Monthly Archives: October 2016

Child Employment in the Silk Industry 1815-1871 – Part 3

This is the third part of my look at child workers in the silk industry between 1815-1871. Earlier posts (Part 1) and (Part 2) looked at the background of the industry, numbers involved, type of work undertaken, children’s ages, their working conditions and health. In this post I will focus on the Factory Acts affecting child employment in the silk industry in this period.

How far did the Factory Acts effect the silk industry?
Although they included the silk industry, the most striking thing when examining the 1833, 1844 and 1847 Factory Acts is some of the most important clauses, dealing with hours and education, did not apply to the industry.

The first Act which included provisions concerning the silk industry was that of 1833, which resulted from the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee and Royal Commission of 1833.

This Act forbade the night employment of under 18’s in a number of textile factories, including silk. Neither was the 13-18 age group to work for more than 12 hours a day or 69 a week. No child was to be employed in mills regulated by the Act until they reached the age of nine….except silk mills which could engage children regardless of age. It regulated the employment of children under 13 to nine hours a day, or 48 in a week. But in silk mills children under 13 could work 10 hours and the 48 hour rule did not apply either. The Act included overtime provisions and the circumstances in which it could be used. It also provided for one and a half hours for meals and it required children under 13 who came within the 48 hour rule to receive elementary schooling for two hours each day. It also established a minimal factory inspectorate to ensure compliance with these laws.

Children employed in silk mills were therefore only afforded limited protection by the 1833 Act, for not only was it legal to work them for 10 hours a day, but they were outside the scope of the education clauses, which were limited to those whose labour was restricted to 48 hours a week.

This Act, though firmly establishing the right for government to intervene where child employment was concerned, had a number of defects because of its novel and experimental nature. Thus Leonard Horner, one of the Inspectors of Factories established under this Act, wrote that it “has not done nearly all the good that was intended. The failures have mainly arisen from the defects in the law itself; not in the principles it lays down, but in the machinery which was constructed for the purpose of carrying the principle into operation….and after it was set into work, much of it was found to have been ill contrived, and some positively so bad that it obstructed, and to a great degree prevented, the attainment of this object.

To begin with the Act was not enforced effectively because the inspectors lacked experience in factory employment and tended to work with the employers. Other obstacles included the difficulties detecting overworking of protected persons with the 15 hour limit of the working day. Children under 13 were not specifically included in the mealtime provisions, so it was legal to employ them without a break. Above 13 they were put to work cleaning machinery during their meal breaks. Superintendents only had restricted entry to the mills, while factory owners knew when the Inspector was due so had time to put their factories in order.

The effective prosecution of the Factory Acts was not without controversy. The generally accepted view is magistrates, due to their manufacturing interests, were unwilling to convict and this encouraged factory owners to flout the law. However, an interesting theory to the contrary is put forward by A.E. Peacock in which he uses prosecution reports in Lancashire and the West Riding between 1834-55 to argue the contrary. He said: “The rates of conviction achieved would have been noteworthy in any field of legislation, but in one as new and contentious as factory working, and involving measures directed against the owners of property, they were quite remarkable.”

What effect did the 1833 Factory Act have on child employment in the silk industry?
Table 10 shows although a decline of children employed in silk factories took place between 1835-1838, it was only 4.9% and this could easily be attributed to the depression in the silk industry at the time.Furthermore, while children in other factories were being dismissed as age and hours provisions came into effect, these did not apply to such an extent to the silk industry, so children remained in employment. I have used a piece of later research, Table 11, to illustrate this.The problems of enforcing the 1833 Factory Act led to the 1844 Act. This included the silk industry to a slightly greater extent than the previous Act. For, besides stricter regulations governing the recovery of lost time, and tighter provision on the subject of meals, the Act stated that silk mills were to come under the same regulations as other textile factories.

However there was a crucial step back modification. Whereas the Act limited the hours worked by children to six and a half per day, with three hours’ schooling, and set a maximum 12-hour day for young people between 13 and 18, children over the age of 11 engaged in winding and throwing raw silk were allowed to work ten hours a day. And these children were exempt from the schooling clauses which instigated the half time system. Because winding and throwing raw silk occupied the greatest number of children involved in the industry, this Act can once again be said to have had no great effect on child employment in this industry. The drop which did occur, 7.1% between 1838-1847, would potentially be accounted for the drop generally in the spun and waste silk branch.

These provisions were retained in the 1847 Factory Act, commonly known as the Ten Hours Act, and amending Acts of 1850 and 1853. These essentially dealt with the working hours of women and young persons aged 13-18 in textiles mills. The 1847 Act reduced the hours of 13-18 year olds and women to ten per day. The 1850 Act raised the hours for women and these young people to 10.5. However, nothing was done with reference to those children over the age of 11 in the silk industry as illustrated in Section 7 of the 1850 amending Act. This repeated the provision that 11 year old children engaged solely in winding and throwing raw silk could be employed in all respects as young persons, that is 10.5 hours a day, providing they had a surgical certificate to say they had completed their eleventh year. Under 11’s had to attend school under the half time system for three hours a day.

But the loopholes did cause consternation to teachers and silk spinning mill owners, as shown in the 1866. John Chadwick said those who wind hard silk “may employ children over 11 for 10.5 hours, but if we use power here for winding soft silk we could not employ them so, unless they were 13 years old.” Inspector H.W. Lord, in his report for the Royal Commission into Child Employment, agreed that this law was unfair, particularly since he believed that soft silk winding was less likely to be harmful. Whilst the Rev H.R. Sandford, Inspector of Schools for the silk dominated town of Leek remarked the children in the girls school were all infants because “there are no half timers of children attending school from any of the factories which are under the silkworks act.

So the Factory Acts only had a limited application for children in the silk industry. And their provisions did not apply at all to those employed in a domestic situation or in unregulated factories and sheds. Therefore the Factory Acts had only a limited effect on child employment and its decline in this industry. Other factors played a part, and some of these are directly linked to the rationale behind this limited legislation.

Why was legislation over child employment in the silk industry so light touch?
Because these Acts were innovative and experimental, there was a gradual evolution and extension. Not everything could be done immediately. The lace industry was another branch of the textile industry which was not included. It would have been too great a step to legislate against all child employment in one go, especially when considering the significant opposition to the limited legislation. It was not feasible, practical or prudent policy. If the Acts proved workable they could gradually be extended to cover more industries/branches.

The silk industry employed a large number of children as compared with other branches of the textile industry, as shown in Table 12 below.If this labour was removed it could have a disasterous effect on the silk industry. At the period of the first Factory Act, the silk industry was already declining and the previous year, 1832, a Select Committee had investigated the issues affecting the trade. Throughout the various investigations into child employment a constant theme was the peculiar circumstances pertaining to silk. In Lord Ashley’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into child employment, established in 1840, agreed that “these children both need and are entitled to legislative protection.” However, because of the unusual conditions in mills were silk was wound and thrown, conditions which made it imperative to employ a considerable number of young hands, they felt unable to make any recommendations other than separate treatment should be considered. Hence the fact that this industry was subject to less stringent measures than other textile industries in the subsequent Factory Acts.

So what were these peculiar circumstances? I will look at these in my final post. These peculiarities which ultimately played the more significant influence behind the decline of child employment here.

Child Employment in the Silk Industry 1815-1871 – Part 2

In the first part of my look at child workers in the silk industry between 1815-1871 I gave a brief background to this industry, looked at the numbers involved and the types of job. In this part I will cover their ages, wages, working conditions and health impacts.

Why did employers take children of this age?
First and foremost it was permissible under the Factory Acts. However there were a number of other reasons.

Factory owners believed the younger the children began to work, the better workers it made them. In 1834 J.S. Ward, who preferred to take eight year olds, but did admit to employing them as young as seven, said “children who are taught early make the best hands.

Furthermore quick, nimble fingers were needed to tie knots, a skill in which children had the advantage over adults.

They were also cheap. Factory owners, particularly in the 1830’s, exhibited a great concern for wages. In the 1820’s there had been a progressive lowering of duties on foreign silk products which caused a depression in the English silk industry. The mill owners argued that since they had been brought into competition with foreign countries with there much cheaper labour and production costs, child employment was imperative in order to keep production costs down and enable competition: young children were necessary. “A child above 12 would generally take double the time to learn as one under, and their wages would be higher whilst they were learning and getting us nothing” claimed William Upton Lester of G.M. Lester & Sons, Newcastle-Under-Lyme in the 1834 Factories Inquiry Commission supplementary report. In fact some mill owners argued a greater number of under 12s needed to be employed as a consequence. Adult wages could not be afforded.

A final reason has already been hinted at, with parental duplicity over children’s ages. In 1816-17 obliging the parents was the most common reason given for child employment. The fact that parents were prepared to lie over their children’s ages to obtain for them mill work shows this to be accurate. The parents “derived advantage from their earnings”.

Children played an important part in the family economy, making a contribution to the family finances. According to David Vincent child labourers had an awareness that their contributions could make a significant difference to the well-being of the family. This applied as much to those involved in domestic industries as to those in factories. They were to be loved and economically exploited.

What wages could a child expect to bring home?
Naturally this varied according to the child’s age, exact employment, period in time, and whether the work was conducted in a mill or domestic situation. A child who worked alongside a parent handloom weaver would not know how much he or she earned because the winding work was tied in with the parents’ earnings for the piece. A good handloom weaver could expect to earn 18s a week in the early 19th century. Generally though wages declined after 1815, and the influx of handloom weavers from the cotton industry added to the labour pool depressing wages further. For winders in a domestic situation supplying factories, payment was by the pound. Prior to 1829 they earned on average 2s per lb, but by 1831 thus decreased to 1s, with a good worker winding 2.5lbs per week.

In the factories wages varied from 1s-4s a week. Larger mills tended to pay more than smaller ones. Tables 6 & 7 illustrate wages in the mid 1820’s to 1830’s. Note the reduction in hours worked in Table 7, a result of the trade depression.

Besides helping with income, child participation in the family economy had two other functions:

  • It provided the child with a sense of identity and security; and
  • The child was nurtured and trained

These functions were only fully achievable in a domestic setting. In industry it broke down. The parent could not ensure the child was not taxed beyond his/her strength. Neither could the parent necessarily personally protect or train the child.

What were the working conditions and health effects?

Conditions in factories varied. Compared to the cotton industry, silk working did appear an healthier form of employment. According to contemporary descriptions silk manufacture “is a remarkably clean occupation, produces no dust and is best carried on in a temperature that is agreeable to the feelings.

To start with the temperature was constant at about 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Silk production required no obvious excess of heat, so the workers could ventilate the room to their own taste. According to the Factories Inquiry Commission Supplementary Report 1834 “A moderate temperature is best for silk work 50 degrees  to 60 degrees; either too hot or too cold makes the silk brittle. If it is too warm the gum flies off and the weight is lost; too cold and the thread becomes too brittle and breaks.

Punishment was a feature of work, though it varied from factory to factory. The majority imposed fines for misdeeds. Most factory owners said they did not sanction corporal punishment, though did admit to occasionally using sticks across the shoulders. But the comparatively high value of silk against other textiles did influence punishment, as waste of silk was costly. There is definite evidence of harsh treatment were waste was perceived.

The hours of work also varied from factory to factory, and during different periods of time. As we have seen from Table 7 depression meant short time. James Sharpley, of Brocklehursts, said hours varied from six upwards, depending on the fluctuations in the silk industry business.

Early in 1833 children in his factory worked about eight hours 40 minutes a day. The number of days varied too. In 1831 some factories only worked four days a week. But when demand was good excess hours were needed “since the free trade system the work is naturally very irregular, for if a little demand rises we are so afraid of competition that we work day and night to be first in the market…..which creates an over stock, and then we are not able to work above three or four days per week.” Therefore the very precarious nature of the silk industry made it difficult to compute hours.

In normal trade circumstances, children worked anything between 10 to 12 hours a day. The usual hours were from 6am to 6pm with one and a half hours for meals. Night work was rare before 1833 and after prohibited under the Factory Act. Nevertheless in smaller winding sheds “it is not unusual to work from 6am to 6pm or even 10pm.

The manufacturers claimed that the work was not laborious and the children had plenty opportunity to test. The children claimed the hours were excessive and they felt tired, even though the work was not heavy. A typical comment from a child worker, Ann Barnwell, was “Think the work hard, it tired me very much at first but it don’t now, got used to it.

It is difficult to judge the reality because both groups had an interest: the manufacturers didn’t want children to work less hours as it would increase production costs in an industry already susceptible to trade fluctuations. So it suited them to play down any impact to health brought about by hours and conditions; and child operatives would themselves be the beneficiaries shorter hours if they were deemed excessive. The issue is further complicated looking at it from the standards we employ today. But put into perspective a child of nine or ten working in the silk industry was working longer than most adults in today’s society.

Other than the inevitable fatigue, the commonly held view was that the health impacts on children of working in the silk industry were comparatively benign. Even in 1866 Assistant Commissioner H.W. Lord in the 1866 report into child employment wrote that the occupations of winding and piecing “seem to be quite harmless.

The medical inspections of the mills appear to back up this belief. John Fleet, a Macclesfield doctor described the silk-trade as an extremely healthy employment. In his letter to the 1831 letter to the Factories Inquiry Commission he went on to write “…..the temperature of the rooms is regulated according to the comfort of the parties employed in them, they are clear from dust, are I odorous and well ventilated….I find it is a popular impression, the deformity of the spine and distortion of limbs is brought on by employment in the silk business; nothing can be more erroneous than this supposition.

In a letter to the same Inquiry John Braithwaite, another Macclesfield medical man,wrote “…..of all the factories with which I am acquainted, those in the silk-trade are the least prejudicial to the people engaged in them……The children engaged in these factories, for the most part, have the appearance of health, happiness, cleanliness, and contentment;

And George Senior, on behalf of Harter’s in Manchester wrote “It is generally said that they [parents] prefer silk mills; the work is cleaner and there is no flue flying about.

adam fletcher

Silk Mills and Church, Derby by Moses Griffiths, 1747-1809 [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tables 8 and 9 below chart a series of medical examinations conducted in 1833. These show overwhelmingly health in silk mills to be far better than cotton factories. Of course it is possible that these medical examinations were fixed to the extent that factory owners sent sickly children home for the day. However if this practise took place in silk mills, it would be logical to assume cotton mills did the same: yet cotton mills had a comparatively much worse record of health. It can be therefore taken that the tables provide a relatively accurate comparison of health in the two industries. But that does not mean the employment was not detrimental to health.

 

Condemnation of health did occur. When examined in 1832 Daniel Fraser, warping department manager at John Fisher & Co silk mill at Huddersfield was critical. He described silk mill girls in the throwing department, saying “contrasted with other children, they appear pale, their eyes are sunk, they are thinner in flesh and altogether they seem deteriorated.

It was also stated that those children not brought up in a factory system were more healthy. That’s the bottom line. The factory system, whatever branch, was fatiguing, unhealthy, dangerous and children were subjected to harsh treatment.

In my next post I will examine in more detail the Factory Acts of 1833, 1844 and 1847 and their impact on child employment in the silk industry.

Another Family History Website Bites the Dust

A sad day for those with coal mining ancestors and interests. Whilst doing some research into my many ancestors working in this industry, I attempted to access one of my favourite occupational websites, “The Coal Mining History Resource Centre” (CMHRC). 

However it appears to have vanished. 

Ian Winstanley compiled the information for the website. But I believe Raleys Solicitors, an old-established Barnsley law firm specialising in miners’ compensation claims, ran it. They went into administration in March 2016. Whereas client work appears to have transferred to Ison Harrison Solicitors, the website seems to have been a casualty.  

Ancestry.co.uk have Ian Winstanley’s “Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950“, which was on the site. But CMHRC was far more than this wonderful database. Described as the UK’s largest and most comprehensive website concerning the history of coal-mining, its resources included maps, the 1842 Royal Commission reports, poems, a glossary of mining terms and a photo gallery. Unlike Ancestry, it was a free website. And to be honest I much preferred its search facility.  

I would hope the loss of CMHRC is temporary and it can soon be restored in all its former glory. But in the meantime there is a bit of a work round.  

In my post about an obsolete County Mayo website, I described how the Internet Archive Wayback Machine could be useful in accessing defunct websites. You can partly access CMHRC via this mechanism, but be warned you do lose much of the original site functionality.  

Screenshot of CMHRC via the Wayback Machine

If searching via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the URL to use for CMHRC is:  http://www.cmhrc.co.uk

There are also the following useful sites: 

Feel free to add more to the list. 

Some suggestions that I’ve since received (thanks Judy & Fergus): 

Grim Times for an 18th Century Coal Mining Family 

The most common occupation in my family tree is “coal miner”. Unsurprising given my paternal and maternal West Riding roots. As a result I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the history of coal mining: the social and political aspects as well as the general occupation and its development through time.

This research could form the basis of many posts. The aspect I’m focusing on this time is the perilous nature of the work. “Poldark” brought this to mind. Different type of mining, but the death of Francis highlighted the dangers of underground work in the late 18th century and made me think once again about my coal mining forefathers. However grim I think my job is, I only have to think about my ancestors, men, women and children, who worked down the coal mine to realise how lucky I am. 

Even in more recent times coal mining was a hazardous, unhealthy occupation. But in terms of my 18th and 19th century family history, these were days before today’s stringent health and safety regulations. Indeed in the early days of my ancestors the working was totally unregulated. 

The cramped, damp conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and inflammation of the joints. Many suffered from loss of appetite, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and liver troubles. Most colliers became asthmatic by the time they reached 30, and many had tuberculosis. And all this would have led to days off sick without income to support the family. 

Then there were the accidents. No-one knows how many deaths there were in the first half of the 19th century, let alone earlier. An unreliable estimate in 1834-5 of the number of lives lost in coal mines in the previous 25 years gave the number of deaths in the West Riding as 346 and the evidence is the high proportion were children. According to the appendices of the Mines Inspectors Report’s 1850-1914 some 70,700 miners died or sustained injures in the mines of Great Britain from 1850 to 1908. However even this is not reliable, because the number of non-fatal accidents taking place between 1850-1881 is unknown. It was no-ones job to collect the information. 

It is true that miners themselves took risks, failing to set timber supports, propping air doors open and working with candles when it was dangerous to do so even after the invention of the Davy lamp. But colliery officials and managers also cut corners and costs leading to dangerous conditions, for example failing to replace candles with lamps, not supplying sufficient timbers, not ensuring adequate ventilation, using defective colliery shafts which were not bricked or boarded and contained no guide rods, as well as drawing uncaged corves (the small tubs/baskets for carrying hewn coal from the pit face) direct from the pits which resulted in falls of coal and people down the shaft. It was not until 1872 that every mine manager was required to hold a certificate of competence. 

Whilst explosions exacted a heavy toll and made headlines, it was the individual deaths and injuries sustained over weeks, months and years by falls of coal and roof which were responsible for most accidents, fatal or otherwise. 

One of the earliest mining ancestors I’ve traced is my 6x great grandfather Joseph Womack, born in around 1738. And his is the earliest family mining fatality. 

Joseph married Grace Hartley on 11 February 1760 in the parish church of St Mary’s Whitkirk. It is the oldest medieval church in Leeds and a church probably existed on the site at the time of the Domesday Book. The name “Whitkirk” or “Whitechurch” is first recorded in the 12th Century in a charter of Henry de Lacey, founder of Kirkstall Abbey, confirming the land of Newsam, Colton and the “Witechurche” to the Knights Templars. The present building dates from 1448-9 but underwent substantial restoration in 1856. So it is essentially the building in which my 6x great grandparents married. 

Whitkirk Parish Church

The man known as the father of civil engineering, John Smeaton, is buried just behind the main altar. Perhaps Smeaton’s most famous work is the 3rd Eddystone Lighthouse, completed in 1759 just the year before Joseph and Grace’s marriage. His other works included the Forth & Clyde Canal, Ramsgate Harbour, Perth Bridge, over 60 mills and more than 10 steam engines. 

Joseph signed the register in a wonderfully neat hand. It’s always a thrill when I see the signatures of my ancestors. And especially those who worked in manual jobs not associated with literacy.  

The marriage entry indicated Joseph and Grace were both residents of the parish. The location was pinpointed to Halton with the baptism of their first child, Joseph, on 22 October 1760. This location was confirmed in each of their subsequent children’s baptismal entries. Halton was about three miles east of Leeds in Temple Newsam township with Whitkirk parish. 

Another son, Richard, was baptised on 27 June 1762 followed by their first daughter Mary, my 5x great grandmother, on 12 February 1765. Four other Womack children’s baptisms are subsequently recorded – William on 21 January 1770; Henry on 24 September 1772; Thomas on 6 August 1775; and Grace on 14 February 1779. This final baptism is more detailed, giving Grace’s date of birth as 31 December 1778 and stating that her father, Joseph, worked as a collier. 

The Womacks, Joseph and his sons, were a coal mining family working at the local Seacroft colliery. Joseph and his eldest sons Joseph and Richard were there one day in May 1781 when tragedy struck in the form of an explosion. The events reached papers nationally as well as locally. The coverage is typified by this paragraph in the “Leeds Intelligencer” of Tuesday 22 May 1781. According to the newspaper the explosion took place on a Thursday, which would make it 17 May. However this may be inaccurate. I will return to this later. Typically for the time no names are given. 

In the era before the 1815 invention of the Davy Lamp, candles were the only form of light in the mine. But the risk of explosions with naked flames from these candles igniting methane gas was high, even in well ventilated pits. Firedamp was the name given to an inflammable gas, whose chief component was methane. This was released from the seam and roof during working. And on this fateful May day the Womack father and sons were caught in its ignition. 
We turn to the Whitkirk burial register for the details of how this newspaper snippet linked to the Womacks. The register gives the following burial details on 18 May 1781: 

Joseph Womack collier slain by the firedamp at Seacroft also his son Richard Womack who was slain at the same time. The father was aged 43 the son 19 years”  

Slightly later era, but illustration of a pit top after an explosion

Joseph (junior) was one of those hurt in the incident. This is shown by an entry in the same register, dated 2 June 1781: sadly another burial. It is Joseph’s. He lingered for several days before succumbing to his injuries, described as “bruises”. The entry states that his injuries were the result of the same incident in which his father and brother were killed.

Besides being emotionally devastating for the family, with the death of two members on the same day and a third receiving injuries in the same incident leading to his protracted death two weeks later, it would have been economically crippling. The three main breadwinners wiped out in a single stroke. Grace was left to bring up several children – the eldest 16 years old, the youngest just two. 

Less than two years after the death of his father and brothers Thomas died, aged eight, as a result of a fever. This is a notoriously vague catch-all description for the period indicating, yet again, that in these times the precise source of illnesses were often not known but which clearly suggests some kind of infection. There are no other clues or hints. Checking the burial register for the period around Thomas’ death reveals nothing, for example an epidemic or outbreak of common illnesses in the area. He was buried on 25 April 1783 in the parish. 

Surprisingly the family do not appear in the list of recipients receiving parish dole money. Neither are they mentioned in the parish churchwardens and overseers accounts or vestry minutes, but there is very little poor law related material in these specific Whitkirk documents. It is very possible that they were supported by the parish via this mechanism, but these records have not survived, or else I’ve not yet discovered them in my visit to the Leeds branch of West Yorkshire Archives.  

But the two information sources, newspaper and parish register, give an indication of the devastating effect a pit explosion could have on a family at a time when fathers, brothers and sons (and prior to the 1842 Mines Act women plus girls and boys under 10) worked side by side underground. 

A sad footnote to this post concerns the anonymity of those killed. In addition to Joseph senior and Richard, there were two others who lost their lives in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as reported in the “Leeds Intelligencer” 0f 22 May. Given the date of the article, Joseph junior couldn’t have been one. Their names didn’t appear in any reports I found. I do wonder who they were though, these people who worked and died with my ancestors.

There is nothing to indicate any other Whitkirk burials of the period applied to these victims. Parishes adjoining Whitkirk were Leeds, Swillington, Rothwell and Barwick in Elmet.  Leeds St Peter’s parish church provides a cause of death for all burial entries for the period. Sadly I drew a blank in this search. Likewise for Swillington St Mary’s and Holy Trinity at Rothwell. However, Barwick in Elmet All Saints register records the burial on 17 May 1781 of 33 year old Christopher Dickinson from Lowmoor. He died on 16 May 1781, “kild in Seacroft coalpitts“. So was this the same incident? If so it indicates the inaccuracy of the newspaper date which implied a 17 May accident date. 

Providing the newspaper got the numbers right, the other individual remains a mystery. The only possibility so far is a cryptic and inconclusive 17 May 1781 entry in the nearby parish of Garforth St Mary’s “Thos son of Mathew Limbord colier aged 23 years” No cause of death. And really it’s not clear if it was Thomas or his father who worked as a collier.

The “UK Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950” doesn’t offer a solution either. This was on the now obsolete “Coal Mining History and Resource Centre” website, which I wrote about in my previous post. As indicated in that post, the index is now available on Ancestry.co.uk – but this accident is not recorded. I may never know who the fourth person was. And it makes me think how many other mining deaths are similarly lost.

 Sources:

  • St Mary’s Whitkirk Parish Register and records 
  • Leeds Intelligencer” 
  • National Coal Mining Museum: http://www.ncm.org.uk
  • The North of England Mining Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers: http://www.mininginstitute.org.uk
  • The Durham Mining Museum: http://www.dmm.org.uk
  • Voices from the Dark – Women and Children in Yorkshire Coal Mines” – Fiona Lake and Rosemary Preece 
  • “Working Conditions in Collieries around Huddersfield 1800-1870” – Alan Brooke 
  • My Ancestor was a Coalminer” – David Tonks 
  • British Coalminers in the 19th Century” – John Benson 
  • The Yorkshire Miners: A History – Volume I” – Frank Machin 
  • The history of the Yorkshire Miners 1881-1918” – Carolyn Baylies 
  • Tracing your Coalmining Ancestors” – Brian A Elliott 

“Ley Lines” of the Somme: an amazing Somme 100 experience

Do you believe in fate? Of hidden forces drawing people together? I do after my latest Great War pilgrimage.

I recently went over to Belgium and France and timed the visit to coincide with two of my Hill family death anniversaries. Jesse Hill, who died on 19 September 1915 and is buried at Ypres Reservoir; and Percy Hill who died, according to soldiers’ effects records, at 2/1 South Midland Casualty Clearing Station on 30 September 1916. Percy is buried at Warloy-Baillon Community Cemetery Extension, just to the west of Albert.

Last year when visiting Jesse, on the centenary of his death, I narrowly missed meeting a relative for the first time. Two poppy crosses and the visitors book showed we’d paid our respects at Jesse’s grave within hours of each other. That was coincidence enough, but nothing in comparison to what happened this year.

Two Poppy Crosses by Jane Roberts

Chris (my husband) and I spent a few days in Ypres before driving to Avesnes Le Sec, near Cambrai, to stay with an “old” school friend for the weekend (sorry about the “old” Anne, but it applies to me too). We finished the final leg of our visit on the Somme, initially at the wonderful “No 56” b&b then at the “Royal Picardie” hotel in Albert for the last two nights. The only reason we transferred to Albert was because the b&b only had availability for three nights.

The early evening of 28 September we finished another long day of walking by stopping off at the beautiful Authuile Military Cemetery, in the village of Authuille (note the spelling difference). 

I love this tranquil cemetery with its feeling of peace and calm, and its eye-pleasingly curving layout of headstones sloping down to the river Ancre. An odd thing to say, but it’s probably my favourite cemetery. It is also the final resting place of Pte Willie Barber of the 1/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) one of the parishioners at Batley St Mary’s who I spent so much time researching.

Authuile Military Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

As we wandered down to the bottom slopes of the cemetery I noticed another visitor. This was unusual, as it was getting on and the cemetery isn’t one people normally beat a path to the door of. By the time we got to the top she had gone.

I sort of wondered if she was here to see Willie, one of those flights of fancy about impossible coincidences. I’m always a bit over-focussed on the St Mary’s men I researched. But there was nothing in the visitors book to indicate why she’d been there. That was the end of that, or so I thought. A chance to find out lost.

The following day we checked into our Albert hotel. Whilst in town sitting outside a café drinking coffee we saw the lady again. But again never spoke.

And then on 30 September, the anniversary of Percy’s death, we went down to our first breakfast in the hotel and she was there with her mum.  This time we did speak. She was over for the centenary of her great grandfather’s death, that very day. The same day as Percy Hill. 30 September.

We talked a bit more, and amazingly discovered both Percy and her ancestor, Jonathan Pearson, were in the same battalion, 1/4th KOYLI. Both died of wounds and both received their injuries during the same period of duty in the trenches near Ulster Tower in mid-September. She had followed Jonathan’s footsteps for those few final frontline days and was on her way across to Boulogne to his grave on his death anniversary, before returning home to the south of England that evening.

She had photos of Jonathan. I had some of Percy, including group photos with some of his pals. And amazingly on one of these photos was a man who looked remarkably like Jonathan. Same colouring, same features including distinctive nose and cut of hair.

We couldn’t believe it. 100 years to the exact day of their deaths we were in a hotel in Albert staring at a picture of what appears to be both men together. It was is if some unseen force had been pulling us together for the past couple of days, starting at Authuile Military Cemetery where fellow 1/4th KOYLI soldier Willie Barber is buried, finally uniting us on the centenary of their death. An incredible, earth-stopping realisation. And if the b&b had been available for the final two days of my visit I wouldn’t have even been in the Albert hotel. A week later and I still can’t believe it.

We parted promising to pass on Jonathan and Percy’s regards at their respective final resting places, around some 90 miles apart.

And so onto Warloy-Baillon. We stopped at Ulster Tower en route and found the poppy cross Jonathan’s family had laid in the area of the KOYLI trenches of mid September 1916. We saw the Pope’s Nose, the German salient with a decaying relic of a observation post/gun emplacement, which was the focus of their trench raids in that period.

We were at Percy Hill’s grave for 1.15pm, the minute is death is recorded. And there, at around 2pm, we met with David Short and his wife Pauline, the relative I so narrowly missed meeting just over a year ago at Jesse Hill’s grave. And in a final piece of symmetry David is from the north east of England, not Yorkshire, the same area from which Jonathan hailed.