Category Archives: Batley

The Night the Luftwaffe Bombed Batley and Dewsbury

12 December 1940 had been a cold winter’s day. As darkness drew in, families across the Heavy Woollen District prepared to hunker down for their second wartime Christmas.

Money was tight – no change there for most. So no sacks full of Christmas presents for the children. Again no change for many. But people were making the best of it, continuing peacetime Christmas traditions. Like the Hartley family in Savile Town, making a Christmas cake with a neighbour that evening – a reminder of the ordinariness of preparations of past Christmases [1].

But this was far from a normal Christmas. The strangeness of separation from loved ones in this so-called season of goodwill, bundled up with anxiety for the safety of those absentees, bound lots of families together. Mrs Hill in Batley faced a difficult Christmas – her first as a young widow with four children under the age of six. Over in Dewsbury, the Callaghan family were getting ready to spend Christmas with their latest family addition, a seventh child born earlier that year. Their eldest, 15-year-old Jack, typical of many teenage lads, was caught up with the excitement of pretending to shoot German planes out of the Yorkshire skies from his open bedroom window, accompanied by his own ack-ack-ack sound effects. His Air Raid Protection (ARP) Warden father quickly dragged him away, ensuring the window was firmly shut and blacked out. Within four years Jack would be serving with the Royal Navy craft in the D-Day landings.

At around 7.30pm the blood-chilling wail of the air raid sirens sounded across the Batley and Dewsbury districts, ending that evening’s attempts to recreate the normal of Christmases past. This was their new wartime normal. The anti-aircraft guns, based in Caulms Wood and what is now hole number 2 of Hanging Heaton Golf Club, began firing.

View over Batley from Hanging Heaton going towards the golf course, site of the anti-aircraft Guns – Photo by Jane Roberts

Perhaps there was an air of calm as people made their way to various air raid shelters. After all, they’d experienced this before, and the alarms always proved thankfully false.

Various organisations had these bomb shelters – for example St Mary’s RC school’s log book notes shortly after the war declaration that air raid shelters were built. One was under construction at Batley hospital in March 1940 – I know because it cost my grandad his life. Some sheltered in the strongest part of their house – cellars, sculleries, or simply under kitchen tables.

Others had purpose-built Anderson shelters in their gardens, erected right from the early days of the war. My dad remembers his dad building one, which would’ve been in the very first months after war broke out. Many families kept theirs post-war, converted to garden storage. They were a common site for many a year after the war.

This Mortimer Street, Batley, Anderson shelter existed well into the 1980s – Photo by Pauline Hill

Communal shelters existed with wooden slatted seats inside, like the soil-covered brick built one at Staincliffe. There was also a communal shelter at Leeds Road, Dewsbury. The tunnel at the bottom of Primrose Hill, close to Lady Ann Road, was another example. Vera May recalls sheltering there as a child during the 12 December 1940 raid. Men who worked at Taylor’s mill were also there, and Vera remembers: ‘They were great with us children, singing with us so we would not be afraid[2]. For, unlike most nights, this was no false alarm. The Luftwaffe this time were not passing over Batley and Dewsbury on their way to/from bombing another unfortunate town or city. Tonight it was for real, the turn of the heart of the Heavy Woollen district with its rail lines and mills manufacturing cloth for the military to face Hitler’s wrath.

Following the failure of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe were now targeting Britain’s industrial and military centres. Sheffield was the focus for Operation Crucible, with bombing during the nights of the 12 and 15 December 1940. The targets of the raids were the multiple steel and iron works, collieries, and coke ovens along the Don Valley. One theory is that the bombing of Batley and Dewsbury was a mis-targeting from this attack, rather than these two towns being the specific objectives. Whatever, the results were disastrous for many of the townsfolk.

The night sky over Batley and Dewsbury lit up with parachute flares and tracer fire, as baskets of incendiary bombs and parachute mines rained down. Houses shook, window frames rattled, glass shattered, masonry and roof slates tumbled to the ground, water spurted out from fractured taps and pipes, and plaster fell from ceilings. As the bombs hurtled earthwards they made terrifying whistling and screaming sounds. Those sheltering braced themselves for the next ‘hit’, hunched over with hands protecting heads, then after each blast ensuring all others in the shelter were still OK.

It was not a constant bombardment. In the quieter periods, when the drone of the planes died away, people emerged troglodyte-like from their places of safety to check the damage, try extinguish any lights, and bale water onto house fires. Then they darted back in at the launch of the next attack wave.

Geoffrey Whitehead, an eight-year-old Batley schoolboy, vividly recalls that terrifying night. His grandparents, Charles and Harriet Whitehead, ran the off-licence at 1 Bunkers Lane. They also lived ‘over the shop’, along with Geoffrey and his parents. When the sirens sounded, Geoffrey’s father, Austin, set off towards Mayman Lane for his voluntary Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) work. Normally the rest of the family would go to the brick-built communal shelter at the bottom of Common Road. But the planes were upon them too quickly. With bombs already raining down, there was simply not time to risk walking the short distance to Common Road. Instead the family made their way down to the beer cellar and sheltered under the table there. The cellar roof was reinforced with plaster-covered wooden planks. So great were the shock-waves from the bombs, in particular one huge blast, that white plaster flecks came away from the ceiling [3].

As time passed, the air became ever more thick with smoke and dust, flames engulfed buildings, while the stench of sulphur from the high explosive bombs weighed heavy. Throughout it all, the Civil Defence Services, stretched to the limit, worked valiantly. They were assisted by brave and alert householders who had buckets of sand and water at the ready. These AFS personnel (Austin Whitehead possibly amongst them), soldiers, police and ARP Wardens checked on sheltering householders, went into homes to extinguish fires left in grates, smothered incendiary bombs with sand, operated stirrup pumps to douse flames, entered burning buildings to ensure no-one was inside, retrieved valuables and carried furniture from homes impossible to save. Delayed action fuse bombs and unexploded devices posed further threats to the rescuers. Yet they carried on regardless in the face of unimaginable danger.

Numerous incidents were reported across Batley. Joe Shepley, a fruiterer and ARP Warden, and David Woodcock were injured by flying splinters. One housewife caught an incendiary bomb in a bucket of water as it ripped through her ceiling – fortunately little damage was done. The home of Albert Stevenson and his bride of three weeks, Edith (née Thewlis), had a similarly lucky escape when soldiers quickly extinguished an incendiary bomb which landed in their bedroom. Private Rutter risked his life by entering a blazing building in which he thought someone was trapped. Luckily no-one was inside, but the soldier had the presence of mind to bring out furniture. Soldiers saved a laundry from flames, as well as the Well Lane mineral water works, despite knowing there was an unexploded bomb near the latter.

In the same area of Well Lane, Superintendent Horace Horne, an ambulance driver, had been instructing a class of ambulance cadets when the first bombs fell. They assisted in the operations to save the St John Ambulance headquarters and a storage building opposite, removing to safety the ambulances and most of the first aid stores.

Others reported the AFS and ARP personnel ‘carrying an adult invalid from a dilapidated house’ and ‘searching beneath a mass of overhanging slates and splintered rafters for someone who might be trapped in debris[4].

A cinema was hit, but again escaped relatively unscathed. Bombs landed in fields – I wonder if this was the one which my dad remembers landing in Carter’s field? My uncle can also remember a massive depression at the bottom of Healey Lane which he believed was a result of bomb damage. Was it from this raid?

And the major blast which shook the cellar in which Geoffrey Whitehead sheltered, was the result of a huge bomb which landed in fields near what is now Manor Way. He visited the crater site the following day and recalls the hole being so huge you could fit a double decker bus in it. He also remembers collecting shrapnel from it, now long since lost [5].

The Purlwell area of Batley was particularly badly affected. St Andrew’s church was the first in the Wakefield Diocese to be damaged by air raids. In the immediate aftermath repair costs were put at £1,000. The £400 East Window was pitted with splinters. One wall was so unsafe, with the organ visible through a gaping crack in the masonry, that rebuilding was thought necessary. The only door not blown out was the stout, oak entrance door.

St Andrew’s Church, Purlwell, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Houses round and about the church suffered significant bomb and blast damage. It was in this locality that Batley’s first air-raid fatality lost his life. Private Herbert Courtney Channon of the Royal Army Service Corps was in Purlwell Hall Road when he was struck in the neck by shrapnel and killed instantly. Some say he was decapitated. His friends, standing either side of him, had lucky escapes being flung to the ground by the blast. Private Channon’s body was returned to his family for burial in Chard, Somerset later that month [6].

Even with the departure of the German raiders in the early hours of the 13 December, the danger did not pass. As the all-clear rang out at around 1am, amidst air thick with smoke and fumes, the rubble of smouldering buildings, the danger of unstable masonry and the risk posed by unexploded and delayed action bombs, the civil defence volunteers and demolition squads continued to work. The presence of ‘live’ devices meant the temporary evacuation of many houses, swelling the ranks of those bombed out of their homes.

Around 400 Batley residents slept that night in a school refuge centre. They were given meals in two Sunday schools. Most of the displaced were thankfully able to return to their homes by the following nightfall. One Batley man whose house suffered bomb appreciatively stated:

Kindly folk spontaneously brought food for us, invited us to their houses for meals. Tradesman offered us anything we needed, and young ladies served hot tea to us during the salvage. [7]

According to the official statistics compiled from Intelligence Reports into enemy activity on British domestic soil, that night Batley suffered five casualties comprising one killed and four injured. In fact two people in the town died as a result of the German raid. In addition to soldier Herbert Courtney Channon, local mill hand Percy Ingham also lost his life.

Percy was born in Birstall on 24 April 1894, the son of Harry and Sarah Ann Ingham. He married Annie Phillips on 7 February 1920 at St Mary of the Angels RC Church in Batley.

St Mary of the Angels, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

On the night of the raid, Percy sustained injuries at his home at 61 Purlwell Hall Road, the same street where Private Channon was cut down. Percy was taken to Staincliffe hospital where, despite all efforts, he died on 16 December 1940. Part of the old hospital buildings (previously Dewsbury Union Workhouse and the workhouse infirmary, as well as a military hospital in the First World War) exist today.

Staincliffe Hospital, now known as Dewsbury District Hospital and part of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – Photo by Jane Roberts

Percy’s funeral, conducted by Catholic priest John J Burns, took place on 20 December 1940. He is interred in Batley cemetery and his resting place is marked with a headstone. He is also commemorated in the roll of Wold War Two civilian dead held at Westminster Abbey, and on the Commonwealth War Grave’s Commission (CWGC) database.

Batley Cemetery, Headstone of Percy Ingham – Photo by Jane Roberts

Neighbouring Dewsbury also suffered in the 12 December raid, with five people losing their lives.

Brenda Hartley, her mother Hilda and neighbour Nellie Naylor, abandoned their Christmas cake baking at 13 North View, Savile Town. Initially they went into their cellar, but as Nellie’s husband, Harry, was due home they made a hair-raising dash to the cellar in the Naylor house next door but one. It was a decision which saved their lives. Harry arrived 15 minutes later. Shortly afterwards a bomb landed on the house they had vacated only a short time ago.

Initially unconscious, the group soon came round to find they were now buried alive. Their terrifying ordeal lasted several hours. Brenda’s mother sustained severe injuries, unable to move under the debris. There was a fear at one point that Hilda would drown, when water used to put out the fires above seeped steadily into the cellar. Harry, thankfully, managed to alert the firemen before it was too late. Rescuers eventually managed to dig a hole the size of an oven door into the cellar, through which a plank was inserted. Then, one by one, those entombed were pulled out to safety. However, the family at 14 North View were not so lucky as Brenda’s father, Dennis, soon learned.

Dennis cycled home immediately after hearing about the Savile Town bombing. He had been working the night shift at Newsome’s mill in Batley Carr. He did not know if his wife and daughter had survived. When he finally got through the cordon protecting devastated North View from the general public, he had a heart-stopping moment when:

…the A.R.P. Men told him they had just found two bodies. They had walked over them thinking they were pillows, but they turned out to be Mrs Scott and her daughter Enid who lived next door to us. Mr Scott was working at his shop, he was a cobbler in Thornhill Lees… [8]

Mary Ann Scott (née Platts) was originally from Carlinghow, Batley. Born in 1879 [9], her 61st birthday was only days away. She married boot and shoe repairer Harry Scott at Carlinghow St John’s on 16 April 1906 [10]. Before her marriage she worked as a weaver at Carlinghow mills (at that stage owned by Brooke Wilford & Co.,) and was a prominent member of the Carlinghow church, teaching in its Sunday school. After her marriage the family settled at 14 North View, and this was their home when Enid, their only child, was born on 7 August 1908. Enid attended Savile Town St Mary’s School, and Wheelwright Girls’ Grammar School. Her working life was spent in office and company secretary roles in Ossett. She also was a volunteer at the Dewsbury ARP Report Centre.

Harry was working at his boot repairing business at Brewery Lane, Thornhill Lees, when the attack occurred. That saved his life. On Tuesday 17 December, after a double funeral service at Carlinghow St John’s, it was Harry’s sad duty to walk behind the coffins of his wife and daughter as they were carried to Batley cemetery for interment. No headstone marks their final resting place. But, like Percy Ingham, their names live on in the Westminster Abbey roll of honour and on the CWGC database.

That day marked three more burials – this time all in Dewsbury cemetery. All three men were members of the Dewsbury Home Guard and were employed in Messrs. Crawshaw and Warburton’s Shaw Cross Colliery. The men were in the colliery offices at the former Ridings colliery on Wakefield Road [11], which was wrecked by a parachute mine. A row of terrace houses on Wakefield Road (Sunny Bank, numbers 72 to 82) were also destroyed in the attack. Fortunately the residents there had taken to the communal shelter and all survived. But the Home Guard men were not so fortunate.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map: Yorkshire CCXLVII.NE; Revised 1938; Published 1948. Shows Dewsbury and location of bombed Crawshaw and Warburton Colliery Offices and North View, Savile Town

Section Leader Sidney Burridge, of 351 Victoria Terrace, Leeds Road, Dewsbury, was a 46-year-old married man. Employed as a colliery deputy at Shaw Cross colliery, it was the same type of job undertaken by his father. Born on 5 July 1894, the son of James Hartley Burridge and wife Jane Elizabeth, he was baptised at St Philip’s church, Dewsbury [12]. It started his lifelong association with the church. It was here, on 8 September 1914, that he married Sophia Squires [13]. And it was the vicar at St Philip’s who conducted his funeral service, with a Union Jack-draped coffin and a Home Guard escort signifying his Local Defence Volunteer role. Outside work, Sidney was a member of Eastborough Working Men’s Club and Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club, both associations represented at his funeral. He left a widow and two children.

The Headstone of Sidney Burridge, Dewsbury Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Section Commander Ernest Lodge was another of the Home Guard fatalities. He sold house coals and briquettes for Messrs. Crawshaw and Warbuton. Born on 15 November 1893, he was the son of weaver Harry Lodge of Lepton and his wife Elizabeth [14]. Ernest’s mother died around three years later, and on 29 September 1900 Harry re-married at Dewsbury, St Mark’s [15]. His new wife was Sarah Elizabeth Oddy.

Ernest married widow Alice Wilson (formerly Chatwood) at Moorlands Wesleyan Chapel, Dewsbury on 20 July 1929 [16]. The couple both sang with their choir and, at the time of Ernest’s death, lived at 12, Thirlmere Road, Dewsbury.

He too was accorded a funeral with the honour of a Union Jack-covered coffin. Members of the Home Guard lined the path to his grave, which Dewsbury cemetery staff had bordered with evergreen.

The Headstone of Ernest Lodge, Dewsbury Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Section Commander Wilfred King was the third Home Guard casualty that night. Born on 31 May 1905 at Commonside, Hanging Heaton, he was the son of George and Martha Ann King. A coal hewer at the Shaw Cross pit, he lived with his parents at 457, Leeds Road, Dewsbury.

In a particularly cruel twist of fate, his 28-year-old bride-to-be Mary Glover, of Thornton Street, instead of preparing for her wedding scheduled for later that week, now found herself attending her fiancé’s funeral. She addressed her floral tribute ‘from his broken-hearted and sorrowing sweetheart’. Wilfred’s funeral service was held at the Boothroyd Lane Providence Independent, prior to interment at Dewsbury Cemetery.

The Headstone of Wilfred King, Dewsbury Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

But that did not mark the extent of local deaths in the bombing raid of the night of 12/13 December 1940. As I mentioned at the outset, the main focus of the bombing that night was the city of Sheffield with its vital steel and iron works. Arthur Brewer, a long-time resident of Ravensthorpe, was in Sheffield that night.

Arthur was born in Birstall on 30 July 1907. The son of Earl and Mary Brewer, he was baptised at the Mount Zion Chapel at White Lee on 1 September 1907 [17]. Some time after 1911 the family moved to Ravensthorpe, and after leaving school Arthur began a career as a musician, specialising in the drums.

He played regularly at the Town Hall in Mirfield and Dewsbury’s Majestic cinema. He then joined the renowned Paul Zaharoff in London, famed for his international band. Subsequently Arthur went on tour playing in numerous city hotels, including a 16-week stint in Jersey.

In 1935 Arthur married Mary Goddard. For the 18 months prior to his death Arthur was based in Sheffield playing with a band in hotels across the city. In down-times he supplemented his income with lorry driving. Initially Mary stayed with him: she is registered there in the 1939 register. But later she moved to the comparative safety of Dewsbury, and was living with her in-laws at Thornhill Street, in Savile Town. Also with her was her and Arthur’s two children, the youngest only three month’s old at the time of raid. Perhaps it was the birth of the baby which prompted the move.

It is a cruel irony that both Savile Town and Sheffield were simultaneously under a Luftwaffe siege: The security of both Mary and Arthur was at stake that December night.

At about 11.20pm Arthur was in the Marples Hotel in Sheffield with fellow-band member Donovan Russell. The seven-storey Marples Hotel and pub on Fitzalan Square had operated under several names since the 1870’s, initially starting out as the Wine and Spirit Commercial Hotel, and latterly the London Mart. But it was still known as The Marples. And it’s name was to be forever etched in history for the events of that night.

At 11.44pm, as over 70 people sheltered in its cellar, it took a direct hit from a 500lb German bomb. Arthur was believed to be amongst those sheltering. Donovan Russell had a lucky escape – he left Arthur there just 20 minutes before the bomb struck. The entire building collapsed.

It was not until 10am the following day that rescue attempts began, initial assessments being survival was impossible. Amazingly seven people were rescued. But that was all. It is estimated around seventy people died in the building, the biggest single loss of life during the Sheffield Blitz. Arthur was amongst that number. If there was any consolation, death was believed to be instantaneous.

Over the following weeks the site was cleared. 64 bodies were eventually recovered, and partial remains of a further six or seven people. Only 14 were visually identified. Personnal belongings were used in the process of formal identification for most of the others.

As of mid-January the only item belonging to Arthur which Mary recovered were the lenses of his glasses. When probate was granted on 12 March 1942, the entry confirmed identification of his body at the hotel. The entry read:

BREWER Arthur of 34 Thornhill-street Savile Town Dewsbury Yorkshire who is believed to have been killed through war operations on 12 December 1940 and whose dead body was found at Marples Hotel Fitzalan-square Sheffield Administration Wakefield 12 March to March Brewer widow.
Effects £161 5s [18]

I’ve planned this local history tale for some time. I wanted to publish it to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Unfortunately, because of the current battle the world faces against the invisible coronavirus enemy, my research was prematurely curtailed. However, I wanted to go ahead with publication as a tribute to our ancestors of 80 years ago. Once some kind of research normality resumes I hope to update this post.

Finally, the Bombing Britain website, which draws together intelligence reports of enemy action on British domestic soil, records only this one direct air raid on Dewsbury. Batley had two recorded air raids. The evening of 12 December into the early hours of 13 December, and one on the night of 15/16 December 1940. This latter raid had no recorded casualties. If anyone does have any memories of these events, or life on the Home Front in Batley and Dewsbury generally, please do contact me.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
It appears the Bombing Britain site covering enemy action over British soil may under-report the bombs which landed over the Batley and Dewsbury area. West Yorkshire Archives produced an ARP Bomb Map for the night of 14/15 March 1941. It can be found at here and includes an unexploded bomb almost opposite what is now Healey Community Centre.

Notes:
[1] WW2 People’s War archive of wartime memories, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar, Brenda Hartley, now Haley, Reference A2843750;
[2] Vera May – Batley History Group Facebook Page, Jane Roberts post 19 April 2020;
[3] Geoffrey Whitehead, retired Batley Boy’s High School deputy headmaster, in conversation with Jane Roberts dated 27 April 2020;
[4] Batley News, 21 December 1940;
[5] Geoffrey Whitehead, Ibid;
[6] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 27 December 1940;
[7] Batley News, 21 December 1940;
[8] WW2 People’s War archive of wartime memories, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar, Brenda Hartley, now Haley, Reference A2843750;
[9] Birstall St Peter’s baptism register, born on 23 December 1879 and baptised on 25 January 1880, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire Church of England births and baptisms 1813-1910, original record at West Yorkshire Archive Services, Reference WDP5/1/2/9;
[10] Carlinghow St John’s marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, original record at West Yorkshire Archive Services, Reference WDP132/1/2/2;
[11] England & Wales National Probate Calendar, Sidney Burridge, Probate Date 27 November 1941 gives the place of death. Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
[12] St Philip’s, Dewsbury, baptism register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire Church of England births and baptisms 1813-1910, original record at West Yorkshire Archive Services, Reference WDP9/439;
[13] St Philip’s, Dewsbury, marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, original record at West Yorkshire Archive Services, Reference WDP9/443;
[14] Baptism of Earnest [sic] Lodge, Huddersfield Northumberland Street Methodist Circuit, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, original record at West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference KC295/3;
[15] St Mark’s, Dewsbury, marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935, original record at West Yorkshire Archive Services, Reference WDP228/1/2/2;
[16] Marriage register of Moorlands Wesleyan Chapel, Boothroyd Lane, Dewsbury, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, original record at West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference C111/207;
[17] Mount Zion, White Lee, Baptism register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985, original record at West Yorkshire Archives Service, Reference C10/15/1/1/1;
[18] England & Wales National Probate Calendar, Arthur Brewer, Probate Date 12 March 1942; Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk

Sources:
1939 Register, accessed via Findmypast and Ancestry.co.uk;
Batley Cemetery Burial Records;
• Batley News, 14 and 21 December 1940 and 18 January 1941
;
• BBC WW2 People’s War
, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar ;
• Bombing Britain website, TNA file series HO203, intelligence reports of enemy action on British domestic soil http://www.warstateandsociety.com/Bombing-Britain ;
• Chariots of Wrath, Sam Whitworth, published 2016
;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, https://www.cwgc.org/
;
• England and Wales Censuses 1881-1911 (various);
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 27 December 1940;
Farnham Maltings website, The Marples Tragedy (Sheffield Blitzm 1940), https://farnhammaltings.com/newsmarples-tragedy/ ;
Hanging Heaton Golf Club website, https://www.hhgc.org/about-hhgc/
National Probate Calendar, Herbert Courtney Channon, Sidney Burridge, Arthur Brewer, Enid Scott, Ernest Lodge;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
Parish Registers – various;
Sheffield History website, The Marples, https://www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk/forums/topic/98-the-marples/ ;
• The Chris Hobbs website, Marples Hotel, https://www.chrishobbs.com/marples1940.htm ;
• The History of Batley 1800 – 1974, Malcolm H Haigh, published 1985;
Sheffield Libraries blogspot, Sheffield Blitz: lost eyewitness account from Marples Hotel survivor comes to light in archives, http://shefflibraries.blogspot.com/2017/07/sheffield-blitz-lost-eyewitness-account.html ;
Western Times, 27 December 1940;
WW2 People’s War archive of wartime memories, bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar, Brenda Hartley, now Haley, Reference A2843750; Edward Lomax (Dewsbury), Reference A2875782; Ronald Tolson Schofield (Dewsbury), Reference A2843886; and Derrick Sharp (Batley), Reference A2339291;

UPDATE:
This has generated many memories and comments. There are the fantastic ones which have been posted in the WordPress comments section for this post below.
In addition there have been lots posted elsewhere on social media and I have gathered them together here.
• Brian Howgate on Facebook page Batley Photos Old and New wrote: My grandparents lived exactly opposite St Andrews Church in purlwell Hall Road. There house got serverly damaged when the bomb dropped on the church.
• On the same site Lesley Dyer wrote: My grandfather not only worked during the day but was also did his bit as a warden who had to go out and watch out for any incendries dropping which started fires and had to put them out before the German bomber’s came over, it went on for weeks, until one night another warden had told my grandfather that St. Andrews had been hit taking its roof, as a man stood in a shop doorway and the blast/shock wave blew him back into the shop, luckily he survived, the church roof & windows had gone altogether, along with homes in the area had also been damaged too.
• Also on that page Kevin Mcguire wrote: Our next door neighbour had a[n] Anderson shelter which he kept all his gardening gear they did not look that safe to me as a kid there were air aid shelters every where great for exploring and playing Japs and commanders with wooden guns.
• Again on the Batley Photos site Joan Chappell recalled: As a child I went to St. Andrews church. We were told that the reason it had chairs and not pews like most other churches was because it was bombed during the war.
• Also on Batley Photos Jack Dane wrote: ….when we lived on Purwell Crescent I have always had this memory of my mother leaving me outside our gate crying because it was pitch black she ran back into the house to fetch something she had forgotten when we were on our way to our neighbours air raid shelter, the date of the bombing puts me at 3 year old which seems about right if it was that particular night.
On the Shoddy Matters Facebook Page Christine Lawton wrote: My husband is named after Wilfred king he was a friend of there family.
• On the same page Ian Sewell said: I remember the bunkers up Caulms Wood with the huge stones.
• Also on Shoddy Matters David Wilby wrote: ….growing up [I] remember seeing where the bomb had dropped, up by the farm on Staincliffe hall road, near the top of Deighton Lane.
• And in another Shoddy Matters post Chrissie Chapman wrote: I have lived up Carters fields all my life and was told that the house I own had the gable wall blown down due to a bomb from the war. The wall was rebuilt and I now think, after reading this, it must have been from the bombs that fell on Carters Field . We often played, as children, in the air raid shelter that was on waste land next to the Parochial Hall.
• Linked to Chrissie’s post, on Dewsbury Pictures Old and New Facebook page David Riley said: My aunt Dorie’s gable end was blown up by the bomb in Carters Field had to move into my mum and dads in Northbank Rd near Mullins farm. David also said they lived in the last block of four [houses] facing Healey, Northbank fields by the top of the football pitch. Looking at the 1939 Register, the address for Doris Boden was 173 North Bank Road, Batley.
• Also on the Dewsbury page John Riley wrote: My auntie who lived down Robin Lane, used to find large lumps of shrapnel in the garden which she said came off the exploding AA shells fired from Caulms Wood.
• On Twitter Ghulam Nabi wrote: I attended Birkdale High School in 1974 and top half which was formerly the Girls Grammar school had air raid shelters all around the grounds.. Some of the lads found them and used to skip lessons by hiding in there. As an aside, the Girls Grammar School was Wheelwright, the former school of one of the air raid victims, Enid Scott.

A Rifleman’s Crime of Passion

Murder! Murder! He’s murdering our Hannah in the house!’ The terrified screams of an old lady tore through the night silence of Batley’s Hume Street and New Street area. It was around 11pm on Saturday 19 August 1865.

Joseph Pease, a labourer living near to the Brook household, heard the cries for help, and rushed into the two-roomed cottage, home of 60-year-old widow Sarah Brook (also known as Sally). A horrific tableau met his eyes. The compact downstairs area, comprising a kitchen with stone stairs leading to the upper chamber, a fireplace directly facing the entrance door and to the right a cupboard bed, was blood splattered, from floor to furniture and walls. A young boy, the grandson of the old lady, cowered screaming on the far side of the bed, trying to evade danger. Plunging a bayonet repeatedly into his neck stood a youth, dressed in Rifle Corps uniform. Facing the youth, at the far side of the kitchen, was 18-year-old Hannah Brook, daughter of Sarah. Dressed in a black frock, blood was pouring from her neck and mouth. Another witness described how blood was ‘sponging from a hole in her side.’ [1]

Pease rushed at the man, 19-year-old Eli Sykes, and seized him, though he was stabbed in the thigh and slightly injured in the struggle. William Fawcett, a cabinet maker, who had been visiting his father-in-law in Hume Street, followed up and managed to wrench the bayonet, dripping with blood from assailant and victims, from Sykes. He removed it from the scene for safety.

Others swiftly appeared, alerted by the commotion. Someone carried Sarah Brook, her white nightdress now blood-soaked, to the bed where she died. Others gave Hannah water. She attempted to speak, but could not. Within minutes she too was dead. Both women had received multiple stab wounds (Sarah nine and Hannah seven), including fatal punctures to their hearts.

Meanwhile, the police arrived at the house, now surrounded by hundreds of people despite it being nearly midnight. Sykes was restrained in a chair. His rifle was on a table, the stock broken in two. Police Sergeant English, of the West Riding Constabulary, charged the silent Sykes with murder. At this point he finally opened his eyes and looked towards the bed where the two women lay.

Dr William Bayldon, amongst those officials summoned to the house, examined Sykes’ wounds and found them not to be serious. He declared hind sufficiently fit to be transferred to the Dewsbury lock-up. Here Dr W.H. Thornton re-examined the prisoner and agreed that, although the wounds were deep, they were not fatal.

On Tuesday 22 August 1865 the double funeral of Sarah and Hannah Brook took place at Batley Parish Church. People arrived at Batley railway station by the trainload. Many viewed the corpses, laid out in the very room where they met their brutal fate less than three days before. The faces of the deceased were bare, heads covered by skull-caps, countenances placid and at peace.

People from across the West Riding, including Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax and Heckmondwike, lined the funeral route. Estimates put the numbers of spectators in the region of at least 20,000. The church was packed with people in their working clothes. Amongst those paying their final respects was a young man from Wakefield – James Henry Ashton.

Female acquaintances carried the coffins of the women to their burial place: older women carried the coffin of Sarah, whilst young mill girls carried Hannah’s. They were interred in a grave around 20 yards away from the church yard entrance gates, on the south east side of the church.

Batley Parish Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

The murders horrified not only those living in the growing, industrial mill town of Batley, but sent shockwaves across the country. The recurring question was why? What had caused a seemingly law-abiding young man to commit such a brutal crime?

Initial details began to appear through official channels in days after the murder. Two inquest hearings took place before the Coroner at the White Hart Hotel in Batley, a local pub which is now a residential property. A wilful murder verdict resulted .

© Copyright Betty Longbottom and licensed for reuse under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Eli also appeared before the local magistrates. In his initial appearance, a seated Eli looked weak with a scarf round his neck, but with scarcely any evidence of his self-inflicted throat wounds. The main hearing took place at Dewsbury court house.

As a result of this magistrates hearing, Eli was committed to trial at the next Leeds Assizes on a murder charge. Here, at Leeds Town Hall on 19 December 1865, the full case was heard. It provided even more information and drama to an eager audience.

Hannah Brook was born in Batley in 1847, the daughter of weaver Mark Brook and his wife Sarah (née Darnbrook). Sarah was previously married to Robert Fearnley, who died in 1837, so Hannah had a number of half-siblings. By 1861 the family had moved from the Havercroft area of Batley to Hume Street, and in July 1864 Mark died. Thereafter Sarah lived upon the income derived from a small property near Batley [2]. Hannah, described as a cheerful girl, worked as a mill hand [3] at Alexandra Mill in Batley.

Eli Sykes was a cloth-finisher. Born in Ossett in 1846 he was the son of cordwainer John Sykes and his wife Sarah Ellis. The family moved to Dewsbury in around 1850/51, and by 1865 they lived at Batley Carr, almost opposite Holy Trinity Church. Although described as holding a humble position in society, they were a very respectable family.

After the events that fateful August night, a few isolated newspapers described Eli as a shady young man, with a wild, roving disposition who had caused much trouble for his parents since leaving Sunday School. But these are outliers. The overwhelming number of accounts testify to his good character. They paint a picture of a well-behaved, quiet, industrious young man. One work colleague, William Bentley Walton described him as straightforward and peaceable. He had worked with Sykes for three years and never had a quarrel with him. Robert Jones, a neighbour of the Brooks family, said he always appeared a quiet, well-conducted lad and his manner towards Hannah was invariably kind and affectionate. Hannah Hirst, a friend of Hannah Brook who had known Eli for three years, said they ‘always appeared to be very affectionate when together. He was very kind to Hannah…’ and she ‘…never heard any quarrel between them.’ [4]

For about two years prior to that August night, like many other young men Eli spent his free time with the local military unit. It was a social activity, away from the confines of home and work. In Eli’s case he was a Private in the No3 (Batley Carr) Company of the 29th (Dewsbury) West York Volunteer Corps. His fellow members there vouched for his steady nature, general civility and good behaviour.

Eli and Hannah met on 10 March 1863 during celebrations which took place countrywide marking the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert Edward of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Their friendship developed to full-blown courtship, with Eli a frequent visitor to the Brook house. Despite a short break up in the early days of their relationship which they quickly patched up, the general assumption by all was the logical next step for the pair was marriage. They seemed well-suited. Eli had a reliable mill job to provide for a wife and, eventually, family. And by all accounts he was a steady young man. But they were young, possibly too young to commit for life. And emotions could quickly change.

And this proved the case for Hannah. For some reason in July 1865 her feelings towards Eli cooled. The indication was she had met someone else – a man from Wakefield named James Henry Ashton: the man mentioned amongst the mourners at her funeral the following month. Their meetings included a picnic at Howley Hall, where she was seen dancing with him. But whether he was the cause of the change in Hannah is unclear. Some sources suggest she took up with James whilst still seeing Eli. Others claim the relationship with Eli was already over by the time she became involved with James.

1881 Illustration of Howley Hall Ruins – published in 1881 (out of copyright)

Despite Hannah repeatedly telling Eli that their relationship was over, he would not accept it. As far as he was concerned she was the love of his life. He doggedly followed her trying to persuade her to change her mind, often turning up unannounced at her Hume Street home. Friends advised Eli to let it drop. One who cautioned thus was power loom weaver George Fearnley, who happened to be Hannah’s brother. Eli told George how grieved he was at Hannah’s refusal to see him, and he did not know what to do. George told Eli he was being a foolish lad, and that there were plenty other girls.

Hannah Hirst was another one who witnessed Eli’s continued pursuit of his former sweetheart. On 13 July Miss Brook took tea at Miss Hirst’s Batley Carr home, an occurrence noticed by Eli. Later that night, after Hannah Brook returned home, Eli called at the Hirst home. He told Miss Hirst that Hannah’s new love would be coming over the following week. Then, striking his hat violently against a chair, he declared ‘If I don’t have her, no one else shall.’ Hannah Hirst stated ‘Eli, I think you are going out of your mind.’ His ominous response was ‘You’ll see.

The day of the murder coincided with a large agricultural and flower show in neighbouring Drighlington. Three companies of the West Yorks Volunteer Corps, amongst them Eli, caught the train to Drighlington to join up with the Birstall contingent for drill. At 8pm they marched back to the railway station were they were served either a half pint of ale, or ginger beer, prior to catching the 9.30pm train back to Batley. Despite three carriages being reserved for the men, not all could entrain due to the vast numbers returning from the show. Eli, though, did have a place and, with about 90 comrades, arrived in Batley at 9.40pm. Some lingered at the station chatting, or waiting for the 10pm train to Dewsbury. Others set off to walk home, including Eli. When he and a friend reached Hick Lane, Eli suggested detouring into Batley. Due to the late hour the friend declined, leaving Eli to carry on alone.

William Bentley Walton was in The Commercial Inn at around 10.30pm, when he saw Eli dressed in his volunteer uniform, rifle in hand and bayonet sheathed at his side. Friends and workmates, Eli told him he was going to Hannah’s. William advised him against it, knowing from earlier conversations with Eli that she had told him to stay away. It was advice Eli chose to ignore. Perhaps it did not help that William told Eli he had seen Hannah go by about 15 minutes earlier. Instead of passing through Batley Eli made the fateful decision to turn off for the Brook’s cottage. All accounts agreed Eli was sober, so drink did not influence what happened next.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map: Yorkshire 232. Surveyed 1847 to 1851; Published 1854 – Shows Batley with some key locations marked up

Robert Jones, who lived next door but one to Sarah and Hannah, made his way to nearby New Street between 11-12pm. He noticed Eli and Hannah talking outside her Hume Street home. Robert politely asked the couple if they had been to the show. Both said no. He left them still talking, no indication of anything more serious going on. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated in the short time it took for Robert to quickly visit New Street and return to his Hume Street home.

Despite the seeming civility of the conversation witnessed by Robert, Eli’s visit was once more an unwelcome one. By now he was inside the house, again asking Hannah to go back out with him. Once more Hannah said no. Hannah’s mother became involved telling Eli to go away, they did not want him there. Meanwhile, according to Eli’s testimony, a now seated Hannah began singing a popular ballad ‘The Gay Cavalier’ about a man disappointed by the lady he loved. It contained the lyrics ‘She may go to Hong Kong for me’, with Hannah replacing the ‘She’ for ‘You’. Driven to a fury by the perceived taunts and rejection by his former love, he raised his rifle and struck Hannah across her head with the butt, a blow so hard it cracked the stock. The force knocked Hannah out of the chair. Eli then drew out his bayonet, and the stabbing frenzy on both Hannah and her mother commenced. And it was at this point Sarah raised the alarm call, drawing first Joseph Pease and William Fawcett, followed by a host of other neighbours and the police.

Once in custody, according to police statements, Eli reportedly said ‘I feel easier in my mind, and better satisfied now than before I did it.’ He also allegedly said ‘Although I murdered her I loved her – I have told her many a time I’d have my revenge, and I’ve got it now.[5] The police also reported his apparent indifference whilst in custody, Eli laughing and whistling as if nothing had happened. It was as if he failed to recognise the magnitude of his crime. His only display of real emotion appeared to be when his family visited him.

The trial at the Leeds Assizes on 19 December 1865 would bring home the enormity soon enough. Prior to the trial, on 8 December, he was transferred to the imposing Victorian edifice of Armley Gaol. Opened under 20 years earlier as Leeds Borough Gaol, it had only recently taken over from York Castle as the place where West Riding executions were carried out. The first two had taken place as recently as September 1864.

Leeds Town Hall – Published in 1862, out of copyright

From early morning of the trial at the court in Leeds Town Hall, the corridors teamed with people. Many came from the Batley and Dewsbury area, a high proportion of them gaily-dressed women, their frocks incongruous to a court setting. Perhaps the fact this magnificent building had been opened only in 1858 by Queen Victoria, as much as the trial, enticed the good folk of Batley and Dewsbury. It was a day out.

Those lucky enough to gain entry to the crowded courtroom listened intently to the parade of witnesses. Eli’s defence argued that jealousy drove him to commit the crime. In the heat of the moment he lost all sense of reason. His temporary insanity meant it was manslaughter not murder. Justice Shee, in his summing up, would have none of this. Within 30 minutes the jury announced its guilty verdict.

In a show of emotion which reduced many in the courtroom to tears, Eli made his impassioned address. Sobbing, tears almost blinding him and choking his every word, he stated:

My Lord, and gentlemen of the jury, – I never had it in my mind to do it before it was done. If these were my dying words, I could say in the presence of God that I never meant to kill Hannah. I never struck her with the rifle. God only knows what happened in that house that night. He only knows what she said to me – how she began singing, and said words that I never thought could have come out of a woman’s mouth. And yet I loved her; in my heart I loved her as never woman was loved before, if my doom is death, I hope I shall meet her in heaven. But I don’t think I shall be hanged; the Queen will be merciful to me. I never thought it would come to this. Many a time have I gone with her to Wakefield, but little did I think she was deceiving me and went to meet another sweetheart. If she had not jeered at me, I would not have hurt her for my life. I hope I shall meet her in heaven, and I can only pray that if my doom is to be death that God will take my sufferings from me. I hope that my prayers shall be answered, and that we shall meet in that glorious land where we shall never be parted. She has gone to that land, and I will die to get to her….. [6]

Although the statement deeply affected the Judge, it did not change the sentence. Eli was to be executed by hanging. With the Judge’s final words of ‘And may God, in his infinite mercy, have mercy on your soul’ ringing in his ears, Eli was removed to Armley Gaol to await his fate.

Eli’s trial address had a wider impact. Public opinion was divided as to the correctness of the sentence. Petitions sprang up requesting a commutation of it. George Armitage, one of the magistrates who committed Eli to trial at the Assizes, similarly expressed himself in favour of a reduced sentence. A piece in the Leeds Mercury on 21 December praised Eli’s character, spoke of his pure, honourable and ardent love for Hannah, pointedly saying little was known about her character. They also seemed to support Eli’s belief, expressed at the Assizes, that Hannah was deceiving him saying ‘we do not see that the correctness of his belief is called into question’. The conclusion they hinted at was Eli deserved a more lenient punishment than the death sentence. On the scale of murder, perhaps this was one which was not cold-blooded and calculated. It perhaps held some element of justification. How many times since has some apportionment of blame been attached to women victims of crime?

For Hannah and Sarah’s grieving family, this Leeds Mercury piece proved too much. George Fearnley felt compelled to write to the paper to set the record straight about the piece which ‘reflects in a most unjust and unwarrantable manner upon the conduct and character of my lamented sister…’. His letter, dated 28 December, featured in the Leeds Mercury on 30 December. In it he refuted allegations that Hannah deceived Eli by going with him to Wakefield to meet another lover. The only occasions they went to Wakefield together was to see friends there. In a lengthy missive he also asserted that Sykes:

…knew well … that before her feelings towards him had so far changed as to induce her to prefer another, my sister had insisted upon breaking off her connection with him and told him to stay away; and so far from her having encouraged his addresses after this time, she uniformly refused to see him, and did all she could to compel him to discontinue his visits…I presume, Gentlemen, that neither you nor any one else will deny that my sister had a perfect right, if she so wished it, to break off her connection with Sykes; and having done so, she had also a right to keep company with another if she chose, and that, too, without subjecting herself to annoyance, to threats, or to murder…I conclude by asking from the public a verdict that shall acquit her of all blame… [7]

Even as this letter was being read and digested by the public to which George appealed, the case had undergone a new, dramatic, and unexpected, twist.

Eli returned to Armley Gaol after his conviction and was placed under the day care of warder Charles Hampshire, a man with 17 years experience. Charles Jacups took over responsibility at night. The men were ordered to keep the prisoner under constant watch.

The Gaol had two cells for condemned prisoners. Initially Eli was placed in the cell on the ground floor, but subsequently was moved to the cell on the floor above due to concerns about the suicide risk posed by the other condemned man, Patrick Welsh. No such concerns were held for Eli, who spoke a good deal about religion and still appeared to entertain the hope that the Queen would commute his sentence to penal servitude. The prison chaplain, Rev Middleton, who visited Eli daily, also entertained no concerns about his state of mind.

On Saturday 23 December the chaplain visited Eli at 5.15pm and left at around 6pm. He failed to lock the door. Charles Hampshire also failed to check Eli was secure in his cell after the chaplain’s visit. Thomas Hampshire, brother of Charles, another experienced warder compounded the error. A trusted employee, he had worked at Armley Gaol since its opening, and prior to that he served five years at Wakefield prison. That evening it was his duty to call the roll and check the cell doors were double locked. He commenced the check at 5.45pm and finished at 6.20pm. Eli’s door appeared to be secure…but it was not. The mistake had huge consequences, including the suspension of Charles Hampshire and the dismissal of Thomas.

At about 6.40pm a large crash, like the firing of guns, echoed in the confines of the prison. Eli had escaped from his cell. Unhindered, he managed to get to the floor above, where he climbed on the balustrade and threw himself on to the flags around 20-25 feet below [8]. He landed on his feet, before falling over and banging his head, rendering himself unconscious for about half an hour. He did suffer convulsions in the initial aftermath, but his leg injuries were the main concern, in particular the compound fracture to his left ankle which haemorrhaged. William Nicholson Price, the prison surgeon, along with the Leeds Infirmary surgeon Mr Wheelhouse, stabilised him and he seemed to progress favourably. However, Eli did try to hinder his recovery throughout, attempting to remove his bandages and doing his utmost to prevent routine medical checks.

The opinion was Eli had attempted suicide to spare his mother, believing his hanging would be the death of her. But all in authority remained hopeful that hanging would be his just fate. In fact stringent attempts were made to ensure he remained alive for his appointed date with the hangman’s noose on 15 January 1866.

In the afternoon and evening of 3 January 1866 Eli suffered a couple of secondary haemorrhages. Both were staunched and, once again, although weakened he seemingly rallied. It proved a temporary recovery. On the evening of 6 January a further bleed occurred. Once again the flow was stemmed, and reduced to an ooze. Eli’s condition continued to deteriorate though, despite best efforts of those charged with his care. Conscious throughout this period, he died in his prison cell at about 9.20pm that night.

Old Gate Armley Gaol (edited Black & White) – Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License 3.0 (Share Alike)

The inquest took place on 9 January. That day a letter appeared in the Leeds Mercury. Dated 8 January 1866, it was from Eli’s father. With remarkable restraint, John Sykes wrote to highlight the lack of compassion shown to both himself and his wife. They arrived at Armley Gaol that morning to view their son’s body and say a final goodbye. The Governor refused permission without a magistrate’s order. John left his wife at the prison whilst he went into Leeds to obtain the necessary documentation. Yet even with signed authority the Governor would not allow John and Sarah entry to see their son one last time.

John Sykes was present at the inquest though. Here the jury reached a verdict of Felo de Se (suicide). Eli’s burial was ordered to take place at midnight in the precincts of Armley Gaol, without any religious ceremony.

The sensational events captured public imagination to such an extent that enterprising publishers sold fly-sheets containing lurid (and often inaccurate) details about the case. The events in Batley were even immortalised in verse. It seems only fitting to end this post with one such example.

Miss Hannah Brooks [sic] was a factory maiden,
By every one she was well liked;
And long poor Hannah had been courted,
By the young cloth-worker, Eli Sykes,
Hannah Brook forsook her lover
Which caused him the maid to kill,
And her aged tender mother
By his hands their blood was spilled.

In Yorkshire, such a dreadful murder
Before we’re sure was never seen;
Committed was by Eli Sykes –
A youth, whose age is but nineteen.
He lov’d the maiden to distraction –
From drill he went straightway;
Hannah harshly with her mother
Ordered Eli Sykes away.

As he stood in his regimentals,
So frantically he gazed around;
And with the butt-end of his rifle,
Quickly knocked his true-love down.
Her mother strove to save her daughter –
He did in frenzy swear an oath,
And plunged his bayonet in each body
Many times and killed them both.

He strove then to commit self-murder,
But was prevented as we see;
The factory maiden and her mother,
Who was aged sixty-three, [9]
There in death’s cold arms was sleeping,
Weltering in their crimson gore;
Friends and neighbours round them weeping,
For them they’d see in life no more.

Notes:
[1] Leeds Mercury – 22 August 1865;
[2] Yorkshire Gazette – 26 August 1865;
[3] Some reports indicate she was a power loom weaver;
[4] Leeds Mercury – 20 December 1865;
[5] Leeds Mercury – 22 August 1865;
[6] Yorkshire Gazette – 23 December 1865;
[7] Leeds Mercury – 30 December 1865;
[8] A letter from Prison Surgeon William Nicholson Price which featured in the Leeds Mercury of 26 December 1865 said the drop was around 25-26 feet;
[9] Other records put Sarah’s age as 60, and her baptism at Birstall St Peter’s on 20 January 1805 (Sarah Darnbrough) suggests this is likely to be her correct age.

Sources (in addition to those mentioned in the notes):

  • 1841-1861 Censuses, England and Wales;
  • Annals of Yorkshire, 1862 and 1866;
  • Barnsley Chronicle – 2 September 1865;
  • Bradford Observer – 4 January 1866;
  • GRO Birth and Death registrations;
  • Home Office Correspondence and Warrants, HO13/108/236, 23 December 1865, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office Correspondence and Warrants, HO13/108/245, 13 January 1866, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office Criminal Registers, HO27 Piece 142, 13 December 1865, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office and Prison Commission Prison Records, PCOM2/417/74, accessed via Findmypast
  • Illustrated Police News – 27 September 1934;
  • Leeds Mercury – 23 and 28 August 1865, 21 December 1865, 9 and 10 January 1866;
  • Leeds Times – 23 and 30 December 1865;
  • Old Yorkshire, 1881;
  • Parish registers – Batley, Birstall and St Paul’s Hanging Heaton, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • 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
  • Yorkshire Gazette – 28 August 1865

Newspapers accessed via The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast

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.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map: CCXXXII.SE. Surveyed: 1888 to 1892. Published: 1895 – National Library of Scotland – Adapted

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 [1].

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.

Batley Market Hall (my own collection) – origin unknown

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.

Batley Town Hall (my own collection) – origin unknown

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:
[1] There are various spellings of this surname, depending on report.
[2] Plot M223

The White Lee Wartime Disaster: Devastation across Heckmondwike, Batley and the Spen Valley

Just before 2pm on Wednesday 2 December 1914, a tremendous explosion occurred. It centred on the Hollinbank Lane area of Heckmondwike. The ferocity was so great it was felt 50 miles away. A yellow mist and smoke enveloped the area, and an awful stench permeated everywhere. It was the early months of the War and people feared a Zeppelin attack, or some form of enemy sabotage. Madame Personne, a refugee who had escaped war-torn Belgium, now living in the comparative safety of a White Lee cottage, fainted from shock.

Close to the epicentre of the blast, homes and workplaces suffered major damage: roofs and doors were blown off, crockery smashed, furniture was damaged, wooden partitions in buildings were torn down, gas street lamp lanterns broke and, within a three-mile radius, thousands of glass panes shattered. Many homes were rendered uninhabitable. The scene represented a war zone, more familiar in Belgium and France.

Arthur Barber described the damage to his home:

Our houses were wrecked, all the windows being out and the roofs broken through, and much damage done inside also….The kitchen door was blown straight off, and the pantry blown down, and the staircase was riven off the walls. The cellars are practically tumbling in. All the hen-pens were blown in pieces. And where all the hens are we don’t know it is impossible to sleep there, and we are staying with relatives.

Collections were raised to help those whose homes were destroyed. The thousands of sightseers who visited in the aftermath helped swell the coffers.

Whole swathes of Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, Healey and Batley were affected, with stories coming in from across the area. A tram car travelling between Batley and Heckmondwike temporarily lifted off its tracks. A man was thrown out of his sick-bed. Some workers at Messrs. J & F Popplewell’s rag works on Hollinbank Lane were forced to leap for safety from the top window of the mill, as the roof tumbled in. Scores of windows in Belle Vue Street, Healey were blown out. The pupils at Healey school were showered with glass as the windows shattered. As a result, several children were injured, with one boy, John William Stone, requiring treatment in Batley Hospital. The school was forced to close temporarily for repairs. Even Batley hospital did not escape damage, with an operating theatre window breaking during an operation.

Shoddy manufacturer Joseph Fox was particularly involved. Driving his car in the Healey area, it lifted off the ground with the strength of the blast. He witnessed the plate glass window of Healey Co-op stores fall out (known today as Healey Mini Market).

Healey Mini Market today, the former Healey Branch of the Batley Co-op
– Photo by Jane Roberts

Fox was one of those involved in ferrying the scores of injured for treatment. And, returning to his Hollinbank Terrace home, he discovered his house was one of those buildings to have taken the brunt of the explosion’s impact. His wife’s maid May Thompson was in Batley Hospital with an eye injury caused by flying glass. The house, one of three in a terrace built originally for the Heaton brothers, still stands – now on Dale Lane.

The Houses on Hollinbank Terrace (now Dale Road) which bore the brunt of the 1914 blast – Photo by Jane Roberts

But all this was overshadowed by the total devastation and carnage at the seat of the explosion, the Henry Ellison-operated White Lee chemical works. Situated on high ground off Hollinbank Lane, the firm moved in as tenants of the former Heaton family-owned chemical factory in 1900. Ellison’s were an established chemical manufacturer. They quickly obtained a Government licence to make picric acid, a major component of lyddite used for the manufacture of shells, in their newly acquired White Lee premises. They undertook this work for a couple of years until the end of the Boer War in 1902, when demand for the product slumped. They briefly re-opened the factory in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, selling the picric acid to brokers. After this, demand tailed off once more and the works closed until August 1914.

Extract of Six-inch OS Maps: CCXXXII.SW and SE, revised 1905, published 1908 – National Library of Scotland – Adapted

The outbreak of the First World War proved a game-changer, with the Government’s need for picric acid for shell manufacture rocketing again. It was now a race to get the works ready to resume full-scale production, with buildings tarred inside and out, wooden floors covered with linoleum, and separating brick walls and rudimentary sprinkler systems in place. In total, the works comprised of five buildings in which the wet processes of picric acid manufacture were carried out. Four other buildings were used for drying, sifting/grinding, packing and storing the chemical.

Picric acid was regarded as safe in its pure state, but if it came into other substances, such as metals, it could form sensitive picrates which were dangerous. For this reason, production licences were required. Regulations limited the quantity of picric acid in any one area, ensured it was not confined and precautions had to be taken to ensure no foreign bodies were introduced to the production process. In order to avoid any ignition risk, no matches could be taken into the most dangerous areas, such as the sifting and grinding shed – so pockets were checked and sewn up before entry. Additionally, protective rubber overshoes had to be worn in these areas to prevent possible contamination by stones and nails. Commonly worn hobnail boots could be a particular issue, as they could cause sparks and, theoretically, the nails could be loosened by acid present on site. These objects could then contaminate the acid production, and potentially enter the grinding machines. The overshoes placed outside the doors to these areas, in theory, minimised the risk.

With all these precautions in place fire, not explosion, was believed to be the most immediate danger. If the fire was quickly put out to prevent the acid overheating, an explosion would be avoided.

On 2 November 1914 production recommenced at Ellison’s White Lee Works. On 19 November a government inspection found everything in good order, with only a few minor points identified due to the long period of building disuse. These were quickly rectified.

Labour was in short supply due to men enlisting, but picric acid production was not regarded as a skilled job. The company recruited a good, young analytical chemist from Cleckheaton, 22-year-old Bradford Grammar School and Leeds University educated Fred Wright. He had previously worked at the Barugh Benzol Works near Barnsley and, more recently, at the Benzol Works at Low Moor. However he had no previous experience with picric acid. He started work at White Lee only two weeks before the explosion.

Ellison’s also brought in a well-regarded employee from the Low Moor Chemical Works to act as foreman. 37-year-old James Nicholas had considerable experience of picric acid manufacturing.

The rest of the workers were recently recruited unskilled labourers, some starting on the day of the explosion. Because of the shortage of labour, these men worked across a number of areas of the production process, as required.

On 2 December, when the explosion occurred, 11 employees were on site. There were also several workmen engaged in construction, as the facilities were being extended to cope with the demands of the war. Unfortunately, these men were also caught up in the tragedy.

The afternoon shift started and production work was proceeding as usual. Wright and Nicholas worked in the packing shed, whilst three men were employed in the sifting and grinding room. At just before 2pm a massive blast occurred, centred on the sifting and grinding areas.

Buildings crumbled, a huge flash of flame soared into the sky, followed by dense clouds of yellow smoke. All that remained of the sifting and grinding shed area was a deep hole where the structure once stood. Peripheral works buildings were severely damaged, with any walls still standing being dangerously cracked. Surrounding fields were littered with masonry, smashed timber, pieces of machinery and roofing. Body parts were found for days afterwards. Containers holding liquid acid split, the corrosive liquid tracking down the hillside, which all added to the horrific scene.

Aftermath of the White Lee Explosion – Copyright of Kirklees Image Archive who granted permission for use in this blog post. Website http://www.kirkleesimages.org.uk/

One eyewitness, Leeds man James William Bellhouse working with a colleague on the roof of Robert Bruce’s William Royd cotton mill, stated:

The explosion made a tremendous row and blew us off the building. I saw a mass of flame, and the sky seemed to be lit up by a blazing red. A lot of debris were flying all up and around….

Bellhouse and his workmate were unharmed.

Some others had equally lucky escapes. A couple of men employed in the grinding area had not returned to work there for the afternoon shift. They had struggled to cope with the dust, despite covering their noses and mouths, and frequently opening the door. They survived.

Former Batley rugby league player Jim Gath of Wilton Street, Batley was on site to undertake work on the boiler. Minutes before the blast he decided to leave the boiler house to do some outside work. He had just climbed scaffolding when the explosion occurred. Covered by debris, only by sheer strength did he extricate himself, injuring his arm in the process. He remembered walking, then crawling, then nothing until he awoke in Dewsbury hospital.

William Sykes of Healey Street, Batley was working in the boiler house, which was demolished. According to reports at the time, concussed and dyed yellow by the fumes, he escaped too. However, this was not the whole story, and it did not end happily. Subsequent reports indicated he also sustained injuries to his legs and eyes. His health deteriorated and he died in July 1915. Coincidentally, his daughter Lizzie, working in the nearby Robert Bruce-owned mill, suffered a compound fracture of her right arm.

The blast killed nine men outright. Another died in Dewsbury hospital later that day. The men were as follows.

Percy Ashton, born on 26 October 1892 was the son of Willie and Elizabeth Ashton (née Barker) of Tidswell Street, Heckmondwike. He was a joiner working on construction of the new buildings. A popular member of Dewsbury AFC, he was buried in Heckmondwike cemetery. 

Heckmondwike Cemetery, Percy Ashton’s Headstone – Photo by Jane Roberts

Arthur Cooper, was born in Leeds on 19 February 1863. He married Martha Ann Wheelhouse in Leeds in 1885. A boot finisher for most of his working life, by 1893 he and his family were living in Lobley Street, Heckmondwike. He now had employment in the boot department at Heckmondwike Co-op. Sometime after the 1911 census he switched work to become a mason’s labourer for his neighbours, the Firth brothers. Initially amongst the missing, his body was found under rubble two days after the blast.

Albert Laycock Firth was a 51-year-old living at Lobley Street in Heckmondwike. He and his brothers Nimrod and Ralph were the stone masons erecting the new drying building. Ralph nipped back to their own Work’s yard prior to the blast, and heard the explosion. He identified his brother. Albert left a widow Elizabeth (née Briggs) who he married in 1893. The couple had three children in the 1911 census – Aked, James Albert and George.

Nimrod Firth the brother of Albert was 34 years of age. He also lived at Lobley Street. The son of James Firth and his wife Sarah Laycock, Nimrod married Lucy Wright in April 1913. He was identified through keys in his pocket. His funeral, along with that of his brother, took place at Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel.

James Nicholas was the works foreman. The 37-year-old was born in Herefordshire, but the family eventually settled in Cleckheaton. The 1901 census shows him employed as a picric acid labourer, so by 1914 he’d had at least 13 years experience of working with the chemical. Later that year he married Edith Emma Strickland. The couple went on to have four children – Harold Cookson, Eric, Edith Gladys and Laura. His brother John formally identified him. He was buried in Cleckheaton.

Clifford Thornton, a joiner from Boundary Street, Liversedge, only started building work at Ellison’s on the day of the explosion. Like Percy Ashton he was employed by Messrs. R Senior and Sons.  A 25-year-old single man, he was the only living child of John Marsden Thornton and his wife Betty (née Cordingley). He survived the blast, but died as a result of his injuries at 4.05pm in Dewsbury Infirmary. An active member of Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel and Sunday School, this was where his funeral took place.

Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel – Photo by Jane Roberts

Fred Wright, worked as the establishment’s analytical chemist. From Cleckheaton, he was the 22-year-old son of Walter Henry Wright and his wife Elizabeth Savoury. Walter Wright was well known in local musical circles, being the organist at Providence Place Chapel, Cleckheaton and a former conductor of Cleckheaton Philharmonic Society. His son was so badly mutilated he was identified by the contents of his pockets (including a gold watch, purse, and visiting card) and a distinguishing mark. Fred was buried in Whitcliffe cemetery.

The three men working in the grinding room were William Berry, George Terry and James Alfred Morton (some sources mistakenly name him as John Edward Morton). Only identified amongst the dead from various items of clothing discovered in the days after the explosion, the partial human remains found which possibly belonged to them were buried in a single coffin in Heckmondwike cemetery. Father O’Connor, the parish priest at Heckmondwike Catholic Church (now the Holy Spirit Parish) conducted the service for Morton. Father O’Connor later became the inspiration for G.K. Chesterton’s fictional detective Father Brown.

William Berry transferred from Ellison’s Cleckheaton works two months prior to the blast. A labourer, he supervised the drying shed activities. 36 years of age, his widow Clara identified his overcoat. There was also his return railway ticket to Low Moor where he lived. Born in Halifax, he married Clara Hargreaves at All Saints, Salterhebble in July 1910. The couple had two children, Annie (b. 1911) and Arthur (b. 1913).

James Alfred Morton (38) was separated from his wife May, and living at Staincliffe. The  son of Cornelius and Bridget Morton, he was a miner by trade. However, in recent years he worked as a casual labourer, most recently for a gardener in Batley Carr. He only started at the chemical works on Tuesday. His brother, Joseph, could only identify scraps of his clothing – parts of his trousers, shirt, coat and red, white and blue striped tie. 

George Terry (22) of White Lee only started at Ellison’s on the Monday, previously working as a rag grinder in Batley. Initially his father wrongly identified one of the original bodies as his son, so badly mutilated was it. He was led away in a distressed state, only for others to realise the mistake. Days later, small strips of waistcoat and corduroy trousers belonging to George were identified by his widow Lilian. They had been married less than six months. She had left him at the gates of his work after lunch at 1.25pm on her way to visit her mother, and heard the explosion.

Commemorative Postcard from my Collection (note there is no image of James Arthur Morton who is wrongly named)

The official Home Office inquiry headed by Major Cooper-Key, Chief Inspector of Explosives, reported in January 1915. Although Cooper-Key found the wearing of protective overshoes was not strictly adhered to in the designated danger areas, crucially it was enforced in the sifting and grinding shed where the explosion occurred. He went on to conclude that Ellison’s complied with all the necessary regulations for picric acid manufacture, and could not be held responsible. Sabotage was also effectively ruled out.

He attributed the disaster to two factors. The ignition occurred in the sifting and grinding room, probably due to the accidental presence of a nail, stone or similar hard foreign body entering the grinding mill. Under normal circumstances this would have resulted in a spark and fire which would have been extinguished before the picric acid had chance to heat to explosion point. But the shed was extremely dusty, a situation exacerbated by the strong wind that day which constantly fanned the particles as the door opened and closed to try to let fresh air in. The initial ignition resulted in the explosion of this carbonaceous dust.

Although the White Lee explosion led to a review of picric acid manufacturing guidelines, it did not mark the end of accidents resulting from its manufacture during the war.

And the ten men who died on the day of the explosion, as well as William Sykes who died seven months later, are yet more local casualties of the First World War.

A plaque has been laid by the Spen Valley Civic Society to commemorate the event and those affected.

White Lee Disaster Plaque – Photo by Jane Roberts

Sources:

  • Multiple sources were used, including newspaper reports, the official accident report, censuses, civil registration indexes and parish registers.
  • OS Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Special thanks to Kirklees Image Archive for permission to reproduce their image of the aftermath of the explosion. http://www.kirkleesimages.org.uk/ This is a fabulous local pictorial archive. The images are subject to copyright restrictions.

For Some Their War Was Not Over

Armistice Day 2019, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, marked the centenary of the first two-minute silence. The tradition of holding a silence to remember the dead began a year after World War One ended. But for many wounded ex-servicemen their personal battle was not over when the guns ceased firing. Not even a year on as the country paused to reflect.

As the country fell silent at 11am on Monday, I attended a Project Bugle graveside wreath-laying ceremony for St Mary of the Angel’s man Sergeant Joseph Edward Munns of the 12th King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). He was awarded the Military Medal (formally announced in The London Gazette of 13 September 1918) for saving the life of an officer trapped under the debris of a burning building whilst seriously wounded himself – wounds which resulted in a badly damaged right arm and the amputation of his right foot. He died at Prescot Hospital on 7 January 1921, age 32, and is buried in Batley Cemetery. Because he died before the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cut-off point of 31 August 1921 he has a CWGC headstone and is commemorated on their Debt of Honour database.

Project Bugle Wreath-Laying Ceremony for Sgt Joseph Edward Munns – Photo by Jane Roberts

Whilst in the cemetery I also visited the grave of another St Mary’s man, Gunner James Delaney. He was my mum’s uncle, married to my nana’s sister. My mum never knew him, but according to her family he was a lovely man. I have a photograph of him and on the back is written the fact that he died of injuries he received during the Great War. He died on 27 January 1928 so was not eligible for an official CWGC headstone. He features on no database of the dead. He is not recalled on any War Memorial. He is but one of so many others whose deaths occurred years after the end of the War, but whose lives were cut short as a result of the injuries and health issues directly attributable to it. They are casualties as much as those who died whilst the war raged. They are the forgotten casualties.

James’ headstone reflects his sacrifice, bearing his rank and Regimental details.

Here is his story.

James Delaney was born in Batley on 9 July 1895, the son of Dublin-born John Delaney and his wife Ann McLouglin, who hailed from Dumfries in Scotland. The family were associated with St Mary of the Angels RC church in Batley, where James was baptised. His older siblings included Sarah Ann, William, John Edward and Charles Emmett. From the 1881 to 1911 censuses the family lived in the Courts off Taylor Street in Batley. In the 1911 census it was 4 Court, 2 Taylor Street, with James now working as a cloth finisher. This was his abode and occupation when he attested in Batley on 9 December 1915, age 20.

He was mobilised on 28 December 1915 and the following day posted to 1B Reserve Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (RFA) at Forest Row Camp in East Sussex, assigned Service Number 111921. His Company Conduct Sheet whilst at Forest Row shows only two offences. He was absent from 6.30pm parade on 9 May 1916. Then he overstayed his leave from midnight on 28 May 1916 until 4pm on 30 May 1916. For this latter offence he was deprived two day’s pay and sentenced to the humiliation of Field Punishment No.2., shackled in irons and liable to undertake menial and heavy labour. But these were relatively minor misdemeanours and overall his military character was described as very good.

On 15 July 1916 Gunner Delaney was posted to France, joining the ‘A’ Battery of the 80th Brigade RFA on 24 July, part of the 17th Divisional Artillery. Their Unit War Diary refers to reinforcements of men and horses being allotted that day, whilst in camp at Dernancourt. The RFA operated the army’s medium calibre guns and howitzers. These mobile guns were horse-drawn, and deployed close to the front line. 

James joined his unit in the midst of the Battle of the Somme. The Unit War Diary notes total casualties for July, (killed, wounded and from sickness) was 5 officers, 124 other ranks, and 32 horses. These rates explain the need for reinforcements.

On 1 August 1916 they moved to the Montauban area, where James saw action until the 20 August when the Brigade was withdrawn. Days later the news came through the Brigade was being broken up to supply guns and personnel to other Brigades in the Division. James was deployed to ‘A’ Battery in the 78th Brigade. His first full month in action had seen much lower losses than in July, with only two other ranks killed and 16 wounded.

September was spent with his new unit. His final days at the beginning of October 1916 saw them operating in the Hebuterne area, with the guns primarily employed in wire cutting. However, James was back on home soil on 11 October 1916, with 5C Reserve Brigade. 

His Casualty sheet and Medical History forms are not among his surviving service records, so the specific reason for his return home is unclear. However, he was back on the Western Front on 30 May 1917, joining the 24th Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) on 12 June 1917 in Belgium. DACs were responsible for transporting all ammunition and artillery as well as small arms for the Division, taking it as far forward as possible for collection by batteries and infantry brigades. This made them targets for enemy guns and aircraft. They also provided reinforcements of men for the RFA. James was once more in action in another infamous battle – 3rd Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. 

But yet again his stint did not last long and he was once more back in England on 21 July 1917. From notes on his service records it is clear this was as a result of injury or illness as he now spent time in 3rd Northern General Hospital, Sheffield. There are no more details as to the specific problem at this point in time.

Following his discharge from hospital he re-joined 5C Reserve Brigade at Charlton Park on 8 September 1917. But it is clear he never re-gained his health. He was compulsorily transferred to the Royal Engineers in June 1918, serving with the Tyne Electrical Engineers at Haslar Barracks, Gosport. His new rank was Pioneer, and new Service Number 365987.

Suffering from the painful condition of neuritis, this disorder is defined as inflammation of the nerves. It can be caused by injury, infection or autoimmune disease. In addition to pain, symptoms include tenderness, impaired sensation, numbness or hypersensitivity, weakened strength and diminished reflexes. Maybe this was the legacy of the injuries which necessitated his earlier hospital stay. His resulting health category of B3 meant he was only fit for sedentary work. As a result, he was only capable of undertaking HQ Fatigues work.

James’ condition was serious enough to lead to his discharge on 1 October 1918. After serving for two years and 278 days he was no longer deemed fit for military service. He was awarded a conditional pension of 11s per week, to be reviewed after 52 weeks. This pension continued beyond this date, over the years mainly set at 12s per week with his disability estimated at 30 per cent. 

He returned home to Batley and towards the end of 1919 married 19-year-old Ethel Rhodes. The couple settled at 18 Brearley Street, Mount Pleasant, Batley, with James back at his old job as a worsted cloth finisher. The couple had no children. In brittle health after the tolls of the war, Ethel became his carer as well as his wife. It was a role she made her job for others after James’ death.

James Delaney and Wife Ethel Rhodes

James died on 27 January 1928 as a result of cardiac failure, myocardial disease and rheumatoid arthritis. He was only 32. He died with Ethel by his bedside not at home in Batley, but in the East Lancashire Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, Park Lane, in the Higher Broughton area of Salford. 

This was an establishment for disabled servicemen opened under the auspices of the East Lancashire Branch of the British Red Cross Society. With a massive influx of wounded men returning home to ad-hoc care facilities, in the summer of 1916 the organisation – along with the Mayor of Manchester and the Earl of Derby – was involved in the launch of a public appeal to raise money to provide suitable accommodation in which they could be cared for. By the end of September 1916, and after only one month, £22,841 was raised. The fund hit the £75,000 mark by February 1917, an amazing amount for a cash-strapped war-torn society. The appeal was so successful it enabled the provision of not one but five homes which, by 1921, provided in excess of 100 beds. One of these still provides care for ex-service personnel today.

Two of the private houses purchased to provide these facilities were on Park Lane, and both were still in operation in 1929. Miss A.E. Tasker was the sister in charge of Palm House, whilst Miss M. Tracy was the matron at Broughton House. Neither James’ death certificate or the newspaper notices by his wife, parents and siblings indicate in which home he died. He was buried in Batley cemetery on 31 January 1928.

Ethel was understandably devastated after her husband’s death. Her mother, Edith, was instrumental in helping her through this intensely difficult period, when at one period in particular Ethel felt she had no reason to carry on. She did eventually re-build her life and married Fred Armitage in 1931. Ethel never had children. She died on 8 November 1958 and chose to be buried alongside James.

As a footnote to this story, the one surviving former East Lancashire home for Disabled Servicemen is Broughton House. More details about its history, current work and future plans are here. It includes information about how you can help support the continuing work of the charity, because funds are needed throughout the year, not just in the period leading up to Armistice Day.

Sources:

  • 24th Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) Unit War Diary WO 95/2198/3;
  • 78th Brigade Royal Field Artillery Unit War Diary WO 95/1991/3;
  • 80th Brigade Royal Field Artillery Unit War Diary WO 95/1991/5;
  • 1929 Kelly’s Directory of Manchester, Salford and Suburbs;
  • 1881 to 1911 England and Wales censuses;
  • Batley Cemetery burial records;
  • Batley News – 13 July 1918 and 4 February 1928;
  • Batley Reporter and Guardian – 12 July 1918 and 4 February 1928;
  • Broughton House website https://www.broughtonhouse.com/
  • Burnley News – 9 November 1921;
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
  • GRO Death Certificate for James Delaney
  • Manchester Evening News – 30 September 1916;
  • The London Gazette 13 September 1918;
  • The Long, Long Trail website https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/
  • The Western Front Association Pension Record Index Card and Ledgers;
  • WO 363 War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War ‘Burnt Documents.’

Batley’s Record-Breaking Rat-Catcher

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.

Thomas Cassidy – Photo Supplied by a Descendant
Not to be re-published without permission of family

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. 

Spen Fame Trail Plaque Number 18, Thomas Cassidy – Photo by Jane Roberts

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 [1].

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.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas married Harriet Ann McDonagh [2] 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” [3].

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.

philld / Leeds dark arches from Little Neville street / CC BY-SA 2.0
Taken in 2008

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 [4].

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.

https://pixabay.com/photos/animal-rat-foraging-close-up-655308/ -Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay

Thomas, who died in the same street in which he was born, was buried in Batley cemetery on 28 December 1933.

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

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 broken glass;
  • Don’t touch bait with your fingers as rats won’t come near it. Use a spoon tied at the end of a two-foot pole;
  • 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:
[1] Bradford Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1907;
[2] The spelling of Harriet’s surname varies depending on record, including McDonegh, Donegh, Donagh and McDunach;
[3] The Leeds Mercury, 3 November 1926;
[4] The Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1923

Other Sources:

A Batley Boy’s Fatal Shooting

On the evening of Friday 24 April 1896 as the life ebbed from seven-year-old George Sharpe [1], 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 [2]. It was Mary’s second marriage. Her first husband Fearnley Windle died in 1875, age 19 [3], just over a year after their marriage in the same church [4]

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) [5]. Ten years later they were at 5 Clark Green Street [6]. 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.

Healey Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

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 [7] at Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 18 May 1885 confirms his 8 April 1885 birth date, and a Hanging Heaton residence [8].

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 [9], 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.

Norfolk Street, opposite Baines Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

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.

The Commercial at the bottom of Dark Lane – Photo by Jane Roberts

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 [10]. Back in 1896 it was where Alfred’s father, Thomas, had employment as a carter. 

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1888 to 1892, Published 1895 showing location of Nursery, Hospital, Commercial (Inquest), and the streets where the boys lived – Adapted

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.

An example of an ambulance, Wrington Cottage Hospital Ambulance, Horace Swete. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/act7mvnt Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

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 complete.

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 fell. 

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.[11]

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 [12]. 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 [13].

Alfred Brearey – The Batley News, 15 September 1917

For more details about Alfred Brearey see Batley’s Roll of Honour website.

Footnotes:
[1] Other records have the spelling Sharp, but for consistency I will use the Sharpe variant;
[2] 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;
[3] GRO Death Registration for Fearnley Windle, accessed via the GRO website, reference June Quarter 1875, Dewsbury District, Volume 9B, Page 388;
[4] 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;
[5] 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
[6] 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;
[7] 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;
[8] 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;
[9] 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;
[10] The Leeds Mercury, 11 September 1929, accessed via Findmypast;
[11] The Batley News & Advertiser – 1 May 1896;
[12] 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
[13] Cleworth, Rev. W.E. Urban District of Soothill Upper, Yorkshire, War Register and Records, 1914-1919. Batley: E.F. Roberts, n.d.

Other sources:

  • 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
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • The Batley News and Guardian – 2 May 1896
  • The Huddersfield Daily Examiner – 28 and 30 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Mercury – 25 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Times – 2 May 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Yorkshire Evening Post – 25, 27 and 29 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • Wellcome Collectionhttps://wellcomecollection.org/

Hidden History of Batley: A Mill Horror

No-one in Batley foresaw the consequences that the 1856 hanging of the infamous Rugeley Poisoner, Dr William Palmer [1], 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.[2].

The trial of William Palmer for the Rugeley poisonings. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

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 [3], 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. [4]

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.

Extract of six-inch OS map of Leeds, surveyed 1846-1847, published 1852 showing the old location of the Infirmary and Court House – Adapted

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 [5].

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 [6].

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.

One of the mills associated with the Jubb family. They took sole ownership of New Ing Mills in 1859 and most of the buildings on the site date from after this period, including this main 1863 construction – photo by Jane Roberts

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 [7] 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 [8]. 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.

Notes:

[1] William Palmer website http://staffscc.net/wppalmer/ ;
[2] Household Words, A Weekly Journal, 14 June 1856;
[3] The Leeds Times, 29 November 1856;
[4] The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 October 1856;
[5] The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 November 1856;
[6] 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;
[7] 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;
[8] 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;
  • Wellcome Library Images: https://wellcomelibrary.org/
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.

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 [1].

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 will bestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.[2]

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. Symons wrote:

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….. [3]

Hurriers and Thrusters with Corves full of Coal – 1842 [4]

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.

The physical and moral conditions of the children and young persons employed in mines and manufactures. London: HMSO, John W. Parker, 1843. Folding plate showing children transporting coal in mines and collieries. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

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 [5].

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”! [6]

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 [7] 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…..[8]

No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5, [1841] 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. [9]

No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5, [1841] 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. [10]

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. [11]

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….. [12]

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.[13]

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 [14] 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. [15]

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. [16]

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. [17] 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.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1847 to 1851, Published 1854 Showing location of Batley Workhouse – Adapted

I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census [18], 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:

Notes:

[1] 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.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] 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
[5] In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.
[6] 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.
[7] Put out to apprenticeship.
[8] 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.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842
[14] 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/
[15] Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2

Sources:

  • 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
  • Higginbotham, Peter. “The History of the Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham.” Accessed July 31, 2019. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/.
  • Lake, Fiona, and Rosemary Preece. Voices from the Dark: Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines. Place of Publication Not Identified: Overton, 1992.
  • Raymond, Stuart A. My Ancestor Was an Apprentice, How Can I Find out More about Him? London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises, 2010.
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Wellcome Library https://wellcomelibrary.org/

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.

The Mystery of the Body Dumped in Batley

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 [1] 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 Victoria, Carlinghow – Photograph by Jane Roberts

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 [2]

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 [3], 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[4]. 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.

The Huddersfield Chronicle paints a vivid picture of High Street, where the body was found, describing it as a narrow street:

….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…. [5] 

You can almost picture the narrow dirt road that night, no more than seven yards [6] 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.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1888 -1892, Published 1895 Showing location of High Street and the Victoria Hotel – Adapted

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 [7] with his body immersed in water for several days after [8].

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.

Walter Critchley, coal proprietor of Grosvenor Terrace, confirmed the body downstairs was that of his brother. From his evidence it transpired his brother lived a somewhat unconventional life. 

Born on 4 August 1837 and baptised on 25 August that year at Dewsbury All Saints [9], 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 [10]. James, born in Warley near Halifax, was described as a card maker [11], 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 [12]. In 1851 whilst John was at boarding school in Pontefract [13] 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 [14]. 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 [15]. In 1871 [16] and 1881 [17] 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 [18]. 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 [19].

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 [20]. 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.

Batley Hall – Photograph by Jane Roberts

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.

Critchley Family Headstone at Batley Cemetery – Photograph by Jane Roberts

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…[21]. 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 [22].

So, whilst maybe not murder, they believed his lifestyle and the company he kept materially contributed to his demise. 

All this 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.[23]

This second phase of the inquest, on 2 June 1881, saw a parade of witnesses [24]. 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. 

Other witnesses 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 resident). 

Of particular 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 [25]. 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 [26]. 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. 

Superintendent 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 [27]. 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[28]. 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.

Inscriptions on the Critchley Headstone – Photograph by Jane Roberts

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 history! 

Notes:
[1] 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.
[2] Bowler hat.
[3] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[4] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[5] The Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881
[6] 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.
[7] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[8] The Manchester Evening News, 1 June 1881. 
[9] 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.
[10] 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.
[11] Manufacturing the combs and implements for combing (carding) wool.[12] 1841 Census, Reference HO107/1268/45/19, accessed via Findmypast.[13] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2330/108/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk.
[14] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2324/325/28, accessed via Findmypast.[15] 1861 Census, Reference RG09/3399/96/36, accessed via Findmypast.
[16] 1871 Census, Reference RG10/4583/22/37.
[17] 1881 Census, Reference RG11/4546/152/24.
[18] 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.
[19] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[20] 2 June 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.
[21] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[22] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1881.
[23] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[24] 2 June 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
[25] Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881.
[26] 9 June 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.
[27] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3735/57/7, accessed via Findmypast.
[28] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3721/30/28, accessed via Findmypast.

OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.