Tag Archives: Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Miss Olive North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily and Clifford Lockwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr and Mrs Goodall with eldest son Leonard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer

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

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

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

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


Arthur Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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

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

A Workplace With a Deadly History

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.

A later map showing the location of the Chemical Works – Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SW (includes Cleckheaton, Gomersal, Heckmondwike), Surveyed: 1889 to 1892, Published: 1894 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

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 “very lively10 – 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 Crown Hotel with Christ Church, Staincliffe (baptism place of some of the Heaton children) and Staincliffe Hall Road to the right – Photo by Jane Roberts

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.

A map showing the location of the old Batley Cottage Hospital which was in operation between 1878 and 1883 – Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.11 (Batley; Morley), Surveyed: 1889 to 1892, Published: 1894 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

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.

The copyright on this image is owned by Betty Longbottom and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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.

The houses where all three Heaton brothers lived and died – Photo by Jane Roberts

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 Britannia Mills Tragedy – ‘Lord Help Me!’

It was 6pm on the evening of Thursday 20 October 1892. It had been an unsettled, breezy day with the constant threat of rain. As darkness descended, the signal was given for work to cease at Britannia Mills. Looms gradually abated, day-shift weavers turned off their lights, and those women not working overtime tied their handkerchiefs round their heads in preparation to leave the building and venture out into the chill, autumnal night.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.NE, Surveyed 1888-1892, Published 1894

The building on Geldard Road in Birstall, known locally as ‘Slopers’ Mill, was a five-storey structure. The lower two floors were occupied by Messrs. Charles Robinson and Company, Carlinghow woollen manufacturers. The upper storeys were tenanted by Leeds woollen manufacturers Messrs. Hartley Brothers. The top floor contained around 30 looms, with about two thirds operating that Thursday.

Britannia Mills photographed after the July 1905 fire – source unknown

The distance from the ground to the fifth floor was around 30-35 yards [1]. Whilst a long, winding staircase could be used, after a tough day’s work tired workers from the upper floors often preferred to use the mill hoist, commonly used to carry goods between floors. This hoist, located in the centre of the building, controlled a contraption which workers referred to as a cage. Essentially an open-sided box with a wooden roof and floor, it was supported by an iron rope, and worked by pulleys and gearing suspended from girders: in effect a primitive lift system.

For younger workers the journey in this cage no doubt was tremendous fun, adding a frisson of excitement at the end of their arduous workday.

It was set in motion by pulling one of the two guide ropes at the side. One of these ropes acted as a brake. There was no one person designated to operate the hoist. It was started and reversed by the person nearest the ropes, something which might have particularly appealed to teenage boys. Youngsters did not see any danger with it. In fact 15-year-old Hilda North, who had worked in the Hartley portion of the mill for around a week, told her father on the second day there she only got one foot on the hoist when it descended. And it was not unheard of for agile workers to jump into the cage as it passed the lower floors.

The hoist was so popular with the workers that around five weavers from the top floor regularly knocked off at 5.55pm in order to beat the rush, and avoid the inevitable overcrowding. Because overcrowding was commonplace. Reports state many as 20 workers crammed into it on occasions. They rushed to it at the end of their shift, like children racing to leave school. In fact many were only teenagers.

James Gray, the engineman at the mill for eight years and whose responsibilities included looking after the engine powering the mill machinery, had been unaware of any mechanical issues with the hoist in that time. However, it was not his responsibility to oversee and maintain it. And he couldn’t remember any official inspection or maintenance of it by an external official either. The only incident he recalled was around five or six years earlier, when too many people in it caused it to land with a bump.

As a result of that incident the maximum capacity was limited to eight, and pulling on the ropes whilst was in motion was prohibited. The penalty for contravening these instructions ranged from a severe 1s fine to instant dismissal – although it seems these punishments were never meted out. There was a warning note at the hoist entrance, a legacy of the earlier incident, put up by the previous mill owners.

Wording on the Hoist Warning Notice

Although prominent, it was perhaps too high for some even if they could read [2]. Neither were new starters routinely informed about the restrictions; nor did it appear to be discussed generally, not even by those aware that the regulations were regularly being breached.

John Howitt, a warp dresser working at Hartleys for a fortnight, only used the hoist if it did not exceed maximum capacity even if it meant waiting. But he admitted he never thought to warn younger workers ignoring the rules [3]. And 15-year-old Mary Alice Mann, a recently employed weaver at Hartleys stated “I saw other people go down in the hoist, and I went with them.[4] No thought did she give to numbers.

That Thursday evening was no different. Eager workers, keen to quickly return home, rushed and pushed to make their way towards the exit. A crowd on the top floor jostled and jockeyed for position in the cage, with cries of “Let us get in.” Perhaps some on the lower floors had stolen a march, already in the cage before it reached the upper storey, similar to the tricks we use today at busy lifts: that was one rumour circulating later. According to at least one report one lad, Edwin Day, jumped in as it made its descent. In all, it appears around 16 people were now crammed in. It may have even been as many as 18, for collating names from various newspaper reports the occupants included:

  • Fred Beevers, Carlinghow. Born in July 1875, the son of Andrew and Sarah Ann Beevers, in 1891 the family lived on Coal Pit Lane with Fred working as a cloth presser;
  • Elizabeth Birbeck, 38-year-old wife of Turner Birbeck. They lived at Lambsfield Place, Geldard Road, Birstall. She only started work that week as weaver at Hartleys. Other information shows she was born on 7 May 1853, the daughter of John and Hannah Gooder, and she married Turner on 25 October 1873 at St Peter’s Church in Birstall;
  • Edwin Blakey Day, age 14. He was a piecer and the son of postman Ernest Day of Union Street, Birstall [5]. He had worked six months for Robinsons, but was due to start work the following week at Carr Mill;
  • Edith Crossley [6], weaver, wife of James Crossley of Geldard Road. Other sources show she was born in Holmfirth on 8 February 1861, the daughter of Hugh and Mary Ramsden, and married James Booth Crossley on 23 July 1881 at St Saviour’s, Brownhill;
  • Jane Donnelly, Richmond Street, Batley. Looking at other sources it seems likely she was the Dublin-born wife of Richard Donnelly, maiden name Egan. Her age was 30 in the 1891 census and she worked as a woollen machine feeder;
  • Ann Frankland, wife of collier James Frankland, of Britannia Cottages, Geldard Road. Further investigation shows she was born on 18 March 1869 and was the sister of Elizabeth Birbeck. She married James on 1 February 1890 at Batley All Saints;
  • Gooder, sister of Mrs Birbeck. No Christian name is given in the reports, which only mention she is a girl. Although possible this may be the recently married Ann Frankland, it is equally possible this is another of the Gooder sisters. Weight is added to this because in some of the casualty lists both Ann Frankland and ‘a girl named Gooder’ appear. But there is nothing conclusive;
  • Hannah Mary Grayson, Birstall. Putting together other sources she is likely to be the daughter of Solomon and Mary Grayson (and its many surname variants) who was born on 26 November 1863. In the 1891 census she is living with her widowed mother at Cross Street in Birstall [7], and working as a wool cloth weaver. She married George Easby at St Peter’s, Birstall on 8 January 1897;
  • Walter Jones, age 13, piecer, son of tripe dresser Edward Jones and wife Sarah Ann of Low Lane, Birstall. He was born on 12 March 1879;
  • Joshua Kellett, age 15, piecer, son of John and Mary Kellett of White Lee Road, Batley;
  • Nellie Lee, Skelsey Row, Batley;
  • Mary Alice Mann, 15, daughter of Mark and Elizabeth Mann. She was born on 5 November 1876 and lived with her family at Geldard Road, Birstall. She had been employed as a weaver for one week in the Hartley-run portion of the mill;
  • Kate McGuire, a young woman living in Batley. Although unverified, this might have been the 23-year-old niece of Michael McGuire living at Parker Buildings, Whittaker Street in the 1891 census;
  • Henry Mitchell, the son of Annie Mitchell, of Geldard Road, Birstall. Not employed at the mill, he had been there to drop tea off for another worker. The newspaper reports put his age at 9 or 10. My research points he was likely to be 9-year-old Harry Mitchell born on 17 October 1883, the son of Annie and William Mitchell. In 1891 he was living at Geldard Road with his mother and his maternal grandmother Mary Ann Ramsden. He was the nephew of Edith Crossley;
  • Sarah Moon, age 53, weaver and wife of tobacco pipe maker Charles Moon. They lived at Boar Terrace, Geldard Road, Birstall. Sarah and widower Charles married at Tong St James on 9 May 1880 – it was her second marriage too. Sarah was born in Cleckheaton on 24 December 1839, the daughter of James and Sarah Haigh. She married her first husband William Firth in Halifax on 7 October 1860, but was widowed with two young sons, in early 1865. Sarah only started work at Hartley’s on the afternoon of 18 October, in place of Annie Williams who was ill;
  • Hilda North, the daughter of George and his Irish-born wife Ellen North. Born on 11 February 1877, her family home was 22 Carlinghow Lane. When the accident occurred she had worked as a weaver for only one week in the Hartley portion of Britannia Mills. Well-liked by all who knew her, Hilda and her family were long associated with St Mary’s RC Church in Batley. In fact some newspapers claimed Hilda was a member of the church choir, though this was disputed in a subsequent report [8].
  • A boy named Ramsden. There are no further details. It is possible that this might be a confusion with Henry Mitchell (above); and
  • Ada Rymer, age 17 [9]. Born on 31 May 1875, she was the daughter of Thomas and Eliza Rymer. In 1891 the family address was Riding Street, White Lee, Batley;

Elizabeth Birbeck, holding one of the guide ropes, gave the signal and the cage began its descent. It quickly became apparent that things were not right: the cage was travelling faster than usual. Someone called out “Steady it!” Fred Beevers pulled one of the guide ropes which temporarily righted things. However, before it reached the halfway point, it hurtled out of control down the shaft. Shouting “Pull the rope! Pull the rope!” Elizabeth Birbeck grabbed the left hand side, whilst Fred Beevers took hold of the right. The pair desperately battled to steady the cage. Someone else screamed, and Edith Crossley cried out “Let’s jump up,” in a vain attempt to slow the cage’s descent. But in the words of Mary Alice Mann it “banged reight to t’bottom.” As the cage struck the floor Elizabeth Birbeck exclaimed “Lord, help me!” These were her final recorded words.

Some of the occupants were thrown out of the cage which, with the force of the impact, rebounded around three feet into the air. It smashed to the floor for a second time, and this ripped down the hoist’s gears and support girders. Weighing about a ton, these crashed on top of the cage.

The Hoist Gear and Accident Aftermath

The tremendous noise alerted those elsewhere in the mill, and workers rushed to the disaster site. James Gray immediately stopped the engine. Shocked and injured cage occupants emerged coughing and stunned from the dust-shrouded scene. The air gradually cleared, revealing the horrific sight of the crushed and splintered cage. Some mill workers were trapped under the wreckage.

Blocks were hastily assembled and the debris lifted off the badly mangled bodies, with Edwin Day first to be released. Those prominent in the rescue included John Leach, Joseph Wright, John Howitt and W. Lockwood.

News of the accident spread quickly beyond the mill. Crowds gathered at the gates, anxious to hear news of their loved ones. Wider in Birstall, and neighbouring areas, small knots of people gathered to speculate about events. Hushed voices and murmurs, rising to excited and expectant tones as they craned their necks to see the comings and goings at the mill. The local police rushed to the scene, pushing past the throng of people. Birstall doctors, Bridgeman and Field, were quickly summoned to tend to the injured.

By around 6.15pm news of fatalities reached those outside. The arrival of Ambrosine Fox (née Renshaw) must have been a signal, even before the names of the dead seeped out more generally. Married to miner Abraham Fox, the family lived at Chapel Lane in Birstall. Although Ambrosine has no occupation listed in the 1891 census, it seems she was one of the local go-to women for laying out the dead. Maybe she also helped bring local children into the world too, as these two tasks often went hand in hand.

Within the mill boundaries those who perished were taken to the burling shed. Here, illuminated by lamplight, Ambrosine Fox carried out the grim task of carefully laying out their bodies. This traditionally involved undressing and washing them, plugging the various orifices, possibly placing coins on their eyes and something (commonly a bandage) under their chins to keep the eyes and mouth closed. The body would be then dressed in its burial clothes, with bandages or ribbons tied around the body to hold it straight and ready for the coffin.

Four fatalities resulted from the accident, and they suffered horrific injuries caused by the falling debris. Those killed were:

  • Elizabeth Birbeck, the most badly injured. Although her face was unmarked, her body incurred severe crush trauma;
  • Edwin Blakey Day suffered mainly head injuries, but also a broken right leg;
  • Hilda North broke her right leg in two places, her left arm was severed at the elbow, her neck was put out and her head split open; and
  • Sarah Moon had a partially severed right leg, chest crush injuries and a fractured skull.

In terms of the injured, Edith Crossley suffered from shock; Ann Frankland had a broken foot; Walter Jones injured his left knee; Joshua Kellett sustained a broken left arm; Mary Alice Mann escaped with only a black eye; Henry Mitchell bruised his left thigh; and Ada Rymer had severe shock. Fortunately none had life-threatening injuries, and all were taken back to their homes to recuperate. It appears all others in the cage had no injuries of note. The belief was if the hoist gears and girders had remained intact, all inside the cage would have survived. It was the fact they came down which proved fatal.

Families were left mourning their loved ones. They also had the ordeal of the inquest, which opened at Birstall’s Coach and Six Inn within 24 hours of the accident. The current building is a 1950s replacement of the earlier structure. The inquest swiftness was down to the need to keep the bodies fresh. No conclusion was reached at this initial hearing, as a report on the condition of the hoist was deemed necessary. But at least funeral arrangements could now be made.

Later that day, Friday 21 October, Reverend Charles Gordon, the parish priest of St Mary’s, Batley, visited the distressed family of Hilda North to try offer some comfort, but presumably to also discuss these funeral arrangements. As was the custom (and for practical reasons with the majority of bodies still being kept at home between death and burial) funerals quickly followed death. So, on the afternoon of Sunday 23 October, less than 72 hours after the accident, all four interments took place.

A triple ceremony, for Edwin Day, Elizabeth Birbeck and Sarah Moon, was held at St Peter’s, Birstall. The coffins set off from their respective homes, and in a praiseworthy feat of co-ordination by Birstall undertakers Messrs. J Akeroyd and Sons, the processions met up as they journeyed to the church, timed to reach there at 4pm. In the procession were many of those in the hoist when the accident occurred. Crowds lined the route, tears staining the cheeks of bystanders. The numbers led one report to claim that:

…the multitude of people in the town on Sunday…was never exceeded at any time in the annals of the town on an occasion of that description… [10]

St Peter’s Parish Church, Birstall – Photograph by Jane Roberts

As the cortège approached the church, a muffled peal rang out from the church belfry. The three coffins were gently removed from the three hearses in absolute silence and carried into the crowded church for a service. Not all those present could fit in the building, forcing many more to assemble outside. The coffins were then borne to their final resting places in the churchyard, as the solemn, muffled peal of the bell pierced the silence. The sun shone brilliantly throughout, but a bitingly cold wind swept the graveside. There:

The children wailed continuously, the women were loud in their lamentations, and men were completely broken down…[11]

Once the service ended the trio of coffins were covered with earth. Mourners dispersed, offering words of sympathy to the bereaved families as they left. As darkness fell over the now-empty churchyard, the many wreaths laying on the three burial mounds stood silent witness to the tragic events.

That same afternoon Hilda North was committed to rest in Batley cemetery, in a similarly impressive service conducted by the Reverend Charles Gordon. Once more the approach to her final resting place was lined with a huge throng of people. The cemetery too brimmed with mourners, with a vast number of wreaths placed on her grave.

Batley Cemetery, Hilda North’s Damaged Headstone – Photograph by Jane Roberts

The adjourned inquest resumed at the Coach and Six on 28 October, with a report from Bradford engineer John Waugh into the state of the hoist. After establishing this did not contribute to the accident, the jury reached a verdict that:

…the deceased were killed by the falling of the cage of the hoist and the subsequent fall of the gear and supports of the said hoist, by the crowding into the cage of a greater number of persons than it was calculated to carry, and by the improper use of the gear ropes by some of the persons in the cage, that the overcrowding of the cage was in contravention of a warning which was conspicuously pasted up on the door of the hoist chamber…[12]

Britannia Mills in 2020 – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Finally, for those familiar with Birstall and wondering why Britannia Mills today does not bear any resemblance to the five-storey building of 1892, the answer is the all-too familiar fate which befell many mills: fire. In July 1905, when under the ownership of Batley mayor George Hirst and primarily occupied by the Extract Wool and Merino Company which he chaired, a fire took hold and ravaged the building. The reconstruction resulted in the smaller structure we are familiar with today. But as you pass, do pause and think. Over a century ago four local people lost their lives here, simply by going to work. Two of them would, by today’s standards, be still of school age. How times have (thankfully) changed.

Notes:
[1] Some reports say almost 40 yards. 1 yard = 3 feet. I suspect these reports may be an exaggeration, because an official report quoted in the Batley Reporter and Guardian of 29 October 1892 into the state of the hoist mentions the distance from the hoist girders to the floor was 67 feet;
[2] 6 feet off the ground according to Mary Alice Mann;
[3] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 22 October 1892;
[4] Batley News, 28 October 1892;
[5] Some reports say Low Lane. They also incorrectly give his father’s name as Edward;
[6] Some reports incorrectly state Eva;
[7] In the 1891 census she is recorded as Hannah May Grayson, and her mother is Mary Medcalf, TNA Reference RG12/3722/70/17. Her birth in the Dewsbury Registration District in the December quarter of 1863 is under Gration;
[8] Batley News, 28 October 1892;
[9] Newspaper reports give her age as 18;
[10] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 29 October 1892;
[11] Ibid;
[12] Yorkshire Evening Post, 28 October 1892.

Sources:
• 1861-1901 England and Wales censuses;
• Batley All Saints church marriage register;
• Batley Cemetery burial register;
• Batley News – 21 and 28 October 1892, and 21 July 1905;Batley News
– 21 and 28 October 1892, and 21 July 1905;
• Batley Reporter & Guardian
– 22 and 29 October 1892, and 21 July 1905;
• Birstall St Peter’s church parish registers (baptisms, marriages and burials);
• Funeral Practices, British Customs: https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/funeral-practices-british-customs
• Leeds Mercury – 24 October 1892;
Leeds Times – 22 October 1892;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
• Tong St James parish register (marriages);
Yorkshire Evening Post – 21, 24 and 28 October 1892;

A Batley Boy’s Fatal Shooting

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

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

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

Healey Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norfolk Street, opposite Baines Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

This is my summary of events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfred Brearey – The Batley News, 15 September 1917

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

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

Other sources:

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

An Example of Delayed Death Registration – Andrew Callaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wakefield Express – 10 February 1968

Road victim

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

He is thought to have been struck by a vehicle.

Wakefield Express – 17 February 1968

‘Mystery man’s death appeal’

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

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

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

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

NOT KNOWN

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

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

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

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

Wakefield Express – 23 March 1968

Open verdict on man (76) found in road

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE YEARS AGO

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

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

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

NO CLUES

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

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

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

Six things struck me:

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

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

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

Update via Twitter from Chalfont Research (@ChalfontR):

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

Notes

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

The Shocking Death of George Aveyard

Family history at its most basic boils down to births, marriages and deaths. Sometimes it is easy to become immune to the true meaning of the parade of dates marking the start and end of life. There are, after all, so many in a family tree. Occasionally, though, one event does stop you still in your tracks. For me the death of George Aveyard is one such event.

George was the two-year-old son of Daniel and Sophia Aveyard. In the context of my Aveyard One-Name Study, Daniel’s parents were George Aveyard (1780-1854) and his second wife Hannah Asquith. The family originated in the West Ardsley area, but somewhere between March 1832 and June 1841, they moved to Gildersome Street, an area south of the centre of modern-day Gildersome.  

Daniel was the second youngest of George’s 18 children, baptised on 4 August 1830 at St Mary’s, Woodkirk [1]. Evidence strongly suggests George and Hannah were my 4x great grandparents.

Daniel, a coal miner, married Sophia Brook at All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church on 23 August 1852 [2]. Sophia was born on 1 June 1832 and baptised one month later at Woodkirk parish church, her parents being William and Amelia Brook [3].

All Saints, Dewsbury Parish Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

Daniel and Sophia’s marriage resulted in 12 children [4]. So far, I have identified 10 of them – whilst Aveyard is an uncommon name there was more than one Aveyard/Brook marriage in the relevant period. I suspect I have identified at least one of the remaining children, but more work is required (short of purchasing the relevant birth certificates).

The so far identified children are Simeon [5] (birth registered in 1853); George [6] (birth registered in 1855); Sarah Elizabeth [7] (birth registered in 1861); Brook [8] (birth registered in 1863); twins Joseph and Mary [9], whose diminutive name appears to have been Polly [10] – yes, that is a known short form of Mary, (births registered in 1865); Ada [11] (birth registered in 1868). She was buried on 25 April 1869 at St Peter’s Birstall under the name of Adah Aveyard and her father was named as Daniel [12]; Herbert [13] (birth registered in 1870); Richard Newman [14] (birth registered in 1871); and Rachel [15] (birth registered in 1872). She was buried on 21 July 1872 at St Peter’s Birstall with her father named as Dan[ie]l [16].

The events in this post took place in Gildersome Street on 13 August 1858, with the inquest taking place before Coroner Thomas Taylor the following day at the King’s Arms Inn, Gildersome. Whilst many inquest records do not survive for this period, with newspapers being the main information source, we are fortunate that the HM Coroner of Wakefield records at West Yorkshire Archives (Wakefield) includes the notebooks of Thomas Taylor [17] for the period 1852-1900. They include the notes for the inquest of George Aveyard.

A little over two years old, George was able to talk and had been used to walking alone for about six months. Sarah Aveyard (née Stables) the wife of one of Daniel’s older brothers, Thomas, gave an account at the inquest, testifying there were “...always plenty of children playing about” [18] in Gildersome Street where the families lived. 

It was clear that even though a toddler, George was amongst them. Her young nephew had been to her house on morning of his death, leaving at around 11 o’clock heading down the road. So, his aunt clearly had no concerns that he was out and about without his mother.

You can envisage the scene: traditionally based around weaving and cloth manufacture but now becoming a mining village, this was a close-knit community with groups of impoverished, grubby children, the streets their playground, freely popping in and out of houses, many of them occupied by relatives. A place where everyone knew everyone. In this period Gildersome Street really was an Aveyard enclave.

At around 11.45 am George arrived home. His mother, Sophia, gave him a piece of bread and content he once more wandered back outside. At around noon she noticed he was missing. This was out of character, as according to Sophia’s evidence at the inquest “I have not lost him before.” [19]. She sent out her eldest child Simeon to seek him. At this point she believed him to be perfectly safe at his grandmother’s home about 80 yards away. This is most likely to be his paternal grandmother, Hannah Aveyard. 

It was dinner time and Sophia was starting to feel anxious. Another neighbour, widow Elizabeth Buckley, overheard her asking one of her daughters if she had seen George. This would have been just gone one o’clock. Elizabeth in fact had seen George two or three times that morning. 

Now events took on a dark, stuff of nightmares turn. Alice Aveyard, described as “going in [sic] 11 years” [20], daughter of Thomas and Sarah, and therefore cousin of little George, was the one who made the horrific discovery. I imagine it would haunt her until her dying days, a scene no adult, let alone a child, could never unsee.  

According to her inquest evidence:

“…I went yesterday afternoon to George Buttery’s privy adjoining the Wakefield and Bradford Road. The door was wide open. On looking thro’ the hole in the seat I saw a bare knee in the soil and I imm[ediat]ely gave an alarm.” [21]

In the 1851 census, Thomas and Sarah Aveyard’s household details were adjacent to the entry for the family of George Buttery. In other words they were close neighbours.

So what was a privy? Well, I’ll start by saying a privy was a far cry from the flushing, sanitary toilets of today. Improvements had, in fact, commenced with the landmark 1848 Public Health Act which decreed:

“That it shall not be lawful newly to erect any House, or to rebuild any House pulled down to or below the Floor commonly called the Ground Floor, without a sufficient Watercloset or Privy and an Ashpit furnished with proper Doors and Coverings.” [22]. 

There were also provisions for the newly created Local Boards of Health to issue notices where any houses had insufficient provision:

 “..whether built before or after the Time when the act is applied to the District in which it is situate…” [23] 

But this is a bit of gloss which belies the true unsanitary, conditions. In the period a privy was essentially nothing more than a small wooden, sometimes brick, building which could be shared by several families. The implication, however, in the inquest notes is that the Gildersome Street houses by 1858 did not have massive communal privies shared by scores of people. Alice’s evidence is that this one belonged to one household, that of George Buttery.  Sarah Aveyard in her evidence stated:

“The privy does not belong to Daniel Aveyard’s house.” [24]

Number of families aside, the very basic interior design was a wooden board with a hole cut into it. In fact, there could be more than one hole, and these not necessarily divided into separate cubicles. 

Excreta (liquid and faeces) would drop through this hole and the waste would drain and collect into cesspits. These were generally porous for the liquid matter to drain away, though this did not always happen. And when it did operate correctly, the question is where did it seep to and what contamination did it cause? The (hopefully but not always) dry waste would build up and eventually be shovelled out by night soil men. And yes, it was a job carried out under the cover of darkness.  The waste would then be sold on for manure.

So, the soil referred to in Alice’s evidence was actually a euphemism for human excreta.  

Even if not serving a large number of houses, the stench surrounding these privies would be unimaginable at any time of year, never mind August and the height of summer. And it was in this hell hole that a child was trapped.

Alice went to tell her mother she had seen a child’s leg in the privy. It was about quarter past one in the afternoon. Sarah returned with her daughter to the appalling scene, saw the knee and screamed. This attracted the attention of some local women, including Elizabeth Buckley. 

The women removed George’s body, which was lodged head first in the soil (think about the true meaning of the word soil in this context). Elizabeth testified that when they extracted him, he was dead, his eyes were partly open, there was no froth about his nose and, she observed when she washed his body, that he had no signs of injury. She also stated the the privy seat was not broken and in good order.

In other words this appeared to rule out any foul play, which view the inquest jury duly took. Its verdict was that George had “accidentally suffocated.” It is a verdict which does not even begin to capture the hideous circumstances surrounding this young child’s death.

Back in 1858, with its alarmingly high childhood mortality rates, a child’s death was not the unexpected event it is today in 21st century England. But a child’s death in such a ghastly accident was utterly shocking. Perhaps this was the reason Daniel, Sophia and their family had left Gildersome Street by the time of the 1861 census, and had moved to Boggart Lane in the Howden Clough area of Batley, near Still House Farm, which stands today [26]. They wanted to escape the scene of such personal family trauma?

Such was the hideous nature of George’s death, the inquest was widely reported in local newspapers, as typified by the 21 August 1858 edition of the Pontefract Advertiser [26] which recorded:

SHOCKING DEATH OF A LITTLE BOY – An inquest was held on Saturday, at the King’s Arms Inn, Gildersome before T. Taylor, Esq., on the body of George Aveyard, aged two years, son of Daniel Aveyard, coal miner. On Friday last, about noon, deceased went out of his father’s house, and no more was seen of him until one and two in the afternoon, when he was discovered in the soil of an adjoining privy. When extricated he was found to be quite dead….”

It is a death which over 160 years later, and amidst so many other deaths recorded in the course of my family history research, I cannot forget and one that does not cease to sicken.

As for location, the buildings of Gildersome Street have long been erased from maps. Ironically the present-day area is one which I frequently visit. It lies among the network of busy roads and the industrial estate areas, all within minutes walking distance from where West Yorkshire Archives (Leeds) now stands.

Notes

  • [1] Baptism of Daniel Aveyard, St Mary’s Woodkirk Baptism Register. Accessed viaWest Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: WDP108/1/2/1
  • [2] Baptism of Sophia Brook, St Mary’s Woodkirk Baptism Register. Accessed viaWest Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; New Reference Number: WDP108/1/2/2
  • [3] Marriage of Daniel Aveyard and Sophia Brook, All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church. Marriage Register Accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Leeds, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Reference Number: WDP9/28
  • [4] 1911 Census, Aveyard family entry. Although Sophia is now a widow her Particulars as to Marriage details have been completed. Accessed via Findmypast. Originals at The National Archives, Kew. Reference RG14PN27255
  • [5] Birth Registration of Simeon Aveyard, March Quarter 1853, Hunslet Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 219, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [6] Birth Registration of George Aveyard, December Quarter 1855, Hunslet Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 184, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [7] Birth Registration of Sarah Elizabeth Aveyard, June Quarter 1861, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 475, Mother’s Maiden Name Brooke. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [8] Birth Registration of Brook Aveyard, December Quarter 1863, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 502, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [9] Birth Registration of Mary and Joseph Aveyard, March Quarter 1865, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 550, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [10] 1891 Census, Aveyard family entry. Accessed via Findmypast. Originals at The National Archives, Kew. Reference RG12/3722/12/17
  • [11] Birth Registration of Ada Aveyard, June Quarter 1868, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 575, Mother’s Maiden Name Brooke. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [12] Burial of infant named Adah Aveyard, 29 April 1869 at St Peter’s, Birstall. Accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP5/1/4/3
  • [13] Birth Registration of Herbert Aveyard, March Quarter 1870, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 578, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [14] Birth Registration of Richard Newman Aveyard, March Quarter 1871, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 604, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [15] Birth Registration of Rachel Aveyard, March Quarter 1872, Dewsbury Registration District, Volume 9B, Page 603, Mother’s Maiden Name Brook. Accessed via the General Register Office Website Birth Indexes.
  • [16] Burial of infant named Rachel Aveyard, 21 July 1872 at St Peter’s, Birstall. Accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985 [database on-line]. Originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; New Reference Number: WDP5/1/4/4
  • [17] Taylor was the coroner for the Honour of Pontefract from 1852-1900, deputy county coroner 1855, 1861-1864, and county coroner 1864-1900.
  • [18] Coroner’s notes at the inquest into the death of George Aveyard, 14 August 1858 Originals at West Yorkshire Archives, Thomas Taylor, West Yorkshire Coroner’s Notebooks June to November 1858, Reference C493/K/2/1/9
  • [19] Ibid
  • [20] Ibid
  • [21] Ibid
  • [22] Public Health Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vict. c.63), An Act for promoting the Public Health – 31st August 1848. Accessed via Legislation.gov.uk website, delivered by The National Archives http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/11-12/63/contents/enacted
  • [23] Ibid
  • [24] Coroner’s notes at the inquest into the death of George Aveyard, 14 August 1858 – Ibid
  • [25] Example of a dry toilet for illustrative purposes. This one is from a railway station in Vrbčany in the Czech Republic. Source Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Suchy_zachod_zastavka_Vrbcany_detail.jpg, Attributed to Ludek [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
  • [26] 1861 Census, Aveyard family entry. Accessed via Findmypast. Originals at The National Archives, Kew. Reference RG09/3401/107/24
  • [27] Identical reports featured in The Leeds Mercury of 17 August 1858 and The Leeds Intelligencer of 21 August 1858

Mother-in-Law Murderer – Unlucky Friday 13th

Friday 13 June 1794 proved an unfortunate day for both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Both ultimately paid with their lives. One suffered a slow, agonising death. The other’s head was subsequently placed in a noose. Mary and Ann Scalberd are names long since forgotten, but in the summer of 1794 they must have been the talk of Batley and Dewsbury, if not Yorkshire.

The unusual name “Scalberd” has a number of spelling variations in the records, including Scalbird, Scalbirt and Scalbert. But, to avoid confusion, I will stick with “Scalberd”.

On 6 April 1760 Benjamin Scalberd, from Batley, married Mary Milnes at Dewsbury Parish Church. It appears clothier Benjamin and Mary had four children – John baptised on 16 January 1761, Mary on 21 March 1762 and Moses on 7 October 1764; there is also a burial for a second daughter, Sarah, on 4 May 1772, but I have not traced her baptism. All these events took place at Batley Parish Church. The same church hosted the marriage on 22 January 1787 of their son Moses to Nancy Oldroyd, daughter of Joseph Oldroyd. Like his father, Moses worked as a clothier.

Seven years later his wife faced accusations of murdering his mother.

Batley Parish Church – by Jane Roberts

Coroner Richard Linnecar heard evidence of the circumstances surrounding Mary’s death at the Batley Carr inquest on 21 June 1794. Witnesses included Mary’s son John and unmarried daughter Mary, along with Sarah Newsham, two surgeons and two employees of a third surgeon. Although none of the witnesses actually saw the incident, the dying woman told several of them what occurred.

Witnesses stated Mary Scalberd was very well on the morning of 13 June. That afternoon Ann, known to the family as Nance, begged Mary to come to her house to look after her children whilst she went out on an errand. Batley parish church records show the baptism of one child to Moses and Ann, a daughter Sally, born on 23 May 1793. However the statements imply the couple had at least one other child.

When Ann returned from her outing she insisted Mary eat some warm milk and sops she had prepared for the children. Initially Mary refused, saying the children needed it more. Ann continued to press her until eventually Mary gave in. When she reached the bottom of the pot containing the concoction she noticed a gritty substance. Challenged by Mary as to what it was, Ann claimed perhaps some lime had fallen into the container. One witness, John, stated his mother told him when she accused Ann of poisoning her, Ann left the room without uttering a word.

Within half an hour of having the milk Mary was taken ill. Her daughter, who lived in Batley Carr, and confusingly also called Mary, told the inquest she saw her mother later that afternoon by which time her now swollen body was wracked by violent bouts of sickness and diarrhoea. Her mother accused Ann of poisoning her. Mary stayed with her throughout these final agonising days, during which her mother suffered “the utmost misery and pain”.

The horror of her decline is unimaginable, both for Mary and those witnessing the scene. No indoor flushing toilets, plentiful clean water and disinfectants. Instead sparsely furnished, basic houses with few rooms and comforts, possibly not even a bed per person. And all the time unremitting episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea, with no treatment other than possibly pain relief.

Other visitors to the sickbed included Sarah Newsham, a married woman from Batley Carr. According to her, the rapidly declining Mary “constantly said that Nance Scalberd had poisoned her and if she died at that time she ought to be hanged”.

Son John Scalberd, residing in the Chapel Fold area of Batley, gave similar evidence. He saw his seriously ill mother on 15 June and her condition, combined with her allegations, caused him so much concern he immediately sent for a Dewsbury surgeon, George Swinton. The circumstances and her symptoms, including the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea, led the experienced doctor to suspect ingestion of arsenic.

Arsenic was cheap and readily available during this period. Used around the house for vermin control, it was also popular with those owning sheep as a sheep scab treatment. In the 18th century this involved applying hand washes containing lime, mercury, nicotine, turpentine or arsenic. As a poison, it resulted in an excruciating death over a number of days. The symptoms included fluid accumulation, nausea, constant vomiting, diarrhoea which was often blood-streaked, excessive thirst, a feeling of pressure and swelling in the stomach, intense pain and distressingly, up until the end stages, the victim remained lucid. However many of these symptoms could equally apply to common illnesses such as English cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea. This, combined with the lack of a definitive test and rudimentary medical expertise about poisoning, resulted in only a small number of trials and convictions in this period.

The doctor was unable to do anything to save Mary. She endured agonising suffering for six days, before she finally died on 19 June. However, his suspicions meant he referred the case. Another eminent local surgeon was sent for, Benjamin Sykes of Gomersal. Both he and Dr Swinton opened up Mary for the inquest on 21 June. They concluded her death was the result of arsenic.

Collection: Wellcome Images Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The final two inquest witnesses worked in the shop of Dewsbury surgeon Robert Rockley Batty. They claimed that on, or just before 13 June, Ann Scalberd attempted to buy a penny-worth of white mercury (the name by which arsenic was known in Yorkshire) from the surgeon’s assistant, Henry Hudson. She claimed she wanted it for sheep. Hudson explained that they never sold it. His evidence was backed up by Peter Cannings, a book-keeper for the surgeon. Was this the errand Ann did whilst her mother-in-law looked after the children? To buy the poison with which to commit murder.

Mary was buried the day after the inquest, on 22 June, at Batley Parish Church. As a result of the inquest Ann Scalberd was committed to York Castle, charged with the wilful murder of Mary Scalberd. She would appear at the York Summer Assizes at the beginning of August. They took place in front of Sir Giles Rooke and Sir Soulden Lawrence.

Ann’s trial contained a very curious incident, subsequently cited in case law. During examination of one of the first witnesses a juror, Thomas Davison, fell down in a fit. The trial was halted and the juror carried off to a public house to recover. He failed to return and eventually another juror, accompanied by a bailiff, were dispatched to enquire as to his health. The juror duly reported back. Mr Davison would not be well enough to continue. Justice Lawrence discharged the jury and ordered the swearing in of another. This comprised the initial 11 well jurors plus another. The trial continued.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, including that Ann visited several shops attempting to procure the poison, the jury had no hesitation in delivering a guilty verdict to an impassive Ann. She was sentenced to death.

A second trial twist then occurred. Ann “pleaded the belly”. In other words she declared she was pregnant, knowing this could be a chance to evade the death penalty. The authorities would not execute a pregnant woman, as this would take an innocent life. If a woman was deemed “quick with child”, that is the foetus could be felt to move which was deemed the point when the unborn child had a soul, the execution would be delayed till after birth. Inevitably this meant it would not take place at all, the sentence probably commuted to imprisonment.

In order to establish the validity of this, a jury of matrons was convened. It comprised 12 older women, pulled together from those within the court room, with experience of pregnancy. They adjourned to a private room to conduct the examination.

Ann’s last-minute ploy failed. The women reported back – Ann was not pregnant.  She would face the death penalty. One newspaper, the “Leeds Intelligencer” stated she now confessed her guilt. However the motive for murder remains shrouded in mystery.

Between 1735-1799, 703 death sentences were passed at York Assizes, resulting in 217 executions. Ann’s execution took place on 12 August 1794 at Tyburn, south of the city and the Knavesmire area which now forms part of York racecourse. This is the spot where highwayman Dick Turpin met the same fate in 1739. Ann was one of only three people hung there in 1794, and her execution is a rare occurrence of a woman receiving the death penalty. Her body was given to surgeons for dissection. Her husband Moses died within months and was buried on 7 December 1794 at Batley.

Site of York Gallows – Jeremy Howat. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is my final post about Batley in my March focus on local history.

Sources:  

  • The National Archives, Northern & North-Eastern Assize Papers, Reference ASSI 45/38/2/84B-84C – Ann Scalbird (Depositions) – Thanks to Carole Steers
  • Batley All Saints Parish Registers
  • Dewsbury All Saints Parish Registers
  • Newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive, FindMyPast – Bury & Norwich Post 6 August 1794, Derby Mercury 14 & 21 August 1794, Kentish Weekly Post & Canterbury Journal 17 August 1794 and Leeds Intelligencer 30 June & 18 August 1794
  • Poisoned Lives – Katherine Watson
  • Capital Punishment UK – http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/
  • British Executions – http://www.britishexecutions.co.uk/
  • The New and Complete Newgate Calendar: Or Villany Displayed in All its Branches, Vol 6
  • Cases in Crown Law, Vol 2 (1815)
  • A Short History of Sheep Scab – J D Bezuidenhout
  • Wellcome Images, Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Wikimedia Commons – site of York Gallows by Jeremy Howat

The Fateful Effects of Intemperance: Knife Crime & Premature Death

In “Attempted Murder in Halton” I wrote about the nasty confrontation which occured in 1842 between my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his eldest son William. This resulted in the detention of Francis, accused of stabbing his son in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

I was reminded once more of Francis whilst doing my Cause of Death Pedigree Charts. He died on 5 April 1857 in Leeds Infirmary.  

Described as a farmer, his death certificate states he died as a result of “Disease of the Brain”. I think farmer was used in its loosest terms. The 1847 Tithe Map of Temple Newsam shows Francis renting a cottage and garden in Halton from Joseph Asquith. The cottage was the equivalent of 1 perch and the garden 15 perches. A perch equates to 1/160th of an acre. The cottage and garden were not adjacent and the area was surrounded by mainly grassland with some patches of cultivated land. So he did have a little land to cultivate, but not a farm. And I can’t see things changing at the time of his death.

Starting off as a butcher, essentially throughout most of his adult life Francis worked as a general labourer. He, and some relations, seemed to have set up together as hay dealers in the 1820s, but this petered out. Other sources at the time of his death described him as labourer, and putting it together with all other documented sources for his occupation I’m inclined to question the death certificate information.  

The death certificate also inaccurately gives his age at death as 71. Wrong – he was 67 years old. 

Francis’ funeral took place at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 7 April.  

Whitkirk Parish Church

 I did wonder about his cause of death and why it occurred in Leeds Infirmary. Also his death was registered by the Coroner, Mr Blackburn. So what had happened?  

Further investigations left me stunned. 

With hindsight the drunken argument with his son 15 years earlier provided a clue. Things though hadn’t always been so bleak for Francis. When I first started researching him I felt optimistic that he and his wife Grace Pennington (in early documents her family name appears as Penitent) would have a fairly good life. They married by licence at St Mary’s Whitkirk on 25 September 1811. This, I hoped, was an indication of a more comfortably off background, where life wouldn’t be quite such a struggle. 

Initially they settled in Francis’ home parish of Sherburn in Elmet. This is where their first two children were baptised, Mary (1812) and William (1814). And it is where William was buried in 1815.  

By the time their next child was born the family were back in Halton, from where the Pennington family hailed. This baby was also named William. He of the 1842 stabbing incident. And his baptism was not without controversy either.  

The parish register entry at St Mary’s Whitkirk, records William’s baptism on 14 July 1816. However his surname is down as Pennington, and the entry states he was the illegitimate son of Grace. This was an extremely serious error. If left uncorrected the stigma could have significant consequences in terms of the family’s perception amongst their neighbours as well as for William’s future inheritance rights. At a time before general registration and birth certificates, the entry in the parish register was crucial providing legal proof of the antecedents of an individual, so the error could have grave implications. It came to light weeks later and the register does contain a corrigendum, a reflection of the legal importance of baptism entries. 

It is not clear exactly how the error was discovered, but the correction does contain hints and it is clear that Francis took swift action to put the record straight. The fact that the couple’s marriage took place within the parish and appeared in the marriage register would have simplified a resolution of matters. 

A note in the parish register states that on 1 September 1816, when William was brought to church having being privately baptised on 14 July, the original entry was discovered to be erroneous, Grace being lawfully married. It points out that the correct entry should read that William was the son of Francis and Grace Hill of Halton and that Francis worked as a butcher. Both the vicar and Francis signed the amendment. Perhaps the private nature of the baptism is a clue – William may have been ill at birth and the baptism rushed, possibly not in church, without Francis’ attendance.  

Francis and Grace had four further children: Joseph (1821), John (1822), Francis (1824) and Sarah (1827).

Back to events in April 1857 and his cause of death. One headline in the 11 April edition of the “Leeds Times” summed it up: “Frightful Death Of An Intemperate Man”. On the same day the “Leeds Intelligencer” reported under the banner “Deaths from Drunkenness” 

The multiple use of the word “death” shows this wasn’t an isolated incident. Alcohol-related deaths featured regularly in the Victorian newspapers. The 1830 Beerhouse Act (amended 1834 and 1840) was designed to curb the consumption of gin and steer working people towards the lesser evil of beer drinking. The Temperance Movement of the time supported the change. They were primarily an anti-spirit movement in the early 19th century, who regarded beer as more wholesome alternative.  

However the Acts led to the rapid expansion of beer drinking establishments. Drunkenness from beer drinking was added to that from gin drinking, and the Temperance Movement switched to being one of teetotalism. Newspapers were filled with tales and warnings of the evil of intemperance, its effects and impact on the moral, social and industrial fabric of Victorian society. 

 Francis’ life, and death, should be seen in the context of this background.

At midnight on Thursday 2 April, Francis was discovered in a state of helpless intoxication, lying in mud, on York Road. He was taken to the police station and from there to Leeds Infirmary. He died in the hospital on Sunday 5 April, just over two days after his prone body was stumbled upon. 

The inquest took place on 6 April. It appears from the unnamed witness that Francis was a regular and well-known drinker in the area – the number of Halton beerhouses, inns and taverns would have provided ample opportunity for socialising of an evening. York Road was less than a mile north of where Francis lived. How long he lay in the dark, wet, unlit road before his discovery is not mentioned in the reports. Neither is the person who found him named, but presumably the fact that he was taken to the police station and not to his home may indicate it was not a friend searching for Francis.  

In accordance with the evidence presented by Mr R.G. Hardwick, house surgeon to the Infirmary, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “Died from disease of the brain; but whether it was induced by lying in the wet, or some other cause, there was no evidence to show”. 

Once again the family were centre-stage for the wrong reasons. The events surrounding Francis’ death would have been the topic for much tittle-tattle in the local community, only adding to the family’s anguish. Maybe older residents remembered the earlier incident of 1842, and all this too was dredged up by Halton gossips, much to the embarrassment of the family. Perhaps the mental afflictions of Grace’s aunt were also poured out by these same scandalmongers. 

Francis’ widow Grace died in 1873. In the years after Francis’ death she features regularly in the Whitkirk parish charities’ records, receiving money from four separate parish charities. And in the 1871 census, age 80, she still worked as a herb gatherer, an indication of the tough financial circumstances of her old age. But her life wasn’t always thus. I will return to another twist in her story at a later date. And that twist may also shed further light on the 1842 stabbing.

Sources:

  • Illustration of Whitkirk Parish Church by J.A. Symington from Morkill & Platt’s “Records of the Parish of Whitkirk” 1892. Copyright expired and in the public domain
  • Death Certificate for Francis Hill
  • Whitkirk Parish Records – parish register & charities’ records
  • Leeds Times” & “Leeds Intelligencer” – 11 April 1857 -FindMyPast newspapers
  • Tracks in Time, the Leeds Tithe Map Project: http://www.tracksintime.wyjs.org.uk

Cancer, Colic, Chest Complaints & Constipation: Causes of Death

Following my Birthplace Pedigree post, I’m turning my attention to a more macabre topic: a Cause of Death Pedigree.

Victorian Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

This is based on evidence provided in death certificates, so is time limited to after the introduction of General Registration in July 1837. Burial entries in parish registers have provided a cause of death for some of my ancestors prior to this date. However, given the small numbers this applies to and the fact these are normally reserved for “unusual” deaths, for the purposes of this exercise I decided against including them.

As it is based on the General Registration period it goes beyond the popular five generation format for my English lines. For my Irish ones I’ve had much less success. The other tweak is I’ve started with my grandparents as, thankfully, my parents are still alive. Something I didn’t think would be possible this time last year when my dad was living under the shadow of a terminal cancer diagnosis and given a matter of weeks to low months to live. That turned out to be a misdiagnosis, only discovered 12 months later…..but that’s a whole new story.

I’ve also gone beyond a simple cause of death. I’ve included ancillary conditions listed on the death certificate. I’ve also included an age and year of death to see if the length of my ancestor’s lives improved in line with medical and public health advances. Where I have no proof of birth date I have accepted the age of death given on the certificate, although for some I do have doubts. If I know the age is definitely wrong on the death certificate, through other documentary evidence such as a birth certificate or baptism entry, I have amended it to reflect my ancestor’s correct age at death.

I’ve created separate charts reflecting the lines of all my grandparents. Those charts containing Irish ancestry are significantly shorter than the ones for my English branches.

The first, for my paternal grandmother, is one such example. This is very limited in terms of cause of death information. As yet I’ve to trace death certificates for three of my four Irish 2x great grandparents.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandma Hill 2

Chart 1: Paternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The next charts (2a and 2b) reflect the causes of death in my paternal grandfather’s line. His is a mix of English and Irish ancestry. Because of the size I’ve split this one in half. The cross-over point is my 3x great grandparents, who feature in both parts. Hopefully this makes things easier to read than a 17th century document!

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3a

Chart 2a: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

 

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3b

Chart 2b: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

The next set of charts are for my maternal grandmother, a purely English line. Again, given the size, I’ve split this into two parts. My 3x great grandparents are the cross-over point featuring at the end of  3a and the start of 3b:

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1a

Chart 3a: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

 

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1b

Chart 3b: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The final pedigree chart is another Irish one, my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandpa Callaghan 1

Chart 4: Maternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

One feature I was pleased, and surprised, to see is the relative longevity of both my maternal and paternal lines. I’m hoping that holds true, given my impending surgery. The average age of death for mum’s line is 71 and dad’s 66, far higher than I anticipated before doing this analysis. It illustrates yet again childhood was the most dangerous period. By their very nature direct line ancestors survived till adulthood – and mine seemingly fared well in the longevity stakes.

The range of death causes, particularly on dad’s side, also struck me. Looking at his line the most common death cause appears to be general old age. And sticking with this branch, in terms of diseases traditionally associated with Victorian England, phthisis (TB) struck a couple of ancestors, and that was it despite living in increasingly urban areas of Yorkshire.

Of note is the ovariotomy resulting in the death of my 3x great grandmother in 1881, a procedure with a lamentable success rate in this era. In fact, controversially during this period, an ovariotomy could be performed to remove normal ovaries, not just for treating diseases such as cysts and tumours.  This practice started in 1872 and it became the fashionable treatment for menstrual madness, pre-menstrual syndrome, neurasthenia and “all cases of insanity“. The practice of removing normal ovaries was supported by distinguished gynaecologists and psychiatrists, becoming one of the great medical scandals of the 19th century.

Turning to mum’s side, other than general old age, chest problems feature prominently. Some are occupational, but others are definitely not. These range from bronchitis and pneumonia to long term conditions such as asthma. There are also a number of possible stroke-related deaths. The diabetes-related death of my great grandfather has health repercussions in the family today. And once again there are very few of those historic infectious diseases particularly associated with the 19th century. There is a single case of typhus.

A few other quick points, not rocket science but amply illustrated in this “cause of death” sample:

  • the imperfection of diagnosis in the 19th century. Not a shock, given my 21st family example. But it’s interesting to see concrete demonstrations back then. One of my ancestors has a death certificate which actually states “1 day ill, cause not known“.  Another certificate stated “cramps“;
  • linked to these diagnostic limitations, perhaps some of these cases of old age, general debility and natural decay, as well as prostate gland enlargement, masked other illnesses such as cancer. Cancer started appearing in death causes for my family in the early 20th century, particularly on my paternal line;
  • illnesses manageable or treatable today, such as bronchitis, asthma and diabetes, were fatal back then. Some other conditions are curable. One of my ancestors died of an obstruction in the bowels from costivenes (a word for constipation). Again an imperfect diagnosis, possibly cancer, but potentially eminently treatable in the 21st century; and
  • despite the passage of time and medical advances, my oldest ancestor in this sample died in 1852 age 96. So luck plays a part.

I’ve found this exercise particularly worthwhile and informative on a number of levels. Apart from the causes of death and ages, it has highlighted there are three English death certificates on my maternal line I need to track down. So a genealogical help, encouraging a critical review of information and information gaps. Also, looking to the future, there are definite identifiable illness susceptibilities which feature in the descendants of these ancestors today. So potentially a medical help.