Category Archives: Occupations

From Devon to Batley – A Gardener’s Life

The following is based on some research I did for the Family and Community Historical Research Society (FACHRS) gardeners mini project last year. The aim was to research a specific gardener from your locality. I was allocated Job Kenwood, who is recorded as living in Batley in the 1881 census.

This local connection element to research is one of the key things which attracted me to FACHRS. The benefit of this was certainly borne out with Job Kenwood, for I discovered the subject of my mini project had a surprising personal connection. And, as I investigated him, it transpired that gardening formed only a small portion of his life. He was well known in Batley, as well as throughout East Devon, not purely for his horticultural skills.

Job Kenwood was born in Buckerell, Devon, in around 1855 [1], the son of Whimple-born cordwainer Robert Kenwood and his wife Maria (née Goldsworthy). Buckerell described as ‘a pleasant village and parish, in the Otter valley, 3½miles W. by S. of Honiton…[2] had 343 inhabitants in the 1851 census [3], the year prior to Robert and Maria’s marriage. Job was baptised in Buckerell parish church on 25 February 1855 [4].

The 1861 census found the family living at Butts Cottage in Buckerell. The household comprised of 32-year-old boot maker Robert, 31-year-old Maria, six-year-old Job and his older sister, Rhoda, age seven [5].

By 1871 Job had left his parent’s home and was working as an apprentice gardener. He was one of five other single men employed as gardeners or apprentices, and lodging in the household of another unmarried gardener Thomas Shingles in Bicton, Devon [6].

Bicton was a small village of 181 inhabitants in 1871 [7]. But, as hinted by the occupations of those men Job shared a house with, the village had a renowned feature. A feature which made it a true horticultural mecca, with Victorian railways transporting admiring visitors from far and wide. It was the location of Bicton manor which boasted some impressive, well-established botanical gardens, described as one of the most impressive gardens in Devon and the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century [8]. Bicton Gardens remain a popular Devon attraction to this date, open to explore even in these difficult COVID-19 times.

Dating from the 18th century, an 1893 description gives some idea of the impressive nature of these gardens:

Bicton House…stands in a fine park of 74 acres, well filled with timber, and containing a small lake; the gardens are tastefully laid out, and have acquired much celebrity from the completeness and rarity of the trees, shrubs and flowers here collected, and the systematic character of their arrangement; in the park is a fine avenue of oak, beech and the Chili pine (araucaria imbricata); the arboretum contains the finest collection of trees in Europe… [9]

It is unlikely that Job spent much, if any, time working under the tutelage of the James Barnes. Barnes was the widely-known director and manager of Bicton Gardens, working in that capacity for almost 30 years until his retirement in 1869. Given Job would only have been around 14 then, any overlap would only have been very brief. But Barnes’ influence and legacy, right down to his strict behavioural rules (no pipe smoking, and no coming to work in a dirty shirt and with unlaced shoes), would still have been strongly felt in 1871. This despite a landmark Queen’s Bench libel case against his former employer Lady Rolle following his departure. A case which Barnes famously won.

Novice gardeners, and those serving apprenticeships, would learn by example initially, and through helping more experienced gardeners. They would start off with basic tasks such as soil sieving, washing pots or cleaning the greenhouse. They would learn to recognise plants, and differentiate between weeds. As they improved they would move onto the different gardening departments. The kitchen garden was often the first port of call, then the flower garden, and from there glasshouses with their hothouse fruit and early vegetables, as well as exotic ferns and orchids. Here heating, ventilating, shading and watering were amongst the early skills learned. From there it would be the plant department, then fruit. Knowledge of breeding a wide range of plants through hybridasiton and propagation were other important skills. In moving through the various departments, the developing gardener would become familiar with the various tools of the trade.

Commercial gardening, in market gardens or nurseries, was yet another angle; as was building up relationships with specialists in the various fields, and learning about the new exotic plants being introduced to Victorian Britain through far-flung exploration and widening travel horizons. All this would take several years, with a genuine apprenticeship lasting until the age of 21.

Whilst it might be possible to do much of the required learning in one location, especially at large gardens such as Bicton, some exponents recommended annual moves. And moving from county to county was definitely the way to gain experience of different climatic conditions. Therefore, gardeners tended to move regularly whilst learning, to acquire a range of work experience, training in different settings and experiencing different aspects of the craft [10].

Job, whilst not moving annually, did move to a number of locations to build up his experience and expertise. Leaving Bicton, he continued his formative gardening years with the renowned Victorian horticultural Veitch dynasty at their prestigious Royal Nurseries, Chelsea [11]. The Veitch family, who had links to Devon and indeed Lady Rolle of Bicton, sought plants worldwide. As a result, their nurseries became specialists in ferns, orchids, tropical species and new, rare plants. This would have provided a unique and enviable horticultural masterclass for the budding gardener.

1876 proved a memorable year for the Kenwood family. The changing seasons, the drum which beat the rhythm of Job’s working life, also counted out the huge changes on his family life. The progressing year marked a Kenwood marriage, re-location, birth and death.

At the beginning of that year Job’s residence was Studley Royal, near Ripon in North Yorkshire. The main garden here is the Studley Royal water garden. Today this is a UNESCO World Heritage site, managed by the National Trust. Historic England’s description reads:

A park of the late C17 probably with earlier origins, a water garden and pleasure grounds of c 1718-30 laid out by owner John Aislabie which were extended to include the ruins of Fountains Abbey by his son William Aislabie from 1768 onwards. The site has been described as ‘one of the most spectacular scenic compositions in England’ (Hussey 1967) and ‘the finest formal water-garden in the country’ (Jellicoe et al 1986) [12].

Studley Royal Water Gardens in Winter and Summer – Photo by Jane Roberts

Perhaps this is where Job now honed his craft. But it was at Nocton Parish Church in Lincolnshire on 11 January 1876 that 22-year-old Devonian, now described as a gardener, married shepherd’s daughter, 21-year-old Eleanor (Ellen) Pask [13]. It cannot have escaped the attention of those witnessing the wedding that there was a pressing need for the couple’s marriage. The bride was entering the third trimester of pregnancy.

The winter of 1876 scarcely over, and early spring heralded the arrival of the couple’s firstborn. Daughter Ellen Maria arrived in April 1876 [14], with the family now living in Batley [15]. The West Yorkshire town’s 19th century growth, and wealth, was based on its burgeoning woollen mills: in particular the production of its invention of shoddy and mungo, whereby rags were sorted, ground and recycled into new cloth. In 1801 Batley’s population stood at 2,574. By 1871 this had risen to 20,871 and ten years later stood at 27,505. The town must have seemed a world away, let alone over 260 miles, from Job’s childhood home of Buckerell. No more so than on 6 October 1876 when the burial of Job’s father, Robert, took place at Buckerell parish church [16].

The Kenwood’s Yorkshire life continued. In January 1878 son Robert Henry Kenwood was born at Healey, Batley, completing Job and Ellen’s family [17]. Healey was a hamlet in Batley township, whose population was chiefly engaged in the rag trade and blanket manufacture.

Yet, even though he lived in this industrial town, he retained links with Studley Royal. He is recorded on a number of occasions as amongst the prize winners at Studley Royal Flower Show. For example, in 1879 he won prizes for the ‘best arranged stand or vase for the drawing room’ and the heaviest bunch of grapes [18].

These shows were clearly keenly competitive, for ten years later Job featured in several Yorkshire papers following a controversy at the 1889 Studley Royal Flower Show. One paper reported it as follows:

Mr. W. Alves, Borrage Nurseries, was first for best arranged stand or vase, a most artistic and choice collection. J. Kenwood, of Batley, who was second, lodged an objection on the ground that Mr. Alves was neither an amateur nor a gentleman’s gardener… [19]

Clearly his objection was not upheld, as results confirm Mr Alves as the victor in this class. But it shows the importance attached by the gardening fraternity to the winning of these prizes. Presumably these wins boosted their gardening credentials, and potentially their job prospects.

The Kenwood family address in the 1881 census was Healey, Batley. This census shows the family income earned from Job’s gardening was supplemented by a lodger. George Kemp, originally from Lincolnshire, worked as a police constable [20].

In 1891 Job, his wife and son were living in a recently built terraced property at Prospect Terrace in Batley [21]. Again, this is in the Healey area. Daughter Ellen Maria was in Lincoln visiting her aunt and uncle. Job was now described as a domestic servant (gardener).

Prospect Terrace, Healey, Batley – Photos by Jane Roberts

There were several large houses in the Healey area belonging to prominent Batley townsfolk which may have provided his employment. The nearest house, literally a stone’s throw from Prospect Terrace, was Healey House. This was the home of widow Martha Taylor, and her five children, plus three servants. Martha’s deceased husband was Joshua Taylor, who died in July 1879. A prominent local mill owner, Joshua along with brothers John and Thomas, founded the firm of J., T. and J. Taylor. Of all the woollen manufacturers in town, Taylors were arguably the most notable. And it was for the family of Joshua, in the 2½ acre grounds of 18th century Healey House, that Job’s horticultural skills were employed.

Healey House – Date Unknown

And this was where my personal connection comes in. Over a century after Job Kenwood left Batley, my husband and I posed for our wedding photographs in the gardens he once tended. Who knows – he may have laid his gardening gloves and secateurs upon some of the shrubs and trees we stood amongst on our wedding day?

Circumstantial evidence points to his links to the family from the mid-1880s. For example, in March 1885 the Kenwoods were listed amongst the gift-givers at the marriage of Joshua’s daughter Julia – appropriately their present was a flower stand [22]. The following year Job and his wife gifted a glass strawberry dish and jug, whilst their children’s presents were flower vases, for the marriage of another Taylor girl, Alice Jane [23]. But conclusive employment proof is in a newspaper report of a talk Job gave about ‘The Vine’ to a gathering of fifty at the Batley and District Chrysanthemum and Paxton Society – no doubt drawing on his knowledge from his heaviest bunch of grapes prize-winning exploits of over a decade earlier! The report crucially describes him as a gardener to Mrs Taylor, of Healey [24].

These gardening talks, combined with his competitive streak – as evidenced in the Studley Royal Flower Show incident – give hints that Job was not lacking in confidence and had cerebral leanings. The strong, confident penmanship, with a flourish on the ‘K’, when signing his name in the Nocton marriage register perhaps offers another clue to Job’s intellectual pursuits. This aspect is something which can be overlooked, given the physical, hands-on characteristics of gardening. But gardening could also embrace a broad range of more academic elements, including landscape surveying, design, a knowledge of Greek and Latin, botany and mathematical calculations. All were important for any gardener who wanted to “get on”. And the ethos of moral and self improvement through education was an important Victorian doctrine. Job embraced this doctrine, as is demonstrated from his time in Batley onwards.

Besides giving gardening talks, Job was involved in other aspects of community life in Batley. Sharing his employer’s political and religious persuasions, he was heavily involved in both Liberal politics and the Congregational Church at Hanover Street. He is frequently noted in local newspapers participating in Liberal meetings. For example, in 1886 at a meeting of Liberals at Carlinghow, Job was elected as one of the association’s West Ward Healey and Staincliffe representatives [25]. He often chaired meetings of the Batley Congregational Young Men’s Literary Society. He also had a keen interest in education locally. The role he played here, and the esteem in which he was held, is evidenced by a presentation made to him when he finally left Batley in 1891.

PRESENTATION TO A SECRETARY. – A meeting of the Sunday School Union was held on Tuesday evening in the Town Mission Hall, under the presidency of Mr. Wesley Lodge, for the purpose of presenting Mr. J. Kenwood, secretary, who is removing to Honiton, South Devon, a copy of the “Oxford Teacher’s Bible,” as a small acknowledgment for his services. – Mr. J. Gladwin, in making the presentation, spoke of Mr. Kenwood’s connection with the Union, which had extended over a period of six years, as representative of the Hanover-street school…Mr. Kenwood said he received the present of a Bible…with as much heart pleasure as any man could receive a more costly prize. He spoke of the good which he had received at the Union, and encouragement given to him in many a trial by the meetings he had had with them. He thanked the Committee heartily for the token of respect. [26]

It appears once in Honiton he switched from domestic service to commercial horticulture. Job Kenwood became the proprietor of a shop, operating as a seedsman [27]. The 1901 census confirms this occupational gear-change with Job Kenwood residing at New Street, and working as a seedsman, a shopkeeper on his own account. Also, in the household is wife Ellen and son Robert Henry. Robert is a boot cutter, following the trade of his grandfather and great grandfather rather than his green-fingered dad. The family were prosperous enough to employ a general domestic servant [28]. The business is pictured in a postcard dating from 1904 [29].

Job’s political, religious and educational activities continued apace once in Honiton. An ardent Congregationalist, a life Deacon and Treasurer of the Honiton Congregational Church (the latter role he held for almost 40 years), he was one of those summoned for refusing to pay the sectarian proportion of the Education Rate on conscientious grounds [30]. Other roles included President of the local YMCA Debating Society. Then a huge forward step politically when, in the autumn 1905 Municipal Elections, he was elected to Honiton Town Council, representing St Paul’s Ward. It was a position he held until 1924. He was also appointed as a manager of Honiton National Schools by Devon County Council, and was still attending meetings a fortnight before his death in 1937 [31].

The 1911 census saw a more radical occupational switch for Job. Now living at Meadow View in Honiton with wife Ellen, he worked as a bookkeeper for a boot manufacturer [32]. One presumes this was linked to the business of his son Robert Henry, and brother-in-law William Doble (husband of Job’s sister Rhoda). Both the Kenwood children were now married with families of their own – Ellen Maria’s marriage to farmer Walter John Collins was registered in 1901. The following year Robert Henry married Florence Katie Otton.

On 11 January 1936 Job and Ellen Kenwood celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. The occasion was marked with a presentation of a blue Morocco handbag to Ellen and a seat walking stick to Job. They also received a telegram of congratulations from the King and Queen. And their Batley connections remembered them too, in the form of an autograph card signed by thirty-two Batley friends, and a telegram from former Batley mayor, Elsie Taylor [33]. She happened to be one of the daughters of Joshua Taylor, growing up at Healey House whilst Job worked there.

Ellen and Job Kenwood in Later Life

A little over three months later, on 14 April, Ellen was dead [34]. She too had shared her husband’s devotion and dedication to the Congregational Church at Honiton, where she had been a member for 45 years. Her well-attended funeral took place at that church [35]. It was the second family blow to Job in a matter of weeks, with his sister Rhoda’s funeral taking place at the beginning of April.

Job died in the early morning of 1 February 1937, age 82, after a very short illness. He was active up until a week before his death, even attending a meeting of the Honiton National Schools Board in mid-January. His funeral took place at his beloved Honiton Congregational Church on 4 February [36].

Probate was granted in London on 15 March 1937 to his son Robert Henry Kenwood, and son-in-law Walter John Collins. Effects totalled £1417 12s 6d [37].

FACHRS previous mini projects have included a range of occupations from governesses to station masters and bank managers. The current one is parlour maids. If you want to get involved check out their website at http://www.fachrs.com/

Footnotes
[1] GRO Birth Reference, Honiton, March Quarter 1855, Volume 5B, Page 23, accessed via Findmypast
[2] White, William. History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Devonshire, and the City and County of the City of Exeter: Comprising a General Survey of the County of Devon, and the Diocese of Exeter: with Separate Historical, Statistical, & Topographical Descriptions of All the Boroughs, Towns, Ports … Sheffield: Printed for the author, by Robert Leader, and sold by Wm. White, Sheffield by his agents, and Simpkin, Marshall, London, 1850., accessed via Ancestry;
[3] https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/4803 accessed 3 April 2020, Buckerell 1851 census data;
[4] Baptism Register, Buckerell parish church, accessed via Findmypast, original record South West Heritage Trust, Reference 1091A/PR/1/3;
[5] 1861 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at The National Archives (TNA), Kew, Reference RG09/1377/88/4;
[6] 1871 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG10/2046/-/8;
[7] White, William. … Directory of … Devon … (1878-9). Sheffield: William White, 1878., accessed via Ancestry;
[8] Greener, Rosemary Clare. The Rise of the Professional Gardener in Nineteenth-Century Devon ; A Social and Economic History. University of Exeter, 2009;
[9] Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire. London: Kelly & Co., 1893;
[10] Greener, Rosemary Clare. The Rise of the Professional Gardener in Nineteenth-Century Devon ; A Social and Economic History. University of Exeter, 2009;
[11] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;
[12] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000410, accessed 3 April 2020, Studley Royal, Historic England;
[13] Marriage Register, Nocton parish church, accessed via Findmypast, original record at Lincolnshire Archives, Reference Nocton Parish 1/10;
[14] The 1939 Register gives Ellen’s date of birth as 21 April 1875 (incorrect year), accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Reference RG101/6821D/014/2 Letter Code WFND;
[15] GRO Birth Index, June Quarter 1876, Dewsbury, Volume 9B, Page 684, accessed via the GRO Website;
[16] Buckerell parish church burial register, accessed via Findmypast, original record at South West Heritage Trust, Reference 1091A/PR/1/7;
[17] GRO Birth Index, January Quarter 1878, Dewsbury, Volume 9B, Page 631, accessed via Findmypast GRO Indexes. The 1939 Register gives Robert’s date of birth as 18 January 1878, Reference RG101/6821A/017/34, Letter Code WFNA;
[18] Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale Herald, 23 August 1879;
[19] Ibid, 17 August 1889;
[20] 1881 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG11/4549/74/38;
[21] 1891 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG12/3721/16/1;
[22] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 March 1885;
[23] Batley News, 14 April 1886;
[24] Batley News, 26 April 1890;
[25] Batley News, 3 April 1886;
[26] Batley News, 13 November 1891;
[27] Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire. London: Kelly & Co., 1893;
[28] 1901 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG13/2022/29/11;
[29] Francis Frith Postcard, Joe (sic) Kenwood Seedsman, New Street, Honiton, 1904, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk UK, City, Town and Village Photos, 1857-2015. Unfortunately, copyright restrictions prevent reproduction;
[30] Western Times, 1 December 1903 and 14 June 1904;
[31] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;
[32] 1911 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG14/12538;
[33] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 January 1936;
[34] Western Times, 17 April 1936;
[35] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 April 1936;
[36] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;
[37] England and Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, original data Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England.

“Alas Too Idle Yet Writing a Book” – Census Gems

If you think reading the census is dull, think again. It can reveal some unexpected gems. I thought I’d share a few I’ve viewed over the years – ones I’ve found, and some located by others. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As March is designated Women’s History Month I’m starting out with some 1911 census entries. The suffrage movement advocated boycotting this census. Some women deliberately absented themselves on census night, 2 April. Other census forms have information and notations which indicate they are clearly linked to people actively involved, or sympathising, with the suffrage movement.

Suffragist, and a founder member of the Women’s Freedom League, Dr Octavia Lewin of 25 Wimpole Street, Marylebone wrote ‘No vote. No census. I absolutely refuse to give any information’. She does then go on to list her impressive array of qualifications, ending with ‘assistant physician, London Homeopathic Hospital’. That, though, was the limit of the household information she supplied, with the Registrar annotating the form to the effect that the rest of information was estimated. [1]

Over in Ingatestone, Essex, Dorothea Rock, of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), was similarly forthright with her protest. She wrote:

I, Dorothea Rock, in the absence of the male occupier, refuse to fill up this Census paper as, in the eyes of the Law, women do not count, neither shall they be counted. [2]

Louisa Garrett Anderson, daughter of Elizabeth, a qualified surgeon and another prominent WSPU member, withheld any household information for her Harley Street home. Yet again the details, including for four anonymous people, were estimated. [3]

Other ‘No vote. No census’ protestors included Dorothy Bowker (WSPU). Lodging at Marylebone she wrote across her return:

I am Dumb politically. Blind to the census. Deaf to enumerators. Being classed with criminals lunatics and paupers I prefer to give no further particulars. [4]

The enumerator and registrar added further comments to the effect that Dorothy had returned temporarily to her lodgings to remove her luggage, then left.

Also in Marylebone, the occupational entry for Georgiana Alexandra Mott, a pioneer of education for women, simply read ‘Desires a parliamentary Vote’ [5]. This sentiment was shared by another Marylebone resident, Ann Halliburton, who wrote ‘I desire the vote’. [6]

Haworth Shop Window – Photo by Jane Roberts

But the protest extended beyond Marylebone. The occupation given by 41-year-old married woman Ada Twells of South Kyme, Lincolnshire was ‘At present agitating for votes for Women’ [7]. The occupation of fish merchants’ wife Clara Annie Braithwaite of Cleethorpes was ‘Suffragette’ [8]. Clara Callander, 60, living at Wavertree went one further. Besides the occupation of suffragette, she gave her employer as UWSPU and under the infirmity column she put ‘disability to vote’ [9]. In similar vein Christine S Bremner, a visitor at the Morgan-Browne household in Wimbledon, refused to giver her age or birthplace, but gave her occupation as ‘Suffragette’ and infirmity ‘unenfranchised’ [10].

Another suffragette with an infirmity was 23-year-old Marion Louise Kitchin, daughter of Doncaster-born veterinary surgeon James Edward Kitchin. The family lived at Woodford Green in 1911, and this is a information-packed return. His wife Elizabeth’s occupation is ‘Lady’. His 16-year-old son, William Norman, is a ‘gentleman at large’. Marion is a suffragette ‘looking for a job’, with ‘absent mindedness’ recorded as her infirmity. Sister Kathleen is afflicted with ‘unpunctuality’. Son Geoffrey was ‘argumentative’, I guess that’s teenagers for you. But not quite the infirmity information being sought! [11]

Then there’s the Folkestone household of Mrs Smart. She, and three anonymous occupants, were listed as suffragettes. There’s a supplementary note that Mrs Smart ‘refused to fill up a schedule and the others refused information for the reason that they state women have no vote’ [12].

Other indications of suffrage sympathies included the use of slave as an occupation. Examples here include 52-year-old widow Lucy Gilbert of Bermondsey [13]. Variations on this theme included ‘Domestic Slave’, which was used amongst others by 48-year-old married woman Elizabeth Bond of Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire [14]. ‘Family Slave’ also pops up, including Eleanor Snowden (35), a married woman from Harewood near Leeds [15].

As seen from the above, women campaigning for the vote deliberately withheld their names. But the censuses are full of unknown men and women, occasionally with extra information such as Italian man, German woman. One example which Jane Hough found in the 1901 census at Little Weldon, Northamptonshire, listed Poacher 1, 2 and 3, with an indication that the particulars could not be ascertained [16].

My favourite personal find though is from the 1871 census at Kirthwaite, Dent, where included in the Thompson household is a man ‘supposed out of work’ on the tramp. If you have a 40-year-old Stockport-born ancestor you can’t trace in this census, could it be this individual, described as ‘a man with a big nose’? [17].

Man With a Big Nose – Source Pixabay

Occupations provide a rich seam of hilarity to mine. How about William Neale in Shottesbrook, Berkshire whose occupation, as described in 1881, was ‘None (to idle)’ [18]? And perhaps an indication in 1851 Barnstone, Nottinghamshire, of the esteem in which Mary Carlisle held her daughter-in-law Maria: ‘too idle for anything’ [19]. Skip forward to 1881, where George Huyton, a visitor to Parr, St Helens, was described as ‘too lazy to work’ [20].

But the prize for idleness must surely go to Matilda Sharpe, ‘81 tomorrow’. The sister of the head of a household in Islington, in 1911 she completed the form signing herself off as ‘Deputy Head’. Something many an under-valued author can appreciate, she described her occupation as ‘Alas too Idle yet writing a Book’. Then she duly put her creative skills to good use, ensuring an enduring written legacy. She described the Rev. Rose as having his ‘Heart in his Work. Alas Over-Worked’. His wife, Mrs Rose, was a ‘lovely Self Devoting Wife’. Caroline Chipperfield earned high praise as a ‘Cook – & a very Nice One’. Whilst Alice Percy had similar plaudits, being a ‘House Maid – all we could Wish’ [21].

In particular, some of the census entries relating to children are priceless. As you read them you can sympathise with the mixed emotions of desperation, frustration, love and humour felt by their parents.

The 1851 census entry for Edith, under two months, the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Higgin in Liverpoool read ‘(Occupation) Suckling & Sleeping’ [22].

In the same census, over in Bradford, Hannah, the four-month-old daughter of Robert and Hannah Kennedy was ‘constantly crying at home’ [23].

Another early example appeared in the 1881 census when West Derby (near Liverpool) barrister George Zavier Segar described his wife’s occupation as ‘Looking after me and the Family’. His three-year-old daughter Mary G was occupied ‘Eating Sleeping Talking’; whilst her one-year-old brother Robert S included the additional string to his bow of ‘getting into mischief’ [24].

Across in Chadderton, in the same census, James Lever’s infirmity was being ‘without money’. Perhaps his two-year-old daughter Mary’s occupation caused this financial hardship, because her occupation is described as ‘crying for halfpennys’ [25].

Whilst in 1881 Atherstone, Adelaide Forbes, two-year-old daughter of Stuart Forbes was ‘Eating, Drinking, Sleeping etc’. He recognised his wife Isabel’s role of ‘Keeping House & nursing children’. And sister-in-law Grace Churchill was worthily described as ‘Feeding the Hungry & Clothing the Naked’ [26].

Crying Child – Darwin: The expression of the emotions in man and animals – Wellcome Library. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) – https://wellcomecollection.org/works/wqfqzcmg

There are scores of 1911 census examples featuring children. I’ve listed some of these below:

  • Elsie Irene Axtell, age nine months, the daughter of Archibald and Ada Axtell from Bristol was described as ‘Eating Drinking Sleeping’ [27].
  • Florence Brown, nine months, of Limehouse, London, daughter of Frederick and Florence was occupied ‘Crying’, with the indication that she undertook this job ‘at home’. The family also included ‘Perfect’ for all members in the Infirmity column [28].
  • The youngest two members of the Herrington family in West Rounton, North Yorkshire, had occupations befitting their ages. Alfred, three, was occupied ‘Crying Eating & Sleeping’; and sister Mary, under one month, worked at ‘Crying Sucking & Sleeping’ [29].
  • Across in Scarborough, Robert and Elizabeth Knaggs wrote of their three-year-old daughter, Marjorie, ‘Play mostly Crying occasionally’ [30].
  • Edna Lee, age three, living with her grandparents and parents in Bradford was described as ‘Eating Drinking Playing’ with ‘Sleeping’ added later in brackets [31]. Was this by an enumerator with a sense of humour?
  • The occupation of Stanley William Pawley, one-year-old son of William and Flora Pawley of Fakenham was occupied ‘Crying & Breaking Feeding Bottles’ [32].
  • Harold Urquhart Roberts, age one, living at Farnborough was ‘Eating Drinking & Shouting’ in the ‘Baby’ industry or service [33].
  • In Willesden, Gerald Stollery, three, was engaged in ‘mostly destroying toys’, whereas sister Eileen, one, had the sole job of ‘crying’ [34].

It is, however, sobering to consider not all these children survived to adulthood. But they live on, and stand out, through their wonderful census descriptions.

I’ll end the example of children in the censuses section with an 1871 entry. This is yet another classic, on a par with idle book-writer Matilda Sharpe who inspired this post. This one is for the Parsons family living in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Susannah Parsons, wife of William, was described as ‘Her husband’s devoted nurse’; granddaughter Florence, nine, whose condition was ‘Tall & thin’ rather than single was ‘a student of rudimentary accomplish[men]t’. Sussannnah H, eight, was ‘a still younger student of above’; grandson William, one, ‘very fat’, had his rank, profession or occupation column proudly annotated ‘His rank is most upright for he can walk and is very independent’; six-year-old granddaughter Emily G, ‘very thin’, was engaged in ‘innocent mischief’; and not forgetting Caroline Jones, a ‘most excellent serv[an]t as nurse’ [35].

The elderly could also have unusual occupational annotations. Samantha Willis highlighted a 1911 entry from Hastings linked to her family. Household head Arthur Edward Callis, ‘Waiter. Boots. Chamber Maid. God knows what’ wrote of his 90-year-old mother-in-law Jane Sargent ‘Does nothing sleeps’ [36]. Maybe this is simply an accurate reflection of the impact of advanced years, or ill health, rather than any form of sarcasm.

And do watch out for other unsolicited snippets of information. For example in Bognor in 1911 George Henry Harrington, 37, has no work. The explanation is given: ‘Had neurasthenia several years now. Because very deaf at 34…’ [37].

There’s also a 26-year-old unmarried naval officer, Thomas Wallace Young, a visitor in 1911 Harting, Sussex. The dashing image is, well, dashed when his afflictions are listed: bald and toothless [38].

And John Underwood of Hastings wasn’t wrong in describing his affliction as ‘bad temper’ in 1911. He was sufficiently annoyed to identify all his family’s individual afflictions starting with his wife, occupied in cooking and washing, but the possessor of a ‘long tongue’. His children were quarrelsome, stubborn, greedy, vain and noisy [39].

Finally Britain is often labelled a nation of animal lovers. We often think of our pets as family members. And thankfully some census entries supporting this have sneaked through too.

In 1911 Heanor, church worker Frances Catherine Stone, 46, listed her two other household members: Timothy the Cat, age seven; and Jack the Dog, eight [40].

A dog smoking a pipe, with ‘Pears’ inscribed on his collar. Chromolithograph after E. Landseer (1907) – Wellcome Library – https://wellcomecollection.org/works/acw6wkuv

Meanwhile, in Doncaster that year, the Cooke household hosted a rather unusual boarder. Single, age one, his name was Jim the Cat. And naturally enough his occupation was ‘mouse catcher’ [41].

Cheshire Cat, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865-1866) drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) – Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image

And the 1911 census Rigby household in Birkenhead have a tom cat named Tobit C[r]ackitt. His age is obscured (the enumerator is unamused by the family’s sense of humour), but you can still read that he’s married with 16 children, all living. He works as a ‘Mouse Catcher Soloist Thief’. Nationality is ‘Cheshire Cat’ and he does sadly have an infirmity: He is speechless. William Rigby, the household head, perhaps thinks too much information is being sought and writes:

All the Above Mentioned Have Breakfast Dinner Tea & Supper. Eat Standard Bread Drink Sterilized milk. Sleep with the Windows open. Wash our feet once a week. “Etc” God Save the King. R.S.V.P. Rest in Peace [42].

The enumerator has crossed this piece of insubordination out too.

But I’ll leave journalist James Ange Little with the last word though. It could well be that he too was getting a dig in at the perceived intrusiveness of the census questions, but his final entry is pure census gold. He wrote:

Incidentally, we have an Airedale Terrier. I do not know whether particulars are required, but in case you want them here they are….

He then went on to give details for Keighley-born Roger, age five. Information generally about his marriage were unknown, other than his children probably numbered something over 100. He worked as a watchdog on his own account. The industry/service was ‘looking after house’ and this was undertaken ‘at home & outside’ [43].

As you can see from the above, most examples are from the 1911 census simply because of the survival of the original householder schedules, as opposed to the sanitised enumerator books from the earlier censuses. But, as I’ve identified, there are stray examples which slipped through from earlier censuses too.

If you can add to the list of quirky England and Wales census examples do feel free to add a comment, or email me. If you could provide the census reference too, that would be appreciated. I’ll update this post to reflect any received.

Update 1 – 10 March 2020: After Siblings and Niblings informed me in the comments section about a relationship status of paramour in the 1911 census, I investigated further. And yes, there are lots of other examples. One I located in 1891 Stepney had a household head, Arthur Newstead, a 24-year-old widower. The household also included Charlotte Linch (married) whose relationship status was ‘paramour’. Not only that, there was a five-year-old girl, ‘paramour’s child’; a baby whose relationship was ‘putative daughter’ and a 27-year-old man whose connection to the head was ‘paramour’s brother’ [44].

And I am still seeking out the quirky. One particularly astonishing one is from Chesterfield in 1851. Thomas Cooke, a 61-year-old married man is the head of the household. Also listed is his wife, Jane, age 44. There are four other members. These comprise Harriett Cooke, 30-year-old unmarried niece, described in the occupation column as ‘concubine of her uncle!’ But that’s not all. There are three children ranging from six years old to two months and in the occupation column they are described thus:

Son of do. [concubine]……………)
Dau[ghte]r of do. [concubine]..) by her uncle!!!
Son of do. [concubine]……………) [45]

And yes, the exclamation marks were inserted by a shocked enumerator. Perhaps it equated to an exclamation for Harriett and each of her three children?

References:

  • [1] 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/525
  • [2] Ibid, Reference RG14/10034
  • [3] Ibid, Reference RG14/518
  • [4] Ibid, Reference RG14/548
  • [5] Ibid, Reference RG14/551
  • [6] Ibid
  • [7] Ibid, Reference RG14/19604
  • [8] Ibid, Reference RG14/19987
  • [9] Ibid, Reference RG14/22674
  • [10] Ibid, Reference RG14/3463
  • [11] Ibid, Reference RG14/9755
  • [12] Ibid, Reference RG14/4634
  • [13] Ibid, Reference RG14/1898
  • [14] Ibid, Reference RG14/9081
  • [15] Ibid, Reference RG14/25953
  • [16] 1901 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG13/1450/115/26
  • [17] 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/4250/47/5
  • [18] 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/1315/65/7
  • [19] 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2139/28516
  • [20] 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3738/75/51
  • [21] 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/984
  • [22] 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2182/323/26
  • [23] Ibid, Reference HO107/2307/72/18
  • [24] 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3713/113/4
  • [25] Ibid, Reference RG11/4085/52/14
  • [26] Ibid, Reference RG11/3058/78/19
  • [27] 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/14919
  • [28] Ibid, Reference RG14/1555
  • [29] Ibid, Reference RG14/29357
  • [30] Ibid, Reference RG14/28955
  • [31] Ibid, Reference RG14/26788
  • [32] Ibid, Reference RG14/11555
  • [33] Ibid, Reference RG14/6251
  • [34] Ibid, Reference RG14/7004
  • [35] 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/3488/14/22
  • [36] 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/4748
  • [37] Ibid, Reference RG14/5376
  • [38] Ibid, Reference RG14/5440
  • [39] Ibid, Reference RG14/4741
  • [40] Ibid, Reference RG14/20398
  • [41] Ibid, Reference RG14/28198
  • [42] Ibid, Reference RG14/21991
  • [43] Ibid, Reference RG14/2457
  • [44] 1891 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG12/292/153/27
  • [45] 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference, TNA Reference HO107/2147/273/16

The Civil Service Marriage Bar – Attitudes to Women and Work in the Mid-20th Century

I love Call the Midwife. A recent episode, set in 1965, about illegitimacy and the pressure on single women to give up their baby (or marry) really does give pause for thought about attitudes towards women in society generally, even within living memory.

It got me thinking wider about beliefs about the role of women in the middle part of the 20th century, particularly married working women. Certain jobs today are perceived as traditionally female occupations. As a former civil servant, I have an interest in this work area. Civil Service jobs, particularly junior administrative and clerical roles, may fall within this traditionally ‘female’ category. But perhaps that impression may not be quite as it seems.

Today 53.9% of the UK Civil Service are women, of all relationship statuses. However, in the not-so-distant past, this was not the case. Until the Great War, it was a male-dominated profession. Yes, the labour vacuum created by the two wars did result in the influx of female workers. But the position was far more nuanced – particularly with regard to marital status. The way the Civil Service was structured and operated in the mid 20th century was transformed totally by the end of the century.

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife- Everyday Life in London, England, 1941, a ‘girl clerk in a war-time organisation’  – Wikimedia Commons – Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//41/media-41026/large.jpg

One key factor influencing Civil Service employment in the early and middle part of the 20th century, which may not be obvious today, was the distinction between established and unestablished Civil Servants. Linked to this was a marriage bar for established female Civil Servants, a ban imposed by the government.

It meant married women couldn’t become established (permanent, pensionable) Civil Servants [1], and single women who were in the established cadre had to resign when they did marry, unless granted a waiver to continue. This waiver was an exceptional occurrence, with only eight of these granted between 1934 and 1938. In effect, married women were second-class citizens.

The Civil Service position regarding married women working in permanent roles was not unique. Similar restrictions on the employment of married women applied for a wide range of professions, some of these also traditionally viewed as suited to women. These included the post office (part of the Civil Service until the 1960s), banking, teaching and nursing.

The reasons for having this restriction included the view that it was the woman’s responsibility after marriage to look after her husband. Marriage was, in fact, a career in its own right – albeit unpaid! In 1944, when the marriage bar issue was under discussion by the Union of Post Office Workers, one representative argued:

In this country we have always held that a woman’s place is in the home.

This from someone in an organisation championing worker’s rights!

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife- Everyday Life in London, England, 1941, ‘preparing the evening meal – Wikimedia Commons – Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//41/media-41031/large.jpg

It was also perceived that women became less efficient employees once married, as their minds were no longer wholly on their job. They also needed time off to have children, and were unpunctual or absent because of their family responsibilities. Linked to this was the belief that it was the fundamental right of a man to be the provider in his own home. Working wives somehow shifted this balance, emasculating their husbands. Furthermore, married working women reduced employment opportunities for men, and this contributed to male unemployment. These women also took jobs and promotion opportunities away from single women, who needed work more than their married (and supposedly financially supported) sisters. And perhaps I’m being cynical here, but it also saved money. Pay was linked to time-served progression. Forcing women out on marriage meant their progression up the pay scale was curtailed.

But attitudes slowly shifted as the Second World War drew to a close, and practicalities were weighed up. Banishing a whole section of the female population to the kitchen again, and denying them rights to a full working life, was becoming an increasingly difficult line to hold. Once more, women needed to plug wartime labour market gaps, and stepped up to the plate effectively. There was also a growing realisation that the experience, ideas and contributions of a whole section of society was being denied. Female university graduates were put off from applying for jobs with no long-term prospects. Arguments were put forward that married female employment was not a cause of male unemployment, and pulling a whole section of women out of the workforce was not the answer. The push for equality, and freedom of choice, therefore gained traction, despite ingrained prejudices. And, ironically, labour-saving devices around the home helped too, freeing time and opening up the world of work to more women.

The marriage bar was gradually removed from 1944 onwards (this was the date the wider teaching profession lifted the restriction). The Civil Service was only slightly behind the pace – it was becoming increasingly untenable for government to continue with the policy. For well over a decade, the restriction on married women working in the established Civil Service had been under discussion. It had a Marriage Bar Committee investigating various aspects associated with the policy, both pros and cons. There was even a National Whitley Council report on the subject. The decision could no longer be kicked into the long grass.

The marriage bar was finally abolished in October 1946 for the Home Civil Service, and 1973 for Foreign Service employment. More details about this are at here.

In his explanatory parliamentary statement on 15 October 1946, Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Edward Hugh John Neale Dalton, said:

In future, married women will not be ineligible by reason of their marriage for appointment to established posts in the Home Civil Service, and women who remain in the Service will be required to comply with the normal conditions and practices of their employment, including regular attendance, the working of overtime when necessary and the acceptance of the liability to transfer within the United Kingdom and outside it. Those who, on account of domestic responsibilities or otherwise, are unable to comply with these conditions will not be retained in Service.
The abolition of the marriage bar will take effect today. It will not give any right of reinstatement to women who in the past have been required to resign from the Civil Service on marriage. Marriage gratuities will be paid [2], as hitherto, to women who voluntarily resign from established Civil Service posts on marriage.

However, the opposition to the removal of the marriage bar in the Civil Service and elsewhere continued to be aired well into the 1950s. For example, at the Civil Service Conference of 1950, a motion to re-introduce it was defeated by 7,348 votes to 5,454.

The arguments for its re-imposition focused around easing the redundancy threat facing established officers, particularly married men. Questions were also raised about the future shape of the Civil Service. The implication being this was a step on the slippery slope to employing married women with children. It raised the question:

What kind of Civil Service are we building up? Next we’ll be asking to requisition playpens so they can bring their children into the office.

There were even cartoons depicting the chaos of infants in the office.

And some were unhappy at the potential job competition faced by single women from their married counterparts. Men clearly had an ulterior motive for espousing this view, although some single women did put it forward too.

An illustration of the denial of jobs for unmarried women argument was seen at the Union of Post Office Workers Annual Conference of 1953. This was a union which had campaigned for the removal of the marriage bar in the Civil Service. Yet at their 1953 Conference, attempts were made to seek reimposition of the ban on married women in the Post Office. Those in favour here claimed it was unfair that single women who had dependents were being denied an income, whilst married women were able to afford TV sets and washing machines from their dual family income. The Conference contained the immortal lines of one speaker:

Do not let us have girls standing in unemployment queues while their married colleagues are going about looking like bookies wives.

However, the situation of married women working did gradually become tolerated and accepted.

By 15 September 1958, The Times, in a feature on Whitehall Women, focusing on Administrative Class (senior hierarchy) rather than the more junior Executive, Clerical and other Officer Classes, was extolling the opportunities in the Home Civil Service for suitably qualified women, stating that:

…the State is an enlightened employer recognising by generous maternity leave that a married woman may have children in the course of her career and arrange her life so she can have the best of these two worlds.

It went on to cover advantages such as annual leave, a five-day week, the prospect of travel to places such as Paris, Bonn, Geneva and Washington, and, from 1961, equal pay with male colleagues. This was all aimed at enticing more female university graduates to apply for a Civil Service career.

Yet even in this article there was the whiff of sexism, with lines such as:

If they are attractive, as well as having good brains, “they are most useful” to quote an official “in swaying meetings.”

Despite the example set by government for Home Service Civil Servants, the marriage bar continued formally and informally in the private sector even beyond the 1950s. For example, Barclays Bank did not abolish it until 1961. And there was still a bar in place for Foreign Service Civil Servants into the early 1970s.

So it is well worth considering this specific restriction on the employment of women when investigating the occupations of your female ancestors. Did such a restriction play a part in their career choices, even the choices for university graduates? And did it also play a part in prematurely ending their working lives, effectively forcing them to leave their jobs and work colleagues? And imagine how that felt, cut adrift from the familiar routine of their lives, their friends and daily interactions, let alone the monetary impact.

It also is worth considering that the Civil Service wasn’t structured as now – it contained two classes of workers: established (which is probably what we regard today as the Civil Service) and unestablished. And very different terms and conditions of employment existed when compared to today. Even if jobs and professions continue today, do investigate the terms and conditions which existed for your ancestors. You may be surprised.

Finally, the marriage bar and societal attitudes towards it, provides yet another fascinating insight into the lives of our female ancestors, and the job choices they had. And it is another example of the pitfall of using 21st century eyes to view the lives of our ancestors, and their work (and life) options. Many did not choose to give up work, they were in effect forced out because they married and their job did not permit them to continue under these circumstances.

Notes:
[1] The Civil Service structure, and its strict recruitment and promotion procedures, was a complex system. In addition to established permanent Civil Servants, there existed another tier of unestablished employees. The unestablished Civil Service were essentially supposed to be non-permanent staff, not subject to the superannuation act. They were meant to plug gaps such as those created during wartime, or through seasonal fluctuations. They could be easily dispensed with when conditions changed, thus protecting established staff from the threat of redundancy. Recruitment of these temporary staff tended to be on a Departmental level and not as a result of stringent centrally imposed examinations. It was therefore a concern that if these unestablished workers did gain entry to the established ranks (which could happen) they would not match the rigorous intellectual standards attained by examination entrant Civil Servants. Nevertheless there was some blurring, with an increasing tendency for unestablished posts to become temporary in name only without the benefits of permanency. This in itself resulted in pressure for change. However, even as late as 1 January 1965 there were approximately 159,000 temporary non-industrial civil servants.
[2] These length of service based gratuities were paid upon marriage to permanent female civil servants who had worked a minimum of six (established) years.

Sources:

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.

Batley’s Record-Breaking Rat-Catcher

On Christmas Eve 1933, after a fortnight’s illness, Batley’s nationally acclaimed rat-catcher Thomas Cassidy died.

During his working life his skills were in much demand by a cross-section of businesses and organisations: From local mill owners and town Corporations, including Batley and Dewsbury; to railway companies such as the London and North Western, North Eastern, Midland and Scottish Railways. This latter work took him throughout Britain and Ireland. 

A bit of a local legend, a thrilled journalist even reported of spending a most exciting four hours, with some lively experiences, under the Dark Arches in Leeds in the company of Thomas Cassidy, one of his sons and a fox terrier named Gipsy. The Dark Arches are the brick-built network of arches constructed in the 1860s to support the railway station.

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

The two major records Thomas claimed were:

  • 1,227 rats caught alive and 446 killed in six hours for Ossett Corporation; and
  • 153 [out of 155] rats caught in thirteen minutes on the premises of a hide and skin merchant in Heckmondwike in 1908. This was unassisted by dog or ferret.

For the latter he is recognised by Spen Valley Civic Society with plaque number 18 on the Spen Fame Trail. This plaque is located on The Green in Heckmondwike. 

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

Well-known in the Batley area, he was not an unfamiliar sight in the local courts either. On at least one occasion he regaled the Bench with his rat-catching exploits including, in 1907, another tale of his expertise … and possibly the explanation for his appearances before the Batley magistrates. This time he boasted of capturing 154 rodents in 75 minutes which he sold for 4d. each – but the money went on drink. The newspapers prefaced this court report with a rather lurid description of one of Thomas’ more colourful claims to local notoriety, describing him as:

Batley’s professional rat-catcher, and the individual who, some time ago at a local polling booth, bit off the heads of a couple of live rats in the presence of disgusted voters [1].

Born in Batley’s New Street on 3 February 1870, he was the son of labourer John Cassidy, who hailed from County Clare, Ireland and his West Ardsley-born wife Emma (née Garlick). He was baptised at St Mary of the Angels RC church in Batley.

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

Thomas married Harriet Ann McDonagh [2] at the same church as he was baptised, on 13 February 1892. By this stage he worked as a coal miner. Their children included Johanna, Emma Jane (who died in infancy), Robert Ernest, Thomas, John Edward, Leo, Mary and Arthur.

His rat-catching exploits were inspired following a walk near Batley, when he saw a refuse tip ‘alive’ with rats. He explained:

I went home, took a pillow slip off my bed, and soon had it full of live rats from the tip. I sold these at 4d. each to people with dogs they wanted to train as ratters.
I had 10s. 6d. to take home, and I’m glad to say I gave my mother ten shillings. I’d never had so much before…I was only earning eighteen pence a day in the pit as a pumper” [3].

The refuse tip became a gold mine for him, as he progressively cleared it of all vermin. So lucrative did this new business line prove, in around 1904 he left the pit for good to become a full-time rat-catcher.

Rat-catching was a national obsession. In fact at the end of 1919 the Government passed a Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, such was the concern about their capacity to spread disease, destroy property and contaminate food. A new war raged in this inter-war period, and during each November there was even a designated National Rat Week endorsed by the Ministry of Agriculture when a nationwide effort was made to destroy the creatures to control the population. Publicity for the campaign was widespread via the press, billboard posters and in the cinema. This included a specially commissioned government “Kill That Rat” Pathé film in 1919. Leeds Corporation produced its own rat killing promotional newsreel in 1920. Entitled “It’s Rough on the Rats” it demonstrated the launch of its asphyxiating gas offensive.

For Thomas business was booming and he became a minor celebrity. He held long-term contracts as official rat-catcher in two Leeds railway stations, and it was this work which the Leeds Mercury’s Special Correspondent shadowed (literally as the work was undertaken by candle light) in 1923.

A huge mound of refuse, sweepings from 10 railway station platforms of the London and North Eastern railway station above, accumulated in the Dark Arches. Here the rats thrived.

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

As a preliminary to his clearance work Thomas, along with his son, turned over the refuse mound – a mixture of food, dust, cinders and even crockery – revealing holes big enough for rabbits. In the process they were cornering the creatures in preparation for their capture. The rats could be heard scurrying below – huge creatures sustained by all the railway detritus.

The Cassidy’s fox terrier Gipsy was tied to a drain pipe, becoming increasingly excited by the activity. 

Then the work began. 

With their bare hands Cassidy and his son began catching the rats, shoving them in an army kit bag. Other rats were strangled. Those trying to flee were caught in string netting strewn across a mesh barrier which fenced off the bay of the archway. They were forced back into the clutches of the Cassidys.  

Thomas was now bleeding profusely from a rat bite to his thumb knuckle, but undeterred he carried on. An occupational hazard, his hands bore the marks of his work over many years. Yet he had only sustained blood poisoning five times from rat bites in 30+ years’. 

Gipsy bit through her leash, eager to join in the killing spree. After four hours, exhausted by their exertions, they finished. The bag contained 36 live rats and 60 dead. Gipsy accounted for around a further 40. Only one rat managed to escape. At the end of their work Thomas told the reporter

I’ve a fox at home which will kill rats quicker’n’ that ‘ere dog [4].

Perhaps this was one of the foxes which he captured in 1921, for his snaring exploits extended beyond rats. The Yorkshire press reported on his fox-catching efforts, which extended over two days. The result was a haul of two foxes from a drain near Wilton Park. One was a four-feet-long dog fox weighing 17½lbs. The other was a 42-inch-long 13¾lbs vixen. Methods unsuccessfully employed in this star capture included cayenne pepper and a fox terrier. Finally he and his colleague hit on the ingenious idea of sweeping the drain with prickly brushes roped together. This did the trick.

As for his rat-catching methods, Thomas remained slightly coyer. Ferrets were commonly used by others to catch rats. New Street station in Leeds was the scene of some of Thomas’ heaviest slaughtering. Three different rat breeds could be found in its refreshment rooms. It was in this station he once lost a ferret for three days. When finally located it was in such a bad state after constant fighting with rats it had to be destroyed. By 1926 Thomas no longer used ferrets, preferring to use what he termed as ‘secret methods’. 

He was clearly keen to keep his tricks of the trade in-house, explaining his art in only general terms. He occasionally employed dogs, owning two fox terrier bitches by 1926. He preferred bitches to dogs because they were keener, fiercer and more easily controlled. He was not a general believer in poison. This he reserved for factories, where wholesale slaughter was required. He claimed to have killed thousands of rats using this technique at the Dewsbury mills of M. Oldroyd & Sons and Wormald & Walkers. But his favoured method was to catch his prey with his bare hands, delivering the killer blow by banging their heads on the floor.

And throughout his career he retained a great respect for the cunning, ferocity, thoroughness and perseverance of his enemy, the rat.

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

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

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Here are some rat-catching tips from the 1920s:

  • Don’t touch a dead rat – use a shovel;
  • Don’t leave the old homes of an exterminated rat colony intact as you will soon have another settlement. Fill the holes with cement, or failing that, a mixture of tar and broken glass;
  • Don’t touch bait with your fingers as rats won’t come near it. Use a spoon tied at the end of a two-foot pole;
  • Don’t forget to warn people and keep domestic animals away from baits;
  • Don’t forget that a change of bait – kipper instead of cheese for instance – works wonders; and
  • Don’t forget you are liable to a £20 fine if you allow your property to be rat-infested.

Notes:
[1] Bradford Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1907;
[2] The spelling of Harriet’s surname varies depending on record, including McDonegh, Donegh, Donagh and McDunach;
[3] The Leeds Mercury, 3 November 1926;
[4] The Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1923

Other Sources:

Anne Lister’s Pit Children

‘Gentleman Jack’ catapulted Anne Lister and her diaries to national and international fame. The pitting of wits between her and the Rawson family over coal was one of the threads running throughout the series. But whilst Anne’s written thoughts are receiving widespread attention, lesser known are the words of the children who toiled underground in the coal mines of Anne and those of her Rawson rivals.

Anne Lister Blue Plaque at Shibden Hall – Photograph by Kathryn Badon

But they are there, albeit fleetingly, giving a tantalisingly brief glimpse into the life and times of these youngsters. As you read their testimonies you can almost hear their voices speaking across the centuries.

Samuel S. Scriven collected oral evidence from a handful of children who worked at Anne’s Listerwick coal pit and Rawson’s Swan Bank and Bank Bottom collieries. Their names and words connect real people to the otherwise anonymous individuals whose labour was an essential part of the chain bringing the coal to the surface. Beyond that, Scriven also collated some wage and accident information – the former covering Anne’s pit, and the latter including a Rawson-owned colliery, so even more details about real people working the mines. Scriven did this in his role as a Sub-Commissioner reporting to the Children’s Employment Commission looking at mines, with the findings published in 1842. Scriven’s patch included collieries in the West Riding in and around the Halifax and Bradford Unions. He visited around 200 coal and ironstone pits there, and descended around 70.

The evidence he, and other Sub-Commissioners collected, provided the basis for the final report [1]. This final report, however, is only a fraction of the evidence collected. Fortunately for family, local and social historians, the findings of the Sub-Commissioners were published separately. I consulted the volume containing Scriven’s evidence [2], a copy of which is available at Leeds Central Library.

Scriven categorises Messrs Rawson’s Bank Bottom Pit as a day hole worked by means of a tunnel. Their Swan Bank Pit, and Miss Lister’s Listerwick colliery were shaft mines worked by steam engine. 

As for the evidence, the children were interviewed by Scriven in May 1841, after Anne’s death the previous September. The interviews of Listerwick children are prefaced with the fact Anne’s executors were in charge at this point. But the child workers giving evidence had been employed at Listerwick whilst Anne was still alive.

I make no apologies for including the full transcripts from Scriven’s evidence as I believe these voices deserve to be heard. I have copied them exactly so the regional accents and phraseology are not lost through editing. They are as follows:

Rawson-Owned Collieries

Messrs. Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery, Swan Bank and Bank Bottom
No.11. Edward Jones, aged 9. May 10 [1841]
I don’t know how old I am; I can’t tell how long I have been here to work, not so long; I worked at Listerwick Colliery afore I comed here. I never went to day-school; I have been to Sunday-school, at the Chapel school in Halifax. I can read, I cannot write. I come to pit at six o’clock in the morning and go home sometimes at seven, and six, and five, in the evening, but it’s all as happens, if I gets my work done early or late. I gets my breakfast afore I come – porridge and bread and treacle. I generally bring my dinner with me, and sometimes take an hour to eat it, sometimes half an hour. I drive galloways [3] in and out the hole [tunnel 800 yards to shaft] [4].

And:

No.12. Edward Butterworth, aged 13. May 10 [1841]
I hurry corves [5] for Joseph Jeek; have been employed three years in the pit; I thrust [6] mostly, but sometimes pull; I wear a belt round my waist; the corves are 14 stone; I hurry singly about 300 yards. I hurry from 16 to 22 corves a-day before I go home. I come at six o’clock or half-past, and leave at four, sometimes after; I get my breakfast before I come, and bring my dinner [a cake] [7] with me, which I eat in pit; I eat it always when I am hurrying; I do not take any time for it, because I have to follow up the galloways. I go home to tea, and get potatoes and meat. I sometimes, with three others, come at ten o’clock at night, and work up to six in the morning, then go home to bed, and get up again at noon; I then go laking [playing] until drinking time [tea], then go laking again until work. This next week I turn abut with others, and shall go to work at two o’clock in the afternoon and stay until ten at night. I went to day-school at Oldham; I go to Sunday-school now; I cannot read or write; I work with all my clothes off except my vest; my feet are pretty sound now, but I hurt them by treading ‘top of the coals, which run into them and makes them sore. I never met with any accident in pit. I have never seen any sulphur here, but have at Bank Bottom; I have never been burnt [8].

And:

No.13. William Whittaker, aged 16. May 10 [1841]
I hurry corves for Frank Holden. I have worked for Rawson eight years, hurrying corves here all the time. I never went to a day-school; I cannot read or write. I come to work at six o’clock in the morning, and leave at four, five, and six, that’s according to the forwardness of my work; I get my breakfast before I come [tea and cake], and bring my dinner [cake and butter] with me. There is no stated times at which we get our dinners; the galloways get their feed, and then the colliers make me get out coals in readiness for the galloways when they come back. I eat my cake when I am thrusting. The bare patch on my head is caused by thrusting [all the hair is worn off]. The height of the corves is not more than two feet; they are made of sheet-iron; the height of our ways is a yard and four inches; some places are not more than a yard. I hurry naked, except my waistcoat. My feet arn’t so very tender, but sometimes run matter. We have no girls working with us. My master behaves very well to me. Some of them behave badly to other lads, they pales them [thrash] with their fists, that is if they are long in hurrying. I am always very tired when I go home. I would rather work eight hours a-day than twelve. I think all the rest of the boys would [9].

Lister-Owned Pits

The Executors of the late Miss Lister, Lister Wick Coal Pit
No.24. John Brook, aged 13. May 15 [1841]
I have worked nearly three years in the pit as a hurrier; I generally go down into the pit at seven o’clock, but sometimes at half-past six and sometimes at eight; I sometimes come up to fetch my dinner which I eat whilst at work in the pit; I generally leave at six in the evening and have a dinner when I get home, and get potatoes and often bacon. I have not worked at night for half a year or more, then I worked at night week and week about; this was on account of driving a “head” and water in the pit. I never went to day-school, but I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; I have begun with “Reading Made Easy.” We have no girls working in the pit with us, but about 20 lads; there was one girl worked here for two days, Sam Mann’s daughter, about 10 or 11 years old; “it was to flay her because she was a bad ‘un;” she was frightened and cried, and said “she’d be a gude lass if they’d let her out.” I hurry the corves about 100 yards from the workings; our gateways that you have been through are a yard high; I never got hurt in the pit, but cut my feet sometimes; I take all my clothes off except my shirt, cap and waistcoat – all the rest of the boys do the same [10].

And:

No.25. James Grandage, aged 14. May 15 [1841]
I have worked in the pit three years as a hurrier, altogether in this and Mr Rawson’s pit; I never went to day-school, I go to Sunday-school; I cannot read or write; they teach me in “Reading Made Easy,” but I cannot tell my letters yet. I come with the rest of the boys at seven o’clock in the morning; I go home at all times at night; I have never been later than eight; I come to work every day, but I do not know what makes me longer some days than others, unless that it is that sometimes we do more and sometimes less; I do not think it is hard work, but I do not like it “none so well;” one reason is, because there is danger, another is, that I like daylight; I would rather work eight hours than twelve, because I think it enough; I get tired after eight hours; I hurry better than 200 yards; I do not know the weight if the corves; I hurry singly; I sometimes get five corves out a-day, sometimes twenty; the difference is I “get” [11] a bit sometimes. I get my breakfast of porridge before I come, and bring my dinner of bacon and cake with me; I eat it whilst at work, not being allowed any time for eating it; I get nothing after that until I come up, then I get milk porridge and go to bed; my health is very good, and I have never met with any accident in the pit; I sometimes hurt my feet with running barefooted over the coals – they bleed and run matter; I was never laid up by it; the men behave very well to me [12].

Listerwick was one of the pits Scriven went down and he reported finding no girls, but more than 20 boys who were all well and healthy.  

One final deposition comes from the perspective of the colliery owners – Joseph Rawson on behalf of Mr Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery at Bank Bottom.

No.28. Mr Rawson, jun., principle. May 17 [1841]
We have only one pit, with two entrances, one at Swanbank, the other at Bankbottom; I do not know how many men we have employed or how many children, at a guess I should say 60 men and boys. Our coals are brought up the shaft by machines, and are then drawn to the tail end by galloways. All the children are hired by the colliers, and are paid by the week I believe, but I do not know much about that; we pay the men by the dozen corves; it is the practice for both parties to go into work together and come out together; I do not know whether they get their breakfasts before they go or get any at all; they get nothing until they come out again when they have done their work, sometimes at four o’clock, sometimes at seven; they do not always work six days in the week, not more than four sometimes; the only reason that I know of is that they drink two days; about four full days is as much as they ought to do, that is, if they get out the quantity they undertake to do, which is 24 corves, which enables them to absent themselves the other two days of the week. If men work every day in the week, instead of four days and idled the other two, it would be much better for them; the children would not then be overworked; the children are very ignorant, they get no school at all the generality of them, and would rather be running about the street [13].

I identified several points emerging from these interviews. Firstly, children switched between the Rawson pits and those of Anne Lister, even though they had only been working a short time. There was no rigid employer loyalty apparent, no pit owner favoured above the other. Scriven in his report highlights children and colliers continually changed their place of occupation. 

Unlike pits elsewhere in the West Riding, neither of these pits had girls routinely working underground as hurriers. Furthermore, there was a clear realisation that people knew for a fact underground work was beyond unpleasant – it was frightening. The form of punishment meted out to Sam Mann’s daughter indicates this. 

It also makes crystal clear the mine owners had no contractual arrangement with the hurriers, to the extent that Joseph Rawson claimed not to know how many worked underground. They did not care by what means the work was done. Essentially their concern was that the coal was mined and they paid the coal getters/hewers to do this by the corve-load. It was the miners themselves who were responsible for employing these children to convey the coal corves.

And it must be said many families did depend on the income brought in by these children for day-to-day survival. Every little helped. And if you employed your own child, it saved you having to pay another one to do the work. It was also believed that introducing children to underground work at a young age was absolutely necessary to accustom them to the conditions, enable them to gain experience to progress to better-paid jobs and eventually bring home higher wages to support families of their own. It was necessary training. Finally, in this pre-compulsory education era, work (even in mines) offered some measure of childcare.

The table below gives more details about the ages and wages of youngsters employed in the late Miss Lister’s Listerwick colliery. 

In all, 26 boys working there were examined, with their average wage amounting to 3s 11d each per week. Another five collieries in the area were also examined. Including Listerwick, 352 children and young persons between the age of 6 and 18 worked in them. The overall average wage amounted to 4s 8½ d per child per week. This average was higher than the wages of 161 children working as scribblers, carders and spinners which were provided for comparison purposes – 4s 4½d per week; and the wages of 119 card setters whose average wage was 1s 7d.

One final piece of evidence which relates to the collieries featured in ‘Gentleman Jack’ is the return of deaths resulting from accidents and explosions over the previous 3 years and 6 months in the coal mines of the Bradford and Halifax District. The return, compiled by Scriven, details 50 deaths. I have not gone through them all, but five definitely relate to Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery as proved by cross-matching against newspaper reports.

On 31 August 1838 [14] Francis (Frank) Taylor, age 10, died as a result of a fire-damp explosion. Injured in the same incident was James Lumb who died later in September [15] (note the published Scriven evidence [16] records his name as Lumley and incorrectly gives his death date as 17 April 1838. Errors do occur in reports and it always pays to cross-check). The newspapers stated the accident was a result of carelessness by the boys who had left pit doors open [17]. But Scriven’s published report states the explosion was caused by the neglect of John Crossley, master of the lads, who failed to go into the pit first [18].

On 1 March 1839 [19] Joseph Gray, an 11-year-old hurrier working for a 19-year-old identified in the newspaper only as Mr Sheard, was killed by a large rock falling on him from the roof. Sheard was badly injured in the incident [20].

On 11 June 1840 30-year-old William Sheard died as a result of an explosion of fire-damp [21]. In addition, five lads were “dreadfully scorched[22] in the incident. William was warned the day before of the suspected presence of fire-damp in the workings. His response was “it was idleness, and he would flay the damp away.[23] The following morning he entered with a candle, causing the explosion. His 15-year-old brother, Joseph who was presumably one of the “scorched,” died on 15 June [24] as a result of the same incident. His brother had made him go into the pit workings [25].

These five deaths in this one coal mine illustrate the daily perils faced by all those working underground. It was dangerous, hard work.

As a result of the report of the Children’s Employment Commission, the Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 was passed. Crucially, from 1 March 1843, it was made illegal to employ women or girls of whatever age underground in any mine or colliery in Britain. Boys under the age of 10 were no longer permitted to work below ground either. However, the Act when implemented would not have prevented the boys interviewed here from working underground.

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

This is one of a series of four posts. The others are:

Notes:
[1] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842 – out of copyright, accessed via Google Books.
[2] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[3] Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery also used horses for part of the process of transporting coal underground.
[4] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[5] 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.[6] Using your head to push the corves. 
[7] Scriven states cakes are either a flat thin coarse oaten cake peculiar to the North or a wheat cake weighing about six ounces.
[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 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Cut out the coal. Those mining the coal were known as getters or hewers.
[12] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[13] Ibid
[14] Ibid.
[15] The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 22 September 1838; and The Leeds Times, 22 September 1838.
[16] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[17] The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 1 September 1838.[18] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[19] Ibid.
[20] The Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1839; and The Leeds Times, 9 March 1839.[21] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[22] The Witness, 20 June 1840.
[23] Ibid
[24] The Bradford Observer, 18 June 1840; The Leeds Mercury, 20 June 1840; The Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 21 June 1840.
[25] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 8. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.

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.

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

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

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

The names were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what happened to my Ibbetson ancestors?

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

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

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

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

Of the children at home in 1841:

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

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

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

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

Notes:
[1] Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842.
[2] The possibilities are endless. Examples include Ibbetson, Ibbotson, Ibotson, Ibbitson, Ibberson, Ibbeson, Hibbison, Hibetson, Hibberson etc.
[3] Hibbeson household, 1841 Census; accessed via Findmypast; original record at The National Archives, UK, Kew (TNA), Reference HO107/1291/4/12/17.
[4] Note this census rounded down to the nearest five years those aged 15 and over.
[5] Jonathan Ibbotson and Elizabeth Rushworth’s marriage entry, parish register of St John the Baptist, Halifax; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP53/1/3/13.
[6] Hannah Ibbitston’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, General Register Office (GRO): Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[7] John Ibbeson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[8] John Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of Illingworth St Mary; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP73/1/4/1.
[9] James Ibbetson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3408.
[10] William Ibbotson’s baptism, Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 [database on-line]; original record at TNA, GRO: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 3409.
[11] John Ibbetson’s burial entry, burial register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/1.
[12] Bradford, Queenshead – Halifax, Thornhill, and Queensbury in the censuses between 1851-1881.
[13] Elizabeth Ibbotson’s baptism entry, baptism register St Paul’s, Birkenshaw; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: WDP90/1/1/1.[14] 1861 and 1871 censuses indicate Thornton; 1881 and 1891 Queensbury. The 1851 states Halifax.
[15] For Mary Ibbotson’s baptism, see [13].
[16] Children’s Employment Commission: Appendix to the First Report of Commissioners, Mines: Part I: Reports and Evidence from Sub-Commissioners, Industrial Revolution Children’s Employment, Volume 7. 141 Thomas St., Dublin: Irish University Press, 1968.
[17] Locally, hurriers conveyed coal from where it was hewn to the shaft by means of corves (wagons, usually small-wheeled), either dragging or pushing their loads. Often it meant running as quickly as possible up an incline with a full load.
[18] The hurrier wears a belt around their waist and a chain, attached to the corve (the wagon for transporting the coal). In the thinner seams this chain would runs between the child’s legs and, on all fours, they pull the coal corves like an animal.
[19] Coal lies at an inclined plane with the downward inclination known as the dip in Yorkshire.
[20] To push the coal corves with your head.
[21] To idle, or pass the time away.
[22] To earn.
[23] Disabled or worn out.
[24] Collier-Monday was the tradition of an unofficial, customary holiday which long existed in the coal mining industry. The Bolton Evening News of 23 February 1905 stated “It is the custom of miners to have one day’s play a week, which has gained for it the name of “Colliers’ Monday,” and that this is recognised is shown by the fact that notices placed at some pit heads state that men absenting themselves for two days are liable for dismissal…”
[25] I have used under 15s as the benchmark as the convention typically (but not exclusively) used in the 1841 census is to round down those aged over 14 to the nearest 5 years.
[26] Ann’s maiden name has been identified via the GRO indexes for the births of the couple’s children.
[27] Bradford Observer, 21 September 1870.
[28] James Ibbotson, GRO Death Registration, Bradford, September Quarter 1870, Volume 9b, Page 13; accessed via FreeBMD.
[29] Death of James Ibbotson, 17 September 1870; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk Web: UK, Coal Mining Accidents and Deaths Index, 1878-1935 [database on-line]; original data Coalmining Accidents and Deaths. The Coalmining History Resource Centre. http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/site/disasters/index.html
[30] 1851 census for James Ibitson; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA; Reference HO107/2311/165/16 and 1861 census for James Ibbitson, TNA Reference RG09/3403/127/3.
[31] James Ibbiston and Priscilla Robinson marriage entry, marriage register of Bradford St Peter Parish Church; accessed via West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.
[32] James Ibbotson GRO Death Registration, Bradford, December Quarter 1847, Volume 23, Page 135; accessed via the GRO website.
[33] 1861 census entry for Elizabeth Haigh; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Reference RG09/3403/114/11.
[34] Jonathan Ibbitson’s Death Certificate; GRO Reference Dewsbury, March Quarter 1857, Volume 9B, Page 322, age 70.
[35] Jonathan Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of All Saints Parish Church, Dewsbury, age 70; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP9/52.
[36] William Ibbotson’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 65; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.
[37] Joseph Hill and Martha Ibbotson, Marriage Certificate; GRO Reference Halifax, December Quarter 1842, Volume 22, Page 197.
[38] Martha Hill, Death Certificate; GRO Reference Leeds, March Quarter 1881, Volume 9B, Page 355, age 57.
[39] Martha Hill’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Drighlington; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP124/1/4/3.
[40] Joseph Haigh and Elizabeth Ibbeson’s marriage entry, marriage register of Tong, St James Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, no reference provided online.
[41] Elizabeth Haigh’s burial entry, burial register of St Paul’s, Birkenshaw, age given as 56; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: WDP90/1/3/2.
[42] James Noble and Mary Ibbotson’s marriage entry, marriage register of St Peter’s, Bradford Parish Church; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]; original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference Number: BDP14.
[43] Mary Noble’s burial entry, burial register of Allerton Bywater Parish Church, age recorded as 59; accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]; original record West Yorkshire Archive Service, New Reference Number: RDP3/3/1.

The Shame of a Workhouse – An Infant Down the Pit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

Sources:

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

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

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

CHOKED BY TRIPE
AGED BATLEY MAN’S DEATH IN STREET

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

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

A verdict of “Accidentally choked” was returned.

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

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

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

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

TRIP WITHOUT TRIPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Garforth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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