Posted onDecember 23, 2019|Comments Off on Hidden History of Batley: A Festive Fireworks Fatality
Festive fireworks on days other than bonfire night are not a modern phenomenon. And if you thought events to promote Batley and boost town trade, such as Batley Festival and Batley Vintage Day, were a 21st century invention, think again.
In the late 19th century, backed by an ambitious and forward-thinking Council, local tradesmen regularly promoted events to draw visitors into town. But the 1886 annual event is memorable for its tragic consequences, ones which would cast a shadow over the town for years to come.
On the 23 and 24 December 1886, the latest town promotional event was in full flow. The shops were decorated, two local brass bands paraded the streets and Commercial Street was partly illuminated by the marvellous innovation of electric lights. The culmination of the two days of festivities, drawing everything to a sensational close, was to be a grand firework display, scheduled for 8pm in the market place on Christmas Eve.
An established family firm of pyrotechnists from Dalton, Huddersfield, were engaged to provide this visual delight. Joseph Womersley Potter had been in the firework business for 15 years. His son Charles Henry Potter, assisted by another son Thomas and a third man, Joseph Pinder, were responsible for Batley’s entertainment. It promised to be an unmissable display, packed with rockets, mortars and spinning wheels.
The blaze of glory to round everything off, and send all home happy, was a volley of around 40 rockets ascending into the night sky, centred around triumphal arch with the motto ‘The Town and Trade of Batley.’ At the back and front of the rocket display stood two mortars which, when ignited by the sparks from the rockets, would each fire towards the heavens a massive shell, exploding to provide a final meteoric shower of lights. This was to be the unforgettable climax of the evening. Unforgettable, as it turned out, for the wrong reasons.
The rain of the day cleared, heralding a clear, crisp winter’s evening, with frost quickly hardening the ground. There was no moonlight, but thousands of stars twinkled in the night sky. A crowd numbering several thousand assembled to watch the spectacle. The focal point was the area around the firework display. A special enclosure was made to encircle this area, on ground between the Hanover Street Congregational Church and the Market and Town Halls. But such was the crush of eager spectators that barriers were pulled down, and some intrepid folk even climbed over railings and entered the Congregational Church grounds to get a better view.
Among the crowds congregated by the now-demolished Market Hall were six local lads, whose emotions within minutes would switch from curiosity, laughter, and eyes-wide-open wonderment to unimaginable horror.
They included two youngsters from Wards Hill: 9-year-old Schofield Senior, the son of Hannah Senior; and John William Tatham, age 10, the son of County Mayo-born couple Michael and Margaret Tatham .
Two of the other boys lived at Woodwell: George Bates, age 14, was son of Mary Jackson and her coal mining husband Henry; and 10-year-old Robert Cassidy, the son of John and Emma, was the brother of Thomas Patrick Cassidy, the man destined to become Batley’s famous rat-catcher.
14-year-old Charles Henry Pinder, the son of coal miner Andrew Pinder, lived at Woodkirk. His mother Hannah Jane had died over six years earlier.
The sixth lad, 13-year-old Liversedge-born Frank Fearnley Sykes, lived at Spring Gardens with his mother, Ellen, and siblings. These included his younger brother Herbert. His father, a leather currier named George, died only the previous month. As a result, Frank quit school to help his mother earn money by delivering the bread and tea cakes which she baked. He left home at about 8pm that evening, bound for the market place, no doubt looking forward to an evening with his friends and a temporary diversion from everyday life.
At just before 9pm, Charles Henry Potter lit the rockets for the grand finale. Thousands of pairs of eyes turned heavenwards to watch the dazzling spectacle. However, in a matter of seconds, a few of the more eagle-eyed in the crowd spotted things had not gone to plan. One of the mortar shells, instead of rising into the air, fired out horizontally, spiralling towards the crowd near the Market Hall, sparks emitting in all directions. Hoards rushed backwards in panic. John Bruce of Clay Fold in the Clark Green area of town, was one of the lucky ones. Standing in the area by the Market Hall, the missile passed to the left of him.
Then the screams and cries of pain rang out in the clear night air, centred around several boys now lying on the ground. Frank Fearnley Sykes clutched at John Bruce pleading “O master, will you take me home?” Bruce asked him “Whose bairn are you lad?” Before fainting, Frank managed to say “I’m George Sykes’s, of Spring Gardens.”
West Riding Police Constable George Edward Horner was in the crowd. He assisted several of the injured boys, four being conveyed to their homes on stretchers for treatment. He then went up to the relatively recently opened Batley Cottage Hospital, on Carlinghow Hill, where the two most seriously injured boys were taken.
By far the worse of these was Frank Fearnley Sykes. In extreme shock, and complaining of only sickness but no pain, he had suffered several burns including severe ones to the inner and upper parts of his thighs. And beneath the sheets of his hospital bed, his shattered, gunpowder-blackened legs were a mangled mess of tissue. Nothing could be done.
Dr Robert Dex Keighley (a former Mayor of Batley) stayed with him till around 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve, until Frank finally slipped from life. After he had left home only three hours earlier, a strong, healthy lad, his mother never saw him alive again.
In an odd aside, it was noted a policeman brought home one of Frank’s badly damaged boots later that night, and a girl fetched the other one to Ellen the following morning. Was this as much a commentary on the value of boots in this period, as a show of compassion and thoughtfulness towards a grieving mother? Boots were not disposable commodities. They were expensive, and essential for work and school. I’ve seen a local school log book in this period full of entries about children unable to attend school in winter due to a lack of boots. They were handed down, repaired time upon time, and passed on after death.
And, in addition to the overwhelming sense of grief, death could drive a family into desperate poverty. In the space of a month, Ellen had lost her husband and son. Besides the loss of income resulting from the death of two main breadwinners, the cost of the actual funeral could be financially crippling. And this was a period of high mortality. So Ellen, like many other families, had taken out life insurance for her son to provide for a decent burial if the unimaginable should happen. Her 44-year-old husband was buried in Batley cemetery on 27 November 1886 and her 13-year-old son was buried in the same plot on 28 December 1886.
The inquest opened on Monday 27 December 1886, at the Wilton Arms and Bridge Hotel. No longer a pub, it still exists as a burger joint – ironically named Frankie’s. Because Frank’s death was a result of a gunpowder accident, a Home Office Inspector of Explosives needed to attend. The Christmas period delayed Royal Artillery Major J.P. Cundill’s appearance and, after hearing from Dr Keighley and Frank’s mother, the inquest was adjourned. It resumed on 31 December, and shifted to the more imposing surroundings of the Town Hall.
The jury reached a verdict that Frank was accidentally injured by fireworks. They expressed the opinion that Charles Henry Potter had not used sufficient care in regard to the mortar. They also said that the fence around the enclosure had not offered sufficient protection to the public. The Jury Foreman, Councillor Isaac Barker, did not make any recommendations for future years as the jury hoped that this would be the last display of fireworks in Batley for some time.
So what happened to the other injured boys?
Of those treated in hospital, Schofield Senior’s right leg was shattered from the knee downwards. On Christmas Day, in a critical condition, the limb was amputated. Thankfully, he did pull through. He earned his living as a tailor, went on to have a family and died in Huddersfield in January 1956.
George Bates was initially taken home suffering burns to his head, face and left leg, but then it was found he needed hospital treatment. He recovered, went on to work as a coal miner and married Sarah Ann Almond at Batley Parish Church in 1895. By 1911 the couple had six surviving children.
John William Tatham was one of the boys treated at home. His injuries were burns to his face and lower limbs.
Robert Cassidy also suffered burns to his head, arms, body and legs. He married Mary Jane Speight in Hunslet in 1907. He emigrated to Australia in 1910 and died in Queensland in February 1954.
Charles Henry Pinder suffered burns to his arms, head and face. He emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he became a naturalised American citizen, was employed as a mill worker, married and raised a family. He died in May 1950.
And Frank Fearnley Sykes’ name lived on. His brother Herbert named his son, born on 17 February 1907, after him.
Sources: These include various newspapers, the Coroner’s Notebook, censuses, GRO indexes, as well as parish, cemetery, migration, citizenship and burial records. The OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
Notes:  There are various spellings of this surname, depending on report.  Plot M223
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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
‘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 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
My recent holiday in Northumberland proved yet again that I can never totally switch off from research. I stayed in a Grade II Listed former fisherman’s cottage in the picturesque coastal village of Low Newton-by-the-Sea (historically known as Newton Seahouses). The cottage in which I stayed, according to Historic England, dates from the 18th century but was remodelled in the mid-19th century . It is one of the whitewashed cottages which border three sides of the village green, owned by the National Trust . The buildings on one side include the historic Ship Inn, parts of which are thought to date back to the 16th-17th century. The fourth side of the square leads directly to the beach and rocks of Newton, or St Mary’s, Haven.
It is a wonderfully relaxing location and the connection with the past is palpable. I felt compelled to delve into the history of the village and as a result discovered that the 19th century incarnation was a far cry from today’s holiday destination. It was a village very much shaped by the sea, and life for its inhabitants was decidedly tough.
Shipwrecks and death at sea were an occupational hazard, both for sailors transporting goods up and down the coast or across the North Sea to the continent, as well as for the locally-based fishermen. The predominant catches of these local fishermen were of turbot, lobster and herrings.
One early incident, reported in the local papers, occurred on 21 June 1833 . William Cuthbertson’s sons William (age 22) and Robert, along with Ralph Archbold (age 19), the son or William Archbold, set off in a boat from Newton Sea Houses to Dunstanburgh Castle to gather sink stones for the brat nets .
On the return journey a heavy squall caught the sail and capsized the boat which sunk immediately due to the weight of the stones. Robert, who could swim a little, grabbed two of the oars and kept afloat until saved by some fishermen. The other two young men drowned, their bodies found the following day. Their burials on 24 June 1833 are recorded in the parish register of Holy Trinity, Embleton.
Back to the 21st century and hopefully those present-day holidaymakers savouring a thirst-quenching pint of one of the Ship Inn’s microbrewery offerings, or enjoying a delicious locally-sourced meal in the pub (turbot was on the menu for our visit) will not be put off by some of the 19th century activities which took place there. It was a convenient place to hold inquests, including for those whose bodies washed ashore. Some were foreign seafarers.
One such Ship Inn inquest took place before George Watson, coroner for North Northumberland, on Wednesday 26 February 1879. The body of 40-year-old Trieste seaman Francesco Carbone was discovered by labourer Thomas Anderson on rocks at Newton that Monday. He was one of the sailors on board the 542 tons Italian barque Stefano Padre, which foundered on the rocks just off Newton-by-the-Sea .
The barque, accompanied by a tug, set off from Aberdeen to North Shields in ballast  on Saturday 23 February. That night the sea started to get rough, and in the early hours of the following morning the barque struck the rocks. Although the tug managed to get a heaving rope to the vessel, it was unable to pull it free and abandoned the rescue attempt.
An attempt was made to launch the ship’s boat by those on the stricken craft. This ended in failure with most being forced to return to the Stefano Padre, whilst the four men on the front ended up in the sea. One of these did manage to cling on to the ship’s boat. When waves threw it clean on the rocks men from the Volunteer Life Company, comprised of coastguard and fishermen of Newton, managed to drag him to safety.
It was dangerous work with the men continually being washed off their feet. Not only was there the immediate danger of working in treacherous conditions, but the effects of the cold and exposure to the elements in undertaking what could be prolonged rescue efforts wreaked havoc on health. One of the coastguard men, Joseph Whiles, was completely drenched and blinded by the surf. He only reluctantly left the rescue scene after being advised to do so by Dr Magill.
Repeated attempts were made by the Coastguard to employ rockets to get a line to the barque and eventually this was successful, resulting in the rescue of the captain and six men.
The inquest jury returned a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’ on Stefano Carbone. The courageous manner in which the coastguard and fishermen of Newton had endeavoured to save the lives of the crew in the face of great personal danger was acknowledged. William Pringle, a fish-curer who represented the fishermen at the inquest, and Mr Williams, the chief coastguard, were asked to inform those involved. The latter stated:
…a better class of men could not be found than those he had under his charge…
Pringle was subsequently presented with an illuminated testimonial in vellum by
the Board of Trade .
It seems the Ship Inn did not always sport this name. Though by time of the 1899 publication of the OS six-inch map of the area it was clearly marked as the Ship Inn , an earlier edition which was surveyed in 1860 and published in 1866 , shows its name as Smack Inn. And curiously, some newspapers reporting a Newton-by-the-Sea inquest in 1861 stated it took place in the Keelboat Inn. This was into the death of 59-year old Claas Foelders from Emden, Captain of the Hanoverian schooner Hortensia.
In stormy weather, heavy seas and thick rain the schooner, which was bound for Newcastle from Hamburg, lost its way in the darkness and struck the North Steel Rocks off Boulmer at around 8pm on the evening of Wednesday 27 March 1861. It being low tide the crew of the Boulmer lifeboat were able to walk out to the Hortensia, boarding at about 8.30pm. However, Foelders, who was described as tipsy, refused to leave. His crew of four also remained – some reports indicated that Foelders forced them to stay. With the tide on the turn, the lifeboat crew left the vessel and returned to shore at 10.30pm. By this time the captain was ‘dead drunk’. The sea quickly rose, the ship was driven further onto the rocks and began filling with water.
Now, in tricky conditions, the lifeboat was forced to launch. Despite all entreaties from his crew and the lifeboatmen, the captain once more obstinately refused to leave the Hortensia, holding on to the rails. With the situation becoming increasingly perilous the lifeboat returned to shore at 12.30 am, this time with the four crew members. The ship broke up entirely in the early hours of the morning of 28 March.
that morning, whilst out fishing about two miles off shore,
Newton-by-the-Sea fisherman William Carss, and his two sons James and
William, found the body of the captain floating head upwards dressed in
drawers, stockings and a jacket.
The inquest, held before the Coroner J. J. Hardy, on 30 March, returned a verdict that Foelders was found drowned. As mentioned some reports state it took place in Mr Jos Blair’s Keelboat Inn, Newton-by-the-Sea  and . Others state it was the home of Newton-by-the-Sea innkeeper Mr James Blair  and .
Looking for alternative local inns, there was the Joiner’s Arms in Newton village (High Newton). Also, according to another OS map  there was one other public house in the vicinity, the Fisherman’s Arms. This is now a National Trust holiday cottage called Risemoor. The 1858 Kelly’s Post Office Directory of Northumberland and Durham does not help, its only listing being George Geggie’s Joiner’s Arms. However, the 1861 census was taken only days after the inquest on 7 April, so I checked this out.
There is no Joseph Blair in Newton-by-the-Sea (both the village itself of High Newton and Low Newton/Newton Seahouses). However, at ‘Newton Sea Houses Pub[lic] Ho[use].’ is ‘Fish[erman] and Inn Keeper’ James Blair, wife Hannah and five-year-old son James . This seems to place him right in the square, where the Ship Inn is located. So it appears this was the inn in which the inquest of Claas Foelders took place. Perhaps the newspapers mistakenly called it the Keelboat Inn, or perhaps this briefly was its name. More work is needed to research this, probably more for archives than online, to enable a firm conclusion.
By 1871  James and Hannah had moved in to Newton village itself (High Newton), and his sole occupation was fisherman. Skip forward to 1881  and still in High Newton James now reverted to the dual occupation of fisherman and publican. But tragedy struck on 1 December 1883 when he too was claimed by the sea. He and John Patterson put out to Dunstanburgh haul in their lobster nets. A heavy wave hit their boat washing James and an oar overboard and knocking John over. With only one oar John could not control the boat and his attempts to reach James failed. John lost consciousness but fortunately his boat drifted to shore and he was found. James’ body was not discovered until 18 December on rocks near Dunstanburgh. His inquest the following day, ironically held at the Joiners Arms with which he knew well, returned a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’ . His son James took over the running of this pub, and is shown here with his family and widowed mother Hannah in the 1891 census .
Low Newton, there is a gem of a description of it from a survey conducted by
the Alnwick Rural Sanitary Authority which featured in the Alnwick Mercury
of 18 October 1873. It paints a wonderful picture of life there in the latter
half of the 19th century. It is such an evocative piece I’ve reproduced it in
NEWTON SEA HOUSES This busy little fishing village lies close to the sea in the centre of “St. Mary’s,” or the rocky “Newton Haven.” It consists of fishermen’s cottages, a public house, and stable, forming three sides of a square (the fourth side being open to the haven), a couple of fish curing houses, and a fish curer’s – Mr Pringle’s – old and very damp house, together with coastguardsmen’s houses planted on the hill high above the village. The period of my inspection happened to be just when the herring fishing was coming to a close, and I had good opportunity of observing the peculiar requirements of the inhabitants in their houses and of noting where they were deficient or good. It appears that every fisher has three men to keep, called “Yarmouth men.” With the exception of the houses which are new, all of them consist of one room and a loft formed out of the high tiled roofs. The sleeping accommodation in these in the fishing season is, as one says, “Ourselves and three men have to pig in there,” and another “have to have a bed or two in the garret for the people to lie in that we have.” The interiors are made the most the space admits of, but they nearly all resemble the forecastle on board ship, they are so low, so crowded, so deficient in light, so like cabins and berths, and every sanitary contrivance. They look, indeed, like buildings made out of the materials of wrecks. “The couples  of this house is nothing particler, one of them’s broke.” “This is all the comfort poor people have; many nights I have to rise to put dishes to keep the rain coming in.” “It was a kind o’ blockit up, but it’s in very bad repair.” “Little or no back places, not a drain about the place.” “Our coals are piled up at the back of our beds.” “Only one privy for the whole of us, and that at the back door of the public house.” Such is the condition of the houses where there is an addition in the hot season of “three Yarmouth men.” At the present time the dark windowless lofts are being crowded with masts and sails (one for want of room was poked through the tiles), creel nets, covered with fish scales, festoons of bladders highly coloured in stripes and looking like Egyptian necklaces, tarpaulins, blocks, ropes, lanterns, and “all things useable at sea”, for, say the fishermen, “our fishing work gear takes a large garret.” In these cases, however, “the couples being nothing particular,” it is surprising how the things get packed over their heads, and a wonder that the whole loft does not come down upon them with a crash. A much better state of things appears, however, in the provision of these seafarers at the three new houses mentioned. Every careful thought has been bestowed in their erection, especially as to the provision of a large well lighted loft, where “the three Yarmouth men” and “all things useable at sea” can be alternately lodged; but here, alas! there is a deficiency of coal and washing-up places. In one of “these nice new houses” I saw one poor woman “possing” in the pantry to keep, as she said, “the other places rid”; and in another they had secured a bargain of a winter’s supply of coals, and in the absence of a coal house have actually been obliged to pack them from floor to ceiling in the pantry. The central large and open place in front of the three-side square of houses is the common refuse heap, unwalled, and dependent upon the paternal care of Mr Dixon, the farmer tenant, to remove and keep it low. The owner of this property, Mr Mather, has a good opportunity to make this a model little fishing village, by rebuilding the older houses in the manner of the new. He should not, however, forget the provision of coal and washing-up places, and the usual sanitary conveniences. The well-to-do tenants would or should gladly pay a fair per centage on the outlay for the boon of good dwellings suitable to their occupation which they one and all sigh for. The coast guard houses are like all government buildings models of order. Smart with white and black wash, everything taut and in trim, they possess every sanitary contrivance, including the earth closet and commode. Water for all these places has to be brought a considerable distance from an arched cavern below some basalted rocks, which will require the care of your authority. 
supply was a persistent problem; and the village green where visitors now
spread out picnic blankets, soak up the sun and smell the tang of the sea was
far from a fragrant outside space back in 1873. And the situation had not
improved by the start of the following decade as a damning report to the Rural
Sanitary Authority on 28 January 1882 by the Alnwick Medical Officer
illustrated. It stated:
….a mild case of small pox had appeared at Newton-by-the-Sea, contracted probably from the girl’s father who had just returned from a neighbourhood where the disease existed. Also that a rapidly fatal case of diphtheria had since occurred to a member of the same family in the same house. The house is very unfavourably situated in regard to a large midden ashpit occupying the centre of the village, which is built to form three sides of a square, the end towards the sea being open. The pit is capable of holding about sixty loads, and large accumulations are allowed to take place from which noxious effluvia arises. It was recommended to be paved at [the] bottom and the contents removed weekly .
The Low Newton of today would be unrecognisable to those late 19th century inhabitants. So, as you sit by the green sipping your beer, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring sea view and the picturesque cottages (you may even be holidaying in one), remember it was not always thus. And do spare a thought for those men, women and children who lived, worked and died here in centuries past.