Category Archives: Newspapers

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 

Batley Privy Riots and the Death of a Policeman

Searching for my ancestors in the Batley library newspapers, I ended up totally side-tracked reading about the goings-on in the town’s New Street area. Some incidents involved distantly connected relations. But the real value was the insight it gave into the community in which my ancestors lived, over a narrow timeframe. I looked at the two years from Christmas 1875. Whilst I didn’t read every paper, the ones I skimmed gave a flavour.

The 1875 Christmas festivities in New Street, an Irish immigrant area, resulted in court appearances for a number of its residents. The first involved Ann Gavan, a married woman (so far no link with my Gavans), accompanied by the headline in the “Batley Reporter” of 1 January 1876 “The Way Christmas is Kept in New Street”. On 27 December she appeared at Batley Borough Court, convicted of being drunk and riotous on Christmas Day.

She attracted police attention on Christmas Eve. Seeing a crowd gathered around her house, Police Sergeant Gamwell looked through the window. He saw her lying heavily drunk on the floor, surrounded by a crowd of boys. Her husband was also drunk. In fact they were seldom sober. By 3am Christmas Day the pair were cursing and swearing, attracting a large crowd. At this point Police Constable Shewan apprehended Ann. He couldn’t manage her husband too.

But this wasn’t an isolated New Street incident. Appearing in Batley Borough Court on the same day were an assortment of individuals. Christmas Day saw John King, described as an old man – although what constituted old then may not be the case by today’s standards, hauled off to the police station. Again the charge was one of drunk and riotous behaviour. He also assaulted the arresting office, Police Constable Beecroft. On 26 December Patrick Jordan and Patrick Moran’s drunken fight resulted in a drunk and riotous conviction for the pair. Their escapade tied up five or six police officers most of the evening. And Michael McManus was similarly convicted, for the 17th time.

That wasn’t the end of the parade of individuals before Batley Borough Court for events that Christmas in New Street. The following week’s edition of the “Batley Reporter” contained a string of obscene language cases: Mary Foley used obscene language towards several policemen on 26 December; Ellen Tarpey was convicted of using obscene language toward Mary Gavan (a potential family connection here) on 27 December; the case against John Hannan (another family link) was dismissed. He faced a charge of using obscene language towards Ann McCormick on 28 December. And finally yet another case involving Ann McCormick as victim, this time at the receiving end from John McManus on 27 December. The Mayor wished the bench could fine her too, as he considered her equally to blame in the incident.

The idea that this was a one-off string of cases occasioned by Christmas doesn’t hold water. True the police office was nearby, so the area fell under particular scrutiny. But no other area of Batley had such a high proportion of cases. In fact the Mayor “….commented strongly on the number of cases of obscene language brought before the Bench especially from that locality; and said if it was not for the cases from that district the magistrates would have little to do”.

And going through the papers there are more cases, not confined to holidays. The one incident that stuck out for me did involve distant relatives: John Hannan, of the murderous poker assault episode on his father-in-law, and his wife, Margaret. The newspaper heading reads “Dealing Gently With New Street Rioters”.

The incident started at 3.45pm on Sunday 15 October 1876, lasted two or three hours, and involved several residents. It was sparked by the disputed use of a privy in the yard of Patrick Gannon. Hannan and another man broke open its door. They claimed they had a right to be in the toilet. It appears Gannon and nearby neighbour Mary McManus, with whom the Hannans now lodged, shared the same landlord. The landlord authorised Mary’s use of the privy.

687px-Toilet_in_the_Beamish_Museum_01 (2)

Outside Toilet at Beamish – Wikimedia Commons by Immanuel Giel

Gannon claimed that as he challenged the “intruders”, Hannan struck him. At this point Gannon fetched the police.

Normally in these circumstances the police would not attend. They would issue an assault summons. On this occasion Police Constable Friendly Hague went with Gannon to New Street, an action subsequently criticised. He defended it by saying Gannon was afraid to go home. Perhaps the fact Hannan was well-known to the police had an influence.

It was claimed Hannan re-commenced his attack on Gannon. Police Constable Webber, upon seeing the crowd gathered in New Street, went to see what was happening. He assisted Police Constable Hague in apprehending Hannan, who resisted. In the ensuing melee Bridget Gannon, wife of Patrick, came out with a poker. At this point Hannan was on the floor, black in the face from being throttled by Police Constable Hague.

Margaret Hannan now joined in to rescue her husband. She too was armed with a poker, striking both Gannon and Police Constable Hague about the head, shoulders and back with it, saying “I’ll not let the b___ take him”. She was led away by Mary McManus.

Michael Gallagher also joined the affray, kicking Police Constable Hague whilst on the floor, saying “We’ll kill the b___ if you like”. Hannan incited Gallagher further by crying “Go into him”, so Gallagher obliged, aiming another kick.

The upshot of this Court appearance before the Mayor, Alderman J.T.Marriott: Hannan was cleared of assaulting Gannon. He was also cleared of damaging Police Constable Hague’s trousers, as the Mayor said the policeman should not have rushed in as he did. He was, however, convicted of the assault on Hague; as was Gallagher; Margaret was convicted of assaulting both the policeman and Gannon.

Whist on the surface this seems a series of humorous incidents, it highlights the problems faced by these early Victorian police in executing their duty. It was also a precursor to an event with far more serious consequences: the death of a policeman in the town on 9 December 1877. Inevitably New Street featured in the events.

William Peet [1] was born in January 1853, the son of agricultural labourer Thomas Peet and his wife Sarah. His baptism took place on 1 May 1853 in the parish of Wolvey in Warwickshire, close to the border with Leicestershire. The family are recorded here prior to William’s birth in the 1851 census, with daughters Sarah Ann (6), Elizabeth (2) and Jane (2 months).

By the time of the 1861 census the Peets had moved north to Broomhill near Barnsley. In addition to William and his parents, the family included Jane (10), Joseph (6) and infant son Thomas.

William’s father died sometime prior to the 1871 census. This census shows William as the oldest child residing in his mother Sarah’s home. Not yet 50 and described as an annuitant, she had five other sons at home, three under the age of 10. These were Joseph (16), Thomas (10), Fred (8), John (7) and Harry (4). William’s wage from his job as a mason’s labourer must have been a welcome support.

In September 1874 William married 19 year old Mary Downs at Wombwell parish church. The register entry describes his occupation as a miner. Two daughters followed, Lily (1875) and Sarah Ann (1877).

It was shortly after Sarah Ann’s birth that William undertook a significant change of career. 1856 saw the creation of the West Riding Constabulary, an organisation which William joined on 17 September 1877. The Examination Book shows he measured 5”8¼”, had light hair, light blue eyes and a fair complexion. He described his trade as a labourer, his previous employment being at Barnsley’s Lundhill colliery. He was attached to the Division responsible for policing in Batley on 23 October 1877.

It was at around the time of a sequence of serious incidents between Batley’s Irish community and the police. In one incident, originating in New Street at the end of November 1877, Police Constable Beecroft suffered such a serious assault it rendered him unfit for work weeks later. This was the situation facing the new policeman. A situation which cost him his life on Sunday 9 December 1877.

The remarks column of his Examination Book reads:

Killed in a street row at Batley by a number of drunken Irishmen (between 11pm and midnight). He and PC 278 Herring were quelling the disturbance when 7 or 8 Irishmen turned round and began to beat, stone and kick them in a most unmerciful manner, one of them striking a fatal blow on the head with a heavy walking stick taken from PC Herring”.

From around 9pm on 8 December PC Peet and PC Robert Herring patrolled the Batley area around New Street, Wellington Street, Hick Lane and Union Street. At just gone 11pm they heard a disturbance on Cobden Street and witnessed a crowd of around 60 men and women. A number of them, William Flynn (27 year old shoemaker), Patrick Phillips (labourer, age 25 ), John Ryan (labourer, 24) and Michael O’Neill (labourer) had been to a jig at Patrick McGowan’s “Prince of Wales” beerhouse in Cobden Street. New Street’s Ann McCormick, a rag picker and a familiar name in my research of the area, (there was a mother and daughter of this name and I suspect this was the daughter whereas the one involved in the Christmas 1875 incidents was the mother), also attended the dance. Now, after closing time, many of the revellers became involved in a street dispute.

Some men had their coats off, including Flynn, O’Neill and Phillips, and were threatening to strike men from the Staincliffe area and neighbouring town of Heckmondwike, including Patrick Hunt. When PCs Peet and Herring arrived Ann McCormick, screaming and crying, claimed she had been struck by one of the Batley men, pointing in the direction of Flynn and O’Neill. Apparently it was the latter. There is the possibility she was trying to obtain payback for a prevented marriage.

1892 map showing the area events took place

The police tried to diffuse the situation, attempting to get the crowd to disperse. At this point the Staincliffe and Heckmondwike men made their escape. Flynn and his mates progressed down Peel Street, swearing and cursing but then, reaching Wellington Street, refused to move.

Challenged by Herring about their dispersal delay, one of the men knocked the policeman down stealing his wooden stick. He then charged at PC Peet striking him about the head with the stolen weapon, knocking him to the ground and taking his truncheon.

There was some confusion as to the identity of this assailant. PC Herring remained adamant throughout the judicial process it was Flynn; but it was a dark night with little lamplight, and evidence from others was confusing with some indicating O’Neill. Some giving evidence claimed not to have seen blows struck, others only fist blows. Doubt was also cast on Herring’s identification because he had only been working in the Batley area for a few weeks. And new witnesses crawled out of the woodwork disputing events. For example Mary Foley appeared at the Assizes claiming she witnessed the row but hadn’t appeared before the magistrates earlier in proceedings because she “had a queer husband, a large family, and did not want to be mixed up with the police”.

Whilst Peet was down, Flynn, O’Neill and Ryan aimed kicks at him. They then turned on PC Herring.

This provided an opportunity for PC Peet to regain his feet and assist his colleague. The pair managed to grab hold of Flynn. Other men in the crowd began to pelt the police with stones and loose setts which had been left in he street by council workmen carrying out repairs. John McManus, a 25 year old collier, was identified as the man who threw the setts. Phillips as a stone-thrower. Peet was hit on the back of the arm or shoulder. The stone-throwing enabled Flynn to escape into a house in New Street, the police giving chase.

No other officer heard PC Herring’s whistle-blowing calls for help and the crowd refused to assist, so he remained watching the house whilst PC Peet brought police reinforcements. The extra police arrived but upon entering the house they found Flynn had vanished.


The police now went about tracing and arresting those involved. These included Flynn (apprehended in his bed at his Ward’s Hill home 1.30am. His wife woke him and he struck her saying “You b*****”, and to Robert Webber, one of the arresting policemen “It’s thy b***** phizog is it?”). Others rounded up were McManus, Ryan, Martin Devanagh and Patrick and James Phillips. Patrick Phillips, according to some reports, lodged in John Hannan’s house, but the Clark Green[2] location does raise questions as to whether it is “my” man. One person though evaded capture – O’Neill.

Whilst this was going on, at just before 1am in the morning Peet complained of feeling ill and returned to his Purlwell Lane home in the Mount Pleasant area of town. It was a house which he and his family shared with the Herring family. During the early hours he became increasingly unwell, lapsing into a coma. Police surgeon James Cameron was called at around 6am and Peet died just before 8am.

Cameron undertook a post-mortem, assisted by Dr William Bayldon. It revealed Peet had suffered a skull fracture and haemorrhage, causing his death. Peet’s body was taken back to his home near Barnsley for burial.

The two-part inquest in front of Thomas Taylor, district coroner, was held on the 11 and 18 December at the New Inn at Clark Green in Batley. A verdict of murder by Flynn was reached.

The men next appeared before the Magistrates, and a large crowd, at Batley Town Hall on 20 December. The case against Devanagh was dropped as the evidence against him was not sufficiently strong. Herring couldn’t swear to his presence and he, naturally, denied having been there.

At the end of the hearing James Phillips was also discharged. Although said to be at the row, he wasn’t seen doing anything termed fatal.

That left Flynn, Ryan, McManus and Patrick Phillips committed to trial at the Yorkshire Winter Assizes on a wilful murder charge: Flynn as the man who inflicted the fatal blow, the others for aiding and abetting. Some discussion did take place about extending this serious charge  wider than Flynn, but the balance of opinion swayed in favour of it. They concluded it was not necessary that all persons should inflict the fatal blow. If those present aided and abetted, they were all equally guilty of wilful murder.

The proceedings in Batley were not without occasional humour, a kind of “us and them” scenario reminiscent of Sir Jeremiah Harman’s Springsteen, Gascoigne and Oasis comments. These included an exchange in Batley Borough Court  about the meaning of “jig“, with Mr Airton from the West Riding Police providing the explanation.

“Dewsbury Reporter” 22 December 1877 – A Jig Explained

At the inquest  Ellen Chappell, a witness, illustrates wonderfully why we have variations in ancestral surname spellings.

Surname Confusion – “Huddersfield Chronicle” 19 December 1877

The Assizes took place at Leeds Town Hall the following month. One of the first decisions made by the Grand Jury was a downgrading of the charges against Ryan, McManus and Phillips as there did not appear to be any common purpose between Flynn and the others to attack Peet. They now faced a charge of assaulting a policeman in the execution of his duty. Only Flynn faced the charge of wilful murder.

His trial took place on 18 January 1878. To an outbreak of applause in the court the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict. This on the basis of uncertainty as to who stuck the fatal blow – they could not definitely say it was Flynn. He was detained to face an assault charge with the others, the following day.

This was the final trial of the Assizes. Because Flynn had been acquitted of Peet’s murder, no evidence was offered for the assault and he was discharged. Guilty verdicts were reached against the other three men, who each received six month sentences.

Mary Peet and her children returned to her hometown of Wombwell, near Barnsley. The Police Committee granted her a £65 gratuity. A subscription fund was also established for her. She married coalminer Den(n)is Bretton in 1879, having a number of other children during her second marriage, including a son named William.

Besides a man loosing his life, the death of PC Peet highlighted racial tension in Batley, between the Irish and local communities. A series of local newspaper letters and articles are testimony to this. One letter illustrating the fact, which attracted much attention, appeared in the “Dewsbury Reporter” of 15 December 1877. It was written from “A Batley Lad”. It harked back to the leniency shown to those New Street privy rioters amongst others. It read:

The murder of a constable, often predicted, in Batley, has at last taken place, and perhaps the Irish now will be a trifle more quiet. They have felled many a policeman during the last two years, and when brought up, especially when Mr J.T. Marriott was Mayor and Ex-Mayor, have been let off, as your paper recorded from time to time, with most inadequate punishment. The Irish in this quarter are a very low lot, and rows and fights have taken place every weekend, but instead of the magistracy supporting the representatives of the law they have leaned to the other, and not virtuous side.

I think it is time that we had our own borough police, for if we had I think we should not allow them to be knocked about by the Irish roughshod as the poor county constables have been.

Perhaps the Irish after this murder will remember Patrick Reid”.[3]

Rev. Canon Gordon, the priest at St Mary of the Angels RC Church, referred to the incident in his sermon on Sunday 16 December 1877. He stated the Irishmen involved in the disturbance and murder never entered Church, and were Catholics in name only. He went on to say the event was a disgrace to all true Irishmen and Catholics. The incident confirmed his previously expressed opinion that a murder would be committed in Batley as a result of the excessive drinking which prevailed in the Irish classes. He concluded by expressing the hope that God would severely punish the guilty as a lesson to future generations.

This was the community in which my Irish ancestors lived and were part of. Its history forms a critical backdrop in shaping their everyday lives.

I’ve named only a fraction of those involved in the various stages of the trial for the murder of William Peet. If anyone believes their ancestor is involved I’m happy to check my notes.

Footnotes:
[1] Sometimes referred to as Peete
[2] Modern spelling is Clerk Green
[3] Patrick Reid was an Irish hawker executed in York on 8 January 1848 for the triple murder in Mirfield of James and Ann Wraith and their servant Caroline Ellis

Sources:

  • Ancestry.co.uk – Warwickshire Anglican Registers for the Parish of Wolvey; West Riding Constabulary Examination Books; Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909; Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 (HO 27);
  • “Batley Reporter” newspaper
  • Census: 1851-1881
  • FindMyPast – Doncaster Archives Yorkshire Marriages; newspapers including “Dewsbury Reporter”, “Huddersfield Chronicle”, “Leeds Mercury”, “Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer”,
  • GRO Indexes
  • Wikimedia Commons for photograph of outside toilet, by Immanuel Giel – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1110467

WW1 Remembrance in Verse: “In Memoriam” and “Roll of Honour” Newspaper Columns

This is the last of my three blog posts in this period of Remembrance. It focuses on the WW1 period.

Batley War Memorial

Batley War Memorial

As the Great War progressed and the anniversaries of the Fallen came and went, the local newspaper “In Memoriam” and, later, dedicated “Roll of Honour” columns were increasingly filled with moving tributes to lost husbands, sons, fathers, brothers and fiancées. Although less frequent in late 1915 and throughout 1916, this phenomenon became particularly notable from 1917 onwards and endured in the years beyond the end of the conflict.

Many were recurrent standard verses, or variations on standard themes: grief; absence; young lives cut short; a mother’s pain; religious sentiments; Remembrance; doing one’s duty; sacrifice; wooden crosses; graves overseas far from home, or no known grave; not being present in their loved one’s dying moments; occasionally the difficulty of seeing others return; and even reproach for those who caused the war.

Although not war poetry, they are powerful representations of family grief and loss which echo across the ages.

My mother’s brother died in Aden whilst on National Service in 1955. These family tributes from another era are the ones which, in all my St Mary’s War Memorial research, left the greatest impression on her, resonating with her emotions 60 years later.

These “In Memoriam” and “Roll of Honour” notices provide an accessible window into this aspect of the War, the emotions of those left behind. They are also a continuing legacy for family historians. They can provide service details, place and even circumstances of death, names and addresses of family members (including married sisters) and details of fiancées all of which can aid research.

Here is a selection from the local Batley newspapers[1].

Remembrance 1

Remembrance 2

Remembrance 3

Remembrance 4

Remembrance 5

Remembrance 6

Remembrance 7

Remembrance 8

Sources:

  • Batley News – various dates
  • Batley War Memorial photo by Jane Roberts

[1] These are not confined to those servicemen on the St Mary’s War Memorial

Attempted Murder in Halton? The Peverse Joy of Old Newspapers

I make no apologies to returning to newspapers again. They are a fantastic family history resource. This is another fabulous FindmyPast newspaper find[1] which relates to my family. It concerns my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his son William. Without newspapers I would have struggled to discover this story.

Francis Hill was born in Sherburn in Elmet in 1789. In 1811 he married Grace Pennington, from Halton in the parish of Whitkirk. This is where they settled and raised their family. By the late winter of 1841/2 William, aged around 27, was the couple’s eldest son.

It is the unpleasant confrontation between father and son which the newspapers sensationally reported. The only witness to the events that dark February night was Grace. It appears the whole affair may have remained hidden if it had not come to the attention of the vicar of Whitkirk, Reverend Martineau, who passed the information on to the appropriate authorities. Thank goodness for Reverend Martineau, I say! Though I doubt that sentiment was shared by my ancestors. 

Contradictory statements were given by father and son as to the cause of the quarrel. William, an unmarried coal miner, claimed he arrived home on the night of 16 February 1842 at about 11.30pm to find his father the worse for liquor, eating some bacon and bread with a pocket knife. Francis, a labourer, had been unemployed for some time and William remonstrated with him for dissipating his money in such a manner. On the other hand Francis claims William came home in an intoxicated state and he chastised his son for arriving home at such an hour and in that condition.

William’s account was during the course of the argument he struck his father with, what the reports described as “a violent blow”. This knocked Francis off his chair and onto the floor. Francis got up and William was about to hit him again when he slipped and fell onto the knife which his father was still holding. The blade plunged into William’s left side resulting in the protrusion of a portion of his intestines.

Pocket Knife

William’s account, provided the following day, corresponds in most details with the one given by his mother. She stated her son struck his father, knocking him out of the chair. He was about to continue the assault when Francis, in self-defence, struck out with his knife penetrating the left side of William’s stomach, just below his heart.

This sounds more credible than the tale William told about slipping and falling onto a knife which his father had, rather improbably, retained hold of during the attack.

The statement of Mr Nunneley, the surgeon who attended William, concurs with Grace. He said it was impossible that falling onto the knife could have caused the wound. It was caused by a blow. The surgeon was doubtful whether William would ever recover.

Amusingly to 21st century readers Francis, who would have been aged 52 at the time, was described by the newspapers as “an old man”. He was remanded to prison to await the result of his son’s injury, charged with stabbing William in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

He remained there for around a month. Not until 29 March 1842 was William recovered sufficiently to appear in front of the West Riding Magistrates. He refused to press charges against his father who was therefore discharged from custody.

William survived the injury and he married in April 1843. He continued to work as a coal miner.

So although not overjoyed at this unedifying depiction of my ancestors, I am thankful for the controversy because of the details it adds to my family history.

Sources:

[1] As OCR is not always the most accurate I also searched on the British Newspaper Archive site. Although I am not a subscriber, you can identify the paper and page number and then go back to FindMyPast armed with the newspaper details to check it out. Even this did not find all the results, including crucially the outcome of the case. I read through the papers to fill in the gaps.

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© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.