Whilst looking at a 19th century map of the West and East Ardsley areas, the place name Who could have thought it captured my imagination. Although I don’t live too far away from the area, this was the first time I had encountered it.
That was it. Instead of focusing on a course about agricultural labourers (the reason I’d been studying the map in the first place) I now set about trying to find out more about the origins of this unusual location name. Amazingly this led me down a rabbit hole which was connected to my own family history.
Some sources state that Who Could Have Thought It was named after a tragic accident in 1809, in which ten East Ardsley miners were killed.1 The location was a small cluster of miners’ cottages at Spring Bottom, which, as a result of the tragedy, became known locally as Who Could Have Thought It. The name appears on O.S. maps until circa 1930, after which it becomes Haigh Hall Terrace.
As a result of this information my interest was piqued further. I have direct maternal line ancestors who were miners in and around East Ardsley in this period. These include my 4x great grandfathers David Hudson, born in circa 1795, and George Broadhead, baptised in East Ardsley in 1803.
Now it was time to find out about this accident.
The York Herald and County Advertiser reported on it as follows:
We have to record a most melancholy accident which happened on Friday week, in two of the pits belonging to Mess. Lee, Watson and Co., situate at East Ardsley, near Wakefield. Ten men and four boys, colliers, employed in the said pits, were instantly drowned by the bursting, it is supposed, of the tunnel of some old pits, lying near and not now in use. —The water, which is not less than ten or eleven yards deep in each pit, is drawing off as quick as possible, but it is thought the bodies will not be got out before Tuesday. —Several of the unfortunate sufferers have left wives and families; thus in a moment bereft of their only earthly protectors and friends. Three young lads, who were at the mouth of one of the pits, on hearing the running water, swarmed up the rope, and alarming, by their cries, the men at the top, were fortunately extricated from their perilous situation. An inquest will be held on the bodies of the sufferers as soon as they can be got out. It since appears that only six men were drowned – four having escaped, but through what means we have not learned.2
The escape of these four additional men reduced the death toll to ten. An article in the Morning Post provide more details about their rescue. It also provided the names of the dead:
In the melancholy catalogue of misfortunes, so frequently occurring in Coal Mines, few have produced a deeper impression on the public, or been more dreadfully fatal in their consequences, than that which happened in the pits of Messrs. Lee, Watson, and Co, at East Ardsley, near Wakefield on Friday the 30th ult. The workmen at the time the accident happened, were driving through a throw, as it is technically called, when coming in contact with some exhausted pits, the water rushed through an aperture with irresistible impetuosity, and almost instantly inundated the pit where the people were at work. Three lads, fortunately in a situation to take the bucket, were drawn up without injury, but eleven men and three boys were shut up in the subterraneous abode, and for three days and nights consigned, in the imagination of their families and friends, to the mansions of the dead. Every exertion was made to drain the pit in hope that some lives might be saved; two engines were set to work for that purpose, and the Colliers from the works of Messrs. Branding, Smithson, Fenton, Wood, and Walker, were unremitting in their endeavours to rescue, if Providence had so ordered it, some, at least, of their unfortunate fellow workmen from the jaws of death.
On Monday, voices were heard to ascend from the pits; imagine the anxiety of wives, mothers, fathers, and children, all standing at the mouth of the abyss – anxious to catch a sound – and intensely anxious in that sound to recognise the well-known voice for some near and dear relative.
The moment had arrived when the hopes of some were to be elevated into reality, and the fond expectation of others to be sunk to dispair [sic]. Two men and two boys, John Hudson, Robert Kendrew, William Broad, and Joseph Goodyear, were drawn up alive and in health, though they had remained for three days and nights without rest or sustenance, except a little bread, which Kendrew happened to have in his pocket, and which, with unexampled generosity, he divided among his half famished companions, supplying his own wants with a quid of tobacco.3 The following are the names and families of the ten unfortunate sufferers:—
Aaron Haigh, a boy; George Gothard, an unmarried man; Samuel Bower, an unmarried man; John Haigh, has left a wife pregnant; Thomas Brook, one child and a wife pregnant; Thomas Broad, a wife and two children; William Broad, a wife and three children; Thomas Marshall, a wife and five children; Thomas Hartley, a wife and six children; and Jonathan Gothard, a wife and nine children.4
According to another report John and Aaron Haigh were brothers. They were alive for some time after the flooding. Eventually they made a bid to get out, but were drowned in the attempt. The remaining eight corpses were dragged out of the pit once the water subsided. Their lifeless bodies were presented to their heart-broken relatives.5
By now I was well and truly hooked. A Hudson featured amongst the saved, as did a Broad. Two further Broads were amongst the dead, including a Thomas Broad.
The cogs in the family history part of my brain were kicking into overdrive as a result of the Broad angle. My earlier research into the Broadhead family had revealed they sometimes used the surname Broad. My 4x great grandfather, George Broadhead, married in 1826 under the name Broad, and this was the recording of his surname in one census (1841). Some (but not all) of his children were baptised as Broad too. And George’s 1803 baptism entry (under Broadhead) names his father as miner Thomas. Other than that, I had no more information about Thomas. To be fair it is a branch I’ve not looked at for a few years. Could this mining accident be a breakthrough?.
A couple of more general points struck me from the newspaper coverage. Firstly the community involvement, with miners from other local pits helping in the rescue and recovery attempt.
Secondly, there is an incredible amount of detail for a newspaper report of the time into a mining accident in a Yorkshire village: Even down to the victims’ names, marital status and number of children. Reports in this period can be very sketchy on such details.
That the events in East Ardsley captured the public imagination is evident. It is not hard to see why. Apart from the tragedy, it had elements of raw human emotion, bravery and acts of pure selflessness, with the events having a central hero in Robert Kendrew.
Such was the impact of the East Ardsley pit disaster, and the survival over days of the four miners, in 1818 the Reverend James Plumptre, the Vicar of Great Grandsen, Huntingdonshire, wrote a play based on them. Entitled Kendrew: or, The Coal Mine, it focuses on the struggle for survival of Robert Kendrew, John Hudson, William Broad and Joseph Goodyear. The play is still available to read, with its religious overtones, its whitewashing of the realities of pit work, its romanticised depiction of a female miner and the weaving in of a love story.6
Back to reality, I decided to check parish registers for the burial of the men. So far I have located information for eight.
Four of the burials took place on 4 July 1809 at Woodkirk St Mary’s parish church. The register has the helpful annotation that they drowned in a pit on 1 July (note this is the day after the accident).7
- William Hartley, from East Ardsley, Collier;
- Thomas Brook, of Hague Moor, Collier;
- John Hague of Hague Moor, Collier; and
- Aaron, son of Aaron Hague of Westerton, Collier.
The burials of a further four of the victims are recorded, minus any explanatory notes, in the parish register of St Michael’s, East Ardsley.8
- 4 July 1809 – Sam[ue]l, son of Jonathan Bower, Labourer, Wakefield Parish;
- 4 July 1809 – Tho[ma]s Marshall, Miner;
- 5 July 1809 – Thomas Broadhead, Miner; and
- 5 July 1809 – William Broadhead, Miner.
My heart skipped a beat. Here Thomas’ surname is recorded as Broadhead, not Broad. Disappointingly there were no further clues in the register entry. An age would have been a bonus. The Bishop’s Transcript (BT) unfortunately added nothing further. Although on this occasion the BT was no help, they are always worth checking. The only hint as to age, therefore, came from the newspaper which indicated he had a wife and two children.
It was now time to hit the parish registers in earnest. In addition to East Ardsley, this included checking its surrounding parishes in this period: Dewsbury, Woodkirk, Rothwell and Wakefield. Searches included both Broadhead and Broad. As a result I now have page upon page of Broadhead research and family notes!
For consistency, in the following write-up of this research, I will use the surname Broadhead rather than Broad. However, I will indicate when the Broad version was used in records.
I focused on not only Thomas, but William Broadhead too, in case there was a family connection between them. The newspapers had mentioned the Haighs were brothers, nothing about the relationship between the Broadheads. But perhaps they were cousins?
The newspaper indicated William had three children and Thomas two. I first set about trying to identify these children to see if there was a possibility this Thomas was the father of my 1803 baptised 4x great grandfather.
Sod’s law. William was a doddle, Thomas was not.
William Broadhead was baptised at East Ardsley parish church on 13 June 1784, the son of coal miner William Broadhead.9 Siblings included David, Nanny and James. No sibling named Thomas has been found. William married Mary Claiton, also at East Ardsley, on 25 December 1805.10 Their children, all baptised in the same church, were:
- Hannah, baptised 27 July 1806;11
- Jane, baptised on 16 December 1807;12 and
- Elizabeth, baptised on 24 June 1809, less than a week before her father’s death.13
In all the baptism entries William is listed either as a miner or coal miner. Elizabeth died in 1810.14 The other two girls survived, with Hannah marrying John Wainwright in 1823,15 and Jane marrying John Bedford in 1825.16
Over to Thomas, then. I checked for any Broadhead East Ardsley baptisms between 1773 and 1823, with a father named Thomas. The post-1809 dates were deliberate, to see if there was a Thomas in the parish after the accident.
There were eight baptisms in total, all occurring between 1797 and 1810. Four could be discounted as they related to children of a clothier from Wakefield parish. Another, linked to a labourer from Wakefield parish, was similarly ruled out. That left three, as follows:
- George, baptised 13 March 1803, son of Tho[ma]s, miner [my 4x great grandad];17
- John, baptised 11 February 1805, son of Tho[ma]s, miner.18 He died in 1818;19 and
- Ellin, baptised 20 August 1809, daughter of Tho[ma]s and Hannah, miner.20
The obvious issue here is the number of children – three as opposed to the two cited in the newspaper. The other issue is Ellin’s baptism took place after the 30 June 1809 accident, and there is no reference in her baptism entry to her father being dead. The only difference in the BT was name, Ellioner, so no help there. I checked the baptism entry for John Haigh’s child for comparison purposes. The newspaper reports mentioned his wife was pregnant at the time of his death – no such mention for Thomas Broadhead’s wife. Unfortunately for my purposes the Haigh baptism took place in Woodkirk parish so the phraseology for the entry in this parish cannot be directly compared with that of East Ardsley. In the Woodkirk register, whilst John is named as the baby’s father, the entry clearly indicates he is deceased.21
The anomaly may simply be a newspaper oversight: Thomas did have two children when he died – George and John. But had his wife so very recently given birth to a third that it had been missed in reporting? Although saying that, William’s third child had only recently been born and she was included. The more likely scenario, however, assuming the likely interval between birth and baptism was weeks (though accepting this was not always the case), and with the 20 August baptism date, was Hannah being pregnant at the time of Thomas’ death, and this being overlooked in press reporting. Though the discrepancy is worth noting as an end that does not neatly tie, this latter scenario seems not improbable.
There is one final document to build the case for Thomas being my 5x great grandfather, and this is a probate document from the Exchequer Court of York. On the 12 August 1809 Administration of the goods of Thomas Broadhead, late of East Ardsley who died intestate, was granted to his widow Hannah Broadhead.22 The death can refer to none other than the miner who lost his life in the pit. This document is confirmation of the name of the widow of this miner.
As it stands I believe the balance of evidence is overwhelming now pointing to the 1809 death being George’s father, and my 5x great grandfather, Thomas Broadhead. There is simply no other candidate.
I wanted to find out what happened to Ellin, as much as anything for any further clues this might offer. Besides parish registers, other sources used here included censuses to corroborate age and birthplace, and GRO indexes.
Ellen Broad (note the surname) married Jonathan Hanson at Dewsbury All Saints parish church on 16 September 1827.23 The witnesses offer no further family information. The interchange between the Broad and Broadhead surnames is demonstrated by the registration of those children born after the introduction civil registration. Two have Broadhead as mother’s maiden name, and one has Broad.24
I now returned to Thomas and Hannah. When did they marry?
There were two candidates for the marriage, neither in East Ardsley:
- Wakefield All Saints, 16 January 1792, Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Batty, both of this parish, with a William Broadhead as a witness;25
- Rothwell Holy Trinity, 19 April 1802, Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Lumb, both of this parish, with a John Broadhead as witness.26
The first was eliminated. This couple appeared to be having children baptised in Wakefield parish from 1792 to 1807. And the baptism of one child, Charlotte, in 1804 provided the confirmation, naming Hannah as the daughter of David Battye.27 Interestingly one baptism for this family, from 1799, mentions an abode of Beck Bottom. only a hop, skip and jump over the East Ardsley parish boundary. And in 1817 David Broadhead, (brother of William who died in the accident), along with his wife Hannah and six children were removed from East Ardsley to Alverthorpe with Thornes.28 There does appear to be a particular location focus emerging for these Broadheads, around the southern East Ardsley parish boundary with the Alverthorpe area of Wakefield parish at the time.
This left the 1802 Rothwell marriage of Thomas to Hannah Lumb. Broadhead was not a common name in this parish. A Thomas cannot be traced in it before the marriage. There are no children of the couple baptised there subsequently. Another Broadhead marriage took place there in 1806, that of a William Broadhead to Charlotte Wainwright.29 Despite this also saying the couple were both of this parish, William was actually from Woodkirk parish, this is where the couple lived after their marriage and it was the baptism parish of their children. On this basis I have concluded the 1802 Rothwell marriage of Thomas Broadhead and Hannah Lumb is the correct one.
As for when Thomas Broadhead was born, this is still a work in progress. The most obvious baptism is one at East Ardsley on 29 October 1780, for Thomas son of miner John Broadead.30 But I cannot be definitive as there are other options in Wakefield and Woodkirk (the most likely other parishes) which I need to work through. Checking baptisms between 1740-1790 produced this list of candidates:
- Wakefield, 26 October 1741 – Tho[ma]s, son of Dan Broadhead;
- Wakefield, 16 February 1741 – Tho[ma]s, son of Adam Broadhead, Potovans;
- Wakefield, 1 September 1755 – Tho[ma]s, son of Sarah Broadhead, base begot by John Beaumont, Thornhill;
- Wakefield, 18 November 1769 – Tho[ma]s, son of Samuel Broadhead;
- Wakefield, 26 December 1770 – Tho[ma]s, son of Jonathan Broadhead;
- Woodkirk, 9 February 1772 (note this parish is still using old style dating and it is 1771 in the Register) – Thomas, son of James Broadhead, Beggarington, collier;
- Wakefield, 24 February 1775 – Tho[ma]s, son of Joshua Broadhead;
- Wakefield, 24 August 1778 – Tho[ma]s, son of Widow Broadhead;
- East Ardsley, 29 October 1780 – Tho[ma]s, son of John Broadhead, miner;
Unfortunately, because of the scant information in parish registers of this period, it may prove impossible to reconcile them all with marriages and burials. I may be left with more than one candidate. I may have to see what alternative sources exist, and even that might be insufficient.
And in further frustration I have yet to establish what, if any, connection there was between the 1809 mining casualties Thomas and William Broadhead. The only lead I have is very tenuous. Witnesses at the 1823 East Ardsley marriage of William’s daughter Hannah to John Wainwright include what looks like two separate George Broadhead signatories. Having these handwriting examples for comparison purposes have not helped yet. Unfortunately, when my 4x great grandfather George Broadhead married Rachel Speight, at Woodkirk on 18 June 1826, he made his mark.31 This was a period when he was styling himself Broad, not Broadhead which constitutes yet another smokescreen. I have known people who did switch between marks and signing their name, but to date I have no signature for my 4x great grandfather with which to compare. In another complication neither of the other two George Broadheads I know who were around in this period signed their names when they married, so I cannot definitively eliminate them either. 32
Finally, it looks highly probable that the boy named William Broad[head] named amongst the rescued, was baptised at East Ardsley on 25 December 1794, son of miner John Broadhead.33 I did initially wonder if he could be a younger brother of Thomas, especially if the 1780 East Ardsley baptism is the correct one. But further analysis showed this William’s parents were John Broadhead who married Mary Marshall at East Ardsley on 18 November 1793.34 Furthermore John and Mary are alive in the 1841 census, with John’s age being 70 (possibly rounded down in accordance with that census).35 His burial at East Ardsley on 23 July 1848, age 77, provides yet further confirmation this man cannot be the father of Thomas who married in 1802.36 But could he be a brother? More work needed there.
All this mixed bag of results goes to illustrate that family history is not simple. It takes time, and at the end of it there may not be a conclusive answer. I believe the evidence has stacked up in favour that Thomas Broadhead, who died in the 1809 mining accident, being my 5x great grandfather. Also that Hannah Lumb is my 5x great grandmother. If this is the case, I also have two siblings for my 4x great grandfather, in John and Ellen. But beyond that I have not found Thomas’ baptism. The most probable is the 1780 East Ardsley one, son of John. But I cannot categorically state that and add it to my family tree.
I also need to find out what became of Thomas’ widow, my 5x great grandmother Hannah Lumb, after his death.
It’s a typical case of answer one family history question and end up with a whole bunch more.
More work remains. In the list of priorities I need to:
- Visit Morley Library (original) or West Yorkshire Archives (microfilm) to see if anything further can be found in the East Ardsley township and Churchwarden records about the Broadhead family, in particular after the death of Thomas;
- Try to confirm Thomas’ baptism. Whilst the 1780 is a possible, I need to do more in investigation around the other Thomas Broadhead baptisms. Ultimately it may come down to attempting to reconstruct the Broadhead families in the East Ardsley, Woodkirk and Wakefield parishes, which is where the main linkages appear to be. And this will involve going through parish registers page by page. It is a painstaking and time-consuming task. And after all that I may still have no perfect answer; and
- It is also then a case of seeking out any other sources which may help for the parishes of interest, beyond the East Ardsley ones mentioned above. Things like wider parish poor law records including removal orders, settlement certificates, bastardy bonds…if they survive!
- And then there’s trying to trace Hannah Broadhead (formerly Lumb) in records – knowing in advance there are a number of Hannah Broadheads in the area.
If there are any developments coming out of this work I will provide an update.
In conclusion, this has been a glorious rabbit hole to explore. At a minimum I now know more about the turn of the 19th century East Ardsley community of my ancestors. Above all I believe I have made a family tree breakthrough and identified a set of 5x great grandparents. I also have information about my 5x great grandfather’s death, and added to my mining family history in the process.
Who would have thought a course on agricultural labourers, a map and a place called Who Could Have Thought It would lead to that?
Postscript: I am still unclear how the pit accident could lead to this peculiar place name, unless it was some reference to the survival of the four miners. Also the place name is not unique. I have since discovered another Who Could Have Thought it to the north-east of Thornton, Bradford on the 1847-1850 surveyed six-inch ordnance survey map, published in 1852. Who knows how many more there are?
1. Loyal “Who Could Have Thought It” Lodge No. 416 of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows (Huddersfield Unity), Huddersfield Exposed, https://huddersfield.exposed/wiki/;
2. York Herald and County Advertiser, 8 July 1809;
3. Chewing tobacco;
4. Morning Post, 11 July 1809;
5. Statesman, 11 July 1809;
6. Plumptre, James. Original Dramas … With Prefaces and Notes. MS. Notes and Corrections by the Author. Cambridge: J. Hodson, 1818. Available via Google Books;
7. Woodkirk St Mary’s parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/1/4;
8. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
9. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference:WDP16/1/1;
10. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8. Register records she was the daughter of Mary, a widow;
11. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
14. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
15. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8;
16. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/9;
17. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
19. St Michael’s East Ardsley burial register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP16/1/16
20. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
21. St Mary’s Woodkirk parish register, baptism of Rachel Haigh, 20 August 1809, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/1/4;
22. Thomas Broadhead, Administration, East Ardsley, AUG 1809, Exchequer Court of York, Borthwick Institute
23. All Saints Dewsbury marriage register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP9/21;
24. Dewsbury registered Emma (1837) and John (1840) have Broadhead; Martha Ann, registered in Halifax in 1845, has Broad;
25. All Saints Wakefield parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP3/3/5;
26. Rothwell Holy Trinity parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: RDP91/3/3;
27. Charlotte Broadhead baptism 30 December 1804, Wakefield St John the Baptist parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP45/1/1/1;
28. West Riding Quarter Sessions, Leeds Sessions 16 October 1817, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: QS10/4;
29. William Broadhead marriage 8 September 1806, Rothwell Holy Trinity parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: RDP91/3/3;
30. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/1;
31. St Mary’s Woodkirk marriage register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP108/1/3/3;
32. George Broadhead who married Mary Hartley at Wakefield All Saints on 26 August 1822, son of William and Mary and baptised at Wakefield on 20 April 1801; and George Broadhead who married Elizabeth Broadhead at Woodkirk on 18 November 1828, likely the son of John, baptised at East Ardsley on 24 May 1807;
33. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/2;
34. St Michael’s East Ardsley parish register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/8;
35. 1841 England and Wales census, The National Archives, Reference HO107/1267/1/13/23;
36. St Michael’s East Ardsley burial register, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference: WDP16/1/16.