Titanic Survivor – The Memoirs of Violet Jessop are the recollections of the life of a stewardess who survived the sinking of both the Titanic and Britannic (‘sister ship’ of the Titanic). This written narrative is interspersed with commentary and explanations by editor John Maxtone-Graham.
Whilst not a literary masterpiece, Violet’s memoirs have a charming appeal, and capture an era of ocean travel from the perspective of a working-class woman on board a ship – a voice that is not often heard. For anyone with ancestors employed in a ship’s victualling department in the first part of the 20th century, particularly as a first class cabin steward, these memoirs give an authentic insight into their life and work.
Violet, born in Buenos Aires on 2 October 1887, was the daughter of Irish immigrants William Katherine Jessop (née Kelly). Suffering serious bouts of ill-health in childhood, in 1903 following the death of her father, she came to England with her mother, brothers and sister.
In October 1908 she made her first sailing as a stewardess with the Royal Mail on the West Indies route, the start of her 42-year career at sea. Her final sailing, in 1950, was in the employ of the same company she started with.
In between, she had employment with White Star (a company she only joined with reluctance), P&O (very briefly) and Red Star. As well as working as a stewardess for first class passengers on transatlantic crossings with the White Star Line, she undertook World Cruises, hedonistic “booze cruises” during the US prohibition era, and had a stint as a VAD nurse in World War One on board the Britannic, which was converted to a hospital ship. All this was punctuated by periods on shore undertaking a variety of clerical work. The Titanic and Britannic therefore only formed a short period in what was a career spanning decades.
So do not expect a book purely focused on Titanic.
In fact the Titanic forms only three of the 34 chapters. And many of the names of crew and passengers are disguised, perhaps with the discretion of an employee still working on ships (the memoir dates from the mid-1930s whilst Violet was still working). Of those identified and identifiable, she does mention ship designer Thomas Andrews, and clearly had great affection for him. And violinist Jock Hulme is also referred to by name, one of the bandmen who also perished in the early hours of 15 April 1912.
Her Great War VAD experience on board the Britannic, which struck a mine on 21 November 1916 and sank off the coast of the Greek island of Kea, fills another three chapters. These also cover her repatriation as a Distressed British Seaman. From her Titanic shipwreck experience she made sure she abandoned the Britannic with her toothbrush!
And there are intriguing gaps too. Although her White Star Line career included time on the Olympic starting from its maiden voyage in June 1911, it also covered the ship’s fifth voyage when she collided with British warship HMS Hawke. This event is not mentioned. Again it illustrates that there is so much which Violet’s memoirs have skimmed over or omitted – events which would have interested readers.
That being said, Violet’s memoirs are well worth reading for the additional first hand perspective she gives of historic events.
More that this, her memoirs give a broader insight into the work of life with a ships’s victualling department generally, and the lot of cabin stewards in particular, in that golden era of sea travel of the early 20th century. They give a flavour of difficulties of a young girl getting such work in the first place (it was normally a job for more mature women), the job insecurity, the hard work, long hours, short breaks, and the difficult conditions under which they lived on board. There are anecdotes about the foibles and demands of passengers, the job offers, and the marriage proposals. Violet frequently analyses the character and behaviours of those serving alongside her in a ship’s victualling department – from their tippling, to the drive to earn tips to supplement their meagre wages.
And, on a human level, there are the tantalising snippets leaving you wondering who she was referring to – for example on the Titanic; what became of Ned – the love of her life; who was the man she had a brief and unsuccessful marriage with – never referred to in her memoirs; and what was in, and became of, the missing chapter.
To conclude, I really enjoyed this easy to read, conversational-style book. A perfect weekend indulgence.
The White Lee explosion at Henry Ellison’s chemical factory on Hollinbank Lane, Heckmondwike, which killed 10 men on 2 December 1914, does not tell the entire story of the chequered history of these works. Even before this catastrophic event it was the scene of multiple fires. Additionally there was a series of bizarre, and unassociated, deaths involving men who worked there between 1870 and 1885. All occurred during the tenure of the previous owners of the works, the Heaton family. And the Heatons themselves were not untouched.
James Heaton, who started the family’s involvement with chemical manufacturing, was originally a spinner by trade. From Little Gomersal, he married Jane Popplewell at Birstall St Peter’s on 28 December 1834. The newly married Heatons subsequently moved to Leicester to raise their family. Children included Joseph (born 1836), George (born circa 1838), Martha (born in 1839, and died in 1840), Mary (born in 1840), John (born 1841), Susannah (birth registered in 1841), and Jane (born 1847, and died in 1848).
I have not pinned down precisely the family’s move back up north, but it is likely to have taken place in the mid to late 1850s. Certainly, by the time of the 1861 census, the Heaton’s were in the Dale Lane area of Heckmondwike, with James and his three sons described as manufacturing chemists – a total shift away from James’ lambs wool spinning days.
Other clues around timing of the manufacturing chemist move come in Ordnance Survey maps and Directories. The 1854 Ordnance Survey map of the area (surveyed 1847-1851) does not feature the chemical works. Neither is the Heaton Chemical Works mentioned in White’s 1858 Directory of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield etc. However one set of inquest notes indicate that one of the Heaton brothers, Joseph, had been involved in chemistry since around 1854. The accuracy of this statement though is uncertain – the same notes give the incorrect month and year of death for James.1
The newness of the concern is also indicated in newspapers, which also provide further details of the type of processes Messrs. James Heaton and Sons undertook. Besides chemical manufacturing, they were also involved in oil extraction by means of the pressing process, and grease production.2 A newspaper report from March 1863, describing a fire at the premises, states how a newly erected, and uninsured, shed used for the purposes of extracting oil etc was destroyed, damage estimated at £200. The adjoining shed, where several tons of oil and other flammable spirits were stored, was saved due to the assistance of neighbours.3 In addition to offices, warehouses and storage facilities, from newspaper reports over the years the extensive buildings included a rag storage area, a blacksmiths and a coopers.
The family had fingers in pies other than the White Lee chemical and oil refining concern. They owned a farm, and had a growing property portfolio. In July 1874 they bought the old-established copperas and prussiate works in Roberttown, producing black dye and sulphuric acid. One member of the family even had a ship named after him: In 1882 an iron screw steamer, intended for the Indian and Atlantic trades, was launched up in Tyneside. The steamer, christened by Mary Heaton (wife of middle brother George), was named the George Heaton.
The Heatons, though, were not immune to local controversy. A Healey resident, writing to the local paper in 1879, accused the Heaton chemical works of being a public nuisance, responsible for “constantly bringing the most noxious gases and vilest smells into our homes; our sitting rooms and bedrooms, too, being frequently filled with them.”4
Then there were the Local Board and Town Council water meter disputes, planning controversies, and accusations of providing cottages unfit for habitation.
On a personal level, court cases included the ill-treatment of a horse (John), and the assault on a letter carrier in 1874 (Joseph). In this incident Joseph refused to hand over 2d to Heckmondwike Post Master employee Frank Richmond. Joseph then pushed the mail deliverer against a wall and pulled his ears because he felt the youth had behaved in a “saucy and taunting manner.”5 Joseph escaped punishment because the assault was deemed of a trivial character.
The letter incident occurred days after another fire at the Heaton Chemical Works, and perhaps the stress Joseph was under affected his reaction that day. The previous year, in June 1873, a fire broke out in the uninsured works, but was quickly subdued with minimal damage. The fire which broke out on 2 February 1874, at about 5.30pm, was far more serious. Believed to have been caused by oil overflowing from one of the tanks, it took several local fire brigades until 10pm to extinguish the blaze, by which time it had caused damage estimated £20,000.6 Fortunately by now the Heaton’s business was partly insured, although it did mean they suffered losses of around £10,000.7 However the consequences were felt far beyond this date. Messrs. Heaton became embroiled in a dispute about charges for the fire brigade services that night. Legal proceedings followed to recover these costs.
The dispute rumbled on, and failure to settle payment from previous fires was the reason why all local fire brigades refused to attend yet another blaze at the works. Believed to have been caused by the ignition of overheated grease, this fire broke out in the early hours of 28 August 1879. One brigade did set off, but turned back round when they found out the location of the fire. It was left to local people to confine the conflagration to the originating building, extinguish the blaze and save the rest of the extensive works which were filled with combustible chemicals. Again only partly insured, damage was estimated at between £1,000 to £1,500.8
The above-mentioned controversies took place after the death of James Heaton on 27 April 1867, when sons Joseph, George and John took over the running of the business. John was the brother best described as the business’s superintending manager; Joseph and George travelled, and mainly did outside works, though Joseph was also the brother who conducted chemical experiments. And it was on their watch that the random sequence of deaths involving those connected to the chemical works occurred. Two were fire related, and both these incidents directly touched the Heaton family.
The first death occurred in 1870. 20-year-old carter George Miller had only worked at Heatons for three weeks when he met his death. Born in Kirkby Overblow in 1849, he was the son of farm labourer David Miller and his wife Ann. David died in 1862 and Ann, after being widowed for a second time, moved with her children to the Birstall area.9 George however lodged elsewhere. Ann, crucially for the turn of events, described her son as sober and very steady.
On 9 March 1870 George, along with Lister Kaye, another carter employed by the Heatons, took some charcoal to Heckmondwike then went to Ravens Wharf to collect two loads of sand. On the way back, at around 5.50pm they stopped off at the Prospect Beerhouse, Dewsbury Moor, where they stayed for about 1½ hours drinking ale with several other men before making their way back to the chemical works. Lister Kaye described George as “verylively”10 – the implication being he had perhaps drunk a little too much.
At about 8.10pm, Catherine Droghan was walking up Staincliffe Hall Road. Almost at the top she saw George, walking unsteadily with his horse and cart loaded with sand.11 He spoke thickly to Catherine as if he had been drinking, then sat on the cart shafts until he reached the top of the hill. At this point he jumped down to pick up the reins of the horse which were trailing on the ground. As he tried to get back onto the shafts he fell to the ground on his face, and the cart wheel ran over him. His final words before he was carried to the Crown Hotel were “Oh dear let me lie still.”12 He died 20 minutes later.
The inquest on 11 March 1870, incidentally also held at the Crown Hotel, ruled he had been accidentally run over. Perhaps it was a case of a new boy not used to drinking trying to fit in with the men. But it appears this stop off at the Prospect Beerhouse cost him his life.
The next employee’s death was of an entirely different nature. This was 21-year-old Thomas Dawson, who worked as a book-keeper at the Heaton chemical works. It was around a two-mile walk away from his home in Gomersal, where he lived with his mill engine operator father John, mother Ann, and younger brother William.
Thomas was born in Gildersome and, before his move to Gomersal, he spent his early years in Batley and Birstall, where he was a member of the Birstall Wesleyan Society. A hard working and studious young man, the fact he was learning French as an adult in this period supports his scholarly nature.
Described by his mother as “well and hearty,”13 he was working up until Saturday 1 November 1873. That day he complained of a pain in his head, and despite a visit from the doctor who diagnosed a mild attack of low fever, he did not improve.
At around 5am on the morning of 5 November his mother went to his room and found his bed empty. Downstairs, the house door was unlocked. The alarm was raised and search parties sent out.
Later that afternoon Nelson Oldroyd saw a walking stick floating in one of the Gomersal mill dams of Messrs. Thomas Burnley and Sons, the employers of Thomas’ father. The dam was within 50 yards of what had been the Dawson family home around three weeks earlier. Nelson then saw Thomas’ body lying face down in the 37 inch deep water. He called for help and the body was retrieved.
The inquest, held at the White Horse Inn in Gomersal, (a place mentioned in connection with John Heaton later on in this piece), reached a verdict that Thomas had drowned himself when of unsound mind.
The third death occurred on Monday, 17 May 1880. The victim was 20-year-old blacksmith’s striker James Flanagan.
James was the son of Irish farmer Andrew Flanagan. He lodged with his cousin Catherine, and her husband Michael Fallon, at Carr Street, Heckmondwike. He had been employed by Heaton and Sons for around 18 months, working alongside Staincliffe blacksmith Paul Perkin.
That Monday morning, at around 6am, James left home for work. A couple of hours later he was helping Perkin with the removal of a one-ton seak press. This was a type of press used to extract oil. Joseph Heaton arrived on the scene and took over the supervision of proceedings.
The machine was put on an 18 inch high horse-drawn cart, called a bogey. It proved a difficult operation, due to the slippery surface, the downward incline, and the fact there was only limited room for the horses to work. Various permutations were tried, one horse, then two, then back to one, with more men called to help push, then sent away again. Eventually it was left to Joseph Heaton to take the horse, with Paul Perkin on one side of the bogey and James on the other. According to Perkin, Joseph told the pair to try to keep in front of the bogey, but for some reason James continued alongside the back wheel.
Initially the bogey moved slowly and steadily. As they neared the crane Joseph Heaton pulled the horse to one side to avoid some casks. He then stopped. At this point the press began to wobble, before it, and the bogey, overturned. There was a scream.
Joseph ran towards James who was on the ground, pinned down by the press. Men were quickly summoned to prize the press off James, who was then placed on a trap sent for by Joseph, and taken to the old Batley Cottage Hospital where he was admitted at about 9.40am. This was the original cottage hospital which opened at Hillfield House, Knowles Hill, in August 1878, prior to the opening of the purpose-build Carlinghow Hill hospital on 27 March 1883.
James remained conscious almost to the end, but in great pain. He died just before noon. The inquest, which was held in the hospital on 19 May 1880, reached a verdict of “accidentally crushed.” James is buried in Heckmondwike cemetery.
The next fatality occurred six months later in very peculiar circumstances, and this time it was Joseph Heaton. Joseph was the brother who conducted most of the firm’s chemical experiments, to establish their properties for grease extraction. He had been involved in chemistry for around 26 years.14
At 11am on 22 November 1880, Joseph was in the inner office busy conducting some experiments with bisulphide of carbon. Used as a solvent, this was a toxic, volatile and highly flammable liquid. The fumes could act as an irritant and an anaesthetic. It was a liquid though that Joseph was accustomed to working with. However this Monday morning things went dramatically wrong.
At around 11.15am, somehow the liquid ignited and the copper vessel containing it dropped to the floor. Eliza Coleman, who was at the sewing machine in the inner office, became aware of a commotion and saw Joseph blowing on a small flame in the pan on the floor. Joseph would have been fully aware of the danger a fire posed – after all, the chemical works had suffered significant damage and financial losses before. He attempted to pick up the copper container but dropped it, burning his hand.
At this point Eliza, fearing a fire was inevitable, broke the office window and climbed out. Luckily in the process she avoided inhaling any fumes.
Joseph made another attempt to get the blazing pan out of the building. This time he successfully reached the office yard, where other workers quickly extinguished the flames. The office itself incurred minimal damage, but Joseph had inhaled the fumes.
Joseph took some castor oil before lunch, and remained at work that day. His brother John said he seemed perfectly composed and rational when he left him just before 4pm. However, when his other brother, George, enquired after him that afternoon he told him “I feel it on my stomach and I have burnt my hand in carrying it out when on fire.”15
Joseph returned to his Hollinbank Terrace home as usual that evening. John, who lived next door but one, on hearing George’s account, went round to see how Joseph was and found him in bed conscious, but breathing very heavily. Charles Eyre Counsellor, a Heckmondwike surgeon and apothecary, arrived just after 1am and prescribed some remedies. John left at around 2.20am, but called back at just gone 7am, around the same time as Counsellor returned. By now Joseph was unconscious. Joseph died at around 8.30am that Tuesday morning, 23 November 1880.
The inquest was held at the Junction Inn, Heckmondwike, with the jury viewing Joseph’s body at his Hollinbank Terrace home. Their verdict was Jospeh died from inhaling bisulphide of carbon.
Joseph left a widow, Ann (née Oliver) who he had married on 15 June 1871 at Barnby Dun, near Doncaster. The couple had two young daughters, Frances Jane, born in 1872, and Annie Elizabeth, born in 1874. Joseph was buried in Heckmondwike Cemetery on 26 November 1885.
The fifth death took place five years later in horrific circumstances. This time John Heaton was the victim.
John married Elizabeth Swalwell on 31 March 1870 at St Mary’s parish church, Scarborough. Children followed regularly, including Lizzie Maud (born in 1871), Bertha (born in 1872), Laura (born 1873), May (born 1874), Walter Leonard (born and died in 1875, age 3 weeks), Isabel (born 1876) and Jane Harriet (born in 1879, and died age 6 months in 1880).
On 14 August 1876 he was fortunate to escape serious injury. Returning from the White Horse Inn in Gomersal (the inquest location for former employee Thomas Dawson a shade under three years earlier) that Monday evening, the dog cart in which he travelled lurched violently as it turned into Muffitt Lane, throwing him out of the carriage seat and into the wall of a house. The driverless horse and trap safely made its way back to White Lee, whilst John lay unconscious. He did make a full recovery, but it was a narrow escape. In November 1885 his luck ran out.
At around 7pm on Saturday 7 November 1885 a huge fire broke out in the refining and oil press parts of the Heaton Brothers works. Fuelled by the combustible materials – the estimate was between 200 to 300 tons of oil went up that night – flames illuminated the skyline for miles around. Thousands of people from Heckmondwike and Batley congregated to witness the scene of destruction. Fire brigades from the Crystal and Union Mills (Messrs Kelley and Sons, Heckmondwike), the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Society, Birstall, Spen Valley Millowners and Staincliffe Mills all converged on the scene. When the flames were finally extinguished damage was estimated to be between £10,000 to £15,000.16
George Heaton was in Scarborough at the time, so was well out of the way. Only an hour or so before the fire broke out John had gone to Leeds for an evening out. His wife though sent a wire through to his destination and he returned home as quickly as possible by train and then cab from Batley railway station. It was a fateful decision. One only wonders how much his wife regretted her contacting him as events played out.
John dashed to the works to join in with the firefighting efforts. Despite having a sup of gin, he was described as excited, rather than the worse for liquor. With flames in the refining part now abating, the press area became the focus of these efforts. John formed the head of the chain along which buckets of water were passed, and it was he who took responsibility for throwing the water to douse the flames. He stood near a disused tank, the top of which was level with the floor – yet this was never considered dangerous. Ordinarily the tank contained cold water, but the fire caused pans of oil to boil over, and 18 inches of this boiling liquid now formed a layer on the water. By this stage John had thrown between 30-40 buckets of water. In the process of throwing yet another he slipped on a piece of zinc roofing and fell sideways into the tank. Quickly men pulled him out, but he was covered in hot oil with the majority of the scalds being to his arms, legs and face.
Despite his injuries John managed to walk back to his Hollinbank Terrace home. Dr Lee attended him, but John died in his home at about 3pm on Sunday 8 November. He was 44 years old, the same age as his brother Joseph was when he died.
Another inquest, another hostelry – this time the Cricketers’ Arms Hotel, Heckmondwike. The jury returned a verdict of “accidentally scalded.”
John was interred in Heckmondwike Cemetery on 9 November 1885. His wife, Elizabeth, was in the early months of pregnancy. She gave birth to a daughter, Georgina, on 28 May 1886. On 18 September that year the family were back in Heckmondwike Cemetery once more – this time for Georgina’s burial.
The surviving Heaton brother, George, did not carry on with the family business. In 1887 the chemical and oil refining works, along with other ventures including the farm, the Copperas Works in Roberttown, and several properties, were all put up for sale.17 In the 1891 census he is described as a retired manufacturing chemist. In his retirement George split his time between Heckmondwike and Scarborough.
The Heaton headstone in Heckmondwike cemetery, pictured in detail below, gives clues to one of George’s major interests – Freemasonry. Both he and his brother Joseph, right up until their deaths, were members of the Amphibious Lodge in Heckmondwike. In 1896 George became Grand Master of the Lodge.
George died suddenly on 22 January 1898. He left a widow Mary (née Akeroyd) who he married at St Paul’s in Huddersfield on 25 November 1868. The couple’s two sons predeceased George. James William died, age 8, on 24 June 1878; Albert Edward died on 13 July 1879 just short of his fourth birthday. Both were buried in Heckmondwike cemetery and are commemorated on the family headstone.
George’s obituary appeared in The Freemason. It read:
Obituary. BRO. GEORGE HEATON.
Bro. George Heaton, of Hollinbank-terrace, Heckmondwike, died somewhat suddenly on Saturday morning, the 22nd instant. He was 60 years of age, and was formerly in business as a manufacturing chemist and oil extractor. Bro. Heaton, who leaves a widow but no family, was formerly a member of the Board of Health,18 and for a while took an active interest in the Chamber of Commerce.19 It was in connection with Freemasonry, however, that he was best known. He joined the Amphibious Lodge, No. 258, Heckmondwike a quarter of a century ago, and has been a munificent patron of Masonic Charities. A few years ago he contributed 1200 guineas to the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, and quite recently he gave 1300 guineas to the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls. He was a P[ast] M[aster] of his lodge, and had also held a prominent position in the Provincial Grand Lodge of West Yorkshire. Although his death was unexpected, he has not enjoyed good health for some time.20
Shortly after his death an oil portrait of George was completed. Commissioned during his lifetime, he was depicted in full regalia with decorations and seals of office as Provincial Grand Deacon of West Yorkshire. The full sized figure, measuring 7 feet 6 inches by 5 feet 6 inches, was hung in the Heckmondwike Masonic Hall. If this portrait still exists, and if there is an image of it, I would love to know. It would be great to include it as part of this blog.
Not including that final catastrophic 1914 explosion, the above sequence of events with numerous fires at the chemical works, and four of the five deaths being work-related but all in entirely different ways, shows the dangers our ancestors faced in days before health and safety. And this sequence was nothing out of the ordinary, as the newspaper accounts of accidents across factories, mills, mines and other workplaces in this period testify. Perhaps what is noteworthy about the Heaton Chemical Works story is the fact that it cost two of the three brothers their lives. Perhaps George made the correct decision in quitting when he did.
I will leave you with one final series of images for the Heaton family: the two family headstones with their inscriptions for James and his sons Joseph, George and John. These lie in the shadow of the now derelict Twin Chapels in Heckmondwike cemetery.
Notes: 1. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/86; 2.It is unclear if grease is a separate substance, or if it is a local word for oil; 3. Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1863; 4. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 15 February 1879; 5. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 21 February 1874; 6. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 7 February 1874; 7. Using the MeasuringWorth website at https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php, this equates to a real price today of £935,300; 8. £1,500 is equates to a real price today of £153,600 using the above MeasuringWorth website; 9. Sources from the time give her name as Ann Gill, widow from Birstall. After David Miller’s death, Ann remarried in April 1866 at Weeton. Her husband was Samuel Gill. He died in 1868. In 1871 Ann is living with Edward Gill at Hightown, described as his wife. They actually married in August 1873 at St Peter’s, Birstall; 10. Inquest notes, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/36; 11. It’s not clear from the reports, but given George was coming from Dewsbury Moor it is likely he was approaching the Butcher’s Arms crossroads from the Dewsbury Gate Road side, directly opposite Staincliffe Hall Road; 12. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/36; 13. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/53; 14. Inquest notes, West Riding Coroner’s Notebook, West Yorkshire Archives, Ref: C493/K/2/1/86; 15. Ibid; 16.Using the top-end estimate of £15,000, this equates to an eye-watering real price today of £1,632,000 using the above MeasuringWorth website; 17. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 and 5 February 1887; 18. Heckmondwike, where he served one term of three years; 19. Again in Heckmondwike; 20. The Freemason, 28 January 1898.
Other Sources: • 1841 – 1891 Censuses; • Baptism Registers – Birstall St Peter’s, Leicester All Saints and Staincliffe Christ Church; • Directories; • Freemasonry Membership Registers; • GRO Indexes; • Heckmondwike Cemetery Burial Registers; • Marriage Registers – Barnby Dun Parish Church, Birstall St Peter’s, Huddersfield St Pauls and Scarborough St Mary’s; • National Library of Scotland Maps; • National Probate Calendar; • Newspapers, various dates – including Batley News, Batley Reporter and Guardian, Bradford Observer, Dewsbury Reporter, Huddersfield Chronicle, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, Leeds Mercury, Leeds Times, Wakefield Free Press, and Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer; • West Riding Coroner’s Notebook; • Wikimedia Commons;
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 , 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…’  had 343 inhabitants in the 1851 census , the year prior to Robert and Maria’s marriage. Job was baptised in Buckerell parish church on 25 February 1855 .
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 .
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 .
Bicton was a small village of 181 inhabitants in 1871 . 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 . 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… 
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 .
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 . 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) .
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 . 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 , with the family now living in Batley . 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 .
The Kenwood’s Yorkshire life continued. In January 1878 son Robert Henry Kenwood was born at Healey, Batley, completing Job and Ellen’s family . 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 .
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… 
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 .
In 1891 Job, his wife and son were living in a recently built terraced property at Prospect Terrace in Batley . 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).
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.
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 . 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 . 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 .
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 . 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. 
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 . 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 . The business is pictured in a postcard dating from 1904 .
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 . 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 .
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 . 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 . She happened to be one of the daughters of Joshua Taylor, growing up at Healey House whilst Job worked there.
A little over three months later, on 14 April, Ellen was dead . 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 . 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 .
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 .
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  GRO Birth Reference, Honiton, March Quarter 1855, Volume 5B, Page 23, accessed via Findmypast  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;  https://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/4803 accessed 3 April 2020, Buckerell 1851 census data;  Baptism Register, Buckerell parish church, accessed via Findmypast, original record South West Heritage Trust, Reference 1091A/PR/1/3;  1861 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at The National Archives (TNA), Kew, Reference RG09/1377/88/4;  1871 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG10/2046/-/8;  White, William. … Directory of … Devon … (1878-9). Sheffield: William White, 1878., accessed via Ancestry;  Greener, Rosemary Clare. The Rise of the Professional Gardener in Nineteenth-Century Devon ; A Social and Economic History. University of Exeter, 2009;  Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire. London: Kelly & Co., 1893;  Greener, Rosemary Clare. The Rise of the Professional Gardener in Nineteenth-Century Devon ; A Social and Economic History. University of Exeter, 2009;  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;  https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000410, accessed 3 April 2020, Studley Royal, Historic England;  Marriage Register, Nocton parish church, accessed via Findmypast, original record at Lincolnshire Archives, Reference Nocton Parish 1/10;  The 1939 Registergives 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;  GRO Birth Index, June Quarter 1876, Dewsbury, Volume 9B, Page 684, accessed via the GRO Website;  Buckerell parish church burial register, accessed via Findmypast, original record at South West Heritage Trust, Reference 1091A/PR/1/7;  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;  Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale Herald, 23 August 1879;  Ibid, 17 August 1889;  1881 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG11/4549/74/38;  1891 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG12/3721/16/1;  Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 March 1885;  Batley News, 14 April 1886;  Batley News, 26 April 1890;  Batley News, 3 April 1886;  Batley News, 13 November 1891;  Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire. London: Kelly & Co., 1893;  1901 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG13/2022/29/11;  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;  Western Times, 1 December 1903 and 14 June 1904;  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;  1911 census of England and Wales, accessed via Findmypast, original record at TNA, Kew, Reference RG14/12538;  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 January 1936;  Western Times, 17 April 1936;  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 April 1936;  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 February 1937;  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.
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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’ . This sentiment was shared by another Marylebone resident, Ann Halliburton, who wrote ‘I desire the vote’. 
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’ . The occupation of fish merchants’ wife Clara Annie Braithwaite of Cleethorpes was ‘Suffragette’ . 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’ . 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’ .
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! 
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’ .
Other indications of suffrage sympathies included the use of slave as an occupation. Examples here include 52-year-old widow Lucy Gilbert of Bermondsey . Variations on this theme included ‘Domestic Slave’, which was used amongst others by 48-year-old married woman Elizabeth Bond of Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire . ‘Family Slave’ also pops up, including Eleanor Snowden (35), a married woman from Harewood near Leeds .
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 .
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’? .
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)’ ? 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’ . Skip forward to 1881, where George Huyton, a visitor to Parr, St Helens, was described as ‘too lazy to work’ .
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’ .
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’ .
In the same census, over in Bradford, Hannah, the four-month-old daughter of Robert and Hannah Kennedy was ‘constantly crying at home’ .
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’ .
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’ .
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’ .
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’ .
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 .
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’ .
Across in Scarborough, Robert and Elizabeth Knaggs wrote of their three-year-old daughter, Marjorie, ‘Play mostly Crying occasionally’ .
Edna Lee, age three, living with her grandparents and parents in Bradford was described as ‘Eating Drinking Playing’ with ‘Sleeping’ added later in brackets . 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’ .
Harold Urquhart Roberts, age one, living at Farnborough was ‘Eating Drinking & Shouting’ in the ‘Baby’ industry or service .
In Willesden, Gerald Stollery, three, was engaged in ‘mostly destroying toys’, whereas sister Eileen, one, had the sole job of ‘crying’ .
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’ .
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’ . 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…’ .
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.
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 .
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 .
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’ .
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 .
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’ .
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’ .
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]……………) 
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?
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/525
 Ibid, Reference RG14/10034
 Ibid, Reference RG14/518
 Ibid, Reference RG14/548
 Ibid, Reference RG14/551
 Ibid, Reference RG14/19604
 Ibid, Reference RG14/19987
 Ibid, Reference RG14/22674
 Ibid, Reference RG14/3463
 Ibid, Reference RG14/9755
 Ibid, Reference RG14/4634
 Ibid, Reference RG14/1898
 Ibid, Reference RG14/9081
 Ibid, Reference RG14/25953
 1901 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG13/1450/115/26
 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/4250/47/5
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/1315/65/7
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2139/28516
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3738/75/51
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/984
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference HO107/2182/323/26
 Ibid, Reference HO107/2307/72/18
 1881 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG11/3713/113/4
 Ibid, Reference RG11/4085/52/14
 Ibid, Reference RG11/3058/78/19
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/14919
 Ibid, Reference RG14/1555
 Ibid, Reference RG14/29357
 Ibid, Reference RG14/28955
 Ibid, Reference RG14/26788
 Ibid, Reference RG14/11555
 Ibid, Reference RG14/6251
 Ibid, Reference RG14/7004
 1871 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG10/3488/14/22
 1911 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG14/4748
 Ibid, Reference RG14/5376
 Ibid, Reference RG14/5440
 Ibid, Reference RG14/4741
 Ibid, Reference RG14/20398
 Ibid, Reference RG14/28198
 Ibid, Reference RG14/21991
 Ibid, Reference RG14/2457
 1891 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference RG12/292/153/27
 1851 Census of England and Wales, TNA Reference, TNA Reference HO107/2147/273/16
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.
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 , 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!
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 , 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:  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.  These length of service based gratuities were paid upon marriage to permanent female civil servants who had worked a minimum of six (established) years.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Multiple sources were used, including newspaper reports, the official accident report, censuses, civil registration indexes and parish registers.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
Thomas married Harriet Ann McDonagh  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” .
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.
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 .
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.
Thomas, who died in the same street in which he was born, was buried in Batley cemetery on 28 December 1933.
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
Don’t touch bait
with your fingers as rats won’t come near it. Use a spoon tied at the end of a
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: Bradford Daily Telegraph, 16 February 1907;  The spelling of Harriet’s surname varies depending on record, including McDonegh, Donegh, Donagh and McDunach; The Leeds Mercury, 3 November 1926; The Leeds Mercury, 29 September 1923
1871- 1911 censuses
Batley Cemetery Burial Records
General Register Office birth, marriage and death records
‘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.
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 . 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 , 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:
Messrs. Jeremiah Rawson’s Colliery, Swan Bank and Bank Bottom No.11. Edward Jones, aged 9. May 10  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  in and out the hole [tunnel 800 yards to shaft] .
No.12. Edward Butterworth, aged 13. May 10  I hurry corves  for Joseph Jeek; have been employed three years in the pit; I thrust  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]  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 .
No.13. William Whittaker, aged 16. May 10  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 .
The Executors of the late Miss Lister, Lister Wick Coal Pit No.24. John Brook, aged 13. May 15  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 .
No.25. James Grandage, aged 14. May 15  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”  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 .
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
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  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 .
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
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
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  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  (note the published Scriven evidence  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 . 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 .
On 1 March 1839  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 .
On 11 June 1840 30-year-old William Sheard died as a result of an explosion of fire-damp . In addition, five lads were “dreadfully scorched”  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.”  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  as a result of the same incident. His brother had made him go into the pit workings .
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:  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.  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.  Rawson’s Swan Bank Colliery also used horses for part of the process of transporting coal underground.  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.  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. Using your head to push the corves.  Scriven states cakes are either a flat thin coarse oaten cake peculiar to the North or a wheat cake weighing about six ounces.  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.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Cut out the coal. Those mining the coal were known as getters or hewers.  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.  Ibid  Ibid.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 22 September 1838; and The Leeds Times, 22 September 1838.  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.  The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, 1 September 1838. 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.  Ibid.  The Leeds Mercury, 9 March 1839; and The Leeds Times, 9 March 1839. 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.  The Witness, 20 June 1840.  Ibid  The Bradford Observer, 18 June 1840; The Leeds Mercury, 20 June 1840; The Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 21 June 1840.  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.
No-one in Batley foresaw the consequences that the 1856 hanging of the infamous Rugeley Poisoner, Dr William Palmer , 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.” .
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 , 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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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  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 . 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.
 William Palmer website http://staffscc.net/wppalmer/ ;  Household Words, A Weekly Journal, 14 June 1856;  The Leeds Times, 29 November 1856;  The Intelligencer Supplement, 18 October 1856;  The Leeds Intelligencer, 29 November 1856;  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;  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;  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;
Posted onAugust 12, 2019|Comments Off on 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  looking at mines, a series of familiar names featured. Brief extracts were published in various parts of the 1842 Report.
The names were:
collier in poor health, age 53, Birkenshaw;
John Ibbetson, 13½-years-old.
No further details;
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
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 ), was a coal miner. Born in around 1788 in Halifax, by the 1841 census (name recorded as Hibbeson)  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) . Jonathan’s wife, Elizabeth Rushworth, who he married on 25 February 1811 in Halifax Parish Church, which is dedicated to St John the Baptist , 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 ;
John, son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbeson of Swilhill. Baptised 28 August 1814 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden . Possible burial 7 March 1815, age 9 months at the Parish Church of St Mary’s Illingworth. Abode Ovenden ;
James, baptised 16 June 1816 at Mount Zion Chapel, Ovenden. The son of Jonathan and Betty Ibbetson of Skylark Hall ;
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 . 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 ;
Elizabeth (Bettey in the 1841 census) was born in around 1830 likely in Queensbury, although again the censuses for her vary . She was baptised at St Paul’s, Birkenshaw on 25 December 1844. Her parents are named as Jonathan and Elizabeth Ibbotson ; and
Mary was born in around 1832 in Queensbury or Thornton . She was baptised at the same time as sister Elizabeth .
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.
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 . 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  in the pit; two are girls; they are my sisters. They hurry for me. None hurry here with belt and chain . 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 . 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  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  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.
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  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 , 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  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. .
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)  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 , with his age given as 56 [28 and 29], so not quite a fit. His census birthplace is Thornton , 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  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 , 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 . 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’ .
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 .
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 ;
John died in 1844, as mentioned earlier. He was only 17;
Martha married Joseph Hill at Hartshead Parish Church on 21 November 1842  and died 4 February 1881 . Her burial is in the Drighlington St Paul’s register on 7 February 1881 ;
Elizabeth married Joseph Haigh on 1 April 1850 at St James, Tong  and died in 1883. Her burial is entered in the Birkenshaw St Paul’s Register on 31 March 1883 ; and
Mary married James Noble at St Peter’s Bradford parish church on 25 December 1850 . 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 .
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:  Children’s Employment Commission – First Report of the Commissioners: Mines. London: Printed by William Clowes for H.M.S.O., 1842.  The possibilities are endless. Examples include Ibbetson, Ibbotson, Ibotson, Ibbitson, Ibberson, Ibbeson, Hibbison, Hibetson, Hibberson etc.  Hibbeson household, 1841 Census; accessed via Findmypast; original record at The National Archives, UK, Kew (TNA), Reference HO107/1291/4/12/17.  Note this census rounded down to the nearest five years those aged 15 and over.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  Bradford, Queenshead – Halifax, Thornhill, and Queensbury in the censuses between 1851-1881.  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. 1861 and 1871 censuses indicate Thornton; 1881 and 1891 Queensbury. The 1851 states Halifax.  For Mary Ibbotson’s baptism, see .  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.  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.  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.  Coal lies at an inclined plane with the downward inclination known as the dip in Yorkshire.  To push the coal corves with your head.  To idle, or pass the time away.  To earn.  Disabled or worn out.  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…”  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.  Ann’s maiden name has been identified via the GRO indexes for the births of the couple’s children.  Bradford Observer, 21 September 1870.  James Ibbotson, GRO Death Registration, Bradford, September Quarter 1870, Volume 9b, Page 13; accessed via FreeBMD.  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  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.  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.  James Ibbotson GRO Death Registration, Bradford, December Quarter 1847, Volume 23, Page 135; accessed via the GRO website.  1861 census entry for Elizabeth Haigh; accessed via Findmypast; original record at TNA, Reference RG09/3403/114/11.  Jonathan Ibbitson’s Death Certificate; GRO Reference Dewsbury, March Quarter 1857, Volume 9B, Page 322, age 70.  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.  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.  Joseph Hill and Martha Ibbotson, Marriage Certificate; GRO Reference Halifax, December Quarter 1842, Volume 22, Page 197.  Martha Hill, Death Certificate; GRO Reference Leeds, March Quarter 1881, Volume 9B, Page 355, age 57.  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.
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