Tag Archives: Local History

A Rifleman’s Crime of Passion

Murder! Murder! He’s murdering our Hannah in the house!’ The terrified screams of an old lady tore through the night silence of Batley’s Hume Street and New Street area. It was around 11pm on Saturday 19 August 1865.

Joseph Pease, a labourer living near to the Brook household, heard the cries for help, and rushed into the two-roomed cottage, home of 60-year-old widow Sarah Brook (also known as Sally). A horrific tableau met his eyes. The compact downstairs area, comprising a kitchen with stone stairs leading to the upper chamber, a fireplace directly facing the entrance door and to the right a cupboard bed, was blood splattered, from floor to furniture and walls. A young boy, the grandson of the old lady, cowered screaming on the far side of the bed, trying to evade danger. Plunging a bayonet repeatedly into his neck stood a youth, dressed in Rifle Corps uniform. Facing the youth, at the far side of the kitchen, was 18-year-old Hannah Brook, daughter of Sarah. Dressed in a black frock, blood was pouring from her neck and mouth. Another witness described how blood was ‘sponging from a hole in her side.’ [1]

Pease rushed at the man, 19-year-old Eli Sykes, and seized him, though he was stabbed in the thigh and slightly injured in the struggle. William Fawcett, a cabinet maker, who had been visiting his father-in-law in Hume Street, followed up and managed to wrench the bayonet, dripping with blood from assailant and victims, from Sykes. He removed it from the scene for safety.

Others swiftly appeared, alerted by the commotion. Someone carried Sarah Brook, her white nightdress now blood-soaked, to the bed where she died. Others gave Hannah water. She attempted to speak, but could not. Within minutes she too was dead. Both women had received multiple stab wounds (Sarah nine and Hannah seven), including fatal punctures to their hearts.

Meanwhile, the police arrived at the house, now surrounded by hundreds of people despite it being nearly midnight. Sykes was restrained in a chair. His rifle was on a table, the stock broken in two. Police Sergeant English, of the West Riding Constabulary, charged the silent Sykes with murder. At this point he finally opened his eyes and looked towards the bed where the two women lay.

Dr William Bayldon, amongst those officials summoned to the house, examined Sykes’ wounds and found them not to be serious. He declared hind sufficiently fit to be transferred to the Dewsbury lock-up. Here Dr W.H. Thornton re-examined the prisoner and agreed that, although the wounds were deep, they were not fatal.

On Tuesday 22 August 1865 the double funeral of Sarah and Hannah Brook took place at Batley Parish Church. People arrived at Batley railway station by the trainload. Many viewed the corpses, laid out in the very room where they met their brutal fate less than three days before. The faces of the deceased were bare, heads covered by skull-caps, countenances placid and at peace.

People from across the West Riding, including Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax and Heckmondwike, lined the funeral route. Estimates put the numbers of spectators in the region of at least 20,000. The church was packed with people in their working clothes. Amongst those paying their final respects was a young man from Wakefield – James Henry Ashton.

Female acquaintances carried the coffins of the women to their burial place: older women carried the coffin of Sarah, whilst young mill girls carried Hannah’s. They were interred in a grave around 20 yards away from the church yard entrance gates, on the south east side of the church.

Batley Parish Church – Photo by Jane Roberts

The murders horrified not only those living in the growing, industrial mill town of Batley, but sent shockwaves across the country. The recurring question was why? What had caused a seemingly law-abiding young man to commit such a brutal crime?

Initial details began to appear through official channels in days after the murder. Two inquest hearings took place before the Coroner at the White Hart Hotel in Batley, a local pub which is now a residential property. A wilful murder verdict resulted .

© Copyright Betty Longbottom and licensed for reuse under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Eli also appeared before the local magistrates. In his initial appearance, a seated Eli looked weak with a scarf round his neck, but with scarcely any evidence of his self-inflicted throat wounds. The main hearing took place at Dewsbury court house.

As a result of this magistrates hearing, Eli was committed to trial at the next Leeds Assizes on a murder charge. Here, at Leeds Town Hall on 19 December 1865, the full case was heard. It provided even more information and drama to an eager audience.

Hannah Brook was born in Batley in 1847, the daughter of weaver Mark Brook and his wife Sarah (née Darnbrook). Sarah was previously married to Robert Fearnley, who died in 1837, so Hannah had a number of half-siblings. By 1861 the family had moved from the Havercroft area of Batley to Hume Street, and in July 1864 Mark died. Thereafter Sarah lived upon the income derived from a small property near Batley [2]. Hannah, described as a cheerful girl, worked as a mill hand [3] at Alexandra Mill in Batley.

Eli Sykes was a cloth-finisher. Born in Ossett in 1846 he was the son of cordwainer John Sykes and his wife Sarah Ellis. The family moved to Dewsbury in around 1850/51, and by 1865 they lived at Batley Carr, almost opposite Holy Trinity Church. Although described as holding a humble position in society, they were a very respectable family.

After the events that fateful August night, a few isolated newspapers described Eli as a shady young man, with a wild, roving disposition who had caused much trouble for his parents since leaving Sunday School. But these are outliers. The overwhelming number of accounts testify to his good character. They paint a picture of a well-behaved, quiet, industrious young man. One work colleague, William Bentley Walton described him as straightforward and peaceable. He had worked with Sykes for three years and never had a quarrel with him. Robert Jones, a neighbour of the Brooks family, said he always appeared a quiet, well-conducted lad and his manner towards Hannah was invariably kind and affectionate. Hannah Hirst, a friend of Hannah Brook who had known Eli for three years, said they ‘always appeared to be very affectionate when together. He was very kind to Hannah…’ and she ‘…never heard any quarrel between them.’ [4]

For about two years prior to that August night, like many other young men Eli spent his free time with the local military unit. It was a social activity, away from the confines of home and work. In Eli’s case he was a Private in the No3 (Batley Carr) Company of the 29th (Dewsbury) West York Volunteer Corps. His fellow members there vouched for his steady nature, general civility and good behaviour.

Eli and Hannah met on 10 March 1863 during celebrations which took place countrywide marking the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert Edward of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Their friendship developed to full-blown courtship, with Eli a frequent visitor to the Brook house. Despite a short break up in the early days of their relationship which they quickly patched up, the general assumption by all was the logical next step for the pair was marriage. They seemed well-suited. Eli had a reliable mill job to provide for a wife and, eventually, family. And by all accounts he was a steady young man. But they were young, possibly too young to commit for life. And emotions could quickly change.

And this proved the case for Hannah. For some reason in July 1865 her feelings towards Eli cooled. The indication was she had met someone else – a man from Wakefield named James Henry Ashton: the man mentioned amongst the mourners at her funeral the following month. Their meetings included a picnic at Howley Hall, where she was seen dancing with him. But whether he was the cause of the change in Hannah is unclear. Some sources suggest she took up with James whilst still seeing Eli. Others claim the relationship with Eli was already over by the time she became involved with James.

1881 Illustration of Howley Hall Ruins – published in 1881 (out of copyright)

Despite Hannah repeatedly telling Eli that their relationship was over, he would not accept it. As far as he was concerned she was the love of his life. He doggedly followed her trying to persuade her to change her mind, often turning up unannounced at her Hume Street home. Friends advised Eli to let it drop. One who cautioned thus was power loom weaver George Fearnley, who happened to be Hannah’s brother. Eli told George how grieved he was at Hannah’s refusal to see him, and he did not know what to do. George told Eli he was being a foolish lad, and that there were plenty other girls.

Hannah Hirst was another one who witnessed Eli’s continued pursuit of his former sweetheart. On 13 July Miss Brook took tea at Miss Hirst’s Batley Carr home, an occurrence noticed by Eli. Later that night, after Hannah Brook returned home, Eli called at the Hirst home. He told Miss Hirst that Hannah’s new love would be coming over the following week. Then, striking his hat violently against a chair, he declared ‘If I don’t have her, no one else shall.’ Hannah Hirst stated ‘Eli, I think you are going out of your mind.’ His ominous response was ‘You’ll see.

The day of the murder coincided with a large agricultural and flower show in neighbouring Drighlington. Three companies of the West Yorks Volunteer Corps, amongst them Eli, caught the train to Drighlington to join up with the Birstall contingent for drill. At 8pm they marched back to the railway station were they were served either a half pint of ale, or ginger beer, prior to catching the 9.30pm train back to Batley. Despite three carriages being reserved for the men, not all could entrain due to the vast numbers returning from the show. Eli, though, did have a place and, with about 90 comrades, arrived in Batley at 9.40pm. Some lingered at the station chatting, or waiting for the 10pm train to Dewsbury. Others set off to walk home, including Eli. When he and a friend reached Hick Lane, Eli suggested detouring into Batley. Due to the late hour the friend declined, leaving Eli to carry on alone.

William Bentley Walton was in The Commercial Inn at around 10.30pm, when he saw Eli dressed in his volunteer uniform, rifle in hand and bayonet sheathed at his side. Friends and workmates, Eli told him he was going to Hannah’s. William advised him against it, knowing from earlier conversations with Eli that she had told him to stay away. It was advice Eli chose to ignore. Perhaps it did not help that William told Eli he had seen Hannah go by about 15 minutes earlier. Instead of passing through Batley Eli made the fateful decision to turn off for the Brook’s cottage. All accounts agreed Eli was sober, so drink did not influence what happened next.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map: Yorkshire 232. Surveyed 1847 to 1851; Published 1854 – Shows Batley with some key locations marked up

Robert Jones, who lived next door but one to Sarah and Hannah, made his way to nearby New Street between 11-12pm. He noticed Eli and Hannah talking outside her Hume Street home. Robert politely asked the couple if they had been to the show. Both said no. He left them still talking, no indication of anything more serious going on. However, the situation rapidly deteriorated in the short time it took for Robert to quickly visit New Street and return to his Hume Street home.

Despite the seeming civility of the conversation witnessed by Robert, Eli’s visit was once more an unwelcome one. By now he was inside the house, again asking Hannah to go back out with him. Once more Hannah said no. Hannah’s mother became involved telling Eli to go away, they did not want him there. Meanwhile, according to Eli’s testimony, a now seated Hannah began singing a popular ballad ‘The Gay Cavalier’ about a man disappointed by the lady he loved. It contained the lyrics ‘She may go to Hong Kong for me’, with Hannah replacing the ‘She’ for ‘You’. Driven to a fury by the perceived taunts and rejection by his former love, he raised his rifle and struck Hannah across her head with the butt, a blow so hard it cracked the stock. The force knocked Hannah out of the chair. Eli then drew out his bayonet, and the stabbing frenzy on both Hannah and her mother commenced. And it was at this point Sarah raised the alarm call, drawing first Joseph Pease and William Fawcett, followed by a host of other neighbours and the police.

Once in custody, according to police statements, Eli reportedly said ‘I feel easier in my mind, and better satisfied now than before I did it.’ He also allegedly said ‘Although I murdered her I loved her – I have told her many a time I’d have my revenge, and I’ve got it now.[5] The police also reported his apparent indifference whilst in custody, Eli laughing and whistling as if nothing had happened. It was as if he failed to recognise the magnitude of his crime. His only display of real emotion appeared to be when his family visited him.

The trial at the Leeds Assizes on 19 December 1865 would bring home the enormity soon enough. Prior to the trial, on 8 December, he was transferred to the imposing Victorian edifice of Armley Gaol. Opened under 20 years earlier as Leeds Borough Gaol, it had only recently taken over from York Castle as the place where West Riding executions were carried out. The first two had taken place as recently as September 1864.

Leeds Town Hall – Published in 1862, out of copyright

From early morning of the trial at the court in Leeds Town Hall, the corridors teamed with people. Many came from the Batley and Dewsbury area, a high proportion of them gaily-dressed women, their frocks incongruous to a court setting. Perhaps the fact this magnificent building had been opened only in 1858 by Queen Victoria, as much as the trial, enticed the good folk of Batley and Dewsbury. It was a day out.

Those lucky enough to gain entry to the crowded courtroom listened intently to the parade of witnesses. Eli’s defence argued that jealousy drove him to commit the crime. In the heat of the moment he lost all sense of reason. His temporary insanity meant it was manslaughter not murder. Justice Shee, in his summing up, would have none of this. Within 30 minutes the jury announced its guilty verdict.

In a show of emotion which reduced many in the courtroom to tears, Eli made his impassioned address. Sobbing, tears almost blinding him and choking his every word, he stated:

My Lord, and gentlemen of the jury, – I never had it in my mind to do it before it was done. If these were my dying words, I could say in the presence of God that I never meant to kill Hannah. I never struck her with the rifle. God only knows what happened in that house that night. He only knows what she said to me – how she began singing, and said words that I never thought could have come out of a woman’s mouth. And yet I loved her; in my heart I loved her as never woman was loved before, if my doom is death, I hope I shall meet her in heaven. But I don’t think I shall be hanged; the Queen will be merciful to me. I never thought it would come to this. Many a time have I gone with her to Wakefield, but little did I think she was deceiving me and went to meet another sweetheart. If she had not jeered at me, I would not have hurt her for my life. I hope I shall meet her in heaven, and I can only pray that if my doom is to be death that God will take my sufferings from me. I hope that my prayers shall be answered, and that we shall meet in that glorious land where we shall never be parted. She has gone to that land, and I will die to get to her….. [6]

Although the statement deeply affected the Judge, it did not change the sentence. Eli was to be executed by hanging. With the Judge’s final words of ‘And may God, in his infinite mercy, have mercy on your soul’ ringing in his ears, Eli was removed to Armley Gaol to await his fate.

Eli’s trial address had a wider impact. Public opinion was divided as to the correctness of the sentence. Petitions sprang up requesting a commutation of it. George Armitage, one of the magistrates who committed Eli to trial at the Assizes, similarly expressed himself in favour of a reduced sentence. A piece in the Leeds Mercury on 21 December praised Eli’s character, spoke of his pure, honourable and ardent love for Hannah, pointedly saying little was known about her character. They also seemed to support Eli’s belief, expressed at the Assizes, that Hannah was deceiving him saying ‘we do not see that the correctness of his belief is called into question’. The conclusion they hinted at was Eli deserved a more lenient punishment than the death sentence. On the scale of murder, perhaps this was one which was not cold-blooded and calculated. It perhaps held some element of justification. How many times since has some apportionment of blame been attached to women victims of crime?

For Hannah and Sarah’s grieving family, this Leeds Mercury piece proved too much. George Fearnley felt compelled to write to the paper to set the record straight about the piece which ‘reflects in a most unjust and unwarrantable manner upon the conduct and character of my lamented sister…’. His letter, dated 28 December, featured in the Leeds Mercury on 30 December. In it he refuted allegations that Hannah deceived Eli by going with him to Wakefield to meet another lover. The only occasions they went to Wakefield together was to see friends there. In a lengthy missive he also asserted that Sykes:

…knew well … that before her feelings towards him had so far changed as to induce her to prefer another, my sister had insisted upon breaking off her connection with him and told him to stay away; and so far from her having encouraged his addresses after this time, she uniformly refused to see him, and did all she could to compel him to discontinue his visits…I presume, Gentlemen, that neither you nor any one else will deny that my sister had a perfect right, if she so wished it, to break off her connection with Sykes; and having done so, she had also a right to keep company with another if she chose, and that, too, without subjecting herself to annoyance, to threats, or to murder…I conclude by asking from the public a verdict that shall acquit her of all blame… [7]

Even as this letter was being read and digested by the public to which George appealed, the case had undergone a new, dramatic, and unexpected, twist.

Eli returned to Armley Gaol after his conviction and was placed under the day care of warder Charles Hampshire, a man with 17 years experience. Charles Jacups took over responsibility at night. The men were ordered to keep the prisoner under constant watch.

The Gaol had two cells for condemned prisoners. Initially Eli was placed in the cell on the ground floor, but subsequently was moved to the cell on the floor above due to concerns about the suicide risk posed by the other condemned man, Patrick Welsh. No such concerns were held for Eli, who spoke a good deal about religion and still appeared to entertain the hope that the Queen would commute his sentence to penal servitude. The prison chaplain, Rev Middleton, who visited Eli daily, also entertained no concerns about his state of mind.

On Saturday 23 December the chaplain visited Eli at 5.15pm and left at around 6pm. He failed to lock the door. Charles Hampshire also failed to check Eli was secure in his cell after the chaplain’s visit. Thomas Hampshire, brother of Charles, another experienced warder compounded the error. A trusted employee, he had worked at Armley Gaol since its opening, and prior to that he served five years at Wakefield prison. That evening it was his duty to call the roll and check the cell doors were double locked. He commenced the check at 5.45pm and finished at 6.20pm. Eli’s door appeared to be secure…but it was not. The mistake had huge consequences, including the suspension of Charles Hampshire and the dismissal of Thomas.

At about 6.40pm a large crash, like the firing of guns, echoed in the confines of the prison. Eli had escaped from his cell. Unhindered, he managed to get to the floor above, where he climbed on the balustrade and threw himself on to the flags around 20-25 feet below [8]. He landed on his feet, before falling over and banging his head, rendering himself unconscious for about half an hour. He did suffer convulsions in the initial aftermath, but his leg injuries were the main concern, in particular the compound fracture to his left ankle which haemorrhaged. William Nicholson Price, the prison surgeon, along with the Leeds Infirmary surgeon Mr Wheelhouse, stabilised him and he seemed to progress favourably. However, Eli did try to hinder his recovery throughout, attempting to remove his bandages and doing his utmost to prevent routine medical checks.

The opinion was Eli had attempted suicide to spare his mother, believing his hanging would be the death of her. But all in authority remained hopeful that hanging would be his just fate. In fact stringent attempts were made to ensure he remained alive for his appointed date with the hangman’s noose on 15 January 1866.

In the afternoon and evening of 3 January 1866 Eli suffered a couple of secondary haemorrhages. Both were staunched and, once again, although weakened he seemingly rallied. It proved a temporary recovery. On the evening of 6 January a further bleed occurred. Once again the flow was stemmed, and reduced to an ooze. Eli’s condition continued to deteriorate though, despite best efforts of those charged with his care. Conscious throughout this period, he died in his prison cell at about 9.20pm that night.

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

The inquest took place on 9 January. That day a letter appeared in the Leeds Mercury. Dated 8 January 1866, it was from Eli’s father. With remarkable restraint, John Sykes wrote to highlight the lack of compassion shown to both himself and his wife. They arrived at Armley Gaol that morning to view their son’s body and say a final goodbye. The Governor refused permission without a magistrate’s order. John left his wife at the prison whilst he went into Leeds to obtain the necessary documentation. Yet even with signed authority the Governor would not allow John and Sarah entry to see their son one last time.

John Sykes was present at the inquest though. Here the jury reached a verdict of Felo de Se (suicide). Eli’s burial was ordered to take place at midnight in the precincts of Armley Gaol, without any religious ceremony.

The sensational events captured public imagination to such an extent that enterprising publishers sold fly-sheets containing lurid (and often inaccurate) details about the case. The events in Batley were even immortalised in verse. It seems only fitting to end this post with one such example.

Miss Hannah Brooks [sic] was a factory maiden,
By every one she was well liked;
And long poor Hannah had been courted,
By the young cloth-worker, Eli Sykes,
Hannah Brook forsook her lover
Which caused him the maid to kill,
And her aged tender mother
By his hands their blood was spilled.

In Yorkshire, such a dreadful murder
Before we’re sure was never seen;
Committed was by Eli Sykes –
A youth, whose age is but nineteen.
He lov’d the maiden to distraction –
From drill he went straightway;
Hannah harshly with her mother
Ordered Eli Sykes away.

As he stood in his regimentals,
So frantically he gazed around;
And with the butt-end of his rifle,
Quickly knocked his true-love down.
Her mother strove to save her daughter –
He did in frenzy swear an oath,
And plunged his bayonet in each body
Many times and killed them both.

He strove then to commit self-murder,
But was prevented as we see;
The factory maiden and her mother,
Who was aged sixty-three, [9]
There in death’s cold arms was sleeping,
Weltering in their crimson gore;
Friends and neighbours round them weeping,
For them they’d see in life no more.

Notes:
[1] Leeds Mercury – 22 August 1865;
[2] Yorkshire Gazette – 26 August 1865;
[3] Some reports indicate she was a power loom weaver;
[4] Leeds Mercury – 20 December 1865;
[5] Leeds Mercury – 22 August 1865;
[6] Yorkshire Gazette – 23 December 1865;
[7] Leeds Mercury – 30 December 1865;
[8] A letter from Prison Surgeon William Nicholson Price which featured in the Leeds Mercury of 26 December 1865 said the drop was around 25-26 feet;
[9] Other records put Sarah’s age as 60, and her baptism at Birstall St Peter’s on 20 January 1805 (Sarah Darnbrough) suggests this is likely to be her correct age.

Sources (in addition to those mentioned in the notes):

  • 1841-1861 Censuses, England and Wales;
  • Annals of Yorkshire, 1862 and 1866;
  • Barnsley Chronicle – 2 September 1865;
  • Bradford Observer – 4 January 1866;
  • GRO Birth and Death registrations;
  • Home Office Correspondence and Warrants, HO13/108/236, 23 December 1865, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office Correspondence and Warrants, HO13/108/245, 13 January 1866, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office Criminal Registers, HO27 Piece 142, 13 December 1865, accessed via Findmypast;
  • Home Office and Prison Commission Prison Records, PCOM2/417/74, accessed via Findmypast
  • Illustrated Police News – 27 September 1934;
  • Leeds Mercury – 23 and 28 August 1865, 21 December 1865, 9 and 10 January 1866;
  • Leeds Times – 23 and 30 December 1865;
  • Old Yorkshire, 1881;
  • Parish registers – Batley, Birstall and St Paul’s Hanging Heaton, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk;
  • The OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Yorkshire Gazette – 28 August 1865

Newspapers accessed via The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast

Talk: Researching Your Great War Army Ancestors. (Includes details of my other 2020 talks)

Heads up about my forthcoming talk on 4 March at Leeds Central Library.

Based on my groundbreaking book The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about rugby league players who died in World War 1, the talk investigates the stories behind some of the men. It will also be packed with tips for researching your own Great War Army ancestors.

The book, co-authored with Rugby League writer Chris Roberts, has received widespread acclaim, locally and nationally, in print and on radio. The reviews include:

The talk will take place in the Leodis Room, starting at 1pm. It will last for one hour, with opportunity to ask questions. Tickets are free and available through Ticket Source. You can also contact the library direct on 0113 378 5005.

This is one of a series of talks I give. The others scheduled for 2020 are:

  • Blogging for Family and Local History; and
  • The Home Front: the White Lee Explosion of 1914

For more details about these talks please contact me at: pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com

That’s also the contact if you would like to buy a copy of the book. The price, including p&p within the U.K., is £14.99. It is also available direct from the publisher, Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd. It is also stocked at independent Leeds bookshop, Philip Howard Books. And it’s also available from the normal retail outlets.

Hidden History of Batley: A Festive Fireworks Fatality

Festive fireworks on days other than bonfire night are not a modern phenomenon. And if you thought events to promote Batley and boost town trade, such as Batley Festival and Batley Vintage Day, were a 21st century invention, think again.

In the late 19th century, backed by an ambitious and forward-thinking Council, local tradesmen regularly promoted events to draw visitors into town. But the 1886 annual event is memorable for its tragic consequences, ones which would cast a shadow over the town for years to come.

On the 23 and 24 December 1886, the latest town promotional event was in full flow. The shops were decorated, two local brass bands paraded the streets and Commercial Street was partly illuminated by the marvellous innovation of electric lights. The culmination of the two days of festivities, drawing everything to a sensational close, was to be a grand firework display, scheduled for 8pm in the market place on Christmas Eve.

An established family firm of pyrotechnists from Dalton, Huddersfield, were engaged to provide this visual delight. Joseph Womersley Potter had been in the firework business for 15 years. His son Charles Henry Potter, assisted by another son Thomas and a third man, Joseph Pinder, were responsible for Batley’s entertainment. It promised to be an unmissable display, packed with rockets, mortars and spinning wheels.

The blaze of glory to round everything off, and send all home happy, was a volley of around 40 rockets ascending into the night sky, centred around triumphal arch with the motto ‘The Town and Trade of Batley.’ At the back and front of the rocket display stood two mortars which, when ignited by the sparks from the rockets, would each fire towards the heavens a massive shell, exploding to provide a final meteoric shower of lights. This was to be the unforgettable climax of the evening. Unforgettable, as it turned out, for the wrong reasons.

The rain of the day cleared, heralding a clear, crisp winter’s evening, with frost quickly hardening the ground. There was no moonlight, but thousands of stars twinkled in the night sky. A crowd numbering several thousand assembled to watch the spectacle. The focal point was the area around the firework display. A special enclosure was made to encircle this area, on ground between the Hanover Street Congregational Church and the Market and Town Halls. But such was the crush of eager spectators that barriers were pulled down, and some intrepid folk even climbed over railings and entered the Congregational Church grounds to get a better view.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map: CCXXXII.SE. Surveyed: 1888 to 1892. Published: 1895 – National Library of Scotland – Adapted

Among the crowds congregated by the now-demolished Market Hall were six local lads, whose emotions within minutes would switch from curiosity, laughter, and eyes-wide-open wonderment to unimaginable horror.

They included two youngsters from Wards Hill: 9-year-old Schofield Senior, the son of Hannah Senior; and John William Tatham, age 10, the son of County Mayo-born couple Michael and Margaret Tatham [1].

Two of the other boys lived at Woodwell: George Bates, age 14, was son of Mary Jackson and her coal mining husband Henry; and 10-year-old Robert Cassidy, the son of John and Emma, was the brother of Thomas Patrick Cassidy, the man destined to become Batley’s famous rat-catcher.

14-year-old Charles Henry Pinder, the son of coal miner Andrew Pinder, lived at Woodkirk. His mother Hannah Jane had died over six years earlier.

The sixth lad, 13-year-old Liversedge-born Frank Fearnley Sykes, lived at Spring Gardens with his mother, Ellen, and siblings. These included his younger brother Herbert. His father, a leather currier named George, died only the previous month. As a result, Frank quit school to help his mother earn money by delivering the bread and tea cakes which she baked. He left home at about 8pm that evening, bound for the market place, no doubt looking forward to an evening with his friends and a temporary diversion from everyday life.

At just before 9pm, Charles Henry Potter lit the rockets for the grand finale. Thousands of pairs of eyes turned heavenwards to watch the dazzling spectacle. However, in a matter of seconds, a few of the more eagle-eyed in the crowd spotted things had not gone to plan. One of the mortar shells, instead of rising into the air, fired out horizontally, spiralling towards the crowd near the Market Hall, sparks emitting in all directions. Hoards rushed backwards in panic. John Bruce of Clay Fold in the Clark Green area of town, was one of the lucky ones. Standing in the area by the Market Hall, the missile passed to the left of him.

Batley Market Hall (my own collection) – origin unknown

Then the screams and cries of pain rang out in the clear night air, centred around several boys now lying on the ground. Frank Fearnley Sykes clutched at John Bruce pleading “O master, will you take me home?” Bruce asked him “Whose bairn are you lad?” Before fainting, Frank managed to say “I’m George Sykes’s, of Spring Gardens.

West Riding Police Constable George Edward Horner was in the crowd. He assisted several of the injured boys, four being conveyed to their homes on stretchers for treatment. He then went up to the relatively recently opened Batley Cottage Hospital, on Carlinghow Hill, where the two most seriously injured boys were taken. 

By far the worse of these was Frank Fearnley Sykes. In extreme shock, and complaining of only sickness but no pain, he had suffered several burns including severe ones to the inner and upper parts of his thighs. And beneath the sheets of his hospital bed, his shattered, gunpowder-blackened legs were a mangled mess of tissue. Nothing could be done.

Dr Robert Dex Keighley (a former Mayor of Batley) stayed with him till around 11 o’clock on Christmas Eve, until Frank finally slipped from life. After he had left home only three hours earlier, a strong, healthy lad, his mother never saw him alive again. 

In an odd aside, it was noted a policeman brought home one of Frank’s badly damaged boots later that night, and a girl fetched the other one to Ellen the following morning. Was this as much a commentary on the value of boots in this period, as a show of compassion and thoughtfulness towards a grieving mother? Boots were not disposable commodities. They were expensive, and essential for work and school. I’ve seen a local school log book in this period full of entries about children unable to attend school in winter due to a lack of boots. They were handed down, repaired time upon time, and passed on after death.

And, in addition to the overwhelming sense of grief, death could drive a family into desperate poverty. In the space of a month, Ellen had lost her husband and son. Besides the loss of income resulting from the death of two main breadwinners, the cost of the actual funeral could be financially crippling. And this was a period of high mortality. So Ellen, like many other families, had taken out life insurance for her son to provide for a decent burial if the unimaginable should happen. Her 44-year-old husband was buried in Batley cemetery on 27 November 1886 and her 13-year-old son was buried in the same plot on 28 December 1886.

The inquest opened on Monday 27 December 1886, at the Wilton Arms and Bridge Hotel. No longer a pub, it still exists as a burger joint – ironically named Frankie’s. Because Frank’s death was a result of a gunpowder accident, a Home Office Inspector of Explosives needed to attend. The Christmas period delayed Royal Artillery Major J.P. Cundill’s appearance and, after hearing from Dr Keighley and Frank’s mother, the inquest was adjourned. It resumed on 31 December, and shifted to the more imposing surroundings of the Town Hall.

Batley Town Hall (my own collection) – origin unknown

The jury reached a verdict that Frank was accidentally injured by fireworks. They expressed the opinion that Charles Henry Potter had not used sufficient care in regard to the mortar. They also said that the fence around the enclosure had not offered sufficient protection to the public. The Jury Foreman, Councillor Isaac Barker, did not make any recommendations for future years as the jury hoped that this would be the last display of fireworks in Batley for some time.

So what happened to the other injured boys? 

Of those treated in hospital, Schofield Senior’s right leg was shattered from the knee downwards. On Christmas Day, in a critical condition, the limb was amputated. Thankfully, he did pull through. He earned his living as a tailor, went on to have a family and died in Huddersfield in January 1956.

George Bates was initially taken home suffering burns to his head, face and left leg, but then it was found he needed hospital treatment. He recovered, went on to work as a coal miner and married Sarah Ann Almond at Batley Parish Church in 1895. By 1911 the couple had six surviving children.

John William Tatham was one of the boys treated at home. His injuries were burns to his face and lower limbs.

Robert Cassidy also suffered burns to his head, arms, body and legs. He married Mary Jane Speight in Hunslet in 1907. He emigrated to Australia in 1910 and died in Queensland in February 1954.

Charles Henry Pinder suffered burns to his arms, head and face. He emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he became a naturalised American citizen, was employed as a mill worker, married and raised a family. He died in May 1950.

And Frank Fearnley Sykes’ name lived on. His brother Herbert named his son, born on 17 February 1907, after him.

Sources:
These include various newspapers, the Coroner’s Notebook, censuses, GRO indexes, as well as parish, cemetery, migration, citizenship and burial records.
The OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Notes:
[1] There are various spellings of this surname, depending on report.
[2] Plot M223

Batley’s Record-Breaking Rat-Catcher

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

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

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

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

The two major records Thomas claimed were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the work began. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

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

Other Sources:

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/

The Mystery of the Body Dumped in Batley

It was 4.30am on 30 May 1881. 14-year-old Peter Kelly, a hurrier at West End Colliery, was making his way to work. As he approached Mary Wrigglesworth’s [1] house and butcher’s shop, a short distance from his home, he noticed a shape crouched in the doorway. Curiosity piqued, he investigated further. A bare arm poked out from under a sack. This was tied loosely round the body with a clothes line. The feet were also bound. There was no movement from the figure, no response to Peter’s enquiries. Life was extinct.

Peter called the attention of another miner, Joss Lee, who was also on his way to work. Joss stood watch over the body whilst Peter returned home to fetch his father William, who untied the cord to reveal a semi-naked body. The police were hastily summoned. They bundled the corpse onto a handcart, and removed it to Joseph Kemp’s Victoria Hotel, Carlinghow.  Dr Myles William O’Reilly of Batley Carr, the district Medical Officer for the West Riding Constabulary, was called to examine the body.

The Victoria, Carlinghow – Photograph by Jane Roberts

The combined police and preliminary medical examination revealed the body was bound by its legs, arms and torso in a strange sitting position, and covered with a potato sack. Clothed in only trousers with braces hanging loose, elastic-side boots and grey stockings, around its neck was a paper collar with a button still attached and embedded in the swollen neck. This appeared to indicate a shirt had possibly been ripped or cut away. By the side of the body was a coat and vest, and on top of the sack was a billycock hat [2]

On checking the pockets no money was found, only some old letters from 1880, business cards for a Bradford Westgate eatery, keys, a knife, a purse containing spectacles and some old bills, the most recent dated 26 May 1881. There were also three cartes de visite style photographs taken some time ago. One was of two women, whilst another was of the victim with a woman. One of the images, according to reports in The York Herald, was identified as Miss Wrigglesworth [3], the person in whose doorstep the body had been dumped. All this documentation enabled quick identification of the body, despite the dark, swollen appearance of the face.

As Monday 30 May 1881 dawned, 43-year-old bachelor John Critchley, second son of prominent local Batley coal mine proprietor and J.P. James Critchley, became the centre of a potential murder enquiry. And it soon became clear the location where his body was discovered held particular significance – John Critchley and Mary Wrigglesworth had been on intimate terms, according to some reports, for almost 20 years, although his family objected to the relationship and she, it seemed, “had not regarded him with particular favour[4]. Nevertheless, he was well-known in the neighbourhood, with some sections of the press reporting him as being a frequent visitor to Mary’s shop.

When the police roused her to break the news that her former sweetheart had been found dead on her doorstep, she fainted. Revived with smelling salts, she informed them they had broken up some time ago, she had last seen John before Christmas and she had heard only vague rumours of his whereabouts and mode of life.

The Huddersfield Chronicle paints a vivid picture of High Street, where the body was found, describing it as a narrow street:

….partially filled with houses and small shops, built in a straggling manner; and directly opposite the butcher’s shop in question, where Miss Wrigglesworth resided and carried on business, there is a respectable-looking cottage house, one storey high. Nearly opposite is the Lord Nelson beerhouse [this, according to police evidence, had closed promptly at 10pm on Sunday night] and some cottages, evidently occupied by colliers or mill workers. Above the butcher’s shop are some newly-erected ones, used for various purposes. The main point of interest is a small shop which has been erected close to the gable of the house, which forms one of a row of three – two-storied old cottages – and in the one at the end nearest the road lived Miss Wrigglesworth…. [5] 

You can almost picture the narrow dirt road that night, no more than seven yards [6] at its widest, with its higgledy-piggledy houses, all quiet but for the occasional trot of horses and rumble of cart wheels. Unlit by street lights, somewhere in the vicinity are persons unknown, alert and watchful, awaiting the chance to dispose of the body of John Critchley.

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1888 -1892, Published 1895 Showing location of High Street and the Victoria Hotel – Adapted

The District Coroner Thomas Taylor Esq, who had three inquests over in Dewsbury that day, was hastily contacted. An early inquest and post mortem to determine the cause of death were deemed vital – decomposition was already well-advanced and a lid needed to be quickly put on the wild local and even national speculation, with theories that this was a brutal murder rapidly gaining ground. Large groups of people were already congregating around the Victoria Hotel to discuss the sensational situation and speculating about potential murder methods. The most popular theories included John Critchley had been shot or kicked to death [7] with his body immersed in water for several days after [8].

That very same evening, at 9pm, John Critchley’s inquest formally opened at the Victoria Hotel. The jury was sworn in and accountant Joseph Fenton elected foreman. This first meeting only covered the formalities of identification, and once these preliminaries were complete it adjourned.

Walter Critchley, coal proprietor of Grosvenor Terrace, confirmed the body downstairs was that of his brother. From his evidence it transpired his brother lived a somewhat unconventional life. 

Born on 4 August 1837 and baptised on 25 August that year at Dewsbury All Saints [9], John was the second son of James and Sarah Jane Critchley (née Illingworth). Their other children included Robert Illingworth (1835) Thomas (1840, died 1850), Charles James (1843), Jane Elizabeth (1848), Mary (born and died 1850), Walter (1853), William Henry (1855) and Mary Ellen (1857).

James and Sarah Jane married in Dewsbury All Saints church on 8 January 1835 [10]. James, born in Warley near Halifax, was described as a card maker [11], but he had his fingers in many business pies. In the 1841 census the family lived at Market Place in Dewsbury with James described as a publican [12]. In 1851 whilst John was at boarding school in Pontefract [13] his parents are recorded at 615 Market Place, Dewsbury with the multiplicity of James’ interests becoming obvious – coal dealer, card maker and inn keeper all listed in the census occupation column [14]. In 1861, and living at the Top of Batley Carr, James’ occupation had crystallised, now described as a coal owner employing 4 boys and 100 men. John was back with his family in this census, his occupation being a farmer of 130 acres employing six men, three smiths, three agents, six cart men and eight labourers [15]. In 1871 [16] and 1881 [17] James was a coal proprietor and now the Critchleys lived at the magnificently imposing Batley Hall. But in neither of these censuses can John be found. 

From the inquest evidence John’s failure to put down any roots came into sharp focus. Walter revealed at one point his brother worked as a cardmaker for older brother Robert Illingworth Critchley, but could not settle to business. As a result, at the time of his death, he had no fixed occupation. His base, when in the area, was his parents’ Batley Hall home. But he frequently left home for weeks at a time, with minimal contact with his family who often had no idea of his whereabouts. Walter revealed he last saw his brother in November and he had last been in touch via a letter at Christmas when John’s address was lodgings at 24 James Street, Bradford. After that, no contact with his family is recorded [18]. Neither is John at that location in the 1881 census.

However, despite his failure to keep in touch with his family since Christmas, he had visited the area relatively recently as the newspapers soon established. About a month prior to the discovery of his body, Miss Wrigglesworth’s sister had seen him in Batley Carr, but not to speak to. And an acquaintance had spoken to him in Dewsbury towards the end of March, when he had been very chatty [19].

The post-mortem was carried out at the Victoria Hotel at 4am on the morning of 31 May by Dr O’Reilly, assisted by the Critchley family doctor, Mr Stockwell. The early hour was chosen because of the rapidness of decomposition, but also no doubt in an effort to minimise the chance of large, excitable crowds gathering. Although the location, a public house, might seem odd to us today, post mortems could still be carried out in public houses and even private homes in this period. Only six years had passed since the 1875 Public Health Act which had legislated for local authorities to provide public mortuaries and dedicated suitable places to conduct post mortems. And only in January and February 1881 was the Victoria Hotel the location for a series of very high-profile inquests relating to a major boiler explosion at a Carlinghow mill, an explosion which resulted in the deaths of 16 workers. 

The post mortem results were not revealed until the inquest reopened on 2 June, but essentially no marks of violence were found on the body. There was no evidence of immersion in water. Decomposition was suggestive of death taking place at least 48 hours before O’Reilly first saw the body. The only visible cause which could account for death was fatty degeneration of the heart [20]. However, given the odd nature of the case, O’Reilly arranged for various organs and tissue samples to be sent for further analysis to Thomas Scattergood, eminent Leeds surgeon and lecturer on Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the Leeds School of Medicine.

Post mortem formalities complete, Critchley’s body was placed in a leaden coffin and soldered firmly shut. It was then lowered in an oak cask and taken to Batley Hall, the family home.

Batley Hall – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Shortly after 11am the following morning, 1 June 1881, the hearse, three mourning coaches and a number of mostly empty private carriages left the Hall for the private burial ceremony in Batley Cemetery.

The massive wreath-strewn, polished oak coffin was adorned with brass fittings and the plate bore the inscription “In Memory of John Critchley, of Batley Hall, aged 43 years.” The coffin was carried by a number of Messrs. Critchley workmen, and many employees attended the service. Chief mourners were John’s parents Mr and Mrs James Critchley, brothers Robert Illingworth Critchley and his wife, Charles James Critchley, Walter Critchley and his wife, brother Willie Critchley, sister Mary Ellen and her husband Arthur Jubb, and aunt Ann Critchley. Rev. T. G. Davies, vicar of Batley, conducted the service, which was not without incident. Policemen were stationed around the cemetery perimeter to keep back the large crowds congregated outside. During the ceremony, an unseemly struggle broke out, which resulted in the storming of the cemetery gates and a considerable number of female factory workers gaining entry.

Critchley Family Headstone at Batley Cemetery – Photograph by Jane Roberts

Whispers from the post mortem now started to seep out, and the mood shifted slightly. Newspapers started to point out that the deceased was of medium height and very stout and “what the medical fraternity would regard as an apoplectic subject…[21]. Others stated:

The impression that the deceased has not been murdered appears to be gaining ground in the district….The supposition…that the unhappy man had probably died amongst the companions of his wretchedness, and that they, to clear themselves of possible odium, got rid of the body in the most ingenious manner they could hit upon, seems to be regarded as the most probable theory [22].

So, whilst maybe not murder, they believed his lifestyle and the company he kept materially contributed to his demise. 

All this speculation was proving extremely distressing to his family, a fact which the Critchley family solicitor, Mr Scholefield, was at pains to point out when the inquest reopened at the Victoria Hotel on 2 June. This undoubtedly influenced The Dewsbury Reporter’s assessment of John, in which they played down any hint of a debauched lifestyle:

…when he returned [home] he always came back healthy and in good condition, and seldom if ever appeared to have been drinking to excess. He was not a drunkard, though fond of what is called a social glass. He was a generous-hearted man, always ready to help a friend, full of good humour, chatty and agreeable, and not at all the man against whom a person might be supposed to cherish a grudge and desire to do him bodily harm.[23]

This second phase of the inquest, on 2 June 1881, saw a parade of witnesses [24]. These included Robert Hammerton, the proprietor of a Bradford eating house whose business cards were found on John Critchley’s body. The deceased was a regular visitor to Hammerton’s establishment, which was located just around the corner from his last known address. He confirmed Critchley last visited on the afternoon of 26 May and ate a meal of lamb, new potatoes, steeped peas and mint sauce. Hammerton described Critchley as being “merry” and apparently affected by drink, but also added this was the worse state of intoxication he had seen him in. Critchley had briefly fallen asleep, and finally left at around 3pm. This was the last recorded sighting of John Critchley alive. 

Other witnesses included Peter Kelly, William Kelly, William Jenkinson (a card fettler living at High Street), George Addy (a Sergeant with the West Riding Constabulary), Myles William O’Reilly, John Dyson (a West Riding Police Constable), and Zillah Susan Booth (wife of stonemason William Booth and another High Street resident). 

Of particular interest in these testimonies were the reports by William Jenkinson, John Dyson and Zillah Booth. The former, a close neighbour of Mary Wrigglesworth, had been out around midnight and noticed nothing. Around 1.45am he was awoken by a trap passing in the direction of his neighbour’s shop. His house was separated from Mary Wrigglesworth’s by an entrance to a Yard. Going at a quick trot, he was not aware of the trap stopping. 

Zillah Booth also reported hearing a trap going towards Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 1.35am. She stated two people, one a woman, walked ahead of it. She heard no voices, only footsteps. Within five minutes the trap returned, at a quicker pace accompanied by the walkers. The female carried on down the road whilst the trap turned off down Beck Lane. The trap had a distinctive sound, as if the wheels had been muffled [25]. She had heard the same vehicle, a light cart, the previous night at 2.10am when it had travelled in the direction of Miss Wriggleswoth’s shop, a 100 yards from the Booth residence, again rapidly returning within minutes. 

John Dyson was the policeman whose beat covered High Street for the key period. A clear night, between 9pm on Sunday and 3am on Monday he patrolled the street five times. He last passed Miss Wrigglesworth’s shop at around 2.35am as day was breaking but noticed nothing unusual. Corroboration that he had not shirked his duty came from the watchman from Messrs. J and R Talbot’s Bullrush Mill, who accompanied PC Dyson on his last sweep of High Street. 

According to the notes made by Coroner Thomas Taylor, the only vehicle PC Dyson saw whilst on duty was a dogcart (a light horse-drawn vehicle) going towards Carlinghow, down High Street and through Cross Bank at 11pm, containing four people. However, newspaper reports of the inquest also note the policeman saw a conveyance used for carrying dead horses between 11.30pm and midnight. It was opposite Bullrush Mill and it passed Victoria Street going towards Dewsbury. He never saw or heard the trap just before 2am which the two High Street residents reported.

The inquest adjourned once more to await the results of tissue and organ tests, and allow for further police enquiries in Leeds and Bradford ad well as locally.  It resumed at the Victoria Hotel on Thursday 9 June 1881 [26]. The principal witness was Leeds Surgeon Thomas Scattergood who presented his findings: There was no evidence that John Critchley’s death was the result of poisoning. 

Superintendent Airton, of the West Riding Constabulary, offered no further evidence. Despite extensive enquiries there were no reported sightings of John Critchley between leaving Mr Hammerton’s refreshment room on the afternoon of Thursday 26 May and the estimated time of death at midnight on Friday 27 May. Airton did suggest presenting a further witness, a woman, who had seen John Critchley enter and shortly afterwards leave Mary Wrigglrsworth’s shop, this only two weeks prior to his death. The jury following guidance from the Coroner, who pointed out that as this was a fortnight before Critchley’s death it would probably not help determine cause of death, decided against calling her. 

After some deliberation, and with the overwhelming evidence of the two medical men that no poison was evident and that fatty degeneration of the heart was the cause of death, the jury delivered its verdict: “That John Critchley was found dead on a doorstep in Carlinghow on 30th May, 1881, and the jury are unanimous in their verdict, based on medical evidence, that the deceased died from natural causes.

The jury urged the police to continue their investigations as to the place of death and how the body ended up on a Carlinghow doorstep. But in effect that was it. Whether John Critchley’s body was clandestinely transported to Miss Wrigglesworth’s abode by persons wishing to avoid the unwelcome scrutiny his death might have caused them, or even his family, was not discovered. But it is clear they were not strangers to him, given the location they chose to dispose of his body. 

By the time of the 1891 census Mary Wrigglesworth, now described as a general shopkeeper, resided at Wood Hill, Dewsbury [27]. Her former butcher’s shop and house, street name now changed from High Street to Cross Bank Street, was listed on the 1891 census but annotated to say no-one “slept in the place[28]. Subsequent censuses, and it is the more familiar name of Cross Bank Road which appears. I wonder if it is possible the shop later became Millman butchers? The location, opposite the Nelson would fit. These buildings have long since gone in the Batley clearances.

The imposing Critchley family headstone marking their Batley cemetery burial plot, in its prestigious location in front of the twin chapels alongside the graves of other local dignitaries and businessmen, makes for interesting reading once you know the story of John. Exact dates mark the passing of his parents and other family members. John’s simply reads “Died May 1881” for a reason – the exact date is not known.

Inscriptions on the Critchley Headstone – Photograph by Jane Roberts

And next time you have a drink in the Victoria public house, pause and think. You are privileged to be drinking in a place steeped in Batley’s hidden and long-forgotten history! 

Notes:
[1] In many reports, including Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes, she is referred to as Mary Wrigglesworth. In census documents and her 16 April 1837 baptism entry in Birstall parish register she is Wigglesworth. For consistency I have used the Wrigglesworth spelling used by the Coroner.
[2] Bowler hat.
[3] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[4] The York Herald, 1 June 1881.
[5] The Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881
[6] Thomas Taylor’s inquest notes of PC John Dyson’s 2 June 1881 evidence states 7 yards wide, whilst The Dewsbury Reporter of 4 June 1881 states PC Dyson said 5 yards.
[7] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[8] The Manchester Evening News, 1 June 1881. 
[9] Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/11.
[10] Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference WDP9/22.
[11] Manufacturing the combs and implements for combing (carding) wool.[12] 1841 Census, Reference HO107/1268/45/19, accessed via Findmypast.[13] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2330/108/3, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk.
[14] 1851 Census, Reference HO107/2324/325/28, accessed via Findmypast.[15] 1861 Census, Reference RG09/3399/96/36, accessed via Findmypast.
[16] 1871 Census, Reference RG10/4583/22/37.
[17] 1881 Census, Reference RG11/4546/152/24.
[18] 30 May 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[19] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[20] 2 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[21] The Manchester Evening News, 31 May 1881.
[22] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 June 1881.
[23] The Dewsbury Reporter, 4 June 1881.
[24] 2 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142
[25] Huddersfield Chronicle, 4 June 1881.
[26] 9 June 1881 John Critchley Inquest, Thomas Taylor Esq (Coroner) Notes, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original at West Yorkshire Archives Service (Wakefield), Reference C493/K/2/1/142.
[27] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3735/57/7, accessed via Findmypast.
[28] 1891 Census, Reference RG12/3721/30/28, accessed via Findmypast.

OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html under a Creative Commons licence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In England Pat was said:

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

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

According to the same relative of Pat’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few lines to his sister read:

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

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

Footnotes:

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

Sources:

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

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

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

Here are the details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic

A century ago England, along with most of the world, was gripped by the flu pandemic. As far as I’m aware none of my immediate ancestors, or their families, died as a result of it. But the mortality rate was the tip of the iceberg as whole communities struggled to cope with the infection and its effects.

In this blog post I will give a national overview, before looking at its effects locally on Batley to try give a feel for the impact on the day to day lives of my ancestors. The sources I will use can be adapted to look at the effect of the pandemic on other localities in England.

In 1920 the government published a Supplement to the Registrar-General’s 81st Annual Report on Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales. It covered mortality from influenza during the 1918/19 epidemic in these two countries. Its severity is starkly conveyed in the myriad of statistics contained within the report. It stated in 1918 influenza accounted for 112,329 deaths split between 53,883 males and 58,446 females. 7,591 of the male deaths were non-civilians. So, in total, 104,738 influenza deaths were amongst the civilian population. This corresponded to a death rate of 3,129 per million civilian population. The report continued:

No such mortality as this has ever before been recorded for any epidemic in this country since registration commenced, except in the case of the cholera epidemic of 1849, when the mortality from that cause rose to 3,033 per million population.

It was recognised this was not representative of total mortality as a result of influenza, as other causes of death could also have an underlying influenza link. These causes included other respiratory diseases, chiefly pneumonia and bronchitis. Phthisis and heart disease were also cited as other possibilities where influenza may have impacted. Attempts to quantify influenza-linked mortality from these were made, but the results varied depending on methodology and were acknowledged to be unsatisfactory. One estimate put it at around 200,000 deaths from influenza and influenza-linked illnesses. As many as a quarter of the population caught the disease.

One other factor which skewed results when looking at the influenza statistics was the depletion of the male population due to war service. One way to deal with it was to look at the female population in isolation. This methodology was notably used to examine the age distribution of mortality due influenza and comparing it to the age distribution normally expected of influenza. It was here the difference between the 1918/19 flu strain and previous epidemics was most notable.

Deaths at [ages] 0-15 and especially at [ages] 15-35, which had formed since 1889 a fairly uniform proportion of the whole number, with a tendency of late years to decrease in relative importance, suddenly increased from 7-11 per cent. at [ages] 0-15 to 25 per cent., and from 8-10 per cent. at [ages] 15-35 to 45 per cent. In middle age, [ages] 35-55, the proportion was comparatively little affected, but shows some increase over the years immediately preceding. At [ages] 55-75 and at ages over 75, which together had for many years provided 60-70 per cent. of the total deaths registered, the proportion fell to 10 per cent. at [ages] 55-75, and 2 per cent. at 75 and upwards.

The report then went on to look at the course and local distribution of the epidemic in England and Wales. Three definite waves were identified:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 29 June 1918 to week ending 17 August 1918;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 12 October 1918 to week ending 14 December 1918; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 1 February 1919 to week ending 12 April 1919.

The weekly death rate was examined in various localities, including regions, county boroughs, and other towns with populations greater than 20,000. This was extrapolated to give a corresponding annual death rate per 1,000 of the living population using the 1911 census as a population baseline. Batley fell into the category of towns with a population over 20,000. The peak mortality weeks for Batley in each wave were:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 13 July 1918 – 19.3 annual mortality per 1,000 living;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 23 November 1918 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 8 March 1919 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living.

Other statistics included ranking areas according to numbers of deaths. There were 161 towns who were not county boroughs falling into the over 20,000 population category. Batley over the complete period of the epidemic was ranked the 18th most affected. In terms of the individual waves it was 27th in Wave 1, 71st in Wave 2 and 8th in Wave 3.

Looking at county boroughs close to Batley, Dewsbury ranked the 11th most affected of the 82 county boroughs (in terms of the individual waves it was 15th in the first, 17th in the second and 15th in the third). Huddersfield was 65th, (2nd, 82nd and 21st in the respective waves).

The West Riding of Yorkshire was over the course of the epidemic the 5th worse affected of the 61 counties (position in the respective waves 4th, 11th and 8th).

Local level reports were also compiled. In Batley the Medical Officer, G.H. Pearce, submitted a full report to the Town Council in January 1919 about the incidence of the disease locally and the steps taken to combat it. His 1919 Annual Report also covered the epidemic locally.

These Annual Reports by the Medical Officer give a useful overview of the town. The 1919 report includes the following description:

PHYSICAL FEATURES AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF THR DISTRICT. – Batley is a municipal borough constituted by Royal Charter, December 8th, 1868, consisting of four wards and governed by a Mayor, seven Aldermen and twenty Councillors. The borough has a separate Commission of the Peace. Geologically Batley is situated mostly upon clay, under which is sandstone through which is various beds of coal. The situation is hilly, the highest point being 475 feet above sea level and the lowest 150. Batley is entirely an industrial town the chief occupation of the inhabitants being the manufacture of heavy woollen goods, shoddy and mungo. The Rag trade also employs a large proportion of the inhabitants. The majority of the population not working in the numerous mills earn their living in the coal mines, at ironworks, on the railway, as teamers, general labourers, etc. More females than males are employed in the textile mills…..As rags from all parts of the world are brought into the town it would be reasonable to expect that risk of infection would be likely to arise therefrom, but practical experience does not prove such to be the case. Apart from the dust in connection with this and similar trades, also the risk of contracting anthrax, run by workers in wool, there appears to be no particular occupation in Batley exercising an exceptionally adverse influence on the public health.

Batley’s population growth from 1851 is illustrated in Table 1 below. The 1911 population of 36,395 compared to the 3,227 acres for the town gives a population per square mile of 7,218. Mortality in any district is adversely affected when there are more than 400 people to each square mile.

Table 1Flu Batley Population Census

The Registrar-General also made an estimate of Batley’s 1919 population, which was included in the Medical Officer’s report. Based on the birth rate he put it at 36,593 and death rate resulted in a figure of 35,128. An analysis of mortality and the annual death rate per 1,000 of civilian population for 1919 gave a figure of 16.1 for Batley, higher than the national England and Wales figure of 13.8.

Table 2 shows the causes of death in Batley between 1912 and 1919 attributed to influenza, as identified in Batley’s Medical Officer’s report. I have also included those causes which may have influenza as an underlying issue, as identified in the Registrar-General’s Supplementary Report.

Table 2Flu Batley Death Causes

Influenza was the direct cause of 104 deaths in Batley during 1918, with a further 83 deaths in 1919 attributed to it. In 1920, according to the following year’s Batley Medical Officer’s report, influenza was certified as the cause of 7 deaths.

So how did all this impact on everyday life in Batley? I decided to focus on the newspapers for the period. From July onwards the Batley News began to carry local reports, including Council updates. Batley Borough Council minutes are therefore an alternative source of information. Bound yearbook copies are at Batley Library (as are the Medical Officer reports), with original Batley Borough documentation held at West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees Office) in collection Reference KMT1.

One huge factor in reporting the epidemic was censorship. When flu struck Britain, the Great War was still far from won and censorship was in full force. Reporting of anything which may impact on morale and signify any form of weakness to the enemy or difficulties in pursuing the conflict was banned. Reporting restrictions similarly applied in other combatant nations. This was why the pandemic was incorrectly attributed to Spain. As a neutral country the same press restrictions did not apply and news of the epidemic there was freely reported from May 1918. It meant that this country was wrongly assumed to be the origin of the illness – not the likely source country, the United States. The first reference to the ‘Spanish disease’ was in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in August 1918, and ‘Spanish Flu’ was what it became commonly known as. The same reporting restrictions therefore mean that newspaper reports may have underplayed the full impact of the illness.

First mentions of influenza locally noticeably began to appear in early July 1918 with the 6 July edition of the Batley News reporting a Council exchange that it was hoped the schools would remain open as although a number of teachers were ‘down’ with influenza there had been no serious report from any one school.

The 13 July edition of the newspaper, when reporting the death of Harry Boyes, Royal Field Artillery, at Staincliffe Hospital indicated that Colonel Russell believed the pneumonia which has stricken him after his initial injury had been caused by influenza “of which the Hospital is full.

This edition of the newspaper coincided with the peak week for the first wave of the flu epidemic in Batley. The newspaper reflected this. Despite the optimism of the previous week, Batley schools were closed on 10 and 11 July; with 1,900 absences on reopening on the 12 July they were once more shut on the 13 July. The paper published the advice of Dr. Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer as follows:

Influenza is caused by a minute bacillus found in the sputum and nasal discharge of persons suffering from the disease. It is conveyed by the breath. The disease is highly contagious. One attack does not confer immunity from another. The onset, after exposure to infection, may be as short as a few hours, and is characterised by a sudden rise of temperature, severe headache, pains in the back of the eyes, muscular aching and pains in muscles of both arms, legs, back, and other parts of the body, rapid pulse, much thirst, furred tongue, redness of inside of throat, which may or may not be sore. The skin is generally dry, but sometimes there is perspiration. The temperature generally falls in 24, 36, or even 48 hours as rapidly as it rose. The pains in the limbs continue longer, together with a sense of prostration for several days. There may be a relapse.

Influenza is rarely fatal, excepting through one of its inflammatory complications such as pneumonia.

The Medical Officer went on to advise that those stricken should at once have a hot bath, go straight to bed and send for the doctor. They should be isolated to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of the disease. The best way to escape infection was to avoid badly ventilated places such as picture palaces and theatres, and public meetings. Those displaying symptoms of bad colds should similarly be avoided.

Regular life, with the avoidance of all excess, plenty of fresh air and sunlight, with free ventilation of  rooms, together with open air exercise and a proper number of hours in bed, is advised.

Despite the Medical Officer’s assertion that the disease was rarely fatal, the number of deaths reported in that week’s newspaper must have given readers pause for thought. These deaths included what was believed to be the first one locally from “the mysterious influenza epidemic,” that of 34-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Driver, wife of Sam Wiloughby Driver, a warehouseman, of 12 Calder Bank Road, Dewsbury. She died on Sunday 8 July 1918, after being taken ill suddenly the day before. By Sunday, when spitting what appeared to be blood, her husband went to see Dr. Pritchard who refused to visit the patient on a Sunday, saying he had hundreds of cases of this complaint [influenza] lately, and not one had caused him anxiety or worry. Despite Mr Driver saying he would not have come had he thought it not serious, Dr. Pritchard sent him away with some medicine. By 6pm that evening Sam Driver returned to Dr. Pritchard’s, but the doctor was out. Before he was able to call another doctor, Sarah Elizabeth died. Dr. R. Beattie, who undertook the post mortem, thought Mrs Driver may have recovered if she had received prompt medical aid. But he also added doctors were so busy at the moment with the influenza outbreak they did not “know which way to turn.” The inquest verdict was she “Died from acute influenza and heart failure.

By  20 July 1918 the town was still dealing with the effects of influenza, with interments in Batley cemetery for the week numbering around 20, double the normal average. However the illness itself was on the decline with far fewer local death reports featuring in that week’s edition of the paper, which quoted:

…..a prominent local practitioner yesterday stated that so far as his experience goes the disease is rapidly declining. Where he used to have a score of patients he has now about two.

The 27 July 1918 paper declared the influenza epidemic practically over, although the occasional death report continued to appear, including that of Mr George Richard Whiteley or Purlwell, age 30, described as a champion Batley swimmer. His death on 29 July, from double pneumonia and pleurisy following influenza, was reported in the 3 August edition of the paper.

The respite was short-lived. By the end of October 1918 flu was once more hitting the local headlines. The 26 October 1918 edition of the Batley News, whilst admitting not too many local victims as yet, was not complacent:

Influenza, which in some parts of the country is raging in virulent epidemic form, has not many victims in this locality. In view, however, of the remarkable rapidity with which whole districts are affected, and of the large percentage of deaths reported from pneumonia following influenza, it is wise that everybody should take simple precautions against contracting the disease and to avoid communicating it to others. These precautions are precisely the same as against catching cold, and the most important are warm clothing and plenty of fresh air. “Weak persons and those suffering from colds should,” says one of the Medical Officers of the Local Government Board, “avoid badly ventilated buildings and overcrowded assemblies. A person who has contracted a severe cold should keep away from work, if he is employed with others, for the first three or four days, as it is during this stage that the complaint is most infectious. If people did that and were less neglectful of personal hygiene and more careful not to cough or sneeze without covering the mouth, there would be far fewer colds and far less spread of influenza.”

The warning about how quickly the illness could assume epidemic proportions was proved correct. By 2 November 1918 it had returned once more to the town with the Batley News reporting four deaths, many school children affected and the Medical Officer deeming it necessary to close all but four schools. Those shut included Purlwell, St Mary’s R.C., Carlinghow (all deparments); Gregory Street (both departments); Mill Lane Mixed, Warwick Road Girls’ and Infants’, Park Road Girls’ and Infants, Hanging Heaton C.E. Mixed and Infants’ and Field Lane Infants’.

At the same time notices were issued to all places of amusement in Batley that, until the 11 November, the period during which the majority of schools were to be closed, no children under fourteen must be allowed to attend. Parents were warned about “gossiping from house to house” and told not to let their children go to households were members were stricken by the illness. With the 11 November Armistice, it was particularly difficult to heed this advice about public gatherings and gossiping with neighbours. The crowds celebrating the Armistice clearly exacerbated the spread of the disease by bringing large groups of people into close proximity.

And whilst mentioning the Armistice it is worth noting the effects of influenza on the local men serving in the military. I know from my St Mary of the Angels, Batley, War Memorial research five of the 76 men (6.5 per cent) died as a result of influenza-related illnesses. Tony Dunlop of Project Bugle, the Batley and Birstall First World War Commemoration Project, estimates around 75 per cent of those who died and were buried locally in the last three months of 1918 were flu or pneumonia related deaths; of the others overseas, flu and pneumonia accounted for possibly around 30 per cent. These epidemic victims included Gunner Edward Chadwick, Sergeant Fred Greenwood and Deck Hand Harold Gaunt.

Centenary Wreath Laying Ceremony for Harold Gaunt – Photo by Jane Roberts

But back to the education situation. The school closures continued, despite attempts to re-open. On the days when schools did open, attendances proved thin because some children were themselves stricken with the illness, or their parents kept well children at home for fear of contagion. At the end of November Batley’s Medical Officer once more decreed schools would remain shut until 9 December.

At the end of November 1918 the Local Government Board, the national body which oversaw Local Authorities who at this time were largely responsible for health care, issued a special regulation. It meant if any public elementary school was temporarily shut because of influenza, no children were to be allowed to visit cinemas or places of public entertainment. Another regulation stipulated that no public entertainment was to be carried on for more than four hours consecutively, and an interval of not less than thirty minutes between entertainments must be observed during which time the venue was to be effectively ventilated. The penalty for any breach was £100.

But, seemingly at odds with the general discouragement of public gatherings, the 30 November Batley News announced that Batley’s Medical Officer had arranged for the showing in local picture halls of “Dr. Wise on Influenza” telling people what to do, or avoid, in the current epidemic! The film, commissioned by the Local Government Board and described as hard-hitting, can be viewed here.

Bored children not occupied by school did find other ways to amuse themselves, some not entirely legal. In February 1919 three boys appeared in court for stealing indiarubber piping from heating apparatus at St John’s Sunday School, as well as six cart lamps. Described as being from respectable families, a mother of one of the boys voiced the opinion that the lads got into mischief whilst the schools were closed for influenza. Courts were affected in other ways too with cases adjourned due to illness . For example in March 1919 a case about alleged breaches of the Rationing Order was halted as two of the defendants, Robert Spedding senior (butcher, of Clark Green) and Grace Reid (milk dealer of Purlwell), were unable to attend Batley Police Court

School closures also had a financial impact. Around 890 schools governed by the West Riding County Council (so not Batley Borough) were closed on average three times during 1918 as a result of the influenza epidemic, involving a loss of grants of around £16,000. The Council also paid over £100,000 to teachers when they were not teaching because of school closures.

It also impacted on those wishing to leave school to take up employment – in March 1919 it was reported that 147 children in Batley failed to attend school the requisite number of days to obtain Labour Certificates. Some Councillors felt that these children were entitled to special consideration given the circumstances. However, the Board of Education forbade them to take into consideration any possible attendances the children may have made if the schools had not been closed on account of the influenza epidemic. This was particularly vexing for some because at this point in time when a child reached the age of 13 and had made 350 attendances for each of five years they could apply for a Labour Certificate, allowing them total or partial exemption from school in order to work. The 1918 Education Act changed the law – from 1 April 1919 all children remained in school until the next holiday after their 14th birthday and Labour Certificates for leaving school before this age were abolished.

The week ending 23 November 1918 saw the peak of the second wave in Batley. By now the illness was impacting on medical services, and the end of the war provided a possible solution.  In view of its prevalence in Batley at the end of  November, the local Council made an application for the return of two local doctors serving in the Forces. However, the problems with doctors unable to meet the demands placed on them was still evident well into February 1919, as indicated in another inquest where two doctors failed to attend the victim, Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Senior (46) of Earlsheaton. Again this was in the neighbouring town of Dewsbury, and it was Dr. Beattie who once more conducted the post-mortem, saying if she had been seen her life may have been saved.

Proposals to treat influenza patients in isolation hospitals such as the one at Oakwell proved tricky due to the difficult staffing situation – by the end of January the hospital only had six nurses to keep five wards operational, and obtaining extra staff was proving impossible. The pressure on Oakwell to change policy increased though when, from 1 March 1919, the Local Government Board made primary pneumonia and pneumonia following influenza notifiable diseases. The aim was now to treat such cases in isolation hospitals if arrangements could be made, as this would save lives. Finally Oakwell was made available for pneumonia cases at the end of March 1919 for those patients where suitable nursing and accommodation was not available at home. These suitable cases were decided by the Medical Officer.

Remedies for influenza proliferated and included gargling morning and night with a solution of potassium permanganate and salt in water. It was also recommended that the solution be inhaled. Adverts appeared in the papers too, including for Crosby’s Cough Elixir, Lifebuoy Soap and, in March 1919, the claim from Ward’s (a clothing store) that you could protect yourself against flu by wearing a fur coat! This presumably based on the wear warm clothing advice.

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Because of the heavy death toll throughout November 1918, (54 due to influenza and 13 to pneumonia) gravediggers were in short supply.  In the five weeks to 30 November there were 95 funerals at Batley Cemetery, compared to 39 in the same period in 1917. The Registrar and cemetery staff came under particular pressure, resulting in distressing delays to burials. As a consequence the Council secured the services of four privates from a Labour Battalion to work in Batley Cemetery to try alleviate the problems.

By the end of December the second wave was over. The Medical Officer reported of the 62 Batley deaths that month, 16 were from influenza, seven were from bronchitis and four due to pneumonia. But once more it was only a temporary lull.

By the end of February  the influenza scourge was back again in Batley – the third wave of the disease. That month Dr. Pearce, the Medical Officer for Batley, reported 26 deaths from influenza, 20 from bronchitis and 8 from pneumonia. The Batley News of 1 March 1919 reported its comeback, but stated it was of a milder type with elementary school closures unnecessary and only six deaths attributed to it the previous week.

That same edition shone a spotlight on Batley’s housing conditions. Dr. J H Wood, J.P., whilst giving a talk to the Batley District Nursing Service ‘musical’ afternoon, touched on the three severe influenza epidemics over the previous eight months. Describing the disease as a plague, he claimed that although fresh air and face masks were all well and good, the problem was people attempting to fight the disease instead of going to bed and making the best of things. He then turned to the acute housing problem in Batley. He knew of one house consisting of one room downstairs and two bedrooms occupied by 12 people, one of whom was a chronic invalid. This was not an isolated case. Some of the housing conditions were a menace to public health, yet the health authorities were helpless to resolve them.

It was certainly true that overcrowding posed a public health problem. Influenza affected multiple family members during the epidemic, and true isolation from the rest of the household proved impossible when space was so limited. The newspapers are full of examples of multiple stricken family members – the same edition as reported overcrowding also mentioned five members of a Mount Top family in Birstall affected by influenza. Other examples included Mrs Senior, referred to earlier, who was one of six in her household to be laid low by the flu. The inquest into the death of Lewis Gomersall (47), a coal miner from Hanging Heaton who died on 21 February 1919, heard that four or five other members of his family were afflicted. One report which struck me was in the 30 November 1918 Batley News as follows:

Healey

Two Deaths in One Family from Influenza

Deep sympathy will be felt for Mr. John Edward Barber, rag merchant, 6, Mortimer Avenue, Healey, whose wife and daughter [Cecilia (60) died on 24 November and Nellie (26) died on 28 November]…..have this week died from influenza. Five members of the family have been attacked by the complaint, and Alice, another daughter, has been at death’s door and has not yet heard of the loss of her mother and sister. A double funeral takes place at Batley Cemetery tomorrow.

It is the street on which I grew up.

However, arguably the most ‘famous’ family in the town to be affected by the flu, and one that did not come into the class of overcrowded households, was that of Mr Theodore Cooke Taylor, J.P., of Sunny Bank, Batley. He was the head of the woollen manufacturing and profit-sharing firm of Messrs. J. T. and J. Taylor Ltd. He too suffered a double blow, but at a time when the epidemic was finally waning. He contracted flu along with his wife and daughter in early April 1919.  Whilst he recovered, his daughter, Evelyn Sara Taylor (43), died on 27 April 1919 from bronchial pneumonia complications; his wife Sara Jane (67) died two days later on 29 April 1919. Their burial took place in Batley Cemetery on 1 May 1919.

By the end of May 1919 Batley and District Insurance Committee were able to declare that the pneumonia plague, arising from influenza, was finally subsiding.  But it was at a cost of almost 200 lives directly attributed to influenza, not to mention those who succumbed to the subsequent respiratory complications.

Sources:

  • Supplement to the Eighty-First Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales, Report on the Mortality from Influenza in England and Wales During the Epidemic of 1918-1919
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1919 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1920 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Various editions of the Batley News, June1918 to June 1919
  • Project Bugle – http://www.projectbugle.org.uk/
  • The Flu That Wasn’t Spanish – https://history.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/13/the-flu-that-wasnt-spanish/

Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union

On Saturday I saw my book for the first time. The finished product looks amazing.

As the publisher said:

What began as an idea in the press box at Huddersfield is now one of the definitive history books about rugby league. Scratching Shed Publishing is honoured to publish a tribute to the 69 men who fell in WWI by Chris & Jane Roberts….

Chris and I echo these sentiments. It has been a real privilege to be able to research the lives of these men.

The publishers have done a fantastic job, supporting us throughout the process of writing this long overdue and important rugby league history book. But above all this is more than a rugby league book, a sporting history book, or a World War One book. It is the story of the impact of war on individual men and their families from across Great Britain.

I hope we’ve done them justice.

The book is available from Scratching Shed Publishing at £14.99.

I also have copies for sale, which can be signed if required. I can also drop off locally. If so the cost is £13.50. Post within the UK increases the cost to £14.99. Payment can either be via cheque (UK) or bank transfer. My contact email is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com.

The book will also shortly be available from the usual book retailers.

If any family history, rugby league or local history groups would like Chris and I to do a talk, please contact me on the above email address.