Category Archives: Healey

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

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

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

Arthur Barber described the damage to his home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bellhouse and his workmate were unharmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Lee Disaster Plaque – Photo by Jane Roberts

Sources:

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

My 2017 Family History Review – Life Got in the Way

It was a year which didn’t quite go as planned. It was a year full of heartache, but punctuated with moments of real joy and achievement. All of this impacted on my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017.

I had set myself five goals, but personal issues meant a major switch of focus. Mid-year both my husband and father had significant health problems resulting in lengthy hospitalisation for both. Then followed an even lengthier period of recuperation for my husband. Dad however lost his long battle with cancer. Genealogy took a back seat.

Going Forward but Looking Back: Snowflake and me – Photo by Chris Roberts

Given what happened I’m really satisfied with how I fared with my New Year’s Resolutions. My assessment of these are below.

Aveyard One-Name Study: Data collection is still ongoing in fits and starts. I did say I would be doing it at a relaxed pace, fitting it in and around. As things turned out it was more relaxed than anticipated. It was one of the non-essential pieces of work and, as a result, was one thing which ground to a halt when real life kicked in. I’m still working through the censuses.

Healey War Memorial Project: Names were quickly collected but again, because this was non-essential in the grander scheme of things as the year progressed, it has taken a back seat. And then my husband hi-jacked me for a different Great War project which has taken priority. More of that in my 2018 Resolutions.

Blog Posts: Through it all I’ve kept on blogging, averaging at just over two posts a month. So target met. I’ll do my annual blogging review shortly.

Palaeography Practice: Again another Resolution I’m happy with. The fact I signed up to a palaeography course with Pharos helped. I now enjoy transcribing. It’s my take on code-cracking. I need to keep practicing though. My archives visits certainly help.

Personal research into my brush maker ancestor, an asylum inmate, an army officer and two wills: I intended setting aside July to do this. For obvious reasons it never happened. However, I did manage to do a fair amount of the work later in the year by fitting it into an assessed genealogy assignment. I have a couple of loose ends to tie up, one of which involves a visit to the Borthwick Institute. But for all intents and purposes the work is done, and more besides. Although, as with much in family history, one brick wall broken leads to several more to crack.

Given the circumstances of the year, three out of five isn’t bad.

In other news, I am a civil servant no more. This has given me more time to devote to family history. I passed Year One of my Pharos Family History Skills and Strategies (Advanced) course. I have taken on a volunteering role as a committee member of Batley History Group. But the big news was in September I did something totally unplanned. I went to the Society of Genealogists to attend an interview and written test to become an Associate of the professional Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). I was thrilled to pass and see my profile on their website, especially given this was the period between dad’s death and his funeral. My pleasure was tinged with sadness: this was the first thing of major importance I couldn’t share with him.

So now I’m a professional genealogist,  taking on client work and loving it. I take as much pleasure in researching for others as I do in undertaking my own family history journey of discovery.

In my next post I’ll set out my 2018 Resolutions.

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes.

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”.

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”.

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”.

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”.

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”.

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments.

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry.

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccessful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases.

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally.

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease.

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection.

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse.

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies .

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment.

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now.

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay.

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include:

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)

The Early History of Batley Carnegie Library – Providing World Book Day for Thousands of Days and Multiple Generations

In my last post, in response to the latest Kirklees Council budget threat to our library service, I wrote about the value of libraries. In this post I look at the early days of my local library, Batley, the services it offered to the local community and their reading habits between 19 October 1908-March 1915.  

Batley library’s establishment epitomises the enlightened thinking of late Victorian/early Edwardian Corporations, industrialists and philanthropists. They had the vision to see the immense benefits libraries provided for education, the economy and wider society. From access to books and knowledge for all, irrespective of background and finances; to the realisation that an educated workforce could contribute to industry and the country’s wealth; from the morally and self-improving leisure opportunities they afforded; to the social benefits this offered in terms of crime reduction. These may seem old-fashioned concepts, but they are relevant still today.

The 1850 Public Libraries Act established the principle of free public libraries. A subsequent amendment in 1855 Act allowed boroughs to charge an increased rate of 1d rate to fund the provision. It proved insufficient, with by 1869 only 35 places opening public libraries. This is where philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie stepped in. 

The son of a Dunfermline weaver, the Carnegie family emigrated to America in 1848 when he was 13, settling in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Starting off as a bobbin boy, he was fortunate to have access to books as a result of the generosity of a local man who made his library available to local working boys. Self-taught from these books, Carnegie progressed from the bobbin mill, to become a messenger at a telegraph company, then a telegraph operator, eventually moving to the Pennsylvania Railroad where he rose to become a superintendent, age 24. From there his investment and business interests developed, resulting in his steel company. Carnegie’s experience instilled in him the belief anyone with access to books, and the desire to learn, could educate themselves and improve their position in society. Free libraries provided such educational opportunities for those without financial advantage. 

In 1901 he sold his company to J.P. Morgan for $480m and was free to devote himself totally to his philanthropic works. His personal experience of the benefits books provided, led him to donate money for the building of 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883-1929. 660 of these are in the UK.  

In providing funds to establish libraries, Carnegie required the local government to: 

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • provide the building site;
  • pay to staff and maintain the library;
  • draw from public funds to run the library—not use only private donations; and,
  • provide free service to all.

By doing this he felt his grants would inspire communities to take ownership for their libraries and be responsible for looking after them going forward.

Batley did have a couple of libraries: Batley Cooperative Society and Batley Working Men’s Club & Institute, lending around 700 books per week between them. However, neither were free to the general public. Accordingly Batley Corporation approached Carnegie. Lauded as a progressive community, in January 1903 the Corporation received confirmation he was prepared to donate £6,000 subject to the normal rules, including providing a site and adopting the Free Libraries Act and under this raising £400 per year for its maintenance via the maximum 1d rate. He subsequently provided an additional £988 for the clock tower. A transfer from gas rates added another £1,914 16s 6d. Batley’s achievement was a cause of envy for neighbours, and rivals, Dewsbury.

Sketch of Batley library – “Batley News”, 18 October 1907

The Ackroyd Trust provided land specifically for a library and the Foundation Stone for the iconic market place building was laid on 18 July 1905. Designed by Messrs. Walter Hanstock & Son, at a cost of £8,902 16s 6d,, Batley’s Carnegie library officially opened on 19 October 1907 with an initial stock of 7,260 volumes. It offered lending and reference libraries, a librarian’s room, news and reading rooms and a ladies’ room. The first book borrowed, by the Mayor, W. J. Ineson, J.P., was the Bible.

Annual Report Cover

The early days of the library are portrayed in its annual reports. In the early years these reports ran from 19 October – 18 October, the 12 month period from the library opening. This changed in 1911. That report ran until 31 March 1913, 17.5 months. Thereafter the year fell within traditional 1 April – 31 March patterns. 

The library had a staff of five. The 2nd annual report for the year 19 October 1908-18 October 1909 shows these comprised of librarian Alfred Errington, assistants James H Shaw and Alfred North, and caretaker Alfred Moody. Later staff in the period included assistants Annie E. Newsome, Winifred M. Peel and Evelyn M. Walker and caretakers Nelson Howard and Arthur F Garner. Their hours were long – the reading rooms opened from 8.30am-9.30pm; the work painstakingly labour intensive with many hours spent on tasks such as producing a catalogue of holdings, or repairing books. In the year ending 1914/1915 they installed a small binding plant to allow staff to do more of this repair work in-house, but the librarians had so little spare time it did not receive much use that year!

These reports provide a fascinating insight into the early days of the library. The Table below shows some figures illustrating its development.

A few things struck me. Firstly the somewhat bizarre ladies’ lavatory income. In 1908/9 it raised £2 7s 8d, rising to £4 11s 5d in 1914/15, by which time men were presumably being charged to use the facilities, as the “ladies’” element was dropped and the money raised had almost doubled. The library staff were also extremely efficient in chasing up book returns and fines, with personal visits made to those unresponsive to postal reminders. The 1d rate increase was implemented, despite some early dissenters. By 1914/15 this raised £567 towards the running costs of the library. Finally, on the surface to modern eyes, how little things cost. For example a £58 5s 9d payment to Mr W.H. Sykes of Batley in summer of 1913, for cleaning and redecorating, the first refurbishment since the library’s opening. In 1914/15 annual salaries and wages stood at just over £280; electricity, gas and fittings a shade over £40; rates, water and water rents £21 8s; and, reflecting the fuel supplies and industrial heritage, a shade over £16 was spent on coal. At today’s values fuel prices of £56 would equate to just over £4,000.

A common theme of the early reports is the initiatives taken to increase the popularity of the library. The number of borrowers, talks attended, books issued, their range and number attracted much attention. Adaptation, development and improvement featured in those early days, as much as today. The key difference appears to be the store those local government officials put on the value of a library providing a levelling opportunity for all, a theme much in evidence right from the opening ceremony. Maybe that’s the difference between then and now. Back then folk had to really dig in and fight for the basics; today things are taken for granted and consequently undervalued. 

Special Student Tickets, introduced in 1908/09, allowed readers an extra ticket for non fiction works. The reference library boasted a substantial body of coal mining books; textile trade volumes were materially extended in the period 1911-13, all relevant to the predominant local industries, in the hope of attracting Technical School students.

A winter season of half-hour library talks and lectures commenced in January 1908 to attract people to the library. These covered literature, science, art, music and travel, some accompanied by lantern shows. The themes ranged from “A Talk on Elementary Astronomy” and “The Norse Mythology, an influence on the Development of Anglo-Saxon Character”, to “John Milton“, “Individual Responsibility and Social Reform”, “What and How to Read”, and “The Story the Brontës”. Children were catered for too, with Walter Bagshaw giving talks on subjects such as “Peeps into Sunny Italy” and “Reason and Instinct, or, Do Animals Think?” One speaker was Rev Fr John O’Connor from Heckmondwike, a great friend of G.K. Chesterton. “Fr. Brown” in the Fr. Brown novels is based on him. Appropriately one of his talks was entitled “Belloc and Chesterton”. By the end of the 1914/15 season 77 talks has been given. That season saw the highest average attendance, 97. 1914/15 also saw the commencement of talks by the local branch of The Workers’ Educational Association.

Reading circles were established and adapted, moving away from subjects such as Shakespeare’s Henry V to more populist contemporary subjects such as Kipling, to boost participation. Photography, travel and water colour exhibitions also took place, the latter featuring originals by J.M.W. Turner and attended by over 5,000.

In 1909/10, the substantial increase in loans of juvenile fiction led Mr Errington to urge the library committee to extend the privilege to borrow books to under 14s. April 1912 marked the launch of a School Library scheme in partnership with the Education Committee. Initially six local schools participated: Hanging Heaton, Brownhill and Staincliffe CofE, Carlinghow Boys, Warwick Road Boys, Healey Mixed. Each school received 50 books on rotation, and by 31 March 1913 over 8,000 volumes had circulated. By 31 March 1914 four further schools joined the scheme: Mill Lane, Gregory Street Girls, Purlwell Boys and Warwick Road Girls. In the three years to 31 March 1915, 33,287 volumes were issued via the school scheme and a further 37,226 by the Juvenile Section of the lending library. 20 per cent of these were non fiction issues. More schools were applying to join, and head teachers reported the beneficial educational impact of access to good books. However, a formal, dedicated Young People’s Department did not open in the library until 1928.

Another 1912 development was the August introduction of the Open Access system, where borrowers could browse the library. Prior to this they had to ask if a book was available, and wait for the librarian to fetch it. Theoretically the closed system reduced book theft, but did little to encourage reading. By 1915 Mr Errington proudly announced that of 160,000 volumes issued under Open Access, not a single volume had been lost.

The library reports give a wonderful snapshot into the times and community. From the weather, the exceptionally fine summer of 1910 blamed for a decline in the number of books issued; to war, with the average number of books issued per day declining from 221 in 1913/14 (library open 269.5 days) to 219 in 1914/15 (open 280.5 days), due to the numbers in H.M. Forces and overtime in the mills. Noticeably, enrolled women borrowers shaded men. And war saw reading choices shifting to lighter options with loans of fiction, literature, music and juvenile works increasing. The only other category seeing an upturn was sociology, because it included army and navy books.   The array of over 20 railway timetables testified to the importance of this mode of transport. The wide range of newspapers and magazines, numbering in excess of 100, in the reading rooms demonstrated the importance of the print media in these pre-wireless and TV days. Their titles illustrated the interests of the time and the local industries, including “Fur and Feather”, “Farm, Field and Fireside”, “Sons of Temperance”, “Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal”, “Colliery Guardian”, “Textile Recorder” and “Waste Trade World”. The library reading rooms for a short time even boasted “Die Woche”, reflecting the area’s textile manufacturing links with Germany. Unsurprisingly, this publication disappeared from the shelves by 1914/15.

And what does this have to do with family history? Well, besides the plethora of family history resources offered by libraries today including local history reference resources (not online), newspapers (not on the British Newspaper Archive/FindMyPast), access to subscription sites like Ancestry, and local censuses and parish registers on microfilm/fiche there is the actual library history. The development and history of a local library itself adds context to the lives and times of ancestors. The annual library reports are name-rich sources. Not only of the great and the good, those on the Committee and those who donated or gave talks. But also the library staff. This is an extract from the report for year ending 18 October 1910 WW1: “James H. Shaw, the Senior Assistant, resigned in June to take up duties in the office of the Borough Accountant…..Mr A. Moody, who held the post of Caretaker since October 1908….had to relinquish his post on account of ill health”. James H. Shaw is one of the Healey residents identified for the Healey Great War project.

For me the library reflects my ancestors’ community, their hopes, aspirations, dreams and lives. I imagine them using Batley library right from its inception. And I thank those enlightened people of the early 20th century. What a great gift to the town.

I’ve timed this post to mark World Book Day 2017, to acknowledge the important role local libraries have played in opening the world of books to many generations. The poster below shows events at Batley library on Saturday 4 March.

Sources:

Healey, Batley WW1 Remembrance Project – 1918 Electoral Register List of Men

Thanks to the wonderful Batley Library staff and volunteers, the missing Batley Borough 1918 Electoral Register was located just before Christmas. I spent the early few days of February beavering away on it to extract the absent Healey naval and military voters, and put them into spreadsheet format.  

This work has significantly expanded the list of servicemen I initially identified using CWGC records of those who died, the WO 363 “Burnt Records” and WO 364 records of those discharged for medical/capability reasons. This initial list identified 39 men, though I have subsequently discovered an additional man. He is Arthur Ellis, a rag merchant whose address was 263 Healey Lane. He served with the Grenadier Guards, Service Number 27774. 

The Electoral Register, signed off on 1 October 1918 by the Batley Town Clerk’s Office, identified 121 men, though there is a small overlap with my earlier findings. The numerical difference is indicative of the limited numbers of soldiers’ service records surviving, with around two thirds of them being totally lost or irretrievably damaged during WW2 1940 bombing. 

First bit of background information about voting entitlement and the Electoral Register. The Representation of the People Act 1918 came into force in time for the December 1918 general election. One of the drivers for electoral reform included the fact only men who had been resident in the country for 12 months prior to a general election were entitled to vote. This residential qualification, combined with the property ones, meant many serving King and Country overseas were effectively disenfranchised. The Act abolished these restrictions and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. Additionally, men who had served in the war could vote from the age of 19. However Conscientious Objectors were disenfranchised for five years. The Act also gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification, wives who were over 30 of all husbands who were entitled to vote in local government elections and also to those who were university graduates.  

However, it should be noted that parliamentary and local government franchises were not the same. Hence the 1918 register is split into three categories. 

  • Division I: Persons qualified as both parliamentary and local government electors; 
  • Division II: Persons qualified as parliamentary electors but not as local government electors; and 
  • Division III: Persons qualified as local government electors but not as parliamentary electors.  

Abbreviations used are:

  • R: Residence qualification;
 
  • BP: Business Premises qualification;
 
  • O: Occupation qualification;
 
  • HO: Qualification through husband’s qualification;  
  • NM: Naval or Military voter; and  
  • a: indicates absent voters. 

So here are the names of those identified from the 1918 Electoral Register.


The men on my Healey list all fall within both the absent and Naval and Military categories. The information was supplied by next of kin so may not be accurate. It may include men who were killed after its compilation. And addresses may not necessarily reflect actual residence, but merely be the most convenient address, for example the in-laws where the man’s wife was living whilst he was serving, or a friend’s home. 

It is also worth emphasising this is the Electoral Register. It isn’t what is commonly known as the Absent Voters List (AVL). These lists, generated to provide servicemen and nurses with voting cards, ballot papers or proxy voting forms depending on where they were serving, gave far more detail. They normally included regiment, number, rank and home address. Sadly, despite checking with West Yorkshire Archives and Huddersfield Local Studies Library, I’ve been unable to locate the one for Batley Borough. It may be it no longer survives. The AVL would have provided so much more crucial identification information. But the Electoral Register is better than nothing. 

The Register also enabled me to further define the parameters of this project. I used the Batley West Ward Polling Districts G and H to identify the relevant streets. These are:

  • Belle Vue Street 
  • Crowther Street 
  • Deighton Lane 
  • Healey Lane (excluding the numbers falling within Polling District I. These are mainly below 79, with the exception of some numbers in the 40s which fall within District G) 
  • Healey Street 
  • Mortimer Avenue 
  • Sykes Street 
  • Towngate Road 
  • Trafalgar Street 
  • West Park Grove 
  • West Park Road 
  • West Park Terrace 

These are in addition to Nelson Street and Prospect Terrace identified from earlier research. Looking at the 1911 Census Summary Books some Chaster Street houses may also fall within the catchment area.

The men’s details from the Electoral Register are contained in the following six tables. I checked across all three Divisions to identify other voters registered at the men’s given addresses, in the hope this provides more family clues.

So I can give myself an early 2017 back pat. This data extraction was one of my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. I’d targeted a March completion, so I’m ahead of schedule and I can now begin the hard research, although I am still toying with the idea of the newspaper trawl. I know from previous experience how much value this adds. It’s a case of whether I have the time to do it alone!

Previous posts in this series are: 

Sources:

  • Register of Electors 1918, Parliamentary Borough of Batley and Morley 
  • 1911 Census Summary Books 

A Setback to my Healey War Memorial Project

At the moment I’m angry: bitterly angry and disappointed.

I went to Batley library on 3 December to check out the 1918 Electoral Register held in the reference section. I was horrified to discover it missing. I couldn’t believe it. I spent a full hour checking the shelves in the reference library, not just the cabinet in which the full range of registers are housed, in the vain hope the book had been mis-filed. All to no avail.

Electoral Registers minus the 1918 One

I last looked at the 1918 register in October 2015, when I made some notes about my family. This time I wanted to use it for my Healey project. The register showed absent voters and indicated by a “NM” if they were in the navy or military. For some of those serving their country this may be one of the only surviving records of their sacrifice. Because of this it is arguably one of the most important of the Batley electoral registers.

Maybe someone has borrowed it. Though as its a reference book, and no one on duty in the library knew it was missing, I think I’m clutching at straws here. 

Cynically I think whoever has taken it knows exactly it’s value. To my mind the alternative, and most probably the most likely, unpalatable option is it has been stolen. If this is the case, I reckon it is permenantly lost. Unless someone’s conscience is wracked with guilt. I do hope it is.

If it is gone forever I’m disgusted. Disgusted that someone has taken from the community what is a vital resource for those researching family or WW1 history. Shame on them. I hope they’re really pleased with themselves for robbing everyone, including those named within the pages of the register, of their history and legacy. An utterly despicable act. But I doubt they have a shred of remorse about it. If they had, to take it would not have crossed their mind.

Personally I can’t get my head round why anyone would be so selfish. The book was available. They had library access to it. Why take it? It is a sad indictment on society that someone felt it their right to behave in such a despicable way.

I’m now left trying to source an alternative copy, preferably locally.  So far without success. This is not one of the electoral registers available on commercial sites. If anyone knows of the (preferably) local whereabouts of a copy of the register, please let me know. It could be the difference in me discovering the WW1 service of a Healey man. 

And because of one person’s lack of morals and callous disregard of doing the right thing, many others will be similarly deprived of such an important local resource.

Update: I am pleased to report that the 1918 Electoral Register has now unexpectedly re-surfaced. It was not in the locked cabinet where it should be housed. Library staff discoverd it tucked away behind books elsewhere in the library. My Healey Project has a new lease of life.

Start of my Healey, Batley WW1 Remembrance Project

When I researched the men on the War Memorial of Batley St Mary’s, one thing I quickly realised was that the names there represented but a fraction of those parishioners serving in the military.  

British Army statistics alone illustrate this. Roughly 8.7m men served in it at one point or another during the war. This includes Empire and Indian Army contingents. Of these about 5.7m were from the British Isles (including Ireland). From this 8.7m total, approximately 957,000 lost there lives (of which Royal Navy and RFC/RAF casualties were 39,527), and about 705,000 of these were from the British Isles. So between 11-12% of those in the British Army died, depending on whether you look at the total or narrow it to British Isles only. 

Whilst research often concentrates on those that died, one of the things I wanted to do was find about all those who served, whether or not they made the ultimate sacrifice. Many of the survivors were physically wounded and mentally scarred, some to a life-changing extent. I have a couple of great-uncles in those categories. Again, looking at the British Army statistics almost 2,273,000 were wounded (although this figure has an element of double-counting, in that if you were wounded twice you appeared twice in the numbers). Of those wounded 18% returned to duty but in modified roles, for example garrison or sedentary work. And 8% were invalided out altogether, no longer fit for military service. Families and communities were affected forever. 

For me Remembrance Sunday includes all those who served; all those affected be it killed, wounded physically or mentally, and those who returned home with no obvious lasting ill-effects but had given up part of their lives to serve.

Sadly very few local memorials or records give these full community details. Locally one such record which stands out as doing this is that of Soothill. More information on this here

I would love to try to find out about all those from the broader Batley area, to complement this Soothill treasure.  But doing this alone is impracticable. Time and record survival are the major stumbling blocks. Key to providing addresses are service records. But about two thirds of soldiers’ service records were totally lost or irretrievably damaged during WW2 1940 bombing. Those that have survived are in the National Archives WO 363 “burnt records” series. And, as mentioned, this is the overwhelmingly predominant service.  

My other option was to trawl through the two Batley newspapers from the time, “The Batley News” and “The Batley Reporter & Guardian,” making a note of all mention of those from the Batley area serving in the Armed Services. I’ve made no secret about wanting to do this. It would be a fantastic local resource. But unless I had years to spare concentrating on it, I couldn’t do it alone. The same considerations applied to Batley St Mary’s, with the added factor of connecting random names and addresses in Batley with a specific Catholic Parish. 

So I’m going to attempt a compromise, and focus on one area of Batley: Healey. It doesn’t have a Batley St Mary’s WW1 connection, but it’s the area I grew up in. And it’s the one where I still live. It is also more manageable size-wise. However the deciding factor in my choice is one soldier in particular, whose record I accidentally stumbled upon. But more of that in another post. 

A couple of maps from 1905 and 1931 below pinpoint the area. 

Healey in 1905

Healey in 1931


Initially I’ve used three sources:

  • CWGC information of the dead, where next of kin addresses mention addresses from the Healey, Batley area; 
  • WO 363 “Burnt Records” which include a Healey, Batley address via Ancestry.co.uk; and 
  • WO 364 records of those discharged for medical reasons (illness or wounds) during the First World War 

My initial analysis of these has produced the four Tables below. 


Over the next couple of years, till the centenary of Armistice Day, I intend doing a brief biography of each of these men.

I also intend going through at least one of the newspapers to identify other Healey men. Although doing this will probably extend the length of time for the project. A case of playing it by ear.

If anyone has any information about Healey men in WW1, it would be most welcome. It would also be lovely to extend this beyond Healey in WW1, to do a similar project for Healey in WW2. With the current centenary commemorations it is all too easy to overlook the sacrifices made by a more recent generation. So again names and information to kick-start this would be very much appreciated. 

I know I’m setting myself another potentially big but interesting task. Something a bit broader than War Memorial research, recognising the part the men across a community played. 

Sources: