Category Archives: Miners

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 

My Bizarre Christmas-Associated Family Name: AKA There’s more to Family History than DNA

In “Shrapnel and Shelletta[1] I wrote about war-associated baby names. This is a more seasonal post about a particular Christmas-associated family name.

When naming a baby at Christmas-time, which names conjure up this magical time of year? Which can be considered as festive and beautiful as this special period? Holly, Ivy, Joy, Noel/le, Merry, Nick or Rudolph might spring to mind. Perhaps Caspar, Gabriel, Emmanuel, Balthasar and Gloria? Or maybe the Holy Family names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

In contrast, which name would make you recoil with shock and horror? Which name would you think “No way! How inappropriate! What on earth are they thinking of?”

Probably near the top of the list would be the one associated with my family tree.  For on 24 December 1826 at Kirkheaton’s St John the Baptist Parish Church (oh, the irony of date and church name)[2] the baptism of Herod Jennings took place.

Saint-Sulpice-de-Favières_vitrail1_837 Herod

Magi before Herod the Great, Wikimedia Creative Commons License, G Freihalter

Herod was born on 3 November 1826, one of five children of coal miner George Jennings and his wife Sarah Ellis. They married in October 1818 at St Mary’s, Mirfield and by the time of Herod’s baptism had settled in Hopton, a hamlet in that township, midway between Mirfield and Kirkheaton.

Herod’s siblings included the equally wonderfully named Israel (baptised 20 June 1824) and Lot (born 8 March 1830), so some fabulous biblical associations there too. The other family names of James (baptised 24 September 1820) and Ann (baptised 20 October 1822, buried 7 July 1823) seem disappointingly ordinary in comparison.

Sarah died in 1832, age 36 leaving George to bring up his four surviving children. James married Sarah Pickles on 25 December 1839, another example of Christmastime events in this branch of the Jennings family![3]So, by the time of the 1841 census, it was just George and his two sons, Israel and Herod, along with a female servant Jemima Gibson living in the Upper Moor, Hopton household. Youngest child Lot was along the road at Jack Royd, with the Peace family. This may have been a permanent arrangement given the family situation.

By the time of this census young Herod already worked down the mine, a job which ultimately would possibly contribute to his death.

On 7 October 1850 he married Ann Hallas at St Mary’s, Mirfield. Both Herod and Ann lived at Woods Row, Hopton. Ann was slightly older than Herod, being born in 1824. By the time of their wedding, she was already the unmarried mother of two. Her son, Henry, was born in 1843; and my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth’s birth occurred in November 1850, 11 months prior to Ann’s marriage to Herod.

This then is my family connection to Herod: His marriage to my 3x great grandmother. And it is one of the mysteries I still hope the DNA testing of mum and me will solve. Was Herod the father of Elizabeth? She was certainly brought up to think so, with all the censuses prior to her marriage recording her surname as Jennings, whereas her brother Henry went under his correct Hallas surname. And when registering the birth of her son Jonathan, there is a slip when Elizabeth starts entering her maiden name as “Jen”. This is subsequently scored through and correctly written as “Hallas”.

It appears Henry too was minded to look upon Herod as his father-figure. At his baptism at St Peter’s, Hartshead in June 1857 he appears in the register as Henry Jennings, not Hallas. When he married Hannah Hainsworth at Leeds All Saints on 24 December 1866, his marriage certificate records his father’s name as “Herod Hallas”. And in 1870 he named his eldest son Herod. Although by no means a common name, a glance at the GRO indexes shows it did appear occasionally, along with its alternative forms of Herodius and the feminine Herodia. The fact Henry gave his son this unusual name seems to indicate a measure of affection for the man who brought him up. Finally, at the time of the 1871 census Herod, son William and nephew Charles were boarding in the Leeds home of Henry.

So, whether or not there is a DNA link, he is still a major figure in my family tree. And for me this brings home the fact that there is more to family, and family history research, than DNA links alone!

Herod and Ann had nine other children: Ellen (born April 1851), Louisa (born January 1853), Harriet (born November 1854), Mary (born May 1858), William (born 1860), Eliza (born April 1862), Rose (born 1864), Violet (born 1866) and James (born 1871).

The family moved frequently, presumably due to Herod’s work as a coal miner. They are recorded at various locations in the area, many within walking distance of where I live. These included Mirfield, Battyeford, Hopton, Hartshead, Roberttown, White Lee and Batley.

Outside of work Herod had a keen interest in quoits, arranging and taking part in park challenge games especially around local Feast times. This game was particularly popular with miners and mining communities in Victorian times, with the metal rings being made of waste metal from mine forges. Challenge matches were also a way to raise funds, for example for sick and injured miners.

Herod died age 52, at Cross Bank, Batley as a result of asthma and bronchitis, which presumably owed something to his mining occupation. Working in cramped, filthy, air-polluted, damp, sometimes wet conditions from an early age, this was a hazardous and unhealthy occupation. The conditions and physical exertion led to chronic muscular-skeletal problems and back pain as well as rheumatism and joint inflammation. Most colliers had lung associated problems, with many becoming asthmatic whilst still relatively young. So Herod’s cause of death, from a lung-related illness, is unsurprising.

Ironically Herod’s date of death occurred on 5 January 1878, a day we associate with the Christmas period, falling before 12th night. And in the Western Christian tradition the 6 January is the Epiphany, marking the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. This brings us once more to the King Herod connection, at Herod Jennings’ death as well as his baptism.

This is what Matthew’s gospel says about those events at the first Christmas:

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Go find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’  Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way. 

After they had left, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod……Herod was furious when he realised he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men”.[4]

Herod was buried in Batley Cemetery on 7 January 1878.

I have a great deal of affection for Herod, whether or not there is a direct family blood-tie. The fact he took on one, possibly two children when he married Ann; and they in turn acknowledged him as a father, which speaks volumes for him. I can relate to the location links. And I can totally sympathise with his asthma suffering.

This is my final family history blog post of 2015, and an apt one given the time of year. Thanks ever so much for reading them. As someone new to blogging your support, encouragement and feedback has meant so much over the past eight months.

Merry Christmas everyone – wishing you all peace, health and happiness for 2016!

Sources:

[1] Shrapnel and Shelletta: Baby Names and their Links to War, Remembrance and Commemoration | PastToPresentGenealogy https://pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/shrapnel-and-shelletta-baby-names-and-their-links-to-war-remembrance-and-commemoration/
[2] Herod the Great was responsible for trying to elicit the three wise men to reveal the  whereabouts of Jesus and, when this failed, subsequently ordering the killing of all infant boys under the age two and under, the so-called “Massacre of the Innocents”. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist killed.
[3] It was not uncommon for working-class people to have wedding ceremonies on Christmas Day. It was, after all, a holiday so they had time off work.
[4] The Jerusalem Bible, Popular Edition 1974 – Matthew 2: 7-17