Category Archives: Dewsbury

Fantastical Legends, Fables and Mythology from the Batley and Dewsbury Areas: Featuring the Countess of Sussex and the Killer Lion

As the nights draw in, and Halloween approaches, there are some intriguing folklore tales – indeed some very reminiscent of traditional childhood fairy tales – from the Batley and Dewsbury areas. Some are well-known; others less so. Here are a selection.


A well-known local legend is that of the ghost of Captain Batt at Oakwell Hall. No lesser person than Elizabeth Gaskell wrote about it in The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

She said of the Hall:

It stands in a rough-looking pasture-field, about a quarter of a mile from the high road. It is but that distance from the busy whirr of the steam-engines employed in the woollen mills of Birstall; and if you walk to it from Birstall Station about meal-time, you encounter strings of mill-hands, blue with woollen dye and cranching in hungry haste over the cinder-paths bordering the high road. Turning off from this to the right, you ascend through an old pasture-field, and enter a short by-road, called the “Bloody Lane” – a walk haunted by the ghost of a certain Captain Batt, the reprobate proprietor of an old hall close by, in the days of the Stuarts. From the “Bloody Lane,” overshadowed by trees, you come into the rough-looking field in which Oakwell Hall is situated. It is known in the neighbourhood to be the place described as “Field Head,” Shirley’s residence. The enclosure in front, half court, half garden; the panelled hall, with the gallery opening into the bed-chambers running round; the barbarous peach-coloured drawing-room; the bright look-out through the garden-door upon the grassy lawns and terraces behind, where the soft-hued pigeons still love to coo and strut in the sun, — are all described in “Shirley.”

Gaskell’s book goes on to describe the appearance of a bloody footprint in a bedchamber of Oakwell Hall. She reveals the story behind it, and its connection with the lane by which the Hall is approached.

Captain Batt was believed to be far away; his family was at Oakwell; when in the dusk, one winter evening, he came stalking along the lane, and through the hall, and up the stairs, into his own room, where he vanished. He had been killed in a duel in London that very same afternoon of December 9th, 1684.1

Oakwell Hall, with the original Warrens (or Bloody) Lane to the left as you look. The lane was re-routed with the building of a railway line, in 1900. It was also re-named Warren Lane – Photo by Jane Roberts

William Batt’s burial is recorded in the parish register of Birstall St Peter’s on 30 December 1684.2

Birstall St Peter’s Churchyard – Photo by Jane Roberts

A local roving non-conformist minister and gossipy diarist, the Rev. Oliver Heywood, gives more snippets of information about William Batt’s death. In his vellum book, which contained a register of various baptism, marriage and burial events, he noted in the burials section:

398 Mr Bat: in sport. 16843

Another publication of the Rev. Heywood’s varied documents has a further notation of the burial containing more details. No year is indicated but the entry is clearly referring to the death of William Batt:

Mr. Bat of Okewell a young man slain by Mr. Gream at Barne(t) near London buried at Burstall Dec. 304

Other sources indicate the duel was the result of a debt, possibly related to gambling.

And, although William Batt’s ghost has associations with ‘Bloody Lane,’ this footpath does not owe its name to him. ‘Bloody Lane,’ or Warrens Lane (now Warren Lane) to give it its proper name, earned its gruesome nickname as a result of the English Civil War Battle of Adwalton Moor of 30 June 1643. This was the likely route the defeated, fleeing Parliamentarian troops took to leave the battlefield.

Who knows whether the tale of William Batt’s spirit returning home is true? But it is as tale which has been passed down through the generations, and it is one still told today to Oakwell Hall visitors.


The 1662 publication Mirabilis Annus Secondus; or, the Second Year of Prodigies describes signs and apparitions seen in the Heavens (sky), Earth (land) and Waters in the months from April 1661 to June 1662. The section dealing with strange land-based sensations includes the following phenomenon from Batley from May 1662:

…at a Town called Batley in Yorkshire, about four miles from Wakefield, in the Ground of one Michael Dawson, about the Carr belonging to that Town, a man climbing up into an Oak-tree to cut boughs, perceived his clothes to be very much stained with Blood; and upon search, he found the under-side of the Oak-leaves to be all bloody, not only in that Tree, but in another also not far from it. Several of the Leaves of the said Trees were afterwards sent abroad to divers persons in the Country, who had a desire to see them, and the Blood was dried upon them, and they seemed as if they had been coloured and dyed therewith. This is a very certain truth, and attested by many eye-witnesses.5

The blood-like substance was possibly to be the result of a disease to the tree. But it caused a sensation back in 1662.


The next peculiar mythology centres around Batley Parish Church. It is described as follows:

On the eastern end of the outside of Batley Church, under the shade of the great eastern window, there is a not common tombstone; insomuch as on its centre there is a small brass plate, in size about eight inches by six, which once had upon it an inscription but can now only boast of a few unintelligible letters. The centre of this brass plate is worn hollow by a strange process. A tradition is current that any one who will put his hands upon this plate, and at the same time look up at the great coloured window – dedicated people say to the memory of a drunken woman – for five minutes he will not be able to take his hands off again. The appearance of the plate testifies to the popularity as well as the untruthfulness of this popular fit.6

Batley Parish Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

Unfortunately these old tombstones were cleared from the churchyard, and it is therefore no longer possible to identify the one attracting the attention of adventurous 19th century Batley townsfolk. I wonder if anyone knows who it belonged to?


Mystical stories would not be complete without a haunted house. And, according to turn of the twentieth century accounts, one existed at Dewsbury. Located on Wakefield Road, some of the building dated to the time of Cromwell. It was part of the estate of a Manor House, the gardens and grounds of which stretched towards the Old Bank. It was an area thick with vegetation, with beauty spots in the Hollin[g]royd and Caulms Woods areas. A subterranean passage connected the two houses. Sections of this tunnel were in existence as late as the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The Haunted House, Thornhill

According to legend, after the death of one particularly wicked (and unnamed) Lord of the Manor, he was unable to rest in peace. His midnight rambles terrified the local inhabitants, who were driven in fear to consult a local priest. This brave priest managed to communicate with the Lord’s troubled and troublesome spirit. The spirit agreed to retire and never return while Hollin[g]royd Wood grew green.7 I wonder if he is back now the wood is no more?

Ordnance Survey Map showing Hollin[g]royd Wood and Wakefield Road – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire Sheet 247, Surveyed: 1850 to 1851, Published: 1855 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

Purlwell Hall, which stood in the Mount Pleasant area of Batley, was also the subject of a romantic legend. The events, which are vaguely referred to as taking part in the mid-eighteenth century, centred around a young lady. Some versions say she was an orphan noted for her beauty, goodness and intellect, who lived with her aunt and uncle at the Hall.8 Others say she was the fairest and sweetest of three daughters of the household.9

Purlwell Hall in Olden Times

Two men vied for her hand in marriage. One was honest but poor. The other a rich, handsome Captain. Unsurprisingly for those who follow fairy tales, the young lady fell in love with the poor suitor. But, as happens in these stories, her family rejected her choice. As a result they kept her locked away in the library – a small, square room in the hall. Here she was to stay until she changed her mind. But her love for the poor, honest man did not waver. He was ever in her thoughts as she gazed longingly out of the window, towards the hills to the south, clearly visible in the smokeless sky – this was obviously before Batley became famous as a mill town, full of chimneys belching out smoke!

Ordnance Survey Map showing Purlwell Hall – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire Sheet 232, Surveyed: 1847 to 1851, Published: 1854 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

The heart-broken girl whiled away the time in her prison etching a verse in the pane of one of the windows, with the diamond from a ring. Some say the ring belonged to her mother. Other more romantic accounts say it was from a ring given to her by her forbidden love. If so, he was not quite as poor as the tale makes out.

There are a number versions of this verse, one of which read:

Come, gentle Muse, wont to divert
Corroding cares from anxious heart;
Adjust me now to bear the smart
Of a relenting angry heart.
What though no being I have on earth,
Though near the place that gave me birth,
And kindred less regard to pay
Than thy acquaintance of to-day;
Know what the best of men declare,
That they on earth but strangers are,
No matter it a few years hence
How fortunate did to thee dispense,
If – in a palace though hast dwelt
Or – in a cell of penury felt –
Ruled as a Prince – served as a slave,
Six feet of earth is all thou’lt have.
Hence give my thoughts a nobler theme
Since all the world is but a dream
Of short endurance.10

Although there are no clues as to the period of time this lovesick damsel was incarcerated, given the length of the verse she etched it was clearly not a mere matter of days.

But, as in all good fairy tales, there was a happy ending. The captain tired of his hopeless pursuit of a fair lady who would never love him. Her parents (or adopted parents depending on the version), realising how much in love she was with the humble and honest suitor, relented; and Miss Taylor (as one version calls her) finally became the wife of her true love.

Is this based on true events? Who knows. However, what does seem beyond doubt, is the engraving on the window pane. This is as testified to by independent witnesses in the latter part of the 19th century when the Hall underwent renovations.


The next legend concerns Dewsbury Minster’s famous Christmas Eve Devil’s Knell. The tenor bell rings out in funereal manner once for every year since the birth of Christ to the present year, with the last toll falling on the stroke of midnight. The tolling is said to keep the parish safe from devilish pranks for the coming year.

Dewsbury Minster Church of All Saints – Photo by Jane Roberts

There are various dates given for the commencement of this custom. Some say the 13th century, others the 14th or 16th. It appears, if these earlier dates were the case, the custom did lapse, for the ringing is recorded as definitely taking place from 1828.

One folk-lore journal, published in 1888, mentions this Christmas Eve bell-ringing at Dewsbury.11 It outlines the custom to toll the bells that night, stating this was an acknowledgment that the devil died when Jesus was born.

Elsewhere in the journal a curious tradition from Soothill is mentioned. It says that an unnamed master of an iron-foundry, in a fit of passion, threw a boy into one of his furnaces. The sentence passed on him was that he should build a yard all round an unspecified local church, and provide a bell for the steeple. The writer, who asks for more information about this incident, does not connect it, or bell, with Dewsbury Minster’s Devil’s Knell. Perhaps the omission is deliberate, in an attempt to tease out the truth. Because questions were being raised by some of the origins attributed to the Christmas Eve bell ringing.

These other stories linked with the origins of Dewsbury’s Devil’s Knell stated the tenor bell at Dewsbury Minster, Black Tom, was an expiatory gift from Sir Thomas de Soothill for the murder of a boy, whom he threw into the forge dam. Thomas de Soothill, who died in 1535, was a member of the Saville family and known locally as Black Tom, hence the name of the bell.12 There is therefore a clear similarity with the Soothill iron-foundry incident mentioned in the 1888 journal.

Christmas 1986 Folklore Stamp

Yet another version states the tradition began in 1434. A local knight, or Lord of the Manor depending on this version, flew into a rage after hearing a servant boy had failed to attend Church and threw him into a pond, where he drowned. As his deathbed penance, the knight donated the bell to Dewsbury Minster Church of All Saints, requesting it be tolled every Christmas Eve.13

An 1880 edition of the Dewsbury Reporter cast doubt on the Black Tom origins story.14 Essentially, they say there were no mention of any bells currently in the church, which were recast in 1875, existing in the Minster prior to 1725. They also asked for evidence of this murder incident, along with the timeline for Thomas de Soothill’s life, and the location of the supposed forge.

Whatever its beginnings, the Christmas Eve Devil’s Knell is tolled to this day. Here’s a link to a video by the bell-ringers at the Minster tolling the Christmas Eve Devil’s Knell, with their version of its origins


The final fantastical tale also involves a branch of the Savile family. This time the ones whose residences included Howley Hall. It is supposedly (though not conclusively) centred around Anne Villiers, daughter of the Earl of Anglesey, or Anne Sussex as she was subsequently known. She became the second wife of Sir Thomas Savile (1590-1659), whose titles, at this stage, included Viscount of Castlebar and Baron Savile of Pomfret. Anne and Thomas married at St Mary’s, Sunbury on Thames on 20 January 1641[2].15 He was made the 1st Earl of Sussex (in the third creation of this title) on 25 May 1644.

Howley Hall, as it was in its heyday, and the 19th century ruins

Lady Anne’s Well, which is reputedly named after the aforementioned Countess of Sussex, lay on the south-east side of Howley ruins, near to Soothill Wood where several springs flowed to furnish the well.

Ordnance Survey Map showing Howley Hall and Lady Ann[e]’s Well – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire Sheet 232, Surveyed: 1847 to 1851, Published: 1854 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

Lady Anne, so rumour has it, liked to bathe in the waters of the well. The legend is that one day, whilst in the process of immersing herself in these cleansing waters, she was caught and devoured by a wild animal or animals – some go as far as to say it was a lion.16

The spot where her mangled remains were discovered became holy ground. The pure waters of the well were subsequently said to possess supernatural properties, and changed colours, with this miracle occurring annually at 6 o’clock on Palm Sunday morning. Hundreds of people converged on this site at the specified day and hour, brandishing twigs and switches to represent palms. By the mid-19th century the well bore an obliterated inscription, and had an iron basin, or ladle, attached to the stonework with a chain.

Even Elizabeth Gaskell in The Life of Charlotte Brontë covered the legend, but in her version it was another type of wild creature responsible for the killing. In her book, published in 1857, writing about Howley Hall, which now belonged to Lord Cardigan, she said:

Near to it is Lady Anne’s well; “Lady Anne,” according to tradition, having been worried and eaten by wolves as she sat at the well, to which the indigo-dyed factory people from Birstall and Batley woollen mills yet repair on Palm Sunday, when the waters possess remarkable medicinal efficacy; and it is still believed that they assume a strange variety of colours at six o’clock in the morning on that day.17

The supposed incident was even the subject of verses in later years, including:

‘Twas such a place, sequestered glade,
Where Lady Anne was lifeless laid;
While bathing there, as people say,
A lion seized her for his prey:
Her cor[p]se was made the wild beast’s food,
He ate her flesh, and drank her blood;
And now the spot is holy ground,
Where Lady Anne’s remains were found,
Hard by a well which bears her name,
A lasting tribute to her fame;
There youths and maidens often go
Their sympathetic love to show,
And mourn her fate, unhappy maid,
Who perished in the Sylvan shade.
Palm Sunday is the annual day
When lads and lasses wend their way
To this sad spot, there gather palms,
As employs of the fair one’s charms;
Homeward again they do return,
And water take in can or urn,
Which they suppose contains a charm
That will preserve them from all harm.18

In the late 1880s the area around the well was destroyed when the wood was bisected by the Great Northern Railway Line covering Dewsbury, Batley and onto Leeds via Beeston. This Beeston and Batley branch of the line opened in August 1890, and included a 732-yard long tunnel located near to the well, though the spring still existed for the use of residents living in nearby cottages. Yet the legend lived on.

Ordnance Survey Map showing Howley Hall Ruins and the Beeston/Batley Branch of the Great Northern Railway now running through Soothill Wood destroying Lady Anne’s Well – 25-inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.12, Surveyed: 1889 to 1892, Published: 1894 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

If true, you would expect this extraordinary event to be widely publicised, especially given it involved a member of the aristocracy. It is not. And, as with many other of these tales, it is decidedly vague with facts.

More than that, there are other fatal flaws to this lion-eating (or should that be a pack of wolves) tale. Not least is the one concerning the reputed victim of these voracious beasts. According to Cockayne’s Complete Peerage, Anne Villiers outlived her husband, Sir Thomas Savile. He died in circa 1659 (his will was proved on 8 October 1659). By the time Anne died in around 1670, she was the wife of Richard Pelson. Their daughter, Anne, went on to become the wife of James Tuchet, 5th Earl of Castlehaven. Furthermore, according to Cockayne, the former Anne Villiers died at St Giles’ in the Fields, London – some 200 miles away from any wild animals at the well.19 He certainly makes no reference to her being killed in a tragic accident involving wild animals.

There is also the issue around the type of creature responsible for the supposed mauling. Although there were reports of wolves living wild in Scotland up until the 18th century, it is generally accepted that wolves were extinct in England by the 15th century. As for wild lions, well the wealthy were known to keep them as part of menageries, including at nearby Nostell Priory. But as for an escaped killer lion prowling Soothill Woods in the 17th century, that seems the stuff of fantasy.

However, suppose it is not the 1st Earl of Sussex’s wife being referred to? The reports I’ve read either refer to Lady Anne or Lady Anne Sussex. Could it possibly therefore be the subsequent Countess of Sussex? James Savile, the son of Thomas Savile by Anne Villiers (the 1st Countess Sussex), who succeeded his father to the earldom, married Anne Wake. According to Cockayne’s Complete Peerage, after his death in 1671, when the earldom became extinct, she went on to marry Fairfax Overton. Looking at Marriage Bonds and Allegations, this marriage took place in around April 1674.20 According to Cockayne she died in 1680 – and again there is no mention of a dramatic death associated with her. There is also the same issue with the existence of wild animals.

There are other theories too about the well’s miraculous powers. These include rumours that the waters of the well had reputed holy properties even before this supposed incident, with inhabitants of the area visiting it from possibly as far back as pre-Norman times. Some sources point out that it was quite common for wells of pure water in solitary locations throughout the country in the early years of Christianity to be attributed with these holy and healing properties. As a result they became places of pilgrimage, visited and decorated on Holy Days like Ascension Day or, in this instance, Palm Sunday.

Due to the holy nature of the area, it is theorised that in the immediate neighbourhood a small chapel (Fieldkirk) existed in pre-Norman times, before the church in Batley was erected. There is even speculation about an annual Fair, Fieldkirk Fair, taking place either in the churchyard of this small chapel, or adjoining it. Norrison Scatcherd in his 1870s history of Morley mentions villagers returning from the annual Palm Sunday assemblage as saying they had been to Fieldcock Fair – which he quite reasonably suggests is a corruption of this old Fieldkirk Fair.21

This early Christian link, then, may have been the origins of the miraculous colour-changing well, not any killer animals devouring a bathing countess – the latter probably being invented to add spice to attract the Victorian generation. Nevertheless it is an interesting local legend.


As I said in the introduction, this is only a selection of folklore tales and mysterious happenings associated with the area. Many have a common thread: unspecified, or uncertain, dates; discrepancies about the names of central characters, most of whom are local gentry or aristocracy; there is even confused information, for example lions or wolves, orphan or daughter, iron foundry master or knight, ponds or forge furnaces.

But all these tales are part of the area’s history and would have been familiar to our ancestors living here, which is why they are worth preserving.

If you have any similar strange local anecdotes and legends associated with the Batley and Dewsbury areas do let me know.


With thanks to fellow AGRA Associate Joe Saunders who tipped me off about the mystery of the bloody oak leaves tale.


Footnotes:
1. Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. The Life of CHARLOTTE Bronte, Author Of “Jane Eyre”, “Shirley”, “Villette”, Etc. Smith, Elder & Co, 1857;
2. Birstall St Peter’s parish Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP5/1/1/1;
3. Heywood, Oliver, and J. Horsfall Turner. The Rev. Oliver Heywood, B.A., 1630-1702, His AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Diaries, Anecdote and Event Books: Illustrating the General and Family History of Yorkshire and Lancashire. 2. Vol. 2. Brighouse England: A.B. Bayes, 1882;
4. Heywood, Oliver, Thomas Dickenson, and J. Horsfall Turner. The Nonconformist REGISTER, Of Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths: 1644-1702, 1702-1752, Generally Known as the Northowram Or Coley Register, but Comprehending Numerous Notices of Puritans And Anti-Puritans in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, London, &c., with Lists OF Popish RECUSANTS, QUAKERS, & C. Brighouse: J.S. Jowett, printer ‘News Office’, 1881;
5. Mirabilis Annus SECUNDUS, Or, the Second Year of Prodigies: Being a True and Impartial Collection of Many Strange Signes AND Apparitions, Which Have This Last Year Been Seen in the Heavens, and in the Earth, and in the Waters: Together with Many Remarkable Accidents and Judgements BEFALLING Divers Persons, According to the Most Exact Information That Could Be Procured from the Best Hands, and Now Published as a Warning to All MEN Speedily to Repent, and to Prepare to Meet the Lord, Who Gives Us These Signs of His Coming, 1662;
6.Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal: With Notes Comical and Dialetic .. Bingley: Printed for the editor by T. Harrison, 1888;
7. Batley News, 24 May 1902;
8. Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal: With Notes Comical and Dialetic .. Bingley: Printed for the editor by T. Harrison, 1888;
9. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 29 March 1901;
10. Ibid;
11. Yorkshire Folk-Lore Journal: With Notes Comical and Dialetic .. Bingley: Printed for the editor by T. Harrison, 1888;
12. Greenwood’s History, as quoted in the Dewsbury Reporter, 31 January 1880;
13. Yorkshire Post, 23 December 2015;
14. Dewsbury Reporter, 31 January 1880;
15. Parish Register, St Mary’s, Sunbury on Thames, London Metropolitan Archives, Ref: DRO/007/A/01/001;
16. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 3 July 1880;
17. Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. The Life of CHARLOTTE Bronte, Author Of “Jane Eyre”, “Shirley”, “Villette”, Etc. Smith, Elder & Co, 1857;
18. Dewsbury Chronicle and West Riding Advertiser, 9 July 1887
19. Cokayne, George E., ed. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom: EXTANT, Extinct or Dormant. By G.E.C. 7. Vol. 7. London: George Bell & Sons, 1896;
20. Fairfax Overton and Ann Conntesse Marriage Allegation, Parish – St Giles in the Field, London Metropolitan Archives, Ref: Ms 10091/28
21. Scatcherd, Norrison Cavendish. The History OF MORLEY, in the West Riding Of Yorkshire: Including a Particular Account of Its Old Chapel. Morley: S. Stead, 1874.

Other Sources:
• Baker, Margaret. Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore: A Guide to Seasonal Rites. Princes Risborough, Bucks, UK: Shire Publications, 1992;
The Batley News and Birstall Guardian, 22 August 1885;
Batley Reporter and Guardian, 2 August 1890;
Dewsbury Chronicle and West Riding Advertiser, 10 July 1886;
• Green, Martin, and Martin Green. Curious Customs And Festivals: A Guide to Local Customs and Festivals throughout England and Wales. Newbury: Countryside Books, 2001;
The History of Wolves in the UK, https://wolves.live/the-history-of-wolves-in-the-uk/;

Survived, Died and Newly Identified: Local Links to the Lusitania Sinking

On the afternoon of Friday 7 May 1915, the Cunard liner the Lusitania was on the final leg of her crossing from New York to Liverpool. The morning fog had lifted, and it was now a fine, clear, calm day. At 2.10pm, around 14 miles off the Irish coast and the Old Head of Kinsale, she was struck by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U20. It took about 18 minutes for the ship to sink. Of the almost 2,000 on board, 1,198 men, women and children perished.1

The RMS LUSITANIA homeward bound on her last voyage. She was sunk off Queenstown by the German submarine U-20 in May 1915. © IWM Q 48349, IWM Non Commercial Licence

It was a momentous international event, leading to anti-German riots across British cities and handing a huge wartime propaganda tool to the authorities. It was, in the initial aftermath, hoped by some that the USA would be drawn into the war. The circumstances surrounding the sinking is a huge topic in its own right which has merited many books, and one I am not covering in this post. Instead I am focussing on the local angle.

A poster by Fred Spear featuring a painting of a mother and child drowning following the sinking of the LUSITANIA. The image is simply accompanied by the word “Enlist”. © IWM Q 79823 IWM Non Commercial Licence

As a child I remember my grandma telling me about the Lusitania. She was only six years old when the ship went down. For her to recount her childhood memories around sixty years later shows the impact the sinking had on her.

What I failed to realise from my vague recollection of her tale of the ship was this event was not something that affected only the rich, famous and wealthy – the likes of American millionaire sportsman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, American theatre producer Charles Frohman, world-famous Welsh tenor Gwynn Parry Jones, French-American stage and screen star Rita Jolivet, English-born playwright Charles Klein, and American artist and philanthropist Theodate Pope Riddle. Or even ‘ordinary’ crew and passengers from other areas of Britain.

It also had a massive local impact, with several of those on board having connections with the Batley, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike and Mirfield areas. Locally people would have known personally some of those on board, or at least known of them, making it an even bigger talking point in streets and homes across the area. That children were also involved would bring it to the attention of a younger audience. This, more so than anything, is why the sinking would have made a lasting imprint on my grandma’s mind.

This post covers a selection of local men, women and children caught up in the tragedy, people often overshadowed by the more famous on board.2 Some survived, one in particularly miraculous circumstances. Others though never made it home, including an entire family. Then there is the mystery man. Researchers to date have failed to uncover his origins. I believe he was a local man, and I include the progress I have made in identifying him.


Miss Olive North

Olive and her twin brother Roy Henderson North were born on 11 April 1889 in the Yorkshire village of Melbourne, near Pocklington.3 Their parents, James and Marion (née Barber) were schoolteachers whose work had taken them to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, as well as North Yorkshire.

By 1891 Marion, born in the Barnsley area, was living in Heckmondwike with her children Alice Lilian, George Garnett, Bernard Baines, Joseph Lambert, May and the twins. Another son, Frank Gordon, was with his maternal grandparents, also living in Heckmondwike. Even with this brood of seven youngsters at home in 1891, aged nine and under, Marion continued working as a teacher. It was no mean feat. James, who hailed from Heckmondwike, taught and lived elsewhere, in Skelton, North Yorkshire. This remained the arrangement up to and including the 1911 census, although at census-time in 1901 and 1911 some of the children are staying with him.

It was therefore not one of the town’s typical working class families that Olive grew up in.

At the time of the Lusitania sinking Marion North lived at Cambridge Street, off Cawley Lane, in Heckmondwike and taught at Battye Street Council School. Olive though had been away from the family home for some time, clearly having an adventuring spirit.

In the summer of 1913 the young milliner left her job. On 10 June, accompanied by her brother Frank, she departed from Liverpool on board the Megantic. The siblings sailed to Montreal, to visit their elder married sister, Alice, in Western Canada.4 Frank, a former soldier, was recalled on the outbreak of war. Olive, though, stayed on far longer than originally intended, finally leaving for New York in late April 1915 to sail back home 2nd class on the Lusitania. The ability to afford this standard of travel also serves to illustrate the social status of the North family.

Olive was aware of rumours that some disaster was going to befall the ship, writing home to that effect. But she added “if anything does happen to the boat I shall not be afraid to go into the unknown.”5 She also subsequently wrote:

When embarking on the “LUSITANIA” on May 1st 1915, some excitement was apparent, because of the rumour going around that the “LUSITANIA” would be sunk – and that this was to be her last voyage.6

Indeed, an Imperial German Embassy-placed advert had appeared in the New York Tribune on the morning of sailing, next to Cunard’s advertisement for the Lusitania’s departure, warning about the dangers of Atlantic voyages.

Newspaper advertisement relating to the Lusitania’s departure, from “The German Secret Service”. © IWM Q 43458, IWM Non Commercial Licence

The rumours did prompt Olive to plan what action she would take in case of any incident, scoping out the best place to make for. She later attributed this foresight as the means of saving her life. Nevertheless, until the fateful day, she described the voyage as “pleasant and un-eventful” with “the wartime regulations of “Darkened ship” at night being the only different feature from a normal sailing.7

On that 7 May afternoon, when the torpedo tore into the Lusitania, Olive and her party were just finishing lunch in the second class dining room. She described the impact as a terrible thud which seemed to be almost underneath their table. She also referred to a second explosion. One of the females in the party entreated Olive to stay with her in the state room so they could die together. But Olive told her “No, I am going to fight for my life”.8 This response must have given the woman renewed courage for she too was saved. In fact, one report states that all but two young men from the 11 passengers seated at Olive’s dining table survived.9

Olive described how the ship listed so badly it was difficult to climb the stair-ways. Furniture and crockery crashed to the floor in the dining room. Olive then realised she did not have her life-belt with her, so began to make her way to her cabin to collect it. On her way she met a ship’s steward who gallantly gave her his own life-belt, fixing it securely around her. It is not known if this selfless act cost the man his life.

Terrible scenes met Olive’s eyes when she finally reached the boat-deck, including the ghastly sight of a lifeboat full of people tipping into the sea as it could not be lowered properly. This prompted Olive to get out of the lifeboat she was in. People were swimming and floating in the sea below. Others were crushed to death on the boat deck. Some passengers jumped into the ocean clinging to chairs.

Olive remained standing there, and she remembered going down with the ship before finally losing consciousness on hitting the water. The next thing she recalled was fighting for breath as she surfaced, fortuitously finding herself near an upturned lifeboat to which she managed to cling. Hundreds of people were floating amongst the wreckage, clamouring for help. Many were jammed between pieces of wood. Olive’s heavy clothes kept her down in the water, which at first seemed warm.

After what seemed like ages she noticed a young red-haired man, possessing great strength, swimming in the water and dragging people towards a life raft for them to be hauled aboard by others. Some though were beyond his help, the ones wedged in the wreckage. But he managed to save Olive, along with over 20 others. At this point Olive began to feel the intense cold.

Another upturned nearby raft capsized totally, tossing its human cargo into the water. But the raft Olive was on was full, and could take on no more. They could only watch in horror as their former ship’s passengers disappeared beneath the waves.

Olive kept going and helped to row the raft she was on. It drifted for hours before they were finally picked up by the Steam Trawler, Brock. Here she was provided with dry men’s clothing (all that was available) and a cup of tea. One man climbing aboard became temporarily insane, believing the trawler was the Lusitania. The Brock finally reached Queenstown at about 10.30pm that night.

Olive’s mother heard about the fate of the Lusitania on Friday night. It was on Saturday morning that the North family received a telegram from Queenstown (today known as Cobh) with the terse, but emotive, words “Olive safe.” She arrived home in Heckmondwike on Monday night, haunted by her experience and thoughts of “the beautiful babies and the beautiful people” lost. She mournfully recalled that “the band was playing and the children were playing just before, and they are lost.”10

But Olive was amongst the fortunate ones. Other than the loss of all her onboard possessions, the emotional trauma, and bruising, she had survived.

In fact, she was well enough to travel down to Aldershot for the marriage of her twin brother Staff Sergeant Roy Henderson North ASC, which took place in the parish church on 12 May 1915. Olive was bridesmaid and witness to the marriage.11

In mid-August 1918 Olive married a man from her Heckmondwike home town, Percy Hanson. The marriage took place at Heckmondwike’s George Street Chapel. Percy was a Royal Naval Reserve wireless operator.12 Some accounts state that Olive met him whilst being rescued from the Lusitania by the Royal Navy cruiser the Juno, or have implied that Percy was on the Juno at the time. This is not true. The Juno did not take part in the rescue, being essentially ordered to remain in Queenstown for fear that the U-boat was still lurking and awaiting an opportunity to sink any RN rescue vessel that ventured out to help.13 Also, although Percy did serve on the Juno in 1914, at the time of the Lusitania sinking he was serving aboard the armed merchant cruiser Marmora.14 By a strange quirk of fate, and good fortune, he left the Marmora on 17 July 1918, weeks before his marriage. Days after his transfer, on 23 July 1918, the ship was sunk by a U-boat off the south coast of Ireland. Thus both Olive and her husband-to-be had cheated death at the hands of marauding German U-boats off Ireland.

Olive and Percy settled in Heckmondwike and were still living at Cawley Lane in 1939, with Percy working as a postmaster. The couple subsequently moved to Blackpool, and this was their residence at the time of Olive’s death on 4 July 1976.15


Mrs Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw) and children Clifford and Lily

Florence Robshaw (also known by the diminutive name of Florrie) was born on 13 June 1879 and baptised at St Philip’s parish church in Dewsbury in October 1880. Her parents were shoemaker William Robshaw and wife Mary Ann (née Auty).16 The family are recorded on the 1881 and 1891 censuses at Leeds Road, in the Soothill Upper area of Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury. As a child Florence attended the Eastborough Board School.

Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw)

Florence, a weaver, married cloth finisher Dick Lockwood at Batley parish church on 15 September 1900.17 The parish register entry incorrectly notes Dick’s father as Charles. Dick was in fact born in Batley on 8 September 1875, the son of cloth finisher George and Sarah Lockwood (née Illingworth).18

In 1901 the newly married couple lived at Warwick Cottages in the Warwick Road area of Batley. Florence still worked as a woollen weaver and Dick as a woollen cloth finisher. Dick’s employers included Messrs. Wormald and Walker’s Dewsbury mills.

By the time son Clifford was born on 6 March 1904, and baptised at Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel on 28 March 1904, the couple had moved to Armitage Street in Ravensthorpe.19

In 1906 the Lockwood family took the huge decision to relocate to the USA. Florence’s uncle George Robshaw had emigrated there in the early 1880s, married, settled and raised a family, so it was not unchartered territory for them. Dick sailed on ahead of his wife and son. He is recorded departing Liverpool on 18 April 1906 on board the SS Friesland bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.20 On the US immigration manifest Dick gave his occupation as a miner, and stated his destination was Alto[o]na, Pennsylvania.

The move was a success. Weeks later Florence and Clifford followed Dick out, sailing from Liverpool on board the White Star Line ship Teutonic on 11 July 1906. They arrived at Ellis Island, New York on 18 July 1906. Florence gave her final destination as Frugality, Pennsylvania (around 14 miles away from Altoona), joining her husband. Perhaps Florence was displaying a little of that famous Yorkshire thrift and frugality of her own to get a cheaper infant fare. Clifford’s age on the passenger manifest is stated to be 11 months, rather than his correct age of over two years.21

By the time of the 1910 US Federal Census the Lockwoods were settled at Kearny Avenue, Kearny, in the Hudson District of New Jersey. Dick worked as a mill labourer. And the family had a new addition, two-year-old daughter Lily.

Lily and Clifford Lockwood

Florence, who had been socially active in Dewsbury as an enthusiastic worker for the Dewsbury Temperance Society, continued her community involvement in the USA. Some sources state she was the president of the New Jersey chapter of the Daughters of St. George, an organisation for women immigrants of British descent.22 She was certainly involved with the Kearny Star of Hope Lodge part of the organisation, holding the role of Financial Secretary for them in July 1912.23

In May 1911 Florence and her children made a summer visit home to family in England, sailing on the Arabic from New York to Liverpool. The catalyst for this homecoming appears to have been her mother’s possible ill-health and death.24 Her return journey to America was made on board the Campania, which docked at New York on 12 August 1911. She was accompanied on this return leg by her husband’s niece Beatrice Goodall (née Lockwood), Beatrice’s husband Willie, and their young son Leonard.25 The Goodall family had decided to make the move to the USA, with their destination being Kearny and their kinsfolk. I will return to the Goodalls later.

One poignant set of details we get from these sailing records are physical descriptions of the family. Florence was a tiny woman, standing a mere five foot tall. She had a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. The children took after her in colouring. Lily was too tiny to merit a height measurement. Clifford was three feet tall.

Two reasons were put forward for the fateful decision for Florence to make the 1915 wartime crossing to England with her children. US-based Robshaw relatives, with whom she spent the previous summer in Middletown, stated that her widowed father wanted her back home. These American Robshaws unsuccessfully tried to dissuade her from making the journey.26

However, this version of events was contradicted by her father, William. He believed the reason for her return was more to do with a shortage of work in America. As such Florence had decided to make the permanent journey back to England, with her husband due to follow a couple of months later once family affairs had been tied up overseas.

William wrote to Florence asking her to delay her journey because of the submarine threat, but she wrote back the week before the crossing to tell him she had booked her 3rd class passage, along with Clifford and Lily, on the Lusitania. Also returning would be her cousin Edith Robshaw, along with Dick’s niece Beatrice Goodall and her children.

Rather than having her frail, elderly father meet her at Liverpool, Florence informed him she would make her own way by train to Dewsbury, and would telegraph him details so he could meet her at Dewsbury railway station.

Florence never made it home. She, along with her two young children, and cousin Edith all perished. Her father learned of the ship’s fate from the calls of newspaper sellers, whilst waiting at home for the telegram from his daughter notifying him of her return train time.

One of the most disturbing set of images from the Lusitania tragedy are the photos of corpses recovered. These were used to try to identify the deceased. Body 69 is that of Lily Lockwood. Of all the local victims in this post she is the only one to be formally identified. She is buried in Common Grave B, at the Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork.

Graves of victims of torpedoed British ocean liner RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915, at Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland (now known as Cobh).
© IWM Q 18817, IWM Non Commercial Licence

Dick Lockwood remained in America after his family’s deaths. In the 1915 New Jersey State Census he is living in Kearny, New Jersey, in the household of Florence’s uncle George Robshaw, working as a machinist. The 1920 US Federal Census expands on this, stating he was employed as a machinist in a steel works. He married Louise Ernestine Meyer in 1916 and went on to have a daughter, Ruth Victoria. He was widowed for a second time in February 1926.

One final postscript to the Lockwood story. Florence’s uncle,27 George Robshaw, submitted a compensation claim to the U.S.–German Mixed Claims Commission for the loss of Florence, Clifford and Lily. This commission adjudicated on losses arising from the sinking of the Lusitania. George made the claim rather than Dick, because he was an American citizen. His intention was to give any award to Dick. The claim was rejected because George personally suffered no damage which could be measured by pecuniary standards.28


The Goodall family – Willie and Beatrice (née Lockwood), and children Leonard and Jack

When names were being sought for inclusion on Batley’s town War Memorial in 1923, Willie Goodall’s father put his son’s name forward. He explained he was Batley-born and went to America prior to the war. On his journey home with his wife and children he drowned in the Lusitania. The Borough Council rejected the claim. He is not on Batley War Memorial. However, his name does appear on Staincliffe Church of England School’s Roll of Honour.

Staincliffe School War Memorial, Including ‘Willie Goodall, Drowned in Lusitania’ – Photo by Peter Connor

In fact Willie Goodall was not even supposed to be sailing on the Lusitania that day. Only his wife, Beatrice, and children, Leonard and Jack, had initially booked passages. They were travelling back to England along with Beatrice’s Lockwood family relatives (see the section above).

Willie Goodall was born in Batley on 26 October 1881 and baptised at Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 20 December that year.29 He was the second son of Staincliffe couple Fairfax and Emma Goodall (née Broadhead). In both the 1891 and 1901 censuses Willie, and his elder brother George Arthur, are not in the home of their parents and younger siblings at Tichbourne Street (1891) and Halifax Road (1901). They are recorded as living with their maternal grandparents, George and Elizabeth Broadhead, in the Staincliffe area of Batley, first at Bunkers Lane (1891), then (after George’s death) at Yard 5, 3 Halifax Road (1901). In the latter census Willie worked in the woollen textile industry as a woollen piecer.

By the time of his Batley All Saints marriage on 16 February 1907 he had progressed to follow his father’s textile career path, employed as a rag grinder. Companies he worked for included John Brooke and the Co-op’s Livingstone Mill, both based in Batley Carr. His wife, Beatrice, worked in the textile industry as a weaver, at the time of her marriage, also at the Co-operative Mills.30 Although some passenger sources record her as older than Willie, she was in fact his junior, her birth being registered in the September quarter of 1882.31 This is supported by census documents and the parish register marriage entry.

Willie’s bride, Batley-born Beatrice Lockwood, was the daughter of cloth finisher William Lockwood and his wife Adeline (née Haigh). William was the younger brother of Dick Lockwood, husband of Florence Robshaw. In fact, in the 1891 census the eight-year-old Beatrice Lockwood is living with her uncle Dick and her Lockwood grandparents at Cross Mount Street in Batley.

Later in 1907 the newly-wed Goodalls welcomed their first child into the world, a son named Leonard. Of a non-conformist religious persuasion, the family had their son duly baptised at Batley’s Taylor Street Chapel on 26 September that year.32

Mr and Mrs Goodall with eldest son Leonard

In April 1911 the young family are recorded living in the Staincliffe area of Batley, at 93, Halifax Road. Willie was still employed as a rag grinder, and Beatrice as a weaver. It was that year they took the plunge and moved to Kearny, New Jersey. As mentioned earlier, the family sailed from Liverpool to New York with Florence Lockwood and her children on board the Campania in August that year.

Once more the list of passengers for this voyage provides a physical description of the family. Willie stood at five feet two inches tall, with a dark complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. His wife was two inches taller with a fair complexion, blond hair and grey eyes. Leonard is incorrectly described as an infant, aged one year eleven months. No further details are provided for him.33 But once again is a Yorkshire family playing it crafty to sneak a cheaper fare for their child by knocking years off his age? Leonard was actually nearer to four years old.

The family settled in Kearny, New Jersey and this was where son Jack was born in 1914. However, life was tough, with Willie finding work hard to obtain. He switched jobs regularly, and the difficulty he had in securing satisfactory, lasting work is demonstrated by the range of unconnected industries these involved – from work in a cotton mill, to employment at a motor works and in a linoleum shop.

The employment situation further deteriorated after the outbreak of war, and this prompted the family decision to return home. However, only a week or so before the family planned to travel, Willie obtained what looked like a promising new post. He decided to stay on for two to three months longer to see how it went, leaving his wife and children to return to England on the Lusitania, in third class accommodation with her relatives.

This remained the belief of Willie’s family back home in England, even in the initial aftermath of the sinking. They did not realise Willie had changed his mind the day before the sailing, as the new job did not fulfil expectations. He made a last-minute decision to come home to England and surprise his parents. Grieving for the feared loss of Beatrice and the children, they now learned the crushing news of Willie’s fate in a remarkable way.

Early on in the voyage home, the Goodalls made friends with the Eddie and Annie Riley from Great Horton, Bradford. They were amongst the lucky ones, being saved along with their four-year-old twins Sutcliffe and Edith. Almost as remarkably, photos of the Riley family, taken in Queenstown in the days after their rescue, survive.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by National Library of Ireland on The Commons at https://flickr.com/photos/47290943@N03/29518574043. It was reviewed on 5 August 2020 by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions.

Once the Rileys got back to England, they voraciously read the newspaper accounts for any updates. These updates included one from the parents of Willie, stating he had remained in America whilst his family sailed home. Knowing this not to be true, the Rileys travelled to Staincliffe on the 15 September to break the news of Willie’s death to his parents in person.

When the Lusitania was torpedoed Willie was in the smoke-room and Leonard was running about playing on deck. Beatrice was also on deck, with baby Jack, talking to the Riley family. When the explosion occurred Beatrice ran off to seek her husband and eldest child, whilst the Rileys made for the lifeboats. They did not see the Goodalls again.

The Riley family, before returning to England, did make the grisly visit to the mortuary in Queenstown to see if they could recognise any members of the Staincliffe family, but failed to do so. Subsequently Cunard wrote to Willie’s parents stating, in what today seems like a remarkably insensitive manner:

We have now received some photographs of the unidentified bodies recovered and other photographs will be taken as the bodies are brought in, and will be sent here (Liverpool), and displayed for identification. We shall be very pleased to show you these photos, should you care to come to Liverpool….34

These are the sets of photos from which the body of Lily Lockwoood were identified. Unfortunately none of the Goodall family were recognised from them. They have no known graves.


Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer and wife Margaret Inglis Adams (née Cairns)

One of the most iconic incidents in the sinking involved newly-wed Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, and her husband the Rev. Herbert Linford Gwyer. The couple were on their way from Canada to Mirfield, for the Rev. Gwyer to resume his association with Yorkshire, taking up his appointment as curate at the parish church of the ancient Mirfield church of St Mary the Virgin.

Mirfield St Mary the Virgin, the church to which the Rev. Herbert L. Gwyer was travelling on the Lusitania, after his appointment as curate there in 1915 – Photo by Jane Robert

Herbert Gwyer was born in London on 19 March 1883,35 the son of stockbroker36 John Edward Gwyer and wife Edith, née Linford. The family lived at Dorchester Place, Regents Park at the time of Herbert’s birth, and this was where his mother died the same day.37 Herbert’s baptism was swiftly arranged at St Paul’s, Lisson Grove on 20 March 1883.38

Educated at Uppingham public school, and Magdalene College Cambridge, Herbert was ordained a Deacon by the Bishop of Wakefield on 23 September 1906.39 His first appointment, as curate at All Hallows parish church, Kirkburton, lasted from 1906 to 1911.

Early in 1911 he left Yorkshire, to take up his new appointment as a missioner to the Railway Mission in Western Canada. In July 1914 he also took charge of the Empress Parish, on the west side of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Described as “indefatigable in his efforts for the betterment of the local society40 it was through his endeavours that in the autumn of 1914 a new church edifice was erected.

Margaret Inglis Adams Cairns was born in Dunbar, Scotland on 1 July 1888.41 She was the daughter of local potato merchant William Cairns and his wife Alice. Latterly the family lived in the Warrender Park area of Edinburgh.

The Cairns family, comprising of William, and offspring Thomas, Margaret and Alice, left Glasgow on 2 April 1910 to settle in Canada. Son Norman followed them out later that year. The Cairns family became wealthy farmers with ranches in the Cochrane district, south of Calgary. Meanwhile Margaret made her home in the southern Saskatchewan town of Fort Qu’Appelle.42

It was whilst working in Canada the couple met. Herbert preached for the last time at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Empress, on 11 April 1915 and his resignation from the Railway Mission Society took effect from 12 April 1915. Three days later, in the Empress Church, he and Margaret married.43 They were to sail for England, and to Herbert’s new appointment in Mirfield, on 1 May 1915.

Like Olive North, the Gwyers travelled second class and were in the dining room when the torpedo struck. Writing to an Empress barrister later in May 1915, Herbert recounted the events of that day.

Unlike Olive, the Gwyers opted not to return to their cabin for lifebelts. But, in similarities to Olive’s account, Herbert told of the boat listing badly which prevented any safe lowering of the port side lifeboats – the one attempt he saw resulted in the craft being smashed against the liner’s side killing many. His other recollections were of crockery crashing; people rushing about on deck; and some jumping off the deck to the water below, which by now was full of wreckage and bodies.

Herbert and Margaret moved to the first class deck where the final lifeboat was being loaded. Margaret got one of the last places in it. Herbert remained a solitary figure on deck, many passengers having gone down to their cabins to retrieve valuables.

For a while Herbert stood quite alone waving and calling messages to his wife as the Lusitania went down. Then he made his bid for survival:

I shut my eyes and jumped, and by a merciful providence landed right into a boat in the water. Just then the Lusitania sank and her funnel came right over us. How we were not sucked down I cannot imagine. We all thought the end had come, and when I looked around Margaret was no longer in the boat.44 [From this written account by the clergyman it appears that, by some miracle, the Rev. Gwyer may have landed in the same boat as his wife.]

Herbert would never forget that awful moment. He went on to write:

It had been bad enough seeing her into the boat, but the sea was calm and I thought that with wreckage, etc., even if I wasn’t picked up I should be able to get on something till rescue came. The idea of being drowned never seemed near at all, but when she was washed overboard, I never thought I should see her again.45

Margaret’s ordeal now took on a whole new level of terror. As she was washed overboard, the rush of water sucked her down one of the Lusitania’s great funnels. As the tons of sea water poured on the furnaces below, enormous quantities of steam were generated. This forced a reaction, with jets of water, clouds of steam, oily black water and soot shooting forcefully back out of the funnel and into the sea. And in the midst of all this was an unrecognisable Margaret Gwyer, severely bruised, with injured ribs, clothes stripped away from her, and blackened with layers of soot and oil.

But, unbeknownst to her husband, she was alive, fished out of the water and saved. It was an extraordinary escape from death. And she was described as thoroughly cheerful despite her ordeal.

Herbert Gwyer met his wife again on a fishing boat. Initially, due to a combination of her dramatically changed appearance and his shock, he did not recognise her. But when he did, he could not begin to describe his sheer relief.

The Gwyers left Ireland and landed at Fishguard on Sunday morning, 9 May, with the waiting press eager to hear Margaret’s amazing escape – although many early newspaper reports described her as Herbert’s sister-in-law. They then travelled to Oxfordshire to recuperate with relatives before Herbert took up his appointment at Mirfield St Mary’s in July 1915. He remained in that post until late 1916. His last funeral is noted in the parish register in November of that year.

Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer

Between late 1916 and early 1919 Herbert served as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces at the Royds Hall Huddersfield War Hospital. Margaret undertook V.A.D. work there. And then, with another of those strange coincidences life often throws, in March 1919 he was appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Staincliffe – the school of which houses the War Memorial inscribed with the name of Lusitania victim Willie Goodall.

Christ Church, Staincliffe, where Rev. Herbert L. Gwyer moved to in 1919, with Staincliffe Church of England School in the foreground, which contains the Memorial Plaque bearing Willie Goodall’s name – Photo by Jane Roberts

His subsequent religious appointments included Bishop of George in South Africa from February 1937. In 1952 he returned to England, becoming the Vicar of Amberley, in Sussex, serving there for five years before his retirement to Chichester in January 1957.

The experiences of Herbert Gwyer and his wife did not deter them from sailing. They appear on numerous passenger lists over the years. On 17 November 1960 the retired clergyman embarked on his final sea crossing. It was a last ironic twist of fate. Two days into the voyage from Southampton to South Africa, on board the Athlone Castle, his life ended, the primary cause being a cardiac arrest.46 45 years after the sinking of the Lusitania he did ultimately die at sea. Margaret survived him by almost 15 years, her death occurring on 16 April 1975.47


Arthur Taylor

The final Lusitania victim in this tale is mystery man Arthur Taylor. Numerous theories as to his identity have been put forward by researchers, but none are conclusive. And, so far, I have come across none who have reached my interpretation.

I believe the mysterious Arthur Taylor was a Thornhill Lees resident.

Official information about him is sparse. Other than his name, nationality (English), that he was travelling 3rd class, his occupation as a sand polisher and his last place of abode being Canada, there is little to go on. One newspaper lists him amongst those from Toronto feared lost, giving his address as Amsterdam Avenue.48

My lead came in the form of a newspaper snippet which reads:

There is unfortunately only too good a reason to believe that a Thornhill Lees young man, Arthur Taylor (30), of 17, Beatson Street, is one of the lost. Up till about three years ago, Taylor was a bottle-hand at the local works, but he then went out to Canada, and he has recently worked for a silver-plate company in Toronto. He is the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Taylor, of Brewery Lane, and it was not known at the time of the disaster that he was coming home, though he had recently written to the effect that he would return shortly. On Monday his friends received a telegram from Toronto (but from whom is not known, presumably a friend of the young man), saying that he had sailed on the “Lusitania.” Inquiries were at once set afoot, and his name was found on a passenger list, but not in that of the survivors. On Thursday morning a letter was received from an official source at Liverpool that he was a survivor, but telegraphic communication with Queenstown, the same day, elicited the fact that this was incorrect. Mr. Arthur Taylor was amongst the third-class passengers. He has a wife and a little boy.49

Disentangling this mystery has not proved straightforward because of anomalies with the information provided in the report and with corroborating records.

However, based on my research, it appears the most likely candidate for the Lusitania’s victim is Arthur Taylor, son of Thornhill Lees-born glass bottle maker John Sykes Taylor and his wife Ann Elizabeth Kershaw.

The couple married at Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church in 1876, but they did not stay local, eventually ending up in Shirehampton, which is located in the Bristol area of Gloucestershire. It was here their younger children were born, with Arthur being the youngest son. According to the baptism register of Shirehampton parish church, he was born on 27 November 1884.50

The move to the south west did not prove permanent, and the 1891 census found the family back in the Thornhill area. Their address in 1901 and 1911 was Chestnut Terrace, Thornhill Lees, and by this latter census John Sykes Taylor had switched from glass bottle making work to become a greengrocer and fruiterer.

Arthur though, followed his father’s old trade. In 1901 the 16-year-old worked as a glass bottle maker. This was almost inevitable given the area in which they lived, with the glass bottle works providing major local employment. The Kilner glassworks, producing bottles, jars and apothecary items, began at Thornhill Lees in 1842. By 1894 the firm employed as many as 400 hands (men, women and boys), and were making up to 300,000 bottles of all types per week.

20-year-old Arthur married Amy Booth on 28 October 1905 at the Thornhill church of St Michael and All Angels. She was the 21-year-old daughter of Sam and Clara Brook.51 Arthur and Amy’s son, John, was born on 19 April 1907, and baptised at the Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church the following month.52

In the 1911 census the family abode was Thomas Street, Thornhill Lees, with Arthur (26) working as a glass blower and Amy as a cloth weaver in a woollen mill.

It was later that year when Arthur left home, unaccompanied by his wife and child, bound for America. He sailed from Liverpool on the RMS Baltic, and arrived at New York on 9 December 1911. The final destination given for the 27-year old bottle hand, whose last residence was Dewsbury, was Wallingford, Connecticut. This was to the farm of his uncle George Kershaw, the elder brother of Arthur’s mother.53

From the records we have a physical description of Arthur. Standing at five feet nine inches tall, with a medium complexion, brown hair and eyes, he was said to be in good health.54

The first anomaly in this record is place of birth, given as Newport, England – not Shirehampton. There is a village called Newport in Gloucestershire, which is around 19 miles north from Shirehampton – but it is a point to note.

Also, curiously, though married, he names his nearest relative in England as his father John, rather than his wife, Amy. The address given for John though is not Chestnut Terrace, but Brewery Lane, Thornhill Lees. This is the second anomaly. However the map below shows the proximity of the two locations.

Map showing the proximity of Chestnut Terrace to Brewery Lane, Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire CCXLVII.NE Revised: 1905, Published: 1908 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

There is a further travel record for the now 29-year-old Arthur Taylor which adds more complications to the mix. This is in the form of a US Border Crossing card, when he left his new home in Toronto, Canada to travel to Buffalo, New York on 14 June 1913. By now he is working as a silver polisher, and again this record gives his birth place as Newport, England – not Shirehampton.55

The first discrepancy on the Border Crossing card was quickly resolved. He declared he had arrived in New York on the Baltic in December 1910, and had lived in Connecticut between 1910 and 1912. This would have meant he could not have been in England for the 1911 census. From migration records it was easy to show he simply got his dates mixed up by one year – his arrival was December 1911 as the passenger and crew lists I mentioned earlier show.

The next point of note is this record names his nearest relative as wife Emma, of 17 Beatson Street, Dewsbury. Whilst the address is a match for the 1915 newspaper report naming Arthur as a Lusitania victim, the name of his wife is incorrect – it should be Amy. However I have seen such name confusion between Amy and Emma in other genealogical records. And the 17 Beatson Street address does indeed link with Amy’s family. This is where her widowed mother Clara lived in 1911.

The final anomaly with the details on this card relate to physical description. There is a height discrepancy of a little over one inch. But, more glaringly, in this record his eyes are said to be blue, not brown. But once again this is not a unique error. For more details on an identical case see my post Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.

I have found no newspaper follow-up piece confirming Arthur’s fate. But, despite the anomalies, I believe the weight of evidence to date overwhelmingly points to Arthur Taylor of Thornhill Lees being a Lusitania casualty for the following reasons:

  • The newspaper report as a whole;
  • The occupational correlation – he worked in the silver plate industry according to the newspaper report, and is variously described as a silver polisher and sand polisher in other records from the period;
  • The Toronto abode;
  • The links between the man who emigrated in 1911 and the Thornhill Lees family; and
  • Crucially, despite exhaustive searches, there is no other candidate from the Thornhill/Thornhill Lees/Dewsbury area who would fit.

I may return to Arthur at a later date, if more evidence comes to light – including what became of his wife and child.



This small sample of 11 local Heavy Woollen District Lusitania connections give some idea of the impact of the ship’s sinking on communities up and down the country. It illustrates how the First World War touched the lives of people beyond those serving in the military. These people, too, became casualties as a direct result of the conflict. It seems fitting, therefore, that Staincliffe school remembered Willie Goodall as such.


Appeal for Help with Photographs: Sourcing copyright free photos of images for posts such as these is always problematic. I located several brilliant online images of those involved in this local history piece which I simply could not use. In the past I have been fortunate that, as a result of my research, families have subsequently shared photos and allowed me to publish them. If anyone does have any such photos I could add to this piece, I would be most grateful.


The searching, sourcing and referencing, including those equally important negative searches, for this post was huge. These references won’t be of interest to many readers. As such I’ve only included an abbreviated form below (and that is lengthy enough). If anyone does want more detailed references please contact me direct.

Notes:
1. Numbers range from 1,191 to 1,201. 1,198 was the number from the Cunard official lists;
2. I have not covered all of those with a local connection as the piece would be too long. Depending on interest I may do it at a later date;
3. 1939 Register and GRO Death Registration. As an aside, Roy is registered as Thomas in the GRO birth indexes;
4. UK Outwards Passenger Lists, The National Archives (TNA), Reference BT27 and the Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915. Note the 1914 date given in the National Maritime Museum papers referred to at [6] is incorrect;
5. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
6. Various accounts of Olive North’s survival and rescue from the sinking or the RMS LUSITANIA, National Maritime Museum, Reference NRT/1;
7. Ibid;
8. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
9. Batley News, 15 May 1915;
10. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
11. Marriage Register of St Michael the Archangel parish church, Aldershot, Surrey History Centre, Reference 6927/1/21;
12. Leeds Mercury, 14 August 1918;
13. The catalogue description of the Olive North National Maritime Museum papers state she was returning to England aboard the Lusitania ostensibly to marry her fiancé Percy Hanson. The wedding was postponed until August 1918;
14. Percy Hanson, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings’ Records of Service, TNA, Reference BT 377/7/127199;
15. Olive North, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 8 September 1976
16. Baptism Register, St Philip’s, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP9/439;
17. Marriage Register, Batley All Saints parish church, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/34;
18. GRO birth registration December Quarter 1875, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 618, mother’s maiden name Illingworth. Date of birth from U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, New Jersey, Hudson County;
19. Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WC21;
20. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, TNA, Washington D.C., Record Group Number 85, Series T840;
21. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 7; Page Number: 28;
22. Gare Maritime website, https://www.garemaritime.com/lusitania-part-12-gone-forever-dead-missing/;
23. The Paterson Morning Call, 1 July 1912;
24. Mary A Robshaw, GRO death indexes, Reference September Quarter 1911, Dewsbury, volume 9b, page 899;
25. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 18-23; Page Number: 167;
26. Middletown Daily Argus, 17 May 1915;
27. The Commission incorrectly states he was the brother of Florence;
28. Claim by the USA on behalf of George Robshaw, Docket No 2202, 7 January 1925, taken from Opinions in Individual Lusitania Claims and Other Cases: To May 27, 1925. Washington: G.P.O., 1925;
29. Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference C10/21/1;
30. Batley All Saints parish church Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/36; and Batley News, 22 May 1915;
31. GRO birth registration September Quarter 1882, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 586, mother’s maiden name Haigh;
32. England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, FamilySearch, FHL Film Number 1657189;
33. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 21-23; Page Number: 167;
34. Dewsbury Reporter, 22 May 1915;
35. South African Biographical Index 1825-2005 (various dates); UK and Ireland Incoming Passenger List, arrival 2 April 1955, TNA, Reference BT26/1330; Sea Departure Card for his trip to the Cape in November 1960, TNA Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/294
36. Subsequently he was secretary of the Provident Clerks Mutual Life Insurance Association, based at Moorgate, London;
37. Edith Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 10 October 1884
38. Baptism Register of St Paul’s, Lisson Grove, Westminster, accessed via Ancestry, misindexed as Groger, London Metropolitan Archives, no reference supplied
39. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 24 September 1906
40. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915
41. Her GRO Death Registration gives 1 July 1888 as her date of birth, but some passenger lists state 5 July 1888. I have not obtained her birth certificate to confirm. However her Sea Departure Card for her trip to the Cape in November 1960 has the 1 July 1888 date, so this is likely to be the accurate one. TNA, Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/565
42. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915;
43. Ibid;
44. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 14 June 1915;
45. Ibid;
46. Deaths at Sea, TNA Reference BT334/0114;
47. Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 15 January 1976;
48. Toronto World, 10 May 1915;
49. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915;
50. Shirehampton parish church Baptism Register, Bristol Archives, Reference P/St MS/R/2/c;
51. St Michael and All Angels Thornhill Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP14/1/3/12;
52. Holy Innocents Church, Thornhill Lees, Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP169/1/1/2;
53. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 102;
54. Ibid;
55. Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; TNA Washington DC, Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 146

Other Sources (not the complete list):
1861 to 1911 Censuses, England and Wales (various references);
1891 and 1901 Censuses, Scotland;
• 1910, 1920 and 1930 US Federal Census
(various references);
• 1915 New Jersey State Census;
• 1939 Register
(various references);
Amory, P. The Death of the Lusitania. Toronto?, 1917;
• Batley News,
15 May 1915;
Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1932;
Deaths at Sea Lists, (various);
Dewsbury Reporter, 15 and 22 May 1915;
England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), (various);
• Hoehling, A. A., and Mary Duprey Hoehling. The Last Voyage of the Lusitania. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1996;
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 10 May 1915;
Imperial War Museum;
• King, Greg, and Penny Wilson. Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016;
• Labour, Ministry of. Dictionary of Occupational Terms: Based on the Classification of Occupations Used in the Census of Population, 1921; London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1927;
• Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2015;
Lusitania Online Website: http://www.lusitania.net/
New Jersey, U.S., Death Index, New Jersey State Archives;
• New Jersey Marriage Index,
New Jersey State Archives;
Passenger Lists, (various);
• Peeke, Mitch, Steven Jones, and Kevin Walsh-Johnson. The Lusitania Story: the Atrocity That Shocked the World. Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword, 2015;
• Preston, Diana. Wilful Murder: the Sinking of the Lusitania. London: Doubleday, 2015;
The Berwick Advertiser, 14 May 1915;
The Berwickshire News, 18 May 1915;
The Daily Mirror, 10 May 1915;
The National Library of Scotland Maps;
Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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:

Coal Mining Children: “I’ve Heard I Shall Go to Heaven If I’m A Good Girl”

Have you ever stumbled across what could be the words of your ordinary, working-class ancestors? The type who never usually feature in records beyond those associated with births, marriages and deaths? Words which well over 150 years later hit you like a hammer blow? You can imagine them speaking those words, and through them have a totally unique and unexpected window into their lives. Here is my experience.

Several years ago, when reading extracts of depositions contained within the First Report to the Children’s Employment Commission [1] looking at mines, a series of familiar names featured. Brief extracts were published in various parts of the 1842 Report.

The names were:

  • J. Ibbetson, collier in poor health, age 53, Birkenshaw;
  • John Ibbetson, 13½-years-old. No further details;
  • James Ibbetson, aged about twenty, Collier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal whose two sisters aged twelve and a half and between eight and nine worked as his hurriers; and
  • Elizabeth Ibbetson, a hurrier at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal. Age not stated.

Because they appeared in distinctly separate parts of the Report, there was nothing to indicate if this was one or more families. But the names stood out because my 4x great grandfather, Jonathan Ibbetson (and variant spellings [2]), was a coal miner. Born in around 1788 in Halifax, by the 1841 census (name recorded as Hibbeson) [3] he was living at Tong More Side, Birkenshaw cum Hunsworth. The household comprised of Jonathan Hibbeson (50), a coal miner; William (20); Martha (15); John (14); Bettey (11); and Mary (9) [4]. Jonathan’s wife, Elizabeth Rushworth, who he married on 25 February 1811 in Halifax Parish Church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist [5], is not in the census household. I have not traced her burial yet, but the possibility is she was dead by 1841. In the 1851 census, which provides more family relationship details, Jonathan is described as a widower.

At the time of Jonathan and Elizabeth’s marriage their abode was Ovenden. They subsequently lived in Queensbury, and possibly the Thornton area, before Jonathan ended up in Birkenshaw. A family with non-Conformist leanings their children included:

  • Hannah, baptised 20 August 1811 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. Other information includes she was the daughter of Jonathan and Betty Ibbitson of Swilhill [6];
  • John, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbeson of Swilhill. Baptised 28 August 1814 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden [7]. Possible burial 7 March 1815, age 9 months at the Parish Church of St Mary’s Illingworth. Abode Ovenden [8];
  • James, baptised 16 June 1816 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. The son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbetson of Skylark Hall [9];
  • William, born on 4 August 1821 and baptised at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden on 5 September 1821, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbotson of Bradshaw Row in Ovenden [10]. Points to note, if being precise he was two months shy of 20 in the 1841 census, so technically his age should have been rounded down to 15; Also, although his earlier census birthplaces are given as Thornton and, bizarrely, Birstall, by 1871 and 1881 it is corrected to Ovenden;
  • Martha, my 3x great grandmother. I’ve not traced her baptism, but other sources indicate she was born in around 1824/25 in either Bradford, Thornton or Queensbury, depending on the three censuses where her birthplace is given. Why, oh why aren’t ancestors consistent with information?
  • John was born in around 1827 and his burial is in the parish register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 15 February 1844, age 17. He is recorded as being the son of collier Jonathan Ibbetson [11];
  • Elizabeth (Bettey in the 1841 census) was born in around 1830 likely in Queensbury, although again the censuses for her vary [12]. She was baptised at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 25 December 1844. Her parents are named as Jonathan and Elizabeth Ibbotson [13]; and
  • Mary was born in around 1832 in Queensbury or Thornton [14]. She was baptised at the same time as sister Elizabeth [15].

There was possibly another son named Joseph, born circa 1820. More of him, and why I believe he is linked to the family, is perhaps the subject for a later post.

St Paul’s Church, Birkenshaw – Photo by Jane Roberts

I never have much opportunity to research my family history to the extent I would wish nowadays. It was only earlier in July 2019 that I finally got around to investigating the Children’s Commission Report further. This meant a visit to Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History section where the volumes containing appendices to the Report are held [16]. These contain the statements of the various witnesses who gave evidence to the Sub-Commissioners, extracts of which were used in the Report.

They make powerful, and emotionally challenging, reading. In order not to dilute their impact I’ve published in full the Ibbetson statements, and that of the Gomersal pit owner in whose mine they worked. These statements were given to Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons in 1841. He investigated the West Riding coal mines (excluding those in the Leeds, Bradford and Halifax areas).

No. 263. – James Ibbetson, aged about 20. Examined at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841: –
I am a collier. There are three hurriers [17] in the pit; two are girls; they are my sisters. They hurry for me. None hurry here with belt and chain [18]. The oldest is 12½. The youngest is between 8 and 9. She has been working ever since she was 6 years old. They have both hurried together since she was 6 years old. Sometimes when I have got my stint I come out as I have done to-day, and leave them to fill and hurry. I have gone down at 4 and 5 and 6, and the lasses come at 8, and they get out about 5. They stop at 12, and if the men have some feeling they let them stop pit an hour, but there are not many but what keep them tugging at it. The girls hurry to dip [19]. The distance is 160 yards. The corves weigh 3½cwt. each, and they hurry 22 on average. I don’t think it proper for girls to be in pit. I know I could get boys, but my sisters are more to be depended on; they are capital hurriers. Some hurriers are kept to work with sharp speaking, and sometimes paid with pick-shaft, and anything else the men can lay their hands on. I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head, where they are less civilized than here; and the rope slipped off the gin and jerked and broke, and they were killed. At Harrison’s other pit there are eight boys.

No. 264. – John Ibbetson. Examined May 26, 1841, at Mr. Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal: –
I am 13½. I hurry alone. I go down at 7, and sometimes at 8. Sometimes we work a whole day, and then it’s 5 when we come out. I stop at 12, and my sisters too, for an hour and a half. I like being in pit. I’ve been down 6 year or better. I thrust with my head [20] where the coals touch the top of the gates and then we have to push. In all the bank-gates they don’t cut it down enough. I have been to Sunday-school. I stop at home now, I’ve no clothes to go in; I stop in because I’ve no clothes to go and lake [21] with other little lads. I read spelling-book. I don’t know who Jesus Christ was; I never saw him but I’ve seen Foster who prays about him. I’ve heard something about him, but I never heard that he was put to death.

A Hurrier Pushing a Full Corve with his Head – Newspaper Image Over 100 Years Old

No. 265. – Mr Joseph Harrison. Examined May 26, 1841, at Gomersal:-
I don’t employ the hurriers; they are entirely under the control of the men, but when they quarrel I interfere to prevent it. I don’t approve of girls coming. I allow two as a favour. I have four pits and 18 children. They thrust two together when they are little. In the bank-gates the coal will catch the roofs sometimes, because we leave seven or eight inches inferior. We don’t require children younger than 10 years, as far as our experience. They can do very little before they are at that age, and I would as lief be without them. We could do if they were to allow us to draw coals for eight hours, with an additional hour for meals. If they could thus make colliers work regular it would be a good thing. They will sometimes work for 12 or 13 hours, and then they will lake perhaps. The getters don’t leave the children to fill and hurry here after they come out of pit, except it be a corf or two. If hurriers are prohibited from working till they are 10, I don’t know whether we could get enough or not.

No. 266. – Elizabeth Ibbetson. Examined at Mr Harrison’s Pit, Gomersal, May 26, 1841:-
I am 11 ½ years old. I don’t like being at pit so weel [sic]; it’s too hard work for us. My sister hurries with me. I’ve been two year and a half in this pit. It tires my legs and arms; not much in my back. I get my feet wet. I come down at 7 and 8. I come out at 4, and sometimes at 2, and sometimes stay till 6. I laked on Saturday, for I had gotten cold. I am wet in the feet now; they are often wet. We rest an hour one day with another, but we stop none at Saturdays. I push the corf with my head, and it hurts me, and is sore. I go to Sunday-school to Methodists every Sunday. I read A B C. I’ve heard I shall go to heaven if I’m a good girl, and to hell if I’m bad; but I never heard nought at all about Jesus Christ. We are used very well, but sometimes the hurriers fall out, and then they pay us. My father works at pit.

No. 267. – John Ibbetson, aged 53. Examined at Birkenshaw, near Birstall [undated]: – 
I have been 45 years in the pits. I am the father of the children you have examined at Mr. Harrison’s pit. I have had three ribs on one side and two on the other broken, and my collar-bone, and my leg skinned. My reason for taking these girls into the pit is that I can get nought else for them to do. I can’t get enough wages to dress the boys for going to school. I get 5s. 6d. For the girls, and I and my two sons earn 17s. 6d. on average a-week. I am done up. I cannot addle [22] much. The eldest girl does nothing at all. We get potatoes and a bit of meat or bacon when they come out of the pit. I knew a man called Joseph Cawthrey, who sent a child in at 4 years old; and there are many who go to thrust behind at that time, and many go at 5 and 6; but it is soon enough for them to go at 9 or 10; the sooner they go in the sooner their constitution is mashed up [23], I have been 13 hours in a pit since I have been here, but 8 hours is plenty. The children went with us and came back with us; they worked as long as we did. The colliers and the children about here will be 12 hours from the time they go away till they come home. They could not addle a living if they were stinted to work to 8 hours at present ages. The children don’t get schooling as they ought to have. I cannot deny it. I cannot get the means. I have suffered from asthma, and am regularly knocked up. A collier cannot stand the work regularly. We must stop now and then, or he would be mashed up before any time. We cannot afford to keep Collier-Monday [24] as we used to do.

The statements are far more detailed than the brief extracts in the published Report, which is a synthesis of masses of evidence. In fact not all statements made the final cut, so if your ancestor is not mentioned in the final Report it is still worth checking the appendices.

The full statements now confirm that a 53-year-old miner John Ibbetson along with sons James (aged about 20) and John (13½), and daughter Elizabeth (11½ or 12½ depending on deposition) plus another unnamed daughter aged between 8 and 9, worked at Mr Harrison’s pit in Gomersal. They confirm the absence of a mother. They also confirm an older, unnamed, daughter who “does nothing at all.” This older daughter would fit with Martha, my 3x great grandmother. Presumably she is taking care of the household chores, in place of her mother. Methodism is indicated, in terms of religion, but the children only have a sketchy concept of the Bible. There is a Birkenshaw link – which is where John Ibbetson provided his testimony. Gomersal to Birkenshaw is about two miles, so perfectly feasible for a work commute. It is also clear John is in poor health and the family is struggling to make ends meet.

The desperation in the statement of the father is palpable. The family managed as best they could. It appears the girls were given priority for clothes, with Elizabeth rather than John being sufficiently well-dressed to attend Sunday School, and their father admitting as much.

There is also the acknowledgement that sending the girls (and even young boys) to work down in the coal mines was not something their father would do through choice – but the income was needed for them to keep going, to keep the family together. There was, I guess, always the dreaded spectre of the workhouse with its associated stigma that somehow you had failed your kith and kin, alongside the threat of family separation. You did all you could to avoid it. If it meant children working, so be it.

It must also be said it was believed that in order to get children accustomed to mine work, and to be able to progress, they needed to be introduced to it at an early age. And, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) also offered some measure of childcare – especially if there was no mother, or a working mother.

There is the sense of pride by James in the work his sisters undertook. It is to be hoped that he was a miner who looked kindly on them whilst they toiled, because this attitude could have a huge impact on the lot of the young hurrier. For instance, did he notice when they were tired and, if so, did he let them rest for a little while when they arrived at his bank, and in doing so did he fill the corve himself? Did he help push off the laden corves? His sister Elizabeth indicates she was treated well. And still there remains the image in my mind of the tired, wet Elizabeth with aching limbs and head sore from pushing the corve, yet wanting to be a good girl so she could go to heaven.

And then there is young John, accepting his lot, taking simple pleasures from ‘laking ’, and enjoying his work despite its hardships. His innocent words about never having seen Jesus Christ are echoing in my ears.

But is this my family? The ages for children John, Elizabeth and Mary given in the Commission evidence correspond with the ages ascertained from my family history research for my Ibbetson ancestors. The age of their father John roughly matches that of my 4x great grandfather Jonathan, with 53 equating to a year of birth circa 1788. It also is distinctly possible that John could have been used in the witness statement rather than Jonathan. I’ve reviewed details for a sample of witnesses elsewhere and cross-matched against the 1841 census. From this there is evidence that names do not always match up exactly with this census; and ages do not in all cases match precisely with those given in the 1841 census for under 15’s. [25].

The 1841 census, taken on 6 June, was only a couple of weeks after the Ibbetsons gave evidence to the Commission. As illustrated earlier, at that time the census household comprised of Jonathan, William, Martha, John, Bettey and Mary. I have gone through the 1841 census for the Birkenshaw and Gomersal areas page by page and can find no other Ibbetson (and variant) family who would fit as a unit with the names of those giving evidence. I suppose there is always a remote possibility the family giving evidence left the area in between their Commission interviews and the census date; or even that they were for some reason missing from the census. But, taken with other evidence, I think this is unlikely.

But there remains one major anomaly which makes me hesitate from saying with absolute certainty this is my family giving evidence to the Children’s Commission. It is the discrepancy with an approximately 20-year-old son named James. Although Jonathan did have a son named James, he is not present in the 1841 census household. In any case he would be around 25, not 20. The implication from the Commission statement is the son who gave evidence is still at home and contributing to the family income. Yet it seems a big stretch though to think the name James might be recorded as William. This is the one piece of conflicting evidence I have been unable to resolve.

Neither have I definitively discovered what happened to James. I have traced no death and, so far, I have two living candidates for him – but neither are totally satisfactory. One is married to Ann (née Binns) [26] and living in Birkenshaw in 1841 and 1861 (Thornton in 1851). At the moment he is seeming the most likely, although I’ve yet to find his marriage. My hope was it would be in the Civil Registration era and name his father. But I am still searching. This James died in a mining accident in November 1870 [27], with his age given as 56 [28 and 29], so not quite a fit. His census birthplace is Thornton [30], so not a match for the baptism details. His children included Margaret, Hannah, Ellen, Emma, John, Sophia, Mary, Betsy and Annice.

The other James Ibbetson married Priscilla Robinson in Bradford Parish Church in December 1833 [31] and is living in Thornton in 1841. I have some issues with this one. These include that whilst his bride’s entry in the parish register notes she is a minor and marries with consent, his details do not. If he was baptised shortly after his birth he too would be a minor. I suppose he may not have been baptised as a baby, but it is a niggle. As is the fact the likely death for him, registered in the December Quarter of 1847 gives his age as 35 [32], equating to a year of birth circa 1812. On the plus side is the naming pattern for his children which include some familiar ones – William, Martha, Mary and Betty, alongside the less familiar Joshua and Nancy.

It is here I have one final piece of evidence to throw into the mix, and one which I feel tilts the balance towards it being my family. It comes in the 26 May 1841 Commission statement of ‘James’ Ibbetson when he says “I saw two people killed at Queen’s Head…

Queensbury, midway between Halifax and Bradford, and a location which in censuses is intermittently cited as the birthplace of various younger Ibbetsons, was not known as such until 1863. Prior to that it was Queenshead. In fact, in the 1861 census Elizabeth’s birthplace is given as Queenshead, Halifax [33]. And it is this which provides yet another link to my Ibbetson family and makes me believe, on balance, it is them who provided statements to the Commission.

This combination of locational links along with the similarity in names, ages, religion, motherlessness, plus my exhaustive search of the 1841 census for any alternatives in the Birkenshaw/Gomersal areas, all add to the weight of evidence supporting this being my family.

So, what happened to my Ibbetson ancestors?

Jonathan’s health was “mashed up”. Whereas for the burial of his son John in 1844 he is still a collier, by the baptism of daughters Elizabeth and Mary at the end of the year he is a labourer. The 1851 census states he was ‘formerly a miner’. He died on 21 February 1857 at Dewsbury Union Workhouse of bronchitis. His occupation recorded on his death certificate is ‘blacking hawker[34].

Advert for Nubian Blacking, Chem & Drg.1879. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

Blacking was used for cleaning, polishing and – crucially – waterproofing boots and shoes. Such footwear was not the disposable item of today. These were precious, valuable essentials for everyday life which had to last. If you didn’t have them you couldn’t work. If you couldn’t work, you didn’t have money to support the family. To my mind 19th century blacking is like petrol and diesel of today. Essential for getting to and from work, as well as actually doing the job. So often boots feature amongst stolen items in court reports. Reading school log books and countless children are unable to attend school, particularly in winter weather, through lack of suitable footwear. They were costly and had to be cared for. Blacking was part of their regular maintenance regime. In 1824 the 11-year-old Charles Dickens was sent out to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory, pasting labels onto individual pots of boot blacking polish, a job which had a significant impact on his life. Blacking was also used widely around the Victorian home for polishing the kitchen range and grates in fireplaces. Jonathan, no longer fit for strenuous mining work, was now selling this essential commodity.

Jonathan’s burial is recorded in the register of Dewsbury Parish Church on 25 February 1857 [35].

Of the children at home in 1841:

  • William married twice, and died in 1890. His burial is recorded in the register of Birkenshaw St Paul’s on 5 March 1890 [36];
  • John died in 1844, as mentioned earlier. He was only 17;
  • Martha married Joseph Hill at Hartshead Parish Church on 21 November 1842 [37] and died 4 February 1881 [38]. Her burial is in the Drighlington St Paul’s register on 7 February 1881 [39];
  • Elizabeth married Joseph Haigh on 1 April 1850 at St James, Tong [40] and died in 1883. Her burial is entered in the Birkenshaw St Paul’s Register on 31 March 1883 [41]; and
  • Mary married James Noble at St Peter’s Bradford parish church on 25 December 1850 [42]. The newly married couple are living in Birkenshaw with her father in the 1851 census. She died in 1893, with the Allerton Bywater Parish Church burial register noting the burial date as 19 January 1893 [43].

This tale also goes to show family history research is often not neat and simple with all loose ends tied up. It can be a messy affair, with partial and contradictory information and many negative of eliminatory searches in order to try achieve the genealogical proof standard. It can be a long, ongoing process. And, as such, I do not discount at a later date unearthing more information which might conclusively prove (or demolish) my case.

I would like to conclude by saying a special thank you to the staff at Leeds Local and Family History Library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Volume 7. This work was key to my research, and illustrates once more why we should love, use and cherish our local libraries as a unique, integral, and ‘accessible for all’ resource.

This is one of a series of four posts on the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners. The others are:

Notes:
[1] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842.
[2] The possibilities are endless. Examples include Ibbetson, Ibbotson, Ibotson, Ibbitson, Ibberson, Ibbeson, Hibbison, Hibetson, Hibberson etc.
[3] Hibbeson household, 1841 Census; accessed via Findmypast; original record at The National Archives, UK, Kew (TNA), Reference HO107/1291/4/12/17.
[4] Note this census rounded down to the nearest five years those aged 15 and over.
[5] Jonathan Ibbotson and Elizabeth Rushworth’s marriage entry, parish register of St John the Baptist, Halifax; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP53/1/3/13.
[6] Hannah Ibbitston’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, General Register Office (GRO): Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[7] John Ibbeson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[8] John Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of Illingworth St Mary; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP73/1/4/1.
[9] James Ibbetson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[10] William Ibbotson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3409.
[11] John Ibbetson’s burial entry, burial register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/1.
[12] Bradford, Queenshead – Halifax, Thornhill, and Queensbury in the censuses between 1851-1881.
[13] Elizabeth Ibbotson’s baptism entry, baptism register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP90/1/1/1.[14] 1861 and 1871 censuses indicate Thornton; 1881 and 1891 Queensbury. The 1851 states Halifax.
[15] For Mary Ibbotson’s baptism, see [13].
[16] 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.
[17] Locally, hurriers conveyed coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves (wagons, usually small-wheeled), either dragging or pushing their loads. Often it meant running as quickly as possible up an incline with a full load.
[18] The hurrier wears a belt around their waist and a chain, attached to the corve (the wagon for transporting the coal). In the thinner seams this chain would runs between the child’s legs and, on all fours, they pull the coal corves like an animal.
[19] Coal lies at an inclined plane with the downward inclination known as the dip in Yorkshire.
[20] To push the coal corves with your head.
[21] To idle, or pass the time away.
[22] To earn.
[23] Disabled or worn out.
[24] Collier-Monday was the tradition of an unofficial, customary holiday which long existed in the coal mining industry. The Bolton Evening News of 23 February 1905 stated “It is the custom of miners to have one day’s play a week, which has gained for it the name of “Colliers’ Monday,” and that this is recognised is shown by the fact that notices placed at some pit heads state that men absenting themselves for two days are liable for dismissal…”
[25] I have used under 15s as the benchmark as the convention typically (but not exclusively) used in the 1841 census is to round down those aged over 14 to the nearest 5 years.
[26] Ann’s maiden name has been identified via the GRO indexes for the births of the couple’s children.
[27] Bradford Observer, 21 September 1870.
[28] James Ibbotson, GRO Death Registration, Bradford, September Quarter 1870, Volume 9b, Page 13; accessed via FreeBMD.
[29] Death of James Ibbotson, 17 September 1870; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Web: UK, Coal Mining Accidents and Deaths Index, 1878-1935 [database on-line]; original data Coalmining Accidents and Deaths. The Coalmining History Resource Centre. http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/site/disasters/index.html
[30] 1851 census for James Ibitson; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA; Reference HO107/2311/165/16 and 1861 census for James Ibbitson, TNA Reference RG09/3403/127/3.
[31] James Ibbiston and Priscilla Robinson marriage entry, marriage register of Bradford St Peter Parish Church; accessed via West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.
[32] James Ibbotson GRO Death Registration, Bradford, December Quarter 1847, Volume 23, Page 135; accessed via the GRO website.
[33] 1861 census entry for Elizabeth Haigh; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Reference RG09/3403/114/11.
[34] Jonathan Ibbitson’s Death Certificate; GRO Reference Dewsbury, March Quarter 1857, Volume 9B, Page 322, age 70.
[35] Jonathan Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of All Saints Parish Church, Dewsbury, age 70; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP9/52.
[36] William Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 65; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.
[37] Joseph Hill and Martha Ibbotson, Marriage Certificate; GRO Reference Halifax, December Quarter 1842, Volume 22, Page 197.
[38] Martha Hill, Death Certificate; GRO Reference Leeds, March Quarter 1881, Volume 9B, Page 355, age 57.
[39] Martha Hill’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Drighlington; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP124/1/4/3.
[40] Joseph Haigh and Elizabeth Ibbeson’s marriage entry, marriage register of Tong, St James Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference provided online.
[41] Elizabeth Haigh’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 56; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.
[42] James Noble and Mary Ibbotson’s marriage entry, marriage register of St Peter’s, Bradford Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.
[43] Mary Noble’s burial entry, burial register of Allerton Bywater Parish Church, age recorded as 59; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: RDP3/3/1.

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.

An Example of Delayed Death Registration – Andrew Callaghan

As a general rule I don’t normally ‘do’ recent family history blog posts. But I’m making an exception for this event in 1968. It concerns the death of my great uncle, Andrew Callaghan. The brother of my grandpa, Andrew never married and he has no direct descendants, so no-one is closely affected. I wanted to write this blog as otherwise he may never be remembered.

To set the scene, the Callaghan family were originally from the Townland of Carrabeg (Carrow Beg) in the District Electoral Division of Urlaur, in County Mayo. They were a farming family. Their two-roomed house housing eight in 1911 (two less than the decade before) was roofed not with slate, but with a perishable material such as wood or thatch. Their outbuildings consisted of a cow house and a piggery [1]. A typical rural family living from day to day.

My great grandfather, Michael, and some of his sons came over to England seasonally (East Yorkshire according to my uncle Brian) for farming work to supplement the family income. It was a lifestyle Andrew continued with, even when he took up permanent residence in England. He never really put down roots.

Mum only has vague memories of her uncle Andrew. One was a family anecdote about a cow. To pay for the passage to America for his eldest sister Bridget, Andrew was tasked with the responsibility of taking a fattened cow for sale at market. The cow was sold, but the family never saw the money. It all sounds slightly Jack and the Beanstalk-ish minus the beans and giant. Despite it all, Bridget did leave Ireland for a new life in North America in September 1909.

Another memory mum has is that of a gift her uncle Andrew gave her, a pen. It is something which stuck in her mind because presents in the family were rare, typically reserved for Christmas and birthdays. Maybe this was typical of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

Andrew led an itinerant lifestyle when he left County Mayo for England, moving where farm labouring work took him. He occasionally turned up at my grandparents house when he happened to be in the area, and short of cash! Grandpa usually fell soft but with a wife and eight children to support, this intermittent and unpredictable financial support was difficult.

As for his demise, mum recalls her dad being informed about the possible death of his brother following local media appeals for relatives of an Andrew Callaghan. It was mum’s brother-in-law – my dad’s sister’s husband Denis – who alerted the family. He worked in the local media industry and put two and two together.

Mum recalls her dad identified the body and, along with another brother Martin, he paid for the funeral. It was over in Wakefield. She also remembers whilst other family members viewed Andrew’s body she wasn’t allowed to, being advised it was bad luck because she was pregnant.

So I sort of knew about Andrew’s back-story. But you know the adage “A builder’s house is never finished?” Well I reckon the same applies to genealogists. I’m that busy doing family history for others, my own research is sadly neglected. In fact most of the writing for this blog post was done in the wee small hours!

Andrew’s death certificate [2] was something I never got round to ordering. The final push came with the impending General Register Office (GRO) price increases earlier this year (2019). This was a death certificate not covered by the cheaper PDF option, so I was especially determined to beat the price rise.

The certificate duly arrived in early February 2019, and it was an intriguing one. It states Andrew was 76, a farm labourer of no fixed abode. He died at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield on 7 February 1968. The copy certificate I have is dated 7 February 2019, so exactly 51 years to the date of his death. His death was not registered until some six weeks later, on 21 March 1968. This followed the 20 March inquest. Cause of death was pretty gruesome, as indicated in the certificate snapshot, below.

I was left with lots of questions. I don’t know why, but the hospital death threw me. But the big questions were around why was there a delay between death and inquest which consequently held up registration? Why “insufficient evidence” around the cause of such horrific-sounding injuries? Where had he sustained these injuries? What investigations were carried out to discover the cause of them?

Yet despite these questions, once more my quest to find the answers had to wait.

Five months later I finally squeezed in an opportunity to pick up Andrew’s story. I had a small window of time to look at the Wakefield Express. It’s a paper which is not online, so it meant a special visit to Wakefield Local Studies Library.

The series of reports spanning six weeks and three editions sums up the tale perfectly. I’ve reproduced the reports in full here.

Wakefield Express – 10 February 1968

Road victim

A 77-year-old Leeds man, Mr Andrew Callaghan, of Wharf Street, who was found lying with severe head injuries in the middle of Aberford Road, Stanley, on Tuesday, died in Pinderfields Hospital on Wednesday.

He is thought to have been struck by a vehicle.

Wakefield Express – 17 February 1968

‘Mystery man’s death appeal’

When an inquest opened on Tuesday on a 76-year-old man found lying injured in Aberford Road, Stanley, last week, the Coroner (Mr P. S. Gill) appealed for witnesses and relatives of the dead man to come forward.

He adjourned until March [?] the inquest on Andrew Callaghan, of no fixed address, who died in Pinderfields Hospital on February 7.

D.C. G. Browne (Coroner’s Officer) said Mr Callaghan was found lying in the road at the Leeds side of the Ne[w?]mark[et?] crossroads at about 12.[?] a.m. on February 6. It was snowing at the time.

He was suffering from injuries which suggested that he had been struck by a motor vehicle. He was taken to Clayton Hospital where he died next day.

NOT KNOWN

No witnesses of the accident had come forward and efforts to trace relatives had failed. Investigations by the West Riding Police were continuing.

D.C. Browne said he had found in the man’s possession official documents, including a birth certificate and pension book, giving his name and an address in Wharfe Street, Leeds. Inquiries had been made at the address, which was a type of lodging house, but he was not known there.

“From his clothing, I think he was of the labouring type, travelling the country,” he added.

Adjourning the inquest, the Coroner said: “I hope that someone [is] able to tell us something about the accident will come forward. I include in the appeal anyone who was travelling along the Aberford Road about midnight or late at night in February 5.”

Wakefield Express – 23 March 1968

Open verdict on man (76) found in road

A Wakefield inquest jury on Wednesday returned an Open verdict on Andrew Callaghan, aged 76, who died in Pinderfields Hospital on February 7 after being found lying injured in Aberford Road, Stanley.

The Coroner (Mr P. S. Gill) told the jury: “It would appear that he must have been struck by a motor vehicle, although there is no evidence that he was.”

He recalled that the inquest was adjourned on February 13, when an appeal was made for witnesses of the accident to come forward.

On that occasion the Coroner’s Officer (D.C. G Browne) said that Mr Callaghan was found lying in the road on the Leeds side of Newmarket crossroads at about 12.30 a.m. on February 6.

Documents in his possession gave his address as a lodging house in Leeds, but inquiries showed that he was not known there.

FIVE YEARS AGO

On Wednesday Mr John Callaghan [3], a retired trainer [4] of Moorside Avenue, [5] Dewsbury Moor, said that he had not seen his brother for five years. He was then a farm labourer. He did not know where he had been living.

John H. Kenward, of Queen Elizabeth Road, Eastmoor, said he was driving a car in Aberford Road when he saw Mr Callaghan lying in the road. He went to telephone for help and waited with another motorist, Mr David Lloyd Gladwin, of Grove Road, Wakefield, until the ambulance arrived.

“When I first arrived on the scene the body was covered with snow,” he added.

NO CLUES

P.C. D. Parker said he searched the area and found nothing to indicate how the accident occurred. No witnesses had been found who could give assistance.

Dr Joseph Adler, pathologist said Mr Callaghan seemed to have been struck about chest height and had received a fractured skull, a broken neck and broken arms.

At the close of the inquest, the Coroner expressed appreciation of the help given by Mr Kenward and Mr Gladwin.

Six things struck me:

  • The inaccuracy of newspaper reports which reinforces the need to check against other sources. For example the first report said Andrew was 77; there are discrepancies in the spelling of Wharf(e) Street; and my grandpa’s occupation and address are incorrect. So corroborate and don’t take at face-value;
  • These newspapers were chock-a-block with road traffic accidents and offences, a sign of the times maybe with less stringent driving laws, including ones around drink driving? It was only the year before Andrew’s death that the drink driving limit was introduced, but attitudes weren’t the same towards the offence as they are today. Or maybe more a comment about the changes in the local newspaper industry – far much more local news back then so stories that would never make it today with limited space and far fewer papers, were actually covered. Also maybe more incidents were routinely reported to the authorities, with driving and car-ownership on the increase yet still more of a rarity in the late 1960s than today. This is an interesting insight into the history of driving and road safety;
  • The low-tech investigations of the time which seemed to be limited to visiting a Leeds address, putting out an appeal for witnesses and undertaking a search of the area. Also, as a lay person looking at the brief press reports, it seems incredible that they did not know whether or not the injuries were sustained by a motor vehicle. More to the point there seemed little impetus to find out;
  • The total whitewash of an inquest. Someone was responsible. Yet was homeless Irishman Andrew so low down in the social pecking order that investigating his death really wasn’t worth pursuing beyond the preliminaries? This was the era of “No dogs, No Blacks, No Irish.” Within a couple of months of his death that was that, case wrapped up;
  • The lonely, awfulness of Andrew’s life. To be out on a clearly bitterly cold late night in the depths of winter with no place to go. Maybe it was his choice, but a 76-year-old man who had lost touch with his family, with no place to call home, and whose essential travelling documents included his birth certificate because, let’s face it, there was no other place to keep it than on his person; and
  • That today, with increasing level of social dislocation and homelessness, this situation will be one which continues with people dying alone in their homes or on the streets with no immediately identifiable next of kin.

At least I’ve now managed to find out more about my great uncle. But it’s an unsettling tale which has left me feeling incredibly disconcerted.

Footnote: Although it may not have impacted in this case, a delayed inquest may result in a death registration not falling within the expected Quarter, of even year.

Update via Twitter from Chalfont Research (@ChalfontR):

From the details in the blog entry, it looks like a classic example of knowing what happened, i.e. a hit & run road accident but having found no actual evidence or witnesses to be able to prove it, hence the open verdict.

Notes

  1. Callaghan Household, Ireland – 1911 Census, 15 Carrow Beg, Urlaur. Accessed via The National Archives, Ireland
  2. GRO Death Registration for Andrew Callaghan, age 76, March Quarter 1968, Wakefield, Volume 2D, Page 797. Accessed via Findmypast. Original Record, GRO England & Wales
  3. John Callaghan is my grandpa
  4. Occupation is incorrect. John Callaghan was a retired coal miner
  5. Address incorrect, should be Road not Avenue

The Hanging Heaton Vicar Scandal – How Newspaper Reports Can Supplement Family and Local History

Passions were running high in Hanging Heaton in the summer of 1851. The vicar, Stephen Mathews, was attacked by a number of parishioners. Amongst the mob were Jane Halliwell who struck him several times with a coal basket, and James Scargill who hurled stones at him. As he beat a retreat the mob cried “Stone him! Stone him!

The case came before Dewsbury Magistrates at the end of July resulting in fines for Jane Halliwell, James Scargill, George and David Walker. This was the first of three connected cases to come before Dewsbury judiciary in less than two months. Events escalated further, culminating in the Bishop of Ripon ordering an official church inquiry in front of commissioners appointed by him under an Act for Better Enforcing Church Discipline. This was held over between 18 – 24 October 1851 at the Royal Hotel, Dewsbury.

The catalyst for these events was the birth of a boy on 27 May 1851, to unmarried 16-year-old Mary Halliwell of Soothill. Baptised on 29 July 1851 at Holy and Undivided Trinity church, Ossett cum Gawthorpe, he was named Stephen Mathews Halliwell…with the girl identifying the vicar as the child’s father. Jane Halliwell (née Scargill) was the girl’s mother, James Scargill her cousin.

Stephen Britannicus Mathews, the son of surgeon Stephen Mathews and his wife Anne, was born on 8 December 1790 in Calcutta. He was admitted to Cambridge University in 1807 and, after achieving his BA in 1812, he was ordained as a Deacon in Norwich in June 1812 and a priest in December that year. On 14 October 1813 he married Marian Ingle at St James Westminster. The marriage was by licence, Marian being a minor, with consent given by her widowed mother, Susanna.

The couple had one daughter, Helen, in around 1826. Between 1832 to 1837 Rev. Mathews was vicar at Knockholt in Kent. He arrived as incumbent at Hanging Heaton in 1840. The 1841 census saw him living along with Marian, Helen and two servants Amy Collins (35 in this age rounded down census) and local girl Achsah Day (15). By 1851 it was only him and Amy Collins, his wife and daughter having left him around a year ago.

The rebuilt St Paul’s Church, Hanging Heaton. Photo by Jane Roberts

In contrast to the vicar’s travels, Mary Halliwell’s life had been confined to Yorkshire. Her parents, Thomas Halliwell and Soothill-born Jane Scargill, married on 19 July 1834 at St Mary’s church in Prestwich, Lancashire. Mary’s baptism is recorded on 24 November 1834 at St Mary’s, Woodkirk. The family lived on Soothill Lane, with Thomas working as a shopkeeper.

By 1841 their circumstances had changed. Jane and Mary are recorded living at Soothill along with stone masons William (50), Thomas (30) and George (25) Scargill and seven-year-old James Scargill. Woodkirk baptism registers point to William being Jane’s father. The 1851 census shows 41-year-old stone mason Thomas now as head, with widow Jane (39) confirmed as his sister. She is officially listed as a housekeeper. But other sources show she also taught and undertook needlework, including sewing for the wife of the vicar of Woodkirk. Mary, age 16, is recorded as a scholar. Other household members included Thomas’ nephew James (17) and niece Harriet (1). The 1851 census, taken a just under two months away from the birth of Mary’s baby, hides the turmoil.

Mary was ailing, her body swelling. Later it was revealed she knew “she was in the family way” but the vicar had ordered her not to say anything. Her mother, despite the heavy hints and promptings of Batley Carr Surgeon William Rhodes, believed her daughter was suffering from dropsy – an illness already experienced in the family, and which had proved fatal. Dr Rhodes called in a favour and arranged for Mary to see a Leeds-based colleague, Dr Teale, in April. He confirmed Rhodes’ opinion: Mary was pregnant.

It was this pregnancy which led to the stoning of the vicar in late July. The newspapers indicated as much, with The Leeds Intelligencer report of the 2 August stating:

It appears some charge has been made or is about to be made against the rev. gentleman affecting the paternity of an illegitimate child.

The affiliation case came before Dewsbury Magistrates (J.B. Greenwood, J Hague, B. Wheatley and F. Wormald) on the 25 August. The densely crowded court listened to the evidence presented for the complainant. At 9pm Mr. William Watts, acting on behalf of the Rev. Mathews, announced he would not be calling any witnesses at this late hour. He felt assured the magistrates would not see anything in the prosecution evidence which would cause them to find his client guilty. He was correct. Mr Greenwood dismissed the case on the basis of insufficient evidence. At this point press coverage only merited a few paragraphs.

However the verdict created an outcry, with a feeling that justice had not been served. So much so that a rehearing was called for in mid-September. It took place in a court house “crowded to suffocation“, and lasted from 12 noon until 10pm. The magistrates included Hague and Wormald from the previous hearing, but also Rev. Allbut (vicar of Dewsbury), Rev. Milner [Miller] of Woodkirk, Rev. Collins of Ossett and Rev. Payne of Dewsbury Moor.

Mary was described in The Huddersfield Chronicle as:

…small of stature and possesses interesting features, though her general appearance is that of premature womanhood; and the suffererings which she must have undergone have left behind an apparent exhaustion and weakness.

It is clear from this newspaper’s report where their sympathies lie, describing her demeanour as quiet and unassuming, and giving evidence with great propriety.

The packed court heard how Mary, a scholar for nine years and latterly a paid teacher at Rev. Matthews’ school, had been subject to the vicar’s advances since September 1848 when she was just 14, although ‘connexion‘ did not take place until 25 August 1849. Assignations mainly took place in the schoolroom. She received a catalogue of presents, including trinkets, clothes and a portrait of the vicar as a young man. All these were listed in the various accounts of the hearing.Child welfare: Ragged School, Whitechapel, 19thC. (part of). Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

A note was also produced, written by the vicar on 3 September 1849 when he was ill with cholera. It read:

MY POOR LITTLE MARY. If anything should happen to me remember there is a cheque in my desk, made payable to you only, and is duly signed, to authorise you to draw on the West Riding Bank for a sum of money which I have placed there for you, and it is yours alone. Remember this as the gift from your faithful and unchanging friend.

There were claims that in January 1850 Mary told the vicar she was pregnant (enciente was the delicate French term used by The Huddersfield Chronicle of 20 September 1851, mindful of Victorian sensibilities around such matters). As a result he procured three bottles of medicine for her which resulted in a miscarriage. Once she recovered, their relationship resumed. Her solicitor, Mr Scholes, even claimed that the vicar’s wife and daughter had left him as a result of the attention he paid to Mary.

Witnesses gave evidence as to him often being seen in the girl’s company. Her school monitor pay of 3s 6d a week continued even whilst her duties were reduced in order to hide her pregnancy. They heard how, when her pregnancy was confirmed, Rev. Mathews confessed to Mary’s mother he was the father.

Arrangements were hastily made to remove her to relatives, Mary and Rachel Spence, at Denshaw Beck in Woodkirk parish, in order to conceal the pregnancy. The Rev. Mathews involved himself in the finer details, including arrangements for transport and provision of a Morley doctor to attend her during her labour (apparently William Rhodes refused). He even gave Mary a purse containing 4s 6d when she departed for her safe-house. However, Mary stayed only five days before returning home. In a later hearing her mother said this was because both she and her brother thought it:

…wicked of us both to send her there to conceal the birth of a child when she was only a child herself. I did not know that she would ever come back alive, and I never could sleep until she came back again.

Mr Watts once more acted for Rev. Mathews. In cross-examining witnesses he suggested Mary had been involved with a 60-year-old shopkeeper, Benny Scargill, and a youth named William Wainwright. He also called into question the family sleeping arrangements, all sharing the same bedroom – with her uncle and nephew sleeping in one bed and Mary and her mother in another. It was in fact later revealed that this was the room in which Mary gave birth to her child, by which stage a modesty screen had been placed down the middle.

Describing Mary as a “wretched, depraved, lying girl” he claimed she, her mother and uncle had concocted the story to extort money from the vicar. He said there was no other evidence against his client, other than that presented by them. This was uncorroborated evidence, he asserted, which did not satisfy the requirement of the Act of Parliament dealing with these cases.

This Act, as explained in The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September 1851, stated that:

If the evidence of the mother [in an affiliation case] be corroborated in some material particular by other testimony, to the satisfaction of the said justices, they may adjudge the man to be the putative father of any such bastard child.

Once again Mr Watts declined to call any witnesses, although the justices insisted he call the Rev. Thomas Allbut, vicar of Dewsbury. His evidence included the fact that on 23 April 1851 Thomas Scargill, Mary’s uncle, had informed him that Mary was pregnant and Mr. Mathews was the father. As a result he interviewed Mary, and she too confirmed the vicar was father of her unborn child. Rev. Allbut admitted he thought the 3 September 1849 letter was a suspicious document, but when he interviewed the girl she said Mr Mathews was ill and she was a poor girl who had lost her character. Rev. Allbut informed them that the case had been referred to the Bishop of Ripon to consider.

Yet again Rev. Mathews gave no statement.

After 30 minutes deliberation the magistrates once more declined to make a maintenance order against the Rev. Matthews. The crowd showed their dissatisfaction with loud hisses which then gave way to:

a general utterance of merciless epithets upon Mr Mathews, the parsons, the church and state.

The case was now making national news. The Huddersfield Chronicle of 27 September entitled ‘Justices’ Justice‘ quoting from the London Examiner. The piece said the Rev. Mathews:

…is described as popular with the magistrates and gentry of the neighbourhood; and two clergymen, whose names occur in evidence, sat on the bench during the hearing of the case…..

It concluded:

As we are writing this article, we see that the case thus dismissed at the first hearing has again during the past week been brought on before the same bench of magistrates, with additional corroborative testimony. The magistrates again declined to make an order upon Mr. Matthews, [sic] stating that “the new evidence adduced had not materially strengthened the case.” We do not wonder at that. Short of evidence which should be of the most direct kind and not simply corroborative, we do not see how it would easily be possible to add strength to a case established so completely by so many witnesses, who stood up to swear one after another, and stood down again, in almost every instance unquestioned.

It was announced after the hearing that the case would probably be carried before another and more competent tribunal. Certainly it cannot rest as it stands. The interests of the church and society are not distinct; and it cannot be supposed that the exposure and punishment of clerical offenders brings a scandal which might be avoided by the church continuing to hold the worst kind of cruelty, vice, and hypocrisy, protected in her bosom.

Mary’s solicitor, describing her as the daughter of a poor widow woman, now publicly appealed for voluntary contributions to enable the bringing of a case of seduction against the Rev. Mathews at the next assizes.

It appeared the growing scandal now forced the Bishop of Ripon into action, leading to the final official inquiry lasting from 18 – 24 October in front of church-appointed commissioners. Mary attended dressed in mourning clothes. Within days of the end of the second hearing, her infant son died. His 19 September 1851 burial is recorded in the parish register of Ossett cum Gawthorpe.

The evidence in the church case was more lurid. The commissioners even proceeded to the home of Batley Carr surgeon William Rhodes who gave evidence from his sickbed. His testimony included further information about about Mary’s earlier miscarriage. It also included the declaration by her solicitor, Mr Scholes, that he could prove the vicar:

…had two bastard children by a girl called Mary Whitehead when he was a minister at Knock Holt, near Seven Oaks, in Kent, and that the girl was a Sunday scholar.

Prior to this hearing, anonymous letters had been sent to several local residents. These praised the virtues of Rev. Mathews, called Mary a common prostitute, claimed her mother Jane was never married (she produced her wedding certificate at this hearing), asserted all Jane’s sisters had lost their character and labelled the entire family as notorious. Witnesses testified the handwriting belonged to none other than the Rev. Matthews.

We have a further physical description of Mary given by Richard Green, superintendent of the Dewsbury district police. He said she was slight, at 5′ 1″ to 5′ 2″, and less than average strength. The vicar stood at 6′ 1″ or above.

Evidence on behalf of the vicar included children claiming he often gave them gifts by way of prizes at school. Some said this included the portrait of him as a young man…which Mary had chosen from a selection.

The proceedings closed on 24 October with the Commissioners declaring that sufficient prima facie grounds existed for further proceedings.

Yet again there had been one notable absentee from proceedings. Throughout the full hearing the Rev. Mathews, suspended from his duties at Hanging Heaton, failed to make any personal appearance to give his side of the story. His defence was subsequently given in the form of an open letter, published in The Leeds Intelligencer on 1 November 1851.

He said he had been compelled to keep back his evidence due to the further threats of action by Mary’s solicitor: basically he was wary of laying all his cards on the table. He denied all the charges, his natural kindness had been deliberately twisted by malign people. Throughout, his sole intention had been to protect Mary from inappropriate relationships and help her escape a life of sin and guilt, only to find himself duped. Mary was a friendless outcast in the parish, but he was determined to help her. He was never alone with her. He said he provided gifts, including clothing, not just to Mary, but to all the poorest children in school. She was not signalled out for special treatment. He also claimed the medicine he gave her was not to procure a miscarriage, but to treat her for scarlet fever which had also affected 30 other children in the parish. And some of these he visited more frequently than he did Mary. When, in September 1849, he was seized with the cholera outbreak prevalent in his parish, he gave her the note authorising the payment of £3 in the event of his death so that her mother could afford to place her in service, or some other suitable occupation. Similarly, the 4s 6d he gave her when she left for Denshaw Beck was because she professed to be penniless. He only reduced her lessons because he believed her to be ill with dropsy and wished to spare her any unnecessary exertion. And he continued to pay her because, as long as he could afford it, he never stopped paying salaries to those he employed, even when they were ill.

However, it failed to sway the church authorities. In March 1852 the Bishop of Ripon deprived the Rev. Stephen Mathews of the incumbency of Hanging Heaton for the “foul crime” of adultery with one of his parishioners, Mary Halliwell.

In June 1860, a couple of weeks after the death of Mary’s mother, the Bishop of Salisbury appointed the Rev. Mathews to the curacy of Zeals in Wiltshire. He died on 3 November 1868 at Saffron Walden.

Mary’s marriage to Emmanuel Halstead was registered in Dewsbury in the first quarter of 1866. The couple settled in Keighley. Their children included Jane, Alice Mary, Lillia, Samuel, Herbert Scargill and Sarah. Mary died on 13 January 1905. She is buried in Utley Cemetery, Keighley.

The case is not one I expected to discover locally, and in this period. The scandal and fall-out this shocking case must have caused in this small, close-knit community is unimaginable. The judicial advantage social standing or religious positions gives is nothing new. But looking at it from a purely factual standpoint, the thing that struck me above all else was the depth of social, historical and local information provided in the extensive reporting of this case – evidence not necessarily picked up elsewhere; information valuable even if your family is not among those named.

The parade of witnesses provide an insight into community relationships, occupations and employers. This includes details of women’s work such as washing and needlework, not necessarily shown in official records. It even includes the number of looms operated by individual families. There is information about when individual children began and ended their education. Physical descriptions are given too. We have corroborating evidence for Jane Scargill’s pre-civil registration marriage in another county. There are local features described such as the quarry, the tenter fields and the position of buildings in relation to others in the village. Disease outbreaks are identified. There is even reference to sleeping arrangements. Yes, the defendant’s solicitor may have used it to try to make some negative comment about Mary’s family – but was this representative of the realities of life for the poorest? And actually it resonates with the tale in my last blog post about my great grandma a century later – and she at one point lived in Hanging Heaton.

Yorkshire 232 Six Inch OS Map Extract, Surveyed 1847-1851, Published 1851. Adapted

The press reporting was eye-opening too, particularly the critical pieces such as appeared in The Huddersfield Chronicle. The reports point to Victorian sensibilities and long since gone language, with use of phrases such as ‘in the family way‘ or ‘enciente‘ and the distinctions made between ‘taking liberties‘ and ‘connexion‘. Yet, despite the tiptoeing around the sexual aspects, the condemnation of the verdicts, although couched, was unequivocal.

There are mentions of chip shops – but not our modern day understanding. This in the context of wood chips to light fires. There’s reference to a Mary visiting a planet reader in Leeds: a quaint term for a fortune teller.

And the contemporary descriptions of the day-to-day facilities and operation of this mid-19th century school are priceless. This includes information about the weekly attendance payment of 2d fixed due to the poverty of his parishioners, with this being insufficient to pay the salary of a master leading to the vicar personally training two female teachers. The monitorial system is described, with pupils being appointed as paid monitors with salaries dependent on age and experience. Their duties are described right down to cleaning and dusting the school and church after school and on Saturdays. There are even details about the school buildings (the quarry school was the one heavily featured in this tale), their fabric and furnishings.

In short it is a wonderful peak into the community.

For those with mid-nineteenth century Hanging Heaton ancestry I’ve included a list of those residents who gave evidence in the various cases and inquiries.

  • Thomas Albutt – Vicar, Dewsbury and rural dean of the district;
  • George Brearey – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, worked with Joseph Stansfield and occasionally Eliza Stansfield;
  • George Bromley – Clothier, Hanging Heaton;
  • Alfred Day – Hanging Heaton, 11;
  • Abraham Day – owned tenter field with two tenters. A tenter was a wooden frame on which cloth is stretched during the manufacturing process to retain its shape whilst drying;
  • Emma Day – Hanging Heaton;
  • Hephzibah Day – Former Sunday School Scholar and sister-in-law to Sarah. Age 22. Also the sister of Achsah, servant to the Mathews family in 1841;
  • Sarah Day – Wife of Henry Day, Manufacturer. Four children at Rev Mathews’ School
  • Sarah Jane Day – Hanging Heaton, 13;
  • George Gamble – Clothier, Hanging Heaton (some reports say Weaver, Batley). Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Joseph Oldroyd Gill – confirmed school plan;
  • Richard Green – Superintendent of Police Dewsbury district;
  • Jane Halliwell – Widow, Soothill. Mother of Mary. Married Thomas in Prestwich. Did needlework for wife of George Dempster Miller;
  • Theophilius Hastings Ingham – Collector of Rates, Hanging Heaton. Brother-in-law of William Wainwright;
  • George Dempster Miller – Incumbent of Woodkirk;
  • Mary Mitchell – Chidswell, 11;
  • Charles Oldroyd – Weaver, Hanging Heaton;
  • Hannah Oldroyd – Hanging Heaton, sister of Charles;
  • Rachel Oldroyd – Earlsheaton, 14;
  • John Redfearn – Weaver, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • William Rhodes – Surgeon, Batley Carr;
  • Jane Richardson – Common Side, Hanging Heaton.15 last August. Went to Jane Halliwell for sewing instruction;
  • Hannah Rylah – Chidswell, 14 next New Year’s Day;
  • Benjamin Scargill – Shopkeeper, Chidswell, age about 60;
  • James Scargill – amongst those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him. A James Scargill was nephew of Thomas;
  • Thomas Scargill – Stone Mason, Soothill. Uncle of Mary Halliwell;
  • Benjamin Shaw – Clothier, Shaw Cross;
  • Peter Senior – Clothier, Hanging Heaton. Employed by Abraham Day to tenter and teem;
  • Mary Spence – Husband of Joseph Spence, farmer. Daughter [in-law] of Rachel and living with her at Denshaw Beck. Washed for Rev Dempster Miller;
  • Rachel Spence – Widow, Denshaw Beck. Related to Jane and Mary Halliwell;
  • Eliza Stansfield – Hanging Heaton, wife of Joseph and occasionally worked with him and George Brearey;
  • Joseph Stansfield – Clothier, Hanging Heaton, works with George Brearey;
  • Mark Terry – Clothier, Chidswell;
  • Sarah Terry (Née Marshall) – Chidswell, former teacher, wife of Mark;
  • Esther Tolson – Teacher, Soothill, 24;
  • William Wainwright – organist, Sunday School teacher, carpenter who worked in uncle Charles Wainwright’s chip shop;
  • David Walker – son of sexton, John. Refused to attend Church Commissioners investigation unless expenses paid. Clothier, Shaw Cross. 26. A David Walker was among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • George Walker – among those who attacked the Vicar, fined and bound over to keep the peace towards him;
  • John Walker – Sexton, father of David. Refused to attend Commission unless transport provided to Dewsbury;
  • Thomas Ward – Rag Dealer, Hanging Heaton; and
  • Benjamin Wilson – no details.

Sources:

  • 1841-1901 censuses, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
  • Burial Registers: Holy and Undivided Trinity, Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Batley All Saints. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • Death Date and Burial of Mary Halstead (née Halliwell), via Find A Grave Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Find A Grave Index, 1300s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.
  • Baptism Registers: Ossett cum Gawthorpe; Woodkirk St Mary’s; Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns – Parish Register Transcripts from the Presidency of Bengal, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Marriage Registers: St James, Picaddilly, Westminster; Prestwich St. Mary’s. Both accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • GRO indexes for marriage of Mary Halliwell, accessed via Findmypast;
  • England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, entry for Stephen Britannicus Mathews, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Alumni Cantabrigienses, accessed via GoogleBooks;
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.
  • Newspapers including: Carlisle Journal – 5 September 1851; The Huddersfield Chronicle – 20 September 1851, 27 September 1851; The Leeds Intelligencer – 2 August 1851, 30 August 1851, 18 October 1851, 25 October 1851, 1 November 1851; The Leeds Mercury – 6 March 1852; The Leeds Times – 30 August 1851, 20 September 1851, 25 October 1851; Liverpool Mercury – 2 September 1851. All accessed via Findmypast

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia

Food can evoke so many strong memories of childhood. Pie and peas and I’m back to the excitement of bonfire night. Mum’s sherry trifle and it’s family Christmas parties when I’d always try to sneak a double helping of the top two layers of thick, yellow, sliceable custard heaped with cream; spaghetti bolognaise and I recall the first meal I cooked for mum and dad. Dad hated it as he couldn’t get to grips with the spaghetti, and he couldn’t make a sandwich from it. Whereas our dog craned his head upwards to suck in the sauce-coated strands; the tang of salt and vinegar doused fish and chips and I’m transported to carrying home the piping hot, greasy, newspaper-packaged taste of heaven from Cudworths, the local chippy. Fish and chips twice, a fish and a cake. For a treat as kids we’d sit on the back doorstep, abandon cutlery and eat the chips with just our fingers straight from their newspaper wrapping. The ultimate finger food.

And then there’s tripe. Yes, utterly unique tripe. Slimy, white, rubbery, incomparable. We’d have it cold with salt and vinegar. Lots of vinegar in my case to try make it halfway palatable. It didn’t work. If fish and chips were heaven, this evil stuff was pure hell. I’d chew and chew and chew, scarcely able to swallow the offensive gobbet. The texture lingers in my mind to this day and, even now, recalling it I shudder.

Tripe at Cross’s Pork Butchers, Dewsbury Market – Photo by Jane Roberts

The name of the ‘cut,’ depended on which chamber of the animal’s stomach it came from. Think about it. How repulsive does that sound? Honeycomb is the thing I remember, along with blanket. We’d also occasionally have it with an equally noxious substance called elder, (cow’s udder, I believe). It was the stuff of nightmares.

An article in the Leeds Mercury of 3 June 1913, confirmed my fears about its deadly capacities:

CHOKED BY TRIPE
AGED BATLEY MAN’S DEATH IN STREET

The sudden death, under remarkable circumstances, of Alexander Richardson, seventy-four years of age, of Old Mill-Lane, Batley, who has followed the occupation of a Cooper, was enquired into by Mr. P. P. Maitland yesterday.

On Saturday night Richardson was proceeding along Henrietta-street eating tripe, when he suddenly collapsed and died. A post-mortem examination revealed that a piece of tripe, three inches square, was blocking the entrance to the wind-pipe, causing suffocation.

A verdict of “Accidentally choked” was returned.

Yet, perhaps I am maligning it. Tripe dresser is an occupation you may come across in your family history. This worker was engaged in preparing the product for ‘human consumption’. A quick 1911 census search using ‘tripe dresser’ reveals over 1,500 of them – seven in Batley alone. Tripe stalls abounded, selling this bleached-white cows stomach lining.

And in Batley a boy was even driven to crime to get money to buy this tasty treat, as reported in the Batley News of 13 March 1915.

STOLE MONEY TO BUY BANANAS, TRIPE, ETC. – In the Juvenile Court a boy of 12 admitted obtaining 1s. 6d. by false pretences from Thomas Sykes, hay and straw dealer, Old Mill Lane, Bankfoot, and with stealing a white metal watch, worth 3s. 6d., from the house of Mr. Wilfrid Haigh, 9, Bankfoot, Batley. The boy obtained the money under the pretence it was for someone Mr. Sykes knew. Defendant stole the watch last November. He told the Magistrates he went to the pictures and bought bananas and tripe with the money. Inspector Riplet said the boy had kept company with a lad who was last week sent to a reformatory. Bound over, under the probation of Mr Gladwin.

Others swore by its health-giving properties. Like Dewsbury man John Carter Garforth who ate a stone of tripe every week, attributing his longevity to it. As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 September 1951:

TRIP WITHOUT TRIPE

Dewsbury firm’s Grand Old Man off to London without his parcel

When 1,000 employees of the Dewsbury firm Wormalds and Walker, Ltd., [blanket manufacturers] leave for a trip to London next week, the grand old man of the firm will go with them – for the first time without a stone of tripe wrapped in a parcel under his arm.

He is 81-year-old John Carter Garforth, who has been employed by this woollen firm for 70 years. He still does a full day’s work and has two great loves – tripe and his piano. “I eat a stone of tripe a week,” he told me, “and I’m the best customer of a tripe shop in Dewsbury.”

“Twice a year I go to London to see my daughter, but I always take a parcel of tripe. They’ve no idea how to cook tripe there so I take my own.”

I asked him why he wasn’t taking any with the trip next week, “Well, it’s only a day, so I’ll do without and have a double ration when I come back,” he said

Mr Garforth’s recipe for long life? “Plenty of tripe, an occasional smoke and no drink. I’m 81 and I get plenty of fun out of life still following that recipe.”

Mr Garforth

It was also lauded in the 1907 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management as “the most digestible of meats, and specially suited for invalids”.

The “Diabetic Foods” section included a recipe for tripe soup, reproduced here for those who wish to try it.

Ingredients: ½ a lb. of tripe, 1 pint of milk, 1 pint of stock or water, 1 small onion, 1 clove, 1 oz. of butter, ½ an oz. of flour, salt and pepper.

Method: Wash the tripe, blend and drain it, and cook it in the milk and stock or water, with the onion and clove, for an hour or till tender, then mince the tripe finely and add it to the broth. Melt the butter, stir in the flour, dilute with 1 gill of milk, stir till it boils and add to the soup. Boil for 10 minutes longer, season slightly and serve.

Time. 1½ hours. Average Cost, 7d. or 8d.

This recipe is of particular interest to me. In these pre-insulin days, was this the type of dish my diabetic great grandfather Jonathan Rhodes ate?

But more than invalid food, tripe was also regarded as a cheap, nutritious meal for the working classes. Tripe and onions was probably the signature dish. Again, if you want to give it a go here’s the recipe from the same Mrs Beeton’s 1907 book:

Ingredients. 2 lb. of dressed tripe, 2 large onions, ½ a pint of milk, ½ a pint of water, 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 teaspoonful of salt and pepper.

Method. Cut the tripe into 3 inch squares; put them into a stew pan, cover with cold water, bring to boiling point, and strain. Replace the tripe, add the milk, water and salt, boil up, put in the thinly-sliced onions, and simmer for 3 hours. 20 minutes before serving have the flour mixed smoothly with a little milk, pour into the stew pan, stir until boiling, and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Time. About 3½ hours. Average Cost, 1s. 8d. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

You could even utilise the discarded water in which tripe was boiled. In Beeton’s Housewife’s Treasury of Domestic Information, a companion tome to Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, there is a section entitled ‘Children and what to do with them.’ Among the pearls of wisdom it contains advice about ‘eruptions,’ saying they

….will frequently appear on the child’s face, and sometimes sores, or what is termed to use a homely phrase “a breaking out.”……….and the water in which tripe has been boiled is a safe and reliable wash for them.”

What unimaginable horror. As if the ignominy of a spot-covered face wasn’t enough, but then being forced to eat boiled tripe and wash in the discarded water as a punishment ….sorry remedy. Yuk.

Your taste does evolve over time and things you didn’t like as a child you may come to love as an adult. Yoghurt is my case in point. As a three-year-old, and egged on by an older child, I peeled the top off a doorstep yoghurt delivery of a neighbour and dipped my finger in to taste it. It was vile. How could adults eat this? I promptly disposed of my ill-gotten gains in a puddle in the end between the two rows of terraced houses. It’s probably one of my earliest memories. Especially as Mrs Kirby discovered the crime and confronted me with it. Now I love yoghurt.

However, I accidentally discovered my hatred of tripe is not an example of this phenomenon. In Brittany on holiday a few years ago I decided to try a local speciality – galettes à l’andouille et aux champignons. I hadn’t a clue what andouille was. Suffice it to say it was like eating vomit. One mouthful was enough. To use a Yorkshire term, I was reduced to gipping (for those not from ‘God’s Own County’ that’s the dialect term for retching). I discovered later andouille is a tripe sausage. Another food memory etched on my mind and a delicacy forever struck off from future holiday meals.

However, if I am tempted to buy tripe it is available far closer to home – at Cross’s Pork Butchers stall on Dewsbury market. I bottled buying some today, sticking with potted beef. But maybe I’ll give it one more go using Mrs Beeton’s Fricassée of Tripe recipe for that continental feel.

Triplets and Two Sets of Twins – Combining Newspapers and Parish Registers

In 1834 Susan Gibson (née Rylah) made the news across England. The Leeds Times of 20 October 1834 typified reporting when it wrote:

RARE NEWS FOR MALTHUS!! – A woman named Susan Gibson, of Earlsheaton, was brought to bed of three children on Wednesday last, who with mother are all doing well – she has born twins twice before.

The children, Joseph, Rachel and Leah, arrived in the world on 17 September 1834. Their father was clothier Thomas Gibson. Soothill was the family abode given in the parish register, though Susan (sometimes referred to as Susy or Susannah) was born in Earlsheaton and the family did eventually move there.

The infant newsmakers were baptised at All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church on 12 October 1834, along with December 1831-born sister, Elizabeth. This was the same church in which their parents married on 22 July 1821.

‘Triplets, shown in the uterus: illustration showing the position of the foetuses in a plural position. Colour lithograph, 1850/1910?’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The headline’s Malthus referred to the influential, but controversial, English economist Thomas Malthus. His population growth theories centred round the argument that increases in population would diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and there would be insufficient land for crops. Citing Malthus was a recurring theme in reporting unusual birth stories during this period.

Interestingly, at the same time as the press reported the birth of the Gibson trio, they were also reporting the birth of Bridlington’s Thompson triplets. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the sons of Bridlington Quay stone mason Robert Thompson and his wife Ann. They were described as being ‘all well and likely to live’. The Bridlington St Mary (Priory) parish register recorded the baptism of Robert Thompson’s ‘thrine sons‘ on 22 September 1834, all under the same entry (No 649) in the baptism register, rather than under their own individual entries.

Neither set of triplets added to the population pressure though. Despite the hopeful press outlook at the time of their birth they all failed to thrive. The Thompson trio lingered longest. Jacob was buried on 16 November 1834; Abraham 22 January 1835; and finally Isaac on 17 March 1835.

The demise of the Gibson babies was far swifter. Less than three weeks after their baptism all were dead. A 12-day period in late October/early November 1834 saw a series of Gibson funerals at the parish church. Rachael (as her name was recorded in the burial register) was buried first, on 26 October. Before the month was out Leah died too, her burial taking place on 31 October. The final triplet, Joseph, was interred on 6 November.

As it is pre-July 1837, there is no civil registration. We’re relying on parish registers, and it is not possible from these entries to identify the earlier sets of twins born to Susan. Birth dates are an exception in the baptism register. It’s usually just a baptism date which is given. And, as indicated when the triplets were baptised alongside their almost three-year-old sister, the family were not always prompt in initiating their offspring into the church. It appears some of the Gibson children died before baptism. But burials are inconclusive too. These give father’s name – but there are three clothiers named Thomas Gibson in the Soothill area to muddy the burial entries. And some of the entries simply indicate S.B.C. (abbreviation for stillborn child) or an unbaptized [sic] child with the name of a parent (father, unless illegitimate). So without the newspaper reports we may never have known about Susan’s tendency towards multiple births.

The census provides no clues. In 1841 the family lived at Town Green, Soothill and in addition to Thomas and Susan the household includes Sarah (20), Martha (15), Elizabeth (9), Jane (5), William (3) and Ann (1) – but bear in mind the age of those over 15 was supposed to be rounded down to the nearest multiple of five, and relationship details are absent in this census. However it is clear there are no common ages.

Similarly the 1851 census has no indication of multiple births either. In terms of the couple’s children, Jane (15), William (incorrectly entered as 18 – he was born in 1837) and Ellen (9) are recorded. However, it appears from the GRO Birth Indexes that Ellen was a twin too. Her birth is registered in the same quarter at Dewsbury as an Eliza Gibson, mother’s maiden name Rylah.

Eliza Gibson’s burial is recorded on 21 February 1842 at Dewsbury All Saints, father Thomas.

And Susan Gibson comes nowhere near earning the accolade of most prolific mother ever. That dubious honour goes to the wife of a Russian peasant, as detailed by Guinness World Records:

The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets

Sources:

  • Leeds Times. 20 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • John Bull. 13 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Dewsbury All Saints Burial Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/50, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Ibid, Reference WDP9/51
  • Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/21, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1830-1847. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/11
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1813-1838. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/38
  • 1841 Census. TNA, Reference HO107/1268/14/7/7, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • 1851 Census. TNA. Reference HO107/2325/133/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • GRO Birth Indexes, William Gibson. December Quarter 1837, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 52 via the General Register Office website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • GRO Birth Indexes, Ellen and Eliza Gibson. March Quarter 1842, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 55 via the General Register Office Website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • Most Prolific Mother Ever. Guinness World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-prolific-mother-ever

All websites accessed 26 September 2018