Easy.” We have no girls working in the pit with us, but about 20 lads; there was one girl worked here for two days, Sam Mann’s daughter, about 10 or 11 years old; “it was to flay her because she was a bad ‘un;” she was frightened and cried, and said “she’d be a gude lass if they’d let her out.” I hurry the corves about 100 yards from the workings; our gateways that you have been through are a yard high; I never got hurt in the pit, but cut my feet sometimes; I take all my clothes off except my shirt, cap and waistcoat – all the rest of the boys do the same .
No.25. James Grandage, aged 14. May 15  I have worked in the pit three years as a hurrier, altogether in this and Mr Rawson’s pit; I never went to day-school, I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; they teach me in “Reading Made Easy,” but I cannot tell my letters yet. I come with the rest of the boys at seven o’clock in the morning; I go home at all times at night; I have never been later than eight; I come to work every day, but I do not know what makes me longer some days than others, unless that it is that sometimes we do more and sometimes less; I do not think it is hard work, but I do not like it “none so well;” one reason is, because there is danger, another is, that I like daylight; I would rather work eight hours than twelve, because I think it enough; I get tired after eight hours; I hurry better than 200 yards; I do not know the weight if the corves; I hurry singly; I sometimes get five corves out a-day, sometimes twenty; the difference is I “get”  a bit sometimes. I get my breakfast of porridge before I come, and bring my dinner of bacon and cake with me; I eat it whilst at work, not being allowed any time for eating it; I get nothing after that until I come up, then I get milk porridge and go to bed; my health is very good, and I have never met with any accident in the pit; I sometimes hurt my feet with running barefooted over the coals – they bleed and run matter; I was never laid up by it; the men behave very well to me .
Listerwick was one of the pits Scriven went down
and he reported finding no girls, but more than 20 boys who were all well and
One final deposition comes from the perspective of the colliery owners – Joseph Rawson on behalf of Mr Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery at Bank Bottom.
No.28. Mr Rawson, jun., principle. May 17  We have only one pit, with two entrances, one at Swanbank, the other at Bankbottom; I do not know how many men we have employed or how many children, at a guess I should say 60 men and boys. Our coals are brought up the shaft by machines, and are then drawn to the tail end by galloways. All the children are hired by the colliers, and are paid by the week I believe, but I do not know much about that; we pay the men by the dozen corves; it is the practice for both parties to go into work together and come out together; I do not know whether they get their breakfasts before they go or get any at all; they get nothing until they come out again when they have done their work, sometimes at four o’clock, sometimes at seven; they do not always work six days in the week, not more than four sometimes; the only reason that I know of is that they drink two days; about four full days is as much as they ought to do, that is, if they get out the quantity they undertake to do, which is 24 corves, which enables them to absent themselves the other two days of the week. If men work every day in the week, instead of four days and idled the other two, it would be much better for them; the children would not then be overworked; the children are very ignorant, they get no school at all the generality of them, and would rather be running about the street .
I identified several points emerging from these
interviews. Firstly, children switched between the Rawson pits and those of
Anne Lister, even though they had only been working a short time. There was no
rigid employer loyalty apparent, no pit owner favoured above the other. Scriven
in his report highlights children and colliers continually changed their place
Unlike pits elsewhere in the West Riding,
neither of these pits had girls routinely working underground as hurriers.
Furthermore, there was a clear realisation that people knew for a
fact underground work was beyond unpleasant – it was frightening.
The form of punishment meted out to Sam Mann’s daughter indicates
It also makes crystal clear the mine owners had no contractual arrangement with the hurriers, to the extent that Joseph Rawson claimed not to know how many worked underground. They did not care by what means the work was done. Essentially their concern was that the coal was mined and they paid the coal getters/hewers to do this by the corve-load. It was the miners themselves who were responsible for employing these children to convey the coal corves.
And it must be said many families did depend on the income brought in by these children for day-to-day survival. Every little helped. And if you employed your own child, it saved you having to pay another one to do the work. It was also believed that introducing children to underground work at a young age was absolutely necessary to accustom them to the conditions, enable them to gain experience to progress to better-paid jobs and eventually bring home higher wages to support families of their own. It was necessary training. Finally, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) offered some measure of childcare.
The table below gives more details about the ages and wages of youngsters employed in the late Miss Lister’s Listerwick colliery.
In all, 26 boys working there were examined, with their average wage amounting to 3s 11d each per week. Another five collieries in the area were also examined. Including Listerwick, 352 children and young persons between the age of 6 and 18 worked in them. The overall average wage amounted to 4s 8½ d per child per week. This average was higher than the wages of 161 children working as scribblers, carders and spinners which were provided for comparison purposes – 4s 4½d per week; and the wages of 119 card setters whose average wage was 1s 7d.
One final piece of evidence which relates to the collieries featured in ‘Gentleman Jack’ is the return of deaths resulting from accidents and explosions over the previous 3 years and 6 months in the coal mines of the Bradford and Halifax District. The return, compiled by Scriven, details 50 deaths. I have not gone through them all, but five definitely relate to Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery as proved by cross-matching against newspaper reports.
On 31 August 1838  Francis (Frank) Taylor, age 10, died as a result of a fire-damp explosion. Injured in the same incident was James Lumb who died later in September  (note the published Scriven evidence  records his name as Lumley and incorrectly gives his death date as 17 April 1838. Errors do occur in reports and it always pays to cross-check). The newspapers stated the accident was a result of carelessness by the boys who had left pit doors open . But Scriven’s published report states the explosion was caused by the neglect of John Crossley, master of the lads, who failed to go into the pit first .
On 1 March 1839  Joseph Gray, an 11-year-old hurrier working for a 19-year-old identified in the newspaper only as Mr Sheard, was killed by a large rock falling on him from the roof. Sheard was badly injured in the incident .
On 11 June 1840 30-year-old William Sheard died as a result of an explosion of fire-damp . In addition, five lads were “dreadfully scorched”  in the incident. William was warned the day before of the suspected presence of fire-damp in the workings. His response was “it was idleness, and he would flay the damp away.”  The following morning he entered with a candle, causing the explosion. His 15-year-old brother, Joseph who was presumably one of the “scorched,” died on 15 June  as a result of the same incident. His brother had made him go into the pit workings .
These five deaths in this one coal mine illustrate the daily perils faced by all those working underground. It was dangerous, hard work.
As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either. However, the Act when implemented would not have prevented the boys interviewed here from working underground.
With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.
This is one of a series of four posts. The others are:
Notes:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via Google Books.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery also used horses for part of the process of transporting coal underground.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages. Using your head to push the corves.  Scriven states cakes are either a flat thin coarse oaten cake peculiar to the North or a wheat cake weighing about six ounces.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Cut out the coal. Those mining the coal were known as getters or hewers.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 22 September 1838; and The Leeds Times, 22 September 1838.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 1 September 1838. Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid.  The Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1839; and The Leeds Times, 9 March 1839. Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  The Witness, 20 June 1840.  Ibid  The Bradford Observer, 18 June 1840; The Leeds Mercury, 20 June 1840; The Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 21 June 1840.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
No-one in Batley foresaw the consequences that the 1856 hanging of the infamous Rugeley Poisoner, Dr William Palmer , would have on the Yorkshire town. Consequences which led three local lads to end up in court in York on grave charges before the year was out.
The Staffordshire serial killer had no association with Batley, whose residents – along with those throughout the country – read with morbid fascination of the doctor’s lurid lifestyle and alleged killing spree. Yet the theatre and spectacle surrounding the murders, and subsequent enactment of justice, did strike an unfortunate chord with some in this developing Yorkshire mill town.
Such were the concerns surrounding a fair hearing for the case given its notoriety, a special Act of Parliament was rushed through to allow Palmer’s trial to take place at the Old Bailey rather than Stafford. The so-called ‘Trial of the Century’ gripped the country over 12 days in May 1856, with newspapers providing coverage of every twist and turn.
Palmer was eventually convicted of the murder of a
friend John Parsons Cook who he poisoned, it was claimed, with strychnine. This
was the first ever trial for murder by strychnine in this country. But he was
also suspected of the poisoning of many more in a bid to clear his debts –
including his wife, four children, brother and mother-in-law.
He was publicly hanged on 14 June 1856 at Stafford prison before a crowd estimated to be in excess of 30,000, many of whom camped out all night in pouring rain to ensure their place at the grisly spectacle. On the morning of his execution Charles Dickens described him as “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey dock.” .
After death Palmer’s infamy lived on, spawning whole new mini-industries with the production of souvenir broadsheets, and ballads. Even the rope-maker who made the noose had a lucrative side-line selling extra sections of rope for a guinea a time. Up and down the country Palmer’s name was on the lips of men, women and children.
Back in Batley, on Friday 3 October 1856, 12-year-old John Harris set off to start work at 7am at Joseph Jubb and Brother’s mill. The son of Ann Harris, described as a widow in poor circumstances but of irreproachable character , John had been employed at the mill for only three weeks. At 8am he ate his breakfast in the top storey of the building. With him were three other boys, Joshua Firth (age 15), Benjamin Preston (age 14) and 13-year-old Abraham Sharp. John had known Joshua and Abraham for a couple of years, and Benjamin for a couple of months.
The area where the boys breakfasted contained a trap door, and nearby stood a steam-operated crane which was used to hoist wool etc. up from the lower stories of the mill. As John prepared to return to work the other lads were still larking around. Inspired by the recent trial they decided to play a game of ‘Hang Palmer’, with Joshua declaring that the new boy John would be Palmer. John cried “You shall not hang Palmer with me” and tried to run away. In his witness statement John went on to say:
Preston ran after me and caught me, then Sharp tied a rope under my arms and round my body, the others assisting him. Then Firth tied the rope to the crane. I tried to get loose, but I could not. I told them to let me go, but they never spoke…I am sure I did not play with the other boys, and they tied the rope round me against my wish. Firth has thrashed me many a time when I have gone for water, but the others have never thrashed me.
Perhaps ‘Hang Palmer’ had been re-enacted before in the mill. Perhaps it was a prank played elsewhere by boys up and down the country, such was the impact of the deeds, trial and death of ‘Prince of Poisoners,’ William Palmer. This time though the game went badly wrong, with tragic results for all involved.
On another floor workmen set the crane in motion to
pull up a sheet of wool. The chain caught the rope tied to John, he became
entangled in the chain which squeezed his body, leaving him incapable of
calling for help. He was drawn over the crane roller towards the ceiling beam around
eight feet above at the top of the mill, where he mercifully lost consciousness
as he was crushed.
Benjamin ran down to the second story and alerted
workman Robert Senior who raced up to the top. The crane lever was lowered and
John released. Surgeon Mr Halbut was summoned. In addition to concussion,
John sustained a fractured left arm and a spinal injury causing paralysis to
his lower limbs.
He was carried home, where leeches were applied to his head in a bid to treat him. It was not until 8 October, after unsurprisingly failing to recover from his severe injuries, that he was finally transferred to hospital, over at Leeds Infirmary. Here doctors kept authorities informed of the seriousness of the young victim’s wounds.
With John now conscious but perilously ill, in mid-October Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were taken into custody, charged with causing him serious bodily harm. So critical was John’s condition, magistrates deemed it necessary to take his statement at his Infirmary bedside in the presence of the three accused. The younger two boys placed the prime responsibility on the elder boy casting him in the role of ringleader, saying they wanted him to untie John but Joshua refused to. The West Riding magistrates released the boys on bail.
On 21 October they appeared again before the West Riding magistrate’s court in Leeds. As a result of evidence from Leeds Infirmary’s Dr Samuel Smith that John might not recover, the three boys this time were refused bail. They were taken to the Borough Gaol to await their next appearance a week later. At this subsequent hearing the Infirmary Medical Officer once more stated John was still dangerously ill. This time the case was adjourned for a month, and bail granted.
John died in Leeds Infirmary on the morning of
Tuesday 25 November 1856. That afternoon the trio were brought before the West
Riding magistrates at Leeds Court house once more where Mr Hardwick, house
surgeon at Leeds Infirmary, stated John had died as a result of his spinal
injuries. Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were bailed, awaiting trial at the
winter Gaol Delivery at York in December on a charge of manslaughter.
The inquest, held the following afternoon, concurred with the cause of death. Mr Ferns, solicitor for the prisoners, presented a supportive letter from the Jubb brothers, mill owners and employers of the lads. The letter read;
Batley, near Dewsbury, Nov. 25th, 1856. Mr. Ferns, Sir, – We understand you are employed to defend the three boys charged with inflicting injury on the lad Harris, who has died in the Infirmary. As owners of the factory where the accident happened, we are desirous to express to the coroner and jury our entire conviction of the innocence of the boys’ intentions towards the deceased, and that the boys were playing together without any evil design as boys usually do. We may mention, in case it might come in useful in any way, that we deposited £10 with the vicar of this parish to defray the expenses of Harris’s funeral, in case of death and that if he had lived we had arranged with the factory inspectors to pay down a further sum for his benefit. Yours respectfully JOSEPH JUBB AND BROTHERS.
The coroner, Mr Blackburn, did not allow it as evidence. Duly, the jury reached a verdict of manslaughter.
The following day John was buried in Beckett Street
Cemetery, Leeds .
Around a fortnight later, on 12 December 1856, the three youths were in York facing the charge of manslaughter before Mr Commissioner Russell Gurney Esq QC. The prosecution case, presented by Mr Morley and Mr Hannay, hinged on the fact that although the affair was in sport, the refusal of John to join in made it manslaughter. Mr Middleton, for the defence, claimed John’s death was purely accidental arising from boyish sport. The crane was set in motion by a hand over which the prisoners had no control and, as a result, they could not be guilty of manslaughter. Summing up, his Lordship Commissioner Gurney in effect told the jury that if the facts presented were proved, the death of John was unintentional and did not spring from the acts of the accused. As such the jury must acquit the prisoners. The jury took this advice and passed a verdict of not guilty.
So, who were these boys? From preliminary searches of censuses, parish registers and civil registration information it appears that they all, along with John, lived in the Havercroft area of Batley. Joshua is most likely the son of Thomas and Mary Firth (née Ellis). Benjamin was most likely the son of Joseph and Ann Preston (née Preston). Abraham was the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sharp (née Marshall).
The three lads were discharged into the custody of their parents, free to return home. One mother though, Ann Harris, would never have her son home again. By extension, and through a prank gone wrong, he too can be considered a collateral victim of Palmer.
As to which mill in Batley was the scene of this tragic event, none of the newspaper articles I have read identify it. The Jubbs owned several in town over the years. There is a possibility it was their [Old] Branch [Road] Mill which burned down at the beginning of September 1876  and which they owned outright at the time of the John Harris tragedy. In fact, just over six months after the York trial they were fined for employing children under 13 years of age without schooling at that particular mill . In the same period, they were also associated with New Ing Mills. Originally partners there, they eventually acquired sole possession by 1859, and commenced a building programme which significantly changed the premises in the 1860s. However, at the time of the incident New Ing Mills was in joint ownership, so this I believe is the less likely location.
But, as I hope this tale illustrates, it is amazing to contemplate the hidden history which took place in buildings long gone, and others still standing, in my hometown of Batley.
 William Palmer website http://staffscc.net/wppalmer/ ;  Household Words, A Weekly Journal, 14 June 1856;  The Leeds Times, 29 November 1856;  The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 October 1856;  The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 November 1856;  Leeds Beckett Street Cemetery Records, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Ref LC/CEM (B)/1/1, Numbers 1-18747, 1845-1862;  Coincidentally, another similarly named mill in the area, Branch Mill which was built by the Jubbs in around 1874 and latterly owned by Messrs. J., T., and J. Taylor, burned down in July 1915;  The Leeds Times, 25 July 1857;
Sources: (All newspapers accessed via the British Newspaper Archive on Findmypast)
Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner, 29 November and 13 December 1856
The Bradford Observer, 27 November 1856;
The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 and 25 October 1856;
The Leeds Intelligencer, 30 October, 1 and 29 November 1856;
The Leeds Mercury, 27 November 1856;
The Leeds Times, 1 and 29 November 1856, and 25 July 1857;
England and Wales Censuses 1841 to 1871 accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
GRO Indexes, accessed via Findmypast and the GRO website;
West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1835, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
West Yorkshire Church of England Baptisms 1813 – 1910, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
Posted onAugust 12, 2019|Comments Off on Coal Mining Children: “I’ve Heard I Shall Go to Heaven If I’m A Good Girl”
Have you ever stumbled across what could be the words of your ordinary, working-class ancestors? The type who never usually feature in records beyond those associated with births, marriages and deaths? Words which well over 150 years later hit you like a hammer blow? You can imagine them speaking those words, and through them have a totally unique and unexpected window into their lives. Here is my experience.
Several years ago, when reading extracts of depositions contained within the First Report to the Children’s Employment Commission  looking at mines, a series of familiar names featured. Brief extracts were published in various parts of the 1842 Report.
The names were:
collier in poor health, age 53, Birkenshaw;
John Ibbetson, 13½-years-old.
No further details;
aged about twenty, Collier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal whose two sisters
aged twelve and a half and between eight and nine worked as his hurriers; and
a hurrier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal. Age not stated.
Because they appeared in distinctly separate parts of the Report, there was nothing to indicate if this was one or more families. But the names stood out because my 4x great grandfather, Jonathan Ibbetson (and variant spellings ), was a coal miner. Born in around 1788 in Halifax, by the 1841 census (name recorded as Hibbeson)  he was living at Tong More Side, Birkenshaw cum Hunsworth. The household comprised of Jonathan Hibbeson (50), a coal miner; William (20); Martha (15); John (14); Bettey (11); and Mary (9) . Jonathan’s wife, Elizabeth Rushworth, who he married on 25 February 1811 in Halifax Parish Church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist , is not in the census household. I have not traced her burial yet, but the possibility is she was dead by 1841. In the 1851 census, which provides more family relationship details, Jonathan is described as a widower.
At the time of Jonathan and Elizabeth’s marriage
their abode was Ovenden. They subsequently lived in Queensbury, and possibly
the Thornton area, before Jonathan ended up in Birkenshaw. A family with
non-Conformist leanings their children included:
Hannah, baptised 20 August 1811 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. Other information includes she was the daughter of Jonathan and Betty Ibbitson of Swilhill ;
John, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbeson of Swilhill. Baptised 28 August 1814 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden . Possible burial 7 March 1815, age 9 months at the Parish Church of St Mary’s Illingworth. Abode Ovenden ;
James, baptised 16 June 1816 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. The son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbetson of Skylark Hall ;
William, born on 4 August 1821 and baptised at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden on 5 September 1821, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbotson of Bradshaw Row in Ovenden . Points to note, if being precise he was two months shy of 20 in the 1841 census, so technically his age should have been rounded down to 15; Also, although his earlier census birthplaces are given as Thornton and, bizarrely, Birstall, by 1871 and 1881 it is corrected to Ovenden;
Martha, my 3x great grandmother. I’ve not traced her baptism, but other sources indicate she was born in around 1824/25 in either Bradford, Thornton or Queensbury, depending on the three censuses where her birthplace is given. Why, oh why aren’t ancestors consistent with information?
John was born in around 1827 and his burial is in the parish register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 15 February 1844, age 17. He is recorded as being the son of collier Jonathan Ibbetson ;
Elizabeth (Bettey in the 1841 census) was born in around 1830 likely in Queensbury, although again the censuses for her vary . She was baptised at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 25 December 1844. Her parents are named as Jonathan and Elizabeth Ibbotson ; and
Mary was born in around 1832 in Queensbury or Thornton . She was baptised at the same time as sister Elizabeth .
There was possibly another son named Joseph, born
circa 1820. More of him, and why I believe he is linked to the family, is
perhaps the subject for a later post.
I never have much opportunity to research my family history to the extent I would wish nowadays. It was only earlier in July 2019 that I finally got around to investigating the Children’s Commission Report further. This meant a visit to Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History section where the volumes containing appendices to the Report are held . These contain the statements of the various witnesses who gave evidence to the Sub-Commissioners, extracts of which were used in the Report.
They make powerful, and emotionally challenging, reading. In order not to dilute their impact I’ve published in full the Ibbetson statements, and that of the Gomersal pit owner in whose mine they worked. These statements were given to Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons in 1841. He investigated the West Riding coal mines (excluding those in the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax areas).
No. 263. – James Ibbetson, aged about 20. Examined at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841: – I am a collier. There are three hurriers  in the pit; two are girls; they are my sisters. They hurry for me. None hurry here with belt and chain . The oldest is 12½. The youngest is between 8 and 9. She has been working ever since she was 6 years old. They have both hurried together since she was 6 years old. Sometimes when I have got my stint I come out as I have done to-day, and leave them to fill and hurry. I have gone down at 4 and 5 and 6, and the lasses come at 8, and they get out about 5. They stop at 12, and if the men have some feeling they let them stop pit an hour, but there are not many but what keep them tugging at it. The girls hurry to dip . The distance is 160 yards. The corves weigh 3½cwt. each, and they hurry 22 on average. I don’t think it proper for girls to be in pit. I know I could get boys, but my sisters are more to be depended on; they are capital hurriers. Some hurriers are kept to work with sharp speaking, and sometimes paid with pick-shaft, and anything else the men can lay their hands on. I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head, where they are less civilized than here; and the rope slipped off the gin and jerked and broke, and they were killed. At Harrison’s other pit there are eight boys.
No. 264. – John Ibbetson. Examined May 26, 1841, at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal: – I am 13½. I hurry alone. I go down at 7, and sometimes at 8. Sometimes we work a whole day, and then it’s 5 when we come out. I stop at 12, and my sisters too, for an hour and a half. I like being in pit. I’ve been down 6 year or better. I thrust with my head  where the coals touch the top of the gates and then we have to push. In all the bank-gates they don’t cut it down enough. I have been to Sunday-school. I stop at home now, I’ve no clothes to go in; I stop in because I’ve no clothes to go and lake  with other little lads. I read spelling-book. I don’t know who Jesus Christ was; I never saw him but I’ve seen Foster who prays about him. I’ve heard something about him, but I never heard that he was put to death.
No. 265. – Mr Joseph Harrison. Examined May 26, 1841, at Gomersal:- I don’t employ the hurriers; they are entirely under the control of the men, but when they quarrel I interfere to prevent it. I don’t approve of girls coming. I allow two as a favour. I have four pits and 18 children. They thrust two together when they are little. In the bank-gates the coal will catch the roofs sometimes, because we leave seven or eight inches inferior. We don’t require children younger than 10 years, as far as our experience. They can do very little before they are at that age, and I would as lief be without them. We could do if they were to allow us to draw coals for eight hours, with an additional hour for meals. If they could thus make colliers work regular it would be a good thing. They will sometimes work for 12 or 13 hours, and then they will lake perhaps. The getters don’t leave the children to fill and hurry here after they come out of pit, except it be a corf or two. If hurriers are prohibited from working till they are 10, I don’t know whether we could get enough or not.
No. 266. – Elizabeth Ibbetson. Examined at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841:- I am 11 ½ years old. I don’t like being at pit so weel [sic]; it’s too hard work for us. My sister hurries with me. I’ve been two year and a half in this pit. It tires my legs and arms; not much in my back. I get my feet wet. I come down at 7 and 8. I come out at 4, and sometimes at 2, and sometimes stay till 6. I laked on Saturday, for I had gotten cold. I am wet in the feet now; they are often wet. We rest an hour one day with another, but we stop none at Saturdays. I push the corf with my head, and it hurts me, and is sore. I go to Sunday-school to Methodists every Sunday. I read A B C. I’ve heard I shall go to heaven if I’m a good girl, and to hell if I’m bad; but I never heard nought at all about Jesus Christ. We are used very well, but sometimes the hurriers fall out, and then they pay us. My father works at pit.
No. 267. – John Ibbetson, aged 53. Examined at Birkenshaw, near Birstall [undated]: – I have been 45 years in the pits. I am the father of the children you have examined at Mr. Harrison’s pit. I have had three ribs on one side and two on the other broken, and my collar-bone, and my leg skinned. My reason for taking these girls into the pit is that I can get nought else for them to do. I can’t get enough wages to dress the boys for going to school. I get 5s. 6d. For the girls, and I and my two sons earn 17s. 6d. on average a-week. I am done up. I cannot addle  much. The eldest girl does nothing at all. We get potatoes and a bit of meat or bacon when they come out of the pit. I knew a man called Joseph Cawthrey, who sent a child in at 4 years old; and there are many who go to thrust behind at that time, and many go at 5 and 6; but it is soon enough for them to go at 9 or 10; the sooner they go in the sooner their constitution is mashed up , I have been 13 hours in a pit since I have been here, but 8 hours is plenty. The children went with us and came back with us; they worked as long as we did. The colliers and the children about here will be 12 hours from the time they go away till they come home. They could not addle a living if they were stinted to work to 8 hours at present ages. The children don’t get schooling as they ought to have. I cannot deny it. I cannot get the means. I have suffered from asthma, and am regularly knocked up. A collier cannot stand the work regularly. We must stop now and then, or he would be mashed up before any time. We cannot afford to keep Collier-Monday  as we used to do.
The statements are far more detailed than the brief extracts in the published Report, which is a synthesis of masses of evidence. In fact not all statements made the final cut, so if your ancestor is not mentioned in the final Report it is still worth checking the appendices.
The full statements now confirm that a 53-year-old miner John Ibbetson along with sons James (aged about 20) and John (13½), and daughter Elizabeth (11½ or 12½ depending on deposition) plus another unnamed daughter aged between 8 and 9, worked at Mr Harrison’s pit in Gomersal. They confirm the absence of a mother. They also confirm an older, unnamed, daughter who “does nothing at all.” This older daughter would fit with Martha, my 3x great grandmother. Presumably she is taking care of the household chores, in place of her mother. Methodism is indicated, in terms of religion, but the children only have a sketchy concept of the Bible. There is a Birkenshaw link – which is where John Ibbetson provided his testimony. Gomersal to Birkenshaw is about two miles, so perfectly feasible for a work commute. It is also clear John is in poor health and the family is struggling to make ends meet.
The desperation in the statement of the father is palpable. The family managed as best they could. It appears the girls were given priority for clothes, with Elizabeth rather than John being sufficiently well-dressed to attend Sunday School, and their father admitting as much.
There is also the acknowledgement that sending the girls (and even young boys) to work down in the coal mines was not something their father would do through choice – but the income was needed for them to keep going, to keep the family together. There was, I guess, always the dreaded spectre of the workhouse with its associated stigma that somehow you had failed your kith and kin, alongside the threat of family separation. You did all you could to avoid it. If it meant children working, so be it.
It must also be said it was believed that in order to get children accustomed to mine work, and to be able to progress, they needed to be introduced to it at an early age. And, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) also offered some measure of childcare – especially if there was no mother, or a working mother.
There is the sense of pride by James in the work his sisters undertook. It is to be hoped that he was a miner who looked kindly on them whilst they toiled, because this attitude could have a huge impact on the lot of the young hurrier. For instance, did he notice when they were tired and, if so, did he let them rest for a little while when they arrived at his bank, and in doing so did he fill the corve himself? Did he help push off the laden corves? His sister Elizabeth indicates she was treated well. And still there remains the image in my mind of the tired, wet Elizabeth with aching limbs and head sore from pushing the corve, yet wanting to be a good girl so she could go to heaven.
And then there is young John, accepting his lot, taking simple pleasures from ‘laking ’, and enjoying his work despite its hardships. His innocent words about never having seen Jesus Christ are echoing in my ears.
But is this my family? The ages for children John, Elizabeth and Mary given in the Commission evidence correspond with the ages ascertained from my family history research for my Ibbetson ancestors. The age of their father John roughly matches that of my 4x great grandfather Jonathan, with 53 equating to a year of birth circa 1788. It also is distinctly possible that John could have been used in the witness statement rather than Jonathan. I’ve reviewed details for a sample of witnesses elsewhere and cross-matched against the 1841 census. From this there is evidence that names do not always match up exactly with this census; and ages do not in all cases match precisely with those given in the 1841 census for under 15’s. .
The 1841 census, taken on 6 June, was only a couple
of weeks after the Ibbetsons gave evidence to the Commission. As illustrated
earlier, at that time the census household comprised of Jonathan, William,
Martha, John, Bettey and Mary. I have gone through the 1841 census for the
Birkenshaw and Gomersal areas page by page and can find no other Ibbetson (and
variant) family who would fit as a unit with the names of those giving evidence.
I suppose there is always a remote possibility the family giving evidence left
the area in between their Commission interviews and the census date; or even
that they were for some reason missing from the census. But, taken with other
evidence, I think this is unlikely.
But there remains one major anomaly which makes me hesitate from saying with absolute certainty this is my family giving evidence to the Children’s Commission. It is the discrepancy with an approximately 20-year-old son named James. Although Jonathan did have a son named James, he is not present in the 1841 census household. In any case he would be around 25, not 20. The implication from the Commission statement is the son who gave evidence is still at home and contributing to the family income. Yet it seems a big stretch though to think the name James might be recorded as William. This is the one piece of conflicting evidence I have been unable to resolve.
Neither have I definitively discovered what happened to James. I have traced no death and, so far, I have two living candidates for him – but neither are totally satisfactory. One is married to Ann (née Binns)  and living in Birkenshaw in 1841 and 1861 (Thornton in 1851). At the moment he is seeming the most likely, although I’ve yet to find his marriage. My hope was it would be in the Civil Registration era and name his father. But I am still searching. This James died in a mining accident in November 1870 , with his age given as 56 [28 and 29], so not quite a fit. His census birthplace is Thornton , so not a match for the baptism details. His children included Margaret, Hannah, Ellen, Emma, John, Sophia, Mary, Betsy and Annice.
The other James Ibbetson married Priscilla Robinson in Bradford Parish Church in December 1833  and is living in Thornton in 1841. I have some issues with this one. These include that whilst his bride’s entry in the parish register notes she is a minor and marries with consent, his details do not. If he was baptised shortly after his birth he too would be a minor. I suppose he may not have been baptised as a baby, but it is a niggle. As is the fact the likely death for him, registered in the December Quarter of 1847 gives his age as 35 , equating to a year of birth circa 1812. On the plus side is the naming pattern for his children which include some familiar ones – William, Martha, Mary and Betty, alongside the less familiar Joshua and Nancy.
It is here I have one final piece of evidence to throw into the mix, and one which I feel tilts the balance towards it being my family. It comes in the 26 May 1841 Commission statement of ‘James’ Ibbetson when he says “I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head…”
Queensbury, midway between Halifax and Bradford, and a location which in censuses is intermittently cited as the birthplace of various younger Ibbetsons, was not known as such until 1863. Prior to that it was Queenshead. In fact, in the 1861 census Elizabeth’s birthplace is given as Queenshead, Halifax . And it is this which provides yet another link to my Ibbetson family and makes me believe, on balance, it is them who provided statements to the Commission.
This combination of locational links along with the similarity in names, ages, religion, motherlessness, plus my exhaustive search of the 1841 census for any alternatives in the Birkenshaw/Gomersal areas, all add to the weight of evidence supporting this being my family.
So, what happened to my Ibbetson ancestors?
Jonathan’s health was “mashed up”. Whereas for the burial of his son John in 1844 he is still a collier, by the baptism of daughters Elizabeth and Mary at the end of the year he is a labourer. The 1851 census states he was ‘formerly a miner’. He died on 21 February 1857 at Dewsbury Union Workhouse of bronchitis. His occupation recorded on his death certificate is ‘blacking hawker’ .
Blacking was used for cleaning, polishing and – crucially – waterproofing boots and shoes. Such footwear was not the disposable item of today. These were precious, valuable essentials for everyday life which had to last. If you didn’t have them you couldn’t work. If you couldn’t work, you didn’t have money to support the family. To my mind 19th century blacking is like petrol and diesel of today. Essential for getting to and from work, as well as actually doing the job. So often boots feature amongst stolen items in court reports. Reading school log books and countless children are unable to attend school, particularly in winter weather, through lack of suitable footwear. They were costly and had to be cared for. Blacking was part of their regular maintenance regime. In 1824 the 11-year-old Charles Dickens was sent out to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory, pasting labels onto individual pots of boot blacking polish, a job which had a significant impact on his life. Blacking was also used widely around the Victorian home for polishing the kitchen range and grates in fireplaces. Jonathan, no longer fit for strenuous mining work, was now selling this essential commodity.
Jonathan’s burial is recorded in the register of Dewsbury Parish Church on 25 February 1857 .
Of the children at home in 1841:
William married twice, and died in 1890. His burial is recorded in the register of Birkenshaw St Paul’s on 5 March 1890 ;
John died in 1844, as mentioned earlier. He was only 17;
Martha married Joseph Hill at Hartshead Parish Church on 21 November 1842  and died 4 February 1881 . Her burial is in the Drighlington St Paul’s register on 7 February 1881 ;
Elizabeth married Joseph Haigh on 1 April 1850 at St James, Tong  and died in 1883. Her burial is entered in the Birkenshaw St Paul’s Register on 31 March 1883 ; and
Mary married James Noble at St Peter’s Bradford parish church on 25 December 1850 . The newly married couple are living in Birkenshaw with her father in the 1851 census. She died in 1893, with the Allerton Bywater Parish Church burial register noting the burial date as 19 January 1893 .
This tale also goes to show family history research is often not neat and simple with all loose ends tied up. It can be a messy affair, with partial and contradictory information and many negative of eliminatory searches in order to try achieve the genealogical proof standard. It can be a long, ongoing process. And, as such, I do not discount at a later date unearthing more information which might conclusively prove (or demolish) my case.
I would like to conclude by saying a special thank you to the staff at Leeds Local and Family History Library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Volume 7. This work was key to my research, and illustrates once more why we should love, use and cherish our local libraries as a unique, integral, and ‘accessible for all’ resource.
This is one of a series of four posts on the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners. The others are:
Notes:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842.  The possibilities are endless. Examples include Ibbetson, Ibbotson, Ibotson, Ibbitson, Ibberson, Ibbeson, Hibbison, Hibetson, Hibberson etc.  Hibbeson household, 1841 Census; accessed via Findmypast; original record at The National Archives, UK, Kew (TNA), Reference HO107/1291/4/12/17.  Note this census rounded down to the nearest five years those aged 15 and over.  Jonathan Ibbotson and Elizabeth Rushworth’s marriage entry, parish register of St John the Baptist, Halifax; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP53/1/3/13.  Hannah Ibbitston’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, General Register Office (GRO): Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  John Ibbeson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  John Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of Illingworth St Mary; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP73/1/4/1.  James Ibbetson’s baptism,Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.  William Ibbotson’s baptism,Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3409.  John Ibbetson’s burial entry, burial register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/1.  Bradford, Queenshead – Halifax, Thornhill, and Queensbury in the censuses between 1851-1881.  Elizabeth Ibbotson’s baptism entry, baptism register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP90/1/1/1. 1861 and 1871 censuses indicate Thornton; 1881 and 1891 Queensbury. The 1851 states Halifax.  For Mary Ibbotson’s baptism, see .  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Locally, hurriers conveyed coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves (wagons, usually small-wheeled), either dragging or pushing their loads. Often it meant running as quickly as possible up an incline with a full load.  The hurrier wears a belt around their waist and a chain, attached to the corve (the wagon for transporting the coal). In the thinner seams this chain would runs between the child’s legs and, on all fours, they pull the coal corves like an animal.  Coal lies at an inclined plane with the downward inclination known as the dip in Yorkshire.  To push the coal corves with your head.  To idle, or pass the time away.  To earn.  Disabled or worn out.  Collier-Monday was the tradition of an unofficial, customary holiday which long existed in the coal mining industry. The Bolton Evening News of 23 February 1905 stated “It is the custom of miners to have one day’s play a week, which has gained for it the name of “Colliers’ Monday,” and that this is recognised is shown by the fact that notices placed at some pit heads state that men absenting themselves for two days are liable for dismissal…”  I have used under 15s as the benchmark as the convention typically (but not exclusively) used in the 1841 census is to round down those aged over 14 to the nearest 5 years.  Ann’s maiden name has been identified via the GRO indexes for the births of the couple’s children.  Bradford Observer, 21 September 1870.  James Ibbotson, GRO Death Registration, Bradford, September Quarter 1870, Volume 9b, Page 13; accessed via FreeBMD.  Death of James Ibbotson, 17 September 1870; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Web: UK, Coal Mining Accidents and Deaths Index, 1878-1935 [database on-line]; original data Coalmining Accidents and Deaths. The Coalmining History Resource Centre. http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/site/disasters/index.html  1851 census for James Ibitson; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA; Reference HO107/2311/165/16 and 1861 census for James Ibbitson, TNA Reference RG09/3403/127/3.  James Ibbiston and Priscilla Robinson marriage entry, marriage register of Bradford St Peter Parish Church; accessed via West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.  James Ibbotson GRO Death Registration, Bradford, December Quarter 1847, Volume 23, Page 135; accessed via the GRO website.  1861 census entry for Elizabeth Haigh; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Reference RG09/3403/114/11.  Jonathan Ibbitson’s Death Certificate; GRO Reference Dewsbury, March Quarter 1857, Volume 9B, Page 322, age 70.  Jonathan Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of All Saints Parish Church, Dewsbury, age 70; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP9/52.  William Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 65; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.  Joseph Hill and Martha Ibbotson, Marriage Certificate; GRO Reference Halifax, December Quarter 1842, Volume 22, Page 197.  Martha Hill, Death Certificate; GRO Reference Leeds, March Quarter 1881, Volume 9B, Page 355, age 57.  Martha Hill’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Drighlington; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP124/1/4/3.  Joseph Haigh and Elizabeth Ibbeson’s marriage entry, marriage register of Tong, St James Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference provided online.  Elizabeth Haigh’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 56; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.  James Noble and Mary Ibbotson’s marriage entry, marriage register of St Peter’s, Bradford Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.  Mary Noble’s burial entry, burial register of Allerton Bywater Parish Church, age recorded as 59; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: RDP3/3/1.
Comments Off on Coal Mining Children: “I’ve Heard I Shall Go to Heaven If I’m A Good Girl”
Posted onAugust 1, 2019|Comments Off on The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit
The publication in 1842 of Children’s Employment Commission’s investigation into the condition and treatment of children in the mines and collieries of the United Kingdom made for particularly shameful reading in Batley. It shone a very unwelcome spotlight on the treatment of workhouse children across the whole of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union in general, with the Batley at the epicentre of the scandal.
To be fair, the investigation highlighted a catalogue of shocking examples countrywide with children, girls as well as boys, working in the pits from very early ages. So horrific were some examples that newspapers compared the practice of children employed underground to a form of slavery.
Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons, who investigated the West Riding mines (excluding Leeds, Bradford and Halifax) stated:
There are well attested instances of children being taken into coal-pits as early as five years of age. These are very extreme cases; but many begin as trapdoor-keepers, and even as hurriers, as early as seven. Eight is as nearly as I can ascertain the usual age at which children begin to work in coal-pits, except in thin seams when they often come earlier .
Trapdoor-keepers, otherwise known as trappers, were employed directly by mine owners. They opened the doors in the mine allowing the coal corves (the tubs used for transporting the coal) to pass through. They also ensured the doors closed afterwards removing any blockages, such as spilled coal, which would prevent this. Often a 12-hour day, it was a responsible job too. This process of opening and closing doors provided ventilation essential to prevent a build-up of dangerous methane gas. It was a lonely job, undertaken in damp, ill-ventilated, drafty conditions and often in total darkness, unless on the occasions when “a good-natured collier willbestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.” 
Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed
the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong
small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages.
There is something very oppressive at first sight in the employment of children hurrying all day in passages under 30 inches in height, and altogether not much above the size of an ordinary drain….. 
The weights of the corves varied. Symons, in his West Riding report, stated that when full these vehicles carried between 2 to 10 cwt of coal, with the corves themselves weighing around 2 to 2.5 cwt. The number of journeys made and distance travelled also varied between pits. Examples cited in Symons’ report ranged from 16 to 24 full corves transported a day and anything between over two miles to nine miles travelled, depending on factors such as weight of the corves, distance to the shaft, the height and incline and whether the hurriers could hand over the final pull to horses, which some pits used. The very youngest hurriers could work in pairs, with those pushing also known as thrusters. The hurrier would also help the miner load the coal onto the corves, including riddling the coal. They were sometimes left alone to finish the task of loading if their hewer knocked off early.
It was noted that in mining communities, miners
with large, young families had a tendency to take their children to work in the
mine at an earlier age than better off miners who already had several older
children working in the pits and contributing to the family income.
However, the case which was an embarrassment to the local authorities in the parishes which formed the Dewsbury Poor Law Union involved a pauper child, Thomas Townend .
In the care of the workhouse authorities, the youngster was ‘apprenticed’ out in contravention of the minimum age allowed for such children. This had been seven under the Parish Apprentices Act of 1698, but increased to not under nine in the Parish Apprentices Act of 1816. These pauper apprenticeships were usually not into skilled trades, but as farm labourers or servants. The industrial revolution opened up factories and mines as an option too. Apprenticeships for these children were largely seen as a form of cheap labour rather than teaching a skilled trade. They also provided an opportunity to offload the responsibility and, more importantly, cost of supporting a pauper child from the authorities. The child’s parents (if living) had no legal rights in the matter.
The example, involving a boy in Batley workhouse, was described by Symons as “A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child….” apprenticed to a collier in Thornhill “before he was quite five years old”! 
The witness statements about the incident in the
Appendix documents make for damning reading. I’ve reproduced the relevant
passages in full.
No. 180. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, Birstall, wrote as follows. Dec. 26, 1840: In mines where children are employed, in one coal-pit they will work perhaps 8 hours a-day, and in others 12 hours a-day. It is customary in some districts for miners to take six or seven apprentices; and I am now going to relate what has taken place in my own presence frequently during the past year. I am guardian for the township of Gomersall [sic], in the Dewsbury Union. When I first attended the Board meetings, I was surprised to find so many applications from miners for apprentices from the Union Workhouse, the answer was, “Go to the house and select for yourself, and we will bind  you the one you select.” In some cases children (boys) have been selected at 7 and 8 years of age, because they were strong and healthy. Upon inquiry, I found no question had been asked as to age; and if in a few months the man found the boy was not strong enough (without reference to his age), he brings him back. One instance occurred only on the 24th December, last Thursday, and the boy is again in the Union Workhouse, only 7 years of age. I remonstrated with the other guardians on the enormity of binding a boy so young: they told me they had not bound him, nor should they do until he was 9 years of age; but is not this the same as binding? This boy’s master had five or six in the same way. I am the only surgeon who has ever been a member of the Dewsbury Board of Guardians and the other members do not like to be interfered with. Now, in such a case if the child must have had a certificate of fitness before being sent, he never would have been sent. I was astonished that such things could be…..
No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5,  at Batley Poorhouse, near Birstall: – The boy Thomas Townend, went on trial to a colliery at Thornhill, belonging to Mr. Ingham; he went on the 19th March, 1840, and came back again in the 6th April, 1840. He is entered in my book as being born in 1836. The reason he was sent back was, that he was pilfering into a neighbour’s house. He went to a collier, who employed him. It is the practice of the colliers or masters who want children to go to the Board-room, and they get an order to take a child, after they have picked them out at the workhouse. They inquire what the age is; they are not bound before 10, but they go on trial before that. Joseph Booth was born in 1833; he was discharged from here 12th March, 1840; he went to Robert Lumb, a collier, but an uncle interfered and took the child away, because he was not he thought, sufficiently fed. He went to his uncle, and remained at uncle’s till he was re-admitted on December 24th at this house. George Booth, a brother of Joseph Booth, is now at Dewsbury poorhouse. I am quite sure that Townend was not hurt in health by going to the pit. I believe there was a mistake made by the Board about his age. 
No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5,  at the same workhouse, aged 8 years: – I remember being in the pit; I used to hurry with another; I used to like being in the pit. Please they gave me plenty to eat. We used to go in at 5 in the morning, and they came out at 5. We had a bit of bread to eat in the pit, and stopped to eat it; we used to sit down to have it. There were four boys and six girls. The work did not tire me much. 
No. 183. – Thomas Townend (stated to be born in 1836). Examined at the said Workhouse: – I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay. 
No. 268. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, of Birstall. Examined May 26, 1841, at Birstall:- ….The Board of Guardians at Batley apprentice children without due care to ascertain their age. The boy Thomas Townend, aged 5 years, would not have been brought back to the workhouse had not the grandfather interfered and demanded it. We threatened to acquaint Mr. Chadwick and the Commissioners with it….. 
Another witness, Joseph Ellison, Esq., of Birkenshaw, a former Guardian , claimed it was notorious that when colliers needed hurriers they applied to Poor Law Guardians for pauper children because “They cannot get them elsewhere, on account of the severity of the labour and treatment hurriers experience; and which makes parents prefer any other sort of employment for their children.” 
Essentially, the Dewsbury Poor Law Union was deliberately circumventing the rules around pauper apprentices by using such words as ‘trial’, thus claiming the children were not officially bound until they were of the correct age.
The case of Thomas Townend drew special attention from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was the national body providing Parliament with operational information around the Poor Law, and having responsibility for collating statistics and formulating regulations and procedures. As a result of the investigations of the Employment Commission, on 27 June 1842 a letter was sent from the Poor Law Commission to the Guardians of the Dewsbury Union  asking about the practice of sending children from the Union Workhouses to work in mines. They requested a return showing details of every child under the age of 16 apprenticed to work in a coal mine from 1840 to 1842. A similar missive went to the Halifax Union Board of Guardians, among others.
The Dewsbury Union return of 9 July 1842 is below. A bigger version can be found here.
In addition, William Carr, Clerk of Dewsbury Union, addressed specifically the case of Thomas Townend stating:
With regard to Thomas Townend, who was sent out of the workhouse to a coal miner on trial at five years old, I have to remark, that he, at that time, appeared by the workhouse books to be upwards of seven years of age. The child had been removed, along with other paupers, from one of the township workhouses to the union workhouse; and as the master of the township workhouse kept no account of the ages of the inmates, the union officers were obliged to get the ages of the paupers from the paupers themselves and their friends; and in this way Thomas Townend was put down seven instead of five. As soon as the error was discovered, which was in a few days after the child was sent out of the workhouse, he was sent back to the workhouse. 
Absolutely no mention that it was the intervention of his grandfather, and the threat of reporting the case to Edwin Chadwick and the Poor Law Commissioners that prompted his return to the workhouse, as indicated by Thomas Rayner in his deposition to Symons.
The Poor Law Commissioners were keen to have further information about the boy, writing to the Dewsbury Union Clerk on 14 July 1842 asking:
In reference to the case of one of the children, Thomas Townend, I am to request that the Commissioners may be informed what has become of the boy since he was returned to the workhouse, and whether he is in the workhouse still. 
Carr fired a reply back on 16 July 1842 informing the Poor Law Commission that since his return on trial (the Guardians still at pains to stress this was no apprenticeship) with William Bradshaw he had remained in the Union Workhouse at Batley.  The location of this workhouse is shown on the map below. Anyone familiar with the White Lee Road/Carlinghow Lane area of town will recognise the spot, which is now housing.
I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census , but nothing definite subsequent to his mention in the July 1842 letter. Unfortunately, of the few remaining records left, the Board of Guardian Minutes, held by West Yorkshire Archive Services do not survive beyond 1842.
As a result of the report of the Children’s
Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed.
Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of
whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age
of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.
As for pauper apprentices, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844 banned the binding of children under nine years of age, and of children who could not read or write their name.
This is the first in a series of four posts about the the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners who investigated the employment of children and young persons in mining, resulting in the 1842 Report. The other posts are:
 Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via The Internet Archive  In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Put out to apprenticeship.  Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.  Ibid  Ibid  Ibid  Ibid  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842  The Board of Guardians oversaw the operations of the particular Poor Law Union, in this case Dewsbury Union. The Guardians were drawn from all the constituent parishes of the Union. At this stage Batley had two Guardians on the Board of 23. Other parishes represented were Heckmondwike, Lower Whitley and Thornhill (one each); Liversedge, Morley, Ossett and Soothill (two each); Gomersal and Mirfield (three each); and Dewsbury (four). Source http://www.workhouses.org.uk/  Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.  Ibid  Ibid  Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2
Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Collieries of the United Kingdom. London: W. Strange, 1842. Accessed via The Internet Archive
With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.
Comments Off on The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit
It was 4.30am on 30 May 1881. 14-year-old Peter Kelly, a hurrier at West End Colliery, was making his way to work. As he approached Mary Wrigglesworth’s  house and butcher’s shop, a short distance from his home, he noticed a shape crouched in the doorway. Curiosity piqued, he investigated further. A bare arm poked out from under a sack. This was tied loosely round the body with a clothes line. The feet were also bound. There was no movement from the figure, no response to Peter’s enquiries. Life was extinct.
Peter called the attention of another miner, Joss Lee, who was also on his way to work. Joss stood watch over the body whilst Peter returned home to fetch his father William, who untied the cord to reveal a semi-naked body. The police were hastily summoned. They bundled the corpse onto a handcart, and removed it to Joseph Kemp’s Victoria Hotel, Carlinghow. Dr Myles William O’Reilly of Batley Carr, the district Medical Officer for the West Riding Constabulary, was called to examine the body.
The combined police and preliminary medical examination revealed the body was bound by its legs, arms and torso in a strange sitting position, and covered with a potato sack. Clothed in only trousers with braces hanging loose, elastic-side boots and grey stockings, around its neck was a paper collar with a button still attached and embedded in the swollen neck. This appeared to indicate a shirt had possibly been ripped or cut away. By the side of the body was a coat and vest, and on top of the sack was a billycock hat .
On checking the pockets no money was found, only some old letters from 1880, business cards for a Bradford Westgate eatery, keys, a knife, a purse containing spectacles and some old bills, the most recent dated 26 May 1881. There were also three cartes de visite style photographs taken some time ago. One was of two women, whilst another was of the victim with a woman. One of the images, according to reports in The York Herald, was identified as Miss Wrigglesworth , the person in whose doorstep the body had been dumped. All this documentation enabled quick identification of the body, despite the dark, swollen appearance of the face.
As Monday 30 May 1881 dawned, 43-year-old bachelor John Critchley, second son of prominent local Batley coal mine proprietor and J.P. James Critchley, became the centre of a potential murder enquiry. And it soon became clear the location where his body was discovered held particular significance – John Critchley and Mary Wrigglesworth had been on intimate terms, according to some reports, for almost 20 years, although his family objected to the relationship and she, it seemed, “had not regarded him with particular favour” . Nevertheless, he was well-known in the neighbourhood, with some sections of the press reporting him as being a frequent visitor to Mary’s shop.
When the police roused her to break the news that her former sweetheart had been found dead on her doorstep, she fainted. Revived with smelling salts, she informed them they had broken up some time ago, she had last seen John before Christmas and she had heard only vague rumours of his whereabouts and mode of life.
Huddersfield Chronicle paints a vivid
picture of High Street, where the body was found, describing it as a narrow
….partially filled with houses and small shops, built in a straggling manner; and directly opposite the butcher’s shop in question, where Miss Wrigglesworth resided and carried on business, there is a respectable-looking cottage house, one storey high. Nearly opposite is the Lord Nelson beerhouse [this, according to police evidence, had closed promptly at 10pm on Sunday night] and some cottages, evidently occupied by colliers or mill workers. Above the butcher’s shop are some newly-erected ones, used for various purposes. The main point of interest is a small shop which has been erected close to the gable of the house, which forms one of a row of three – two-storied old cottages – and in the one at the end nearest the road lived Miss Wrigglesworth….
You can almost picture the narrow dirt road that night, no more than seven yards  at its widest, with its higgledy-piggledy houses, all quiet but for the occasional trot of horses and rumble of cart wheels. Unlit by street lights, somewhere in the vicinity are persons unknown, alert and watchful, awaiting the chance to dispose of the body of John Critchley.
The District Coroner Thomas Taylor Esq, who had three inquests over in Dewsbury that day, was hastily contacted. An early inquest and post mortem to determine the cause of death were deemed vital – decomposition was already well-advanced and a lid needed to be quickly put on the wild local and even national speculation, with theories that this was a brutal murder rapidly gaining ground. Large groups of people were already congregating around the Victoria Hotel to discuss the sensational situation and speculating about potential murder methods. The most popular theories included John Critchley had been shot or kicked to death  with his body immersed in water for several days after .
That very same
evening, at 9pm, John Critchley’s inquest formally opened at the Victoria Hotel.
The jury was sworn in and accountant Joseph Fenton elected foreman. This first
meeting only covered the formalities of identification, and once these
preliminaries were complete it adjourned.
coal proprietor of Grosvenor Terrace, confirmed the body downstairs was that of
his brother. From his evidence it transpired his brother lived a somewhat
Born on 4 August 1837 and baptised on 25 August that year at Dewsbury All Saints , John was the second son of James and Sarah Jane Critchley (née Illingworth). Their other children included Robert Illingworth (1835) Thomas (1840, died 1850), Charles James (1843), Jane Elizabeth (1848), Mary (born and died 1850), Walter (1853), William Henry (1855) and Mary Ellen (1857).
James and Sarah Jane married in Dewsbury All Saints church on 8 January 1835 . James, born in Warley near Halifax, was described as a card maker , but he had his fingers in many business pies. In the 1841 census the family lived at Market Place in Dewsbury with James described as a publican . In 1851 whilst John was at boarding school in Pontefract  his parents are recorded at 615 Market Place, Dewsbury with the multiplicity of James’ interests becoming obvious – coal dealer, card maker and inn keeper all listed in the census occupation column . In 1861, and living at the Top of Batley Carr, James’ occupation had crystallised, now described as a coal owner employing 4 boys and 100 men. John was back with his family in this census, his occupation being a farmer of 130 acres employing six men, three smiths, three agents, six cart men and eight labourers . In 1871  and 1881  James was a coal proprietor and now the Critchleys lived at the magnificently imposing Batley Hall. But in neither of these censuses can John be found.
From the inquest evidence John’s failure to put down any roots came into sharp focus. Walter revealed at one point his brother worked as a cardmaker for older brother Robert Illingworth Critchley, but could not settle to business. As a result, at the time of his death, he had no fixed occupation. His base, when in the area, was his parents’ Batley Hall home. But he frequently left home for weeks at a time, with minimal contact with his family who often had no idea of his whereabouts. Walter revealed he last saw his brother in November and he had last been in touch via a letter at Christmas when John’s address was lodgings at 24 James Street, Bradford. After that, no contact with his family is recorded . Neither is John at that location in the 1881 census.
However, despite his failure to keep in touch with his family since Christmas, he had visited the area relatively recently as the newspapers soon established. About a month prior to the discovery of his body, Miss Wrigglesworth’s sister had seen him in Batley Carr, but not to speak to. And an acquaintance had spoken to him in Dewsbury towards the end of March, when he had been very chatty .
The post-mortem was
carried out at the Victoria Hotel at 4am on the morning of 31 May by Dr
O’Reilly, assisted by the Critchley family doctor, Mr Stockwell. The early hour
was chosen because of the rapidness of decomposition, but also no doubt in an
effort to minimise the chance of large, excitable crowds gathering. Although
the location, a public house, might seem odd to us today, post mortems could
still be carried out in public houses and even private homes in this period.
Only six years had passed since the 1875 Public Health Act which had legislated
for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and dedicated suitable
places to conduct post mortems. And only in January and February 1881 was the
Victoria Hotel the location for a series of very high-profile inquests relating
to a major boiler explosion at a Carlinghow mill, an explosion which resulted
in the deaths of 16 workers.
The post mortem results were not revealed until the inquest reopened on 2 June, but essentially no marks of violence were found on the body. There was no evidence of immersion in water. Decomposition was suggestive of death taking place at least 48 hours before O’Reilly first saw the body. The only visible cause which could account for death was fatty degeneration of the heart . However, given the odd nature of the case, O’Reilly arranged for various organs and tissue samples to be sent for further analysis to Thomas Scattergood, eminent Leeds surgeon and lecturer on Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the Leeds School of Medicine.
Post mortem formalities complete, Critchley’s body was placed in a leaden coffin and soldered firmly shut. It was then lowered in an oak cask and taken to Batley Hall, the family home.
Shortly after 11am
the following morning, 1 June 1881, the hearse, three mourning coaches and a
number of mostly empty private carriages left the Hall for the private burial
ceremony in Batley Cemetery.
The massive wreath-strewn, polished oak coffin was adorned with brass fittings and the plate bore the inscription “In Memory of John Critchley, of Batley Hall, aged 43 years.” The coffin was carried by a number of Messrs. Critchley workmen, and many employees attended the service. Chief mourners were John’s parents Mr and Mrs James Critchley, brothers Robert Illingworth Critchley and his wife, Charles James Critchley, Walter Critchley and his wife, brother Willie Critchley, sister Mary Ellen and her husband Arthur Jubb, and aunt Ann Critchley. Rev. T. G. Davies, vicar of Batley, conducted the service, which was not without incident. Policemen were stationed around the cemetery perimeter to keep back the large crowds congregated outside. During the ceremony, an unseemly struggle broke out, which resulted in the storming of the cemetery gates and a considerable number of female factory workers gaining entry.
Whispers from the post mortem now started to seep out, and the mood shifted slightly. Newspapers started to point out that the deceased was of medium height and very stout and “what the medical fraternity would regard as an apoplectic subject…” . Others stated:
The impression that the deceased has not been murdered appears to be gaining ground in the district….The supposition…that the unhappy man had probably died amongst the companions of his wretchedness, and that they, to clear themselves of possible odium, got rid of the body in the most ingenious manner they could hit upon, seems to be regarded as the most probable theory .
So, whilst maybe
not murder, they believed his lifestyle and the company he kept materially
contributed to his demise.
speculation was proving extremely distressing to his family, a fact which the
Critchley family solicitor, Mr Scholefield, was at pains to point out when the
inquest reopened at the Victoria Hotel on 2 June. This undoubtedly influenced The
Dewsbury Reporter’s assessment of John, in which they played down any hint
of a debauched lifestyle:
“ …when he returned [home] he always came back healthy and in good condition, and seldom if ever appeared to have been drinking to excess. He was not a drunkard, though fond of what is called a social glass. He was a generous-hearted man, always ready to help a friend, full of good humour, chatty and agreeable, and not at all the man against whom a person might be supposed to cherish a grudge and desire to do him bodily harm.” 
This second phase of the inquest, on 2 June 1881, saw a parade of witnesses . These included Robert Hammerton, the proprietor of a Bradford eating house whose business cards were found on John Critchley’s body. The deceased was a regular visitor to Hammerton’s establishment, which was located just around the corner from his last known address. He confirmed Critchley last visited on the afternoon of 26 May and ate a meal of lamb, new potatoes, steeped peas and mint sauce. Hammerton described Critchley as being “merry” and apparently affected by drink, but also added this was the worse state of intoxication he had seen him in. Critchley had briefly fallen asleep, and finally left at around 3pm. This was the last recorded sighting of John Critchley alive.
included Peter Kelly, William Kelly, William Jenkinson (a card fettler living
at High Street), George Addy (a Sergeant with the West Riding Constabulary),
Myles William O’Reilly, John Dyson (a West Riding Police Constable), and Zillah
Susan Booth (wife of stonemason William Booth and another High Street
interest in these testimonies were the reports by William Jenkinson, John Dyson
and Zillah Booth. The former, a close neighbour of Mary Wrigglesworth, had been
out around midnight and noticed nothing. Around 1.45am he was awoken by a
trap passing in the direction of his neighbour’s shop. His house was separated
from Mary Wrigglesworth’s by an entrance to a Yard. Going at a quick trot, he
was not aware of the trap stopping.
Zillah Booth also reported hearing a trap going towards Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 1.35am. She stated two people, one a woman, walked ahead of it. She heard no voices, only footsteps. Within five minutes the trap returned, at a quicker pace accompanied by the walkers. The female carried on down the road whilst the trap turned off down Beck Lane. The trap had a distinctive sound, as if the wheels had been muffled . She had heard the same vehicle, a light cart, the previous night at 2.10am when it had travelled in the direction of Miss Wriggleswoth’s shop, a 100 yards from the Booth residence, again rapidly returning within minutes.
John Dyson was the
policeman whose beat covered High Street for the key period. A clear night,
between 9pm on Sunday and 3am on Monday he patrolled the street five times. He
last passed Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 2.35am as day was breaking but
noticed nothing unusual. Corroboration that he had not shirked his duty came from
the watchman from Messrs. J and R Talbot’s Bullrush Mill, who accompanied PC
Dyson on his last sweep of High Street.
According to the
notes made by Coroner Thomas Taylor, the only vehicle PC Dyson saw whilst on
duty was a dogcart (a light horse-drawn vehicle) going towards Carlinghow, down
High Street and through Cross Bank at 11pm, containing four people. However,
newspaper reports of the inquest also note the policeman saw a conveyance used
for carrying dead horses between 11.30pm and midnight. It was opposite Bullrush
Mill and it passed Victoria Street going towards Dewsbury. He never saw or
heard the trap just before 2am which the two High Street residents reported.
The inquest adjourned once more to await the results of tissue and organ tests, and allow for further police enquiries in Leeds and Bradford ad well as locally. It resumed at the Victoria Hotel on Thursday 9 June 1881 . The principal witness was Leeds Surgeon Thomas Scattergood who presented his findings: There was no evidence that John Critchley’s death was the result of poisoning.
Airton, of the West Riding Constabulary, offered no further evidence. Despite
extensive enquiries there were no reported sightings of John Critchley between
leaving Mr Hammerton’s refreshment room on the afternoon of Thursday 26 May and
the estimated time of death at midnight on Friday 27 May. Airton did suggest
presenting a further witness, a woman, who had seen John Critchley enter and
shortly afterwards leave Mary Wrigglrsworth’s shop, this only two weeks prior
to his death. The jury following guidance from the Coroner, who pointed out
that as this was a fortnight before Critchley’s death it would probably not
help determine cause of death, decided against calling her.
After some deliberation, and with the overwhelming evidence of the two medical men that no poison was evident and that fatty degeneration of the heart was the cause of death, the jury delivered its verdict: “That John Critchley was found dead on a doorstep in Carlinghow on 30th May, 1881, and the jury are unanimous in their verdict, based on medical evidence, that the deceased died from natural causes.“
The jury urged the
police to continue their investigations as to the place of death and how the
body ended up on a Carlinghow doorstep. But in effect that was it. Whether John
Critchley’s body was clandestinely transported to Miss Wrigglesworth’s abode by
persons wishing to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny his death might have caused
them, or even his family, was not discovered. But it is clear they were not
strangers to him, given the location they chose to dispose of his body.
By the time of the 1891 census Mary Wrigglesworth, now described as a general shopkeeper, resided at Wood Hill, Dewsbury . Her former butcher’s shop and house, street name now changed from High Street to Cross Bank Street, was listed on the 1891 census but annotated to say no-one “slept in the place” . Subsequent censuses, and it is the more familiar name of Cross Bank Road which appears. I wonder if it is possible the shop later became Millman butchers? The location, opposite the Nelson would fit. These buildings have long since gone in the Batley clearances.
The imposing Critchley family headstone marking their Batley cemetery burial plot, in its prestigious location in front of the twin chapels alongside the graves of other local dignitaries and businessmen, makes for interesting reading once you know the story of John. Exact dates mark the passing of his parents and other family members. John’s simply reads “Died May 1881” for a reason – the exact date is not known.
And next time you
have a drink in the Victoria public house, pause and think. You are privileged
to be drinking in a place steeped in Batley’s hidden and long-forgotten
Notes:  In many reports, including Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes, she is referred to as Mary Wrigglesworth. In census documents and her 16 April 1837 baptism entry in Birstall parish register she is Wigglesworth. For consistency I have used the Wrigglesworth spelling used by the Coroner.  Bowler hat.  The York Herald, 1 June 1881.  The York Herald, 1 June 1881.  The Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881  Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes of PC John Dyson’s 2 June 1881 evidence states 7 yards wide, whilst The Dewsbury Reporter of 4 June 1881 states PC Dyson said 5 yards.  The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.  The Manchester Evening News, 1 June 1881.  Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/11.  Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/22.  Manufacturing the combs and implements for combing (carding) wool. 1841 Census, Reference HO107/1268/45/19, accessed via Findmypast. 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2330/108/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk.  1851 Census, Reference HO107/2324/325/28, accessed via Findmypast. 1861 Census, Reference RG09/3399/96/36, accessed via Findmypast.  1871 Census, Reference RG10/4583/22/37.  1881 Census, Reference RG11/4546/152/24.  30 May 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.  The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.  2 June 1881 JohnCritchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.  The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.  The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1881.  The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.  2 June 1881 JohnCritchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142  Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881.  9 June 1881 JohnCritchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.  1891 Census, Reference RG12/3735/57/7, accessed via Findmypast.  1891 Census, Reference RG12/3721/30/28, accessed via Findmypast.
In my last Aveyard post I wrote about the horrific death in August 1858 of toddler George Aveyard, the son of Daniel and Sophia Aveyard. In it I mentioned his older brother Simeon, who was sent to seek his missing young brother. At the time Gildersome-born Simeon, whose birth was registered in the March Quarter of 1853 , was only four.
In a tragic twist
of fate Simeon’s life was also cut far too short through an accident in 1873,
when only 20 years old. In another cruel parallel, his death also resulted in
an inquest before Thomas Taylor, the very same Coroner who headed George’s
inquest over 15 years earlier.
The Aveyard family
moved to Howden Clough shortly after George’s death. A coal mining family,
Simeon followed that traditional occupation. It is here his history is
At about 5.30am on 3 September 1873 he and his father Daniel set off to work at Messrs. Haigh and Greaves Howden Clough Colliery Company’s Middleton Main Pit. Long since gone, it was in the Pheasant Drive, Geldard Road and Nab Lane area of present day Birstall.
Simeon worked there
for several years, but for the past couple he’d achieved the pinnacle status of
hewer. He worked his own bank around seven yards wide, with a yard-thick seam
of coal. The roof was considered generally good, consisting of 9-12-inch-thick
clod  or black bind .
However, Simeon had
told his father there had been some slips in his place the previous day. As a
consequence, Daniel, a seasoned miner, strongly cautioned his son to keep his
wood up to the coal face to support it.
Admit it. How many
sons ignore their father’s advice? Youth is always right? It’s an age-old
dilemma. In this case the carefree invincibility of youth proved wrong, with
John Woffenden, the
pit Deputy, had known Simeon from his infancy. Doing his round of the pit he
arrived at Simeon’s bank at around 7.20am. He could hear groaning and he found
the young man doubled over with his head between his knees and two pieces of
clod on his back. These had fallen between two wooden props which had lids 
whilst he was apparently cutting down coal close to the face. Several other
props were lying around ready to be put up when required. Despite his father’s
warnings it appears Simeon had failed to ensure the area was adequately shored
After attempting to
make him more comfortable Woffenden fetched two other men. Between them they
freed Simeon, but his spinal injuries were so severe he could not straighten
himself and was unable to move his legs. He also sustained several cuts to his
head. Despite his injuries he was fully conscious.
It was around 8am when Daniel learned of the accident, meeting the men bringing his son to the pit bottom. Simeon was carried home where Robert Rayner, a Gomersal General Practitioner/Surgeon,  attended him. Rayner was familiar with mining injuries and his name crops up in connection with ones received at Howden Clough colliery.
However, Simeon failed to recover, gradually wasting away over the next few days. As his life ebbed away, he admitted to his father that the sole blame for the accident was his. He died between 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon of 15 September.
The inquest, held the following day at Gomersal’s White Horse Hotel, reached the verdict that Simeon had been accidentally crushed .
Simeon’s body was interred in St Peter’s churchyard, Birstall on 17 September 1873 .
 GRO Birth Registration of Simeon Aveyard, accessed via the GRO website, GRO Reference March Quarter 1853, Hunslet, Vol 9B, Page 219.  Indurated clay.  Indurated argillaceous shale or clay, very commonly forming the roof of a coal seam and frequently containing clay ironstone.  A short piece of timber about two feet long placed on top of a prop to support the roof.  1871 & 1881 Censuses accessed via Fimdmypast, Original at TNA, Reference: RG10/4588/27/11 and RG11/4551/31/10  West Yorkshire Coroner’s Notebook, Thomas Taylor’s Notes of Inquest of Simeon Aveyard, 16 September 1873, Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP5/1/4/4  Burial of Simeon Aveyard, St Peter’s Birstall Burial Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, Original West Yorkshire Archive Service – Reference Number: WDP5/1/4/4
Observer, 17 September 1873
Reporter, 20 September 1873
GRESLEY, WILLIAM STUKELEY. GLOSSARY OF TERMS USED IN COAL MINING. London, New York, E & F.N. Spon 1883.
Today I had a spare few minutes to look at one of my mother-in-law’s photo albums. Who was I trying to kid? A few minutes ended up being well over one hour.
It was actually an album which belonged to her mother, Ada Haynes (née Eardley), 1906-2003, given to her with best wishes for 1935 by someone called Eileen. It had been carefully filled. So many people captured in significant moments and happy times. Group shots, individual portraits, smileless Victorians, proud mothers with babies (beaming or otherwise), holiday photos, weddings, posed formal studio pictures as well as more natural images.
So many faces of people long gone … and most of them were nameless and will remain so for ever more. I felt unutterably flat.
I’ve included a few here.
I spent a good while magnifying the names on the War Memorial, cross-matching with Soldiers Died in the Great War records, and then checking against the Imperial War Museum’s War Memorial Register. I managed to work out it was Chesterton War Memorial, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire. The Staffordshire location makes sense, but I’ve no idea why this Memorial was so significant that its image was in such a treasured album.
So my plea is please label your photos. I’d say on the back of the photo itself, rather than on the album page given the tendency for the photos to come loose. No pressing down either when labelling, so as to avoid indentation damage to the image. Use a soft lead pencil, again to avoid damage. If it’s a more modern glossy photo, pencil won’t work. In this case do not be tempted to use a ballpoint pen. Instead use an archival acid-free pen which won’t fade, is waterproof and dries quickly…and do make sure the ink has dried!
As for what to write? Well don’t put Doris or grandma. That’s they type of cryptic clue on the few and far between labels in the album vexing me. Include full names (with maiden name as well for married women), along with the date, location, address, occasion and even ages, if known: Think how many families in the past recycled names! Basically anything to identify who, when, where and why.
And do it as soon as possible after the photo was taken. You know how memory can play tricks. Plus you don’t want to end up with ‘choredom‘ off-putting stacks of photos to label.
Family history research can be frustrating enough without having to play a game of Guess Who? with photographs. Honestly, your descendants will thank you for it.