Category Archives: Local History

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.

A Batley Boy’s Fatal Shooting

On the evening of Friday 24 April 1896 as the life ebbed from seven-year-old George Sharpe [1], he named the person responsible for shooting him – his playmate Alfred Brearey.

George was the son of rag grinder Jesse Sharpe and his wife Mary Wilson. The couple married at Batley Parish Church on 28 April 1877 [2]. It was Mary’s second marriage. Her first husband Fearnley Windle died in 1875, age 19 [3], just over a year after their marriage in the same church [4]

George was born on 27 April 1888. By the time of the 1891 census the family were living in the Healey area of Batley, at 41 Healey Street. In addition to George, their other children included Joseph (12), Rebecca (9), Letitia (6), Alice (5) and Lily (4 months) [5]. Ten years later they were at 5 Clark Green Street [6]. But at the time the incident took place their address was 4 Knowles Hill, otherwise known as Baines Street, off Dark Lane in Batley, with George attending Purlwell Board School.

Healey Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

Who was the boy accused of the fatal shooting? Many of the records, including the notes of Coroner Thomas Taylor, refer to him as Arthur. But clues exist that this is not the full story.  There are several other references naming him as Alfred or Alfy, many of these within the same documents which refer to him as Arthur. 

The report in The Batley News of 1 May 1896 provides the answer to this confusion. A footnote states:

It will be seen that the prisoner was referred to in almost every case as “Arthur.” His Christian name is Alfred. 

Accordingly, Alfred was the name by which he was summoned before this Court. His birth date was also helpfully confirmed in the Batley Borough Court evidence as reported in the same edition of The Batley News – Alfred was 11 on 8 April. 

Combining this information with General Register Office birth registrations, the fact he was the nephew of Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley, and his father was a carrier named Thomas all pinpoints him as being the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Brearey (née Crossley), who married in 1871. His baptism [7] at Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 18 May 1885 confirms his 8 April 1885 birth date, and a Hanging Heaton residence [8].

Alfred was one of 14 children born in the marriage, but by 1911 only seven were still alive, with Alfred being the only surviving son. In 1891 the family lived at Mill Lane [9], and it was the Hanging Heaton Mill Lane Board School which Alfred attended. But, prior to the shooting, the family moved to Norfolk Street which was close to where the Sharpe family lived. It was once Alfred “flitted” here that he became friends with George.

Norfolk Street, opposite Baines Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

I have pieced together the events of the evening of George’s death from various reports on the two official hearings, including the inquest notes made personally by Coroner Thomas Taylor.

First came the inquest on 27 April 1896. With a bitter twist of fate this would have been George’s eighth birthday. Held at The Commercial, this piece of Batley history is no longer a public house and was ear-marked for demolition to make way for apartments. I’m not sure if that is still on the cards.

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

Two days later, on Wednesday 29 April, the boy accused of causing George’s death appeared before the Batley Magistrates in a special session of the Borough Court.

In my narrative, to avoid confusion, I will use his officially registered name, Alfred. Though do bear in mind if you are searching yourself many of the original references are actually in the name of Arthur.

This is my summary of events.

On the evening of his death George came home from school at about 4.30pm and, after having his tea, he asked if he could go with Alfred to Farfield Nursery. He set off at around 5pm. This was the final time his mother saw him alive. The nursery, located near the Lady Ann Railway Crossing in Batley, was owned by Alfred’s uncle, Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley – a gardener, seedsman and florist who lived at Park Farm on Grovesnor Road. The Kelly’s West Riding of Yorkshire Directory of 1893 describes Crossley’s multiple floristry services which included:

….ball & wedding bouquets made to order, cut flowers with ferns for table decoration, Memorial wreaths & crosses of white flowers at short notice & moderate prices.

In addition to the nursery, he had an establishment located on Branch Road, easily accessible to potential customers popping into the town centre. Presumably it was from these premises that orders for flowers could be placed.

The 1895 published map of Batley shows Farfield Nursery to be of such a significant size to feature. In 1929 when, after 48 years ownership by B.W. Crossley & Sons, the market garden and rhubarb forcing business was sold, it consisted of five acres with greenhouses, cold frames, two large forcing sheds and three dwelling houses [10]. Back in 1896 it was where Alfred’s father, Thomas, had employment as a carter. 

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

Alfred was in the habit of going to the nursery most evenings to wait for his father to finish work. For the past month or so, whilst waiting, he had undertaken simple tasks such as pricking out and transplanting seedlings. George, at most, accompanied him to the nursery on only a handful of occasions.

This particular evening Alfred went into the potting shed to prick out seedlings, whilst George played, running about the nursery land. Head gardener George Benson left his office in the potting shed at around 6.10pm. He claimed to have locked the office door and put the key in its usual place, hanging by a nail outside the office at a height of about five feet. In the office was a single-barrelled shotgun. This was stored on a beam about seven or eight feet from the ground, but it was accessible to boys if they climbed on the office table. Used for scaring or shooting the pigeons, these birds posed a constant threat to seedlings and crops. In fact, only recently they had destroyed almost all the pea crop. However, it was debatable whether the birds should actually have been shot – many local men owned racing pigeons and some of these birds were quite valuable, as indicated in my blog post about the fate of some local Batley youths who stole pigeons to earn cash. Benson fired the gun on Thursday, and reloaded it with shot and powder on Friday morning. He placed a cap on the gun along with a label on the trigger indicating the weapon was loaded.

Within 20 minutes of Benson’s departure, at around 6.30pm, Benjamin Crossley was summoned by his nephew to the nursery. A boy had fallen in the gardens and was bleeding. Crossley could get no more information from Alfred, so he hurried to the nursery to investigate. He found George face-down on the cart road about eight yards or so from the potting shed, with a trail of blood leading back to it. Crossley turned the boy over and asked what was wrong. Cinders embedded in his face from his fall, George uttered the chilling words: Alfred had shot him.

George asked for some water, and the child took a sip. Crossley then went to get medical help and the police. On his way he saw Batley Councillor Rooke Garbutt in the garden of his Howley View home and informed him of the incident. Garbutt, the manager at John Jubb and Sons shoddy manufacturers at Batley’s Phoenix Mills, hurried to the nursery which quickly became a hive of activity. In the melee Arthur melted away. He went to the home of George’s parents. 

Jesse Sharpe was now home from work. Ironically, he worked in the same mills as Garbutt. He had eaten his tea and was smoking his pipe when Alfred turned up. It was around 6.45pm. Alfred seemed frightened and was trembling, which prompted Mary to ask where George was. Alfred spoke two words only – “He’s dead.” With that he left. Stunned by the news, Jesse went to find out what on earth was happening.

Back at the nursery Rooke Garbutt was doing his best to assist the boy, who had a wound the size of half a crown in his right side between his ribs. From the air being expelled from the hole, the shot had clearly entered his lung. Deep red blood flowed, which Garbutt tried to stem with his handkerchief. Garbutt judged by the jagged shape of the wound, and the absence of pellet marks, the lad had been shot at close range. He asked the child’s name and, on at least two occasions, he questioned who had shot him. The response never changed. Alfred Brearey. 

Dr Wilkinson arrived on the scene, and immediately judged nothing could be done. George was placed on an ambulance cart and Garbutt, assisted by others, started the journey to Batley Hospital. From the description provided, and with Garbutt said to be between the shafts, it appears this was a cart pulled by the men rather than one drawn by horses. There were various designs of these wheeled ambulance litters and carts throughout the country in this period. The example below is one of the models in use. Others, like the Bischoffsheim hand ambulance which was particularly favoured by London police in this era, were akin to wheeled stretchers. What is unclear is if the mode of transport used for George was an improvised ambulance cart, rather than an official one – especially given there appears to be no named official bearers.

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

On their way to the hospital Mrs Dyson of Grosvenor Road came out to dab George’s lips with brandy. She gave the ambulance-carriers the bottle in case more should be required. George managed one final word “mother” and, as the ambulance neared the hospital on Carlinghow Field Hill, he breathed his last.

Garbutt passed him to the care of Miss Kanann, hospital Matron, who did her utmost to revive George, but to no avail. Drs Russell and Keighley arrived and pronounced death. 

George did not stand a chance. The gunshot had fractured his ribs, perforated the lower part of his right lung, and caused injuries to his liver and abdominal cavity. His body was carried back to his home. Catherine Smith of Thorn Bank Cottage on Dark Lane, who had seen George leave his house at 5pm, only around three hours later was laying out his body. She burned his blood-soaked vest and shirt to spare his mother further distress, an action which earned censure from the Coroner. Evidence should not be destroyed. George’s mother finally saw her son at home at around 11pm, once Catherine work was complete.

Meanwhile police brought in Alfred on suspicion of having caused the death of George Sharpe. Inspector Weightman interrogated him. He described Alfred as quite calm, but uncooperative. Alfred stuck to his story. He had found George on the ground; George had fallen; and Alfred had not seen a gun.

Weightman finally took him to the nursery at 9pm, where Crossley and Garbutt met them. The office gun had vanished from its stated place on the beam. Even then Alfred denied ever seeing a gun, but eventually said it had been in a corner of the building. A search ensued and, after around 10 minutes, the discharged weapon was found beneath a bench with the exploded cap still in place. When Alfred’s father arrived, the lad said Benson had told a story – the office door was unlocked and the gun was not hung up. The police decided to release George into his father’s custody whilst investigations continued.

On Sunday evening, Alfred, accompanied by his parents and a sister went to the Sharpe house. It was an act which demanded tremendous courage under the circumstances. One cannot imagine the reaction and emotions of the Sharpe family when the boy accused of killing their son turned up on their doorstep. At first Alfred denied having shot George, but when pressed by Jesse he finally admitted to it.

The Coroner’s inquest, headed by Thomas Taylor, was held the following morning, 27 April. Taylor was critical of the nursery’s gun practices. Firstly, he questioned the necessity for having one at all, suggesting they should employ a boy to scare the birds. He also criticised the way in which the nursery kept the gun, particularly the fact it was stored fully loaded.  

As for the shooting, he pointed out only George had provided evidence that Alfred was responsible, as the admission extracted by Jesse was inadmissible in Court.

In summary, Taylor stated the boys had no right to be in the office where the gun was kept, but they had got into boy-like mischief. It was impossible to say whether they were simply curiously examining the gun or playing with it. But it was unlikely Arthur would fetch the gun and deliberately shoot his friend. If a person over 14 years old killed another it was murder, unless the contrary could be proved. However, if the person was under seven it was no crime in law. Between the ages of seven and 14, as in Alfred’s case, the jury needed to consider whether the perpetrator had sufficient comprehension to know what he was doing. The jury must consider whether Alfred was playing, as boys would do, and this was an accident; or if he shot George wilfully and with knowledge and understanding. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes before returning a verdict of “Death from Misadventure.” 

That very day, on what should have been George’s eight birthday, he was laid to rest in Batley cemetery. 

The Borough Court hearing of 29 April initially did not reveal anything further, other than Alfred had never been in any trouble, and caused no problems at home. It was in Court that Alfred was finally interrogated publicly, this not being allowed at the inquest.  And it was here, in a dramatic turn, he finally revealed his version of events that fateful evening.

He stated George entered the potting shed asking to see the plants tended by Alfred. The office door was wide open. George went in, got the gun from behind the door and gave it to Alfred. Alfred was trying to put it back when it knocked something and went off. Both he and George were in close proximity in the office when it happened. Sharpe ran for about 10 yards then fell. 

The Mayor’s summing up and address to Alfred was recorded in The Batley News. He told Alfred that his:

….future might be a bright and successful one….but a cloud would hang over him. If he desired to get on in the world he should remember that it was only by being honourable and upright that he could hope to succeed, and he hoped the events of the past few days would be a lesson to him and to boys outside not to meddle with anything that did not belong to them. Had the gun not been touched except by those to whom it belonged a great deal of misery would have been spared. A liar was worse than a thief, for doors could be locked against a thief but the mouth of a liar could not be bolted. He trusted therefore that the prisoner would take warning. If he [took to heart all that has been said] he would find himself not merely a good lad but a good citizen, and (if he married) a good husband.[11]

The Bench duly agreed with the verdict of the Coroner’s Jury – George’s death was the result of misadventure. Alfred was discharged. 

Whether the full truth came out in Court when Alfred finally admitted responsibility, we will never know. But the scenario described by Coroner Thomas Taylor at the earlier inquest does seem plausible. This was a case of lads messing around. Whether George did get the gun, or whether it was Alfred wanting to show off to his younger friend, is unclear. What is obvious, reading through all the evidence, it does seem to have been a horrible accident. Alfred was only just 11, a child himself. He would have been traumatised by the events of that evening – in shock and extremely frightened. No wonder he did not dare admit what happened. But still he went to seek help.

As for Crossley, he unsurprisingly declined the option to take back his gun. The Coroner’s words of two days earlier clearly hit home. If the gun had been stored correctly none of this would have happened. A boy would still be alive to celebrate his birthday. A mother and father would still have their son.

But even though this was all clearly a tragic accident, Mary Sharpe’s reaction is one with which everyone will sympathise. On hearing the verdict, she burst into tears and said “he has got off scot free, whilst we have lost our George.” 

So, what became of Alfred Brearey? Did he heed the advice given by the Court? It seems he did. A warper at Taylor’s Blakeridge Mills, he married Florence Shephard on 2 September 1905 at Batley Parish Church [12]. He was an active member of St John’s Church, Carlinghow where he was Secretary for their football club. A sports enthusiast, he was a particularly good cyclist and member of the Yorkshire Road Club. They awarded him a medal in 1909 for his record-breaking ride to Goole and back in 4¾ hours. He went on to serve with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in World War One, and was killed in action on 27 August 1917. He has no know gave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. At home he is remembered on Batley War Memorial and is recognised in the Rev. W.E. Cleworth’s Soothill War Register and Record book [13].

Alfred Brearey – The Batley News, 15 September 1917

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

Footnotes:
[1] Other records have the spelling Sharp, but for consistency I will use the Sharpe variant;
[2] Jesse Sharp/Mary Windle Marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/27;
[3] GRO Death Registration for Fearnley Windle, accessed via the GRO website, reference June Quarter 1875, Dewsbury District, Volume 9B, Page 388;
[4] Fearnley Windle/Mary Wilson marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, 19 September 1874, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/26;
[5] Sharp family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives Class: RG12; Piece: 3721; Folio: 137; Page: 31
[6] Sharp family, 1901 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives, Kew Class: RG13; Piece: 4258; Folio: 49; Page: 1;
[7] His name is entered as Brearley in the Baptism Register. The error is replicated for some of his siblings. Even the Coroner in his notes occasionally records his name as Brearley, and then this is amended. Baptisms for other of Thomas and Martha Ann’s children are recorded under the surnames of Brearey or Breary;
[8] Baptism of Arthur Brearley [sic], Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference C7/1/2;
[9] Brearey family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via  Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line], original record The National Archives RG12; Piece: 3736; Folio: 14; Page: 22;
[10] The Leeds Mercury, 11 September 1929, accessed via Findmypast;
[11] The Batley News & Advertiser – 1 May 1896;
[12] Alfred Brearey/Florence Shepherd marriage, Batley Parish Church marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/36
[13] Cleworth, Rev. W.E. Urban District of Soothill Upper, Yorkshire, War Register and Records, 1914-1919. Batley: E.F. Roberts, n.d.

Other sources:

  • Inquest notes for George Sharpe, Coroner Thomas Taylor’s notes, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference C493/K/2/1/198
  • Kelly’s West Riding Directory, 1893, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • The Batley News and Guardian – 2 May 1896
  • The Huddersfield Daily Examiner – 28 and 30 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Mercury – 25 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Times – 2 May 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Yorkshire Evening Post – 25, 27 and 29 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • Wellcome Collectionhttps://wellcomecollection.org/

Hidden History of Batley: A Mill Horror

No-one in Batley foresaw the consequences that the 1856 hanging of the infamous Rugeley Poisoner, Dr William Palmer [1], would have on the Yorkshire town. Consequences which led three local lads to end up in court in York on grave charges before the year was out.

The Staffordshire serial killer had no association with Batley, whose residents – along with those throughout the country – read with morbid fascination of the doctor’s lurid lifestyle and alleged killing spree. Yet the theatre and spectacle surrounding the murders, and subsequent enactment of justice, did strike an unfortunate chord with some in this developing Yorkshire mill town.

Such were the concerns surrounding a fair hearing for the case given its notoriety, a special Act of Parliament was rushed through to allow Palmer’s trial to take place at the Old Bailey rather than Stafford. The so-called ‘Trial of the Century’ gripped the country over 12 days in May 1856, with newspapers providing coverage of every twist and turn.

Palmer was eventually convicted of the murder of a friend John Parsons Cook who he poisoned, it was claimed, with strychnine. This was the first ever trial for murder by strychnine in this country. But he was also suspected of the poisoning of many more in a bid to clear his debts – including his wife, four children, brother and mother-in-law. 

He was publicly hanged on 14 June 1856 at Stafford prison before a crowd estimated to be in excess of 30,000, many of whom camped out all night in pouring rain to ensure their place at the grisly spectacle. On the morning of his execution Charles Dickens described him as “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey dock.[2].

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

After death Palmer’s infamy lived on, spawning whole new mini-industries with the production of souvenir broadsheets, and ballads. Even the rope-maker who made the noose had a lucrative side-line selling extra sections of rope for a guinea a time. Up and down the country Palmer’s name was on the lips of men, women and children.

Back in Batley, on Friday 3 October 1856, 12-year-old John Harris set off to start work at 7am at Joseph Jubb and Brother’s mill. The son of Ann Harris, described as a widow in poor circumstances but of irreproachable character [3], John had been employed at the mill for only three weeks. At 8am he ate his breakfast in the top storey of the building. With him were three other boys, Joshua Firth (age 15), Benjamin Preston (age 14) and 13-year-old Abraham Sharp. John had known Joshua and Abraham for a couple of years, and Benjamin for a couple of months.

The area where the boys breakfasted contained a trap door, and nearby stood a steam-operated crane which was used to hoist wool etc. up from the lower stories of the mill. As John prepared to return to work the other lads were still larking around. Inspired by the recent trial they decided to play a game of ‘Hang Palmer’, with Joshua declaring that the new boy John would be Palmer. John cried “You shall not hang Palmer with me” and tried to run away. In his witness statement John went on to say:

Preston ran after me and caught me, then Sharp tied a rope under my arms and round my body, the others assisting him. Then Firth tied the rope to the crane. I tried to get loose, but I could not. I told them to let me go, but they never spoke…I am sure I did not play with the other boys, and they tied the rope round me against my wish. Firth has thrashed me many a time when I have gone for water, but the others have never thrashed me. [4]

Perhaps ‘Hang Palmer’ had been re-enacted before in the mill. Perhaps it was a prank played elsewhere by boys up and down the country, such was the impact of the deeds, trial and death of ‘Prince of Poisoners,’ William Palmer. This time though the game went badly wrong, with tragic results for all involved.

On another floor workmen set the crane in motion to pull up a sheet of wool. The chain caught the rope tied to John, he became entangled in the chain which squeezed his body, leaving him incapable of calling for help. He was drawn over the crane roller towards the ceiling beam around eight feet above at the top of the mill, where he mercifully lost consciousness as he was crushed. 

Benjamin ran down to the second story and alerted workman Robert Senior who raced up to the top. The crane lever was lowered and John released. Surgeon Mr Halbut was summoned. In addition to concussion, John sustained a fractured left arm and a spinal injury causing paralysis to his lower limbs. 

He was carried home, where leeches were applied to his head in a bid to treat him. It was not until 8 October, after unsurprisingly failing to recover from his severe injuries, that he was finally transferred to hospital, over at Leeds Infirmary. Here doctors kept authorities informed of the seriousness of the young victim’s wounds.

With John now conscious but perilously ill, in mid-October Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were taken into custody, charged with causing him serious bodily harm. So critical was John’s condition, magistrates deemed it necessary to take his statement at his Infirmary bedside in the presence of the three accused. The younger two boys placed the prime responsibility on the elder boy casting him in the role of ringleader, saying they wanted him to untie John but Joshua refused to. The West Riding magistrates released the boys on bail.

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

On 21 October they appeared again before the West Riding magistrate’s court in Leeds. As a result of evidence from Leeds Infirmary’s Dr Samuel Smith that John might not recover, the three boys this time were refused bail. They were taken to the Borough Gaol to await their next appearance a week later. At this subsequent hearing the Infirmary Medical Officer once more stated John was still dangerously ill. This time the case was adjourned for a month, and bail granted.

John died in Leeds Infirmary on the morning of Tuesday 25 November 1856. That afternoon the trio were brought before the West Riding magistrates at Leeds Court house once more where Mr Hardwick, house surgeon at Leeds Infirmary, stated John had died as a result of his spinal injuries. Joshua, Benjamin and Abraham were bailed, awaiting trial at the winter Gaol Delivery at York in December on a charge of manslaughter. 

The inquest, held the following afternoon, concurred with the cause of death. Mr Ferns, solicitor for the prisoners, presented a supportive letter from the Jubb brothers, mill owners and employers of the lads. The letter read;

Batley, near Dewsbury, Nov. 25th, 1856. Mr. Ferns, Sir, – We understand you are employed to defend the three boys charged with inflicting injury on the lad Harris, who has died in the Infirmary.
As owners of the factory where the accident happened, we are desirous to express to the coroner and jury our entire conviction of the innocence of the boys’ intentions towards the deceased, and that the boys were playing together without any evil design as boys usually do. 
We may mention, in case it might come in useful in any way, that we deposited £10 with the vicar of this parish to defray the expenses of Harris’s funeral, in case of death and that if he had lived we had arranged with the factory inspectors to pay down a further sum for his benefit.
Yours respectfully
JOSEPH JUBB AND BROTHERS [5].

The coroner, Mr Blackburn, did not allow it as evidence. Duly, the jury reached a verdict of manslaughter.

The following day John was buried in Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds [6].

Around a fortnight later, on 12 December 1856, the three youths were in York facing the charge of manslaughter before Mr Commissioner Russell Gurney Esq QC. The prosecution case, presented by Mr Morley and Mr Hannay, hinged on the fact that although the affair was in sport, the refusal of John to join in made it manslaughter. Mr Middleton, for the defence, claimed John’s death was purely accidental arising from boyish sport. The crane was set in motion by a hand over which the prisoners had no control and, as a result, they could not be guilty of manslaughter. Summing up, his Lordship Commissioner Gurney in effect told the jury that if the facts presented were proved, the death of John was unintentional and did not spring from the acts of the accused. As such the jury must acquit the prisoners. The jury took this advice and passed a verdict of not guilty.

So, who were these boys? From preliminary searches of censuses, parish registers and civil registration information it appears that they all, along with John, lived in the Havercroft area of Batley. Joshua is most likely the son of Thomas and Mary Firth (née Ellis). Benjamin was most likely the son of Joseph and Ann Preston (née Preston). Abraham was the son of Joseph and Rebecca Sharp (née Marshall).

The three lads were discharged into the custody of their parents, free to return home.  One mother though, Ann Harris, would never have her son home again. By extension, and through a prank gone wrong, he too can be considered a collateral victim of Palmer.

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

As to which mill in Batley was the scene of this tragic event, none of the newspaper articles I have read identify it. The Jubbs owned several in town over the years. There is a possibility it was their [Old] Branch [Road] Mill which burned down at the beginning of September 1876 [7] and which they owned outright at the time of the John Harris tragedy. In fact, just over six months after the York trial they were fined for employing children under 13 years of age without schooling at that particular mill [8]. In the same period, they were also associated with New Ing Mills. Originally partners there, they eventually acquired sole possession by 1859, and commenced a building programme which significantly changed the premises in the 1860s. However, at the time of the incident New Ing Mills was in joint ownership, so this I believe is the less likely location.

But, as I hope this tale illustrates, it is amazing to contemplate the hidden history which took place in buildings long gone, and others still standing, in my hometown of Batley.

Notes:

[1] William Palmer website http://staffscc.net/wppalmer/ ;
[2] Household Words, A Weekly Journal, 14 June 1856;
[3] The Leeds Times, 29 November 1856;
[4] The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 October 1856;
[5] The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 November 1856;
[6] Leeds Beckett Street Cemetery Records, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Ref LC/CEM (B)/1/1, Numbers 1-18747, 1845-1862;
[7] Coincidentally, another similarly named mill in the area, Branch Mill which was built by the Jubbs in around 1874 and latterly owned by Messrs. J., T., and J. Taylor, burned down in July 1915;
[8] The Leeds Times, 25 July 1857;

Sources:
(All newspapers accessed via the British Newspaper Archive on Findmypast)

  • Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner, 29 November and 13 December 1856
  • The Bradford Observer, 27 November 1856;
  • The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 and 25 October 1856;
  • The Leeds Intelligencer, 30 October, 1 and 29 November 1856;
  • The Leeds Mercury, 27 November 1856;
  • The Leeds Times, 1 and 29 November 1856, and 25 July 1857;
  • England and Wales Censuses 1841 to 1871 accessed via Ancestry.co.uk and Findmypast;
  • GRO Indexes, accessed via Findmypast and the GRO website;
  • West Yorkshire Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1835, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
  • West Yorkshire Church of England Baptisms 1813 – 1910, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original records at West Yorkshire Archive Service;
  • Wellcome Library Images: https://wellcomelibrary.org/
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.

The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit

The publication in 1842 of Children’s Employment Commission’s investigation into the condition and treatment of children in the mines and collieries of the United Kingdom made for particularly shameful reading in Batley. It shone a very unwelcome spotlight on the treatment of workhouse children across the whole of the Dewsbury Poor Law Union in general, with the Batley at the epicentre of the scandal.

To be fair, the investigation highlighted a catalogue of shocking examples countrywide with children, girls as well as boys, working in the pits from very early ages. So horrific were some examples that newspapers compared the practice of children employed underground to a form of slavery.

Sub-Commissioner Jelinger C. Symons, who investigated the West Riding mines (excluding Leeds, Bradford and Halifax) stated:

There are well attested instances of children being taken into coal-pits as early as five years of age. These are very extreme cases; but many begin as trapdoor-keepers, and even as hurriers, as early as seven. Eight is as nearly as I can ascertain the usual age at which children begin to work in coal-pits, except in thin seams when they often come earlier [1].

Trapdoor-keepers, otherwise known as trappers, were employed directly by mine owners. They opened the doors in the mine allowing the coal corves (the tubs used for transporting the coal) to pass through. They also ensured the doors closed afterwards removing any blockages, such as spilled coal, which would prevent this. Often a 12-hour day, it was a responsible job too. This process of opening and closing doors provided ventilation essential to prevent a build-up of dangerous methane gas. It was a lonely job, undertaken in damp, ill-ventilated, drafty conditions and often in total darkness, unless on the occasions when “a good-natured collier will bestow a little bit of candle on them as a treat.[2]

Hurriers, employed by miners themselves, conveyed the coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves. These oblong small-wheeled wagons were pushed or pulled through the low, narrow passages. Symons wrote:

There is something very oppressive at first sight in the employment of children hurrying all day in passages under 30 inches in height, and altogether not much above the size of an ordinary drain….. [3]

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

The weights of the corves varied. Symons, in his West Riding report, stated that when full these vehicles carried between 2 to 10 cwt of coal, with the corves themselves weighing around 2 to 2.5 cwt. The number of journeys made and distance travelled also varied between pits. Examples cited in Symons’ report ranged from 16 to 24 full corves transported a day and anything between over two miles to nine miles travelled, depending on factors such as weight of the corves, distance to the shaft, the height and incline and whether the hurriers could hand over the final pull to horses, which some pits used. The very youngest hurriers could work in pairs, with those pushing also known as thrusters. The hurrier would also help the miner load the coal onto the corves, including riddling the coal. They were sometimes left alone to finish the task of loading if their hewer knocked off early.

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

It was noted that in mining communities, miners with large, young families had a tendency to take their children to work in the mine at an earlier age than better off miners who already had several older children working in the pits and contributing to the family income.

However, the case which was an embarrassment to the local authorities in the parishes which formed the Dewsbury Poor Law Union involved a pauper child, Thomas Townend [5].

In the care of the workhouse authorities, the youngster was ‘apprenticed’ out in contravention of the minimum age allowed for such children. This had been seven under the Parish Apprentices Act of 1698, but increased to not under nine in the Parish Apprentices Act of 1816. These pauper apprenticeships were usually not into skilled trades, but as farm labourers or servants. The industrial revolution opened up factories and mines as an option too. Apprenticeships for these children were largely seen as a form of cheap labour rather than teaching a skilled trade. They also provided an opportunity to offload the responsibility and, more importantly, cost of supporting a pauper child from the authorities. The child’s parents (if living) had no legal rights in the matter.

The example, involving a boy in Batley workhouse, was described by Symons as “A very gross case of the unduly early employment of a workhouse child….” apprenticed to a collier in Thornhill “before he was quite five years old”! [6]

The witness statements about the incident in the Appendix documents make for damning reading. I’ve reproduced the relevant passages in full.

No. 180. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, Birstall, wrote as follows. Dec. 26, 1840:
In mines where children are employed, in one coal-pit they will work perhaps 8 hours a-day, and in others 12 hours a-day. It is customary in some districts for miners to take six or seven apprentices; and I am now going to relate what has taken place in my own presence frequently during the past year.
I am guardian for the township of Gomersall [sic], in the Dewsbury Union. When I first attended the Board meetings, I was surprised to find so many applications from miners for apprentices from the Union Workhouse, the answer was, “Go to the house and select for yourself, and we will bind [7] you the one you select.” In some cases children (boys) have been selected at 7 and 8 years of age, because they were strong and healthy. Upon inquiry, I found no question had been asked as to age; and if in a few months the man found the boy was not strong enough (without reference to his age), he brings him back. One instance occurred only on the 24th December, last Thursday, and the boy is again in the Union Workhouse, only 7 years of age. I remonstrated with the other guardians on the enormity of binding a boy so young: they told me they had not bound him, nor should they do until he was 9 years of age; but is not this the same as binding? This boy’s master had five or six in the same way. I am the only surgeon who has ever been a member of the Dewsbury Board of Guardians and the other members do not like to be interfered with. Now, in such a case if the child must have had a certificate of fitness before being sent, he never would have been sent. I was astonished that such things could be…..[8]

No. 181. – Mrs. Lee, Matron of the Workhouse at Batley. Examined May 5, [1841] at Batley Poorhouse, near Birstall: –
The boy Thomas Townend, went on trial to a colliery at Thornhill, belonging to Mr. Ingham; he went on the 19th March, 1840, and came back again in the 6th April, 1840. He is entered in my book as being born in 1836. The reason he was sent back was, that he was pilfering into a neighbour’s house. He went to a collier, who employed him. It is the practice of the colliers or masters who want children to go to the Board-room, and they get an order to take a child, after they have picked them out at the workhouse. They inquire what the age is; they are not bound before 10, but they go on trial before that. Joseph Booth was born in 1833; he was discharged from here 12th March, 1840; he went to Robert Lumb, a collier, but an uncle interfered and took the child away, because he was not he thought, sufficiently fed. He went to his uncle, and remained at uncle’s till he was re-admitted on December 24th at this house. George Booth, a brother of Joseph Booth, is now at Dewsbury poorhouse. I am quite sure that Townend was not hurt in health by going to the pit. I believe there was a mistake made by the Board about his age. [9]

No. 182. – Joseph Booth, examined May 5, [1841] at the same workhouse, aged 8 years: –
I remember being in the pit; I used to hurry with another; I used to like being in the pit. Please they gave me plenty to eat. We used to go in at 5 in the morning, and they came out at 5. We had a bit of bread to eat in the pit, and stopped to eat it; we used to sit down to have it. There were four boys and six girls. The work did not tire me much. [10]

No. 183. – Thomas Townend (stated to be born in 1836). Examined at the said Workhouse: –
I remember being in the pit. I liked it; but they would not let me stay. [11]

No. 268. – Thomas Rayner, Esq., Surgeon, of Birstall. Examined May 26, 1841, at Birstall:-
….The Board of Guardians at Batley apprentice children without due care to ascertain their age. The boy Thomas Townend, aged 5 years, would not have been brought back to the workhouse had not the grandfather interfered and demanded it. We threatened to acquaint Mr. Chadwick and the Commissioners with it….. [12]

Another witness, Joseph Ellison, Esq., of Birkenshaw, a former Guardian , claimed it was notorious that when colliers needed hurriers they applied to Poor Law Guardians for pauper children because “They cannot get them elsewhere, on account of the severity of the labour and treatment hurriers experience; and which makes parents prefer any other sort of employment for their children.[13]

Essentially, the Dewsbury Poor Law Union was deliberately circumventing the rules around pauper apprentices by using such words as ‘trial’, thus claiming the children were not officially bound until they were of the correct age.

The case of Thomas Townend drew special attention from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was the national body providing Parliament with operational information around the Poor Law, and having responsibility for collating statistics and formulating regulations and procedures. As a result of the investigations of the Employment Commission, on 27 June 1842 a letter was sent from the Poor Law Commission to the Guardians of the Dewsbury Union [14] asking about the practice of sending children from the Union Workhouses to work in mines. They requested a return showing details of every child under the age of 16 apprenticed to work in a coal mine from 1840 to 1842. A similar missive went to the Halifax Union Board of Guardians, among others.

The Dewsbury Union return of 9 July 1842 is below. A bigger version can be found here.

In addition, William Carr, Clerk of Dewsbury Union, addressed specifically the case of Thomas Townend stating:

With regard to Thomas Townend, who was sent out of the workhouse to a coal miner on trial at five years old, I have to remark, that he, at that time, appeared by the workhouse books to be upwards of seven years of age. The child had been removed, along with other paupers, from one of the township workhouses to the union workhouse; and as the master of the township workhouse kept no account of the ages of the inmates, the union officers were obliged to get the ages of the paupers from the paupers themselves and their friends; and in this way Thomas Townend was put down seven instead of five. As soon as the error was discovered, which was in a few days after the child was sent out of the workhouse, he was sent back to the workhouse. [15]

Absolutely no mention that it was the intervention of his grandfather, and the threat of reporting the case to Edwin Chadwick and the Poor Law Commissioners that prompted his return to the workhouse, as indicated by Thomas Rayner in his deposition to Symons.

The Poor Law Commissioners were keen to have further information about the boy, writing to the Dewsbury Union Clerk on 14 July 1842 asking:

In reference to the case of one of the children, Thomas Townend, I am to request that the Commissioners may be informed what has become of the boy since he was returned to the workhouse, and whether he is in the workhouse still. [16]

Carr fired a reply back on 16 July 1842 informing the Poor Law Commission that since his return on trial (the Guardians still at pains to stress this was no apprenticeship) with William Bradshaw he had remained in the Union Workhouse at Batley. [17] The location of this workhouse is shown on the map below. Anyone familiar with the White Lee Road/Carlinghow Lane area of town will recognise the spot, which is now housing.

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

I have traced Thomas Townend in Batley workhouse in the 6 June 1841 census [18], but nothing definite subsequent to his mention in the July 1842 letter. Unfortunately, of the few remaining records left, the Board of Guardian Minutes, held by West Yorkshire Archive Services do not survive beyond 1842.

As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either.

As for pauper apprentices, the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1844 banned the binding of children under nine years of age, and of children who could not read or write their name.

This is the first in a series of four posts about the the evidence of the Sub-Commissioners who investigated the employment of children and young persons in mining, resulting in the 1842 Report. The other posts are:

Notes:

[1] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via The Internet Archive
[5] In most documents his name is Townend. However, in the Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines the spelling is Townsend.
[6] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[7] Put out to apprenticeship.
[8] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842
[14] The Board of Guardians oversaw the operations of the particular Poor Law Union, in this case Dewsbury Union. The Guardians were drawn from all the constituent parishes of the Union. At this stage Batley had two Guardians on the Board of 23. Other parishes represented were Heckmondwike, Lower Whitley and Thornhill (one each); Liversedge, Morley, Ossett and Soothill (two each); Gomersal and Mirfield (three each); and Dewsbury (four). Source http://www.workhouses.org.uk/
[15] Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842.
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid
[18] Thomas Townend, 1841 Census. Accessed via Findmypast, Reference HO107/1267/67/2

Sources:

  • Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
  • Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • Parliamentary Papers Volume 1842:v.35. London: H.M.S.O., 1842. Accessed via Google Books
  • The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Collieries of the United Kingdom. London: W. Strange, 1842. Accessed via The Internet Archive
  • Higginbotham, Peter. “The History of the Workhouse by Peter Higginbotham.” Accessed July 31, 2019. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/.
  • Lake, Fiona, and Rosemary Preece. Voices from the Dark: Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines. Place of Publication Not Identified: Overton, 1992.
  • Raymond, Stuart A. My Ancestor Was an Apprentice, How Can I Find out More about Him? London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises, 2010.
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Wellcome Library https://wellcomelibrary.org/

With special thanks to the staff at the Leeds Local and Family History library for their help in locating a copy of the Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners.

Gone Fishing – Newton-by-the-Sea Past and Present

My recent holiday in Northumberland proved yet again that I can never totally switch off from research. I stayed in a Grade II Listed former fisherman’s cottage in the picturesque coastal village of Low Newton-by-the-Sea (historically known as Newton Seahouses). The cottage in which I stayed, according to Historic England, dates from the 18th century but was remodelled in the mid-19th century [1]. It is one of the whitewashed cottages which border three sides of the village green, owned by the National Trust [2]. The buildings on one side include the historic Ship Inn, parts of which are thought to date back to the 16th-17th century. The fourth side of the square leads directly to the beach and rocks of Newton, or St Mary’s, Haven.

It is a wonderfully relaxing location and the connection with the past is palpable. I felt compelled to delve into the history of the village and as a result discovered that the 19th century incarnation was a far cry from today’s holiday destination. It was a village very much shaped by the sea, and life for its inhabitants was decidedly tough.

Shipwrecks and death at sea were an occupational hazard, both for sailors transporting goods up and down the coast or across the North Sea to the continent, as well as for the locally-based fishermen. The predominant catches of these local fishermen were of turbot, lobster and herrings.

One early incident, reported in the local papers, occurred on 21 June 1833 [3]. William Cuthbertson’s sons William (age 22) and Robert, along with Ralph Archbold (age 19), the son or William Archbold, set off in a boat from Newton Sea Houses to Dunstanburgh Castle to gather sink stones for the brat nets [4].

Dunstanburgh Castle and the Cottages at Low Newton-by-the-Sea – Photo by Jane Roberts

On the return journey a heavy squall caught the sail and capsized the boat which sunk immediately due to the weight of the stones. Robert, who could swim a little, grabbed two of the oars and kept afloat until saved by some fishermen. The other two young men drowned, their bodies found the following day. Their burials on 24 June 1833 are recorded in the parish register of Holy Trinity, Embleton.

Back to the 21st century and hopefully those present-day holidaymakers savouring a thirst-quenching pint of one of the Ship Inn’s microbrewery offerings, or enjoying a delicious locally-sourced meal in the pub (turbot was on the menu for our visit) will not be put off by some of the 19th century activities which took place there. It was a convenient place to hold inquests, including for those whose bodies washed ashore. Some were foreign seafarers.

The Ship Inn – Photo by Jane Roberts

One such Ship Inn inquest took place before George Watson, coroner for North Northumberland, on Wednesday 26 February 1879. The body of 40-year-old Trieste seaman Francesco Carbone was discovered by labourer Thomas Anderson on rocks at Newton that Monday. He was one of the sailors on board the 542 tons Italian barque Stefano Padre, which foundered on the rocks just off Newton-by-the-Sea [5].

The barque, accompanied by a tug, set off from Aberdeen to North Shields in ballast [6] on Saturday 23 February. That night the sea started to get rough, and in the early hours of the following morning the barque struck the rocks. Although the tug managed to get a heaving rope to the vessel, it was unable to pull it free and abandoned the rescue attempt.

An attempt was made to launch the ship’s boat by those on the stricken craft. This ended in failure with most being forced to return to the Stefano Padre, whilst the four men on the front ended up in the sea. One of these did manage to cling on to the ship’s boat. When waves threw it clean on the rocks men from the Volunteer Life Company, comprised of coastguard and fishermen of Newton, managed to drag him to safety.

It was dangerous work with the men continually being washed off their feet. Not only was there the immediate danger of working in treacherous conditions, but the effects of the cold and exposure to the elements in undertaking what could be prolonged rescue efforts wreaked havoc on health. One of the coastguard men, Joseph Whiles, was completely drenched and blinded by the surf. He only reluctantly left the rescue scene after being advised to do so by Dr Magill.

Coastguards Cottages – Photo by Jane Roberts

Repeated attempts were made by the Coastguard to employ rockets to get a line to the barque and eventually this was successful, resulting in the rescue of the captain and six men.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’ on Stefano Carbone. The courageous manner in which the coastguard and fishermen of Newton had endeavoured to save the lives of the crew in the face of great personal danger was acknowledged. William Pringle, a fish-curer who represented the fishermen at the inquest, and Mr Williams, the chief coastguard, were asked to inform those involved. The latter stated:

…a better class of men could not be found than those he had under his charge…

William Pringle was subsequently presented with an illuminated testimonial in vellum by the Board of Trade [7].

It seems the Ship Inn did not always sport this name. Though by time of the 1899 publication of the OS six-inch map of the area it was clearly marked as the Ship Inn [8], an earlier edition which was surveyed in 1860 and published in 1866 [9], shows its name as Smack Inn. And curiously, some newspapers reporting a Newton-by-the-Sea inquest in 1861 stated it took place in the Keelboat Inn. This was into the death of 59-year old Claas Foelders from Emden, Captain of the Hanoverian schooner Hortensia.

In stormy weather, heavy seas and thick rain the schooner, which was bound for Newcastle from Hamburg, lost its way in the darkness and struck the North Steel Rocks off Boulmer at around 8pm on the evening of Wednesday 27 March 1861. It being low tide the crew of the Boulmer lifeboat were able to walk out to the Hortensia, boarding at about 8.30pm. However, Foelders, who was described as tipsy, refused to leave. His crew of four also remained – some reports indicated that Foelders forced them to stay. With the tide on the turn, the lifeboat crew left the vessel and returned to shore at 10.30pm. By this time the captain was ‘dead drunk’. The sea quickly rose, the ship was driven further onto the rocks and began filling with water.

Now, in tricky conditions, the lifeboat was forced to launch. Despite all entreaties from his crew and the lifeboatmen, the captain once more obstinately refused to leave the Hortensia, holding on to the rails. With the situation becoming increasingly perilous the lifeboat returned to shore at 12.30 am, this time with the four crew members. The ship broke up entirely in the early hours of the morning of 28 March.

Later that morning, whilst out fishing about two miles off shore, Newton-by-the-Sea fisherman William Carss, and his two sons James and William, found the body of the captain floating head upwards dressed in drawers, stockings and a jacket. 

The inquest, held before the Coroner J. J. Hardy, on 30 March, returned a verdict that Foelders was found drowned. As mentioned some reports state it took place in Mr Jos Blair’s Keelboat Inn, Newton-by-the-Sea [10] and [11]. Others state it was the home of Newton-by-the-Sea innkeeper Mr James Blair [12] and [13].

Looking for alternative local inns, there was the Joiner’s Arms in Newton village (High Newton). Also, according to another OS map [14] there was one other public house in the vicinity, the Fisherman’s Arms. This is now a National Trust holiday cottage called Risemoor. The 1858 Kelly’s Post Office Directory of Northumberland and Durham does not help, its only listing being George Geggie’s Joiner’s Arms. However, the 1861 census was taken only days after the inquest on 7 April, so I checked this out.

There is no Joseph Blair in Newton-by-the-Sea (both the village itself of High Newton and Low Newton/Newton Seahouses). However, at ‘Newton Sea Houses Pub[lic] Ho[use].’ is ‘Fish[erman] and Inn Keeper’ James Blair, wife Hannah and five-year-old son James [15]. This seems to place him right in the square, where the Ship Inn is located. So it appears this was the inn in which the inquest of Claas Foelders took place. Perhaps the newspapers mistakenly called it the Keelboat Inn, or perhaps this briefly was its name. More work is needed to research this, probably more for archives than online, to enable a firm conclusion.

By 1871 [16] James and Hannah had moved in to Newton village itself (High Newton), and his sole occupation was fisherman. Skip forward to 1881 [17] and still in High Newton James now reverted to the dual occupation of fisherman and publican. But tragedy struck on 1 December 1883 when he too was claimed by the sea. He and John Patterson put out to Dunstanburgh haul in their lobster nets. A heavy wave hit their boat washing James and an oar overboard and knocking John over. With only one oar John could not control the boat and his attempts to reach James failed. John lost consciousness but fortunately his boat drifted to shore and he was found. James’ body was not discovered until 18 December on rocks near Dunstanburgh. His inquest the following day, ironically held at the Joiners Arms with which he knew well, returned a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’ [18]. His son James took over the running of this pub, and is shown here with his family and widowed mother Hannah in the 1891 census [19].

Back to Low Newton, there is a gem of a description of it from a survey conducted by the Alnwick Rural Sanitary Authority which featured in the Alnwick Mercury of 18 October 1873. It paints a wonderful picture of life there in the latter half of the 19th century. It is such an evocative piece I’ve reproduced it in full.

NEWTON SEA HOUSES
This busy little fishing village lies close to the sea in the centre of “St. Mary’s,” or the rocky “Newton Haven.” It consists of fishermen’s cottages, a public house, and stable, forming three sides of a square (the fourth side being open to the haven), a couple of fish curing houses, and a fish curer’s – Mr Pringle’s – old and very damp house, together with coastguardsmen’s houses planted on the hill high above the village. The period of my inspection happened to be just when the herring fishing was coming to a close, and I had good opportunity of observing the peculiar requirements of the inhabitants in their houses and of noting where they were deficient or good. It appears that every fisher has three men to keep, called “Yarmouth men.” With the exception of the houses which are new, all of them consist of one room and a loft formed out of the high tiled roofs. The sleeping accommodation in these in the fishing season is, as one says, “Ourselves and three men have to pig in there,” and another “have to have a bed or two in the garret for the people to lie in that we have.” The interiors are made the most the space admits of, but they nearly all resemble the forecastle on board ship, they are so low, so crowded, so deficient in light, so like cabins and berths, and every sanitary contrivance. They look, indeed, like buildings made out of the materials of wrecks. “The couples [20] of this house is nothing particler, one of them’s broke.” “This is all the comfort poor people have; many nights I have to rise to put dishes to keep the rain coming in.” “It was a kind o’ blockit up, but it’s in very bad repair.” “Little or no back places, not a drain about the place.” “Our coals are piled up at the back of our beds.” “Only one privy for the whole of us, and that at the back door of the public house.” Such is the condition of the houses where there is an addition in the hot season of “three Yarmouth men.” At the present time the dark windowless lofts are being crowded with masts and sails (one for want of room was poked through the tiles), creel nets, covered with fish scales, festoons of bladders highly coloured in stripes and looking like Egyptian necklaces, tarpaulins, blocks, ropes, lanterns, and “all things useable at sea”, for, say the fishermen, “our fishing work gear takes a large garret.” In these cases, however, “the couples being nothing particular,” it is surprising how the things get packed over their heads, and a wonder that the whole loft does not come down upon them with a crash. A much better state of things appears, however, in the provision of these seafarers at the three new houses mentioned. Every careful thought has been bestowed in their erection, especially as to the provision of a large well lighted loft, where “the three Yarmouth men” and “all things useable at sea” can be alternately lodged; but here, alas! there is a deficiency of coal and washing-up places. In one of “these nice new houses” I saw one poor woman “possing”[21] in the pantry to keep, as she said, “the other places rid”; and in another they had secured a bargain of a winter’s supply of coals, and in the absence of a coal house have actually been obliged to pack them from floor to ceiling in the pantry. The central large and open place in front of the three-side square of houses is the common refuse heap, unwalled, and dependent upon the paternal care of Mr Dixon, the farmer tenant, to remove and keep it low. The owner of this property, Mr Mather, has a good opportunity to make this a model little fishing village, by rebuilding the older houses in the manner of the new. He should not, however, forget the provision of coal and washing-up places, and the usual sanitary conveniences. The well-to-do tenants would or should gladly pay a fair per centage on the outlay for the boon of good dwellings suitable to their occupation which they one and all sigh for. The coast guard houses are like all government buildings models of order. Smart with white and black wash, everything taut and in trim, they possess every sanitary contrivance, including the earth closet and commode. Water for all these places has to be brought a considerable distance from an arched cavern below some basalted rocks, which will require the care of your authority. [22] 

The Living Room and View, Unrecognisable from the 19th Century Description of the Cottages – Photo by Jane Roberts

The water supply was a persistent problem; and the village green where visitors now spread out picnic blankets, soak up the sun and smell the tang of the sea was far from a fragrant outside space back in 1873. And the situation had not improved by the start of the following decade as a damning report to the Rural Sanitary Authority on 28 January 1882 by the Alnwick Medical Officer illustrated. It stated:

….a mild case of small pox had appeared at Newton-by-the-Sea, contracted probably from the girl’s father who had just returned from a neighbourhood where the disease existed. Also that a rapidly fatal case of diphtheria had since occurred to a member of the same family in the same house. The house is very unfavourably situated in regard to a large midden ashpit occupying the centre of the village, which is built to form three sides of a square, the end towards the sea being open. The pit is capable of holding about sixty loads, and large accumulations are allowed to take place from which noxious effluvia arises. It was recommended to be paved at [the] bottom and the contents removed weekly [23].

The Square, Low Newton-by-The-Sea – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Low Newton of today would be unrecognisable to those late 19th century inhabitants. So, as you sit by the green sipping your beer, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring sea view and the picturesque cottages (you may even be holidaying in one), remember it was not always thus. And do spare a thought for those men, women and children who lived, worked and died here in centuries past.

Notes:

  • [1] Historic England – Nos 1 and 2 and Garage adjacent to Ship Inn, Newton Seahouses Square: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1041750
  • [2] Report No. 0058/6-09, Historic Environment Survey for the National Trust Properties on the Northumberland Coast, Newton – July 2009: https://www.aenvironment.co.uk/downloads/historic-landscape-characterisation/newton-coast-management-plan.pdf
  • [3] Newcastle Courant – 6 July 1833 and Durham County Advertiser – 12 July 1833.
  • [4] Brat-Nets was the name given in Northumberland for fixed drift-nets which hung in slack folds in order to entangle and strangle turbot. Brat was the local name for turbot
  • [5] Alnwick Mercury – 1 March 1879, Newcastle Courant – 28 February 1879, Shields Daily News – 28 February 1879 and Shields Daily Gazette – 2 December 1904
  • [6] Having no cargo, but carrying ballast for stability
  • [7] The Berwick Advertiser – 5 November 1880
  • [8] OS Six-Inch Map, Northumberland XXII.SE, Revised 1896, Published 1899
  • [9] OS Six-Inch Map, Northumberland XXII, Surveyed 1860, Published 1866
  • [10] Newcastle Journal – 3 April 1861
  • [11] Morpeth Herald – 6 April 1861
  • [12] Newcastle Daily Chronicle – 2 April 1861
  • [13] Newcastle Courant – 5 April 1861
  • [14] OS Six-Inch Map, Northumberland XXVII, Surveyed 1861, Published 1867
  • [15] 1861 Census England & Wales, Newton-by-the-Sea, RG09/13881/60/13
  • [16] 1871 Census England & Wales, Newton-by-the-Sea, RG10/5176/56/3
  • [17] 1881 Census England & Wales, Newton-by-the-Sea, RG11/5125/60/7
  • [18] Alnwick Mercury – 8 and 22 December 1883
  • [19] 1891 Census England & Wales, Newton-by-the-Sea, RG12/4265/127/4
  • [20] Rafters (pair of)
  • [21] A northern term for washing clothes by agitating them with a long pole or rod. Pounding of washing.
  • [22] Alnwick Mercury – 18 October 1873
  • [23] Alnwick Mercury – 4 February 1882

Additional Sources:

  • Aflalo, F. G. The Sea-Fishing Industry of England and Wales: A Popular Account of the Sea Fisheries and Fishing Ports of Those Countries. London, 1904.
  • Post Office Directory of Northumberland and Durham: With Map Engraved Expressly for the Work, and Corrected to the Time of Publication. London: Kelly and, 1858.

I did find some 19th century images but due to copyright doubts I’ve not reproduced them.

A Batley Murder: “I Have Done it For Love”

On 31 December 1895 Tom Morley received a final letter at his Batley home from his brother Pat. Written from Armley jail on the eve of Pat’s death it read:

My dear Tom, I am very sorry to part with ye, but I hope I will meet ye in heaven, I will soon be in a better place withe [sic] the help of God I am preparing to go home to-morrow at nine o’clock, and I am leaving ye all my kind love. Let ye all pray for me this night and let ye pray for poor Lizzie that is gone before me. Dear Tom, I was no disgrace to you this 20 years in England untill [sic] now. Tom, it is my foolishness that left me here. It is hard work to rite [sic] this letter. Tom, I must conclude, and I am bidding ye all a long farewell. God be with you for ever. [1]

Pat Morley’s last night on earth was fairly restful. In the morning he ate a light breakfast, and was joined from 7am until 8.50am by Father Hassing, the Catholic prison chaplain. Prayers were said until James Billington, the government hangman, came for him.

Arms strapped to his side Morley was led to the chalk-marked drop point by a number of warders. Father Hassing, in the procession, recited the service for the dead in Latin. On reaching the spot, his ankles were strapped together, his face covered with a white cap, Major Knox the Prison Governor gave the signal and Morley dropped 7′ 6″ to his death.

One hour later he was cut down, placed in a black-painted coffin and the perfunctory inquest held confirming the death sentence had been duly carried out. Two more formalities ensued. The Declaration of the Sheriff and Others read:

We, the undersigned, hereby declare that Judgment of Death was this Day executed on Patrick Morley in Her Majesty’s Prison of Leeds in our Presence.
Dated this 31st day of December 1895 E Gray Under Sheriff of Yorkshire. James Knox, Governor of the said Prison. Anthony J Hassing Chaplain of the said Prison. [2]

The Certificate of the Armley Prison Surgeon (at this time the word Surgeon was also used to refer to a doctor, rather than having our 21st century understanding), Berkeley Moynihan stated he had examined the body of Patrick Morley and death was confirmed. Later Berkeley Moynihan was elevated to the peerage as the 1st Baron Moynihan. More recent readers may be more familiar with the 4th Baron Colin Moynihan, a British Olympic coxswain and a former Conservative sports minister, who was the grandson of the Armley prison doctor.

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

It was all a far cry from Pat’s early life on a farm near Charlestown, County Mayo. In this countryside surrounds he was brought up with his three brothers and two sisters. But, as was the case with so many Irish, their homelands became but distant memories. By the 1890s one brother lived in Liverpool, another in Ripon and a third, Thomas, in Batley along with a sister, Bridget. Their father, however, remained in Ireland.

Standing at 5′ 7″ [3] Patrick was a thin, spare man, with sharp cast features and a somewhat ruddy appearance. Some went so far as to describe him as having an intellectual type of face. His most noteworthy features were his deep, brooding eyes – although Lucy Cooper, one of the witnesses giving evidence in front of the Magistrates in Batley Town Hall on 30 September, said to much laughter “Nay, he’s nowt in my line to look at.

In England Pat was said:

…to have been possessed of a good bit of pride, and, being able to command good wages, he has, to quote the words of one of his relatives, “not gone into the tap-rooms but into the best rooms, amongst the gents.” [4]

He met Elizabeth Stratton whilst working in Harrogate. She ran a lodging house in which he stayed. Born in Halifax in 1853 (so slightly older than the 35 years indicated at the time of her death), she was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Stratton (née Penny). She and her siblings, William, Mary, Joseph and James, grew up in Bradford with their father’s jobs including a labourer in a stone quarry and an earthenware dealer. Her parents died in late 1880 and, after initially working as a glass and China shopkeeper in Bradford, she moved to Harrogate. Described as a respectable, educated woman she was often seen in that town dressed in black, wearing a veil.

According to the same relative of Pat’s:

…seeing he had some good clothes and was a decent fellow who didn’t mix with the roughs, she married him. [5]

Their wedding took place in Harrogate at Christmas-time in 1893.

Within months though marital problems emerged. Although regarded as a quiet, steady, inoffensive man, it seemed Pat liked a drink. This caused him to became jealous of the lodgers. According to Tom “He was not a right drunkard but he spent his money in drink.” [6]

One jealous alcohol-fuelled incident saw Pat hitting a resident on the head with a poker.

When Lizzie arranged to remove her furniture from the house and leave, Pat barricaded himself inside and refused the removal men entry. She relented and returned to him, but as a result of his behaviour lodgers shunned Diamond Place, frightened away by the antics of the proprietor’s new husband.

The couple eventually left Harrogate, initially moving to Hunslet Lane, Leeds. It was here in July 1894 that Pat was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months after threatening his wife. A loaded revolver was found in his possession and taken from him – his brother Tom subsequently claimed in a statement to have thrown it into a river.

The couple came to Batley shortly afterwards (his brother reckoned about September 1894), living at Beaconsfield Villa. Here Pat worked for Batley Corporation as a labourer whilst Lizzie was employed as a power loom weaver at Sheard’s mill.

In July 1895, just before the expiration of his previous sentence, Pat appeared once again before the police court. It was a familiar charge: once more he’d made threats against his wife.

This time he was fined 40s and costs and bound over to keep the peace for six months.

He went to Harrogate to cool off and whilst he was away Lizzie, fearing for her safety, left the marital home. In early September she took lodgings at 1 Hirst Place, off Purlwell Lane, in the cottage belonging to Ellen Nutton and her married daughter Lucy Cooper.

Pat returned to Batley on 14 September for Batley Feast and immediately sought out his wife. In the following days he was a frequent visitor to Hirst Place, pleading with Lizzie to return to him. She refused, afraid he would harm her telling him “You know Pat, I daren’t live with you. You know you have threatened me so often.” [7]. At other times she said she would if he would “mend” and “if he would give over drinking.” [8]

After one rejection he briefly left Batley on 16 September and spent time in Harrogate then Ripon, where he purchased another bulldog-type revolver. He returned to Batley on 18 September and resumed his visits to Hirst Place, trying to persuade his estranged wife to come back. In one statement he said:

I kept begging her to change her mind, because I knew if she did not change her mind she would have to die for it… [9]

His final visit to Lizzie took place on Sunday 22 September. He arrived at around 1.15pm, whilst Lizzie was preparing dinner. Both Ellen and Lucy were in the room. He asked if she had been to church that morning, but she said not as she’d been too late.

Approaching 2pm, as Lizzie was snipping some parsley, he got up from his chair and moved towards her asking if she would lend him a shilling. It being Batley Feast time she too was short of money, having taken time off work to go to the jollities on the Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. As a consequence she had not finished the piece of cloth she was weaving (as a weaver she was paid by the piece).

Pat was now within an arms length of her. Saying “Get out Lizzie” he reached for his breast pocket, drew out the revolver and shot her once in the right temple. She fell to the ground at the feet of Ellen Nutton. She never spoke again.

British Bulldog Revolver – Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License CCO 1.0

In his police statement later that afternoon he claimed if she had given him the shilling he would have gone away.

Pat then put the gun to his mouth and, with trembling hands, pulled the trigger once more. Despite the revolver firing, for some inexplicable reason it missed him. The bullet was subsequently found to have hit the wall behind him.

By now Lucy was shouting the alarm and banging on the window. Fred Ashton, a young miner who lived at 8 Hirst Place and who had heard the crack of two shots, came to see what was going on. He apprehended Pat on the doorstep of the cottage and led him back inside. Pat calmly handed the revolver to Fred.

The police and the Batley police surgeon were quickly summoned. PC William Robinson, who lived only 120 yards away, was the first Batley policeman on the scene. He was the constable who dealt with the domestic dispute only two months earlier.

Police surgeon Herbert Keighley was unable to save Lizzie who died at around 2.30pm. As she lay dying Pat muttered “I am sorry. I hope her soul is in heaven” and “I have done it for love.” [10]

Ellen, described as a matronly-looking woman, claimed at his trial in December that she felt if he had held out for just a couple more days Lizzie would have returned to him. Her evidence, as outlined in the Judge’s notes in that final December trial, appeared to indicate he and Lizzie had “slept together” during his Hirst Place visits. The Judge wrote the word “cohabiting” in the margins. [11] Whether this is true, what is not in doubt is during those few days after Pat’s return to Batley in September 1895 they spent several hours together, both at Hirst Place and around Batley visiting friends – for example Bridget Cafferty’s home on Spa Street.

Lizzie Morley’s inquest took place before Coroner Thomas Taylor in the late afternoon of 23 September. It was held at the New Inn, a public house on nearby Purlwell Lane.

Her funeral followed on Wednesday 25 September, officiated by Rev. Father Charles Gordon of St Mary of the Angels R.C. Church.

A large crowd gathered at Hirst Place ready to accompany her body to the cemetery, doubtless eager to hear the latest gossip about the tragedy. Work colleagues carried the flower-covered polished pitch pine coffin with brass furnishings from the house to the hearse. The procession, headed by around a dozen weavers from her workplace, then wound its way through those gathered along the Purlwell Lane, Clerk Green and Cemetery Road route.

Chief mourners were Lizzie’s brother Joseph and his wife, her aunt and uncle James and Louisa Naylor (her mother’s sister), sister-in-law Emily Stratton and cousin Elizabeth Penny. Some reports estimated around two thousand witnessed the ceremony.

In the meantime Pat appeared before Batley Magistrates on 23 and 30 September. On both occasions large crowds gathered outside the Town Hall with townsfolk hoping to catch a glimpse of the prisoner as he was brought to court.

Interior of Batley Town Hall – Photo by Chris Roberts (edited by Jane Roberts)

The first hearing held in the small Committee Room meant only limited public access.

At the second hearing even bigger crowds gathered outside the building two hours before proceedings commenced. Even after the doors opened people continued to arrive, and the crowd swelled to such an extent during the course of the hearing that traffic was obstructed. At the end of this hearing Pat was formally charged with the wilful murder of his wife and committed to trial at the next Leeds Assizes.

His brother Tom was a frequent visitor to his brother in Wakefield Gaol, where Pat remained in good spirits and had not despaired of being saved from the gallows. Tom wrote to a number of Pat’s former employers to get character references for him. Responses included one from Major Gorman of Smeaton Manor, Northallerton and Mr R Routledge of Hick House, Northallerton. The latter reply was typical:

I am very much grieved to hear of the dreadful act your brother has committed. I cannot imagine but that he was either really drunk or insane at the time he did it. When working for me he was always so cheerful and pleasant. I am afraid that anything I can say would avail him very little…If you are not able to employ counsel the judge will, no doubt, order someone to defend him… [12]

Another ploy was to try to prove Pat was mentally unstable. When the case came before Mr Justice William Grantham at the Assizes held at Leeds Town Hall on 9 December, evidence was produced to this effect. It included a family history of insanity. Pat’s brother Tom said “he had not been right in his head these ten years” and his condition worsened after his marriage. Tom went on to say they had an aunt similarly afflicted. Their brother Michael had “not been square in the head” since birth; neither was their cousin Mary who emigrated to America. Bridget Rowan, their sister, who lived at Woodwell, Batley gave similar evidence as to Pat’s mental state. She mentioned her brother had stayed with her in the three nights prior to the death of Lizzie. Whilst here his state of mind deteriorated to the point that he was incessantly talking to himself. [13]

Justice Grantham by “Spy” (Leslie Ward) Published in Vanity Fair 15 March 1890 – Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Image (Author Died in 1922)

The Judge sought the opinion of Berkeley Moynihan (spelled Barclay by the Judge), Armley Gaol surgeon, who rebuffed this. In his opinion he had ordinary control of his actions and was quite responsible for them. The Judge’s notations of the doctor’s evidence included:

He seemed to have ordinary memory and was quite like an ordinary individual. [14]

The jury was also unconvinced. After listening to evidence from a parade of other witnesses including Ellen Nutton, Lucy Cooper, Fred Ashton, Dr Herbert Keighley, Batley policemen PC William Robinson, Sergeant Smith Machell and PC William Craven, as well as Leeds City policemen involved in the 1894 Leeds domestic dispute, they found the prisoner guilty.

Pat now gave a long, disjointed statement in a strong Irish accent as follows:

I have your riverence, [sic] your lordship – I am here. No docther [sic] in Leeds to [sic] examine me. I am in a weak state of mind. Your riverence [sic] I hope you will give me a fair chance. I was more fit for the asylum at the time. I was away three weeks. She sold my home. I went away to Harrogate. I was drunk during the time. I had been sober for twelve months. I loved my wife. I did not want to shoot her. No, I was not the man. I told the doctor at Wakefield all the time I was there. I said my head was rising off me. I told the doctor in Armley Gaol that my head was bad, and it has been bad for a number of years, as my friends know. I hope you will give me a chance. I did not intend to shoot my wife. I only had this revolver to frighten her. She would not go back to live with me. I did not think the revolver would go off at the time. The revolver went. I thought I hadn’t it ready for going. I had no more mind to shoot her if I had to drop dead before ye gentleman. I am the wrongest. I am the innocentest man, though I did it. I have the best character of any man in the world. She sold my home. I went to Harrogate to take the waters. I was not drinking then. Gentlemen – your Lord, it is only a little revolver. I only did it to frighten her. [15]

The Judge, unmoved, donned his black cap, and passed a sentence of death. A woman in the gallery sobbed once, and Patrick Morley, staring blankly ahead, was hustled out of the court.

However, some did raise questions about the verdict, blaming the unprepared, inexperienced defence counsel. A piece in The Leeds Times of 14 December 1895 said Pat had:

…the appearance of mental derangement, of at least feebleness and abnormal stupidity, and I think there may be more in the statement of his having two near relations in Ireland insane than was disclosed…Patrick Morley may be an idiot or a brute or a combination of both, but he ought not be hanged if he is in a mental state that weakens his responsibility. I trust that full inquiry will be made into his history and into his condition of mind.

The Judge had no such concerns. His notes mention his belief that the prisoner displayed shrewdness. They also indicate one of the first questions Pat asked his Council was if he should pretend to be insane and what was the best way to do this. However, the Judge did request a post-trial medical report. Dated 17 December 1895, Henry Clarke – the doctor who had seen him regularly during his two-month sojourn at Wakefield Prison – stated that on his arrival there on 24 September there was no evidence of delusions or hallucinations. It was only on 1 October that he appeared dull, stupid and slow in answering questions. The following day he denied ever seeing the doctor previously, claimed he had never been married and could not answer even the simplest of questions. The doctor gave special instructions for his visits with family and friends to be monitored. In these he repeatedly spoke about his wife with regard to her ring and some property and suggested to his brother that he should get evidence as to some relative who had been in an asylum. Dr Clarke concluded:

In my opinion he was sane and responsible for his actions. I regarded his conduct under examination during the latter part of his stay here as assumed. [16]

The decision remained unchanged. Pat Morley, now in Armley Gaol, philosophically awaited his fate, the date for his hanging set for 31 December 1895. His penultimate letter to his brother Tom read:

My dear Brother, Sorry I am to write you this lonesome letter in my present state, and in the position in which I am placed as you perhaps have heard that I am to die in the last day of the year; and let ye all pray for me. I have the priest coming to see me every day. Dear Tom, if only I had taken your advice I should not be placed in the position I am. Poor Tom, you always advised me for the best, and I didn’t take it, but I thought, Tom, I would not come to this end. Dear brother Tom, I will tell you the truth now, I will. Poor Lizzie is now dead and in Heaven I hope, and the Lord have mercy on her soul, and I am here, as he know, waiting to die; I will tell you Lizzie has been the cause of all this. I am going to die for her now, Tom, and Lizzie has brought it all on me and to herself. I never intended to take her life. Dear Tom, I am very sorry for poor Lizzie. Let ye all pray for Lizzie, Tom. I did not think last Christmas I should be here this Christmas. Tom, if I had taken your advice I would not be here. My dear brother, I must now conclude with my kind love to you, Mary and family. May God bless you all, and let ye all pray for me, as ye know I shall soon be in another world, where there is no end, but everlasting life. Tom and Mary, I am bidding you all a long farewell. I am sending my kind love to Maggy and all the children, and I am leaving my blessing to all the friends and neighbours. Tom, don’t forget poor Pat. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye. xxxxxxxxxx [17]

A few lines to his sister read:

You always told me to be kind to Lizzie, and I was good and kind to her, but she was bad to me and to herself. She was all the time trying to provoke me. I could tell you a lot of things she did to me, but I will tell you no more. All ye pray for Lizzie. [18]

And so the final day of 1895 dawned, with the chorus of sparrows chirruping from the eaves of houses near to Armley Gaol. It was unusually mild. It was the day 38-year-old Patrick Morley became the last man to be executed for a Batley murder.

Footnotes:

  1. Yorkshire Evening Post – 4 January 189
  2. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A5749
  3. According to the Batley police statements used at the trial and held at The National Archives (TNA). Interestingly his HMP Wakefield records state 5′ 4½”
  4. Leeds Times – 12 October 1895
  5. Ibid
  6. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Judge’s Notes of evidence of Thomas Morley, 9 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  7. Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Inquest evidence of Ellen Nutton – 24 September 1895
  8. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Judge’s Notes of evidence of Ellen Nutton, 9 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  9. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Patrick Morley’s statement to Sergt Machell and PC Craven at Batley Police Station, 22 September 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  10. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Various witness depositions and in Judge’s Notes. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  11. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Judge’s Notes of evidence of Ellen Nutton, 9 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  12. Leeds Times – 26 October 1895
  13. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Judge’s Notes of evidence of Thomas Morley and Bridget Rowan, 9 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  14. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Judge’s Notes of evidence of Berkeley Moynihan, 9 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  15. Leeds Times – 14 December 1895
  16. Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Report of Henry Clarke, Medical Officer, Wakefield Prison, 17 December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  17. Yorkshire Evening Post – 4 January 1896
  18. Ibid

Sources:

  • West Yorkshire Prison Records, Wakefield Prison. Accessed via Ancestry.co.uk. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, England, Reference C118/151
  • Leeds Assizes, Patrick Morley, December 1895. Originals at TNA, Reference HO 144/266/A57496
  • Bradford Daily Telegraph, 24 September 1895
  • Huddersfield Chronicle, 10 and 14 December 1895
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 24 and 26 September 1895
  • Leeds Mercury, 10 and 28 December 1895,
  • Leeds Times, 28 September 1895, 5, 12 and 26 October 1895, 14 and 21 December 1895, 4 January 1896
  • Lincolnshire Chronicle, 27 September 1895
  • Yorkshire Evening Post, 4 January 1896
  • Yorkshire Herald, 1 October 1895
  • GRO Indexes
  • 1861 to 1911 Censuses

Lessons from the Past: Infant Mortality in Batley 1900-1914

When looking at some Batley population statistics in relation to my family history, I was horrified to see the town’s infant mortality figures.

Infant mortality is the term applied to the deaths of children under one year of age. It is based on the proportion of the annual number of deaths at this age measured against births registered in the same area in that year. It is then extrapolated to represent a mortality figure per 1,000 births.

Batley’s figures were shocking, and acknowledged as such by the town’s various Medical Officers. For example in 1911 there were 852 births in Batley compared to 160 deaths of under 1s. This gives an infant mortality equivalent to a rate of 187.79 deaths per 1,000 births. And this was not the highest rate in this period, and it was at a time when things were improving.

I initially looked at Batley births and infant deaths from 1892 to 1971, plotting them in Table 1 below. The years from 1892 to 1914 make particularly sobering viewing. In four years the figures reached an infant mortality rate exceeding 200 per 1,000:

  • in 1893 it reached 260.55 per 1,000 births;
  • 1895 was 200.24;
  • 1901 saw a rate of 209.30 and
  • in 1904 it hit 235.94.

Table 1 (see Footnote 1)

In his 1914 Annual Report, Batley’s Medical Officer George Harper Pearce compared Batley’s infant mortality with the Great Town’s of England and Wales over a 25-year-period. Although in terms of population Batley was not one of the designated Great Towns, the Medical Officer felt by its urban nature and the fact it seamlessly flowed into its neighbouring population centres, it demonstrated all the characteristics of a Great Town. Therefore he felt its Public Health should be compared against this measure. It provided an unedifying comparison.

Although there was a commonality in the chief causes of infant mortality countrywide, namely premature birth, congenital deficiencies, hereditary illnesses, inexperience of mothers, unsatisfactory municipal sanitation, industrial conditions and improper food, Batley appeared to suffer the effects to a higher degree than its comparator towns. (Interestingly poverty was not mentioned as a factor). In 1914 Batley’s infant mortality figure of 149 compared to the corresponding Great Towns figure of 114. Looking at the earlier high rates I quoted for Batley in 1893, 1895, 1901, 1904 and 1911 and comparing with that of the Great Towns:

  • In 1893 and 1895 the Great Towns rates were in the low 180s;
  • In 1901 the Great Towns was 168;
  • In 1904 the Great Towns stood at 160;
  • 1911 the Great Towns figure was 140.

All therefore far below Batley’s rates, and sadly this was the general pattern.

I decided to focus on the years 1900 to 1914, the period marking the start of the 20th century leading up to the outbreak of the Great War. Both my paternal grandparents, and many of their siblings, were born in Batley in this period. My grandfather, born in 1906, was one of 10 children my great grandmother had between 1889 to 1910. My grandmother, born in 1908, had one other sibling, her senior by one year.

The total number of Batley infant deaths occurring in these years were:

  • 1900: 148;
  • 1901: 189;
  • 1902: 148;
  • 1903: 139;
  • 1904: 193;
  • 1905: 151;
  • 1906: 155;
  • 1907: 123;
  • 1908: 139;
  • 1909: 86;
  • 1910: 107;
  • 1911: 160;
  • 1912: 100;
  • 1913: 98;
  • 1914: 122.

Looking at the mortality statistics for this period I’m amazed, and thankful, that only two of these twelve children died before adulthood; and of them only one death was classed as infant mortality. I have written about these two children here and here.

The upshot of these dire turn-of-the-century figures led to Batley Borough Council, aided by voluntary services, embarking on a concerted effort to reduce the town’s shameful infant death rates, many of which they deemed preventable.

As part of this drive, from 1908 onwards we get ever greater detail regarding infant mortality in the Batley Medical Officer reports including more in-depth analysis of the causes of Batley infant deaths.

The causes attributed to these infant deaths are plotted on the graph in Table 2 below:

Table 2U1 1900-1914 Deaths Blog

The figures behind the graph are at Table 3, below.

Table 3U1 1900-1914 Chart Deaths Blog

Picking out some causes, we take for granted the impact of vaccinations today – perhaps some are even complacent about it. But looking at some of the death causes for infants – measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis – shows that for past generations these diseases were killers. And many more infants and children suffered life-changing disabilities arising from the complications of these illnesses. But beyond the direct deaths, bronchitis and pneumonia (illnesses in their own rights) could also be some of the secondary fatal complications of measles, whooping cough and even rickets.

Rickets does not feature in the prime Batley infant mortality causes in the years investigated. It is a condition affecting bone development in children which results in stunted growth and deformity. It affected a frighteningly large number of Batley children in this period. In 1909 64 cases of school-age Batley children suffering from rickets were investigated. The report discovered between them the 64 families involved had 340 children of which 119 were afflicted with the disease, 61 of these dying in infancy with their deaths attributed to bronchitis or convulsions. This is yet another demonstration that the causes of death in Tables 2 and 3 can mask much wider community health problems.

A particularly vague cause of death which features prominently throughout these years is described as atrophy, debility, marasmus. In 1908 Dr J. M. Clements, the then holder of the Batley Medical Officer post, said all the terms were more or less meaningless, failed to indicate a cause of death and should be avoided in death certification. Wasting was attributable to many things, including ante-natal issues and improper feeding. Until a more precise death cause was identified prevention would be difficult.

However by 1914 Dr Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer since 1910, pinned it down to one particular cause above others – syphilis. In his 1914 Medical Officer Report he quoted from the Report for 1913-14 of the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board. In this the impact of syphilis was discussed, and the conclusion reached was direct deaths from it represented only a fraction of its effects.

It is a common cause of still births and premature birth; a considerable proportion of the deaths from marasmus and atrophy, as well as a large amount of disease in childhood and during school life, owe their origin to it.

Building on the Local Government Board report Dr Pearce stated in 1914 Batley 50 children had been born dead, 21 further deaths were a result of premature birth and an additional 13 had a cause of atrophy and marasmus:

It will be seen therefore that syphilis – a venereal disease – was more or less responsible (apart from dead born children) for thirty-four out of 122 deaths amongst infants or approximately more than 25 per cent.

Premature birth was a constant infant mortality theme. Besides the link to syphilis, the reports tried to make a connection with pregnant women working as rag sorters or weavers in the mills. In 1909 for example 18 instances of infant mortality occurred where mothers were in these occupations, and six of the deaths were attributed to premature birth with the mothers working in the mill until shortly before confinement. The tea, fried fish and chipped potato diet of pregnant mill-working mothers who had no time to cook were also blamed for childhood defects such as rickets. The solution put forward (but not adopted) was to prevent women working in the mill for a few months preceding childbirth.

One final cause identified in Tables 2 and 3 which may need explanation is overlaying. Basically suffocation of the infant from sharing a bed with an older person (usually the mother);

However in most of years the overwhelming proportion of deaths were attributed to diarrhoea, enteritis and gastritis. These diarrhoeal diseases were linked to seasonal weather, insanitary conditions and improper feeding. In his 1908 Medical Officer Report, Dr Clements looked at the 43 infant deaths attributed to this cause in this year. Only one infant was wholly breastfed. Of the others, 30 were wholly fed with cows milk, seven a mix of breast and cow’s milk, and five wholly on artificial foods. Dr Clements concluded:

…the only safe way of feeding the baby is by the mother’s breast. The mother’s milk is never once exposed to the air or to contamination, but passes direct from the site of manufacture in the gland to the baby’s stomach.

This also led to a link being made to this mortality cause and working mothers. It was said mothers quickly switched from breast feeding to partial of fully weaning infants in order to return to work as soon as possible. In his 1910 report Dr Pearce wrote:

Medical Officers of Health throughout the country would welcome a bill prohibiting women from working in the mills, or other places where female labour is employed, for several months previous to the birth of their infant, and for the whole period during which they are suckling the child. I would in fact go further and make it illegal for any mother to go out to work at all unless it could be shewn [sic] to be a case of dire necessity. A mother’s proper place is at home with her children.

Besides the danger of the infant ingesting contaminated food resulting in diarrhoea, the childcare itself left much to be desired. Mothers paid between 4s and 5s per week for their infants to be nursed whilst they worked. The surroundings were often deemed dirty and unsuitable, and it was not uncommon for this childcare to be provided by women with advanced TB.

The issue was illustrated in the March 1913 inquest into the death of a nine-week old baby girl, from the Batley Catholic community – the community associated with my family. It led the Coroner, Mr Maitland, to make some pointed comments about mothers leaving their children with neighbours and going out to work. In this case the mother returned to work when her baby was around six weeks old, leaving her and two older children with their grandmother, who told Nurse Musto she had brought up a family of the grandest lads in Batley, and knew quite well how to bring up children without her [Nurse Musto] interfering. 5s per week was paid for the baby’s care, out of which milk had to be provided, she being fed on a milk and water diet. The Coroner, on learning the father (a Collier) brought home 24s weekly asked why the mother felt the need to work. She responded “I would rather go to work than stop at home.” A verdict of “Death from pneumonia and also from want of proper attention and nursing” was reached with the Coroner observing:

…that there were many mothers who preferred to go out to work rather than bother with their children. It was simply selfishness

This, and other cases, led to the suggestion in the 1914 Medical Officer Report of the need for provision of crèche facilities staffed by skilled carers.

Other general findings noted by the series of Medical Officers included the fact first-born babies were more at risk, with the 1909 report identifying 32 of the 86 infant deaths that year being in this category. The same report also investigated the family histories of the 86 dead infants and, other than the first-born issue, noted a clear trend for the families affected to have a previous high rate of infant and child deaths. Ten family profiles were given including one mother of five children, all dead; Another mother of 13 had only three surviving children and of the 10 dead, eight had not survived their first year; similarly a mother of 10 had only three still living, with five of the seven deceased dying under one year of age. Based on this data the conclusion reached by Dr Clements was:

…it would appear that to a large extent the determining factor is the mother herself. Some women are “born mothers”; nature has endowed them with a knowledge of the care and attention needed by the baby; others are not gifted in this respect and they have not received any education to make up for the deficient.

1909 was a particularly interesting year. It can be seen from Table 1 that this year saw a dramatic decrease in Batley’s infant mortality rate. Its rate of 117 was actually lower than that of the Great Towns, which stood at 118. The drop was partly attributed to the cool, wet summer which reduced the severity of the seasonal diarrhoea outbreak – but this weather was not peculiar to Batley, and the number of deaths from diarrhoea in other similar weather years was far higher. The Medical Officer therefore believed 1909 was exceptional largely due to the preventative measures adopted in the preceding two years to combat the causes of infant mortality. There were two main factors behind these measures.

In 1906 a voluntary society was formed, the Batley Public Health and District Nursing Service. It took up the case of infant mortality, much of which was seen as preventable. Through voluntary subscriptions it appointed a Health Visitor, Miss Terry, to tackle the issue. So effective was the role, in July 1909 Batley Corporation agreed to fund this post and the Health Visitor became an official of the Council Health Department.

The other game-changer facilitating the work of the health visitor came in February 1908 when the Council formally implemented the Notification of Births Act. It meant that practically all births reached the notice of them within 36-48 hours, via either doctors, midwives or parents, enabling the Health Visitor to visit women quickly after birth.

By the time of the 1907 Report Dr J. A. Erskine Stuart, the town’s Medical Officer at this point, stated that although early it was days in the work of the Lady Health Visitor, he could vouch for one important fact: as a result of her labours the number of breastfeeding mothers had increased.

The duties of the fledgling Batley Health Visitor service included the schedule of first visits to mothers on receipt of a notification of birth. In these visits the Health Visitor gave advice about feeding, clothing and general baby care. By 1910 a printed pamphlet was left with mothers following this first visit. It contained a wealth of information about the nutrition and care of infants, including precise feeding and weaning instructions, washing guidance, advice on clothing and sleeping arrangements (every infant should sleep in a cot by itself) and information about eye care. It also advised against the use of dummies which it said caused mouth deformities. These comforters also increased the risk of sickness and diarrhoea as when dropped they were shoved back into the mouth, contaminated by dirt. One Batley Medical Officer believed dummies should be made illegal! If she deemed it necessary the Health Visitor would conduct follow-up visits.

Other duties included work around visiting mothers of stillborn children. Under the Notification of Births Act 1907 the Medical Officer was informed of the birth of any child “which has issued forth from its mother after the expiration of the twenty-eighth week of pregnancy, whether alive or dead.” To identify those born prior to this stage, from 1910 the Batley Health Department obtained a weekly return of stillborn children buried in from Batley Cemetery from the Registrar of the Cemetery. There was also work around unnotified births, as some were still ignorant of the requirement. She also worked on epidemic diarrhoea and made visits to those Batley residents suffering from TB. Another duty included health talks with mothers at meetings held by organisations such as Mothers’ Unions or Women’s Cooperative Guilds. Additionally one afternoon weekly was set aside for the Health Visitor to see mothers and infants in her Town Hall office. One particularly interesting initiative was around the establishment of funded cookery classes for poor mothers to teach them how to prepare nutritious, cheap family meals.

By 1910 such was the value of the Health Visitor’s role that she provided a summary of her work for inclusion in the overall Medical Officer annual report.

Obstacles noted by various Batley Health Visitors in this period included the tendency for mothers to take more note of family and neighbours rather than the health professional. Workload was also a huge issue, and was cited as one of the reasons for Miss Terry (Batley’s first Health Visitor) resigning her post in 1910. She also felt incapable of going through another Diarrhoea Season. She was replaced by Margaret Evelyn Harris, who in turn was succeeded by Alice Musto in January 1912. Miss Musto left in October 1914 to become a Staff Nurse with the Territorial Force Nursing Service and in December 1914 temporary replacement Florence Ray commenced work.

One further obstacle to the Health Visitor and the state of infant health and mortality was said to be the incompetence of midwives. This is a recurrent theme in the Medical Officer reports. For example those of  1910 and 1911 indicated none of the 13 registered midwives in Batley were qualified by virtue of Maternity Hospital Training and having passed examinations of the Central Board.

Despite the Health Visitor highlighting regularly cases of midwife ignorance, she had no power to intervene. The majority of midwives could not read, write or use a clinical thermometer or take temperatures. They treated premature babies no differently than full term ones, causing death. Barbaric practices were undertaken by some midwives including squeezing the child’s head into shape after birth. Another cruel procedure carried out by some midwives was squeezing the baby’s nipples, which frequently resulted in the formation of abscesses. The tradition of squeezing the mammary secretions of newborn infants was partly rooted in folklore and superstition around witch’s milk, with midwives and grandmothers believing that if this milk was not expressed from the mammary glands of newborns it would be stolen by witches.

In her contributions to the 1914 report, by which time two of Batley’s midwives did have qualifications, the newly appointed Florence Ray did not hold back in new views about Batley’s cadre of midwives, stating:

Several of the practising midwives are most unsuitable both on account of their ignorance and dirty habits.

One was castigated for:

…urging the mother to adopt the disgusting practice of frequently spitting into her infant’s eyes.

The Health Visitor was playing an increasingly important role in infant and child health in the community by highlighting deficiencies, suggesting solutions and providing help and assistance to mothers. The value of the activities of the Batley Health Visitor spread beyond the town. One example was in the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 31 January 1908:

Babies “At Home” at Batley
The crusade against infantile mortality is being vigorously pursued in Batley. A lady health visitor has been appointed, and yesterday she gave an “at home” to 220 babies and their mothers. The children were all under six months old, but appeared remarkably healthy. The guests were received by the Mayor and Mayoress…The health visitor proposes to hold “at homes” periodically in cottage houses.

This event was continued, with the 1910 report by the Batley Medical Officer including details of another successful tea attended by the Mayor and Mayoress along with 500 mothers of babies in June that year. The Yorkshire Post of 8 June 1910 reported the event, and the overall impact of the Health Visitor on infant mortality in the town:

Bright Babies at Batley
Nearly five hundred of Batley’s brightest babies beamed on the Mayor and Mayoress yesterday at an “at home,” held at the Town Hall. The function, which is an annual affair, is a striking tribute to the work done by Nurse Terry, the Health Visitor, and the Batley and District Public Health Service. It is a remarkable fact that in the first year of Nurse Terry’s service with the Committee, which is a voluntary institution, there was an infant mortality of 180 per thousand births, and in the following year this number had decreased to 162 per thousand. Last year, however, when the Health Visitor was engaged by the Corporation, and was thus a Public Officer as well as interested in the private institution, the death rate was still further reduced to 117 per thousand, which is the lowest ever reached in the sanitary history of the borough.

I wonder if my paternal grandparents or their siblings attended these events? And I also wonder if my maternal great grandmother was one of the midwives who received so much criticism.

The role of Health Visitor was just one of the initiatives focused on improving infant mortality rates in the town. And there were blips in these rates even after the appointment. But things were finally moving in the right direction.

In conclusion, I found it surprising so many of the themes discussed in early 20th century Batley are echoed in topics currently debated: from vaccinations to Breast is Best campaigning; from post and ante natal care to maternity and childcare provision; from providing cheap nutritious family meals to the pressures facing working mums. Above all the series of reports provided a new insight into the lives of my ancestors and the times and community in which they lived.

 

Footnote:

  • Table 1 Note: In 1926 the number of deaths of under ones was reported as 44 in the main statistical notes of the annual Batley Medical Officer report. Elsewhere in that report it is given as 43 which equates to the mortality rate of 68.8 given in the report. I have revised the figure to equate to 44 deaths, giving a rate of 70.40

Sources:

  • Various Batley Medical Officer Reports 1892-1971
  • Bradford Daily Telegraph – 31 January 1908
  • The Yorkshire Post – 8 June 1910
  • The Leeds Mercury – 14 March 1913
  • Yorkshire Evening Post – 14 March 1913

I’d also like to thank Janet Few whose recent Pharos Tutors course about Discovering you British Family and Local Community in the early 20th Century prompted me to start looking in more depth at various local history statistics and using graphs and charts to illustrate findings.

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

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

But whatever direction my blogging year takes, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

‘Historical Vandalism’ as more Archive Services Come Under Threat

In recent weeks there has been unwelcome news for archives users countrywide with the announcement of a spate of council budget proposals and public consultations about services in the face of swingeing funding cuts.

These are some of the recent ones:

  • Surrey County Council’s total budget for Cultural Services 2019-20 may be more than halved from £8.7 million to £4 million. The Heritage Service’s consultation, which closes on 4 January 2019 (am I cynical about the timing of this?) can be found here. The response from The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), which perfectly sums up the concerns, is here.
  • It’s a similar tale of woe in Worcestershire. In what is described as an act of ‘historical vandalism’ the council cabinet this month approved a 2019-20 draft budget which more than halves the funding for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service from £700,000 to £295,000. The Worcester News has more details, as does Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.
  • Kent Libraries, Registration and Archives Service are running a consultation on their draft strategy for 2019-2022. This closes on 29 January 2019.
  • In summer 2017 there was a huge public outcry about the reduced free hours and proposed charges at Northampton Archives. That change was shelved, but radical cuts to services across the board are still on the cards for the financially struggling Northamptonshire Council.
  • East Sussex County Council’s August 2018 announcement that it’s overall services and functions would be cut back to the statutory minimum provision. This was further clarified in the Core Offer document of 13 November 2018 to be considered by the Council Cabinet. For Archives and Records it stated:

We will:
• manage the records which we are required to keep by law. We will meet our basic statutory duties as a Place of Deposit for public records at The Keep including a basic level of public access to those records.
The proposed change from our current offer is that:
• We will not be able to provide the same level of support to customers of The Keep when requesting archive material, both in person and online and we will not provide an educational outreach offer.

And who knows how many more archives service changes are under discussion in councils up and down the country? It looks, for example, as if West Yorkshire Archives are conducting a review of opening hours. Their website includes opening hours for the five offices (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.) All but Bradford have days on which they are temporarily closed – and these temporary closures have been in force for some time. The Wakefield West Yorkshire History Centre, states with regard to Saturday opening hours:

We are reviewing our opening hours and as a result we are not currently able to offer Saturday appointments. We are aiming to resume normal service as soon as we can.

If anyone does have any other examples of reduced archives services and closures please let me know so I can update this list.

The future facing archives and heritage services, ironically some of which are in new flagship buildings, is an insidious creep of reduced opening hours and closures, alongside staff cuts with a resulting irreplaceable loss of expertise.

The_Hive_-_Worcester_(27316994562)

The Hive, home of Worcestershire County archives, which opened in 2012 – Photo by Esther Westerveld from Haarlemmermeer, Nederland – The Hive – Worcester, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74295190

I’m not going to get into the politics behind these cuts. And I’m sure we can all point to examples of huge wastes of public money which could have been far better spent. But the wholesale demolition of swathes of archive, library and museum services, largely (but not wholly) driven by almost a decade of destructive reduction in central government funding to local authorities, is undoubtedly a retrograde cultural and educational step.

I recognise heritage is an easy target when compared with other essential council services. And these too are under severe pressure and struggling to cope with funding pressures with an immediate hard impact on people, particularly the vulnerable. Impossible choices and trade-offs are being made.

However community-wide history, heritage, knowledge and learning has a far more nuanced impact than front-line services. It is these “softer” services which mark of a progressive, developed and civilised society. And once we get rid of the professional cadre of staff with their unique skills, and reduce access to our history and heritage, it will be very difficult to ever recapture it.

Reducing access to archives, and libraries, results in the lack of incentive for those who wish to deposit records and documents. It so acts as a broader community barrier to accessing knowledge and learning, reducing the chance for many to view, discover and interpret original documents and perhaps reveal new insights into past generations. Ultimately this leads to an overall depletion of heritage and a diminution of education and skills locally. And the brunt of these consequences particularly impact on the opportunities of all but the very rich.

And no. Not all is online. Neither will it ever be.

Updates

  • Suffolk County Council have held a consultation (now ended) to close Lowestoft Record Office, based in the library, and relocate the collections to Ipswich. With thanks to Bob Collis, Chair of Save Our Record Office (SORO), for this information. More details are available in comments section for this blog post.
  • In January 2019 it was revealed Norfolk County Council have proposals seeing Norfolk Record Office reducing its opening days from five to four a week, and those four days will see shorter opening times.
  • An enquiry in early January 2019 to West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees) to access a specific collection held off site met with a response that due to staffing shortages this was not accessible until 4 February 2019 unless urgent. This collection is not available online.
  • There is an update to the Worcester Archives situation. Full details are in The Worcester News article of 26 January 2019, and in their blog of 1 February 2019. To summarise, the funding reduction looks like being only £250,000 out of the £700,000 budget – not the £405,000 initially mooted. This after a reduction in 2010 when the budget was £1.2 million. The final budget will be confirmed in February. The Friends of Worcestershire Archives have launched a petition against the cuts.